Archive of ‘News, Notes & Quotes’ category

Writing Coaching for Older Writers

Writing coaching for older writers gives direction to writing dreams!

In the past week, I’ve been contacted by four writers, all in their sixties or seventies. Each of them is relatively new to writing. And they are all excited to finally embark on their long-held writing dreams. But where to start? When I offer writing coaching for older writers—perhaps like you?—I suggest we begin by exploring your wealth of experience, looking for the aspects that will most benefit you on your writing journey.

All your life lessons apply!

If you have reached your middle or later years without gaining literary traction, you may wonder, Is it too late for me, now? As a writing coach for older writers, I’ve learned that older writers may be much better-prepared for learning their craft than younger writers. Mastering the writing craft can take time. And as older writers (yup, me, too), we may have developed the patience that will help us onboard those important skills.

In fact, by fifty or sixty or seventy, many folks have learned how they learn best. We can capitalize on that knowledge to make the most of educational resources and opportunities.  For instance, will we do better with an online class or with personalized instruction? Or maybe we’ve found that we are actually autodidacts, able to teach ourselves what we need to know?

Writing coaching for older writers: habit patterns and perspective

As we get older, we get better acquainted with our own preferences. This awareness helps when we’re engaging in a writing project that may demand a long-term commitment from us. Knowing, for example, that we’re an inveterate night owl, not a lark, allows us to schedule our writing when we know we’ll be most productive.

And because our years have taught us more about what it means to be a human being, our work will be more meaningful and deeper than anything we could have written earlier in our lives.

First-time writers take heart

NEW YORK TIMESADVICE COLUMNIST ROXANE GAY has addressed concerns that newer or unpublished middle-aged-ish writers may have. She says, Throughout my 20s and most of my 30s, I was convinced I was never going to make it as a writer. My writing was constantly rejected, and I took the rejection personally, as one does. It is easy to fall prey to the idea that writing success is intrinsically bound to youth, she says.

Read more at Ask Roxane: Is It Too Late to Follow My Dreams?

But what about getting published?

THE GUARDIAN recently published an article about the opportunities for older women writers.   In it, Cherry Potts, the founder of the independent publisher Arachne Press, has much to say about the “ripple” opening doors for women over seventy.

She says, “There has been a sea change in publishers’ understanding and acceptance of older women’s experience and their voices, which are no longer dismissed as safe or cosy. It started with small presses like us but our ripple is now working through to the industry as a whole.”

In ON WRITING, Stephen King has something to say about older writers! “Agents, publishers, and editors are all looking for the next hot writer who can sell a lot of books and make lots of money … and not just the next hot young writer, either. Helen Santmyer was in a retirement home [in her eighties!] when she published AND LADIES OF THE CLUB. Frank McCourt was quite a bit younger [66] when he published ANGELA’S ASHES, but he was still no spring chicken.

Kit de Waal’s first novel, MY NAME IS LEON, was published when she was 56.

Harriet Doerr’s first novel, STONES FOR IBARRA, was published when she was 74 years old. It went on to win a National Book Award.

Then, there’s Sir Christopher Bland, who was 76 when his first novel, ASHES IN THE WIND, was published. Today, the Royal Society of Literature has established the RSL Christopher Bland Prize, to encourage the work of older writers. The £10,000 prize is awarded annually to an author who was fifty or older when they were first published.

Starting to write later in life? Writing coaching for older writers can help you get off to a great start!

Writing coaching inspiration with Jamie Morris, pictured smiling. If you’ve waited to explore your writing dream, you have likely seen many trends come and go in the world of literature. I’ve been coaching writers of all ages for over a dozen years. Let’s see if we can put my experience in the publishing industry to good use in the service of your long-deferred writing goals. Start by scheduling a free 30-minute consultation with me. You might also want to check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of the Seven of Swords from the DRUIDCRAFT TAROT.

Writing Coaching Inspiration: One River Is Like Another River

Working with writers can be tricky. They’re on a wild and unpredictable journey. As a coach, I want to help—but sometimes a writer’s goals can prove out of their (current) reach. That’s when I reach deep into my bag of writing coaching inspiration. I need to pull out something that both acknowledges the hard truth they’re facing and offers reassurance that there are still fine opportunities likely to arise for them.

