An Easy (and healthy!) Meal: Chicken Leg Quarters

Easy Chicken Leg QuartersI have the worst stomach known to man. I’m sensitive to everything, and eating out it is more of a pain in the butt than it is a fun time.

It should come as no surprise then, that I eat at home far more frequently than I eat out. I know what my stomach can handle, and it’s easier (read: less painful) to just cook at home.

But the problem is I’m lazy. I enjoy cooking once I get started (and I always enjoy the results of the cooking!), but actually getting myself into the kitchen and chopping vegetables…

Ugh.

Let’s just say that more often than not, 7:30 rolls around and I’m STARVING. The last thing I want to do is have to think hard about what I’ll be eating or stressing over preparation.

The same goes for lunch. I’ll be deep in the writing zone until 12:30-ish, when aha! Suddenly my stomach is gurgling and I MUSTEATRIGHTNOWORDIE. If I don’t have leftovers ready to pop into the microwave, than I’ll pretty much starve until dinner time.

Enter stage left: the chicken leg quarter.

These are SO easy to prepare, and the results are sooooo delicious.

While the leg quarters are not necessarily fast (they take between 45 minutes to 1 hour to cook), they are so EASY that it kinda negates the misery of waiting. I just play some Dragon Age Inquisition while these suckers bake. ūüėČ

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As for what to eat alongside your chicken, there are tons of options! My husband likes to make rice or egg noodles to mix around in the delicious chicken juices at the end. Since I can’t really eat grains, I like to make an easy vegetable (steamed broccoli, for example, or cauliflower) and mix it with the chicken juices.

Or, if you have a bit more time to prep, you could always bake vegetables with the chicken leg quarters! Carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes–chop ’em up, add ’em to the baking dish, and cook with the legs for a delicious, super healthy meal.

You tell me: Do you have an easy, go-to weekday meal?

 


Changing the Focus of My Blog

Hi everyone!! *waves frantically*

It has been 2 months since I last posted–can you¬†believe¬†it? It doesn’t actually feel that long, and I won’t lie: it has been great for my creative self to not have to worry about blogging.

Because, here’s the thing, guys: I’ve run out of things to say when it comes to writing.

I’ve written 560 posts, 38 newsletters, and who knows how much additional content on Pub(lishing) Crawl, Let the Words Flow, and other blogs across the interwebosphere.

That’s pretty insane when you think about it, and to be honest: I’m¬†really proud of what I’ve built. I won three¬†different awards for “Best Writing Blogs” in 2014, and I launched the Misfits & Daydreams¬†(and got to watch that¬†really take off).

I love my newsletter–like¬†love it.¬†It feels wildly intimate, and I find people are more likely to email me directly than they used to be (which is wonderful!). So I will 100% continue to wax poetic about writing, publishing, etc. on there. I’ll also continue to answer all questions put to me in the forum.

But I’d love to take this¬†blog in a new¬†direction.

You see, I’m¬†not just a writer. Like, I actually have a number of hobbies (gasp!) and passions (double gasp!) that have¬†nothing to do with books.

I make bath and body products–makeup too. I tap dance. I¬†go to the dojo three times a week. I have an unhealthy obsession with good,¬†good coffee. I LOVE fashion (even if I don’t always have the guts to follow it), and I love makeup application/techniques even more.

I love dogs (I’m sure you all knew¬†that), and have a weakness for any and all unlikely animal pairings as well as¬†cute baby animals doing cute baby animal things.

I like food (especially gluten-free cookies), and I really care about what sorts of ingredients and chemicals go into my body. So no surprise: I spend a lot of time cooking and finding new recipes to try (especially new gluten-free cookie recipes).

I enjoy DIY house projects. My husband and I¬†bought a wreck of a house two years ago, and since then, we’ve been fixing it up all by ourselves–and on a very tight budget. No surprise: but I’m a huge fan of Ikea hacks and yard sales. ūüėČ

Maybe a lot of you already know this stuff about me, but¬†I’d love to dig more deeply into¬†all these¬†things and to connect with other people who are interested in them as well. Plus, I think it would give YOU ALL, my incredible readers, a deeper understanding of who I am.

