Skip to content

Category: A Writer’s Musings

The Basics of Blogging – 9 Easy Features to Include on Your Book Blog

Can we just talk about how much fun writing a book blog can be over some cake and tea, please? <3

Confession: my book reviews were kinda a byproduct of this blog, because I had no idea how else to buff it out.

I couldn’t just talk about my own WIP all the time, because it was a mess of a first draft back then. So, I decided to review a few books since I was here anyway and already read a lot*.

While CookieBreak still isn’t a pure book review blog, I do love that side of it. I know a few people who want to start a book blog but have no idea how, so this post is for you**, friends and familiars!

*Well, not a lot, but enough to review–how some of you read ten or more books a month is beyond me!
**Never say I don’t give you anything nice! <3

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about your 'About Me' page.

The best way to connect with your readers is by showing them who you are, and an About Me page is an easy way to do that!

It doesn’t need to be much–when you first fell in love with books, your favourite genres, and why you’ve created your blog (to share aforementioned love, perhaps?) is plenty!

It’s a good idea to keep it short, anyway. There’s no need to give your followers a chronological list of your life. They’re there for the reviews and to gush about their favourite books–they don’t care which school you attended between 2009 and 2011.

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about your contact form.

I always had a contact form, but I didn’t think to add a brief bit about whether I’m accepting new books for review or not until later. I wasn’t exactly drowning in a sea of requests, but then reviews aren’t the only thing I do on this blog.

A screenshot example of Sarina Langer's contact page

Despite my weekly book reviews, this isn’t a book review blog. Your blog, however, might be, and if that’s the case adding such a mention can’t hurt!

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about review guidelines.

I didn’t think to add review guidelines until I’d already been blogging for over a year. As I said, this isn’t technically a book review blog, so it just didn’t occur to me. I eventually wrote a post about how I review books, and this post now doubles as my guidelines.

Review guidelines are an easy way for your followers to learn whether you might accept their book or not. If you don’t accept indie books, it should be in your guidelines. If you don’t accept erotic novels (a lot of reviewers don’t) or only want historic re-tellings, you should mention it.

Whether you’re going to include guidelines somewhere on your blog or not, I recommend you think about what you want from a book and how you decide whether it’s worthy of five stars or barely earns three.

It’s useful when you can’t quite decide how to rate a book, and might even reveal something about your preferences you weren’t aware of!

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about reviews.

There are hundreds of posts out there telling you how to write the perfect review, but I’d say there’s only two things you need when reviewing any book:

Your unique personality, and honesty*.

Stale reviews are the last things you want, and the best way to avoid them is by being yourself. I’ve already talked about what being professional actually means, and it applies to your reviews, too:

Swear a lot? Laugh a lot? Smile so much people worry about your sanity? There’s nothing wrong with cussing and the occasional smiley in your blog posts. Sometimes you just love a book so. fucking. much!

The whole point of your book blog is to share your opinion on different books with people. Make sure it sounds like you.

If you loved a book that has mostly one and two star reviews, don’t be afraid to say so. If you didn’t enjoy the ARC you’ve been given because it was full of spelling errors or because the characters didn’t develop, you can say that, too.

An example of an unhelpful one-star review from Goodreads.
^ Not useful.

I hate reviewing books I didn’t enjoy at all. The. WORST! Since I don’t have much good to say, I try to make my review constructive.

This is especially important when you’re reviewing an indie book–big, traditionally published authors with hundreds of thousands of reviews won’t think much of it when you say their world building needed work, but an indie author with only two reviews? They might just grow as a writer because of you.

I also recommend you post your own pictures with your reviews, rather than just the cover from Goodreads. It adds more unique personality, and makes it more shareable.

Also, I like to include a quote or three from the book, so my followers get a feel for the author’s writing rather than just my opinion of it. I might not have enjoyed the author’s voice, but perhaps it speaks to you!

*and I guess manners don’t hurt, either, so technically that’s three things

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about using images in your posts.

One of the first ever reviews for my debut novel had gifs and smileys, and I loved every word of it. Partly because it was a five-star review, but also because the gifs added personality and conveyed beautifully how the reviewer felt at certain parts of the story.

What’s more effective?

I got frustrated because Sue and Terry didn’t kiss.

or

KISS DAMN YOU

A gif of a man dressed in a suit flipping over the desk in his cramped office in anger.

The internet is becoming a more and more visual place every day. Content with images tends to do better because people are attracted by pretty pictures, and reviews are a great place for pretty pictures!

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about honesty.

As I said above, being honest is one of the only two things you need to write a good review. However, don’t be rude.

A book might not work for you, but it’s worked for other people and the author put a lot of work and love and time into it. Saying This book was the worst shit ever. The fuck was the author thinking?!? Don’t read this garbage. is unnecessary.

Not only that, but it’s unhelpful, too. Unfortunately, the characters were flat and unbelievable. By the end of the book, Sue was still arrogant and Pete was still naive af. is far more helpful than writing Couldn’t finish this, the writing was too awful.

Whether something is awful or not is subjective. Your readers won’t gain anything from a review like the example above. Be honest, but give your readers something they can work with, too.

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about monthly and yearly favourites.

While I don’t pick monthly faves*, I do pick annual favourites every December. I do it in two posts: my favourite reads that year, and my favourite indie reads that year.

Now, I don’t differentiate because I don’t think that indie books deserve to be in the same category**. I differentiate because I love a lot of books, and doing two posts allows me to give more of them a shout-out.

It’s also handy when you’re specifically looking for indie recommendations. I’ve done the research for you, friends. You’re welcome.

*seems pointless given I’m ecstatic when I manage to read four books in one month
**I mean, I’m one of you…

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about a page sorted by genre.

If the sole/main purpose of your blog is book reviews, I recommend sorting your reviews into categories. Yes, I know it’s not necessary and yes, I know I have a problem*, but categories do make it easier!

Imagine you get to a point where you have a hundred reviews. What if you read in more than one genre? Or your readers are only interested in New Adult fiction?ย What if you just love organising things?

You’re safe here. I don’t judge. Organise away.

*COLOUR-CODE ALL THE THINGS

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about WWW Wednesday.

This is a quick, easy, weekly tag you can join. I participate every second Wednesday, and it’s a nice way to connect with other book bloggers and share what you’re reading at the moment*.

The banner for the weekly blogging and reading challenge WWW Wednesday.

It’s easy. Create a post that answers what you’re reading right now, what you’ve recently finished reading, and what you think you’ll read next, and let others know you’ve joined the game by posting on Sam’s blog.

If you’re not sure how something like this might look, here’s my most recent WWW.

*why, yes, I do have a category for this. how did you guess?

A supporting banner in the post about how to start a book blog, introducing the section about keeping notes.

This is for your personal reference rather than for your blog. When you read more and more books and aim to review all of them, it’s easy to forget a thing or two.

Could you tell me right now what you loved and didn’t love about the book you read three months ago? You probably don’t plan on waiting this long to write your review, but things happen.

I usually write my review within a week of reading a book, but sometimes it has to wait for a few weeks and when it does, having a couple of notes is super useful.

Honestly, it’s the only reason I manage to write half-coherent reviews at all*. It’s a lifesaver, trust me. I have an app on my phone for all my notes, but if you prefer to write them by hand, go ahead!

Whatever is easiest for you when you’re in the middle of an excellent book will do fine.

