Tag Archives: writing fiction

Chasing Inspiration (Guest Post)

Tile letters spelling "inspiration" with floral background.
Image by Mango Matter from Pixabay

Chasing Inspiration

by Steph Beth Nickel

I wrote over 40K words of my first YA speculative fiction novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2020. And then . . .

True confession time . . .

I left it so long that I wanted to go back and read it from the beginning, making minor changes and getting my momentum back.

But that didn’t happen. At least not until June of this year.

In just three days, I read the 44K+ words, tweaked those 140 or so pages, and organized my notes (character names, questions that needed to be answered, an idea for a possible freebie, etc.).

The more I worked on it, the more motivated I became.

Waiting for inspiration hadn’t worked. Chasing after it . . . did.

Are you stuck? Unmotivated? Uninspired?

Here are three ideas to help you get your mojo back:

  1. If you’re a discovery writer (aka a pantser) like I am, there comes a point when it’s a good idea to make yourself some notes. Keep track of who’s who. Make a list of times you dropped “the first shoe.” If you never drop the second, your readers will not be pleased. Unanswered questions and unresolved issues are not your friend. When you reread your work, be on the lookout for inconsistencies. I once had the wind inexplicably change directions—on the same page. I’m so glad I caught it before letting anyone else read that story. Diving into the details can inspire you to get back to writing.
  2. I love giving my characters the freedom of taking me where they want to go. Of slowly but surely revealing their personality traits and quirks to me. Of making me unexpectedly laugh or gasp. But if I don’t have a rough idea of where the story will end, I can find myself wandering around aimlessly by the middle of the story. I have the epilogue written for a contemporary women’s fiction story I plan to get back to. Plus, I’m currently working on the last chapter of the YA novel I mentioned earlier, even though I’ve only written approximately half the manuscript. The plan is for it to be the first book in a series. So, I need a cathartic ending that is still open-ended. I’m happy with what I’ve settled on. Writing a possible ending for your story may help you decide how to get from where you are to where you want to go.
  3. We’ve all heard it. And it may be the last thing many of us want to hear again. But I’ve found it’s true. I have to turn off Netflix (and Disney Plus and Prime Video and Paramount Plus), not to mention social media, and sit at my computer, open my writing program, and keep at it—even when the ideas don’t come pouring out. Walking away from distractions and focusing on your writing may be just the thing you need to get those words flowing again. It’s 100% fine if it begins as a trickle. Keep pumping out the words, and that trickle could very well become a steady stream.

While my focus is on fiction, the same principles apply when you’re writing nonfiction, although it’s far more challenging to apply discovery writing techniques to nonfiction.

How do you chase inspiration?


Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com;
join her Facebook group:
 https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738;
or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.

Behind the Scenes of Bitter Truth


Mystery and suspense writers joke about law enforcement flagging our internet searches. For the murder in the opening pages of Bitter Truth, I spent hours looking up ways the killer could dispatch the victim from a distance or with a time delay. 

Truth told, it’s a little creepy looking at weapons sites on the internet. There are some disturbing subcultures. If you want to know what a “TEOTWAWKI kit” is, first try to guess. Then I’ll tell you at the end of this post.

On the upside, I discovered you can buy “Batman Batarang Throwing Knives.” I’m not a weapons person (although I love a good kitchen knife) but these are, well, if you’ll pardon the pun, they’re very “sharp looking”! 

Back to the research… So many options for a fictional murderer! I decided it would be dramatic to have the killer use a poisoned dart. So I studied various types of poisons. And blowguns, because he could fold it up and not look suspicious. How long would he need to practice with something like that? And how close would he have to be?

It could work. I wanted it to work. 

Then I thought about the character of the killer, his goals and his style. 

All he needed was a sniper rifle. 

There went all my fancy plans! But you never know, a poison dart may show up in a later book. Nothing’s ever wasted. 

And the answer to the mystery question is…
“TEOTWAWKI” = “The End Of The World As We Know It” 

Yikes! It’s good to be prepared for emergencies, as Green Dory Inn character Nigel Foley would attest.

Still, in these days following Easter I’d rather focus on the One who laid down His life on the Cross to save us and took it up again in triumph three days later. His purposes are best, His promises are true, and His love never fails. As the Bible says, our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15).

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On the Eve of NaNoWriMo (Guest Post)

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

On the Eve of NaNoWriMo

By Steph Beth Nickel

If you’re a writer, especially a fiction writer, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), may be familiar to you. Each year, during the month of November, hundreds of thousands of people sit down to crank out 50,000 words. Not 50,000 brilliant, astounding, incredible words. Fifty thousand words that may end up in a drawer (virtual or physical) never to see the light of day.

But maybe. Just maybe.

Those 50,000 words will become the bones a novel. They may morph into your first published book or your twentieth.