I mean, if you enjoy my books or my writing advice, then you might also enjoy understanding¬†where it all comes from. I’m one of those ANNOYING people who sees a life lesson in everything–so be prepared for blog posts in that vein.

Now, I’m not saying I won’t still write about writing or publishing–I absolutely will. And again: I’ll still discuss those things and answer questions in the Misfits & Daydreamers.

But for 2015, I’m going to give this new, fresh direction of content a try.

You tell me: What kind of non-writing stuff would you like to hear about? You can ask me anything–honestly, you can! Or, if you’re not comfortable leaving a comment, don’t ever hesitate to email me directly: susan @ susandennard.com

Also:¬†If you all have ANY QUESTIONS about writing or publishing, I’d still love to get those! Hearing what you guys want to know helps me create content for the newsletter. ūüôā

 


5 Things I Learned in 2014 & Some Resolutions for 2015

I think of 2013 as “The Year I Learned To Accept Publishing For What It Is (and to stop whining about it)”, and that year held a lot of rough, pretty low patches for me. I wasn’t the only one. In fact, if you do a quick scan of blogs from other authors in my debut year (2012), you’ll see almost every one went¬†through the same emotional highs, lows, and fist-clenching frustrations.

It’s just part of the author’s journey.

But I weathered 2013…only to face a new year with a whole new set of challenges. Forever after, 2014 will be “The Year That I Thought I Was Creatively Broken (and then realized I wasn’t).”

It was a hard year, but I’ve stepped into 2015 with a whole new outlook–and a fresh awareness of¬†WHO¬†I really am, WHAT I really want,¬†and WHY I love telling stories.

Here’s what I learned in 2014, and what I want to focus¬†on¬†as I move through¬†2015.

1. Saying “no” is okay.

You see, there is such a thing as¬†too much¬†on a to-do list, and I reached that¬†point halfway into 2014. What with the blogging, the newslettering, the giving back, the workshop-teaching, the traveling, the drafting, the deadlines, and–of course–the general day-to-day surviving, I BURNED MYSELF OUT. Like, I scorched myself into a husk of my former self (read #2 below).

It got so bad that in October I had to take an impromptu getaway for a 1.5 weeks with no internet in order to find my zen and learn to simply function again. I wrote about that whole-assing experience here, and that immersion session was a REAL eye-opener for how I operate on a creative level.

Actually, you should just read this brilliant blog post because author¬†Tricia Sullivan¬†states it all better than I ever could. ūüėČ

Resolution: I will practice saying “no” to external obligations that I don’t need to do. In fact, stay tuned for some announcements on this coming soon. ūüôā

2. Health and life should come first.

I think it’s easy to lose sight of what matters when your job is your passion. Not only do I¬†define myself by my writing, but I love, love, LOVE what I do. Even when I made no money off of this, I still wrote. And even if, one day, I make no money off of this, I would still write. Forever.

But, as mentioned in #1, there is such a thing as¬†too much, and when your health starts to deteriorate because you’re determined to write “just one more blog post” or revise “just two more pages,” then you’ve got a problem.

I had a problem–some pretty serious health problems, actually, that were brought on by some dietary issues¬†that were¬†wildly, WILDLY exacerbated by my stress levels.

And of course, when your health is bad, then your creative life suffers…which just increases¬†the stress even more…which just makes the writing¬†even harder.

But in the fall of 2014, I really worked to get my health and life back on track. I started karate again (after a 5 year hiatus! Shame on me!), focused on keeping my diet 100% clean of the foods I know make me sick (bye-bye dairy and gluten and sugar ūüôĀ ), and spending quality time with friends and family. I can already see a HUGE shift in not only my physical happiness, but my creative well-being.

