Research Makes Your Setting Real

One of the most important qualities of great fiction is its ability to draw you into the story so deeply you become the characters living in that time and place. One way to create a believable fictional reality is by doing extensive background research for your book’s setting. This is true no matter what genre you write.

Historical fiction requires an author to dig deep into times and places from the past. But romantic suspense, fantasy, and sci-fi all benefit from research into the elements that compose the setting. Even contemporary set mysteries, women’s fiction, thrillers, and romances will feel more real if instead of writing tree or house, you use setting-specific terms like catalpa or clapboard bungalow.

Here are some suggested ways to research your setting:

~ Visit the Location ~

Nothing beats first-hand experience. Visiting the locale of your story is one of the best ways to absorb the unique atmosphere of the place. Even if you live in the spot you are writing about, taking time to roam the community and observe closely can add extra life to your story.

As you explore, take notes on the sensory elements around you. What colors, textures, and patterns do you see? Inhale a deep breath. What do you smell and taste? Stop moving and listen. What do you hear? Pay particular attention to surfaces. How does the ground feel under your feet? What is the atmosphere? How do light and shadow change the way things appear?

If you are writing historical fiction, be sure to visit museums and historical societies. Restorations and living history museums are a rich resource. Often, they will allow you to carefully handle artifacts or explore their archives if you ask. For contemporary writers, try to visit local eateries, stores, art events, and any specific places mentioned in your story.

If your characters interact with the setting environment in a special way, try to imitate their actions as much as possible. Do they play baseball on a local field? Try running the bases. Do they hide in an alley? Explore doing the same. Do they land their spaceship in a lagoon? Find a similar one to experience. All the while, keep your senses at a high level.

~ Talk to Residents and Experts ~

While visiting your locale, ask questions of anyone you meet. Most people will respond to general questions and perhaps add some unexpected information. You never know unless you ask. Things like the weather, the most popular places to visit, and how far is it are great conversation openers. If you say you are a writer, people are usually glad to help. Don’t forget to put their names in the acknowledgements, if they give permission.

If you can’t visit a locale in person, find a local resident or two to interview via phone or videoconferencing. Where to look? Try an area writer’s group. Fellow authors are always glad to help a compatriot. Search social media. Call local government agencies. Consult librarians and museum curators as well as colleges and universities in the area.

~ Use Maps ~

Google Maps and Google Earth are amazing resources for writers. You can search by keyword, latitude and longitude, or place names. Walk streets and find shops and homes using the Street View. Examine landscape terrain using the Satellite View.

To study changes in habitation or ecology create a timeline of satellite views. Here are directions for finding older views.

Interested in the past? Old Maps Online is an international database of map archives around the world. Or try a search on the term Interactive Maps. This will produce a listing of maps that you can manipulate in various ways.

~ Watch Videos and Documentaries ~

If traveling to your story location is difficult or impossible, the next best thing is to search out videos, movies, documentaries, photographs, and other media about your setting.

Another way to get a peek at other places is through webcams. EarthCam has links to cities and wild places all over the world. Watching over a period of time can give a feel for changing weather and light conditions as well as traffic patterns.

However, there are disadvantages to watching from afar. A major one is the lack of a total sensory experience. All these types of media are heavy on visual and auditory elements, but lack access to smell, taste, touch and more. Gather artifacts and materials you might find in that location to recreate the possible scents, textures, and tastes you might experience.

For more on incorporating sensory elements into your writing, see Editing for Sensory Language

Another problem is that what we see and hear has been filtered through the eyes and ears of the media creator or on where a webcam is focused. If possible, watch at least three or more media productions about your setting so you get as wide a viewpoint as possible.

There are also advantages. For one thing, you can stop, slow down, repeat, and review selected images and audio. Another is you can visit far flung places from the comfort of your chair.

~ Read, Read, Read ~

Don’t forget the tried-and-true way to research. Consult the writings of people who have lived in your setting or studied it intently. Diaries, letters, travelogues, research studies, and even tourist pamphlets can provide all kinds of facts and impressions you can use in describing your setting.

~ Learn More ~

For more research ideas, ways to find and evaluate sources, and choosing a method for organizing your data, see my new release Research Your Subject and Validate Your Writing.

“Please, if you write anything, whether it’s a scholarly article, a novel, a blog, or even just a post on Facebook, read this book first.”

Kathleen Buckley 5* Amazon review

Have you ever discovered something fascinating about a place you were writing about through research?

What Can a Writer Learn from the Principles of Art and Design?

To compose means so many things. It means put parts together. Arrange and rearrange. Intentionally design. To balance, control, and manage until everything flows together as a unified whole.

I may be a writer now, but my background was originally in art. In fact, one of our family jokes is that I was the art major, but now I write novels, and my sister, the English major, became a professional fine artist.

As a fine artist, I composed with color, line, shape, pattern, texture and more.

As a writer, I compose with words, meanings, sentences, punctuation, paragraphs and more.

Both fine art and writing require creativity and hard work. They also require an understanding of structure and principles. Surprisingly, the same principles used by an artist can inspire excellent writing as well.


An artist must choose one major element to be the focus of their art work—the spot where the viewer’s eye is attracted to first.

Likewise, a novelist should choose some element in their story that draws the reader’s attention. Most often this is the struggle and growth of the protagonist. But it could also be the theme or the emotional tug on the reader, or a major event such as a war or crime.

Some Ways to Add Emphasis to Your Novel

  • Make the focus apparent on the first page either by saying it in a creative way or showing it through character actions and thought.
  • Devote the most description, inner thought, and action in the story to this element.
  • Mention the focus element on almost every page.

For more on adding emphasis, including the use of punctuation, read Pace, Pause, and Silence: Creating Emphasis and Suspense in Your Writing by Lorelei Lingard.


Contrast is related to emphasis. In order to make one element stand out in an artwork, the other elements must contrast in some way, such as in color, size, position, clarity. A writer does the same. For example, to make the protagonist stand out, other characters must play a lesser role.

Some Ways to Add Contrast to Your Novel

  • Give each character a unique appearance and vocabulary or voice.
  • Add surprising contrasts, such as a pleasant setting in which something horrible happens. Or have a nasty character do something kind.
  • When an important character action or event occurs have it move from a dark setting to lighter one.

For more on how to add contrast, read Andrew Gallagher’s Scene Contrast.

Balance & Alignment

An artist tries to balance the art elements in their work adding just enough of each to form a harmonious whole. Symmetrical design, in which everything on either side of a center dividing line, is the most balanced and calming.

