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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)

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:

LISA SCOTTOLINE’S 9 TIPS FOR GETTING STARTED & STAYING MOTIVATED

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

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