Resolution: I will practice saying “yes” to personal, non-writing endeavors.

3. There is no Right Way to write a book.

Despite knowing this on the surface–that there is no right way to write a book–I didn’t¬†really learn this deep in my bones until late in 2014. I struggled to write a novella (like REALLY struggled) and was convinced I’d lost my mojo…Then I stepped into drafting a new full-length novel, and after a few months of seemingly fruitless brainstorming and false starts, I was seriously¬†starting to despair…

I mean, I had SUCH an easy time with Strange & Ever After and Truthwitch. Why was I struggling so much with a prequel and a sequel?

To make matters worse, I kept¬†seeing (read: actively searching for) all these authors online who outlined so easily, then stuck to said outline, and¬†then churned out 6+ books a year… I convinced myself that if they could do it, so could I.

Wrong.

Just like it was wrong to try to emulate¬†authors who wrote everyday or into the wee hours of the night or by the light of a full moon. Just because¬†they¬†seemed¬†to write more/better/faster than I didn’t mean their methods would work within my own weird framework.

What is WRONG with me?!¬†‚áí That thought must’ve entered my head 10000000 times a day this 2014.

Until, literally in the space of a heartbeat (while driving to karate, I might add), I realized 2 things:

First: Not a¬†single one of my novels has ever come out the same way. Some have required many, MANY rewrites and exploratory drafts…while some have come out almost “perfect.” But just because one book poured forth in a frenzy of inspiration does not mean they all will. And when a¬†book¬†is¬†hard to grind out, IT DOESN’T MEAN I AM BROKEN.

It just means that this book is going to require a different approach from the last. And that’s all good.

Second: I cannot and absolutely MUST NOT compare my method to other writers. I think it’s great–vital even–to explore other approaches to writing a novel, and I truly, truly love attending writing workshops or reading about other authors’ methods. But just because something works for that guy over there doesn’t mean it will work for me…and yet again, if it doesn’t work for me, then IT DOESN’T MEAN I AM BROKEN.

Resolution: Remember to trust the process and allow each book to grow in its own unique way.

4. Simplify and prioritize all the stuff.

This might sound similar to #1, but I’m not talking about emotional stuff so much as physical STUFF. The clutter, the knickknacks, the jeans you¬†swear you’ll fit into next month, or the present given by a well-meaning friend that you’ll NEVER use…

I have so much junk–as does my husband–and late in 2014, I realized it was starting to weigh on me. My office had so many piles of un-filed paper, that I was afraid to walk in lest I be reminded of it all…and feel crippling guilt. My¬†closet was a disorganized mess of so many things I¬†never wore anymore. And the basement was literally¬†filled with boxes that were unpacked despite having lived in this¬†house for almost 2 years (I am deeply ashamed of this–not gonna lie).

So hubby and I both decided it was time for a trip (or four) to Goodwill. In a single day, we got rid of two thirds of our clothing. Believe it or not, I felt instantly lighter and my clothing-decision-time in the morning has been drastically shortened.

We also went through our endless supply of toiletries (do I really need that body spray from 2007 still? Yuck!), old reading material (my husband is SUCH a magazine/newspaper hoarder), unused electronics (bye-bye iPod from college!), and we even donated our old car.

In a single day, everything just got¬†simpler.¬†Best of all, organizing my office finally seemed manageable. Gone is the miserable reminder of backed-up filing, and now I have clean place I can step into for writing. ūüėČ

Resolution: Stop accumulating¬†stuff. If I don’t need it, I won’t buy it and I definitely won’t keep it.

5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

This is something my agent, Joanna Volpe, has been telling me since I signed with her 4 years ago: “Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.”

It’s such a great quote, and it’s true not only in the writing world, but for life in general. Rush-rush-rushing to have All The Things NOW doesn’t get you where you want to go. Slowing down, focusing on the long-term, and really pushing quality over quantity–that is how you sustain a healthy career and a healthy life.