However, don’t take your note-taking too far. I’ve read some reviews which I swear were working down a checklist. Female lead? Check! Emotionally insecure male side-kick? Check! Overall enjoyment? Erm….

Don’t get so caught up in analysing what works and what doesn’t that you forget to, you know, enjoy the book. What’s the point in reading otherwise? I know many reviewers take it extremely seriously, and that’s fine. But sometimes I wonder if some take it too far.

Just enjoy what you’re reading, and let us know what you loved and didn’t enjoy when you’re done. It needn’t be complicated, friends.

*ahem, most of the time, anyway… my only notes for Equal Rites said ‘LOVE Granny Weatherwax!’ Thanks for nothing, me -.-

And that’s it for another series! Here are the posts again in case you’ve missed something or would like to re-visit a topic:

How Often Should You Blog?

Appearance is Important (well, when you’re a blog, anyway)

Why Interaction with Your Readers is oh-so-Important

What Does ‘Being Professional’ Mean?

The next series begins in two weeks and will be all about writer’s block burnout ๐Ÿ˜‰

Do you have a book blog? Feel free to share a link ๐Ÿ˜‰ What’s a must on your site–and what’s something you thought you needed but discarded?


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

Gifs came from giphy

6 Comments

The Basics of Blogging – What Does ‘Being Professional’ Actually Mean?

When I was a young teenager, my Mum set up her own business. I helped out in her office one day, and the first thing she told me was that they were known for being professional.

Six years ago*, I was a Photography student. As part of one of my units, we were asked to set up a blog and again, the first thing we were told was to be professional.

I had no idea what that meant either time. Or rather, I thought I did–I just had it very wrong!

I thought being professional meant wearing suits, being calm, and keeping my sentences as short and direct as possible. Just, I had no suit, calm equalled no laughing and no smiling, and keeping my sentences short meant a lack of personality.**

Friends, that’s the opposite of what ‘being professional’ means!

You’ve no doubt heard that being professional is good for your business, and while that’s true it’s important to understand what that actually means for you.

Does it mean you have to wear a suit? Does it mean you can’t smile in your blog posts? Does it mean you’ve fucked up if you swear once?

If your workplace says you need to wear a suit, wear that suit. If there’s no requirement, wear whatever makes you feel most badass.

And don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a long, complicated post. I’ll keep it simple, because it is!

*HANG ON, HOW LONG?!? THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT
**My definition was way off, clearly

Being professional doesn’t mean your personality can’t shine. There are a lot of blogs out there, friends, and being your wonderful unique self is pretty much the only positive way to stand out.

I bet your favourite blogs ooze personality!

Do you joke a lot? Smile a lot? Swear in creative ways? Make terrible puns? There’s no reason you can’t do those things on your blog!

I smile a lot and most of my posts and comments are littered with smilies and a healthy dose of sarcasm. Nothing on this blog would sound like me if this wasn’t the case.

When I first started blogging, I believed that smilies were a sign I wasn’t being professional, so all of my posts and replies were short, cold, and didn’t sound a tick like me.

Example: Imagine someone leaves this comment: I just found your book and OMG, I loved it so much!ย The me back at uni thought that ‘Thank you.’ was keeping it professional, and that any more would be unprofessional.

That’s not true.

If the first thing that pops into your head after reading that comment is You’re awesome, thank you so much <3*ย then that’s what you should put.

People are capable of some pretty intense emotions, and there’s no reason you can’t show them. Unless you’re feeling anger or hatred, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

I’m still worried my sense of humour** might put people off, but I want this blog to represent who I am, and it can’t do that if I’m not honest and hold back.***

Never worry about being yourself, friends. Your unique personality is your USP, so don’t hold back and don’t make any excuses for being you on your blog! Let your personality become part of your brand!

*or even HOLY SHIT, THANK YOU <3 <3 <3
**read: fluent sarcasm
***Besides, you know you’re only here for the sarcasm, anyway. I’ll try to have more of it this year, promise!

Remember what I said about not showing that wide array of strong emotions if it’s anger or hatred?

Being yourself is no excuse to be rude. If someone leaves a comment you don’t like or agree with, you don’t get into an argument. See it as a chance to start a (friendly and polite) discussion, and maybe you’ll even consider some aspects you hadn’t thought of before.

For example, if someone commented on my post about why I write my books in Scrivenerย with “I tried Scrivener and it’s overpriced junk, don’t know why anyone would buy into it”, the correct response wouldn’t be “Well, you’re obviously doing it wrong.”

Either say “I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. Hope you found something that does! May I ask what you’re using?” or, better yet, say nothing at all.

If you’re not sure you can respond to someone without getting angry, don’t respond.

Your opinion isn’t the only one, friends. People who don’t like what you have to say are just as right as the ones who do.

That’s all being professional comes down to – being respectful of others. You might disagree with some points I’ve raised here or in another post (maybe you do actually think Scrivener is overpriced junk?), and that’s fine. I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong.

Let me give you some examples:

Scenario 1: The book you’ve just published received a 1-star review, saying ‘If I could give this minus stars, I would, it’s that bad.’

The professional response: Don’t respond. You will get negative reviews, it’s part of the job. Suck it up and write another book.

The unpressional response: You insult the reviewer and get into an argument about why they’re wrong and your book is the best thing ever.

Scenario 2: A client you’ve been working with has been difficult for months. Finally, they decide they don’t want you after all, and demand a refund without warning. Right before Christmas.

The professional response: Smile and give them the refund.* Blacklist them, maybe. If you have a blacklist**.

The unprofessional response: Tell them they’ve been a pain to work with anyway, and/or refuse the refund.

Scenario 3: You’ve tweeted about something you thought was pretty awesome, and someone calls your opinion wrong and insults everything you care about.

The professional response: Do nothing. Trolls are common on the internet, and we ignore them.

The unprofessional response: You get into an argument.***

*And don’t mention their name or any specifics if you happen to use them in an example on your blog. Obviously.
**If you happen to have your own business, it can’t hurt to have a list of people you’d rather not work with again. If you can afford to be picky, be picky.
***Unless you’re J. K. Rowling, Queen of Twitter Troll Slaughter.

What does being professional mean to you? Do you define it differently depending on whether you’re at the day job or working from home? Or, if you’ve made the switch to working from home full-time, has that changed your definition?


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

Leave a Comment

The Basics of Blogging – Why Interaction with Your Readers is oh-so-Important

I created my first blog–goodness, I don’t know–five years ago. I had no idea how any of this worked, so I posted away, more or less regularly, and was thrilled every time someone followed my humble little blog.

I think by the time I accepted that it was dead and I needed to move on, it had just over 50 followers. Nothing to brag about, to be sure!

There were many things I did wrong with my first blog, but one of the reasons that really punched the last nail into its coffin was my silence.

You see, I didn’t visit other blogs. I didn’t follow other blogs. I didn’t talk to people. My responses to the few comments I got were short and didn’t really invite conversation.

If you’ve been blogging for any length of time, you’ll know how frustrating and discouraging it can be when no one visits your blog or leaves comments. You’ll also know how nice it feels when someone does, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about today!

The moment you reply to a comment, your blog becomes YOUR blog rather than just some other site they thought they’d try. It gives your readers a face to put with your name.*

It’s the difference between passing a stranger in the street and not wasting another glance on each other, and saying hi and meeting up for a tea to get to know each other. It creates a connection.

