My NaNoWriMo Tips!

A tip a day keeps you scribblin' away.

Okay, not exactly a great line, but it gets the point across. And as my tips say here, "I'll edit on the back end."

And so will you–but first things first

Every day through November, I've been supporting those participating in National Novel Writing Month by launching posts on creative writing tips (usually by 12 noon PDT) that will help them reach their goal: writing 50,000 words in their novel.

Here are links to my tips:

Tip #1: Treat writing a if it is your career.

Tip #2: Outline the plot of your story.

Tip #3: Don't give up!

Tip #4: Meet your word count first; then edit.

 Tip #5: Show, don't tell.

Tip #6: Recognize when your" backstory" is really your story.

Tip #7: Chapter doesn't work? Fix it in "post."

Tip #8: Why every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

 Tip #9:What to do when your story is boring, even to you.

Tip #10: Better late than never. Here's why.

Tip #11: Choose the right writing voice. If your voice is wrong, change it.

Tip #12: Stuck? Change your writing pattern.

Tip #13: Make your readers love your hero.

 Tip #14: Is writing a craft, or an art?

Tip #15: 3 ways in which you sabotage your creative writing process.

Tip #16: How to get out of "paragraph paralysis."

17. The emotional depth of your characters is important.

18. Writing a novel is a marathon, so pace yourself.

19.Scene needs a rewrite? Try changing the point of view.

20. Write the way George Clooney acts: with confidence.

21. Every word counts. Here's why.

22. If your dialogue doesn't match the character, fix it! Now!

23. Make sure your novel isn't half-baked.

24. It's not what you mean, but how you phrase it.

25. Yes, you need an agent. Here's why.


Good luck with your own manuscript. I look forward to buying your book, too!



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My NaNoWriMo Tip #15 is on authors sabotage their writing, and their careers.

It's NaNoWriMo Month

(National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated…)

For those of you who have begun writing your first book, every day I'll repost my fave creative writing tips here, just for you. 

Here's Tip #15, for Thursday, the 15th…

The previous day's post can be accessed on this page, too.

Here's to your success as an author,

— Josie Brown

Don’t forget to enter my HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN’S GUIDE TO GRACIOUS KILLING contest, for a chance to win a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice!





My NaNoWriMo Tip #13: It’s called Hero Love

It's NaNoWriMo Month!

(National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated…)

For those of you who have begun writing your first book, every day I'll repost my fave creative writing tips here, just for you.

Here's Tip #13, for Tuesday, the 13th…

The previous day's post can be accessed on this page, too.

Here's to your success as an author,

My NaNoWriMo Tip #12 is on getting out of a writing rut…

Nano 12a

It's NaNoWriMo Month!

(National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated…)

For those of you who have begun writing your first book, every day I'll repost my fave creative writing tips here, just for you. 

Here's Tip #12, for Monday, the 12th…

The previous day's post can be accessed on this page, too.

Here's to your success as an author,

— Josie Brown

Don’t forget to enter my HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN’S GUIDE TO GRACIOUS KILLING contest, for a chance to win a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice!








NaNoWriMo Tip #30: The best advice I can give you is this: “Last author standing.”


Forget the Rolling Stones. I always wanted to be a Rockbottom Remainder.

You know: that grunge band made up of bestselling authors, like  Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Scott Turow, Roy Blount, Jr., Greg Iles, James McBride, Ridley Pearson and Kathi Kamen Goldmark.

I've had one impediment, and it ain't my singing:

It's that niggling issue of actually making the New York Times Bestseller list.

And doing it again. And again, and again.

But I won't stop trying.

My mantra: Last author standing.

With it, I've beaten the odds and actually gotten published.

In fact, in regard to my publishing record, I've been blessed. Ten years ago I reached a very big dream: I had not one, but two books published by New York publishing houses. And as of December 9th of this year I will have had twenty novels and four non-fiction books published: five of them, traditionally by New York  houses — Simon & Schuster, Pearson/Alpha, St. Martin's Press, and HarperCollins — whereas the rest self-pub'd, including my best-selling Housewife Assassin series, and my best-selling Totlandia series.