A writer needs to do the same. Too much inner thought or description can slow the pace of a novel almost to a standstill. Too much straight action or dialogue can leave the reader confused as to character motivation and beliefs.

Some Ways to Add Balance to Your Novel

  • Balance highly active scenes with calmer, more reflective, ones.
  • In long sections of dialogue, make sure character actions, setting, and mood are reflected through dialogue tags and interspersed description and inner thoughts.

To learn more about balancing story elements, see Gloria Kempton’s How to Balance Action, Narrative, and Dialogue in Your Novel.


An artwork needs not only to capture the viewer’s attention with the focal point, but then must move that viewer’s eye around the entire work. An artist does this by locating other interesting elements in such a way that the eye circles in a triangular or spiral motion.

A writer cannot just emphasize one element of the story. That element must be building to a climax and resolution. This is what creates the up-and-down plotline of the story. In most plot templates.

Some Ways to Add Movement to Your Novel

  • Show the character or focal element being propelled by the forces that in conflict.
  • Show the character moving during reflective thought and dialogue.

For more on adding movement to your writing see Shaun Levin’s Never Just One Thing.

What other art elements do you think can be applied to writing?

Please post your thought and comments below.

Build Amazing Characters from the Inside Out

What fictional characters stick in your memory? Is it the hero of a tragedy? The lover in a romance? The wizard in a fantasy? Is it Hamlet? Cinderella? Harry Potter?

Creating amazing characters is key to writing a story readers will remember and return to again and again.

Normally, writers start with the outer appearance of a character – hair color, eye color, size, and attractiveness. But what if we started with the inner core – the spark that makes the character step onto the page and into reader’s hearts and minds? Here’s how to build a character from the inside out.

Inside Your Character’s Head

Our minds are powerful. They control how we see the world around us, and how we choose to interact with it. Weasel your way into your character’s brain and decide if your character believes the world they exist in is:

  • Challenging
  • Controlling
  • Dangerous
  • Exciting
  • Evil
  • Harsh
  • Tempting
  • Unforgiving
  • Unjust

Inside Your Character’s Heart

As much as they may deny it, all human beings have a desperate need to belong or to be loved. Look inside your character’s heart and decide if your character is:

  • Abandoned
  • Bullied
  • Expelled
  • Grieving a loss
  • Hated
  • Heartbroken
  • Lonely
  • Loveless
  • Missing someone


Inside Your Character’s Body

Physical survival is the ultimate driver of human action. Forces outside our character may threaten their life. Decide if your character is suffering from:

  • Exposure
  • Hunger
  • Illness
  • Lack of rest
  • Persistent pain
  • Physical injury
  • Thirst

Inside Your Character’s Motivation

Head, heart and body form the core of an amazing character. But none of those are enough to propel the character into action. In order for action to happen, the character must want their life to change. If they are ambitious, they want something more than they have. If they are abandoned, they want to discover a place to belong. If they are in pain they want that pain to end or find a way to live with it.

As the amazing character pursues that goal, they will meet roadblocks and obstacles, conflict and success. They will have a story, made richer and deeper, no matter what they look like.

For more ideas for amazing head, heart, and body traits see Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s:

The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus

Click here for

I love to hear from my readers!

Do you start with the outer view or the inner view of your characters?

Improve Your Focus: Try the Writer’s Magic Bowl

Do you have trouble maintaining your focus while writing? Are you easily distracted by things around you? Do you get up and down to get drinks or snacks? Do you wander over to email or social media? Do you stare out the window every few minutes? I do.

All of these can quickly become built-in habits that are hard to break.

There are many ways writers can improve their focus on writing and break bad habits. You can use timers, turn off notifications, or write on a cleared screen. All of these are great methods. But sometimes those are not enough. You just have to break the habit. And a magic bowl might be the perfect way to do that.

What is a Magic Bowl?

James Clear in Atomic Habits suggests that one of the keys for changing a bad habit is to make the new habit replacing it more attractive. Habits according to him are dopamine-driven feedback loops. Anticipation of a reward will get us to change our habitual pattern, and we will get the same gush of good feeling.

He also suggests that the reward be simple and easy. One of the ideas he suggests is to take a jar and put a paper clip in every time you do not succumb to whatever habit you want to change and instead follow through on your new habit. Over time the jar will fill, and you will gain a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. For example, every time you start to get up and get a snack and you DON’T, you put a paper clip in the jar and then continue on writing.

However, a jar and paperclips are boring and small, and I found after trying this method for a while that I would forget to add the paperclip and eventually the old habit would come back.

That’s when I decided to design my own Magic Bowl. I wanted something that would be easy to see my accomplishments, that was beautiful to look at, and most importantly made a lovely reinforcing sound. After all, we are more likely to do something if it pleasures our senses.

Create Your Magic Bowl

Would you like to try the Magic Bowl trick? Here’s how to make one. You will need a container and some counters. Begin by looking around for a beautiful jar. It doesn’t have to be large. Clear or colored glass is a good choice because it allows you to see your success build up. It also makes a nice sound when you drop in carefully selected counters. Ceramic or metal are other good picks. I chose a low-sided brass incense holder that sits on my desk. I can look down and see my counters inside, and it makes a ringing sound when I drop in my glass beads.

For your counters, select small, attractive objects about an inch in diameter. Do you have a collection of stones or seashells? Natural objects that have a special meaning or unique texture will increase the pleasure of changing your habit. But other objects can work just as well. Perhaps you have a button collection or some colorful marbles. Or try metal wingnuts, LEGO blocks, metal bottle caps, tiny plastic figurines, or whatever strikes your fancy or matches the theme of your writing. The important thing is that they are more visible than paper clips and that the counters make a great sound when dropped into your chosen container.

How to Use Your Magic Jar

Now you are ready to change your writing practice and improve your ability to stay focused. Choose the distraction you want to eliminate and add a counter every time you resist that behavior. Slowly the jar will fill, and you will be able to admire it and know that you are conquering your selected habit.

Decide how long you will fill the jar. It could be done each day or for a week or until the entire writing project is completed. The exciting moment comes when you empty out the jar and feel the satisfaction of knowing you have increased your ability to focus and either broken a bad habit or created a good one.

To learn more about the relationship between maintaining focus and writing creatively see my top-selling writing guide: Fast Draft Your Manuscript And Get It Done Now

What do you do to stay on task?

A Creative Focus for 2021

Continuing the tradition I started several years ago, I have again chosen 12 meaningful words to focus on each month of 2021. I decided that this year I wanted every word to be an active verb. My challenge is to see how I can apply these to my writing life. Why have I done this?

