Author Solutions, authors, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

3 brainstorming techniques that can help you capture the best ideas for your book

One of the keys to writing a good book is making sure your manuscript contains the best of ideas or story you want to brainstorm ideaconvey. That means you need to make sure you include all the main ideas and supporting concepts for a nonfiction book and all the key plot points and characters in a fiction book.

Brainstorming before you begin writing can help you capture scattered thoughts and explore new ones you might not have considered. You can brainstorm about your book in general to get started, or you can brainstorm something more specific, such as a particular character, the setting of your story, or a chapter. There are several brainstorming techniques that are useful for writers. Here are a few to try that could help make your book even better.

Ask Questions

Instead of focusing on the answers and what you know, think about questions you could ask about your topic or plot or a character. “What if” is a great place to start. What if the character was from another planet? What if no one spoke the same language? What if you wrote a workbook to accompany your non-fiction book? “What if” can lead to a number of new ideas.

Another way to approach this technique is create a sheet that has six categories: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then start writing down questions that need to be answered. Who are the antagonist’s allies? What is the one thing the main character cannot live without? Where will the story unfold? Give yourself a time frame, and write down as many questions as you can. At the end of the brainstorming session, dig deeper into some of the interesting questions that arose.

Create a Mind Map

Mind mapping can help you explore new directions and new ideas for your book.

Mind mapping can help you explore new directions and new ideas for your book.

To expand your basic idea, try the technique known as mind mapping. Mind mapping is a technique used to organize your brainstorming ideas. Start with a circle in the center of a blank page (use a large sheet of paper, a whiteboard, or even a sidewalk and chalk). In the middle of that circle, write your main idea or initial thought, and then branch off from there. Draw other circles branching from the first one, filling them in with related ideas or subplots. Continue expanding on each subsidiary idea and then on ideas subsidiary to the first sub-idea. Continue quickly, creating more branches and associations. At the end, your page will be filled with a mind map of ideas that will help you develop your story.

Make a List

The first two brainstorming ideas are intended to create a breadth of ideas around a topic, but making a list will help you explore the depth of a topic. To start set a number as your goal for your list. It could be ten, or 20 or 50. The number doesn’t matter as much as the commitment to create the list. Then write a statement or idea at the top of the page. For example, at the end of the book, the main character will ______________. Then start making a list of all the possible things that could happen to the main character. Most of the ideas on the list won’t be viable, but the goal is to just open up your thinking to find that one really killer idea on the list. Don’t worry about the quality or order of the items you are listing, just get them out onto the page. Then go back and review your list when you are done. You will probably be surprised at some of what you listed, but look for that one idea that can make your book really special.

Have you used brainstorming techniques?

I trust these three simple ideas are helpful to you, but perhaps there are other techniques you have used in your writing process. If so, please share those in the comment section and I will post for the other readers to see.

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Author Solutions, authors, Editing, writing

Can outlining make your writing even better? Here are 3 methods to use and find out.

I have to admit I was not a fan of outlining and have heard multiple debates among writers about whether an outline is needed. Some see it as essential before they start the writing process. Others see it as too restrictive and something that limits creativity. I probably would have fallen more in the latter category, but over the last few years, I have come to really see the value of establishing an outline before writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing. 

Having a good outline is like having a good map. GPS on our phones has made maps old school, but not that long ago, having a map was critical before embarking on a journey. For me an outline simply serves as a map. It establishes where you are starting and what your final destination will be and some of the key milestones you will pass on your journey. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a slightly different route once you begin your journey or add a stop or two. It just simply gives you a path to follow as you write. Too often, first time authors, write to get down on paper the essence of what they want to say, but don’t make it easy for others to follow along. An outline can help avoid that problem.

Three options for you to create an outline.  Over the years, three different methods for outlining have become the predominant options for authors. There is no ranking of one, two and three. Rather, they present choices for you to find which method works best for you. The following list will touch on the basics of popular methods.

Classic Outline

This classic outline includes Roman numerals, letters, and numbers for headings and subheadings. It is the most highly organized form of outlining and relies heavily on sequential thinking. It is often uses most for nonfiction works. The goal of the classical outline is to create a blueprint that effectively divides main ideas and subordinating ones, while at the same time coordinating ideas into a cohesive whole. Most of us learned this method in school at some point

Summary Outline

In a summary outline, you start by sequentially listing plot events. Then write a short summary of each chapter. Clearly define goals for each chapter and discuss the characters, settings, and chapter timelines. This kind of outline is linear in nature. It can be used in conjunction with a classic outline to create an even more detailed blueprint for your book. It is also most often used for a fiction book.

Storyboarding

This form of outlining is popular because it allows for constant reorganization of ideas. It is a great technique for when you

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

want to get all your ideas down and then begin to play with options for how the book or story could flow.  You can use index cards or sticky notes and write down all the key events or points you want to make. Then on a wall or table, begin to layout the order you want the ideas or events to appear. This method is really helpful if you are a visual person and need to see the flow. It also helps you see where you may have holes in the story or a weak transition.