Recently, I read a beautiful ancient tale—one of discouragement followed by unlikely success. Told in Dianne Skafte’s LISTENING TO THE ORACLE, it’s the story of a Greek soldier who loses his way in enemy territory. He is supposed to meet up with his troop on the banks of a certain river. They plan to board a ship there and travel to a town friendly to their cause. Having hired a guide to help him get to his destination safely, the soldier is devastated to find he has been led to a different river!

He berates his guide, only to be met with a shrug—and this enigmatic response: “One river is like another river.” What? But in fact, appearing on the shores of this river is a small boat captained by a man who agrees to take the soldier back to the friendly town that was his original aim.

Once the soldier disembarks from the small boat in the town, he learns, to his horror, that the ship with his mates was captured and all aboard were killed.

Writing coaching inspiration

The soldier was not able to reach the river he aimed for. But he was guided to another river that carried him to safe harbor.

Similarly, when we set our sights on big writing goals, it may be that we can’t reach them—or not at this time. Whether we want to publish in a major magazine or attract an agent to represent us, our desired outcomes may be (temporarily) unattainable.

That’s when it’s time to scout out another river. Reset your goals. Aim to get published in a regional magazine, rather than in O Magazine. Agents can be tough to impress. Consider submitting your manuscript to small press editors instead. Match your target to your current abilities to meet it.

Fortunately, different from this Ancient Greek tale, no one is likely to die in the literary trenches. But when we’re rejected, it hurts. Still, it’s a wise Modern writer who will remember the motto of that Ancient Greek guide. One river is like another river. So look around. A boat you never imagined might appear on a river you didn’t notice. And you might find, ultimately, you are carried exactly where you want to go.

Need some clarity about your writing goals? A consultation with a top writing coach might help! Let’s chat.

Writing coaching inspiration with Jamie Morris, pictured smiling. Writing is a powerful and compelling endeavor. If you are setting goals but not meeting them, though, you might need a different approach—or more nuanced goals. With over a dozen years’ experience helping writers take their work to the next level, I might be able to show you how to make similar strides. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me. Also, check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

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A Memoir Coach and a Wild Writing Exercise

As a memoir coach, I’m always on the lookout for fresh writing exercises. In particular, I love memoir writing prompts that invite us to see past experiences differently. This particular memoir exercise is a weird trip. It will turn your writing—and your insights—inside out!

Called “Cut and Paste,” the exercise is attributed to Jack Meyers. I first tried it during my Amherst Artists & Writers (AWA) writing workshop leadership training. The directions, as included in the AWA handbook, WRITING ALONE AND WITH OTHERS, by Pat Schneider, are deceptively simple.

Write a short poem or prose piece in a gentle, happy, or peaceful tone; write a poem or prose piece of the same length in a sad, upset, angry tone; cut and paste the two together, alternating lines without trying to make sense of them at first.

I offered this exercise in a memoir-writing workshop. It was an experiment. But then, it always is: Arm a roomful of folks with pens, season with several pots of strong java, then wait and see what happens.

I wrote alongside the memoirists and ended up with this piece. It’s more than usually disjointed because the chronology of the events (divvied up into separate, interspersed tracks) is awkward.

But it does a good job of showing how the memory of two fairly mundane events—in this case, arriving for a ballroom dance lesson and my first ocular migraine—collide to make more meaning than they had as stand-alone events.

Here’s my example!

SPANISH LEATHER

It was the height of my Tiny Dancer phase,
and the center of my vision,
(I described my symptoms to the tech),
standing under the oaks,
(“Opthalmic migraine,” she said,)
outside my ballroom dance instructor’s house,
gone dark. My first thought?
(“most likely.”)
car trunk open, showing him brand new shoes:
stroke.
My second thought?
(“It should go away.”)
tight as black suede gloves, arched insteps,
Even blind, I can do my job.
(It did.)
ankle straps, Spanish heels,
I’ll just have to listen harder.
(But they still surprise me,)
“Nice leather,” he was saying, as I noticed
“There’s something wrong,”
(the numbing jaw,)
the flash of light at the corner of one eye,
I told the circle of blackness,
(the shattered light,)
rubbed at it,
where Michael’s face had been.
(the failing core of vision)
turned to him, dance shoes dangling,
He led me up the concrete path,
sharp, silver buckles.
(reminding me just how tentative)
and the sky above,
into the cool, dim studio,
(is this funny life,)
fractured into a gray/green/white kaleidoscope of shards.
(slipped into its seemingly sturdy little shoe).

