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#LeapAheadWritingMarathon Day 5: Self-Evaluation, Word Count, Awesome Accomplishments, and Terrific Tidbits. It’s SWAT Day!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Leap Ahead Marathon LogoIt’s Friday! That means it’s time to check in with your progress in the marathon.

On Fridays, I want to know about your full writing week. What were your greatest successes during the week? What was your favorite line/bit that you wrote? What did you learn about yourself, your characters, and/or your story during the week’s work? What are you most proud of yourself for doing this week when it came to your writing? What are you proud of yourself for accomplishing?

That means it’s SWAT Day!

Check in with your progress on your story and share, if you feel like it, the following:

  • Self-Evaluation (how do you think you did? what can/do you want to do differently next week? what did you learn about yourself as a person or as a writer? what didn’t you do or finish that you wanted to? etc.)
  • Word count (total for the week, Saturday through today)
  • Awesome Accomplishments (breakthroughs, discoveries, highest daily word-count ever, etc.)
  • Tidbits too good not to share


If you don’t want to share this stuff publicly, that’s okay. You can add a section to your Story Bible or start a journal (or add this to your existing journal) to keep track of this. But don’t skip doing this—I think that in the future, when you look back either on what you accomplished during this marathon or (heaven forbid) why you gave up on it, the insights you’ll gather later with hindsight on your thoughts during the challenge will be invaluable.

Happy writing!

#LeapAheadWritingMarathon Day 4: J. K. Rowling’s Ten Rules for Success

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Leap Ahead Marathon LogoWhether or not you enjoy their books, it’s always nice to “draw back the curtains” on the lives, experiences, and motivations of best-selling authors.

The interesting thing listening to J. K. Rowling in this compilation of features, speeches, and interviews, is her knowledge when the idea for Harry Potter hit her, she knew it was publishable.

I had this same experience when I came up with the original idea for Stand-In Groom. I’d been writing (but not finishing anything) since my early teens and, for the two or three years prior to coming up with the idea, I’d completed three full manuscripts. When I first started working on the idea for what would become SIG (it went through a couple of iterations before the plot finally gelled for me), I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would be my first published novel.

If you take nothing else away from this video, let it be “rule” #5: BELIEVE!

#LeapAheadWritingMarathon Day 3: Wednesday Word-Count Challenge

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Leap Ahead Marathon LogoI know I said at the beginning of this month-long marathon that we were going to focus on writing every day rather than trying to achieve a specific daily/weekly/monthly word count.

But what’s a marathon month without a few word-count challenges, right?

Your Wednesday word-count challenge for this week, if you choose to accept it, is:
Write 50 more words today than you wrote yesterday.

That means, for me, my challenge today is to write at least 1,519 words today, since I wrote 1,469 in my 1k1h sprint yesterday.

For you, it means look at your word-count total from yesterday and add 50 to it and try to reach that today.

Good news for those of you who might not have written anything yesterday—that means you only need to write 50 words of your story today in order to meet the challenge! ;-)

So, who’s up for the challenge?

Leap-Ahead Writing Marathon Day 2: Timer Tuesday (#1k1hr Sprint Day)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Leap Ahead Marathon LogoIn previous marathons, we’ve discussed 1k1h writing sprints and how useful they can be in helping us build our word count and our story’s momentum when doing a marathon writing challenge like this. On Tuesdays, the challenge will be scheduling and completing at least one 1k1h writing sprint some time during the day.

My 1k1h sprint will be from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (Central) tonight.

I’d love to make these weekly (sometimes daily!) writing sprints a “team” effort with as many of you participating as possible, even if we don’t do it at the same time of day. The more support (and accountability) there is, the more successful we’ll all be! So go ahead and pick the times that work best for you.