So, since it’s already October 29, is it too late to sign up? Absolutely not.

While some writers spend the month of October preparing an outline, creating character sketches, and ironing out the plot, others hit the ground running on November 1 with only the vaguest idea of what their story will be about.

I have three books I could work on during November, but instead, I decided to dive into a new project. The preparation? Make a list of what’s important to me right now. Review that list until a character introduces herself and lets me know her story needs to be written—and maybe a little of what that story’s about.

Sound too “out there” for your liking? That’s okay. There are as many different approaches to NaNoWriMo as there are participants. We all bring our unique writing style to the project.

Want to give it a try but don’t know where to start?

Here are nine ideas to get the creative juices flowing—even if you only have a couple of days before NaNo begins.

  1. Make a list of genres you like to read. There is great wisdom in writing what you like to read. (Note: Although it’s called National Novel Writing Month, some participants sign up for the challenge to motivate them to write 50K words toward any type of book. Some consider themselves NaNo Rebels.)
  2. Decide on the atmosphere you want to create. A light and happy romance. (We all need a little light and happy these days.) A suspense that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. A fantasy that will carry readers off into a world you’ve created. (If you choose to write a fantasy, your aim will likely be to write approximately 50 percent of the first draft in November. Most fantasies run closer to 100K words. But since this is your project, you may want to write the first 25 percent and the last 25 percent, leaving “the messy middle” for the revision process.)
  3. Think about what you typically write. Writing what you’re familiar with may give you the confidence to sign up for NaNo. Plus, you may come to the project with countless ideas that have already been tumbling around in your brain.
  4. Try something completely different. What better time to dip your toes into writing something you’ve never written before? Remember the goal is to write 50K new words, not 50K earth-shattering/inspiring/compelling words. (Psst! They don’t even have to be good.)
  5. Create a rough character sketch of your protagonist and/or antagonist. Rather than including their hair and eye colour and their favourite TV series, decide on an age range, gender, their ultimate goal and a list of obstacles that you’ll throw at them to keep them from achieving it.
  6. Create the skeleton of your plot. Where will the story begin and where will it end? You may even want to decide on an inciting incident and a dark night of the soul event. (The inciting incident plunges your protagonist into the story. The dark night of the soul event occurs at approximately the 75 percent point and is just what it sounds like. Things have gone from bad to worse for your protagonist, and this is the lowest point of them all.)
  7. Wake up on Monday, November 1, put fingers to keyboard, and just write. While you may be a die-hard plotter, this is the perfect opportunity to see what all the fuss is about “discovery writing” or “pantsing.”
  8. Give yourself a break. While it feels amazing to write 50K words in just 30 days (1,667 words per day), every word you write toward a new project is one you didn’t have written before.
  9. Recruit a friend or two to write with you. There are local groups and numerous opportunities to connect online with other participants. However, if you dive into this challenge with a small group of friends, you can become one another’s accountability partners. You may even want to meet at a local coffee shop once a week for lunch and a writing session. (Warning: If you’re as much of an extrovert as I am, the writing component will require excessive discipline.)

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com

To sign up, visit the NaNo website: https://nanowrimo.org/


Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com;
join her Facebook group:
 https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738;
or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.

Why Write Fiction? + Giveaway

Just a quick note to let you know I’m guest posting at the Dare to Bloom site, and giving away an ebook copy of Heaven’s Prey. Come join the conversation about why we write — and/or read — fiction. Click here: Why Write Fiction? (Giveaway ends July 26, 2017, and is of course void where prohibited by law.)

Four Tips to Writing a Death Scene That Won’t Kill Your Readership, by Sara Goff

Giveaway: Sara is offering a printed copy of I Always Cry at Weddings to one randomly chosen commenter, worldwide. The winner will be announced October 9. To be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment.

Four Tips to Writing a Death Scene That
Won’t Kill Your Readership

by Sara Goff

Readers aren’t likely to get excited about a death scene. You’re asking them to experience the protagonist’s despair, guilt-ridden relief, or callous pleasure, if that’s your story. The scene is intrinsically heavy. The action likely slows down, and perhaps worst of all, we’re reminded of our own mortality. Basically, you’re entering dangerous storytelling territory, where your readers might skim, skip, or ‘kill’ the book right there, setting it down. Losing a reader is a death no writer wants. You want to give your readers an emotional experience, and in order to get them laughing, bawling, or afraid to turn the next page they need to be engaged.

Here are four tips to writing a death scene that will lead your readers further (deeper) into the story:

Purpose. Think of the sequential scenes or chapters in your story as drivers on a long and winding journey. Each driver, or scene, takes the wheel of your story for a leg of the trip. If one scene gets lost, moves too slowly, or (yikes!) pulls into a rest stop, the action brakes, along with your readers’ attention.