Your readers will enjoy their experience on your blog more** and so will you. Comments are proof that someone has read and liked your content, and your reply is proof that you appreciate your readers.

It’s such an easy way to show you care!

*unless your profile picture is your dog or your car, in which case I recommend you change it. Unless your blog is about dogs or cars, I guess, but maybe still consider it.
**and be more likely to come back, too, which is nice

Gather around, my dears, and let me tell you a story.

Many moons ago, before I ever considered setting up my own blog, I didn’t comment. I didn’t see the point–the sites I was visiting were either run by people who obviously knew what they were doing, or intimidated me with their amazing confidence*.

Either way, they had no time for someone like me. Someone small and insignificant they didn’t even know.

Right?

Well, friends and familiars, one day I gathered all the courage I had and emailed my favourite author**. I was just getting into writing again then, and her books were the reason for that. I thanked her for being the inspiration I’d needed to realise what I wanted to do with my life.

I didn’t think she’d reply. I didn’t think she’d care about someone small and insignificant like me.

But she replied. And I still carry her words close to my heart today.

It was nice to be acknowledged. The blogs you follow might not be written by your favourite authors, but it’ll still feel nice when the blogger gets back to you. Maybe all you said was ‘haha, yeah, I totally do that, too’, and maybe all they replied was ‘it’s the best, isn’t it? :3’, but sometimes small things can be pretty big.

*You couldn’t have found me and confidence in the same room back then. In fact, it’s still kinda a rare occasion but I’m told I fake it well.
**I don’t start small, clearly.

Your readers don’t have to comment. There’s no obligation whatsoever. If they did it anyway, that should mean something to you.

It takes time to catch up on all the blogs we like*, so when someone takes the time to tell you that your post was awesome, the least you can do is say ‘thank you’. It’s basic manners.

Once you’re a famous blogger and get a hundred responses to every post, no one will be cross if you can’t reply to every single one. But when your blog is young and you’re lucky to get five comments with each new post, a reply won’t kill you**.

*withers under size of own catch-up list*
**I’m good at jinxing things, though, so maybe don’t trust that

They are what keeps your blog going*. The whole point to your blog is to share information (like a book review) and maybe even help people in a similar situation to you (like figuring out what’s important when you self-publish), and there’s no better way to do this than to actually talk to your readers.

It gives them a chance to ask questions you may not have answered in your post**, and it gives you a chance to show that you really do know what you’re talking about.

*I mean, technically it’s you since you write all the posts and fret over finding the perfect gif, but when no one ever comments it feels lonely and pointless fast.
**Don’t worry about it, it’s easy to miss things.

I’m one hell of an introvert. I don’t do parties, I don’t go clubbing, and I can’t fake a friendly hello to people I don’t like, but even I managed to comment on other authors’ sites when I first started CookieBreak.

I still talk to some of these bloggers today. Some have become friends. We’re each other’s tribe now. We support each other’s writing careers and blogs and share each other’s content.

None of that would have happened if one of us hadn’t made that first step of leaving a comment, and if the other then hadn’t responded.

Some people you’ll respond to once and then you never see them again, but others? Others can become friends who encourage you when you need it, share your new posts, and answer any questions you might have*.

But that won’t happen if you don’t reply or leave the first comment, so be friendly and wave back!

*And come to you for answers in return. Don’t be a monster, repay the kindness.

Blogging can be lonely, especially at first when no one but your parents and closest friends know your blog exists. It’s difficult to be noticed when millions of new posts get published every month all around the fudging world. Talk about stiff competition!

The best way to find new readers is to find blogs you like, stalk them religiously follow them, and leave comments whenever the author publishes a new post. They’ll soon notice your name pop up on their site over and over again.

It doesn’t need to be a small essay–just a quick ‘This is really helpful, thank you so much!’ is enough.

Please remember, though, that no one has an obligation to visit or even like your blog. Your blog might be fantastic in just about every way, but if it’s about make-up trends I won’t be following it. It’s nothing personal, I just couldn’t care less about make-up trends.

When your catch-up list is difficult to stay on top off as it is, you get a little picky, you know?

Don’t be shy*! Say hi and I promise I’ll get back to you <3

*Or be and just pretend you’re not–we’re on the internet, nobody knows.

Do you find it easy to stay caught up with the comments on your side? Do you feel bad when you know you missed something but can’t remember where (I definitely do)? Do you appreciate comments on your posts, or have you disabled them entirely? Get a cookie, make a tea, and talk to me.


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

7 Comments

The Basics of Blogging – Appearance is Important (Well, When You’re a Blog, Anyway)

Happy Tuesday, friends and familiars! <3 Are you surprised to see me pop back into your mailbox again? I know these posts are supposed to be bi-weekly, but the 5th seemed far too early to call that it for the year. So, here’s another one ๐Ÿ™‚

Whatever your reason for blogging, your site will be seen by people. If you’re not okay with that, you may want to stick to a good old notebook diary, because once your blog is live, people will be able to find it. Not including keywords and not optimising your SEO doesn’t mean you’re invisible to the rest of the interwebs. Someone will find you.*

Chances are, though, you want your visitors to come back, turn into readers, and hit that follow button. To achieve that, your blog needs to be easy to navigate and easy to look at.

*Insert creepy music.

Your blog is your little corner on the internet, true enough. But you won’t be the only one reading it, and if you want visitors to come back, what you blog about needs to be easy to read. Your favourite colours might be lavender and pink, but your post’s font is not the right place for creative freedom.

*

I get what you’re saying. It’s your blog, you should be able to do whatever you want. And if pink writing on a green background is what you want, then your readers should be cool with that.

But, friends, while your blog is your blog, it’s not just your blog.** You’ve chosen to put something out there, in a place where anyone anywhere can view what you’ve created. When you’re just starting out or have created your blog as a fun experiment, you might not care so much, but if you’re serious and want to treat blogging as a potential business***, your blog’s appearance needs to appeal to the majority, not the rainbow-barfing minority.

*ย  Every time I load this post, I think this is an error message. I should probably have chosen different colours.
**ย Wow, girl, have some tea, that’s confusing af oO
*** Or even just as an interesting place where your readership can grow! You don’t need to shoot for a paying business right away–or ever. In that regard, you do you.

I don’t mean in-post links, like this: *ahem* Did you know I’ve written and published two books? Check them out here. *ahem*

No, I mean links to all your other sites, like your Instagram and Twitter profiles.

When someone reads a post you’ve written, they might just like it enough that they want to connect with you elsewhere. But chances are they won’t search your blog for ages (or at all, if we’re being honest) just to find your social media links. So they need to be easy to spot, and easier to follow. On CookieBreak, you can find my links in a number of places, so no matter where you are you can easily follow me around the social media-verse.

But, I hear you say again, can’t I just search for your name on Twitter or Instagram?

Sure you can! With my name that’s easy enough to do, because I use my actual name across all social media platforms. But not everyone does that. Someone might use their business as their Twitter handle, for example, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It’s also perfectly reasonable if you don’t want to try several names hoping to find the right one.

And if you think you found the right one, how do you know it really is the right profile? What if it doesn’t say in the site’s bio? What if you don’t know the blogger well enough to recognise them in their profile photo, which may well be different to the picture on their blog?*

It’s so much easier to just give your readers links where they can find them. Like, on the left or right-hand side of your blog. Or under every blog post.

