Why Novelists Should Eat Dessert First

Ever feel like no matter what your novel writing gets squeezed out of your schedule?

Graphic with photo of L. M. Lilly and pen. Why Novelists Should Eat Dessert FirstFor some writers, including me at other times in my life, solving that requires seeing novel writing the same way you see your day job. You do it whether you feel like it or not, rain or shine, and no matter what else is going on.

But what if that stops working or never worked for you? It’s tempting to blame yourself for not being disciplined enough. Not having enough stick-to-it-iveness (no, I’m not sure that’s a real word).

It might be, though, that the problem is just the opposite. You’re too disciplined. Too responsible.

Being Responsible Can Undermine Your Writing

If you’re a responsible person — someone who eats your vegetables first as my mom would say — you may be unconsciously seeing your writing as the least most important task on your To Do list. Put another way, on some level you probably feel you need to do all your other tasks before it’s okay to take time for your novel.

That means paying bills, feeding your kids, grocery shopping, finishing that project for your boss, working the overtime hours, starting the next work project, exercising, and so on all need to be done before you write.

The challenge with that is obvious when you read the list. Most of these tasks are never really finished. Kids need you every day. Your day job likely requires you to show up every day. Maybe every evening, too.

As a result, pushing your novel writing to the end of the line might feel like the right thing to do nearly all the time. Especially if for you, like me, fiction writing is an escape from day to day life. Or a totally absorbing activity that at times puts you in a Zen state that feels wonderful.

So what to do?

Doing What You Need To Do

If other people depend on you, whether for caregiving or to show up at a day job, you need to fulfill those responsibilities. It’s no doubt important to you as well as to them. Plus, most of us need to earn money at something in addition to writing.

You already decided, though, when you set out to write a novel, that it mattered enough to include it in your schedule. That means that short of genuine emergencies, which sometimes happen, it’s worth the effort to make sure you don’t push aside your writing time.

And here’s the good news. It may be less about making the effort and more about shifting your mindset.

Happiness And Your Novel

So long as you see novel writing as the same type of task as the others on your To Do list — as just another responsibility — it’s almost guaranteed to be low on the priority list.

After all, which tasks matter most to the people who depend on you in the short term? If you skip something on your task list, which is more likely to disrupt your life right now?

The answer to both questions is rarely novel writing.

So instead, try seeing novel writing as a joy. As happiness. As dessert (if you’re a dessert fan, as I am). Even if writing sometimes feels like a chore, you can do that by asking yourself what, at its best, fiction writing does for you.

Does it make you happier? Help you escape worries for a time? Allow you to deal with your emotions more easily? Exercise your brain in way that feels great? Give you a world where, for a little while, you control everything?

In other words, focus on what you love most about writing. See it as dessert.

Now that novel writing is in a happy category, let’s look at why it’s a good thing to include it in your life. Not just for you, but for all the people who depend on you.

Eat Dessert First

When you feel stressed, tired, or frustrated are you in top form at your job? Or do you feel overwhelmed and take longer to finish each task?

If you’re caring for other people, do they feel better or worse when you’re stressed and frustrated? When you’re in a bad mood, does it take more or less time to pay bills, grocery shop, or cook?

These are leading questions, of course, and might seem basic. But it’s amazing how often in life I’ve felt certain that powering through is the way to go even if I am overloaded, frustrated, or tired. Despite that on a logical level I know if I take a break or get some sleep, I’ll be able to do everything more quickly and easily after.

So imagine starting your day, or finishing the previous day, by happily immersing yourself in your novel. Or, if it works better, starting or finishing your week that way. What kind of tone does that set? How much more might you get done from your task list if you already feel like you’re sailing along?

Might you be more inspired in your day job or with your kids if you’ve given your creativity free reign in a fictional world? Could you deal with life’s ups and downs more easily if you’ve spent a little time on that one thing you love?

There’s an added benefit to eating dessert first. Once you start working on your novel, whether for half an hour or half a day, you’re cueing your unconscious mind to keep creating while you take care of your other responsibilities. When you  come back, you’ll likely find the words flowing more freely than ever.

I hope that’s helpful. Good luck with your writing!

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Feeling stuck with your plot? Not sure your story’s moving fast enough? You may need more conflict right from the start. My mini-course module on creating a protagonist and antagonist with strong opposing goals may help. Click here to learn more.

