path of the storyteller / blog

Don’t be a passive writer

process Oct 05, 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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Writing, one step at a time


Our creative impulses sometimes arrive all at once, like a wave crashing on the shore.

It’s an exhilarating feeling when it happens. Like there’s a perfect, finished version of our book floating right there in front of us, just out of reach. All we have to do is write it down!

And then comes the writing it down part. 

What can I say but LOL, my friends! Right away we discover that we are not, in fact, “writing it down,” but assembling it in the dark out of rough materials we have to create ourselves.

We are inventing, experimenting, discovering, designing, building, choosing. We are wringing it out thin air, drop by drop.

Half (or more) of what we do will prove to be a dead end, and so we'll try again, but differently.

And then we get to revise all of that! 

Writing fiction is an incremental process. We don’t do it all in one go. We don’t “get it right” the first time.

And yet so many writers...

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Ten things to ask yourself—about you


We have a little saying in the Path of the Storyteller community: Know your tendencies!

I'm not the first person to advise this, of course. Socrates memorably advised his followers to “know thyself,” and probably some of them weren’t even writers!

But you and I are writers. And, In the pursuit of being ever better at what we do I'd say we have a particular responsibility to be curious observers of ourselves, in ways both mundane and deep: our work habits, our sensory life, our favorite phrases (kill your darlings!), our blind spots, our noble excuses, our enduring themes. 

Writers live for feedback, but If we don't take the time to know ourselves, who else will? In this livestream I run down a list of the top ten ways writers must know themselves. These are questions only you can answer! Can you guess what they are? Listen in and find out.

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The perfect process

process Mar 17, 2022

My earliest association with the word “process” is processed cheese.

Kraft American, to be precise! Those individually wrapped, unnaturally yellow slices were as plastic as their wrappings, but they made the grilled cheese sandwiches of my childhood legendary.

I loved those sandwiches. I mean, they were my absolute favorite thing to eat. 

Ah, for the pleasures of simpler times, right?

Now, when I use or hear the word “process,” it invariably refers to creative work. Normal work we just do, but our creative work seems to require a process. A special way of doing it, planning it, approaching it, managing it, measuring it.   

Why are writers so preoccupied with process? Why can't writing just be a simple and occasionally gooey pleasure? Something we can just do, without timers, spreadsheets, color-coded calendars, self-imposed deadlines and “accountability" partners?

It’s a contrarian question, but a...

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What’s driving the plot?

character plot process Mar 10, 2022

I sometimes stumble upon conversations between writers that make me scratch my head a bit. There’s a lot of terminology about writing craft floating around out there, that’s for sure!  And writers don’t always agree upon what even familiar terms mean.

One recent example was a debate about character-driven stories versus plot-driven stories. Talk about confusing!

Do character-driven stories have plots? Do plot-driven stories have characters? The answer to both questions has got to be yes, so what exactly do these terms signify? 

And if neither character nor plot can unequivocally be said to be “driving” the story, what is?

In this livestream, we talk about what character-driven and plot-driven might really mean. 

My weekly livestream about story structure, writing craft, and the mindset of the working writer happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific on YouTube. Come live and participate! Or...

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Here’s how to get back in the flow

process Jan 08, 2022

New year, new you—new book?

I have a successful writer friend (think NY Times bestseller) who says, “Every time I start a new book, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to do it.” 

She hasn’t, of course, but that new book feeling of starting over from absolute zero is a familiar one to writers who’ve been doing this a while.

It can be daunting. We look at the blank page and think: How did I forget how to do my job? When I was revising my last book, it felt like it was all going so well!

This is like comparing an intimate conversation with the person you know best in the world with walking into a vast, loud party where you know absolutely no one.

They feel different because they are different. 

In this livestream I talk about that scary, new-book feeling. How can we make friends quickly at this intimidating new gathering, and get ourselves back in the flow?  

My weekly livestream about story structure, writing...

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the two kinds of stuck

process working Oct 10, 2021

Stuck is one of those short, sharp, Anglo-Saxon-derived English words that give such a nice, rhythmic punch to our prose.

Compare it with something of a more romantic flavor, like, say, “immobilized.” A fine word, but you do get more bang for your buck with stuck!

The power of choosing one-syllable words (look at the last sentence of the previous paragraph for an example) is a great topic, but it’s not our topic this week.

This week I want to talk about being stuck. Immobilized. Not making progress. 

There are two kinds of stuck: Not writing stuck and writing stuck.

The not writing kind? We just stop working. We abandon a scene, a chapter, a project. We may have a lot of mental chatter about it, from the blithe “I'm just too busy at the moment” to the mean-spirited “I am undisciplined and unworthy of the name WRITER!” Either way, you're not writing! That’s stuck.

The other, and perhaps trickier...

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how fast should you write?

motivation process Sep 03, 2021

I once got annoyed when a colleague casually observed that I was a “slow” writer. I mean, I've published a lot of books. How slow could I be?

Is a writer who takes eighteen months to finish a publishable manuscript really that much slower than a writer who takes three months to scribble a draft that then takes two years of revision to be salable?

We all have our preferred process, and that’s great—but these labels can really get in the way. “How long did it take you to write it?" is asked so frequently of published writers! 

I'm old enough and humble enough to grasp that the popularity of the question is not because anyone is that interested in Maryrose and her deadlines! What’s really being asked is something along the lines of:

How long should it take me to finish a book?

Am I going too slow? I am, aren't I?

WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG? I'm no good, that's the only explanation.

If I were meant...

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revising like a pro


I’m in a cheery writing mood this week. It’s because I'm putting the finishing touches on a new manuscript. Huzzah!  

Revision is something I truly enjoy. It’s when we writers finally get the satisfaction of seeing the book work! Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, revision is when we sharpen the storytelling, tighten the screws, and make sure every syllable is earning its place on the page. 

Productive revision gives us the pleasure of finishing a puzzle. Things fall into place. The vessel becomes watertight, ship-shape.  

Drafting is our messy mudpie process. It’s for us. Revision is when we make it work for the reader. 

Which leads me to share this hard truth about revision: Revision is when your level of mastery is revealed.

Why? Because you cannot revise by ear.  

To revise, you need technique. You need a way of knowing with certainty whether the storytelling is crystal clear and...

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