Category Archives: Writing Tips

Four Quick Fixes for Chapter Starts and Finishes

galaxiesmallMost writing exercises are useful in some way or other, but some take us so swiftly and directly towards our goals, that they’re worth identifying and emphasizing. For example, taking a close look at the beginnings and endings of chapters.

  1. When changing POV character, it would seem a no-brainer that you want to get the new character up and identified as soon as possible. However, setting the reader directly into the character’s skin is more important still, while they’re learning whose skin they’re now wearing. The reader is naturally reluctant to leave the previous POV, and to name the new one too soon may cause the reader to set the book down rather than read on. To settle, see the next point.
  2. At the start of every chapter, and arguably every scene, we want to cover time, place, setting, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.
  3. At the end of every chapter, it’s worth making sure that it doesn’t actually “finish.” A great sentence that feels like an ending to the conflict may cause the reader to close the book. Sometimes the sentence must be removed; sometimes it works to move it to the next chapter.
  4. Watching out for rhythms in positive and negative starts and stops is a subtle way to establish storytelling authority. As author Beverly Boissery once put it to me, chapters that always begin positively and end negatively, read flop flop flop. If a chapter ends negatively, consider beginning the new chapter negatively as well, and end it positively, with a hint at future conflict.

Chapter starts and endings set us up to keep reading, keep invested in the characters, and love the book. Whether drafting or revising, these are fairly easy fixes to create even greater narratives.

I hope you’ll have another great week in your writing career. Cheers, Mel


If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Writing Toolboxes

Internet sites talk about writerstechneforfun’ tool
kits as if they were purchaseable equipment, but in truth our toolboxes are entirely inside our minds.  We work in notebooks and on computers, but if we had neither, we could still tell stories to listeners gathered around a campfire.  Writing is making something out of nothing but spirit and brainpower.

“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain!  What do you do to get like that, Jeeves?  I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something.  Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?”PG Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your use of the senses in your writing is brilliant– puts the reader into your point-of-view character’s skin. Your Writing Muse

Anticipation and Time Management for Writers

Loving the work saves writers time. Actively looking forward to writing is a powerful practice for those of us working to create a writing career within a full-time life. When we love an activity, we prepare for it.

I love my drafting time like I love skiing, and If I know I’m going to be skiing on a weekend, I’ll think about it through the week, with pleasant anticipation. I’ll be ready. I’m not about to waste my skiing hours looking for my boots, or my drafting hours writing with reluctance, or without direction.

Time to do what we truly love is not time we’re likely to approach with worry or distress.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel.

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Your intense focus as you outline & draft, serves your writing career well. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Carving Out Writing Time

Of course, we love our work and so we’re motivated to make time for it. But, make time out of what?  Busy lives, demands from family, friends, home, and work appear to fill every day to bursting.

Carving moments of peace for employing our drafting skills — and for anything else, for that matter — is a skill in itself.  We blink, and the better part of the day is gone.  All we have left are a couple of hours best spent not with brandy in the basement, typing madly into the night, but with our loved ones, building lives and memories and getting ourselves and our writing brains  a good night’s sleep.

One way to approach carving out times of serenity is to begin by imagining the goal. Picture ourselves at our favourite time of day for drafting, in our favourite writing place. For many of us, we feel freshest in the morning.  And, we probably have an hour or two, within a morning or two during the week that is at least meant to be under our control.

The next step is to look at this block of time.   What activity fills it now?

Can it be canned, or perhaps chunked through the week, like shopping or cleaning?  Or, if it’s a wonderful activity, could it move to the afternoon or evening?

And if it can’t be canned, moved, or spread throughout the week, for example if you’re dealing with a 24/7 boss, or tiny children, it’s worth remembering the words of a friend of mine:  “There’s a time for everything, and your time will come.”

Because, when life really is too busy to write, that’s when we gain experiences to write about.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: Stuck for an idea, you list 20 ways it could happen. Superb writing practice. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Walking, Sleeping, and Writing Better

“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Historian G. M. Trevelyan

walkerbanner1We’re built to walk, and our bodies benefit.   Brains too, being part of the body (as I’m always forgetting as I hunch over and straighten up at my keyboard).

Walking helps gut health, as well, and I’m thrilled and baffled to learn that our guts are full of neurons.

Taking a tip from the Italians, who perambulate of a balmy evening, I’ve begun walking in the cold rain after supper, and by heaven, I sleep better.  There’s little better brain magic than sleep.

I’m up to 3 walks a day, at about 13,000 steps average, because, authors, I’m beginning to think that, like actors, swordfighters, and other athletes, we have a duty to our calling and our career to take our exercise, not just more seriously, but as a professional imperative.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou work hard to give your best to the world of readers. We are most grateful. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

For more on walking, see my page Walking to Write, with 100 days of writing and other rewards for integrating an hour a day’s walking into a writing life.

Writers’ Block Busting

As a mystery writer, I love misdirection, because it sets me to investigating.  Quick and unhelpful answers to writing questions are some of my favourite black boxes.

The knee jerk answer we all get when we ask, “Why am I stuck?” is, “Writers’ block”.  Litmus test on this answer:  Quick?  Sure.  Unhelpful?  Totally.  So why do we accept this answer?  I’ll tell you why some of us accept it, it’s because if we have writers’ block then that’s proof we’re actually writers. So, once we relax and agree we really are writers, just as we have always wished to be, let’s deal with the serious issue of being stuck.