Why I Focus on BIG Words

With so many things to write about, why would a writer benefit from selecting a few words to focus on in a blog? Being a writer is a time-consuming occupation. Writing alone takes up much of my day. But I also need to spend time on promotion and marketing. I have blogs like this one to write. Newsletters to get out every month. Emails to answer. Workshops to give. And an active home life too.

When preparing to write my blog posts, having a specific word to focus on helps me draw my attention to that one word. I can look for relevant quotes and images to inspire me. In my journal I can play with associations I have with the word.

When I get ready to write, I can combine the meaning of the word with my writing path and the thoughts I want to share with other writers, and despite the constraint of the one word focus, be more creative.

“We need to first be limited in order to become limitless,” 

Phi Hansen

Limitation Actually Fosters Creativity

Working within limitations actually forces our brains to solve problems more creatively. Despite the common belief that the best ideas develop in an open, free-wheeling atmosphere, Brent David Russo in his dissertation on Creativity and Constraint found that:

“for creative teams in organizational settings, there can be freedom in constraint; it’s knowing what to do with them when they emerge, finding the right constraints in the right balance, and crafting an environment in which they can be perceived as opportunities rather than obstacles. The well overused cliché about creativity is “thinking outside of the box.” While this metaphor assumes an empty box, my
dissertation research demonstrates that there are valuable tools right within the box that can be used to bolster team creativity if the creators know where to look to find them.”
p. 149

This should not be surprising. Engineers and architects use creative problem solving to build incredible structures within all kinds of limitations from material strengths to preset deadlines.

Photo by Hao Zhang

I personally utilize both paths to creativity. When I am fast drafting I let all outside distractions fall away and focus only on the flow of creative ideas. But when I am revising, I draw on the creative solutions that comes from problem solving within limitations. This is the method I recommend in my new book Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine. (FREE for the next 5 days 1/11/21 to 1/15/21)

My 2021 Words

So I am going to take advantage of the creative push working within limits can give me and limit myself focus to the the following words:.

        • January -Habitualize
        • February – Amaze
        • March – Compose
        • April – Harmonize
        • May – Cherish
        • June – Delight
        • July – Discover
        • August – Free
        • September – Fuel
        • October – Invigorate
        • November – Challenge
        • December – Enlighten

Wordart Bird

Do these words inspire you?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

3 Revision Tips and a New Book

I want to start off with a big accomplishment for me. I successfully completed another National Novel Writing Month draft.

Cheers to all my fellow writers who wrote during the month. Even if you didn’t make 50,000 words just getting into the chair, and writing is a grand achievement.

Congratulations Poster for NaNoWri Winners

My efforts at NaNo were complicated by the fact that I was writing and revising my newest Write for Success book Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine.

This book and the first one, Fast Draft Your Manuscript and Get It Done, contains everything I have learned doing NaNoWri, plus what I have absorbed from my reading, workshops I have taken, and most importantly, my fellow authors.

Fast Draft Your Manuscript and Revise Your Draft Cover Photos

Now there are two!

“The most useful and usable how-to writing workbook I have seen in a long time -maybe ever.” —Christa Bedwin, Professional Editor

Here are Three Revision Tips for You

Revision Tip 1: Let It Rest

One of the most important things I learned after NaNoWri is to put my fast drafts away and let them sit as long as possible before reading for revision. So right now my messy, sloppy, barely readable draft is tucked away in its folder, not to be seen again until January. Meanwhile, I am working on a Holiday short story for all my dedicated Zara’s Readers Club members.

Revision Tip 2: Use a Framework

Make sure you have a model or outline or beat sheet to structure your story around. This can be one you used to draft from, or if you didn’t use one or veered way off course, one that you find that closely matches your genre. So while your draft is resting, spend some time reading similar works or finding a plot template on the web.

Then select just one and stick with it. It is easy to get confused when you try to apply different templates over each other.

Having a structure to compare your draft to is a lifesaver. It will make the entire revision process less stressful and go much faster.

Revision Tip 3: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

The structure is the most important part of your novel. You can have fascinating characters and an intriguing setting, but if the reader has no idea what is going on you will lose them. So don’t worry about fixing grammar or spelling or fancying up the language at first. Focus on getting the story structure in place with a strong opening, a well-paced middle, and a satisfying conclusion.

Once you have that, you can polish up your prose all you want.

Revision Workshop

In January I will be teaching the workshop 30 Days of Revision Tips. In this in workshop, you will receive a revision road map with a tip for revising your draft every day for thirty days. By the end of the month, you should be well on the way to having a more organized and polished draft.

Offered by From the Heart Romance Writers January 2021 REGISTER HERE

Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine

For more revision tips, tricks, and time savers, take a peek at my book. It is short and full of checklists designed to keep me and you on track. There are also oodles of links to useful tools and lists, and at the very back, a whole section of tools just for writers of fiction. Available at Amazon for $2.99 or free from Kindle Unlimited

Revise Your Manuscript Cover Image.

Happy Revising!

What do you dislike the most about revision?

I welcome your thoughts and comments

Fast Draft Your Manuscript: It’s NaNoWri

Are you all set to Fast Draft? This year will be the sixth year I have participated in National Writing Month. Of the five novels I have completed in one month, I have published four.

Not too bad a record.

Over the years I have learned better ways to outline, explored word trackers, got myself more organized, and most importantly learned how to draft fast.

After teaching a number of workshops and mentoring NaNoWri participants, I have finally gathered all my tips and tricks for writing fast into a book.

Fast Draft Your Manuscript and Get It Done Now, written under my professional name, is being published by Short Fuse Publishing. It is available in Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited and is the first in my new Write for Success writing craft series.

About Fast Draft Your Manuscript

Fast Drafting is a proven set of techniques and strategies that can be applied to any piece of writing from blog post to novel. Tested over the author’s decades-long career as an author and educator, the Fast Drafting Method is easy to learn, customizable for your needs, and designed to get results quickly. Fast Draft Your Manuscript: And Get It Done Now.

About the Write for Success series

Don’t just write…write for success! From award-winning author and educator Joan Bouza Koster comes a revolutionary series of guides showing you the steps that helped her writing not just land an agent and book deal but win praise from readers and literary taste makers. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, romance, thriller, or historical, this series delivers behind-the-scenes tips, inspiration when you need it most, and the flexibility to fit your writing career. Write with confidence and write for success.