Seems a little crazy, right? But give this a try, and allow the language of your prose writing to take you on a ride into the poetry of chance.

Writing a memoir? A consultation with a top memoir coach might help you steer clear of common potholes and pitfalls! Let’s chat.

Writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you learn how to self-publish your book. Memoir is such a powerful evocation of a life. I’ve been honored to work through the ins and outs of the memoir process with many writers. The reasons for creating a memoir are as varied as the folks who share their stories. But what they all have in common is a desire to tell their truth in a way that can move—and maybe inspire—readers. Writing a memoir? I can help.  Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me. Also, check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

Why Hire a Book Coach: Jen’s Story

Perhaps you’re wondering, Why hire a book coach? Jen’s story, below, will give you a novel writer’s first-hand experience of working with a professional book coach.

When Jen first contacted me, she’d completed a Young Adult (YA) novel and had already been under contract with a literary agent for a year. Unfortunately, the agent was not able to sell the book. The editors rejecting Jen’s manuscript said things like: “The plot was slow-moving,” “I found my interest waning by the third chapter,” and “I couldn’t quite connect with the main character.”

Finally, mutually frustrated, Jen and her agent parted ways. This brought Jen to a come-to-Jesus moment with her literary career—and led her to hire a writing coach. I’m delighted that coach was me! And I’m so happy to share Jen’s thoughts on our process together.

Why hire a book coach: Jen shares her story

If you’re a writer, you spend a lot of time in your own head. If you’re not a writer, that might sound weird to you, but trust me—it’s fun! There are people in there, and they’re doing interesting things: falling in love, learning magic, murdering their families. Writers’ heads hold maps of cities and castles and the location of quicksand. They’re populated by talking animals, ghosts who refuse to speak their needs clearly, and, maybe, if we’re really good planners, several generations of violent family trauma.

See? Fun!

Writers, however, aren’t content to hang around in their own brains by themselves forever. We writers want to show-n-tell the insides of our brains to the world. And we want the world to love what they see. And pay us for it.

So we sit down to our laptops and we type for many years. And then we send our manuscripts to our friends and family and wait for them to say they like it. And then we email our manuscripts to carefully researched agents in New York who we’re sure are going to love it. And then we die when we receive piles of rejection letters.

But we revive ourselves and do it again. And again. Maybe we do it three times before we stand in front of our haggard reflections and ask ourselves if we should stop—forever.

We don’t, though, either because we really loved show-n-tell (and we’re still mad that Mrs. Walsh mismanaged her time and missed our turn on the last week of second grade) or because there’s something in our bones that won’t let us stop.

When to hire a book coach

After all those rounds of rejection, we realize it’s time to do something different. If we’ve got several years of free time on our hands—not to mention a spare $50,000—maybe we go back to school for a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in writing.

If we don’t have that luxury—and I didn’t—I highly recommend hiring a book coach.

If you’re intimidated by the cost of a writing coach, you might want to research the cost of a three-credit graduate class on novel writing. Then consider the fact that you’d be sharing your professor with your classmates. Not only that, but your class will likely end long before you finish a first draft, let alone your second.

When I found Jamie, I was in the middle of my MA in Special Education, and it put the cost in perspective. By the age of 35, I had invested tens of thousands of dollars on myself as a teacher and only a few hundred dollars on myself as a writer. I decided it was time to change that.

Why hire a book coach if you have a finished manuscript

I came to Jamie with a finished manuscript—my first foray into writing adult fiction, rather than my seemingly unmarketable YA novels. But no matter how many times I revised it, it wasn’t working.