Shifting Point Of View Without Head Hopping

How To Avoid Head HoppingIf you shift point of view within the same chapter or story, you risk being  criticized for “head hopping.” But often you need more than one point of view for your novel.

In fact, in some genres, such as fantasy, most readers expect it.

Plus, showing a story through more than one character’s eyes allows you to explore scenes, emotions, and knowledge that you couldn’t otherwise include that will intrigue readers.

So why is head hopping frowned on? And how do you change point of view without the dreaded head hopping label?

The Drawback Of Head Hopping

The biggest issue with shifting points of view is the risk of confusing the reader.

If not done well, the reader suddenly wonders why this character knows something they shouldn’t, or who exactly the viewpoint character is, or what on earth just happened. (That’s what usually results in complaints about head hopping.)

At best, the reader will go back to clarify what’s going on. If they can figure it out, they may keep reading. But if it happens too often, they’ll put down your novel and never return.

Also, you’ve just reminded them they’re reading a book rather than living in and experiencing your fictional world firsthand.

But you can avoid confusion. The key is to transition without jarring your reader. Some ways to do that are below.

You Need More Than A Break

Readers are more likely to understand a point of view change when it occurs after a scene or chapter break. But a break alone isn’t enough.

Cue your reader in at least one other way within the text itself. For example, if you’re writing in third person, include the new viewpoint character’s name and an internal thought or emotion in the first sentence:

Once she got out of the house, Eleanor raced to the DMV, afraid she’d missed her last chance to renew her driver’s license before it expired.

If the last scene or chapter was in Juan’s point of view, the above sentence quickly cues the reader that this one is from Eleanor’s, as we get not only her name and what she’s doing but why she’s doing it. And how she feels about it.

These types of cues can make all the difference.

You can also add the new POV character’s name in italics or parentheses below the Chapter title or number or after the scene break. But even if you do, I recommend cues like those above. Some readers (including me) tend to read right past chapter titles or parentheticals. You don’t want to lose them.

Switching Mid-Paragraph

Some literary authors switch points of view mid-paragraph. Here’s an example from my favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice:

That she should have walked three miles so early in the day in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was convinced that they held her in contempt for it. She was received, however, very politely by them; and in their brother’s manners there was something better than politeness—there was good-humour and kindness. Mr. Darcy said very little, and Mr. Hurst nothing at all. The former was divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion and doubt as to the occasion’s justifying her coming so far alone. The latter was thinking only of his breakfast.

The above excerpt includes at least 3 points of view, which I’ve color coded. Elizabeth’s, Darcy’s, and Hurst’s. Note that the two men are named in the sentence before the shifts to their points of view and the author tells us they said nothing. The author then clearly states what each is thinking.

The vast majority of readers now, though, find switches like the above too jarring, as they are so rare. For that reason, if you plan to switch mid-scene, it’s better to do it when you start a new paragraph.

Shifting POV Mid-Scene

Using actions and emotion (the same type of cues as in my first example) helps any shift of point of view. If you are mid-scene, though, you want to be especially clear.

A few ways to do that include:

  • starting the paragraph with the new POV character’s name
  • beginning the paragraph with the new character’s dialogue followed by a tag with the character’s name
  • describing the new POV character’s movement at the start of the paragraph (using their name), followed by an internal emotion or thought

For example:

Juan slammed his hand on the table. “No way are you leaving.” They were in the middle of an argument, and he couldn’t believe his wife was rushing out without answering his last point. 

“I have to,” Eleanor said. She grabbed her coat. Her driver’s license meant everything to her. Without it, she’d never see her daughter again. Her ex certainly wasn’t going to drive a hundred miles to bring the girl for a visit. 

Juan blocked the doorway, crossing his arms over his chest and squaring his shoulders. He knew how much her daughter meant to Eleanor, but in the two years they’d been married she’d never made him the priority. He was starting to think she never would. And that wasn’t going to work for him. 

As you can see (I hope), these cues make the shift into a different character’s viewpoint less jarring and easier to follow.

I hope you found this helpful!


L. M. Lilly

P.S. For a refresher on points of view, check out these articles on Writing As A Second Career.

Your Story Needs A Truth Teller

Does your story need a truth teller?A character who is a truth teller can be your best friend as a fiction writer. This type of character creates genuine conflict and makes it easier to reveal exposition in a quick, natural way.

But first, what is a truth teller?