I am living my dream: making a comfortable living as a writer, and living in the city that is my heart and soul: San Francisco.

But it hasn't all been a bed of roses.

I've had my fair share of agent changes and editor rejections. Some occurred while one family member fought cancer and survived, and another did not. 

Like so other authors in the past couple of years, I had a book contract dropped when it was obvious that Borders wasn't going to make it–and ironically, Borders sold a good chunk of my books. 

But I'm surviving. 

In fact, I can say I'm thriving in this business. My readers found me, love me, and anticipate my next novel. 

Because I hung in there.

I believed in my mantra: Last author standing.

My literary agent paid me the biggest compliment regarding this vow by saying, “I quote you on it, to my other authors.”

I thanked her. I hope they thank her too. She believes what I do:

If you're going to accomplish your dream, you have to stay in the game

To survive in a business that is ever-changing, this has to be your mantra too.

With what you've accomplished in NaNoWriMo, you've proven you can write.

Now, time to sell it. To an agent who will love it, and cheer-lead it to editors.

To let readers find you and love you.

Or to self-publish it.

No matter which path you take, give it your all–and never stop promoting your book. Never give up on the dream that you can be make your fiction a financial and personal success. 

I hope these tips have helped you. I wrote them because I believe in you.

Because you deserve success, too. 

Now, finish the job.

Make your dream a reality.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All Rights Reserved

The photo above: The Rockbottom Remainders





Question of the day: Do you have a mantra, that keeps you writing, despite the odds?

Happy post-National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie


NaNoWriMo Tip #26: Yes, you can get an agent. Here’s how.

When should you start looking for an agent? That answer is simple:

As soon as your novel is ready for the world to see; at least, the world of agents and editors.

Fair warning: the process won’t be easy. If you’re lucky, it will take weeks. But it also may take many long months.

Don't get discouraged! Here’s what you can do to speed this process along:

Research agents who buy what you sell.

Your agent will be your manuscript's biggest cheerleader. But remember this: agents work on commission. That said, they don’t just want to feel comfortable talking up your novel; they want to feel a true sense of excitement about it.

Finding agents who sell what you write (say, mystery; or up-market contemporary female literature; or commercial lit; or romance; or thrillers, or cozies or whatever) will bring you both closer to the essential goal: a successful client/agent relationship.

And yes, you should start researching agents even prior to when your manuscript is ready to go.

Two wonderful online entities to do so are and Although the latter charges a monthly fee, it’s worth the subscription because the site is enhanced with listings of manuscript sales that are made, listing the authors, agents and acquiring editors.

Your final hit list should have at least fifteen – if not twenty – agents on it, all from different literary agencies. More on this later…

Send out a kick-butt query letter.

The query letter is the publishing industry's version of online dating: putting you in front of those agents you believe match up with you. As in dating, there are certain factors that make you desirable. For example:

As previously discussed, you're a good fit with a particular agent because you write what they sell.

(a)   Sell them on your story with a quick “hook.” You should be able to do this in one line, or at the most two, that sums up the story’s key premise.

For example: “In my international thriller entitled The Sleeper, the wife of a professor learns that her husband is in fact a terrorist whose mission is to kill the president of the United States while he visits the campus, and has planted evidence against a campus activist who is her former lover.”

(b)   Include any pertinent information which demonstrates that you know your subject matter. In regard to the sample hook above, I might say: “As a journalist who has covered international stories, my national security sources have lent my novel the sort of true-to-life details that make it stranger than fiction…”

(c)    Follow the directions of the agent as to what s/he wants included with the query letter, be that the first three chapters, or 50 – 100 pages, or the whole manuscript, or to wait to hear back from them as to whether they want to see anything at all.

The query letter itself should be no more than one page.

Make sure that query letter goes to your first five must-have agents.

Most agents know that you’ve submitted to other agents as well.

