How to Outline a Novel or Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks? Part 1

Do you ever fall into bed at the end of a long day, and wonder where all the excitement in life has gone? You had dreams. Big dreams. Remember that girl. Remember the size jeans you were wearing? I remember what size I was wearing. Not the same size I’m wearing now, but that’s not really important. The point is, we tend to give up on those dreams. The moment we graduate college, they go up in smoke along with that awesome metabolism that allowed you to eat whatever you wanted.  Boy, do I miss that metabolism. Some call it growing up. I call it fear.

If you are reading this right now, you have decided to tackle that fear. That is why you’re here right? You’ve decided you can dismiss your husband’s suggestions that you are having a mid-life crisis. You’ve decided you can ignore the gentle nudging of friends that miss you because you now stay home to slave on your manuscript. You’ve decided that you can miss the last season of Game of Thrones, if that’s what it takes. Okay, maybe let’s not go quite that far. Kit Harrington’s abs. That’s all I’m saying.  What?  You didn’t know fear was involved?

Well, let me tell you now, this path is not for the weak at heart. It’s going to require bravery. It’s going to require dusting off skills that haven’t been used in a while. It’s going to require that you stretch out of your comfort zone, learn something new and conquer your primitive fear’s ass. Yes. I said primitive fear.  What is that?  Well, we all have it. That’s why mingling at dinner parties makes some of us feel kind of like we are going to die. I suppose you could put an eye out with one of those little plastic swords in the finger foods, but death is highly unlikely.  I just feels like death to an introvert.

I have the perfect example.  I have a wiener dog named Buddy. He is the cutest, smartest, most awesome dog in the entire world. Problem is, I didn’t realize he was a miniature until we were pulling out of the breeder’s driveway and I looked down at the card.

My immediate thought was, “Shit, this dog is going to fit through the fence. Forever.” Poor planning on my part? Possibly. There were three children and a dog crazy husband involved. This was not solely my fault. I swear.


Baby, I’m Worth It.

My husband won’t let me so much as take him outside on a leash. You see where I worry about him getting out of the yard and being hit by a car, my husband is afraid that a large bird-of-prey will try to pack him off. No, I’m not kidding. Sigh. Chris is really that high strung. So, for the last year, I have had puppy training pads all over my house. I do not like having pee pads all over my house. I hate it. I really, really, really hate it, but yesterday I had this brilliant idea that I would train Buddy to use a litter box. I was feeling pretty proud of this brainchild of mine.

I told Chris, “I’m a trailblazer baby.”

His response, while rolling his eyes, “You teach that dog to shit in a cat box and I’ll call you a trailblazer alright.”

Undeterred I went to Target and purchased a litter box. I couldn’t wait to introduce Buddy to a new way of doing his business. I put it in the bathroom right next to the toilet so he could feel just like a person. We treat him like one anyway. I gently sat him down inside and…drum roll please, he took off in a fit of terror and threw litter everywhere. Seriously, like he was being killed. Was it rational? No. Did that make him any less afraid? Nope. Still terrified. That’s the fear I’m talking about. Don’t let that fear take over. Don’t be afraid of the litter box! Okay, bad analogy but you get what I’m saying. You are going to start writing that book, right now.

Here is what I want you to do. I’m going to break my process down for you and give it to you in small pieces so you don’t feel like there’s a lion in the corner waiting to eat you.

Step 1:
Color in an adult coloring book for fifteen minutes. If you don’t have one, then pull out your kids. I know, it sounds a little crazy, but this will recalibrate your brain. There is real neuroscience behind it. If that’s just really not what you’re into, then try meditating or just close your eyes and listen to music. Go for a short walk. Do something to help your mind relax and get out of the state of stress that most of us live in.

Step 2:
Take a blank sheet of paper and write down every nugget of an idea that you have about this book. Do not self-edit! I repeat, do not self-edit. Pretend that your brain is like a child on a playground. Let it play. This is the fun part. Go crazy. Think you might kill of a character. Insert evil laughter here. Write it down. There is no right or wrong idea. Just put them on paper.

Step 3:
Use your brain dump from step 2 to sketch in a macro outline. We are going to borrow Shawn Coyne’s Foolscap Global Story Grid Method. If you haven’t discovered his website, or his podcast, then consider that homework as well. Nothing is set in stone at this point. Kind of like in Pirates of the Caribbean when Geoffrey Rushes character talks about the rules. “Arrrr, they’re really just guidelines.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Anyway, it goes something like this:

Beginning Hook
Inciting Incident:

Middle Build
Inciting Incident:

Ending Payoff
Inciting Incident:

Those are the three steps that I want you to start with. Let me know how that works for you and I will let you know if Buddy ever gets over his fear of the litter box. Feel free to ask questions in my Ask Amber Forum. No fear.

Extra Homework:

and The Story Grid Podcast

Why?  Because they’re awesome.

10 Tips for Finding Time to Write

Hello creatives! I’m so excited to share this with you. I discovered Life Coaching over the summer and it has made a huge impact on my life and I have been learning so many cool things to share. Here are ten tips for finding more time to write. It’s life changing stuff. Promise.

