path of the storyteller / blog

The secret work of writers, revealed

process Apr 05, 2023

What the world sees of a writer’s work is only the tip of the iceberg. What’s really going on in the secret work of writers?

Most of what writers do is—shh!—secret.

How could it be otherwise? Our work is private because we do it inside our heads.

Maybe we do this interior labor while sitting at a desk, typing or scribbling away, but the essential processes remain invisible to the eye. 

Which raises the not-so-secret question: How is a would-be writer, who's longing to write but has never actually seen anyone do it (because, guess what, you can't), supposed to know how to approach this challenging novel-writing gig to begin with?

It’s a puzzle, and it’s why developing writers experience so much struggle.

Yes, they’ve seen the finished books! Chances are they’ve read a ton. 

But they haven't seen all the...

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Why is it so hard to focus? It’s every writer’s complaint.

focus mindset process Jan 29, 2023

So there I was, sitting in my local coffee spot, sipping my Americano and mulling the question at hand:

What should my livestreamed talk be about this week?

—when my focus was upended by a conversation at a nearby table.

Reader, I eavesdropped. An intent young man was sharing his hopes and dreams with a patient young lady, who nodded in time to his drumbeat of earnestness.

He listed one ambition, then another, and then two more (you can find out what they were here).

Flushed with feeling and caffeine, he concluded, “That’s it! I’m just going to focus on these four things. Oh, and my music, too!”

That’s five things, but never mind. I knew at once that my topic would be focus. It’s every writer’s complaint.

  • How hard it can be to maneuver ourselves into work mode to start with.

  • How easily we get distracted.

  • How frustrating it is to finally buckle ourselves into the writing chair, only to tinker aimlessly with our work-in-progress...

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What writers can learn from....pickleball?


ENROLLING NOW! The Path of the Storyteller program starts in January, and seats are still available. Click here to learn more. 

It’s the game that’s sweeping America, and the world: Pickleball!

I too, have happily fallen in semi-obsession with the new national pastime. It's good for writers to get fresh air and exercise! 

But I also find it’s really good to be learning something new.

It’s stimulating to be a beginner. It puts the focus not on “how good” we are, but on how open we are to learning.

This is a real life skill. The process of learning is the same no matter what the subject matter is. If we cultivate becoming good at learning, we can learn anything. 

Including how to write really good fiction.

See, you knew I’d get to writing eventually!

In my many years of teaching and mentoring writers, I’ve found that writers sometimes have unrealistic expectations about what...

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Today’s the perfect time to do this!

careers mindset process Dec 07, 2022

ENROLLING NOW! The Path of the Storyteller program starts in January, and seats are still available. Click here to learn more. 

A question for you: When is the perfect time to act?

To start a new project?

To break an old habit?

To finally drop something that’s not working?

To pivot? Reboot? Change course? Face facts?

I think most of us know in our hearts when SOMETHING needs (or has long needed) to change. But that doesn’t always mean we take action.

Often, there's a panicked answer that rises within us:

Not now.

There’s too much on my plate.

I’m already overwhelmed.

After I get these ten other very trivial things sorted out, THEN I'll be able to finally deal with That One Important Thing that I’ve been putting off for years

We’re all this way. People (and writers are people, don’t forget!) never seem to run out of ways to say “Eek! I’m not ready for this."


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No more prodraftinating!


Anyone who’s read my Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books knows I like making up words. 

The most popular invention in that series was “optoomuchism,” which is the tendency to take optimism much, much too far. Spending your Powerball winnings before actually checking to see if you have the winning ticket would be an example of optoomuchism. 

Well, today, dear storytellers, I have a new word for you: prodraftinating

It’s what happens when we use drafting as a means of procrastinating.

Now, before you get all flustered, know that I want you to be drafting your books! I want you to have fun doing it, too. Creative work is a form of play, and it should feel like that while you’re drafting.

But what I want you to consider is that scribbling pages of words without making actual choices about what happens is a red flag. It’s using that good “look at me, I’m drafting!”...