Yes, there are a few who require that they are the only ones who see your work at any given time. That is for their convenience, not yours. Remember: you are a brand with a product in hand (and, hopefully, more to come). You should not have to sit on the shelf while this one agent takes a month (or two, or three) to decide s/he wants to work with you.

You’ve done your homework as to the quality of agents you’d be willing to work with. At this point focus on quantity: making sure you put your work in as many hands as possible, so that you get more than one agent interested in representing you.

Four weeks later, make sure it goes out to your next five must-have agents.

At the same time your query letter hit the agent’s desk, so did several manuscripts from his/her clients. Guess which ones takes precedent?

You got it: their current clients—because  these clients are proven commodities to that agent. Either s/he has sold their previous novels, or they already have an editor waiting to see their latest manuscript. And since the agent’s job is to read it, too, time is of the essence.

Sorry, that’s just the way it is. And if that agent becomes yours as well, you’ll want that same priority.

In the meantime, start filling your dance card. Better to have two – or three, or more – agents to choose from than just one.

Eight weeks after you sent out the first agent letters, send it to another five must-have agents.

By now you will have gotten a few rejections. Don’t take it personally. Remember: publishing is a business. Agents are looking for manuscripts which fit their comfort zones: those they feel they can sell to the editors they know, and what they know these editors are seeking.

The worst thing that can happen is for an agent to take you on – and then do nothing to sell you. If they don’t truly believe in your manuscript, it won’t leave their desk. The time wasted is yours—all the more reason you need to broaden your agent search.

Before it goes to any agent, make sure your manuscript is as great as it can possibly be.

While there are exceptions (for example, an encouraging letter that asks to see other manuscripts you’ve written) for the most part you’ll only have one shot to woo any particular agent. More than your query letter, they are judging you on your manuscript.

Remember, don’t take it personally! They reject the majority of submissions, choosing only those writers whose manuscripts they feel they have a chance to sell now, or that this author is one whom they want to work with, over the long run.

All the more reason to heed my previous tips, which have emphasized the need to  join a critique group, so that you have others with whom to work through any plot holes. I’ve also mentioned the importance of doing several reads of your manuscript, to gauge it for flow, to catch typos, and to work through any plot holes you may have missed, and to smooth out any stilted dialogue.

A clean manuscript often leads to more agents interested in representing you. The more agents who are interested, the more choices you have to choose the right agent to sell your manuscript–

Which is the ultimate end game.

Picture: Back in the day, this was what an agent's desk or credenza looked like. Now most of them read the manuscripts as Word Doc files, on an eReader. It's the way we live now….




I've got a question for you: Have you already tried to get an agent? How did that go?

Let your fingers do the talking during  National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NanoWriMo Tip #23: Don’t send out a half-baked novel manuscript


Around Thanksgiving, pies are my thing. Besides pumpkin, I've been known to make a mean pecan pie, too.

Unless I feel the grocery store is gouging their customers on pecans. Then I choose walnuts. (See my recipe, below…)

And because the pie is soused with so much Amaretto and lined with so much dark chocolate, it doesn't really matter to my family what kind of nut they're eating, because they're enjoying the hell out of every bite.

Unless the crust is under-baked.

Sadly, that can ruin everything.

To ensure the crust at the bottom bakes fully but that I don't burn it around the edge, I will bake my crust first, for about ten minutes, prepped with tinfoil on the bottom and along the sides of the inner shell, which if then filled with dry beans or dry rice to hold it down and reduce heat exposure.

Saves my arse every time.

Now that you're in the last few days of National Novel Writing Month and are feeling great about your word count, I want to give you a gentle reminder that this is just the first draft of your book.

In other words, it's only half-baked.

Before you get literary agents and editors to bite, make sure you've done the following to ensure it's as tasty to them as possible:

1. Re-read your manuscript.
Specifically, for holes in your plot. Trust me, there are some. Perhaps a story thread that isn't knotted to anything else, and therefore isn't necessary. Or for scenes that go nowhere: that have no spice. If it bores you, it will bore those critical first readers too. Or for any little niggling thing that bothers you about your story, whether that be a character's name, or a location that hasn't been fully visualized for the reader, or for a paragraph that seems to slow the plot down.

