Tag Archives: planning

24 Apr

A Writing Career: Be Yourself!

Do you ever sit and plan out your career?

Recently on a listserv, authors were talking about careers. Some knew exactly where they wanted to go and were laser focused. Some were looking all around and trying a bit of this and a bit of that. How do you plan a writing career?

What are you good at?
Which pieces of writing are bringing you the most attention? This is a hard one because some of the writers were having success with nonfiction pieces; yet, they longed to write fiction. (Not many vice versa!) The question became, do you stick with nonfiction to build a career? Some needed the income from their nonfiction and considered it their job; fiction was their passion, but not the bread-winner, so they could only fit it in around other projects.

There’s nothing wrong with this! Good writing is good writing. Why not make money at what you do and do well? Often, we don’t see ourselves and our work clearly. The marketplace has a way of rewarding good work and it’s clearly something to which you should pay attention.

Where do your passions lie?

Darcy Self Portrait quilt

“Six of One, Half a Dozen of Me,” self-portrait quilt. c. 2014 Darcy Pattison


Are you a frustrated poet? Do you love YA novels? Or do easy readers excite you because you’ll be helping someone learn to love reading? For me, everything I do winds up being teaching. I like to take complex material and simplify it for others so it’s practical and easy to implement. But I also love poetry, writing fantasy and science fiction novels, and writing for this blog. Picture books are especially exciting for me to write. I’m all over the place. When you have a multifaceted set of passions, sometimes you need to prioritize. Or understand that for this season of life, one passion will sell better than anything else.

If you need some tutoring in order to be great at a passion, then get it.

Unique: No One Else Could Do This
One way of thinking about this is to answer this question: What can you do that no one else could do? What’s the one type of writing/publishing in which you could be the best in the world? Top Dog! Why mess around writing mediocre pieces? Instead, find the one thing that you do best and no one else can match you.

Maybe it’s one of these:

  • Nature poetry for K-3.
  • Erotica for New Adult readers.
  • Christian fiction set in NYC for New Adult readers.
  • YA dystopian stories set on Mars.
  • Picture book family stories for the MidWest.
  • Preschool picture books that include a grandparent.
  • Vietnam War stories for middle grade girls.

It doesn’t matter that you are the only one in your category and you’ve even invented the category. Vietnam War stories for middle grade girls? Yikes! Unlikely. But it that’s your passion and you can pull it off with integrity and excellence, then do it!

That’s how you build a career. Do something no one else has done and do it with such excellence that no one can turn you down.

Easier said than done? Of course. But a career plan worthy of striving toward. And in the end, that’s all we can do. Butt in chair. Write. You might as well choose to write what will build your career.

18 Feb

What Next? 15 Questions to Help you Decide Your Next Writing Project

I was lucky enough to get an Advanced Reader Copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, DECISIVE: How to make better choices in Life and Work. You may know the Heath brothers from their previous books, SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard and MADE TO STICK: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. They are adept at taking massive amounts of research on topics with widespread appeal and distilling the information into something that can be used in daily life. In DECISIVE, they discuss decision-making and make it practical. Here, I have applied many of their ideas in a simple checklist: What manuscript should you write next?

Courtesy of the Heath Brothers amazing insights into the applicability of much research, these are practical ideas to help you make the best decision possible. If you want to know more, DECISIVE will be released on March 26, available now for pre-order.



You just wrote, “The End.” And you hit the SEND button. The manuscript is off to the editor.

What now? How do you decide on the next project?

Build a Career

An agent once asked this question: What is the next logical book for you in terms of building an audience that will support your career?

Do you see the criteria embedded in that question:

  • Build an audience
  • Support your career

Is that what you want? A career with a growing audience? Then, you probably need to stick with the genre of your first book, and turn out a second book that will appeal to the same audience. If you wrote a mystery and it sold well, write another mystery—different, better, but definitely appealing to the same audience.

But it may not be that easy. Maybe several genres interest you and you want to try something new. But that might risk your career, because you aren’t building a consistent following. How do you sort out all your ideas and commit to the next project? Here are 15 questions to ask yourself.

15 What Next Questions

  1. Don’t Get Trapped in Too Small a Framework. The decision is rarely one like this: Should I do Mss A or not? Instead, try to look at a range of options. Here are ideas that I have, A, B, C, D, and E. Which of these would appeal to the same audience as my first success?
  2. What else you could write in the same time period. If it takes you six months to write a novel, what else could you get written in that time period? What project deserves that time commitment?
  3. What if you couldn’t write the Mss you had planned to write next? What would you write then? For example, if you were planning a picture book biography of Shirley Temple and one was just published to great acclaim, maybe it’s not the best time for this story. So, pretend something similar just happened to your pet idea. What would you do then?