How to avoid this? Make sure each scene has its driver’s license. That is, each scene or chapter needs to have a specific purpose that moves the action forward. So, in writing a death scene, for example, ask yourself: Is the death necessary in order to reach your destination? Here’s another way to phrase the question: Will arriving at “The End” feel incomplete or less satisfying without the scene?

If you answer “yes” to these questions, then hand over the keys and let that scene drive the action. My next three tips will test its driving skills.

Conflict. You’ve written a death scene and it’s licensed with big-picture purpose, advancing the plot. But does it have conflict? That’s like saying, is it fueled up for the drive? Readers are greedy; they expect the thrill of finding out what happens in every chapter, not just at the end of the book. A mistake I made when first writing about death was thinking, with unquestioning certainty, that the death of a supporting character was plenty of action to sustain a chapter. After all, death is a major life event. Actually, death is not a major life event in storytelling unless it’s about to happen to your protagonist and she narrowly escapes. My focus was on the dying character, not on my protagonist, so the chapter stalled.

Your protagonist needs to take action, and the fact that she’s in dire despair over the death of her husband is a reaction, not an action. Where is the Conflict? How will it resolve? Perhaps there’s a disagreement between your protagonist and her husband’s family, a disagreement that could make her lose custody of their daughter. Or the funeral home catches on fire and your protagonist risks her life to save her husband’s body. Well, you get the idea.

The conflict can be internal, as well. Your protagonist might be so terrified of losing her husband that she can’t find the words to say good-bye. Or she might be too proud to say she’s sorry for past mistakes and will have to live with the guilt. Now you have a purposeful chapter to the story as a whole that is also interesting on its own. A cliffhanger at the end of the chapter will keep your readers wanting more while you switch drivers, moving on to the next scene.

Originality. My third tip is how to avoid writing a death scene that reads like every other death scene. Since most people have lost a loved one or attended a funeral, it’s important to personalize your scene. Use props that mean something to your characters; for example, an old fiddle or a photograph. Color the room with flowers, curtains, a favorite pillow. A startling lack of color would also create a memorable scene, but be aware that you’re making a dark scene even darker. Unusual clothing and unexpected gifts would help to develop your characters. If a particular item, a keepsake, for example, is mentioned earlier in the story, now would be a good time to bring it back. In life we hang on to sentimental possessions when we’re feeling emotionally challenged; keep your story true to life.

Your chapter has Purpose, the right to belong in the story. It has Conflict, the gas to keep it going. You’ve even seasoned it with a unique blend of sensory objects that bring the action to life. However, you’re not done yet. There’s one more tip I can give you to deliver a death scene your readers will love.

Do not let a single cliché slip into the scene. “Tears streamed down her cheeks.” “It was his time to go.” “This too shall pass.” “The tragedy was too much to bear.” I could go on and on. Think of clichés as road bumps. If your readers come across one, they’ll be reminded of the thousand times they’ve heard the phrase before. What happens then? They stumble over the sentence and lose the flow of the story. Be on high alert and take the time to give your characters their own thoughts.

Showing the death of a character or the subsequent funeral will challenge you as a writer and enhance your story on many levels. Losing a friend or family member can be a life-altering event, which might take your story in a new direction. Everyone handles death differently, which means you have an opportunity to show more about your characters’ personalities. Most importantly, death gives you the chance to prove love’s everlasting power. With careful thought and attention to details, your scene will give the story emotional depth and resonate with readers.

Sara Goff

Sara Goff is the author of I Always Cry at Weddings and the founder of the global educational charity Lift the Lid, Inc., a non-profit supporting underprivileged schools and encouraging young people to exercise their creative expression through writing.  Formerly a New York City fashion buyer/merchandiser, Sara left her career to write and make a difference in the world.

In New York, Sara volunteered as a writing instructor for the homeless with Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Writers Workshop, founded by author Ian Frazier.  She has been an active member of The National Arts Club’s creative writing program and received two fellowships to Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia and Nairobi, Kenya.

Beyond her leadership with Lift the Lid, Inc., Sara has found a way to share her passion for the written word through speaking engagements with inner-city high schools and colleges in the New York area. Sara has lived in Europe for the past seven years and has recently moved to Connecticut with her Swedish husband of 14 years and their two sons, ages one and six.  I Always Cry at Weddings was released this September by WhiteFire Publishing. Proceeds from the book will go towards her charity Lift the Lid, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Visit www.lift-the-lid.org for more information on the charity.

~ Places to Connect with Sara ~

I Always Cry at Weddings, by Sara Goff

I Always Cry at Weddings

“Ava Larson is going to bring all the other brides to tears.”

Engaged to a wealthy NYC socialite’s son, Ava is ready to set the city abuzz with her glamorous wedding.  At least until she realizes her relationship isn’t what it should be.  Then, in a move as daring as a red satin dress, she does the unthinkable–she calls it all off and makes a promise to God that from now on, she’ll save sex for marriage.