I have a published¬†trilogy and novella under my belt. That’s pretty freaking cool. Even cooler is the fact that¬†it’s only the¬†beginning.¬†Few authors have crazy success right out of the debut-gates, and most¬†never¬†have New York Times Bestseller success. But does that make them¬†unsuccessful? Goodness no! So does my own mid-list status mean I’m a failure.

GOODNESS NO!

Longevity is what matters here. Staying relevant, writing what I¬†love, and keeping my¬†own personal reader¬†base happy–that’s what really matters in the publishing biz.

The same could be said for life in general, no? Longevity, doing what I love, and keeping I friends and family (and myself) happy is what really matters in the end.

Resolution:¬†Don’t put pressure on the¬†next¬†book to be The Big One since there are¬†many next books still to come. This is only the beginning. ūüôā

So there you have it, dear readers. Those were the biggest, most life-changing realizations I had in 2014–and these are the resolutions I’m holding closest for 2015.

You tell me: What did you learn last year? What are you hoping to do differently (or the same) in 2015?


Detox December (and Rejuvenation January)

As I recently discussed in a Misfits & Daydreamers issue, whole-assing (a.k.a. full immersion) is the only way I can get a book written. I need to fall so deeply into the story that no outside distractions can…well,¬†distract.

I’m not the only author who feels this way. In fact, I’d say that the #1 complaint I hear from my fellow writers¬†is that email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr…basically, The Internet, is a black hole that both¬†sucks away attention and¬†also sucks away motivation.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE me some social media–and nothing gets me more excited than Twitter conversations about Vampire Diaries. But, whether we realize it or not, all those interactions stress us out.

It’s all part of what’s called the Zeigarnik Effect,¬†which basically says that unfinished tasks cause stress and intrude into our thoughts. So for every unanswered email, tweet, text, etc. that you’ve ever read, your brain is carrying around STRESS.¬†And until the messages are answered, that stress will build up and take away precious attention for¬†creativity.

The brain likes¬†finished tasks–it can’t let them go otherwise. So until you ANSWER or DEAL WITH all those social media messages, your brain can’t relax. It can’t unplug.

But hey, if you don’t even know the new email is there, then whoa! Suddenly your brain has some freed-up space.

But it’s not just messages that cause stress–it’s ANY to-do item that’s unfinished. Those packages that still need dropping at the post office. Those blog interviews you never got around to finishing or ARCs¬†that you totally meant to read/review…

So how do we fix all this stress? We finish, we eliminate, and we stop taking on more.

As Jeff Vandermeer says in his awesome Booklife:

…I am not the kind of person whose book promotion/Internet brain is interwoven with my creative brain. The two are separate. To summon one I must banish the other. To go from being in the moment while writing in the morning to this¬†other thing in the mid-afternoons–this person who fields requests for interviews, fan mail, production questions on forthcoming books, and all the other things a writer or other creative person deals with outside writing–to do this, I must make a transition. I cross the border into another land, assume another identity. Because, for me at least, I am becoming someone else entirely.

This is true guys. So true.

I am both Writer Sooz who never bathes and wears the same disgusting sweatshirt day-in and day-out…And I’m also Social¬†Sooz who loves to talk to other writers and readers, who gets all glammed up for an event, and who could spend HOURS¬†on Twitter discussing Henry Cavill’s perfect jawline. But the two sides of me don’t mix too well, and when Social Sooz takes on new tasks, then those unfinished jobs (or unanswered messages)¬†prey on Writer Sooz’s creativity.

Hence me¬†making Fridays my “administrative day.”¬†This has been working quite well for me thus far. BUT, when it comes to drafting an¬†entire book¬†from scratch¬†and also¬†on deadline, I have to allocate my time in an even stricter way. I can’t just make Friday’s my day for Social Sooz. I can’t just¬†try¬†to avoid Twitter and Pinterest for as long as my self-control lasts (ungh, I love them both so much….). And I can’t just put everything on hold to¬†travel for an event.