Upcoming books in the series

Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine

Power Charge Your Language and Make Your Writing Sing

Research Your Subject and Validate Your Writing

So are you doing NaNo or do you just have a draft to finish? Here are few tips for you from Fast Draft Your Manuscript And Get It Done Now.

Fast Drafting is a time to forget about being perfect. So, type away.

  • Relish being sloppy.
  • Use the first words that pop into your head.
  • Don’t worry about clichés or repeating terms.
  • Forget writing rules or making it sound pretty.
  • If you can’t think of something, or you need a fact to fill in, or you are not sure about what you wrote, use the highlighter tool in your word processor to highlight that area in a color so when you do your first revision you can come back and fix it.

Available from AMAZON

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” —-Louis L’Amour

Why, How, and What Writers Should Read

~ Do you write? Are you a reader? ~

You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.

 Stephen King On Writing

I  Love to Read. Do You?

Reading is one of my greatest pleasures. If I had my way, I would send many hours a day immersed in a book. For this reason, being a professional writer makes perfect sense for me. To be a successful writer, I can justify my hours inside a book as a job essential.

Next time someone questions why you have books stacked from floor to ceiling, or why you are too busy reading to pay a social call, use one of these delicious excuses.

carrying books

Why Writers Should Read

  • To be inspired
  • To absorb literary language
  • To learn new words
  • To develop empathy through identification with characters who are not like you
  • To keep your brain active
  • To escape your everyday world
  • To become a better reader
  • To find writers you love.
  • To support fellow writers

books in a basketHow Writers Should Read

Okay. So now you have explained those piles of books. But how should you approach them as a writer?

  • Read for structural ideas
  • Read to discover what will excite readers
  • Read to analyze structure, character, and plot
  • Read to study the voice and pacing of different authors
  • Read to see what works and what doesn’t in storytelling
  • Read to see how theme and motif can be expressed
  • Read to discover writers who write like you do. and those who don’t
  • Read to see what writing techniques work and what ones don’t
  • Read to find comparables to use in your query



What Writers Should Readwriting books

Do you tend to read the same kinds of books all the time? Branch out and try some of these.

  • Genres and styles you write in
  • Genres and styles you don’t write in
  • Books set in places you write about
  • Books set in places you have never been
  • Nonfiction books about writing
  • Nonfiction books about self-actualization
  • Books about marketing and running a business


  • Stephen King’s On Writing – the book every writer must read




The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing… Constant reading will pull you into a place… where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness.

 Stephen King On Writing


What are you reading right now?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

3 Steps to Renew Your Writing Life

~Renew Yourself~ 

Are you stuck in a rut? Do you sit down to write and do the same things every time? Turn on the computer? Open your draft? Stare at the page? Then pray the words come? I do. For the past month, I have thought long and hard about ways I can renew myself as a writer.

Renewal quote

RENEWAL is not change. Change means to transform or give something a totally new form—like writing my novel in a journal or using a speech-to-type program. But the basic writing process is not one we can totally remake.

I don’t know about you, but no matter what CHANGES I make, I am still going to have to turn on the computer at some point and type words if I want to get my book written in a format I can send to editors.

So how can I bring renewal to this process? The key I have decided is to focus in on that little word inside renewal—new.” Here are three things I came up with to make typing my novel draft new each morning.


Move the computer to a new location. Find a spot with a view or a different view. Work outside on a nice day. Try another room or a porch. Or even someone else’s porch.


Invigorate your fingers. Instead of unconsciously dropping your hands on the keyboard and chugging away, take a moment to do a simple set of hand movements. I have a collection of stones from which I pick one and roll between my hands or pinch between my fingers, and rub over my palms.

Or you can do one or two of the many finger exercises found on the web. (Here is a slideshow of six such exercises ) Increase the feeling of typing anew by repeating this finger action every once in a while as you type, perhaps at the end of scene or a chapter and feel your hands and fingers find new life.


Renew your brain. Instead of diving into your manuscript, take a moment to breathe deeply and oxygenate your brain. Deep breathing has been shown to increase one’s attention span so you will be able to focus on your writing longer. Repeat every time you come to a natural stop or run out of words to write.

Keep the practice simple. Here is the method I use. Sitting straight in my chair, I inhale as deeply as I can through my nose and then exhale as slowly as possible through my mouth. I do this about ten times and then start writing.

Life depends on renewal and change

What do you do to renew your writing process?

Books That Change the World

~ Books and Change ~

The ability to change is essential for survival. Those who refuse to change become dull, boring, and left behind. One force for change is literature. Ever since people learned to write and read, books have had the power to change the reader, and if read by enough people, a community, or even the world.


Think of the Bible. The Koran. The Evolution of the Species. Das Kapital. The written word has founded religions, changed how we view the human condition, and has upturned nations.

All of these works embody 5 things

  1. They address something that is important in human lives
  2. They embody great passion and conviction on the part of the authors
  3. They speak directly to their intended audiences in language they can understand.
  4. The ideas are easily understood and enthusiastically spread by their readers
  5. The ideas inspired controversy which also helped them become more widely known.

How about novels?

Can you think of a novel that has had a powerful effect on society or people’s lives? Several writers have attempted to do this.Change Quote

Bookbub lists thirty-two novels starting with To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, 1984, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The World Economic Forum chose nine books, moving Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the top of the list, followed by The Jungle, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Things Fall Apart. The Unpublished Writer Blog lists twenty world-changers which include some of these, and many other classics, but goes on to suggest that maybe we need to give a novel at least fifty years before making a judgement on its influence.

As a writer, I know that writing a world-changing novel is well-beyond my scope in life. But I think it would be amazing to write a novel that changed lives, especially if it is one that makes a positive change.

But is that possible as a writer of genre romance? I think it is.  My stories are meant to be thrilling and rough and realistic. I hope that by writing about characters who are not found in many romance novels and who face situations that take courage and smarts, I am helping readers from different backgrounds to walk in the shoes of others.

In my latest novel, and the last in my Skin Quartet series, my heroine is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was brought here as a child. In the story, I try to show how limited options are for people who live in fear of being deported, and thereby, make the discussions going on in the political world a little more real.

Under the Skin by Zara West

Born poor and raised on the streets, celebrated bridge builder and billionaire, Mic Vargas is knee-deep in the construction of a trouble-plagued bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey. He really can’t afford to take in a stray thief and fall in love with her. But when a beautiful, snappy-tongued, illegal immigrant literally drops at his feet, he becomes consumed with saving her and her family from poverty.