1k1h Tips for Success

  1. Let anyone within your household know that you need one uninterrupted hour to try to head off at the pass any interruptions.
  2. Set a timer. This is most important. Don’t do this by just watching the clock. You’ll find yourself only watching the clock and not getting anything written. Setting a timer allows you to forget about the time and concentrate fully on writing.
  3. Prepare yourself before starting your timer. Re-read the last few pages you wrote (without editing/revising!) to get your head back into the story and figure out where you need to pick up. Review your outline and/or character pages in your Story Bible. And then put all of that away so you don’t use those to procrastinate during the hour.
  4. If you listen to music while writing (I recommend instrumental so that you don’t get distracted by the lyrics), have it set up and playing before starting your timer. Use earphones, even if you’re working at home, to block out any sounds that might pull you out of your story.
  5. If you can’t listen to music while writing, I recommend wearing the earphones anyway. People are less likely to interrupt you (at home or working somewhere like a coffee shop) if you have them in/on—and they help block out those distracting sounds.
  6. Make sure your writing space (both physical and mental) is set up and ready to go before you start your timer.
  7. In other words, make sure that about five to ten minutes before you start the 1k1h sprint, you’re in the process of getting ready to write.
  8. Silence or turn off your cell phone (unless you’re using it as your timer—then don’t turn it off). Close your Internet browser. Close Facebook and Twitter (as soon as I give the “start” signal, of course). Close your email program if you use something like Outlook that isn’t web-based. Eliminate all distractions!


Don’t Know How to Start Writing?
If you aren’t sure how to start writing when the hour starts, even after re-reading what you’ve previously written, here are a few suggestions.

  • Which character had the viewpoint in the last scene you wrote? Start with a different character in this scene.
  • Still not sure what to write? Try this prompt:
    Character walked into the room. Character saw a piece of paper tacked to the wall on the other side of the room. Character walked across the room and took the piece of paper down. Character read the piece of paper. The piece of paper said . . .
  • If that prompt doesn’t work, try the exercise of taking your character to the market to buy food.
  • If you can’t think of what the “next” scene is that comes after the one you just left off with in your previous writing session, start writing something you know comes later in the story that you already have a good idea for. Though I recommend writing your story in linear fashion (from beginning to end) instead of jumping around, sometimes you need to write stuff that comes later if you already have a clear idea of the scene in your head, just to make sure you don’t lose it. And that can also help you figure out what comes between what you’ve written so far and that future scene and help you to fill in the gap next time.

Leap-Ahead Marathon Day 1 — What Story Are You Working On? (Share your blurb!)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Leap Ahead Marathon LogoObviously, this isn’t the first time we’ve done a marathon on this blog. But as I mentioned yesterday, I’d like for us to make this one more about being committed to writing every day rather than trying to hit specific word-count goals. Not that word-count goals are a bad thing . . . it’s just that they put a lot of pressure on us, and for the most part, it’s easier to quit once we miss that first goal.

In the FirstDraft60 series, the first thirty days were focused on pre-planning a novel. That’s how I wrote the majority of my eleven published manuscripts—because I had to. I was on such a time restriction with them—and I had to write fairly detailed synopses in order to get those contracts—that I had to have the major plot points already figured out before I started writing so that I wouldn’t find myself written into a corner or deciding twenty-five thousand words in that the premise just didn’t work or that there really was no plot or that I just didn’t like the characters as much as I thought I would (the reason I’ve set aside the contemporary I was working on last fall—the one “starring” Brandon Routh).

So with this current manuscript, set in 1805 and once again focused on characters in and associated with the British Royal Navy, I’m back in familiar territory without feeling like I’m having to resurrect something I’ve already done. I also have a built-in timeline with actual historical events to build my plot around. And this time, I came up with the conflict between the hero and heroine first—before I really even knew who each one was beyond that conflict. But other than that, I’m trying not to overthink this one. I’m trying to see if I can go back to being the seat-of-the-pants writer that I was before grad school and publication—the person who loved writing for the sake of writing and not because it was a contractual obligation.

That being said, one of the first things I did when I started to solidify this idea to see if I even wanted to write it was to write a blurb (i.e., a brief pitch) for it . . . limited by the number of characters that Pinterest would allow me to post as the description for my board there where I’m collecting all of the images, templates, and research links for the story (turned out to be 86 words). And because this story is a little more seat-of-the-pants, the blurb is subject to change. But here it is:

TSD Blurb

If you plan to work on only one project during this month and don’t already have a blurb for it, today’s the day to write it . . . and to share it with us! Here are some tips to get you started:

The One-Paragraph Marketing Blurb
This is some of the most fun “synopsis” writing you will ever do . . . because this is practice for hooking people on your story idea in one paragraph or less. Basically, you’re practicing writing back-cover copy in this exercise.