Truth Tellers

You probably know a truth teller, or maybe you are one. That’s the person who, whether you ask or not, will tell you when a color looks bad on you or your boss’s critique of your skills is spot on or your novel drags in the middle.

The truth teller isn’t trying to make you feel bad. They’re giving honest feedback, at least from their perspective, because they believe that honesty is the best policy. Plus, the feedback might help you.

If you need straightforward, unfiltered information to improve your life, a truth teller is the one to ask.

Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a truth teller. Admonished for being tactless, Cordelia responds: “Tact is just not saying true things.”

Elizabeth Bennet, protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, is also a truth teller, a characteristic she learns to temper a bit during the course of the novel. But early on, and sometimes without knowing all the facts, she freely tells other characters when she thinks their choices, life philosophies, and behavior are in error.

Genuine Conflict Among Friends

Genuine conflict arises out of differences between characters that can’t easily be solved. In contrast, false conflict exists where two characters could simply speak to one another and clear up the misunderstanding between them.

Unless you weave in very strong reasons why those two characters don’t talk, false conflict frustrates readers. They can tell when you artificially create conflict by having characters hold back things they normally would share.

Genuine conflict is fairly easy to create between a protagonist and antagonist, as those two characters should have contrary goals. But creating conflict between your protagonist and their friends or allies is also key to keeping a plot or subplot engaging. That’s a little harder to do because they’re all on the same side.

That’s where your truth teller comes in.

Sometimes, though it’s not their goal, truth tellers hurt other people’s feelings. Your protagonist may not want to hear about their missteps or flaws just now, which can lead to an angry response. Also, like anyone else, truth tellers can be wrong. In which case their tendency to speak without thought can cause a lot of harm if the listener doesn’t remember that it’s one person’s view, not gospel truth.

Further, most people engage in denial at times or put off dealing with issues or habits that cause them trouble. The truth teller, though, won’t have it. They’ll call your hero on attempts to avoid, delay, or deny, forcing issues out into the open.

Finally, because they’re not spending energy sorting out how to say something diplomatically or on whether something ought to be said at all, the truth teller often spots trouble and gets to the heart of it quickly. This is fantastic if you’ve got other characters who tend to miss warning signs, overthink, or hesitate to act.

The truth teller pushes them, and the story conflict, forward.

Easy Exposition

Because the truth teller forces issues and speaks without a filter, this character can bring out exposition in a natural way.

In real life, most people don’t repeat background the other person they’re talking to already knows. For example, I wouldn’t say to a friend, “The other day I saw your ex-husband, John, who drove you into bankruptcy and gave signs even when you were first dating that he was terrible with money but you ignored them.”

Not only would my friend already know the history, she probably wouldn’t appreciate what sounds like a criticism for not heeding early warning signs.

That’s why a character who makes that kind of statement sounds clunky and forced.

A truth teller character, though, might very well say something like: “Hey, I ran into John. Too bad you ignored all those early warning signs and let him drive you into bankruptcy before you divorced him. But at least he seems pretty unhappy, too.”

Now you’ve shared back story with your reader through a character who has a tendency to point out flaws or mistakes, so it’s believable. You’ve also started a potential conflict. John’s ex will likely react defensively, maybe by explaining why they didn’t see those early signs. Now you’ve revealed exposition in a way that’s always interesting — through conflict.

I hope that’s helpful!


L. M. Lilly

P.S. If you’re looking for more on characterization, you might find my book Creating Compelling Characters From The Inside Out helpful. Available in ebook and print formats here.

Happier, Healthier, Simpler Writing

Is writing fiction making you happier? If not, and that’s one of the reasons you write, you may want to make a few changes.

I love writing, yet last year it started to feel like a grind. Or a day job. I decided to shift my approach to writing and life. I wanted to make life and writing simpler, happier, and healthier.

Simpler Writing 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, you may be trying to do too much at once.

Happier, Simpler, Healthier Writing As one example from my life, rather than trying to write or edit a non-fiction book while I first draft a novel, I’ve shifted so I focus on one book at a time.

Once I finish a draft or rewrite, I let it sit and work on the other book.

I meant to do that before, but often found myself switching between the two in the same day. All that did was make me feel more stressed. I didn’t finish either book any faster because my brain needed downtime.

Also, I plan to edit and release one or two more Buffy and the Art of Story books before I write another new non-fiction book. The Buffy books are based on my podcast of the same name.