Cat burglar, Lena Correr stopped trusting anyone long ago. Not even a rich, handsome billionaire with good intentions can break through her defenses. At least, not until an East Coast crime boss threatens her family and forces her to steal for him. Mic vows to help her and her family escape the hell they are in. But will the man Lena is coming to love succeed, or will he end up dead at the hands of an old enemy?

“The outstanding thing about Ms. West’s novels is that they take the standard romantic suspense tropes and give them a shake, making them fresh and new.” 5 Star Amazon review

Which novels would you include on a list of earth-changers?

Organize and De-Clutter Your Writing Zone

~ Make it Beautiful !

Organizing is something you do before you do something, so when you do it, it is not all mixed up. ~ A.A. Milne

Oranize and de-clutter your writing zone.


Last month, while pondering my Big Word FOCUS, I learned that maintaining one’s focus on one’s writing is a challenge that requires you to become immersed in the creative process. While passion and motivation are high on the list for getting into that state of flow, it is helpful to be in a stress-free, distraction-free writing zone.

So, it seemed serendipitous that the next Big Word I drew was ORGANIZE. I don’t know about you, but while I consider myself to be a fairly organized person, I can quickly build up piles of papers that need attention. I am also prone to saving magazines with writing articles I like, and to printing out helpful writing tips and to collecting research facts for the books I am writing. Then there are all my promo materials and calendars and journals. Add to that all my writing materials – pencils, pens, rulers, stapler, and other stationery supplies, and honestly, my writing zone was a mess. All that mess hovered around my writing area and distracted me before I even started to write.

Note: Although, I am just focusing on my writing environment, I am not alone in struggling with cluttered spaces. According to the blog, SimplyOrderly, the average American spends almost 12 days per year, looking for things we own but can’t find. As a writer working to deadline, I cannot afford to lose time searching for papers or waste a half-hour reading an interesting, but irrelevant to my writing, article. But even more importantly, I cannot lose time writing because I am distracted or stressed.

Organizing Reduces Stress

Apparently, cluttered spaces make people feel trapped and anxious and affect our stress levels. For example, researchers at DePaul University found that people who lived in cluttered homes showed more general dissatisfaction and frustration. A 2010 study by Saxbe and Repetti found that women who thought their homes cluttered had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva.

When I looked around at the papers littering my desk and those poking out of the file box sitting next to my desk, and then at the calendar I could see out of the corner of my eye with all those looming deadlines, I knew just how those women felt.

Every item was pulling my attention away from my creative work, scattering my thinking, and keeping me stressed.  I could feel myself thinking: “Maybe I should stop writing my novel and get that blog post done.” Or “Maybe I should check my calendar to see what is due next week.” No wonder I was having trouble focusing on my novel and finding that all important state of flow.

Setting Out to Organize and De-Clutter a Writing Zone

So to reduce my stress and make myself not only happier but also more productive, I set about creating a distraction and clutter-free zone around my computer where I write.

The idea was not to get rid of all those important papers or journals or calendars. That would be impossible and foolhardy. Instead, I kept my task limited. My goal was to make the area that I could see while writing distraction-free. So I moved my paper piles, magazines, and research notes to storage containers located on shelving behind me where I couldn’t see them while writing, but where they were near at hand for when I needed them outside my dedicated creative writing time.

Using the SORT System to Organize and De-ClutterSORT to Succeed by Darla DeMorrow

In order to accomplish this task, I needed a simple organizing method. There are many approaches to organizing clutter. I looked at a number of blogs and books and settled on using Darla DeMorrow’s simple and logical SORT system (Organizing Your Home With Sort and Succeed). Her very simple advice, in the long run, is the easiest to follow.

The key to her system is having you write down exactly what you plan to accomplish in the time you allot. Having a time frame and a goal keeps you from getting lost in reading an old magazine or wandering off with an item and then ending up reorganizing something else.

1. First, I Sorted my desk zone clutter.

2. Second, I Organized it using various containers and drawers.

3. Next, I Removed and Recycled items that were unnecessary (yes, there were some!).

4. Finally, I Tweaked the space so it became clean and beautiful for me to look at.

How I Organized

Here is some of what I did to give you an example. I sorted through all my excessive pens and pencils and kept only few on my desk. I moved the open file boxes to the counter behind me, and I filed my to-do materials and articles and promo items in those boxes so they were no longer lying in piles. Next, I put my journals and notebooks on shelves under my desk where I can pull them out quickly, but where they are not staring me in the face. I turned my calendar so it faces away, but is easily turned around when I need to see the date, and hung a restful picture on the back. I have to say, no longer having red-marked days staring me in the face while writing has lowered my stress level tremendously.

To make the space welcoming, I cleared away the piles of books blocking my view out the window, added a cactus garden and an ammonite fossil shell, and set out a few of my favorite rocks that I like to hold when thinking.

Now when I sit down to write every morning, all I see is the computer, my beautiful and inspiring objects, and the view through the window. I love it.


Making It Work

But it is not enough to just SORT. To succeed, you also have to maintain that space. Now that I have my stress-free writing area, I need to keep it that way. That takes resolve. So far, I have managed it. Every evening before I turn off the office lights, I make sure my writing zone is clear and ready for me in the morning. Now my goal is to keep it that way all year long.

My Organized and De-cluttered DeskReady and Waiting

What do you see when you sit down to write?

How could you make it less distracting and more conducive to fostering your focus and creativity?

How I Learned to Focus

~ Becoming a Focused Writer ~

Being able to focus is always an issue for a creative writer. No one is telling you what story world to invent nor how to get yourself in the seat, start writing, and then keep at it. Somehow, you have to shut out the world around you and zero in on the words boiling up inside and aching to pour out on to the page. That takes FOCUS.

Since my big word for January was FOCUS, I spent the month, thinking about what distracts me from writing, and what methodologies I might use to improve my concentration.


How I Write

I have been writing for many, many years. In those years, I have learned that there are some basics that I need in order to write anything. One is a comfortable chair and the computer at the right height. Otherwise, plain physical discomfort will do me in pretty quickly.

Another thing is having everything I need, or think I will need, within arm’s reach. I need my book research a click away – I use OneNote as my digital binder. I need paper and pen for jot notes. I need the little cards that I write my character’s names on and some of their favorite words.

But even with all these practical things in place, focusing on the writing to be done doesn’t always happen. I’d suddenly look at the clock and see that nothing was down on the page or what was there wasn’t what I intended to write. Not to mention, all the times I just wandered off to do something else.