We decided to go back to the beginning of the process—back to story concept. That meant I had to trust Jamie with the raw contents of my brain, and it wasn’t easy. Jamie, however, is a big fan of raw brain. She’s an idea zombie, if you will—deeply interested in the process. I learned to trust her to help me untangle the contents of my gray matter and weave them into a cohesive story, one that connects with readers.

Not show-n-tell

Writing a novel is inherently a lonely process. While it may not be show-n-tell, writing is a way to make a human connection. (Maybe AI is going to write the next novel. And maybe it will be entertaining. But I daresay readers want satisfying connections with characters, understanding that another human designed that character and her journey.)

Leo Tolstoy said, “Art is a microscope which the artist fixes on the secrets of his soul, and shows to people these secrets which are common to all.” Writing 400 pages of the secrets of your soul just to receive a “no thanks” earns you membership in an especially sad club.

You start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you—something about your secrets that really are uncommon.

And then you meet Jamie, who tells you that’s crazy, to get back to work. The issue isn’t that you’re too weird, she’ll say. It’s that you’re not being weird enough. From there, you discover the secret to connecting to readers is mastering the craft. It’s a skill. It’s hard work. That narrative structure, the Hero’s Journey—the one that’s been in literally every story ever since the dawn of human language—it exists for a reason.

No, it’s not easy to master. But Jamie is a plotting expert with a keen eye for characterization. She’s a voracious reader with a book recommendation for exactly what you need to work on this month. She’s a cheerleader and a tough-love distributor. Family and friends will pretend to like your work when it’s bad. Jamie will not. She’s your personal trainer who’s going to tell you that you need to work harder, but she’s also going to make sure you’re not wasting your valuable time working harder on the wrong things.

Welcome to the book coach reality show

Working with Jamie hasn’t exactly been the show-n-tell I’ve wished for; it’s more like being a contestant on one of those reality TV shows. You know. The ones where the straight-shooting declutterer holds your hand as you tearfully toss four of your five chipped Teflon pans into a distended garbage bag. Just like that host, though, Jamie reassures you that, somewhere, behind those dutch ovens and glass casseroles, there’s going to be a story people—editors included—will love.

And I believe her.

—Jen Russ

Struggling to get published? A top book coach might help! Let’s chat.

Writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you learn how to self-publish your book. I love story—and the characters that live through their stories. I’ve helped many novelists develop their plots in ways that make them more engaging and more marketable. If you’re working on a novel and wonder how to make it more successful, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me. Also, check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

Book Coach Tips for Writing a Successful Novel

As a professional writing coach, I always want to support writers in their quest for success. This month, my post “Book Coach Tips for Writing a Successful Novel” focuses on the most important aspects of novel writing. I also include resources that will help you level up your novel-writing game.

Tips for writing a successful novel: Voice + character

Job one, connect your reader to your main character (MC). While we often think that readers are more interested in the plot of our stories than our characters, that’s not quite true. What’s funny, perhaps ironic, is that while readers generally think plot is the main draw for them, they’re actually wrong! (Most of the time. Generally speaking. In this book coach’s experience.)

In fact, what pulls a reader into a story first is voice. While the back jacket copy’s catchy synopsis of your story is what gets a reader to open your book, the voice your potential reader meets on page one must hook them.

Voice conveys attitude—usually, your main character’s attitude. It’s how you introduce your character, and it sets the tone for your reader’s experience. (It’s similar to a vacation destination: Some readers hate the snow. They won’t book a ski vacation! But another reader might love the crisp chill of your character’s voice.)

If the voice is engaging, you will keep your reader’s attention long enough to reveal your character’s need, goal, dilemma—those elements of story that integrate character with plot. If your reader finds your character sympathetic, they’ll tumble down the rabbit hole of your story, committed to seeing how your character fares.

Tips for writing a successful novel: Plot

As mentioned, readers tend to think that plot drives their reading choices. And a well-turned plot with a strong hook will certainly get your book “read-more” clicks! Whether your story is high concept or not, your plot should drag your main character into situations, environments, and relationships that, in her ordinary world, she would avoid at all costs.

Convince your reader that your MC has no choice but to involve herself in the dire circumstances you’ve built for her. Do this by creating irresistibly compelling stakes: putting her loved ones in danger, perhaps, or forcing her to face illness, financial ruin, or loss of her hard-won reputation.