It takes work to shape them into book form. But it’s less work, and far simpler, than creating a brand new book. And a lot of readers have asked for those books. So why not get those done rather than start from scratch on something different?

(Don’t worry, there will be more Writing As A Second Career books. The next one will likely be about writing fascinating exposition.)

Happier Life, Happier Writing

What do you enjoy doing? If you’re working a day-to-day job, caring for others, and writing (or 2 of those 3), you may forget what it’s like to do something just for fun.

I made a simple change for myself on that front. Each morning, I open the blinds, then write 2 pages in a journal before I do anything else. The view out my bedroom windows is an east view. While I can’t see Lake Michigan (I live about 2 miles from it in Chicago), I do see lovely parts of the skyline with the sunrise in the background.

Since I started this in January I’ve seen more sunrises than I did in the last few years. (I had a habit of leaving the blinds down until an hour or so after I got up.) I discovered each one is both beautiful and different from the day before.

And seeing the light so early puts me in a great mood.

I also I made a list of other things I enjoy and want to do more of. Some are as simple as seeing a movie at the theater. And reading more fiction for the sheer fun of it, not to study a particular genre or writing style.

Health First

If your health suffers, it’s hard to keep writing.

I started thinking more about this after I got Covid toward the end of last year.  And after I watched the Sex and the City follow up series And Just Like That.

One of the characters is younger than me, has no obvious health issues, yet is written as if they’ve got one foot in the nursing home. This shocked me. I found it vastly unrealistic based on my own life experience and that of most people I know. (I keep wondering if the writers are in their 30s and think anyone older than 40 is elderly.)

But it brought home to me how lucky I’ve been health-wise. And while not everything is in our control, there are things I can do to give myself better odds.

As a result, I ordered a food processor and two new cookbooks on whole foods and vegetarian recipes. I’m not giving up meat or cheese, as I love both. (In my view, life is barely worth living without cheese.) But I have made them a much smaller part of my weekly eating. And have been eating fewer processed foods.

As a side benefit, cooking a meal at lunch time is a great way for me to break up my day of working at home.

I also walk each day outside. (Today in the snow, though it’s nearly spring.) It elevates my mood. And I’ve seen lots of statistics on how much it helps blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar regardless of weight.

Plus, often my best fiction ideas come to me when I’m taking a walk. And if I increase my daily walking from half an hour to forty-five minutes (one of the goals I haven’t quite met yet) who knows? Maybe I’ll discover more and more great ideas for books.

That’s it for now. Hope you’re writing’s going well.

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Is one of your goals this year to write a novel? You might find my course How To Plot Your Novel: From Idea To First Draft helpful. Learn more by clicking here.

Writing Fiction During The Holidays

Are you writing fiction during the holidays? If not, or not as much as you expected, you’re not alone.

Christmas OrnamentI had high hopes for December.

In the fall, I taught a legal writing class and released a new non-fiction book. (Fiction Writing As Your Second Career – more on that here.)

But I made little progress on the rewrite of my latest novel. As I graded the last student papers, though, I felt so excited. Finally, stretches of open time in which to write. Or, in my case, rewrite.

And then…

Holiday Fun

First, the weekends filled.

The law firm where I do some project work hosted a gathering in New Orleans. I’m in Chicago and the firm’s home office is in Denver. I hadn’t seen everyone since about a year before the Covid pandemic began.

So how could I turn down a weekend-long party in New Orleans? And I’m so glad I didn’t. It was wonderful. I ate good food. Saw beautiful architecture. Visited the WWII museum (worth a visit whether you are a history buff or not — I am not). And connected with my colleagues and met many of their friends.

It felt fantastic.

Then I had a chance to join a friend for a weekend trip to Geneva, Illinois. It’s a suburb filled with antique and gift shops, a historic courthouse and inn, and the Fox River. It was all decorated beautifully for the holidays.

Haven’t had that much fun in forever. I expected to have a similar time in Galena, Illinois, this past weekend.

Now you might think, as I did, that I’d write a lot during the weekdays despite all the weekend fun. And that was the plan.

Too Much To Do

But busy weekends meant taking care of things like eye doctor visits, renewing my driver’s license (which took 2 trips to the DMV), and finishing holiday shopping during the week.

Also, I usually do many of my Buffy and the Art of Story podcast work on Saturdays. That, too, needed to get done during the week. As a result, I barely got halfway through the novel rewrite.

