How Do You Divide Your Novel into Chapters?

This post was inspired by an email conversation with Emma from the brilliant blog Science at Your Doorstep.

Pick up the nearest book. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s almost certainly split into chapters.

As readers, we take that for granted. Chapters give us an easy way to discuss where we’ve got to in a new book (“I’m on Chapter 10 now…”) – and provide handy stopping points in the text where we can put the book down.

As writers, though, chapters can be surprisingly tricky.

How many should you have? How long should they be? Do you even need chapters at all?

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Why Having Grit is So Important for Writers … and Three Ways to Improve Yours [Guest Post]

This is a guest post from Tamar Sloan, registered psychologist, and author of Grit for Writers, plus several romance books.

You can find her website at TamarSloan.com and her blog about writing at PyschWriter.com.au


Writing can feel wonderful. There’s the indescribable sense of flow when the words pour out oh-so-effortlessly, there’s that stroke of brilliance when a plot twist strikes out of nowhere, there’s the feeling of creating something that no one else has before. Every one of those feelings is rewarding … and necessary for our long-term writing mojo. They drive us to keep on creating.

But the road to publication is littered with unfinished manuscripts, dejected hearts, and writers wondering if they should turn around and head home. Success in the writing game is more of a marathon than a sprint, and our motivation tends to wax and wane.

Rejection from agents and publishers, slow sales, negative reviews, and that most insidious underminer, self-doubt, are all hurdles every writer will face.

Despite what some of the loudest voices out there are promising, it’s not an easy industry to succeed in. In a flooded, competitive market, how do you live your passion and keep reaching for your dream?

Grit.

Grit is the ability to stick with things that are important to you—through hell and high water, thick and thin, through thousands of words and hundreds of pages.

Luckily for you and me, grit isn’t simply something you’re born with. It’s more like a muscle. With targeted effort, we can build it, grow it, and benefit from it. And you don’t just have to take my word on this; research has shown that to achieve success (across countless contexts), abilities like persistence and determination are more important than innate talent or intelligence in the long run.

As a writing coach I’ve seen it, and as a writer I’ve lived it: grit is what enables writers to succeed in the publishing industry.

The foundation of grit is the right mindset. Our writing success depends on the framework in which we view ourselves and our writing.

A “gritty” mindset reframes and focuses the thinking we need to adopt, the passion we need to tap into, to keep reaching towards our dreams.

I’m going to take you through three key ingredients of grit. Get these right, and you’ve got a foundation of resilience and willingness to work towards your goals of writing success.

Think about which of these you’re already doing well at … and which you might want to work on during the next few weeks.

Ingredient #1: A Sense of Purpose

We feel a sense of purpose when what we do matters to people other than ourselves.

Our short stories, poems,books, scary, moving, funny, touching fiction are all for the reader, not just for ourselves (otherwise we’d be happy for them to remain in our computers). Ultimately, we create them to entertain, to inspire, to provoke what-ifs, to elicit emotions, to broaden horizons, to challenge perspectives.

That drive is about touching others.

Connecting to why we write allows us to be persistent in our goals and resilient when we experience setbacks because we feel inspired by something bigger than ourselves. Ask yourself—how does my writing contribute to others?

Ingredient #2: Optimism

Optimism is the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. But grit takes the vague ‘here’s hoping tomorrow will be better’ and moves into the sphere of our control.

Hope within the framework of grit is based on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. And the area that we have complete control of is our perception.

As we experience the ups and downs and highs and lows of any writing journey, it’s important to remember that psychology has consistently demonstrated that how we view a situation will make a difference to how we feel, and how we act.

Optimists – those that hold onto hope – see events differently. What’s more, they see failure differently.

I always encourage people to reflect on where they sit on the pessimism-optimism continuum, and how it makes a difference to their writing success. This type of hope targets our perception and locus of control when it comes to our writing success.

Ingredient #3: Growth Mindset

Discovering and implementing a growth mindset was a game-changer for my writing career.

Those with a growth, rather than a fixed, mindset believe that their abilities can grow with effort. They understand that when they are learning or doing something new and challenging, that hard work can help them accomplish their goals.

Growth mindset is empowering and motivating, and the key to many a successful writer (possibly all?). Ask yourself this—when you last experienced a setback, did you think it was a sign that you didn’t have what it takes, or did you see it as an opportunity to learn?

(For more on growth mindsets, try Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.)

 


Ali adds…

I’m with Tamar about the importance of grit. I’ve met lots of writers over the years: some had obvious raw talent, but never got very far because they struggled to ever finish a piece. Others perhaps weren’t naturally gifted writers, but they constantly worked to improve … and they kept on writing, finishing, editing and eventually publishing their work.

Are you missing one of the key ingredients of grit in your writing life? How could you work on it over the next few weeks? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Also, don’t forget to check out Tamar’s blog PsychWriter (“where psychology meets writing”) for lots of great posts covering topics like motivation, grit, and how to develop characters with rich and interesting inner lives.