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Top ten NaNoWriMo tips (they’re not just for November)

nanowrimo process Nov 09, 2022

My top ten tips for winning at NaNoWriMo are good all year round.

More than the falling leaves, more than bags of leftover candy, more than the vast, strange displays of decorative gourds everywhere you look—nothing says November more than flocks of writers head-down, scribbling madly to meet daily word count goals as if their very lives depended on it.

Yes, storytellers—it’s NaNoWriMo season! National Novel Writing Month is here again.

I’m all for anything that gets writers’ creative juices flowing. In today’s livestream I’m offering my top ten tips for having a fun and productive NaNoWriMo. But these tips don’t only apply in November. Think of them as all-weather advice for managing your creative energies.

Whether or not you’re sprinting through a draft this month, I think you’ll find these tips useful. Leave a comment below and let me know!

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Are you lost in the words?

process Oct 28, 2022

While writing their drafts, many writers are way way, way too focused on the words.

What? Sacrilege, right? Let me clarify. 

Most writers start drafting by typing Chapter One. Then they do their best to scribble down as many words as they can, on as many days as they can. 

The more words per day, the quicker the draft is done, right?

And isn’t the draft supposed to be a hot mess that we fix later? Isn’t getting to “The End” our primary goal?

I do know this is all very common advice. But I say no.

When we draft, we are first and foremost drafting a story. 

The words of the draft don’t matter (yes, let them be a hot mess!) because we cannot possibly know what words are needed (or what scenes are needed, or what characters are needed) until we have done the foundational work of coming up with a story.

That’s what the draft is for.

I don’t mean we need to start with a turn-by-turn outline. I’m an inveterate...

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Don’t let the D-word be your big excuse.

discipline process Oct 19, 2022

“I’d love to write. I just don’t have the discipline.”

Oh, my dear storytellers. If I had a nickel for every time a struggling or would-be writer has said those words to me! I would have all the nickels in nickeldom.

But are these words even true? Is “lack of discipline” the correct diagnosis when a writer finds themselves unable to focus on the work for more than a few minutes at a time?

Or stares at the screen and decides to do laundry instead?

Or avoids the writing chair for days, weeks, years on end, until their dream of writing threatens to wither altogether?

Even if these writers are correct, and discipline deficiency is an actual condition they suffer from, it’s not a helpful diagnosis. Adding “more discipline” is not a simple matter of taking a vitamin supplement. Any kind of behavior change is notoriously difficult. 

And what if “discipline” is not the issue at...

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Don’t be a passive writer

process Oct 04, 2022

Watch out for these seven traps the “passive writer” can fall into.

I often talk about the dangers of a “passive hero.” That’s the kind of main character who has no clear overall goal for the story.

Imagine if Dorothy didn’t really want to get back to Kansas! She arrives in Oz, looks around, and shrugs. What’s that story going to be about? Beats me. 

It’s not hard to see why your hero shouldn’t be passive. 

Yet what about the passive writer? 

I don’t mean the would-be novelist who says they’re going to write but never gets around to it. That is a real issue, for sure. Some combination of limiting beliefs and simply not knowing how to get started is usually the culprit. 

I’m talking about the writer who sits in front of their laptop and grapples intently with last week’s scribbling, their stack of research, their journal full of themes and concepts—and yet comes away...

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The truth about drafts

process Sep 13, 2022

What is a draft, anyway? 

This deceptively simple question came from a fine writer I mentor, and at once I was struck by its profound implications! 

“Draft” is one of those words writers sling around, but it’s not always clear what we mean by it.

Does it mean a stream-of-consciousness jumble of words, or a neatly organized tale that's just a few turns of the screwdriver short of being publishable?

Writers confuse themselves needlessly by calling the complex, varied process of writing a book “drafting and revision,” as if it were two simple steps, like doing the cha-cha. When the real workload turns out to be so much more than that, who can they blame for “not doing it right” but themselves?

My dear storytellers, it’s not your fault! The process is mysterious because we don’t get to see other writers do it. We only see the outcome.

Today, let’s explore the idea of process. How do we pluck the...

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