Once your MC has embarked on the roller-coaster ride of her story, make sure there are no exit ramps along the way (sorry, mixed metaphors). In fact, you want to keep escalating the stakes! Push your MC to continually face new challenges as she tries (desperately!) to either meet her initial goal or to succeed in whatever glass-mountain-climbing task your story has provided her.

However you play it, for your main character, there must be no way out but through. And  every plot point you create should enforce this. (My deepest sympathies to your main character!)

Resources for novel writers

There are many masters of the novel-writers’ craft. And, fortunately for us, quite a few of them have written books to guide us on our writing path. As a long-time writing coach, I’ve found several that I recommend quite often. Here’s a short list for you.

THE SECRETS OF STORY, by Matt Bird

PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK, by Jamie Morris, et al

HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL, by James N. Frey

PLOT & STRUCTURE: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish, by James Scott Bell

SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL, by Jessica Brody

You might also enjoy my article “How to Write a Novel”  or be interested to learn more about how successful authors have used my Plot Clock method to get their novels agented and published.

Interested in receiving personalized book coach tips for writing a successful novel? A free chat with a top writing coach can offer just that!

Writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you learn how to self-publish your book. Novels and their authors are near and dear to my heart. Over the last decade, as a professional writing coach, I’ve helped many novelists take their books to the next level. If you’re working on a novel and wonder how to make it more successful in the current market, let’s chat. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me. Also, check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

Writing Coaching: The Hard Stuff

I’ve been in the trenches, coaching writers, for well over a decade. From long experience, I can tell you that, with writing coaching, the hard stuff is the stuff that can make or break a career. And by “hard stuff,” I mean whatever you currently don’t have in your writer’s toolkit.

Most writers have mad skills in some areas, but struggle in others. For instance, you may be a crazy plotting genius, but create flat-as-a-pancake characters. Or, you’re an amazing researcher, but stumble when trying to organize your ideas on the page.

As writers, we all have strengths and weaknesses. But, weirdly, it’s looking our weaknesses straight in the eye that separates successful writers from those who never reach their full potential. It’s natural to want to work around our literary deficiencies. But if we’re willing to really dig in to the less-developed aspects of our writing, we will—eventually—strike gold.

Writing coaching: the hard stuff

Tackling those underdeveloped skills head-on isn’t easy. As a professional writing coach, I often see writers struggle with aspects of writing that feel completely out of their current reach—creating a dynamic plot, for some; finding a convincing voice for others. However, I know that if they keep at it—putting in what may seem an unreasonable amount of time and effort—there will be a pay off.

On the other hand, some writers can’t—or won’t—harness their energies to make the admittedly uphill climb to mastering a tough skill. They truly believe their current (easier, go-to) strengths will carry them to where they want to be in their writing life.

I understand! But that’s not how it works—at least not in my experience.

Hiring a writing coach

So … you know something in your writer’s arsenal needs to be powered up. You hire a writing coach. And it’s going wonderfully! Your coach is an angel on your shoulder. She encourages you, provides accountability, reads your work with enthusiasm and insight. Fantastic!

Of course, she also points out areas of your work that could use some improvement. Many of these aspects are easy-peasy to address. Yes, I can easily be more precise with my verbs, you say. Also, Giving more visual cues to my readers? No problem.

But the hard thing? That “weakness” which is native to you as a writer, your literary blind spot? As you work with your coach, that will become more and more evident. Worse, no matter how hard you try to address this most difficult of skills, you may feel you aren’t making significant progress. And your darned coach won’t let it go!

Fortunately, she will bring myriad ways to help you on-board the skill you most need to master. That’s because she knows how important it is to your career. You can’t maneuver around a deficit without compromising your work as a whole.

Yet, despite your—and your coach’s—best intentions, you may get to a point of frustration. You might want to toss up the whole enterprise and walk away. But—and I am telling you this with the deepest compassion I can bring here—if you keep moving in the direction of excellence, especially when the going gets tough, you will make it through. Then, you will reap rewards you can’t even imagine when you’re humping that huge load of sticks uphill toward your beautiful writing dream.