The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)

Note: This post was originally published in 2014, and was updated in March 2018.

Whether you love editing or hate it, if you’re a writer, there’s no way to avoid it.

You may well have support – from beta readers, your spouse, your writers’ circle, or a professional editor – but a fair amount of editing needs to be done alone.

I find that “editing” encompasses three distinct stages. If you’re writing a blog post, each of these might take minutes; for a novel, they might take months … but however long or short your work, they’re all important.

The three stages are:

  1. Rewriting – adding and cutting whole chunks (scenes, chapters, paragraphs), and moving and reworking material.
  2. Editing – this is what I think of as “true” editing: reworking individual paragraphs and sentences, adding or cutting smaller sections.
  3. Proofreading – checking that what you think you wrote is what you actually wrote, and fixing typos and spelling mistakes.

Each stage requires a different approach, and here’s how I suggest you tackle them.

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Four Dangerous Pieces of Advice for Writers (And What to Do Instead)

Any writing-related advice that says you should always or never do something can generally be taken with a very large pinch of salt!

I’m sure you’ve heard lots of poor writing advice over the months, years or even decades that you’ve been writing. Here are some that I come across quite frequently – from often well-intentioned people.

Several of these might work for some people in some circumstances. Some are best ignored altogether!

Today, I want to look at some advice that almost all writers will hear at some point, whether it’s from an interested friend, a fellow writing group member, or a self-styled guru…

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Three Different Ways to Approach Blogging as a Novelist [With Examples]

If you’re a novelist, should you have a blog?

Opinions differ! You might have been told that you should blog, because you need to build a platform, or because it’s a good way to get people onto your site and then onto your mailing list, or because publishers / readers / the media will want it … or for almost any number of reasons.

My take on it is this: You don’t need to blog. It might well be helpful to have a blog, but it might also end up taking time that could be better spent on other novel-marketing activities.

If you do decide to blog, there are a few different ways in which you might approach it. Here are three quite different examples from three different authors:

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Could Firmer Boundaries Help You Dramatically Increase How Much You Write?

Back when I was a student, I had long vacations. Sometimes, I’d attend my previous writing group, back in my home town, where members would bring about 1,000 words of their work-in-progress to read each Monday evening.

Guess how many words I wrote each week?

About 1,000. It took me the whole of a Monday, sometimes, in fits and starts.

These days, with two kids and housework (on top of freelancing commitments), I can easily hit 1,000 words in an hour.

What’s the difference? Stronger boundaries.

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Seven Ways to Market Your Self-Published Novel

Congratulations! You’ve published your first novel (or maybe your second or your third) and now you’re ready to market it.

This can be a daunting moment. I think all of us secretly hope that our novel will be miraculously discovered and recognised as the masterpiece it truly is … but we know that isn’t going to happen without some sort of marketing.

The good news – especially if the very idea of marketing makes you shudder – is that there’s no single “right” way to let the world know about your book.  There are lots of different techniques you might try, depending on the type of book you’ve written, and the type of author you are.

I’m focusing on self-published novelists in this post. Many of these suggestions will work just fine for traditionally published authors too, but as a self-publisher, you have full control over things like the price of your book – and carte blanche to market in any way you see fit.

I’ve also kept this list short: seven ideas rather than the 50+ you might find on some sites.  I’ve come across some huge lists of marketing ideas for novelists … but often I end up feeling that most of the ideas aren’t necessarily all that workable or impactful.

While there are an almost unlimited number of things you could do to promote your novel, in this post, I’m going to focus on seven very common ones:

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Your Website is Always a Work in Progress

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of authors, bloggers and freelancers launch their websites.

They rarely start out with a massively, gorgeous site. They normally begin with something simple but workable: perhaps it’s a free blog on WordPress.com, for instance, or a single page on About.me.

The wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) thing about websites is that they’re always a work in progress.

You never truly “finish” a website. Even if you don’t have a blog or “news” section that needs new material on a regular basis, you’ll still want to make updates.

You’ll publish a new book. You’ll start – or stop – offering a particular service. You’ll change direction (perhaps quite radically). And your website will need to evolve with you.

Whatever stage you’re at with your own website, this is good news! You don’t need to get it “perfect” from day one.

But … you also don’t want to become so used to your current website that you never change a thing.

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When Can You Call Yourself a “Writer”?

This is a question that comes up a lot for newer writers.

When can I call myself a “writer”?

Well, there’s no rule about it. Being a writer isn’t like being a doctor or a lawyer – you don’t need any special qualifications.

That can be very helpful, but it can also be tricky. When exactly do you turn from a not-writer into a writer?

Some transitions in life are stark. When my daughter was born, I became – instantly and irrevocably – a mother. (She was born the day before Mothering Sunday, which was a lovely moment to enter motherhood.)

When I was a nervous 18 year old starting at university, I became – for the next three years – an undergraduate student.

But the state of being a writer can feel like a bit of a quantum state. You don’t suddenly “become” a writer; equally, it’s not clear what might stop you from being a writer.

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