  • Explain your story in four or five sentences.
  • What is the main plot of the story?
  • What is the major conflict in the story?
  • Who are the characters (no more than three, preferably one or two) who are the stakeholders in the plot?
  • What is the hook/question you can end with to make people want to know more? (Doesn’t have to actually be phrased as a question.)
  • Study back-cover copy of your favorite books.
  • Read the marketing copy on Amazon or author or publisher websites.

The James Scott Bell Formula for the one-paragraph blurb:
Start with three sentences

    1. [Name] is a [description] who wants/is struggling with [goal].
    2. But when [something happens], [Name] has to [change direction].
    3. Now, [Name] must [go do something] or else [something bad will happen].

Expand it with one or two more sentences to make it even more compelling (and to give a hint at where/when it’s set).


Your blurb should be between 75–200 words, with around 100–150 being an optimum length for one-sheets and proposals and websites and back-cover copy.

      Sample Blurb using the JSB Formula:
      Luke Skywalker is a farmboy who wants to escape his life of drudgery by enrolling in the Imperial Academy. Before he can, one of his uncle’s new androids begins to malfunction and then runs away, so Luke must go after him or face his uncle’s wrath. But when Luke locates the rogue droid and hears a distress call from a beautiful princess, he finds himself embroiled in a war that could spell doom for the entire galaxy.

What’s Your Blurb?

It’s Reading Report Time! (January–February 2016)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Happy First Monday of February, everyone.
It’s Reading Report time!

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

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Tell us what you’ve finished over the last month, what you’re currently reading, and what’s on your To Be Read stack/list. And if you’ve reviewed the books you’ve read somewhere, please include links!

To format your text, click here for an HTML cheat-sheet. If you want to embed your links in your text (like my “click here” links) instead of just pasting the link into your comment, click here.
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  • What book(s) did you finish reading (or listening to) since the last update?

  • What are you currently reading and/or listening to?

  • What’s the next book on your To Be Read stack/list?

2016 “Leap-Ahead” Writing Marathon

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m falling far behind on my personal writing goals this year. And now that I’ve got a new story that I’m really excited about, I need something to motivate myself to get back to a regular writing schedule and get this story moving! To that end, I’m pleased to announce the . . .

Leap Ahead Marathon Logo

If you’ve ever participated in the National Novel Writing Month in November, or if you did the FirstDraft60 challenge last fall (which yes, I, too, failed to complete) then you know what a month-long writing marathon is.

If you aren’t familiar, here’s the idea:

For a set number of days (February 1–29 in this case), you commit to writing as much of your manuscript as you can, which usually involves setting a total word-count goal for the month and then breaking that down into achievable daily chunks.

But I’d like to suggest we work this marathon a little differently.

Instead of arbitrarily setting a number goal to achieve by the end of the month, the main challenge of this marathon will be writing every day to see what can be accomplished in twenty-nine days. Sure, set daily goals and set a total goal if you want to—but this is more about being committed to writing every day for the entire month and building the story. If you can commit to doing a 1k1h sprint every day, you’ll have written at least 29,000 words at the end of the month! Don’t have an hour a day to spare? Try a 30-minute sprint.

The challenge isn’t to “write a book in a month.” The challenge is to write for each day in a month.

You can set your own challenges within it as well—such as:
I will write five more words each day than I wrote the day before.
Or: I will write one poem (or song or essay or short story) per day.
Or: I will write one full notebook page per day.

I hope you’ll create your own challenge during Leap Ahead month and then come back and check in often with your progress, successes, and struggles. I’ll try to post something encouraging, motivating, or challenging most days during the next month. And I hope you will, too. And on Fridays, I’ll bring back the SWAT (Self-evaluation, Word count, Awesome accomplishments, Tidbits to share) Day from FirstDraft60 to give everyone a chance to share.

For Discussion:
1. Are you going to participate?
2. What story are you going to work on?
3. What questions do you have?

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