Or wherever you want, really, as long as it’s easy to spot and your visitors don’t have to go hunting for them.

* I feel another post might be in order…

Your blog might have an About Me page, a Subscribe page for your newsletter, or a Get in Touch page where your readers can contact you privately, but having all that is no good if your readers can’t find it. May sound logical, but you’d be surprised how often I’ve found a blog I liked, only to struggle to find its pages. Often when that happens they’re hidden away in the top right (sometimes top left) corner behind three little dots which blend in so freaking well I didn’t even see them right away.

It’s off-putting, friends. My blog catch-up list is growing constantly, so I’m not likely to add any blogs to that list if I can’t navigate them easily.

Most blog templates allow you to have a bar for all your pages either at the top or on the site. Mine are on the left.

Do that.

Hiding them away might make your blog look tidier, but if you can’t include your pages, what can you include? Show them off, friends. Besides, they’re part of your blog’s content. And that’s what you want to show your readers, isn’t it?

A static front page (I have one, take a look!) isn’t a must. You don’t need to have one, especially if your blog is young and hasn’t seen its first snow.

More importantly, don’t set a static front page for the sake of having one, or because you think it makes you look more professional. If it doesn’t add anything or helps your readers in some way, you don’t need it.

At the moment, my front page shows my most recent book release, its links to Amazon and Goodreads, its reviews on Goodreads you guys can scroll through, and my short bio. Come January, I want to change a few things, but what I have now still makes sense as a front page. It’s not there just because.

This doesn’t happen often, but every now and again I come across a blog that has no clear way for me to follow it. No subscribe button. No follow-with-your-email button. Not even a handy Follow button.

At the start of this year, I moved my blog from WordPress to a self-hosted site which means I no longer get the handy Follow button, because that’s a WordPress thing and CookieBreak is no longer a WordPress blog. But I still have an easy option to follow my posts on the left-hand side.

Following your blog shouldn’t be difficult. If someone enjoys your content enough that they want to follow you, it should be easy.

I already talked about this a little bit last week, when we looked at how often you should post. While I focused on individual blog posts then, it applies to your whole blog, too.

If your personality is bright and cheerful, then there’s no reason why your blog can’t reflect that.* If you love pink, then you can absolutely have a light pink background! Not in your posts, but on your blog–I have a very mild yellow.

I do recommend you stick to light colours because they’re easier on the eyes, but really it depends on your blog. If you sell punk rock clothes and you’re known for a bright pink theme, then that might suit your blog a lot better than pale pink!

In regards to being professional… That’s a topic deserving of its own post, I think. Watch out for that in January–for now, just remember to be polite and yourself ๐Ÿ™‚

*Just not in your font colours.

Don’t post about your dinner on Monday, rant about your parents on Tuesday, moan about having too much to do on Wednesday, post a book review on Thursday, and then post gardening tips on Friday. It’s confusing and your readers won’t know what your blog is about. If you want people to come back, it needs to be clear what you want to say.

CookieBreak is about my books and writing, so that’s what you find here. If I wanted to write a post on parenting while working full-time*, this wouldn’t be the right platform for it.

If you have a good reason for writing out of your usual niche, exceptions can be made. Perhaps you’ve been absent because mental health issues have been making it difficult? You could blog about how to juggle your area of expertise and your health concerns while explaining while you’ve been gone a while.

*Not that I’m in any way qualified to write a post on parenting while working full-time. My only child is my cat, and my day job is part-time.

No one wants to read large chunks of text. Break up your posts into several paragraphs (I believe the usual recommendation is no more than two or three lines per paragraph, but don’t quote me on that), and fit in a picture or two if you can. Better yet, take the pictures yourself–that way, you don’t need to worry about copyright infringements!

I know I could do better on this, so one of my CookieBreak New Year’s resolutions* is to include more images. The banners I have now break it up just fine, but a bit of colour can’t hurt, you know?

That doesn’t mean, however, that having more images than text is a good idea. You need to get the balance right. One picture every two-four paragraphs is enough.

*oh, don’t roll your eyes at me.

Speaking of images, I love a post with a gif or two. My all-time favourite review for my debut novel had gifs, and it works so beautifully.ย Take a look <3

Gifs are also a good way to get your point across. Said review is a better example than anything I could give you, so just go check that out ๐Ÿ˜‰

I gave CookieBreak a huge make-over only a couple of months ago in January*, and I can already think of a few changes I’ll be making in the new year. I want my front page to show off what you can find here, for one. Yes, I’m an author and you can learn all about my books here, but you can find other things here, too, and right now my front page doesn’t reflect that.

I have a list with a few other changes I want to make, too.

As your blog attracts more readers and grows, chances are the design you started with isn’t cutting it anymore. There are no secret algorithms determining this, by the way–if you feel your blog needs a makeover, take out your best make-up and go nuts. Browse new layouts. Play with colours**. Work on it until you’re happy.

You can review your blog once or twice a year and make changes then, or you can do it whenever you feel your site needs it. Completely up to you.

* Wait, it’s December? January is almost a year ago? WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN
** Within reason, of course. No pink on red, remember?

And there you have it! Have you got anything to add to this list? Any questions? Did you find it easy to find a style for your blog, or were you trying several options before finding the one? Pour yourself a tea, have a cookie, and talk to me ๐Ÿ™‚


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

All gifs came from giphy.

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

1 Comment

The Basics of Blogging – How Often Should You Blog?

Welcome, y’all! It’s time for a new series!

This series is all about blogging basics. Whether you’re new to blogging, are thinking about starting a blog, or have a question about an already existing site, this is the series for you!

I had no idea what I was doing when I started oh-so-many moons ago. I had created blogs before CookieBreak–one as part of my Photography degree which only spanned two weeks because that’s what the assignment was, and one which showed my photography but little else (certainly not my personality, but we’ll get to that later this series)–but I’d never created one that I really, genuinely wanted to succeed. I had so many questions, friends.

How often should I blog?

Will it kill my blog if I miss a day?

How long do my posts need to be?

How professional does it need to be?*

The short answer is that there’s no one right way to do things, but when isn’t that true with creative endeavours? Play around a little, experiment, and see what works well for you.

But I know even that is a daunting thing to tackle when you have no idea where to start, so let’s go into a little more detail.

* And what does that mean, anyway? Does it mean no cat gifs? Does it mean I can’t have cookies while I write? I needed answers!

Some sites might tell you that it doesn’t matter how often you post as long as you provide quality content. Other sites might say that the content of your posts isn’t anywhere near as important as how regular you post. Other sites will tell you that you need lots of pictures to keep your readers attention.

There’s a bit of truth to each of these. Posting regularly is important, but what you post is important, too. We’ll get more into the appearance of your blog and why it matters next week, but for now let’s keep it simple: no one will stick around if your posts are hard to look at, are riddled with spelling mistakes, and the whole post is one or two big blocks of text. Use a font that’s easy to read, proofread everything, keep your paragraphs short, and mix in a few pictures to break up the text and you’ll have a good basis going on.

Besides being easy to read and not burning your readers’ eyes, a quality blog post will have something your readers can take away. It might not matter so much when you update your readers on how many words you’ve written this month, but if you give advice in any form it’s a great idea to make that advice actionable! Ask yourself how you can help your readers, and then write about that.