Re-reading encourages editing.

Editing tightens your plot.

A tight plot makes for a great story.

2. Now, re-read it again.
This time, for character flawsThis does not mean that your characters should be perfect people. BOOORRRRRING. It means that your writing has to make them come alive on the page.

You won't be doing this by telling us about them, but showing them in situations that make us love them, hate them, be annoyed by them, root for them….

In other words, we've got to care about them.

3.  Once again now: read it. I'm begging you, please.
You're doing this in order to catch typos you've missed during the first and second reads. (They are there, just waiting to be found!)

You're doing this because tight (plot, characters, dialogue, story flow) makes right. 

And you're doing this in order to fall in love with your manuscript all over again. Because when you're high on it, you'll write a fantastic query letter for it, too.

Between that letter and your fully-baked manuscript, you'll have agents beating down your door.




Question of the day: How many times do you re-read your manuscript before sending it out into the world?  And honestly, do you feel it's enough?

Happy Thanksgiving — and happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie



  • 1/2 stick of butter or margarine
  • 1 BAR of at least 70% dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 Amaretto (Bailey's or Carolans works, too)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust (my favorite is Trader Joe's roll-out crust, found in the refrigerated foods area)
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Prick bottom and sides of pie crust with fork. Press heavy-duty aluminum foil onto bottom and around side of pie crust; fill with uncooked rice or beans. Bake 10 minutes; remove foil and rice. Bake additional 7 minutes or until pale golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
  3. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Stir together chocolate, walnuts and flour in medium bowl; set aside.
  4. Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in corn syrup, vanilla and salt, beating just until blended. (Mixture may look curdled.) Stir in walnut mixture.
  5. Pour mixture into baked pie crust.
  6. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until outer edges of pie are set and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just melted chocolate. Center will still be jiggly. Cool completely on wire rack. Cover; store up to 2 days at room temperature or if storing longer, refrigerate. 8 servings.

NaNoWriMo Tip #12: Choose the right time to write.


A wonderful thing about National Novel Writing Month is that it gets participating writers into the mindset of writing under deadline. This may come easier to those of us experienced in doing so (like journalists, or advertising copywriters), but it's still a challenge for anyone who is working on a creative project — like a novel — for the very first time.

During the thirty days of NaNoWriMo, there will be many of those days in which you'll be on your game. Metaphorically speaking, that “game” is similar to the one we played as kids called Chutes and Ladders. Some moves put you far ahead, whereas others put you back to Square One.

I'm presuming you've already had more than a few days in which you've been knocked off your pace. Perhaps real life got in the way. Or maybe your muse took the day off (that is probably what keeps her mossy; and maybe you should follow her lead…after NaNoWriMo, of course).

A lot of your success as a novelist will depend on the habits you develop to nurture your creative writing. A very important consideration is what time of day you write, and why you've chosen it.

If you're one of the lucky people in this day and age who actually holds down a full-time job, obviously those eight hours are out the window. If you're too tired to write after you come home, then maybe the best time to write those 1500 words is prior to leaving for work. (Hey, it worked for John Grisham. Make him your role model).

Granted, if you have to get your kids ready for school in the morning, there goes that writing opportunity, too.

Which leaves your lunch hour. Can you throw 1500 words onto a page in 60 minutes?

If you're focused, yes you can.

If you're driven, yes you can.

If you are well-hydrated well-fed, and away from distractions, yes you can.

Many writers will work in groups. Seeing your pals clicking away may be the best motivator. You don't want to be the only one staring off into space. That said, seek out a local NaNoWriMo daily/weekly writing group. It may light a fire under you like nothing else can.

I've always been in awe of my writer friends who can write anywhere, like a favorite coffee shop, or their local bookstore. It's what works for them: to be out of their home and writing, even if they don't have an out-of-house office.