I believe in you! If you’re ready to dig and find out what you’re made of, a chat with a top writing coach might be your next step on the road to literary success.

Novel writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you outline your novel. As a professional writing coach, I support fiction and nonfiction writers working in a number of genres. Wherever you are on your writing journey, I would love to see how I can help you achieve your literary goals. Schedule your free 30-minute consultation with me. And take a look at THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

 

The image of tarot’s Ten of Wands comes from the ASTROMATRIX TAROT, available on Amazon.

How to Write a Fantasy Novel: Quick Tips!

Wondering how to write a fantasy novel? As a professional writing coach, I’ve learned that following a few important guidelines can make all the difference! Here are some magical tips to help you write fantasy fiction, from me—and NEW YORK TIMES best-selling fantasy author Lev Grossman. Dark blue cover of Lev Grossman's book The Magicians writing a fantasy novel

Quick tips for writing fantasy fiction

World-building: Your fantasy world may be an ancient one, filled with a long history of dwarves and elves and dragons. Or it might exist in a contemporary city, where magic hangs heavy in the air.

Whatever your fantastic world, make sure you establish consistent rules to govern your magical elements. Also, even if there’s not a dwarf in sight, you will still need to include the background of your world.

To do so, answer questions like these: What is the origin of magic in your world? Who is allowed to use the magic? How does the magic manifest? Are there factions in your world? If so, what is the source of their differences?

Limit point of view (POV) characters; Your fantasy may encompass many characters. However, if this is your first foray into writing fantasy, I suggest you limit yourself to no more than four POV characters.

Limiting POV characters makes it easier to map out your story. It also allows you to create an internal arc for each POV character. Those arcs ensure your readers invest in your characters as well as your plot.

Create a stand-alone first novel: Fantasy novels are often developed into series. However, if you’re a first-time fantasy novelist, I suggest you write a stand-alone first novel. Forcing yourself to complete a significant narrative arc in a single book will keep you from drowning in story-line possibilities.

If you love your fantasy world, you may decide to set another story there. Eventually, you may find you have created a series! But if you follow this advice, each volume of that series will be a satisfying read on its own.

Of course, as you dig deeper into your fantasy-novel-writing craft, you’ll be ever-better prepared to commit to a full series, right from the get-go!

Let’s learn from Lev Grossman!

My short list of tips covers what I consider to be the most important for fantasy writers to consider. However, Lev Grossman has written a terrific essay on novel writing that addresses many other points of interest for fantasy—and other—writers.

Check out his Buzzfeed piece “How Not to Write Your First Novel,” subtitled, “It is Okay Not to be a Genius.” (Hm. Reading about Grossman’s chilly, oddly heart-filled journey through six cold months in Maine, I’m pretty sure I see his genius shining through.) Grossman is the author of THE MAGICIANS, THE MAGICIAN KING, and THE MAGICIAN’S LAND, among other well-regarded fantasy titles.

Wondering how to write a fantasy novel? A chat with a top writing coach might help!

Novel writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you outline your novel. As a novel writing coach, I support writers working in a number of genres, fantasy, among them. Whether you’re world-building or developing your characters, I would love to see how I can help you, too.  Schedule a free initial consultation with me. And also check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

How Long Should a Novel Be?

IN THE BOOK WRITERS’ CRITIQUE GROUP I LEAD, we recently discussed the differences between works of narrative fiction. While word count is not the only distinguishing feature, it’s certainly the easiest to grasp. Perhaps you’re wondering, “How long should a novel be?”

As a professional writing coach, I’m asked about book lengths quite often. That’s why I compiled this quick guide to word count—and a few distinguishing features of long fiction forms, as well.

Word counts for novels, novellas, and novelettes

We call all of the above—novels, novellas, and novelettes—book-length fiction. But they actually vary wildly in length.There are typically other differences in these forms, as well.

Novelettes: Sometimes a term that is used derogatorally. The word count for a novelette is between 7,500 and17,000. In addition to their short length, novelettes are characterized by their sentimental style and, often, on a romantic focus.