If we’re stuck, it’s like being stuck in any aspect of our lives that is getting us down.  It means we don’t have excellent goals to keep us interested, excited, and on track.  In writing, goals mean outlining.  So, when brainpages adhere one to the other, one way to get unstuck is

  1. Procure a timer
  2. Set the timer for 5 minutes
  3. Outline the beginning, middle, and end of your story for 1 character.  I often use the story evolution page from the brilliant First Draft in 30 Days : A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript(Paperback) – 2005 Edition 
    by Karen Wiesner

Repeat as necessary, for more characters, until the writing mind is raring to go.

In order to avoid getting stuck at all, outlining this way in odd 5 or 10 minute parcels of time during the week works wonders.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseWriting down your great goals fuels your writing career beautifully. Admirable practise.  Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

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Creating a Writing Career: Think Big

Some say we write for an audience of one.  Granted that our great work is writing the words that reader loves to read, we may also ask ourselves big-picture questions, like

  • What talks would I love to give?
  • How best may I receive, track, and deal with an increasing income?
  • How might I answer classic interview questions? 

Success expert Jim Rohn famously said, “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.” That’s thinking big, for even the best keep getting better.  Let me rephrase. Especially the best, get better.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseYou arrange matters to get a great sleep most nights, ready for the writing ahead. Fab. Your Writing Muse #amwriting @pulpliterature

Mel will be dispensing more of her encouraging words of wisdom at the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby from March 31st – April 2nd.  She’s not here in town often, so be sure not to miss her!

Galloping Time, Supporting Systems for the Writing Life

Now and then, a moment arrives, when hardly anybody wants anything from us. Maybe something was cancelled, leaving a serene empty space, or it’s the day after a holiday.

I used to go mad at such moments.  Quick, this is my chance to write 5400 words.  But, what if, instead of typing up a storm until the next serendipitously empty timeslot raises its noble head and invites us to gallop away upon it (okay, that’s a tempting thought to me too, so if you love that idea, leave this paragraph in your dust and ride away on inspiration), what if we use this little moment of peace to redesign the systems and reset the components of our lives to create timeslots of our own?  And perhaps ask 3 questions:

  1. If my perfect life and writing career were here, what would it look like?
    hint: every day includes time for relationships, for eating and moving well, and for kicking back.
  2. What am I using up time for that I don’t like much, and that doesn’t serve me or mine?
    hint: we all know what to do, so, how to do it?
  3. In the area of life where things seem so crazy they’re sucking my creative energy, is there any system, perhaps over the course of the week, that I could set in place to make things less onerous?
    hint: systems are not about achieving perfection, they are about our present selves doing something in a few minutes to save our future selves an hour for writing.

I don’t want to use my creative powers to deal with It’s five pm and there’s nothing to eat, what magic can I perform?  I like cooking, but I’d prefer to use the magic on my manuscript and have food in the fridge and a plan in the kitchen.  Come the weekend, I don’t want to take that big beautiful 3-hour drafting timeblock and use it to shoulder through crowds at Costco.  If we can generate a system or two, we can support our creative powers without shortchanging our lives and the people we adore.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

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muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuseWhatever the weather, you keep writing. Your persistence, endurance, and strong talent move your career along beautifully. Your Writing Muse 

Adventures in Writing

untitledEndurance is one of the great challenges in our writing careers — holding on with tenacious minds to the idea that we can do this, even though we’re working on page 17 with 350 left to go.  But even more boldly, we’re also attempting to devise something brilliant, something that has never been made before.  Originality has always been a daunting sort of goal.  Making something out of nothing is the ultimate creation within the arts.  By definition, creation takes us out of our comfort zones.

One trick to time management and self-motivation, is to find a way enjoy the tension and fear, rather than frittering our drafting time away with other things in an unconscious avoidance of a big leap in storytelling or any tricky aspect in our writing careers.

It’s kind of like a day up Whistler, I guess, facing the most challenging run we’ve ever taken.  And, we never wanted it to be easy.  If we do this crazy thing, we do it because we know we can.  It’s down to us to find a line and follow it, and to choose — not whether we’ll do it, we already know we will, we’re equipped with the skills we need, we’ve paid our bucks, and won’t turn back — but choose to enjoy the ride and wear a cool smile while the snow arcs up around us.  What a great day this is.  Of writing, I mean.  Darn, I’d love a day up Whistler, too.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

I admire your discipline as you create time blocks for planning, drafting, & revising during your busy week. Your Writing Muse 

The Pop-Up Writing Space

We most likely have, each of us, a dedicated writing office space of one kind or another. Here, seated or standing at our own desk, we often feel primed to begin. It’s almost like having a head start on the work. I hear some of us saying, as I have from time to time, I can only write when I’m alone in my office.

Still, charm of setting and pursuing a noble goal are not enough for storytelling, nor are they always enough for the writers who devise them. Just as the stories we’re writing demand transformation to hold a reader’s attention, our writers’ minds desire change to keep sharp.

Libraries.  Coffee shops.  Different areas in our homes.  If we consider devising pop-up writing spaces, should silence be a prerequisite?  Those of us who admire Jane Austen’s work know we’d be missing much had she required quiet.

A pop-up office won’t be as fab as our own perfectly — or madly — arranged private offices.  Especially office spaces we love with all our hearts.  But, even pleasures may fail to please when we settle into a favourite rut.  Our brains are our most important writing tools, and they thrive on change as much as comfort.

 I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse:

You keep the goals for your writing career in plain view. A perfect guide for your continued success. Your Writing Muse

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