Okay, here's my little secret: some of my best writing takes place on airplanes. It's psychological: back before WiFi invaded airplanes, I was actually relieved that I couldn't be distracted by email or surf the web.

Today I'm cheap enough that I refuse to pay the $5 fee to get connected.

At least, that's what I tell myself.

The truth is, I love those cross-country flights because it's five hours of uninterrupted writing time (especially now that I've purchased a tiny Netbook, so that when the guy in the row in front of me reclines his seat, I don't end up with my keyboard sitting on my chest.)

If I were under deadline for a book, it might behoove me to buy an unlimited ticket, so I can stay up in the air. Yeah, right. Financially, that's out of the question. So I do the next best thing: I've noted that my best writing has been done after a full day's work (yes, of writing). I seem to get a second wind sometime after 11pm. It's quieter. No hubby pawing at me. No kids whining at me. No dog asking my thoughts about an evening stroll.

It's MY time.

And my books are worth my taking the time.

So are yours, so figure out WHEN you can write optimally, and go for it.

Because yes you can.




I've got a question for you: What writing habits work best for you? Which haven't worked?

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #10: When it comes to putting words on a page, better late than never.


I've been very proud of myself for launching my National Novel Writing Month tips by noon Pacific Time.

Well, until yesterday.

Unfortunately, I launch later than anticipate.  I just couldn't help myself,  it had been a helluva day. I've been focusing on a project with a tight deadline, and time just got away from me–

Isn't that a good enough excuse for you? Please? PRETTY PLEASE?

No matter. The one I let down the most was myself. I'd made this commitment: one tip a day, 30 days.

Having broken the commitment, should I just give up?

Hell, no!

I need to get back on the horse–or in this case, back on my timetable.

Please  take my lesson to heart. Don't beat yourself up if you don't make your daily word count.



No matter how tired you are.

No matter how late it is.

Even a simple paragraph shows that you're making the effort.

And who knows? That one paragraph may lead to a full page. Then another. And another.

And before you know it, you're about a quarter into your word count. Or more.

You can make the rest up the next day.

Yes. You. Can.


Yesterday's NaNoWriMo Tip is here…


I‘ve got a question for you, and be honest: Have you missed your daily word count? Or have you skipped a day altogether? Give me your best “the dog ate my homework” story…


— Josie


NaNoWriMo Tip #9: What to do when your story is boring.

Portrait of young businesswoman sleeping on computer at office
You're procrastinating.

You'd rather be flossing your teeth than making your word quota.

This isnot a good sign.

It means that your story is so boring that even you can't bear to be around it.

If you wake up to find that you've been drooling on your monitor, it's time to put on the brakes.

Yep, you heard me: I want you to start over.

Don't panic. I'm not talking about a complete re-write (hopefully). I'm just asking you to take the time to assess where you think your story went off track. It's better to do so now, only nine days into National Novel Writing Month, than on, say, Day 14 or 22 or 30, when rewrites will be even more extensive.

Besides the fact that my snores are louder than the tapping on my keyboard, here's how I know when it's time for a course correction:

Problem #1: I don't like my lead character.
Solution: Make him/her more lovable.
You can do this by adding a few scenes that show his/her softer side, demonstrates their insights. Or add a backstory scene. If you don't like your character, neither will your readers.

Problem #2: The plot is going nowhere.
Solution: Go back to your outline, and figure out what is missing.
The need for an outline allows you to build in the conflict where needed. Your story should be a page-turner: one that keeps your potential agent, and editor (and, eventually, readers) at the edge of their seats. Every chapter needs to keep us informed and engaged. Do the math: if a book is around 300 pages, and every chapter were, say, ten pages each, that means 30 chapters: each one building to a great climax.