My Writing Distractions

So why, when I am dedicated to what I was writing and highly motivated, does my mind wander? Being of a practical nature, I began by looking at the physical things that distracted me from writing. First, there were the sensory distractions. The ticking clock. The itchy sweater. A cold draft.

So focused on being focused, I set out to remove these sensory distractions. I put the clock in another room. I made sure to wear my most comfortable clothes. I found a blanket to wrap around my legs. These changes were easy to make and did help. But only a little.

Pressing Things First

 I still had “To-Do” distractions. The email I was anxiously awaiting. The blog post I was late posting (uh- like this one). The prep for the courses I teach. Reading an interesting blog post or news article. All those things were right there on the computer and oh so easy to just click over and check. To fix these issues, I first tried doing the pressing things first – this got those done, but then I had no energy or writing time left.

Clearing the Screen

So next I tried a suggestion from Johanna Jast’s book Laser-Sharp Focus. I created a separate login identity on my computer—one that didn’t have access to all the files and emails. The interface was a lot cleaner, and the fact that I had to turn off the computer to sign into my main account was a good preventative against those easy slides into digital distractions.

Note: If you don’t want to mess with the computer, there are also programs that turn your computer into a writing area only. Here is a list of distraction freeing digital writing tools you might want to try.

Zara West BIG words - FocusClearing the Desk

In addition, I removed all the distractions littering my desk especially those that shouted at me about things I HAD to do. I removed the wall calendar, I tucked my bullet journal out of sight, and last, removed the standing file full of work waiting to be done. I added a plant and pretty pen holder and a display of my favorite rocks.

Setting the Time

I have been using the timer method as a way to both ignore distractions and get things done. The idea is to set a timer for the length of time you want to write and ignore everything else. I had already explored timers for fast drafting for NaNo. Now I tried to figure out the optimum time for me to write. I thought it would be 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. That’s the time frame I use when sprinting and going through social media.

But I am not sprinting every minute. Most days, I write steadily, but at my own pace, letting the story unfold naturally scene by scene. But with a timer dinging every 15 minutes, it seemed like instead of helping me focus in on the writing, the buzzer was just another annoying distraction pulling me away from moments when the writing was flowing along nicely.

So I tried longer times. Several research studies have indicated that for creative work longer times work better. Nathan Kleitman identified a natural 90 minute rhythm during the day that mirrored the 90 minute sleep cycle. A productivity app found that the highest performing workers focus for an average of 52 minutes and then take about a 17 minute break. I settled on an hour using a physical sand timer that didn’t ding at all.

Those Pesky Writing Problems

So I had a simplified writing site. A distraction-free screen. And a quiet, unobtrusive timer set for an hour. All these changes did help me focus better to the extent that I came back to my writing more quickly. But what I found was the writing issues that stopped me in the first place were still there and still making me lose focus. The more I forced myself to focus on solving a writing problem, the more I became unsettled and distracted. Then off I went to do something else, despite the timer and the distraction free screen and the hidden away task list.

So, I started noting down those times and places I became distracted. There were three main issues that caused me to stop writing.

  1. It was hard to get started on a new scene or chapter or blog post.
  2. I couldn’t think of the perfect word or a way to say what I was thinking or what I was picturing or the right order in which to say it.
  3. My writing was going in the wrong direction for my storyline.

Not Focus…Flow

But how to address these issues? I started searching for more focus tips and I discovered FLOW…

Flow and focus go together. Flow is defined by researchers as a mental state in which time, distractions, and everything around you fall away and all your creative energy is focused on the task. When you are in a state of flow, you are actually using your brain differently. The prefrontal part of the brain that controls critical thinking is deactivated and our sense of self lessens. Instead, norepinephrine and dopamine flood our bodies and time slows, impulse control decreases, and our performance becomes more fluid and creative.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow (1990) characterizes this feeling as a time when you are so engrossed in an activity nothing else matters. My goodness. That sounds exactly how I feel when the writing is going great. (Also when I am doing photography or making a drawing or singing a song). So how do I make that happen all the time?

Csikszentmihalyi says that setting the stage for flow to happen requires:

  1. A clear end goal
  2. Immediate self-feedback that you are moving toward that goal
  3. The task is challenging, but within your capabilities
  4. No worry about failing
  5. You are happy doing it.

Suddenly, my focus problem became clear. I lost focus writing when one of the above five things wasn’t happening.

  1. My end goal (or my character’s end goal) for the scene/chapter/writing piece wasn’t spelled out enough.
  2. I had lost track of what I was writing so I wasn’t getting positive self-feedback that I was doing well.
  3. I didn’t yet have the writing skills need to fix that storyline or paragraph or sentence.
  4. I was on a tight schedule, or I felt my writing had to be perfect so I was afraid of failure.
  5. What I was working on wasn’t what I wanted to be writing at that time. I had another idea or another task to do that I was drawn to more.

Zara West's BIG Words - FocusPutting Flow Into Practice

When I began my investigation into focus at the beginning of January, I thought I would find some simple technique that would increase my ability to write more effectively and smoothly. What I learned is that it is impossible to eliminate all distractions, and that’s okay. When you are in the flow, you can ignore most of them. That when you start to get distracted, re-examine what you were just working on. What can you do to solve the problem?

Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Stuck on a start? Write a place holder sentence at the start of a difficult scene or chapter to be revised later, that simply states who, where and when.
  2. Need positive feedback? Note down what I have accomplished – word count, scenes completed, etc.
  3. Don’t have the skill yet? Make a note to find a writing blog or workshop or critique partner to help me improve my writing and leave that spot a blank or highlighted to come back to.
  4. Face the fact that sometimes the flow just doesn’t happen. Then it is time to go do something else. But the important thing is to come back and dive into that writing again.

PS – I love my new distraction-free writing zone too.


I love to hear from my followers. 

What distracts you from writing or some other favorite creative pursuit?


My 2019 New Year Resolutions

~A Dozen Hopes for 2019 ~

Time to make those 2019 New Year Resolutions. I have a long tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. I bet many of you do too. After all, we only get a chance to revisit our hopes and dreams every 365 days.

Usually, I make a list and stuff it away. This year, inspired by my Hearts Through History Romance Writing Chapter, I decided to write my resolutions as a word cloud.

Making My 2019 New Year Resolutions Word Cloud

First I needed to choose my words. There were so many wonderful words that I wanted to pursue that I had trouble picking only a few. I ended up with twelve words that were meaningful to me and that I thought I could pursue successfully. Twelve – a dozen seemed like a nice even, easy-to-handle number, and to my surprise, mirrored the twelve months too. (Be looking for blog posts focusing on one of these words in each of the coming months.)