An exception to this might be if you’re writing a book review blog, for example. Advice posts should be actionable or at least helpful, but opinion posts like reviews are helpful because you offer your opinion. Bookworms love talking to other people who’ve enjoyed the same books as them! In this example, it’s all about writing a quality review–but that’s a post for another day.

How can you make your posts actionable? In a post on character creation, I included a questionnaire to help you develop your characters. My NaNo prep posts had free downloadables to help you prepare. This post right here has example pictures to illustrate my last point and to help you understand what I’m talking about if you’re new to this.

‘Actionable’ doesn’t have to mean something your readers can download, though. Just a question or two that helps them answer their own can be a great help!

But how often should you blog? Well, honestly, that depends on how much you want to commit to. When I first started CookieBreak, I was blogging five days a week, Monday to Friday. That became too much quickly. Now I post Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday in one week, and Tuesday and Thursday in the other.*ย That’s going to change slightly next year as I add monthly progress updates and goals on two Fridays every month.

The main thing is to stick to whatever schedule you want to set yourself. If posting five times a week sounds a little overwhelming, do less. If you’re posting once a week right now but you feel like you could do more, up your blogging game a little.

I recommend you start slow if you’re not sure how much you can do. Start by posting once or twice, and add to it if you think you can.

The general rule is that the more you post the more exposure you will gain. While that makes perfect sense, don’t feel you need to take on more because some guides say you need to blog however many times a week or else it’s not enough. Post enough to keep it regular, but not so much you lose your passion for it.

If your blog starts to feel like a chore, that’s a sign you need to change something.

As with everything else in life, you do you. Your blog, your rules. Consistency and regularity are the keys here–not spamming people as often as possible even though you don’t have enough content to make every post interesting. Never post for the sake of posting.

*I’m essentially on a two-week rota. Who said blogging wasn’t work?

Posting once a day is usually plenty. I have a list of which blogs I catch up with and when. I’m also a busy girl. Many other bloggers do the same thing or something similar. People don’t have time to visit your blog, read your posts, and leave thoughtful comments three times a day, so if you absolutely need to post again, make sure it’s worth it.

Worthwhile exceptions might be big news, important announcements, or the internet gushing over your book on release day. For example, I’ve posted twice before because my cartographer got the finished map for my book back to me. That’s exciting news*, and this is a blog dedicated to my books, so I posted for a second time that day.

Another example: On the last Thursday of every month, I post two reviews. Most of the books I read are somewhere in the fiction genre, but every now and again I read a book on writing as well, so on those Thursdays the first review (at 9.30am) is a theory book on writing, and the second review (at 2.30pm) is a novel.

If you’ve got so much content you can post three times a day for a month, use that content and schedule the excess. That way, you won’t run out for a while and you won’t get stressed because you suddenly don’t know what to blog about.

* People love a good map!

To give you a better insight into my blogging routine, here’s my schedule:

Week 1

Monday – Writing Prompts

Wednesday – WWW Wednesday

Thursday – Book Reviews

Week 2

Tuesday – Posts on writing and blogging (like today!)

Thursday – Book Reviews*

Every now and again, when there’s something to report, I post on Fridays as well to share progress updates about my books. The weekly posts throughout November were an exception because it was NaNo and everyone goes a little mad during NaNo, am I right? *nervous laughing*

Next year, a couple of small changes will be made, but this is how I schedule things right now.

* I read a lot, okay?

When I say post regularly, I don’t mean post twice a week but on two different days every week depending on your mood. Be consistent with the days, and be consistent with the content, too. You’ll notice I only post book reviews on Thursdays, for example.

As your following grows and people keep coming back to your blog (high five!), your blog becomes a part of their routine, too. The people who follow my reviews know they happen on Thursdays, so they might be disappointed if I post about my progress one Thursday instead.

It will also make it easier for you to decide what to blog about. If you know every Thursday is Review Day, your content is sorted!

It’s easy to get carried away when you have loads of good ideas. So easy, in fact, that you might post three times a day because you know your content is great and you can’t wait to share it! But, as we’ve already discussed, posting too often is a thing. If your readers feel spammed, they’ll leave and that’s the opposite of what you want.

So, what’s a blogger to do?

Schedule all these awesome posts ahead, that’s what! At the beginning of November, I scheduled all remaining posts for this year (and the first week of January) so I was prepared and knew what to write when.

In WordPress, you can find the schedule tool in the top right of your post’s draft. It looks like this:

Scheduling your posts is simplicity itself, and doesn’t take long at all.

Just don’t get caught out when the clocks go forward or back. It’s annoying when you just wanted to read over your post one last time before it publishes, maybe add a picture, too, and then you realise it’s already published because the clocks went forward. Beware daylight saving times.

Next week (yes, next week! One last post before Christmas!) we’ll look into the appearance of your blog, and why bright pink on neon green isn’t a good font choice. If you have any questions about your blog’s look now, ask away and I’ll answer them in the post ๐Ÿ™‚

How often do you blog? Has your routine changed since you first started, or are you thinking about starting but have more questions? Make a tea, open a pack of biscuits, and ask away! ๐Ÿ™‚


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

Leave a Comment

All About Writing – 7 Reasons Why You Need to Write that Book for Yourself

Happy Tuesday, friends! After October’s NaNo prep sessions and a breather, we’re finally back to this series! YAY! *throws confetti*

How are you all getting on with your NaNo projects? We’re nearing the end (if you’re behind, like me, and this is the last thing you want to hear, ignore me and pretend everything’s fine) already, and I expect your sanity levels aren’t doing too good. Which is why it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be writing this book for anyone but yourself.*

You’ve probably received similar advice before, but what does it mean and why is it so important?

* and all the people who said you couldn’t, of course.

Writing a book is hard work, friends. Whether you’re a plotter, a pantser, or a plotster like me, you need to have your world figured out, you need to know your characters, your plot needs to make sense, the words need to get written, and there are all these other things you need to pay attention to besides.* Don’t let anyone convince you this is easy money!

The last thing you want to do is go to all this effort for other people, because–and this might hurt a little–other people won’t care about your book like you do. Sure, there’ll be readers who fall in love with your fictional babies and create fan art in their honour, but no matter how much work you put into it, there’ll always be someone who hates what you’ve created. This is much harder when you write your book to please someone else, because that someone might be the same someone who now hates your book.

I’m not saying you should write for yourself just because rejection will be easier to accept.** There are loads of reasons why you should write for yourself, and today we’re looking at seven.

* like always having enough tea in your cupboard, and not running out of snacks.
** I won’t deny that’s not a plus, though!

When I started my first ever blog, I was studying photography at university. It had been drilled into me that being professional was everything, but it wasn’t stressed enough that you can still be yourself, too. As a result, my first blog lacked personality and didn’t sound like me at all. To be honest, I’m still working on that now! You might get that I’m an honest girl who smiles a lot from my blog posts, but do they accurately convey my sarcasm or that I swear enough for my swear jar to fund a new library for my colleagues at my day job?* Fuck no! Something to work on next year, I think.

But I digress. I found it difficult to write posts for said first blog since I felt I couldn’t be myself, and that drained my motivation to keep it up.

The same is true for your books. When you get too focused on sounding a certain way, you adjust your voice so much you no longer sound like you, because you think whoever you’re writing for might enjoy it more. And then your book will lack all the things that make you you–all the wonderful things that could make your book uniquely yours!

And guess what? Those people who don’t get your voice and want you to change it to suit them? They’re not your target audience. So there’s no need to try and please them.