Have you used a outline when you write? If so, what method? Have you found it helpful. Use the comment section to let me know what you think.

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Author Solutions, Editing, self publishing, writing

4 great tips for first time writers

Once again, I am going to draw from the experience of Kathy Ide to encourage and educate. In this video clip, which is featured on The Author Learning Center, Kathy shares some important tips for those who have not published before. The interview is less than three minutes long and definitely worth watching if you are working on your first book.

Lots of great information to help you with writing, publishing and marketing.

Lots of great information to help you with writing, publishing and marketing.

The tips are best said by Kathy, but here are the key points she makes.

Passion for your idea needs to be your motivation. Once you start the work of writing, it can be easy to forget the passion you had for your idea at the start, but don’t. Remember what compelled you to want to write.

It is a long road from the idea to finished book. This is not a new idea, but it is good to be reminded of it.

Tenacity is needed to write and re-write. Like the tip before, this is a reminder that you need to stick with it to get to your goal and impact readers with your writing.

Don’t give up. Remember there are people out there who will want to read what you have to say.

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Author Solutions, Editing, Indie book publishing, writing

5 helpful things aspiring writers can learn from our dog, Charlie

Eight years ago we brought a chocolate lab into our home who answers to the name of Charlie and I find him to be a most interesting and delightful animal. As I was observing him a few days ago, I realized there were a number of habits which he has that would actually be beneficial to writers.

Have a routine

Watching Charlie's routine is a a reminder of the habits writers need to develop to get to their goals.

Watching Charlie’s routine is a reminder of the habits writers need to develop to get to their goals.

One of the keys to accomplishing your goals is setting a time on the calendar to write and keeping it like an appointment. Charlie has times like that. Every morning, he expects me to take him out about the same time and feed him about the same time. I don’t know if we have trained him or he has actually conditioned us, but the most important thing is he is committed to the same activities each day at almost the same time without fail. Aspiring authors who try to fit in writing around their other activities almost never get to their goal.

Aspiring authors who try to fit in writing around their other activities almost never get to their goal.

Be naturally curious

We can walk the same path. We can sit in the same room. We can follow the same schedule, but Charlie will always take time to take in a new smell or find a new toy or pause to watch the actions of a child he does not recognize. Writers should do the same. Pause to take in new information and sense experiences because you never know how it might help your writing have greater depth and interest.

Be observant of the things around you

This is similar to being naturally curious, but one thing I have seen is Charlie always notices a sound or smell or animal or person that is different from what he normally sees. Writers would benefit from the same attention to observation. From those new sensations and inputs, you may find inspiration for a more robust description of a scene or an approach to dialogue or something else to improve your story or writing.

Find a favorite spot to write and you will be more productive.

Find a favorite spot to write and you will be more productive.

Find a favorite spot

I have written about this quite often. My personal experience and conversations with other writers have confirmed that where you write can impact what you write. Some people need complete quiet. Others need the stimulus of a public space. It really doesn’t matter where you write, as long as you know the place where you write best. As for Charlie, he has certain places, often where the sun is coming through the window, where he likes to hang out. Not sure how productive he is in those spots, because he tends to nap there, but the principle is the important thing to remember in this case.

It really doesn’t matter where you write, as long as you know the place where you write best.

Celebrate the accomplishment of the day

Writing and rewriting is a long journey with stops of self-doubt along the way so it is easy to give up, but don’t.  Learn to celebrate the accomplishments of the day. Even if you just write a couple of pages or change the dialogue in a scene, focus on that.  Charlie is happy if all he gets to do in a day is run and chase sticks. He gets excited by what he got done that day. Writers can learn from that.

So if you have been stuck or laid aside your manuscript, hopefully Charlie’s routine will inspire you to get back at it and accomplish your goal.

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Author Solutions, Editing, Indie book publishing, iuniverse, Publishing, self publishing, writing

3 ways you can use your life experience to help write a great story

You have probably heard the old adage, “write what you know”.  That is great advice for any aspiring author. However, I think too many writers believe those words only apply to factual knowledge when they should actually serve as encouragement to draw on all your sensual experiences for writing. In other words, don’t neglect your remembrance of smells and touch and emotions and particular sounds and dialect. As a writer, you have a vast resource of experiences to draw from to make your writing as good as it can be. Here are three ways you can tap experiences from your past.

Draw from places you have been. Too many writers try to describe locations and scenes that they have never visited. That usually creates a flat or incorrect description of a setting. When you are establishing a scene, take the time to draw upon what you remember from a particular location with all your senses. Use that to bring the scene to life for the reader. Also, be careful if you are writing about a city or geography where you have never traveled. Making up a setting for a fantasy novel is fine, but I would not recommend describing a location from someone else’s description.