Next, I took my words and using Word Art Creator, turned them into a beautiful graphic that I can hang on my bulletin board or paste in my journal. This cool little website is pretty intuitive to use. You can choose the size, color, and font for your words and then a shape to fit them into. You can even upload your own shape.

Here’s how my 2019 New Year Resolutions Word Cloud turned out:

Zara West2019 New Year's Resolutions


Using Word Art to Picture a Novel

Pretty cool, don’t you think? This gave me another idea. What if I created  a word art design for the romantic comedy I am currently writing? So I did. The novel is tentatively named Hooked on Love, and here is the word art version. Looks like a fun read, right?

Hooked on Love Word Art by Zara West


What are some of your 2019 resolution words?

Put them in a word art design of your creating.

Share how it works for you.


My Holiday Wishes for You

~To My Readers ~

This has been a wonderful year for me. I have my health and my creativity and have published Within the Skin and have Under the Skin in press. What more could a writer want?

Well, what I want is the best for all my readers. I hope you have enjoyed reading my books, loved my free Christmas story (You can get a copy by joining my Readers Club), and had a chance to discover new books, new writers or interesting writing tips each week on my blog.

But those are things about me. Here is my list of holiday wishes for you.

*I wish you*

**Good times**

****Good health****

*A cozy place to curl up*

*Caring friends and families*

**Plenty of good books to read**

***Time to do the things you want***

|Time to relax|

  1. Have A Wonderful Holiday

12 things I am Thankful for: A Writer’s List of Thankfuls

~ What I am Thankful For ~

On this Thanksgiving Day, I thought I would make a list of all the things I am thankful for as a writer. Most of the things are simple. It doesn’t take much to make me happy as long as I can write.Cat and Computer

  1. Time to write
  2. A computer to write on
  3. A beautiful view out my window
  4. A comfortable chair
  5. A warm, furry cat to keep me company
  6. A working Internet (most of the time)
  7. A family that honors my writing
  8. An ever-constant flow of ideas
  9. A terrific romance writers chapter
  10. Years and years of inspiring teachers
  11. A wonderful agent, editor, and publisher
  12. AND YOU—My wonderful, supportive readers

W-Plot Your Way to a Better Scene

~ Plot Your Scene with the W-Plot Method ~

The W-Plot can be used to lay out an entire novel, but it’s true strength is in plotting scenes. I am doing NaNoWr again this year. I love being part of a huge group of writers all excited about writing and encouraging each other every day to do their best. But sometimes when I am writing as fast as I can, I lose track of where a scene is going.

That’s when the W-Plot comes in handy. The W-Plot method can keep a scene from falling flat. It can also get you out of writer’s block when you are fast drafting.

I first learned about the W-Plot from Karen Doctor. (You can get her W-Plot course here)  Simply described, the W-Plot Method lays out the rising and falling tension in the series of events that make up your scene. Here is my version of the W-Plot adapted to writing a scene.

W-Plot Example


When I get stuck for an idea while writing a scene, I quickly sketch a W on a sheet of paper and then brainstorm different events that would move the character to and away from his or her goal in the scene. From those, I pick the ones that fit best or are most surprising and then get back to writing.

Want to learn more? Here are some other takes on the W-Plot.

The W-Plot by Heather Dyer

Storyboarding and the W-Plot Chart by Mary Caroll Moore

Happy Writing!

How do you plot your scenes?

Have you ever used the W-Plot Method?


How Do You Choose a Book to Read?

~Does Books+Main Have the Right Idea? ~

There are a whole bunch of e-book sales listing services out there – BookbudFussy LibrarianRifleE-Reader and more. These services list books that are on sale with a short sales-pitch type blurb.

With 50 % of all romances being published independently, I use these services all the time to find new authors to read. But I never buy a book without first going to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and reading the long excerpt they post.

What is Books+Main?Zara West Books+Main Bite

However, there is a new book listing service called Books+Main that has a totally new idea. Authors post up to three quotes or excerpts or related content from their books daily along with a great photo.

When you join Books+Main as a reader you can then download their App to your phone and get a stream of “Bites” from hundreds of romance books. If you like a bite, you can heart it or leave a comment. You can also click on the author and see their books and where to buy them.

What do you think of this idea?

Would reading intriguing excerpts entice you to learn more about an author and maybe buy a book? Check out Books+Main and let me know.

Here’s a link to my Books+Main page. I’d love a follow!

How do you select books to read?

Post your thoughts and comment below.

Are you more likely to read a book that has won an award?

~ Book Awards ~

This week my romantic suspense Close to the Skin is in a competition to win a Rone Award from InD’Tale Magazine– a beautiful and well-known e-magazine dedicated to romance writing.

This award is one in which readers vote for their favorite book or author. This process is similar to a number of Reader Award contests for published books such as Reader’s Favorites. The judges are readers and librarians and booksellers. I have entered several in the past, but as of yet have not won one.

Then, of course, there is the queen of awards – the RITA . This award is given for published books by Romance Writers of America. This contest is judged by fellow published romance writers. Corinna Lawson has written numerous blog posts about the award, and the books that have won.

Writing Contests & Awards

There are also smaller contests one can enter.  I have won several contests offered by RWA Romance Writing Chapters. These contests are judged in the first round by fellow romance writers, and in the second round, by agents and editors in the romance field. My feeling is that this type of contest offers more to the writer who wants to improve their writing as you usually do get very useful feedback, even if you don’t win.

Close to the Skin won first place in the 2016 Pages from the Heart Award. I am very appreciative of that honor.

2016 Pages from the Heart Award for Close to the Skin

Bestseller Awards

The third type of accolade a book can earn is to be a bestseller. There are all types of best sellers. Being on the NY Times list is, of course, the end goal for many writers. But there are also the USA Today listings and the rankings on Amazon. Authors usually put this achievement not only on the cover of the book that earned the ranking, but also on every book they write.

So how effective is winning an award for a writer?

Research reported in the Guardian on prestigious literary awards shows that reader ratings go down after a book wins a prize. Perhaps, people who might not ordinarily choose that type of book read a book because of the hype and then are disappointed and write bad reviews.

One thing that is true is that winning an award definitely gets a book more attention whether good or bad. Here is a list of award-winning books as listed on Goodreads. I bet you will find some you have read.