* not that I have a swear jar… If we had one, we’d be able to get a decent-sized library built between me and some of my colleagues! Maybe we should look into this!

Writing is hard enough as it is. There are times when your characters ignore what you planned for them and go their own way. Times when you’ll run out of tea and snacks. Times when you’ll curl up into a ball and cry in a corner because writing a book is slowlyย quickly robbing you of your sanity.

The more you focus on what other people want, the more you’ll cut what you want, and the less happy you’ll be with the end result. When you create something like a whole new world from bloodyย nothing, you should at least feel proud of your achievement by the end of it. When you’re consumed by what everyone else wants, this’ll be harder. You might feel happy for them, but how about for you, hm? This is your book–it should be your pride and joy, too.

My favourite books are the ones that made me feel something. I feel like I’ve connected with the author, have shared their vision for the brief time it took me to read the book. When you write the book you want to write, you pour a part of your soul into it, and that’s when your readers are going to connect with you. It’s that clear, brutal, amazing honesty you just don’t get from books that lost sight of their authors.

There are plenty of stories out there which mimic each other to a degree*, which lost their unique voices to play it safe, and which, I think, lack something vital.

* I’m not talking about all the books of one genre, or all the books with orphans who get adopted by their aunt and/or uncle and go on to save the world. These can still be amazing, and they often are.

It’s said that everyone has a story inside them–you’ve heard of this saying, yes? Only you can tell your story your way. This is why, even though so many scenes and whole plots get repeated, we still enjoy them over and over again, because different writers add different things to them.

It’s insane how often people have said ‘Wow! You’ll be the next J.K. Rowling!’ since I announced I was writing a fantasy book back in 2015. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be the next J. K. Rowling. I want to be the first me. I grew up with Harry Potter and love the books, but they’d be very different books if I’d written them. Our voices are completely different! Harry Potter was J. K.’s story to tell, not mine, and only she could write them in the magical way she did. Just like only I can write my books in the way I do.

Just like only you can write your books in your way.

It’s so liberating to just write and let the words flow however they want to come out. It’s easy to get bogged down under so. much. detail! when you’re really just trying to get a first draft written. You want to get the names of every town and river right*, you don’t want to mess up the lore you created, you keep referring back to the map you’ve drawn–this is tough enough as it is, friends. When the words finally flow without you interrupting yourself, they definitely shouldn’t stop because you’re worried about what someone else might think.

* never mind the names of your characters *ahem*

At the moment, readers love strong female MCs, BFFs who comfort each other and fight sometimes maybe, and same-sex couples. That doesn’t mean your book needs to have all of the above. If your main character needs to be white and male because he was born to white parents and doesn’t have boobs, that’s fine. Let him be male! If he’s straight, let the boy be straight!*

Listen to your characters. If it turns out you were wrong and they have a better idea of who they are, let them make the decisions. I wouldn’t change a straight character into a gay one because readers happen to be into those characters right now. I also wouldn’t change a transgender character into a straight one because I’m straight. My characters are who they are.**

Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t hurt to see what the general bookish market loves or hates right now. If we all wrote the same type of characters depending on what readers love right now, all books would be too similar. You can absolutely treat what the market wants as a guideline, but don’t feel so pressured by it that you end up changing the core of your manuscript.

* Your characters will ignore what you plan for them anyway, so you may as well just give up now and listen to what they’re telling you.
** Example: One of my characters in Darkened Light started out as a straight girl, but turns out I was wrong and he’s actually a gay man because what do I know, I’m only writing the thing??

When you put so much of your time, effort, and soul into something, you’re allowed to do it for yourself. If others love it, great. If not, who cares? As we’ve already talked about, some people will hate it anyway, so you do you.

For those times when you don’t know what you want and your characters choose that moment to give you absolutely nothing, having an ideal reader can be a massive help. Your ideal reader can be someone you know who shares your love for the genre you write and understands you and your writing. It’s often easier to ask yourself what someone else might do, but if this someone doesn’t understand your book and maybe doesn’t even like the genre, your book is going to drift off in the wrong direction. I have two ideal readers, and when I’m stuck and ask myself how they would solve the problem I know I’ll still move forward in a way I’m happy with.


And that’s it for this series! It was a short one, I know, but I hope you took something away from it. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, ask away–or better yet, have a look if I’ve covered it already! In this very brief series, we’ve talked about:

The next series is about the basics of blogging, so if you’re new to the blogging game or just want some pointers, keep an eye out for the first post in two weeks time ๐Ÿ™‚

Do you have an ideal reader? Do you write for yourself, or do you worry your voice won’t appeal to too many people? Make yourself a tea, get some biscuits, and let’s chat!


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

Leave a Comment

NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 5 | You’ve Got This, NaNonite!

It’s almost time, NaNonite. Tomorrow, we begin the month-long madness that is NaNoWriMo. Your characters are ready. Your world is waiting to be explored. Your plot is outlined. You’ve prepared as much as you’re comfortable with (or, let’s be honest, as much as you had time for).

If you’ve missed anything or would like to remind yourself of a previous session, here you go:

Week 1 – Your Characters

Week 2 – Your World

Week 3 – Your Plot

Week 4 – Your Reading List and Rewards

I have also added all five posts here:

Writing Resources

And there’s a new category as well, so no matter where you look, you’ve got all NaNo prep sessions in one place ๐Ÿ™‚

I have only a few last words of advice for you:

  • Don’t stop writing to do research. Make a note of what you need to look up, and move on.
  • Don’t stop writing to edit. You’ve got a big word count goal ahead of you, friend. There’s no time for that.
  • Don’t cheat and count the 15K words you wrote before November as NaNo progress. The aim is to write 50K in November, not 5,000 in September, 10,000 in October, and then the last 35,000 in November. I know it makes it easier, but it’s not the point of NaNo, okay? ๐Ÿ™‚
  • If you need a snack break, take a breather and have that snack.
  • If you feel like you need a break, take a break. It will seem like a terrible idea in the middle of NaNo, but sometimes just taking one day off can do wonders for your productivity!
  • Share your daily and weekly word counts online. It’ll hold you accountable, and the #bookstagram community on Instagram will cheer you on until their throats are sore! Twitter is another excellent place to announce how you’re doing.
  • Speaking of which, join the #authorconfession tag on Twitter (or Instagram or Snapchat). Next month is all about NaNo, which makes this an excellent community for sharing your word counts and connecting with authors who are going through the same madness you are! Here are the prompts:

  • Have a mascot, something you’ll only use when it’s time to write. I have a shirt I only wear when I write the first draft. That way, when the shirt goes on, it tells my brain it’s time to write and I’m immediately in the right mindset! It might seem too easy or even silly to you, but try it! ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Add me on the official NaNo website so we can be inspired by each other’s word counts.
  • I’ll be sharing my weekly word counts right here, on this blog, and I’ll be sharing my daily word counts on Instagram and Twitter. Naturally, you’re welcome to join me and compare notes ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, are you ready to do this? Are you ready to write the first draft of your novel? BRING IT ON, NANOWRIMO!

*ferocious battle roar*

You’ve come this far. Even if you haven’t prepared that much or at all, you’ve decided to do NaNo and accomplish something amazing next month. Often, setting your mind to a task is the hardest part, and you’ve set your mind to this! You can do this, NaNoNite! You’re ready, your characters are ready, your world is ready, your tea and snacks are ready – all you need to do now is write the words.