Novellas: Not to be confused with telenovelas, a term given to dramatic, primarily Latin American, television series. Novellas have an approximate word count between 17,000 and 40,000. A novella will typically have fewer (if any) subplots than a novel. It will also generally take place in a shorter, more contained time frame and a single location.

Novels: Starting at 40,000 words (except for children’s fiction), with no cap other than what agents, editors, and readers will accept. Given its length, a novel has room for a writer to develop subplots, use multiple points of view, and explore multiple locations—and even multiple periods in time. (Think, time travel novels or family sagas.)

Word counts for novels by genre

Middle Grade: 25,000 – 50,000

Young Adult: 45,000 – 100,000

Fantasy: 50,000 – 150,000

Sci-fi: 50,000 – 150,000.

Romance: 50,000 – 90,000.

Mystery: 40,000 – 80,000.

Horror: 40,000 – 80,000.

Dystopian: 60,000 – 120,000

Thriller: 90,000 – 120,000

I hope this quick look at word counts and genres helps as you prepare to write your novel. You might also like this article: “How to Write a Novel.” It’s an exciting journey—and I wish you all the best as you get underway!

How long should your novel be? A chat with a top novel writing coach can help you navigate the word-count waters!

Fiction writing coach Jamie Morris knows how long a novel should be. As a top novel writing coach, I help book writers decide how long their novel—or novella, or novelette—should be. We can address practical questions like this and much more in a no-cost 30-minute phone chat. Schedule a free initial consultation with me, now. And read THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach,” too! 

Outline Your Novel with ChatGPT

Did you know you can outline your novel with ChatGPT? No? Me, either. But I asked my super-smart techie novelist friend MK Swanson if she had used ChatGPT, and she said she had. Specifically, she told me that she now believes “novelists can use ChatGPT to supercharge their process. For instance, you can outline your novel with ChatGPT.” Then she offered to write a blog post for my readers showing her first-time process in doing so! 

Below, MK describes how she approached ChatGPT for outlining assistance—and the surprisingly good results she got. As you’ll see, MK first needed to get ChatGPT up to speed for the task. To do so, she first picked a specific approach to novel outlining (from the gazillion available). She chose to work with the plot clock-–which is what I use to help my clients with their outlines.

Then, based on what ChatGPT discovered about the plot clock, she had the program ask her appropriate questions to get her ideas flowing and on track. “Watching” them work together is fascinating! 

Here’s MK …  

I’m MK Swanson, a novelist who’s interested in tech.  Cute Cartoon of a female writer outlining a novel on a computer with ChatGPTI wanted to see how I might put the large language model (LLM) ChatGPT to use as a creative writing partner.  At first, I found its responses stilted and awkward. I said to myself, “This is fine if I was a middle school student cheating on a take home assignment. But I’m a real writer. It doesn’t offer me anything that I can’t do better myself.”

But I tried again. And now I think that every writer, especially novelists, can use ChatGPT to supercharge their process. For instance, it is ideal for the delicate project of outlining your novel.

How to outline your novel with ChatGPT

Create a dialogue

You want to enter into a dialogue with ChatGPT. Start that dialogue by giving ChatGPT a clear prompt.

MKS (prompting ChatGPT): You are a writing coach who uses the plot clock method to guide writers to create an outline of their novel, and I am your client. Ask me a series of questions that will give me a good outline of my novel, stopping to allow me to answer after each question. 

This prompt sets up the interaction between me and ChatGPT. I use the prompt to tell ChatGPT what perspective I want it to take (“you are a writing coach”) and what outlining method I want it to use (“the plot clock”). Finally, I set up a conversation-style interaction where it will ask me the next question fluidly.

Story starting point

ChatGPT (responding to the prompt): Of course! I’d be happy to assist you in creating an outline for your novel using the plot clock method. Let’s begin by diving into some key aspects of your story. Remember to take your time to think about each question and provide as much detail as possible. Here’s the first question:

What is the initial situation or setup of your story? Describe the world, the main character, and their ordinary life before the inciting incident occurs.

MKS: Livendra is a young woman living on the remains of the Florida peninsula in the future. The world environment has become more unpredictable and dangerous. Coastal cities have been submerged. Livendra makes a living as a pirate, stealing treasures and supplies from salvage corporations whom she blames for the state of the world. She believes that civilization is in its death throes.