Still, things looked promising. This week and next were meant to be premium writing time other than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But while I was traveling, I got sick.

Life Happens

Despite being exposed a few times, until now I avoided Covid. It hasn’t been terrible, possibly because I had a booster shot in October. But I spent my last weekend trip in my hotel room either in bed or wrapped in a blanket. And since I got home I’ve mostly needed to rest. Today’s the first day I spent more than 15 minutes at the computer without feeling exhausted.

I’m still too fuzzy headed to address the intricate plot rewrites I need to make in my cold case double murder mystery.

And you know what? That’s okay.

You’re A Person First

There are times to push through with writing fiction. In other words, to write whether you feel like it or not. Sometimes if you don’t, you’ll never get that first 1,000 — or last 1,000 — words on the page.

But we are not only writers. We’re humans.

And the last couple years have been hard on most of us. You might have been ill yourself. Or lost someone you loved. Pandemic concerns might have isolated you and taken a toll on your mental, emotional, or physical health. Your creativity may have suffered from lack of new experiences or input.

So if you’re enjoying this holiday season and feeling renewed and happy but you’re not writing, could be you need this joy more than you need to write for now. And if you’re not feeling so great and you’re not writing, take a moment now to consider what will help you feel better. If it’s diving into your fictional world, great. Write whatever you think you’ll enjoy most.

But if what you need is to rest and you’re able to, do that. Read a book, take a nap, binge watch TV. (Among other things, I’m rewatching Vampire Diaries — yes, again. Who knew it was a Covid treatment?)

And if you’re not feeling great but still have way too much do for the holiday to rest, take a breath. You’ll get through it. Your writing will still be there in the new year.

That’s all for now. I hope you are finding some joy and peace this holiday season. Feel free to Reply to this email and let me know how it’s going.


L. M. Lilly

P.S. I recently learned (due to a subscriber kind enough to email me — thank you) that my course How To Plot Your Novel: From Idea To First Draft was showing as closed to enrollment. That should be fixed now. If you tried before to enroll and it didn’t work, you can sign up on this page. Apologies for any inconvenience!

The Body And Metaphor

The Body S5 E16 (Buffy and the Art of Story Podcast) Is Death The Antagonist?Is there metaphor in The Body?

One thing I love about Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the way the writers use metaphor. That’s part of why I started the podcast Buffy and the Art of Story.

Yet the first time I watched one of the most well-known episodes, The Body, from Season 5 I thought it lacked metaphor entirely.




But looking closely at The Body for the podcast I began to wonder.

Throughout, the episode shows Buffy and her friends dealing with the aftermath of Joyce’s death. Not only grief, but parking tickets, paperwork, rules at the morgue – and the body.

Then there’s the final fight with the vampire, which Whedon describes (in the commentary on the DVD) as less cool kick boxing and more gross wrestling match.

Because everything is harder in the midst of grief, after someone you love dies. Day-to-day life doesn’t stop. It just gets harder.

And maybe that’s the metaphor.


Listen below (or find links here to your favorite podcast apps) for more about the story elements of The Body on the Buffy and the Art of Story podcast:

P.S. Looking for help structuring your story or novel? Find free worksheets and more information here.


Story Conflict Starts With Characters

Story Conflict Starts With Your Main Characters Creating a strong story conflict starts with your protagonist and antagonist. The sample section below of How To Plot Your Novel: From Idea To First Draft shows how to do that.

But first, a few quick tips.

Life Is Hard

Make sure life is hard for your protagonist. Choose a goal that’s difficult to reach. And remember, if you’re writing a novel, the goal needs to be challenging enough that it takes the whole book for the protagonist to succeed or fail.

Strong Antagonist = Strong Story Conflict

Also, a strong story conflict requires a strong antagonist. Your antagonist’s one job is to push against the protagonist. Make sure your antagonist is tough to beat and has a deep desire to achieve their goal.

Learn more on your main characters and plotting your novel in this sample section from How To Plot Your Novel: From Idea To First Draft:

To find out more about the course click here.

Good luck with your writing!

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Looking for more help with your novel but not sure about an online course? You can get free story structure worksheets here.


Mind Map Your Novel

Creating A Mind Map Of Your PlotIf you’re struggling to sort out the plot of your novel and outlining isn’t working (or just isn’t for you), try a mind map.

A mind map is a non-linear way to plan before you write. I’ve used it for non-fiction books, legal briefs, and novels.