If you’re planning on writing every day next month, that’s a measly 1,666 words per day! If you’re planning on taking the weekends off, like me, your goal is only 2,272! Not even 2,5k!That’s not so bad. You can do this, NaNonite. Think how incredible you’ll feel this time next month when NaNoWriMo is behind you and you’ve written a massive 50,000 words! Think of the rewards you won’t get to treat yourself to unless you hit those word counts!

I know it’s daunting, but you’re not doing it alone. I’ve got you. If you join the #bookstagram and #authorconfession community, they’ll have your back, too. And at the end of November, we’ll all have achieved something amazing together.

Embrace your WIP’s magic, and show that mad word count who’s boss!


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

Gifs came from Giphy

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

 

1 Comment

NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 4 | Your Reading List and Treats!

Welcome back, NaNonites! How is your NaNo prep going? Are you feeling ready yet? Have you stocked up on tea and snacks? GOOD!

Honestly, friends, this is the best part. You’ve done the hard work, and the worst is behind you (unless you count NaNo itself, I guess).ย Characters are created, worlds are ready to be explored, and your plot is developed – it’s time we had some fun! ๐Ÿ˜‰

We’re doing two awesome things today: we’re setting our reading lists, and we’re setting our rewards. It’s important to stay inspired when you have a monster deadline, and it’s important to stay motivated. Your reading list takes care of the former, and your rewards will ensure the latter.

Let’s start with your reading list!

Your reading list is a good place for your favourite authors. Re-reading a book you’ve loved before also works – anything to keep your inspiration going! I have a whole shelf of books that inspired me to write better, but next month, I’ll be reading new books by my favourite authors. I know I’ll love these and the wait has been hard, but we all make sacrifices for NaNo, am I right?

Here’s what’s on my list:

Godsgrave

The Language of Thorns

WonderWoman

I’m pretty confident I won’t get through all three, but it’s better to have more lined up just in case than to not have enough when you really need a boost!

You’re all set to get through the month now. It’s time to treat yourself!

The books you’ve wanted for months? Go for it! That jumper you saw the other week? Pop it on the list! That concert you’ve been wanting to go to? Sounds like a well-earned treat for writing 50K!

How you do this is entirely up to you. These are your rewards, after all! They only need to be exciting enough to motivate you to keep writing. Be strict with yourself – if you don’t hit the word count, you don’t get the treat. What’s the point otherwise?

How many goals you set, and whether you reward yourself as soon as you hit your targets, is also entirely up to you. I set three – one at 15K (nice and easy to reach), one at 30K (over halfway there!), and one for reaching the final goal of 50K (you’ve made it! WOO!). Make sure that last reward is a big one; the more you want it, the better. When you feel like giving up, it’s your reason to write on.

I reward myself as I reach my goals because it’s a nice little treat partway through the month (never mind a surge of motivation), but if you’d rather wait until you hit 50K that’s fine, too.

These are my rewards:

15K

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft

(that’s right, my reward for writing all the words is more research material)

30K

Okay, so, what’s happened here is that I’m an indecisive kitten and don’t know what I want because I kinda want all four but I’m supposed to be a responsible grown-up and save money but they’re all so pretty?? And the worst part is, THERE’S MORE? AND IT’S NANO SO I DESERVE IT?? If you thought you’d chosen your rewards allow me to ruin that and show you Cait aka paperfury’s shop on society6. You’re welcome.

50K

The Well of Ascension

The Hero of Ages

I read The Final Empire a couple of months ago and need these. What’s more motivation than two sequels you desperately need to read, am I right? If these don’t see me all the way to 50K, nothing will.

We’re almost there! I have one more post for you next week and then NaNoWriMo 2017 will be upon us!

In the meantime, you’re welcome to add me on the NaNo Website.

What’s on your reading list, NaNonite? What are your rewards, and how will you treat yourself?


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

Gifs came from Giphy

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

Leave a Comment

NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 3 | Your Plot

Good morning, NaNonites! We’re halfway through October, and you know what that means? NaNoWriMo is CLOSE! Time to give your prep hell!

We’ve already looked at your characters and your world, but today we’re going to look at the one thing that’s going to bring the two together: your plot. This is kinda important and today’s worksheet is a four-page monster, so if you haven’t made tea already do it now ๐Ÿ™‚

All good? Then let’s begin!

Your plot is everything, friends. Everything. Without one, your story is going to lack direction, and while it’s been said that a book with a weak plot can be saved if the characters are exceptional, we don’t want to take that risk. Especially during NaNo. Also, the weaker your plot is when you start, the more re-writing you’re going to have to do later, and no one wants that.

The number one reason writers get stuck halfway through their drafts is because they haven’t got a plot, and NaNoWriMo is so not the time for that.

But I don’t mean to scare you or put you off. Honestly, it’s not that bad. It’s because the plot is so important (seriously, tho, not trying to send you running) that I love creating it!

I didn’t always find it easy, though. I mean, your plot is your book! Where do you even start? What do you write down first? How do you make sense of something that doesn’t fudging exist yet?

Today’s worksheet is designed to help you figure out what your book is all about, and what your plot is or could be. It’s the one worksheet that will make sure you don’t get stuck halfway through NaNo. Might sound scary, but this worksheet breaks your plot down into manageable chunks.

And they’re big chunks, friends, so do take your time with this one.

I can’t give you an example of my own work this week because River forbids it, so let’s dive right into the key points:

  • Opening – just write down a few lines describing the opening scene – where is your MC? what are they doing? how does it set up the rest of the book? If you already have a great idea for a first line, include that, too!
  • Theme – is your book going to be dark? Do you want to make people smile? Are you hoping to inspire people? Your theme is so important and yet it’s often overlooked at this stage, so be sure to include a few lines about your book’s overall theme, and how you hope to achieve it throughout – trust me, this’ll be a great reminder as you write. If your unicorns start pooping rainbows two thirds through November but your theme said something about darkness, you may want to rethink the direction your story has taken or change the theme.
  • Character Set-Up – we’ve already looked at your characters, but include them here, anyway – a couple of details, like their name and relation to the MC, will do. You’ve already done all the hard work a couple of weeks ago. (this is a good moment to pat yourself on the back and get a cookie as a reward)
  • Catalyst – this is the big event that sets your MC on their journey, and essentially the reason you’re going to have a book. (deep breaths, friends, you’ve got this) This needs to be big enough for your character to decide to leave his old life behind, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the MC’s decision – it’s okay for your MC to be forced into their new role! Acceptance comes later.
  • Doubts & Decisions – your character has set out on her journey, but now she’s wondering if she can really do this. Your MC also needs to come to a decision – why does she continue despite her worries? Does she overcome her doubts, or does she decide that her quest is bigger than she is?
  • Progression – aka the awkward middle part of your book. Now that your MC has decided to go ahead regardless of their doubts (or with their doubts dead on the ground behind them), how do they, well, proceed? What’s their next step after deciding to do this?
  • Side Plot – your plot – the big, main plot – is what moves the story forward, but the side plots are what move your character forward. Quite often this is love, but it could be anything! Just remember – the plot is important to the book, but the side plots are important to your individual characters. I recommend having one side plot for each MC for this very reason.
  • Recess – think of this as one big party before everything goes to hell; it’s insane how often this is a wedding! Your characters are about to lose all hope and go through a huge struggle, so this is a good moment to give them a last moment of happiness before you make all their worst fears come true.
  • Mid-Point – this is quite literally the mid-point in your book – once your MC gets here, there’s no going back. Your character needs to come to a decision here, and it needs to be a point of no return. For example, your MC could decide that, to defeat evil, he will sacrifice himself, or he could conclude that, no matter how easy it sounds, joining a phone sex line is not the way to get through college and he’ll take the boring but socially acceptable mechanic job instead.
  • The Baddies Close In – this is the calm before the storm. Everything was going so well, but your MC has just decided that she won’t back down, and now your antagonist don’t give your MC any other option, either. The bad guys are coming. This is it, friends. The moment your readers have been waiting for.
  • All is Lost – Blake Snyder describes this as the part where mentors go to die, because that’s usually what happens here. Someone, or maybe something, your MC has relied on throughout their journey dies, and it sends your MC to a very dark place. It’s also the reason the MC then rallies his troops and gives the bad guys hell. It doesn’t need to be a person. If your MC doesn’t have anyone like that but has drawn strength from the bracelet her father gave her on his deathbed, make sure your MC loses that bracelet in a very dramatic way.
  • Doubt – your MC has just lost everything; this is a natural reaction. They are hurting (and hopefully your readers are feeling things right about now, too), and doubt how they can possibly continue now their mentor/bracelet is gone.
  • Merge Plots – remember your side plot? Fortunately, you’ll have been developing this throughout the awkward mid section, so merging your side plot with your main plot won’t be a problem ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Finale – dun dun dun DUN! This is it! One side either wins or loses (or makes it look that way, anyway – if you’re writing a series, you do kinda need to leave a few things open). How does your book end? I know this bit is hard for many of us, so be vague if you need to be. I also like to make a note here of where my characters are at the end of the book. Where are they physically? Where are they emotionally? Who are they with?

