9 Ways to Get Started & Stay Motivated

Writer Lisa Scottoline offers up her 9 tips for getting started on your novel and staying motivated enough to finish it. by Jessica Strawser, reporting from ThrillerFest 2010 (New York City)
Publish date:

If you don’t already read Lisa Scottoline, I can almost guarantee that her fresh, funny and inspiring session here at ThrillerFest would have made you an instant fan.

Case in point? She began by handing out copies of actual rejection letters she received during five solid years of submitting to agents in the early ’90s. She then explained that she did this to illustrate that getting published is doable. “We are all the same,” she said. “We are all just writers writing. Sooner or later, I think you’ll get published. All you’ve got to do is keep at it.”

She then shared this valuable advice:


1. Get out of your own way. Don’t get trapped by insecurity or negative feelings: Just do it.

2. When you read something that you think is not so great—and catch yourself thinking, “I could do better than that”—hang onto that feeling. Let it drive you to keep writing and prove to yourself that you really can do better.

3. Before you begin your novel, take your idea for the story and formulate it in a seven-word sentence. Think simple subject/verb construction. When you’ve got those words, write them down. This will be your “seven-word compass” you can use to keep yourself on track whenever you get stuck. When you’re not sure where to go next in your work-in-progress, return to your compass as a reminder of the heart of your story.

4. In your first draft, “it’s you with the gas pedal on.” Don’t second-guess yourself; just put the story down on paper. Her rule of thumb: “Get it down, then get it good.”

5. Include details only when the details are telling ¬to some other, more important aspect of your story—signifying a key aspect of a character or setting, for instance. Otherwise, leave them out—they’ll just bog your story down.

6. A former lawyer, she still follows a rule she learned in law school: “Milk the facts.” The facts of your story will yield incredible possibilities if you let them.

7. When you get stuck, don’t be scared, don’t freeze up. Instead, simply ask yourself, What would logically happen next?

8. Pay attention to chapter endings. They’re what will keep people reading—and they can keep you writing, too. At the end of a chapter, don’t give the reader (or yourself) a stopping place. Instead, whenever you can, end with a cliffhanger.

9. Be protective of your writing time. “I always think of those old gothic movies, when someone goes around that old drafty house and they shield their candle,” she explained. “I think of my writing as my candle. You have to protect your candle.”

Want more advice on how to write your novel and get it published? Consider:
How to Write & Sell Your First Novel

Image placeholder title

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders! Click here to join.

Also check out these items from the Writer's Digest's collection:
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Beginnings, Middles & Ends

Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure

Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Description
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint

Writer's Digest No More Rejections
Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Writer's Digest How to Land a Literary Agent (On-Demand Webinar)
Writer's Digest Magazine One-Year Subscription
Writer's Digest 10 Years of Writer's Digest on CD: 2000-2009

The Story That Drove Me to Write

The Story That Drove Me to Write

Award-winning author Stephanie Kane shares the book that launched her career and provides insights for how you can pursue your story.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Epiphany Moment

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Epiphany Moment

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let a character experience an epiphany.

Eat Your Words: Your 8-Point Checklist for Writing Original Recipes

Eat Your Words: Your 8-Point Checklist for Writing Original Recipes

Food writer, cook, and committed vegan Peggy Brusseau explains how you can craft a cookbook that engages your reader and stands out from the crowd.

Flash Fiction Challenge

28 Writing Prompts for the 2021 Flash Fiction Challenge Challenge

Find all 28 poetry prompts for the 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Challenge in this post.

How to Not Write in the Pandemic, Early Days

How to Not Write in the Pandemic, Early Days

Novelist Rebecca Hardiman gives us an insight into the obstacles that cropped up for writers at the start of the 2020 global pandemic.

7 Tips for Writing Police Procedurals That Readers Love

7 Tips for Writing Police Procedurals That Readers Love

Mystery and crime novelist Russ Thomas explains how best to create a police procedural that will hook your reader and keep them coming back for more.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 560

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an alien poem.

3 Tips for Writing with a Co-Author

3 Tips for Writing with a Co-Author

Shakil Ahmad provides the top 3 things he learned while co-authoring the book Wild Sun with his brother Ehsan.

Viet Thanh Nguyen | The Committed | Writer's Digest Quote

WD Interview: Viet Thanh Nguyen on The Committed

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen discusses the challenges of writing his second novel, The Committed, and why trusting readers can make for a more compelling narrative in this WD interview.