Somehow, I need to give Writer Sooz all the time and distraction-free space that she (er…I?) needs to write a book.

So, after chatting with Sarah about this, we decided to take December and January “off.” We’re both on deadline and we’re both pretty empty¬†on the event front–which means, this is the PERFECT time for us both to try to whole-ass our way through some first drafts.

What we’ve decided to do–at least for now–is to assign strict “No Internet” hours for each weekday.¬†We’ve settled on 12PM – 4PM. During those four hours, we’ve agreed we WILL NOT:

  • Answer emails.
  • Go on Twitter.
  • Check Tumblr.
  • Pin something.
  • Use any other form of social media.

In fact, unless there’s some pressing research need, we won’t get on the internet AT ALL from 12 to 4 every weekday. Personally, I’m hoping the less I’m on, then the less I’ll even want to be on… (Bye-bye Stefan vs. Damon¬†discussions…at least for now.)

On top of the 12-4 ban, Sarah and I are going to:

  • Eliminate¬†blogging (unless there’s some important announcement to make).
  • Cut back on newsletter-ing (well, Sarah doesn’t have one–so just me!).
  • Take a 2 week holiday break on Starkillers updates.

Sarah and I¬†hope that, at the end of our Detox December and Rejuvenation January, we’ll not only each have a first draft (or a large chunks of a first draft) completed but that we’ll feel more connected to our writing. We’ll love our stories and our characters, we’ll find creative flow is¬†easier to achieve, and¬†our¬†Writer Selves will have had a much needed “vacation” from our Social Sides.

Now, since December tends to be a time of reflection, and since January is often a time for setting¬†new goals, we thought we’d invite YOU ALL to join us in our creative immersion time! We’ve got a little image¬†you can pin on your Twitter feed or add as your Facebook status…or put anywhere, really! It’ll let people know you’re taking a little break (but will return!), and it’ll let us all join in the #DetoxDecember and #RejuvJanuary together! ūüôā

DetoxDecember

Alrighty, guys! I’ll see you on the 2015 flip-side! (There will be a newsletter on Friday, and a few more throughout this time. Plus, I’ll still be on my social media outlets…just not as¬†much. PEACE!!)


First Readers, Revising, & Publication

CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who not only won NaNoWriMo but who made ANY progress this month. I finished with 32,000 new words, and I’m¬†really¬†proud of that progress! New words are always better than no words at all. ūüėČ

To wrap up NaNoWriMo and to help all of you forge onward with your new manuscripts, I wanted to share all the posts I’ve ever written about¬†revising a novel, finding a literary agent, and¬†getting traditionally published.
 

FirstReaders

 

Revising Your Novel

 
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First Readers

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How to Get Published

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Finding Literary Agents


Facing Fear and Tackling Writer’s Block

As promised for NaNoWriMo, I’m organizing all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.

During¬†week 1, I covered A Writer‚Äôs Basic Toolbox, and in¬†week 2,¬†I dug deeper¬†into the more advanced tools at¬†a writer‚Äôs disposal. Week 3 was for The Productive Writer, and this week, we’re moving onto fear, writer’s block, and passion.

HappyWriter

 
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Fear & Self-Doubt

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Writer’s Block & Motivation

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Letting Go

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The Productive Writer

I got a bit behind during week 2 of NaNo. Some major changes happened in the trajectory of my projects (I’ll explain in Friday’s newsletter), so I’ve got some MAJOR catching up to do this week!

Anyway, as promised for NaNoWriMo, I’m sharing links each Monday to all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.

In addition to the organized posts, I have a forum open where you can ask anything¬†about today’s topic, and I‚Äôll answer it as best I can.

During week 1, I covered A Writer’s Basic Toolbox (ask questions here!), and in week 2, I dug deeper into the more advanced tools at a writer’s disposal (ask questions here!).

This week, we’re moving onto maximizing our productivity and output.
 