Being influenced by an awardClose to the Skin by Zara West

I know that while I am very open in my reading choices, seeing award or bestseller on a book cover makes me feel more confident I will like the book. nevertheless, I also read the opening pages before I buy. Not every award-winning book or bestseller is my cup of excitement.

Then again, as a writer, there is great pleasure in being selected for an award. I certainly wouldn’t turn one down nor would I be upset for my book to be a bestseller, even for a just a day.

Hint: I’d appreciate your vote for that Rone Award. Vote here. Voting goes from April 23 to April 29th 2018. I’ll let you know how I do!

InD'Tale Rone Awards

How about you?

Do you select books that say bestselling author or award-winning author on the cover?

Or do you have a better way to find great books?

I’d love to hear from you.

Characters as Verbs

~ I ________ you ~

I was very fortunate to have the chance to hear Damon Suede speak at the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference last fall. The topic of his talk was character development.

Give Your Character a Verb

One thing that stood out for me was his suggestion that before you decide on hair color or height or even occupation for your main character, you should come up with a transitive verb that represents the internal core of your character. Then you should pick an opposite verb for the antagonist.

Let the Verb dictate the Character’s DetailsUsing a transitive verb like ignite adds pizza to a character

Once we have the identifying verb identified, all of the other features of the character should fall in place. For example, if the verb we choose for our character is IGNITE, then everything about that character will be bright and fiery. A person who ignites might be someone with red hair, sparkling eyes, emanating warmth, sexy hot, and working as a fireman.

With this verb in mind, our word choices and the character’s actions would also reflect this verb. An igniting character might light up a room or send flaming passion through you when they touched you.

Damon even suggested writers could use a different synonym of the character’s main verb as a guiding force for every chapter in our novel.

Wow, this idea really ignited me. So I set out to give it a try.

Identifying Transitive Verbs

Character as Verb Using Actions; The Actors' ThesaurusBut first, I have to admit the grammatical term transitive verb threw me. I mean I knew what it meant – sort of. A transitive verb is any active verb you can use to fill in this sentence and have it sound sensible.

I _____ACTIVE VERB_____ you.

So I ignite you works. I sleep you does not.

Damon suggested we consult a thesaurus to find our character verbs. But for me that involved a lot of “is it transitive or not” questions as well as tedious skimming through pages of non-verbs. So I went hunting for a thesaurus that focused on verbs and hit the jackpot.

Try Actions: The Actors Thesaurus

Actions: The Actors’ Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone & Maggie Llyod-Williams isn’t just a verb thesaurus. It is a thesaurus of transitive verbs, and it has a very specific purpose. It is used by actors to choose how a character will behave when saying each one of his or her lines. This is called Actioning, a technique developed by the Russian actor and director, Constantin Stanislavski.

Usually actioning is done with the whole cast sitting around a table and going line by line through the script. Actors identify a transitive verb for each line as a cue to how they will say it and how they will move. For example, perhaps the line in the play reads: “Would you like to dance?” In concert with the cast, the actor might decide to say this as if “I love you” or “I seduce you” or “I hate you” or “I fear you.” The actor being addressed would then choose a verb representing how they would respond.

Taking it Farther: Using Active Verbs to Spark up Dialogue

Wow. This gave me a brainstorm. Why not do the same thing when writing dialogue? If a character already has a main transitive verb then we can use its synonyms whenever that character speaks. So, if the character is a beguiler (I beguile you) they might amuse, belittle, bewitch, cajole, charm, cheat, coax, court and so on when speaking.

In the WIP I am working on right now, Book 4 Under the Skin in my Skin series, I have chosen I escape you for my heroine and I protect you for my hero. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What do you think of ACTIONING? Willing to give it a try?

Post your thoughts and comments below.

Fifteen Minutes Writing – The Book Factory Method

~ Life in Fifteen Minutes ~

Do you know how much time you spend on daily activities like reading e-mail and perusing Facebook? Do you struggle to reach your daily word count? I know that I do.

A while back, I took a workshop with USA best-selling author Kerri Nelson, which she has recently published in book form: The Book Factory Method: Your Guide to Producing Multiple Novels in One Year.

Fifteen Minutes CountThe Book Factory by Kerri Nelson Reviewed by Zara West

Kerri makes the point that in the scheme of things fifteen minutes is not very much of one’s time. In fifteen minutes, we can accomplish tasks like wash the dishes or fold the laundry. Why not spend fifteen minutes writing too?

In The Book Factory Method, Kerri explains how thinking in fifteen-minute time blocks is a sneaky way to find time to write.

Where are Those Fifteen Minutes Hiding?

Finding fifteen minutes is a lot less daunting than finding an hour or three for writing. Kerri suggests analyzing how you spend every fifteen-minute block of your work day and searching out those spaces where you can sit down to write.

Taking her advice, I kept track of how I spent my time over a three-day period (Here’s a 15 incredible minutes you can use to track your day) and discovered she was right.

Sure, I had all my daily tasks—like cleaning, washing, cooking, going to work, working, and so on. But there were also large blocks of time spent lost on Facebook and answering e-mail, time spent straightening my writing zone and getting ready to write, and time spent on rereading what I had already written—time that could be better spent just plain writing. In fact, I actually found three fifteen-minute blocks that could be better spent writing everyday.

Using Those Fifteen Minutes Effectively

Once you have your slots, Kerri suggests you get a timer. Using a timer and shutting down e-mail and the Internet is essential for this to work.

A note on timers: The timer I like the most is Hourglass. But I have also used my phone timer and an old-fashioned cooking timer just as effectively.

Now you are ready

  • Sit down.
  • Set the timer.
  • Start writing.
  • Do not stop till that timer dings.

Give it a Try

If you fast draft, you can actually produce quite a few words on the page in fifteen minutes, and in Kerri’s case, those dedicated fifteen minutes has produced a passel of published books. Will this work for everyone? I have no idea. But it worked for me.

I quickly found that sitting down and fast drafting (Kerri makes a particular point about applying this method only to new writing, not revision or editing) even for as little as fifteen minutes a day put words on the page for me.  Working with the time limit also trained me to be more focused. Knowing I was being times, I learned to ignore distractions. After all, there are very few things you can’t let slide for a few minutes.

In addition to the fifteen-minute writing method, Kerri provides many hints and helps for becoming more productive. She examines goal setting, motivation, and some writerly tricks for plotting (she’s a pantser), writing pitches and queries, and maintaining one’s physical and mental health as a writer. I strongly recommend The Book Factory Method for anyone who wants to become a more productive writer.

What method do you use to find writing time?

I love hearing from my readers!