Using this technique helps me let go of my concern about what plot turn or scene (or non-fiction topic) comes first. Instead, I focus on what needs to happen as it occurs to me, then expand on it.

Here’s how to do it.

The Blank Page

Mind Map for Mystery NovelStart with a blank page. It can be notebook paper, butcher paper (as in my photo), or your screen if you have a program that allows for bubbles, lines, and words.

In the center, draw or circle or oval. In a few words, fill in your key conflict.

Is it solving a murder? A young man in love with someone out of reach? A superpowered protagonist who needs to defeat the villain?

Whatever it is, include it. Now you’re ready to think about what will happen in your novel.

The Smaller Bubbles

Anywhere on the page, write a short phrase about something your protagonist needs to do to come into conflict with the antagonist. If you know character names you can include them. If you don’t know, just describe the characters. Circle the phrase and draw a line connecting it to your main conflict.

For instance, say you’re writing a romance with a protagonist named Gabriela who will fall in love with a teacher and eventually live happily ever after.

You might write “Gabriela and good-looking teacher clash, then fall in love” in the center circle. And in a smaller bubble you can write “Gabriela meets teacher at bowling alley.”

You don’t need to know when she’ll meet the teacher yet or why either character is at the bowling alley.

Now think of something else your protagonist needs to do. Or write about the antagonist. In our romance, you might write “Antagonist goes bowling.”

Again, you can place this bubble anywhere on the page. Also, this event can happen at any time in the novel. Once you’ve filled in a number of events, start thinking about what leads to them or happens because of them.

The Mind Map Spokes

Going back to Gabriela, you can draw spokes jutting out from the bubble about her meeting the teacher at the bowling alley. For each spoke, write ideas about what happens once she meets him, such as:

  • She drops a bowling ball on his foot
  • He had a bad day at work and is rude to her
  • Her best friend flirts with him

You don’t need to be sure about any of these ideas. You may use all of them or none of them later. Also, it’s okay if you only write one idea for now. Or if you start with a different bubble.

You can also draw other spokes and bubbles to cover what happened before Gabriela met the teacher. If any of those event trigger other ideas about what needs to happen before that, draw spokes jutting out from them.

And so on.

When you run out of ideas, walk away. Take a walk, make dinner, or do something else on your To Do list. When you come back, odds are more ideas will have sprung to mind. Fill those in, too.

When The Map Is Full

Whenever you feel ready, look over your map as a whole. Write in any other ideas, using as many spokes and bubbles as you need.

Then consider in what order these scenes or events need to occur. You can write the phrases on index cards and lay them out in a rough chronological order. Read through them and if something seems off, move the cards around.

Or put the phrases on a list and number the list in order.

You’ll probably number and renumber a few times before you feel satisfied.

Once you do, though, you’ve got an outline of your novel. Without ever officially outlining it.

I hope that’s helpful.

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on painlessly plotting a novel, check out Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel.



Make Your Writing Life Easier

A lot of writing and marketing advice adds to your To Do list. Let’s talk instead about how to make your writing life easier.

Because life is challenging enough these days.

Also, for most of us, writing started as a passion. Whether you’re trying to earn money at it or just fit it in as an unpaid pursuit, making it easier makes sense.

5 ways to do that (more on each below):

  • Only Decide Once
  • Create Your Own Rules
  • Making Starting Simple
  • Create Easy Entry Points
  • Use Tech Well

Read on for how you can apply these suggestions.

Make Decisions Once (And Only Once)

When I looked over how I spent my time in 2021, I asked how I might save time this year without getting less done or spending more money.

And I discovered I spent a lot of time researching and deciding the same things over and over. For example, every month I advertised the first book, which is free, in my Awakening supernatural thriller series in 2 or 3 different enewsletters.

As I glanced over the list of ads, I saw that I repeated many of the same ones throughout the year, spacing them a few months apart.

Yet every month I spent 45 minutes to an hour checking to see which enewsletters had categories where the book fit, which ones covered sales outlets beyond Amazon, and which performed well for me in the past.

Based on that discovery, I created a 3-month schedule to advertise in 2 different enewsletters–ones I already researched–each month. On Month 4, I start over. It takes me all of 10 minutes to schedule. I also made a note to review and check for new places to advertise at the end of 6 months.

That’s 35-45 minutes a month saved, which might not sound like a lot.