Inciting incident

ChatGPT: Thank you for providing such a vivid and detailed description of your story’s initial situation. It sets a compelling backdrop for the events to come. Now, let’s move on to the next phase of the plot clock:

What is the inciting incident that disrupts Livendra’s ordinary life as a pirate and sets the main events of the story into motion? How does this incident change her perspective or force her to confront new challenges?

MKS: Livendra tries to steal a boat from a corporation, and is caught, but the man who catches her not only lets her go, he joins her. After they escape, he insists he can help her reach her most precious goal—to retrieve a sculpture her mother carved from inside the flooded borders of Jacksonville, which is guarded by a paramilitary group.

Conflicts and obstacles

ChatGPT: Excellent! The inciting incident you’ve described adds an intriguing twist to Livendra’s life as a pirate and sets the stage for new challenges and unexpected alliances. Now, let’s move on to the next phase of the plot clock:

As Livendra and her companion embark on their mission to retrieve the sculpture, what are the major obstacles or conflicts they encounter? Consider both external factors, such as the paramilitary patrols, and internal struggles that Livendra may face along the way….

ChatGPT and I continue this back-and-forth all around the plot clock, with me making up a host of other details.

You can also ask ChatGPT to help you outline your novel using the Snowflake method, the hero’s journey, a chapter-by-chapter approach, or any other outlining method you desire. And, you can ask ChatGPT to be a character in your novel, then engage it in dialogue to learn more about your character’s motivation.

Other things you can do with ChatGPT

You can use ChatGPT to outline a draft of an existing novel-in-progress in order to add complexity, straighten out a plot tangle, or create a timeline. You might also ask it to use the outline you created with it to summarize your novel, write a book jacket blurb, or come up with an elevator pitch.

If you’d like to learn from the best novelists of all time, you can even ask ChatGPT to outline novels in its corpus. It offered me a quite reasonable outline of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Things you can’t do with ChatGPT (yet)

Of course, there are many things ChatGPT can’t do, such as:

  • It can’t retain context in a chat window for more than a few thousand words. (If the AI model begins to lose focus, switch to a new window and give it the outline so far.)
  • It isn’t completely private. (Read the fine print.)
  • It doesn’t offer truly creative ideas. (Those come from you!)

ChatGPT might not be a magical solution to all your writing needs, but it’s not just a cheat sheet. With patience, you may find you can use it to invigorate your outlining process. And once it’s done that, what other ways will you find to make it work for you?

* I used OpenAI’s free research preview of ChatGPT for this example.

This article was written by novelist MK Swanson, who writes about tech and writing at writingdreamer.com and brasstack.net.

Trying to outline your novel? I can help!

Novel writing coach Jamie Morris, pictured smiling, can help you outline your novel. As a novel writing coach and memoir coach, I have helped scads of writers outline their stories. Let’s see if my approach can help you.  Schedule a free initial consultation with me. And also check out THE WRITER mag article Should I Hire a Writing Coach.”

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red book cover for book writers' coach Jamie MorrisFolks who commit to writing a book are a different breed. They’re tenacious (and sometimes hard-headed, lol).

They see the long view. They know their actions today (and tomorrow, and the next day/week/year) create their future: If they keep writing, they’ll be authors.

Me? I want to be along for that ride. Sure, there will be ups and downs. (If it were easy, everyone would write a book, right?) So when I agree to become a book writer’s coach, I’m declaring myself in it with you for the long haul.

I’ll be there to remind you about your goals, sure! But more than that, I’ll listen to your ideas and help you develop them in ways that (almost magically) transform your book into something more than you ever imagined it could be! (Believe me, I have a track record for doing just this!)

I’ll guide you to be more efficient when you need to get something—chapter, outline, query letter—done. But I’ll also encourage you to explore enticing paths that may make your work both richer for you as a writer and deeper and more meaningful for your eventual readers.

So, why am I a book writers’ coach? Because I consider it a gift and an honor to help creative people—you!—accomplish the huge task of turning your dream into a book.

It’s possible. It’s hard. It’s worthwhile. And you don’t have to do it alone.

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