She’s convinced the future is hers for the taking, especially when an undercover cop promises a new romance…and an unexpected friendship with the homeless guy under her stoop brightens her days.  But when her carefully balanced life teeters out of control, weddings aren’t the only thing to make her cry.  Ava has to figure out what life she really wants to live…and what in the world love really means.

Review: Writing the Heart of Your Story, by C.S. Lakin

Writing the Heart of Your Story, by C.S. LakinWriting the Heart of your Story, by C.S. Lakin (Ubiquitous Press, 2014)

What transforms a novel from a good read to one that lingers in readers’ imaginations? C.S. Lakin suggests the key is finding—and writing—the story’s heart. Finding it, she says, requires seeing the big picture, or some level of pre-writing discovery. Once a writer has found this connection point, he/she is in a strong position to weave it through the whole story.

Sections of the book focus on the heart of the story, of the characters, and of the plot, with extra sections on scenes and settings. Each chapter ends with a “think about” assignment, which turns this already-helpful book into a personalized writing course. Most assignments send writers back to their own favourite books to observe how those authors succeeded, and then challenge us to re-evaluate our own work.

If you’re a die-hard seat-of-the-pants writer, you may not value the book as much as I do, but you’ll likely find some things to help in your revision stages. C.S. Lakin is an unapologetic advocate of pre-planning, using the analogy of a mine: if you’re digging for the heart of your story, it makes sense to stabilize the tunnel so it won’t collapse.

I’ve done a prodigious amount of highlighting in this book, and it’s one I’ll go back to again and again to deepen my understanding. My first reading taught me things I’ve been able to apply immediately, and taking time to do the homework will build on that.

C.S. Lakin is a novelist and writing coach. Writing the Heart of your Story is one of her Writers’ Toolbox books, compiling a year’s worth of teaching on her Live Write Thrive blog. It’s available in multiple ebook formats as well as in print.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Writing Stick-to-it-ive-ness!

Valerie Comer

Valerie Comer

Writing Stick-to-it-ive-ness! (Guest post by Valerie Comer)

Have you ever wanted something so much that you spent a decade learning how to do it with no guarantee you’d ever be successful. . . whatever that means?

Janet’s theme on this site is “tenacity.” It’s vital in so many areas of life. Sometimes we call it stubbornness, but tenacity and diligence sound so much more positive. Either way, it’s the ability to set a goal and dig your heels in until you’ve achieved it.

In 2002 I decided to learn to write fiction. Hours every day had suddenly opened up with nothing to fill them. I’d always toyed with the idea of writing a novel “someday,” and knew this was a God-given opportunity to take the next step. Actually the first step.

Only, I had no idea what that step was. How-to-write books from the library were of little help, but the relatively new Internet pointed to some sites where I could learn. And learn I did. I averaged one novel a year for nine years before I finally sold a novella (ironically unwritten at time of sale), and I’ve written two more since. Over half of these are unsalvageable drafts with huge problems.

The biggest hurdles for me were two-fold.

1. I had no concept of the over-all process. I couldn’t see the steps. You know the cliché “can’t see the forest for the trees?” Well, I couldn’t even see the trees for the twigs. I got bogged down in the minutiae of writing and struggled to find the horizon.

2. I thought writers were either seat-of-the-pants writers (pantsers) or plotters. It took me a long time to “get” that there was a large middle ground in which most writers live. Thus it took me about ten too many novels to find the best practices for me. Now I know better than to tell anyone “this is the way it must be done.”

This spring it seemed the time had come to pay forward and help other, newer writers develop their craft, so I opened a website, To Write a Story, dedicated to teaching fiction from beginning to end. It seems to me that there are six stages in writing: planning, plotting, writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. My goal is to provide an overview of each stage so that writers can keep the forest in mind while they’re focused on those twigs.

To Write a Story

I’ve chosen a two-prong approach:

1. It’s a blog. I post a helpful article every Thursday on one of the six stages. Most of them are written by me, but I accept a small number of guest posts, too.

2. It’s a course. Writers can sign up in the sidebar for my FREE writing course via email. You’ll get a new lesson every week for the better part of a year, walking you through the process from beginning to end.

If you’ve ever wondered just what all is involved in writing fiction, I invite you to subscribe to the course (and/or the blog) and join the 70+ people (about one a day since I opened the course) who are already enrolled. We’re having a lot of fun and I think you will, too!

Want to learn To Write a Story? Then join in!

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Valerie Comer’s life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local foods movement as well as their creation-care-centric church. She only hopes her characters enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.

Valerie writes Farm Lit with the voice of experience laced with humor. Raspberries and Vinegar, first in her series A Farm Fresh Romance, releases August 1, 2013, from Choose NOW Publishing.