But I found 4 recurring tasks that fell in this category, bringing the total saved to 2-3 hours. I don’t know about you, but I definitely appreciate an extra 2.5 hours when I can relax.

Create Your Own Rules

Take a moment to think about what you do over and over. Maybe it’s deciding when to fit writing into your day or week. Or it could be a non-writing task like taking a trip to the store.

Can you create a rule, such as “I write every Friday morning from 6-7 a.m.” or “I write any time I’ve got at least 20 minutes to myself in the evening”?

Or maybe you can make a task automatic by going to the store every first Monday of the month to buy paper goods, cleaning supplies, toothpaste, etc.?

Make Starting Simple

When I’m outlining or first drafting it takes me a while to get each writing session started. Those phases of a novel just aren’t my favorites. I find sitting down to rewrite a lot easier.

You may feel exactly the opposite. Perhaps you love exploring your story at the first draft stage but find revising tedious.

Whatever phase challenges you most in your writing life, think about how you can make it easier to get rolling. For me, that means as I’m finishing a first drafting session, I add a note in brackets to myself about what will happen next. When I’m outlining, I add bullet points to think about next time.

That way when I open the document I’m not struggling to remember where I left off. And I don’t stare at the screen trying to figure out what to write next, as usually my unconscious mind has been sorting through those bullet points or notes.

What can you do to help you start your next writing session?

Easy Entry Points

Look for an easy entry point to your writing session.

To borrow an example from the world of physical health, I’m not someone who loves exercise, but I’ve got a pretty solid routine. That’s because I start with the smallest possible step.

First thing in the morning, I roll out my yoga mat. I tell myself I don’t need to use it, and once in a very great while I don’t. But 49 times out of 50 once the mat is out, I start with some stretches. Then I transition into whatever I haven’t done much of lately, whether it’s actual yoga, physical therapy exercises for my neck and shoulders, or strength training.

Writing works the same way. When I really truly don’t feel like writing the 3,000 (or 300) words I scheduled for the day I tell myself all I’ll do for now is open the document. Just in case I decide to write.

Once it’s open I see a line or maybe those bullet points. Usually that’s enough to get my fingers on the keyboard.

Make Use Of Your Tech

So often technology frustrates and aggravates us. (More on that in Dealing With Tech Glitches That Steal Your Time.) But you can use it to save time and make your writing life easier, too.

And that’s beyond the basic–and pretty amazing–ways computers already make typing, revising, and saving easier. (Yep, I started when it was typewriting on paper. Typos alone presented serious challenges, let alone major revisions.)

Some examples from my writing and publishing work include:

  • Formatting chapter headers as I write so they convert easily into Vellum (the program I use to layout ebook and print files).
  • Creating quick keys (Autocorrect in Word) for my recurring names. So qq becomes Quille, the detective protagonist of my Q.C. Davis mystery series, and b[ become Buffy for my podcast outlines.
  • Using scheduling options for blog posts and podcast episodes so that I can upload batches rather than logging in and navigating to the right screens each time.

What will make your life easier depends on your routines. Take a few minutes now to think about how you might use tech to help make your writing life easier.

I hope that was helpful!

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Wishing you could make plotting your novel easier?  Check out Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel.

Two Characters Talking Can Be Thrilling

Two characters talking for a long time can make for a very dull story.

But there are ways to make it fascinating.

First, if one character tells the other a story filled with conflict and engaging characters all on its own, that becomes compelling. As an example, in Fool For Love, a Season 5 Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, Buffy’s enemy Spike tells her three stories. The first two are about how he killed two vampire slayers before her.

Fool For Love (Buffy & the Art of Story Podcast)S5 E7)Plenty of conflict there.

The second is his origin story. How he turned from a soft-hearted, romantic but bad poet rejected by the woman he loved into a hot vampire.

Also, there’s an undercurrent of attraction between Spike and Buffy despite that they’re mortal enemies. It makes us wonder – where will the evening end?

In addition, the setting and mood change as Buffy and Spike talk. And they don’t just talk. They move.

First, they eat and drink beer in a dimly lit area of a bar. Then they play pool. They end by sparring in a dark alley as Buffy becomes angrier and angrier at Spike.

All of that keeps a forty-three minute episode that’s mainly two characters talking fascinating.

Can you use any of these techniques in your writing?

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on how Fool For Love is put together, listen to Buffy and the Art of Story podcast episode S5 E7 here or on your favorite podcast platform.