If  your response to this is “But I don't have an outline,” consider this a tongue lashing. NO WONDER YOU'RE STUCK! Now, go back and read my Tip #2… 

Problem #3: I'm stuck on a plot technicality.
Solution: Do some research, then fix that plot point or dialogue that makes you sound like a phoney, even to yourself. 
It happens to the best of us. Not all of us are a doctor (or a lawyer or an indian shaman) but we're going to play one on the page, we better sound and act the role.

And, FYI: No, I am NOT backtracking off my advice in Tip #7 (Fixing your story in post-editing). I'm just trying to save you a whole lotta heartache.

Believe me, you can still make your daily word count. This fix is your above-and-beyond.  Extra homework, if you may.



(c) 2011 Josie Brown




I've got a question for you, and be honest: Are you stuck? If so, what do you think is your problem? 

Your story is exciting–so just WRITE IT,

— Josie


NaNoWriMo Tip #8: Why every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.


I make it a point to peruse readers' reviews: not just of my own novels, but those of best selling authors as well.

Doing so allows me to process what it is that readers look for, when plucking down precious dollars on what they hope is a satisfying read.

Ironically, most complaints stem from something that goes awry in the structure of the plot: say, a great beginning and end, but a sagging middle.

Or maybe it's the end that fizzles out.

The worst thing that can happen is when the book doesn't grab the reader from the start. Book reviewers may slog through in the hope that there is light (or a plot) at the end of the tunnel, but the average reader will toss it aside if there is no there, there.

You can't just presume that your wonderful characters are going to carry the book to the end. You have to give them SOMETHING TO DO. You have to give them real conflict and hard choices.

It's even better if those choices are wrong. This allows them to redeem themselves later in the book.

When I moved to California from Georgia, I thought it was cute that so many of the folks I met out here were seeking a “higher consciousness.” Usually that meant following some guru who handed out mantras like M&Ms, to be chanted for hours on end.

If his accent made it hard for the acolytes to get it right, they'd write down what they thought they'd heard, then compare notes–

Only to discover that while Fred was chanting “Aw wah no dah cal ah”, Barney had been mumbling “Aw no dah wah cal ah”….

Go figure.

If you don't understand the goal, no amount of gibberish is going to get you where you want to be.

I'm going to make it simple for you. Throughout this 30-day process, repeat this mantra:

Beginning, middle, end. Beginning middle, end. Beginning, middle, end…

To get there:

Your beginning must make your reader feel for your hero/heroine.

Your middle must be filled with twists, turns and dilemmas; it must ratchet up the action on every page.

Your ending can't be a cliffhanger. It must satisfy your readers' need to know that the journey meant something….

Even if they don't want it to end.

Because if they want to stick around for more, they will read your next book, too.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.





I've got a question for you, and be honest: does your story have a soggy middle? If so, what will you do to fix it?

Mantra this during National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #5: Show, don’t tell.


Because your goal each day of National Novel Writing Month is a word count, it's very easy to fall into a common trap: writing long passages of narration or exposition.

In other words, telling your readers, either via a narrator or the omnipotent third person, what is happening to your characters.

Do yourself a favor and FIGHT this temptation.

Why? Because what you're doing is “telling,” not “showing,” your readers.

Instead, craft your scenes with dialogue. It is much more interesting to your readers to have your characters talk to each other.

No doubt, narration or exposition is also important: for adding atmosphere, for setting up your scenes, for describing where the scenes take place, or how the characters look or feel.

And it utilizes takes more words than dialogue.

But if your characters don't verbalize their thoughts to each other, they aren't interacting normally.

For the majority of us, telepathy isn't an option: all the more reason your characters need to open their mouths to express their feelings.

If you're having a hard time moving from tell to show, pretend you're writing a play. What dialogue would you add to each scene?

Snappy dialogue. Snarky asides. Anger. Heartfelt revelations. All of these expressed emotions make scenes come alive, and make your readers laugh with — or more importantly, fall in love with — your characters.

This NaNoWriMo first draft may not be on par with Arthur Miller or Edward Albee or William Shakespeare, but it will go a long way to being completed if it engages readers.

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Certainly not you!