  4. Could you write the openings of several different manuscripts and THEN decide which one excites you the most? Multi-tracking sometimes allows the cream to rise.
  5. Look at the career of someone you admire and want to emulate. At a similar point in his/her career what was the next book published? Or, look at a musician or actor/actress and find parallels in their careers. For example, Sean Connery could have gotten stuck in the 007 role and never found his way to new projects. Instead, he has regularly “reinvented” himself by taking risky roles that led to an expanded career. Is it time for you to write that “breakout” book you’ve been planning?


  6. Looking over all the possible manuscripts and ideas—what has you the most excited? Which one are you scared to write—and therefore, will push you to write your best?
  7. Ask the opposite question: if you have been writing mysteries, what if your next novel was a romance? Is this the time to make a switch or not? Can you carry any of your audience over to a new genre? Is there a way to work more romance into your next mystery, so the transition isn’t total, but pulls in readers from both genres?
  8. Could you test new waters with a short story or a short ebook? Is there a way to TRY something new, without doing damage to your current audience? Once you decide on a new mss, you’ll have to commit wholeheartedly to write the best possible. But maybe you can take a couple weeks and try out a new market.
  9. Are you too attached to the status-quo? Your publisher wants more and more of this one type story and you get paid. But somehow, you feel your passions are lessened. At what point do you need to shake up the status quo?
  10. What would you tell your best writer friend to do in this situation?
  11. What are you passionate about? What are your core values? Does Mss A or B or C or D allow you to express that passion better?
  12. If you write this book and a year from now it fails(either not published or published to poor reviews), can you think why it would have failed to reach your audience?
  13. If you write this book and it succeeds, can you discuss why it would make your readers excited about your work?
  14. Do you set goals for your books? If this mystery doesn’t sell 10,000 copies, then I’ll try a different genre for my next project. Would a goal like that help you make the next career move?
  15. Are there deadlines for this project, or can you create a deadline? You’ll devote six months to this fantasy story, and then, you must write your next mystery.

You have a choice to make and the choice will affect your future and your career as a writer. What will you write next? There are no right or wrong answers, only answers that please you. You’re in control. I know–that’s scary! But that’s another post.

Hey, Chip and Dan–What will YOU write next?

05 Nov

SCENE 5: Beat Sheets

Build a Scene List: Then Prune

StrongerScenes250x150
30 Days to a Stronger Scene Table of Contents
By now, you know what a basic scene is and how to plan a scene. Today we’ll move past the planning to the writing stage. When you write a scene, it helps to break down the actions and emotions into a beat sheet.

Some people use beat sheets to refer to the flow of scenes, but here, I’m using it to refer to the flow of actions and emotions within a single scene.


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Beats within a Scene

Here’s an example of beats within a scene I was just working on.

Action Beats/Laurel’s Emotional Beats

  • Laurel says she must go/reluctant to leave Jassy
  • Jassy gets cloak/staff to escort her/pleased Jassy is coming, shy with Jassy
  • Walk through snowy woods/lonely
  • A figure appears/fear
  • Jassy attacks/please he’s protecting her
  • Laurel says, Stop, I know him/surprise
  • Laurel introduces Jassy to older man/hesitant, aware of criticism
  • Jassy asks for job/hopeful
  • Older man looks at Jassy’s hands/encouraged by serious consideration
  • Laurel admits she told a secret/scared, glad Jassy is there to protect

In some ways, you might notice, this detailed beat sheet reads like a narrative summary. What’s missing is the detailed development of the scene with full dialogue, action, emotions and thought. Some people even write a full novel with narrative summary, then go back and expand. I feel like that’s what I’ve done on some of my early drafts.

Using a detailed beat sheet for a scene, you can go on and write it easily. The key here is to remember that the beat sheet is a guide for the scene. By developing it early, you’re forced to think about the progression of action and emotion and take into account the physical/emotional settings. However, as I write from a beat sheet, I invariably find ways to introduce more tension. I don’t mind adding, subtracting or shifting the beats as needed when I write. The beat sheet has done it’s job at that point by keeping me focused and I’m willing to let the writing take a tangent course, as long as the focus is getting sharper in the process, instead of blurrier.

04 Nov

SCENE 4: Plan a Scene

Writing Scenes: Planning


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StrongerScenes250x15030 Days to a Stronger Scene Table of Contents
Here’s a basic template for planning a scene. Later, when you get ready to write the scene, you might want to list individual actions in what’s called a “beat sheet.” But when you’re just planning scenes, you want these basics.

  • Basics
    • Setting:
    • Where are we
    • What is the Occasion
    • Who is present:
    • What happens, or what is the plot event
  • Emotion
    • Emotional Pulse/subtext running through the scene:
    • Emotion at Beginning:
    • Emotion in middle
    • Emotion at End:
  • Plot
    • Plot Goal:
    • Plot Complication:
    • Plot Complication:
    • Plot Complication:
    • Disaster at end of scene:
  • What gets reviewed in between scenes This is the emotional reaction to what just happened and can be covered in a single word. (Angry, she went. . . ) or can take a couple pages. After the emotional outburst, the character thinks about everything and decides what to do next, which leads to. . .
  • Goal of next scene:
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