1. Make a plan. Okay this sounds simple, so it should be easy. Right? Deceptively simple but not easy. A lot of us avoid making a plan because then if you don’t follow through on that plan, you will feel bad about yourself and it will compound your feelings of inadequacy and self doubt. It’s time to show up for yourself. In my life, I have been so guilty of this. I show up for everyone else, but me. If you made plans to help your friend with her garage sale, you wouldn’t just not show up for her. Would you? Why do it to yourself? Love yourself like you love your best friend. Follow through. But that sounds so structured and constricting some of you are thinking. Here is what I have found. Making a plan of how I am going to use my time is incredibly freeing. I not longer have to think. I just do. I don’t just plan for work either, I also plan for fun and I look forward to and enjoy my fun time more. I don’t feel guilty or worried about getting it all done because I have a plan in place. Just taking all of the swirling to do’s from inside your brain and putting them on paper is empowering. Getting them on paper gives you something to attack. They don’t seem so ominous on paper.

2. Make decisions with power. Indecision is a time suck. Make a decision and stick to it. Warning! Your brain may possibly fight you on this. It will try to get you to change your mind. Your primal survival instincts will kick in. This is especially true if you have made a decision to step outside of your comfort zone. Commit to your decision and do not let your brain derail you. Finishing the task will only help your personal feelings of well being towards yourself. Start with little things if you have to and then work up to larger things.

3. Take massive action. I love this one. Most of us think we take action in life. We go to college. We get married. We have kids. We’re living life. We’re taking action. Once you reach a certain point, however, you begin to coast. You hope to get a promotion, but you don’t actively do anything to get it. Sure, your doing a good job and you hope the boss notices, but what are you really doing other than sitting back and waiting for life to hand you something. Plan the life you want. Decide what you need to do to get it and then focus on massive action.

4. Ignore how you feel in the moment. Okay, you’ve made your plan. Let’s say, you are going to get up one hour earlier each morning to work on writing the next great American novel. You have an epic dream and you’ve finally decide to make it come true. When the alarm goes off, you aren’t going to feel it. The self doubt will creep in and try to talk you out of it. You will feel tired. You’ll have a cold. You stayed up too late watching the Game of Thrones season finale. Ignore the feeling and do it anyway.

5. Practice constraint. Pick one thing to focus on and attack it with everything you’ve got. I used to be incredibly guilty of this. My brain is usually going a hundred miles an hour about all of the things I need to do and it is hard for me to focus because I want to do them all. What happens is you waste your time trying to do ten things at once. It hurts your productivity. So pick one. If you can’t decide which one to do first, let fate choose for you. Write each one on a piece of paper and put them in a hat. Draw one out and go for it. No looking back. No, but maybe’s. Just go for it. When that item is finished, you’re allowed to draw a new one out of the hat. And so on.

6. Fail. You read that right. I just ordered you to fail. Don’t fear failure. Embrace it. Most people who have had huge success in life also had epic failures. The difference between them and most people is that they chose to learn from what didn’t work and press on. Most of us avoid fear like our lives depend on it. When we lived in caves and caught our own food this was necessary. Now it mostly just keeps you from being the next best version of you. If you don’t have any epic failures, odds are you don’t have any epic wins either because you’re not really put yourself out there. Start patting yourself on the back for failures. It means yours living a life of intention instead of complacency. Uncomfortable? Hell yes. Worth it? Hell yes, again.

7. Learn to say no without making excuses. Most of us are people pleaser’s to one degree or another. Your boss asks you to tackle an extra project. Of course. Can you make brownies for the church bake sale? Sure. Can you volunteer for the PTA? It’s for my kids. How can I refuse? No one can do it all. Give yourself permission to say no. You don’t need to give them a reason. You know what you can reasonable handle. If you are asked to do something outside of that, then say no without guilt. Okay, If you won’t give yourself permission then I’ll give you permission. Amber says, “It’s okay not to be supermom or superman”. Although, if you follow all of this advice, you are going to feel pretty super. Just saying.

8. Delegation. Focus on the things you do best and the things you like doing most and delegate the rest. One of my biggest goals in life is to get a housekeeper. It’s seriously on my list. As soon as I make enough money, I’m getting one. I am a terrible housekeeper. If my husband read blogs he would comment his agreement. The poor man had no clean underwear yesterday. I would rather be writing and planning and working on my self development. That’s my jam. Housework always feels like drudgery to me and with three children, an exercise in futility. They mess up faster than I can clean. I’m not a messy person myself, I just can’t keep up with everyone else and I don’t like trying. I could beat myself up about it, but why not hire it out instead? Although, I will probably still have to wash Chris’s underwear. I’m guessing that no one else will take that job. Did I mention how glad I am that my husband doesn’t know what a blog is?

9. Completion. Don’t quit before you finish. This goes back to following through. No doing just half or three quarters of a task. See it through to the end no matter how much it hurts and you’re lying brain is going to tell you that it hurts, but you will feel better on the other side. Promise.

10. Take the word try out of your vocabulary. You are not going to try to write a novel. You are going to write a novel. Using the word try is giving yourself an escape hatch. That way if you don’t finish, “Oh well, I was just trying after all.” Saying try is not committing yourself. You’re not all in. Saying you are going to do something creates a subtle, but powerful mindset shift in the way you think about yourself and the thing you are going to accomplish. Notice, I didn’t say try there. You can do it.

Follow these ten tips and you will be amazed at all you can do. Start by taking a time audit for a week to find blocks of time in your schedule. The next week, plan each day in advance. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Let me know how it works for you. I’m super excited to hear from you. Until next time.