You may recognise some of these points if you’ve ever read the wonderful book that is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. When I first started writing, his list of beats was a huge help. I’ve adapted his points since then to fit what I need and how I work, so feel free to do the same with mine! If you haven’t read Save the Cat yet, I recommend that you do. It’s humorous as well as educational, which makes it the perfect theory read, if you ask me.

You may remember me saying that your characters and your world are going to develop and grow as you write? The same is true for your plot. If you decide now, in the prep stage, that Jonny is going to break up with Karen halfway through the book but Jonny then decides they give having an open relationship a try, run with it! See where it takes you! Your characters will do this sooner or later, so you may as well get used to it ๐Ÿ™‚ You can only do so much – if your characters have other plans, trust their instincts. Prepare, but expect that your characters won’t agree at some point and turn left when you made it quite clear that they are to turn right.

Just like with the previous two weeks, don’t panic if you don’t have all the answers right now. If you don’t know how exactly everything is going to go downhill yet, leave it blank. Quite often the answers will come to you while you do something else. Going for a walk, taking a shower, or doing the dishes are excellent ways of letting your mind wander and hopefully solve these holes while you do other things. Just remember to keep a notebook or app handy. My characters tend to answer whatever is left while I write and yours will probably do the same, so don’t worry.

This thing you’re writing is all about them, after all. You’ve got this, and so have they.

Take a deep breath, do what you can, set the rest aside, and know that you’ve given yourself an excellent start. You’ve got this, NaNonite! I’m with you all the way!

Here’s your free 4-page worksheet:

NaNo Prep Week 3 – Plot Worksheet

If you’d like to do a little more, consider signing up to my newsletter – you get a free novel project planner when you do ๐Ÿ˜‰ The sign-up form is underneath this post. Just don’t over-plan, okay? It’s the death of NaNo, friends.

That’s the hard work done! You’ve created your characters, you’ve built your world, and you’ve got the faint outlines of a plot ready to go – it’s time for a bit of fun! Next week we’re going to set our rewards and look at our reading lists. There’s nothing like staying motivated and inspired when you’re putting yourself through NaNo, and that’s precisely what we’ll ensure next week ๐Ÿ˜‰

You’re welcome to join me on the official NaNoWriMo website, too <3

Happy plotting, NaNonite! I’ll see you next week!

How do you plot your book? What are your pitfalls? Which parts worry you? Get yourself another tea, get a cookie, and let’s chat!


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

Gifs came from Giphy

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

6 Comments

NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 2 | Your World

Welcome back, NaNonites! *waves* *makes tea for everyone* How are your preparations coming along? ๐Ÿ™‚ Are you starting to feel more confident/excited yet?

Last week we developed your characters, but this week is all about your world! Whether your book is set in London or a world of your own creation, you need to know what’s what, because your world informs your book more than you might think. Even if you don’t plan on using your world all that much, it still helps to know a few basics. You’d be surprised how often it’ll come up while you write!

Every country has its own religious beliefs, for example. While they tend to be similar in many places, they can also differ greatly, and you will usually find some differences, even if they’re only small ones. So, if your MC is a visitor to one country, their religious beliefs might clash with those of that country. It may not seem like an important detail now, but it’s little things like this that’ll make your world more believable.

Today’s worksheet looks at some of those country-specific details ๐Ÿ˜‰ Here’s another example from my own WIP, Darkened Light:

The key points are:

  • just like with last week’s character sheet, I like to include a picture or two to give me a better feel for the place.
  • are any of your characters at home here? (it’s not included in the example above since none of my characters are Vaskan, but it’s included in your worksheet)
  • the capital city
  • the country’s main trade
  • the education
  • what is this country known for? It’s easy to struggle with this point, so if you’re not sure what to put answer this instead: is your fictional country based on a real one? (Vaska is loosely based on Estonia) What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of that country? What made you want to base a country in your book on this real country?
  • what is the official language?
  • what is this country’s religion?

It’s fine if you can’t fill in all of those details right now. Just like your characters, your world will develop as you go, so don’t worry if you can’t answer every point right now. I always struggle a little more with the world details, and need longer for my country sheets.

You could also easily add more points! If your country is a kingdom, who sits on the throne? What are its most valued laws? You could even add a few phrases in each country’s language! (personally, I like to add swear words; my characters tend to have a swearing problem (Doran and Ash especially))

If one or more of your countries is based on a real place, you can draw information from that. Vaska is loosely based on Estonia, so some of the details above reflect Estonian culture. Of course, Vaska is a fictional place, so there are plenty of differences, too!

If you want to do a little more prep, check out my series on world building here. Just remember not to over-prepare ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think this is a risk especially where your world is concerned, because your world is such a great tool for making your book more believable. It’s easy to get caught up in all those little details that make a country unique, and before you know it you’re too worried about getting some details wrong to continue!

Unfortunately, getting stuck or not remembering a certain detail is likely with big projects like NaNo, but it doesn’t have to stall you. When I get stuck and can’t remember a name, for example, or haven’t named a country yet, I use placeholders. My first drafts are full of them! Whenever a country or a person I haven’t named yet comes up, I type [ADD], and then when I start editing or when I’ve named everything I can run a search through my document, and find every placeholder easily ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s your free worksheet, NaNonite:

NaNo Prep Week 2 – Country Worksheet

You can also join me on the official NaNo website here.

How do you create a whole world out of nothing? Which details does your world need? Is there any part of this you’re worried about? Get yourself a tea, open a pack of biscuits, and let’s chat!


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

Gifs came from Giphy

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Breakโ€™s home page, have a look here.

4 Comments