Productive Writer

 
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General Productivity

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Rituals & Routines

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Rhythm & Immersion

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Goals, Breaks, & Progress

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Improving Your Skills

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Digging Deeper into the Writing Toolbox

As promised for NaNoWriMo,¬†I’ll share links to past posts each Monday organizing all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.

In addition to the organized posts, I have a forum open where you can ask anything¬†about said topic, and I’ll answer it as best I can.

Last week, I covered A Writer’s Basic Toolbox (ask questions here!), and this week, we’re digging into the more advanced tools at¬†a writer’s disposal.

WritersToolboxAdvanced

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Digging Deeper into Character

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Digging Deeper into Plot

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Infodump & Backstory

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Show vs. Tell

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Romance

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Voice

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Other

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A Writer’s Basic Toolbox

bc1As promised in the last issue of the Misfits & Daydreamers,¬†I’ll share links to past posts each Monday throughout NaNoWriMo.

Why no new content?

Well, I did a survey a few weeks ago, and of the 100 amazing people who responded, I’d say ~90% asked for content I’ve already delved¬†into quite thoroughly. ¬†I realized that people don’t even know¬†all the topics I’ve covered before, and so rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll simply organize it all so you can find it more easily!

In addition to the organized posts, I have a forum open where you can ask ANYTHING about said topic, and I’ll answer it as best I can. ūüôā

WritersToolbox

 

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Plot

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Scenes

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Character

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Point of View

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Setting & World-Building

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The Writing Is All That Really Matters

WritingI get a lot of emails (and tweets, tumblr asks, facebook messages, etc.) asking me about my process–and that’s great! I love sharing what I do, and I love hearing about what YOU do.

But the thing is, no matter what my process is (or her¬†process…or his process), at the end of the day,¬†the writing is all that really matters.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in different “methods” or “outlining plans” or “character creation schemes” because we’re all looking for that Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet. I see this most¬†often in new writers–they want¬†that special, insider trick that will¬†make writing a breeze.

Heck, I see it in experienced writers too. They think, If I just follow X-author’s approach step-by-step, then¬†the first draft will basically write itself!¬†

Or, If I just interview my characters like Y-author does, then that first draft will pour out of me!

Or even, If I find my story¬†cookies¬†like Sooz does and write¬†screenplays for every scene, then this book won’t be¬†hard to write!

And I totally understand¬†that attitude, guys! I mean, no one is more guilty of wanting a Magic Bullet¬†than I. Whenever I’m feeling even the¬†slightest resistance in¬†my drafting, I’ll start scouring books on craft 0r author¬†blogs or online workshops. I want anything that will make this writing easier!

But at the end of the day, no matter what method I use–no matter how carefully I prepare or how strictly I follow X-author’s Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet–I still have to write the book. All the outlines in the world¬†won’t change that. Knowing my characters as well as I know myself won’t change that¬†either. And even getting pumped up with my cheerleading critique partners won’t change that CRUCIAL step in writing a book.

You know, the part where I actually have to write a book.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t explore other methods and techniques. I love trying new approaches to the same “problem.” But you HAVE to realize that no matter what: you’re still going to have to write a book, word by word, page by page, and scene by scene.

You’re going to have put your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. You’re going to have to¬†push through every chapter until you reach, The End.¬†And nothing–absolutely¬†nothing in this entire world (short of hiring someone to do it for you) will change the fact that¬†the writing is all that really matters.

So go forth and write. Even when you feel shaky and unsure.

ESPECIALLY when you feel shaky and unsure.

Sit down (or stand. That’s what I do.) and write one sentence. Then write another sentence. Then write another and another until you have a page.

And then write another page. And another after that.

Don’t stop! Keep going. Maybe not right away, but a wrote little bit as often you can, and eventually you’ll find yourself with a finished book.

P.S. I promised NaNoWriMo worksheets! Those will be up on my forum later today and tomorrow.