Use dialogue and physical description to convey emotion instead of telling the reader how the character feels. Too often first-time writers tell readers what a character is experiencing emotionally, which is not the best way to draw the reader into the life of the character. Writing in that way reads more like a newspaper than a novel. Instead, use dialogue to unveil what the character is feeling or thinking.

One of the best examples I know of personally is the book Still Alice written by Lisa Genova.  This book, which was first self-published by iUniverse, is now a Simon and Schuster title and a major motion picture starring Julianne Moore. The first time I heard Lisa talk about writing the book she explained that she had actually taken acting classes to develop her craft of writing dialogue. It definitely worked. The book, which takes you through the experience of a woman with early onset memory loss, masterfully draws you into what Alice is experiencing. I could not put it down.

…think about all the experiences of your life as a place to look for inspiration. Smells you remember as a child. Time spent with crazy relatives. Car rides with the family.

Visit your past to find things to use today.  When you think about writing, you should think about all the experiences of your life as a place to look for inspiration. Smells you remember as a child. Time spent with crazy relatives. Car rides with the family. Any or all of those may be resources you can draw from to make your writing more interesting.  One author who used her past as motivation for writing a whole book is Virginia Castleman. Virginia self-published her book Strays with Archway Publishing and then was picked up by Simon and Schuster.  In the video below, she talks about how drawing from her childhood challenges gave her the inspiration to write the book.

 

 

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Author Solutions, authors, self publishing, writing

Make 2015 the year when you hold a copy of your book in your hands!

One of the greatest joys of being an author is holding a copy of your book in your hands for the first time. These authors share what that was like and hopefully will serve as motivation for you to finish your manuscript this year. Enjoy and let’s get writing!

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Author Solutions, authors, Editing, helpful hints, Publishing, self publishing, writing

6 tips to make sure you fulfill your New Year’s resolution to publish your book!

These tips will you get from manuscript to published author this year.

These tips will you get from manuscript to published author this year.

This is the time when people set goals and make resolutions for the coming year.  If publish a book is on your list, here are some suggestions to help you make sure 2015 is the year you become a published author.

Set a date when you want to hold a copy of your book.  In all the years I have worked with self-published authors, I have found that picking a date for when you want your book available is absolutely critical. If an author works with a traditional publisher, there is always a release date set by the publisher. That determines when the manuscript needs to be finished by.  When you self-publish, you need to set your own “release date”. Otherwise I find too many other distractions get in the way of actually finishing the manuscript. Now this date can be an actual event such as a speaking engagement or a book signing or you can just pick a day. But without a day circled on the calendar, it is likely you will never get to your goal.

When you self-publish, you need to set your own “release date”.

Build a timeline to get your goal. Once you have a date when you want to hold a copy of your book in your hand, you then need to build a realistic timeline to get your manuscript to published book.  Start with that date and work backwards with these key milestones in mind.

  • Complete the manuscript.
  • Time for editing.
  • Time for revisions based on editor suggestions.
  • Illustration or image creation if applicable.
  • Cover and page design.
  • Review and approval of cover and galleys.
  • Distribution to online and e-book retailers.

If you are familiar with the publishing process, you can probably build this timeline on your own. If you are not, then you will likely need help from a publishing consultant or supported self publishing company.

Put writing appointments on your calendar.  Most every author I have spoken with confirms there is a best time during the day for them to write. In other words, they are more productive when they write at certain times than others. For you it may be early in the morning or late at night. It doesn’t much matter when, but it does make a difference if you block that time on your calendar and keep it as an appointment.

Blocking time to write when you are most productive is one of the keys to completing your manuscript. (credit: pixgood.com)

Blocking time to write when you are most productive is one of the keys to completing your manuscript. (credit: pixgood.com)

Make yourself accountable. As with most goals in life, support is a key factor to success. Publishing a book is no different. So once you pick a date and build a timeline, make sure others help you stay on track. Share your milestones and ask them to check in and see how you are doing.  You may already have someone in mind who can help you in this way, but you may also want to look for a local writing group or online group.  The Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (GLAWS) is a great example of a local writers group that can provide excellent support if you live in Southern California. The Author Learning Center is an example place to create an online group.

Make an investment. That in which we invest is usually what grows.  So when it comes to publishing a book, you are going to invest both time and money to get it done. Sometimes putting money toward a project even before the manuscript is done can provide extra incentive to get the job done.

Plan your book launch event.  Many people have ideas for books and even start writing, but it is a rare few who actually become published authors. So when you make it to your goal, you need to celebrate. Throw a book launch party to commemorate your achievement. Be creative. The location does not have to be a book store. I know authors who tie the location to something relevant in their book. It could be a restaurant or a church or a library.  Just put it on the calendar and it will serve as additional motivation.

If you have any other helpful suggestions that keep you motivated, please use the comment section to share those.

Many people have ideas for books and even start writing, but it is a rare few who actually become published authors. So when you make it to your goal, you need to celebrate.

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