Creating a Path for Your Characters: How to Start Writing Your Book

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When I work with clients and we’ve gone through the process of getting to know their people (characters) then exploring their people’s histories and settings, we begin to create a path for them to make their way through the writing of the book. This process differs depending on whether you’re writing fiction, memoir, or non-fiction.

For fiction and memoir, I recommend writing two important scenes first: the opening scene of the book and the inciting incident. Some writers consider these scenes one in the same. Others do not. I’m of the latter belief.

  • The opening scene, obviously, is the first scene of the book. It establishes setting and begins the important steps to character development and, oftentimes, not just the protagonist. This scene sets the tone for the entire book and gives a glimpse at who we’re meeting, the world they live in, why we ought to cheer for them, and what they might be seeking to change—or at least what their struggle might be.
  • The inciting incident is the scene that causes the character’s world to spin off its axis and forces her to embark on a journey from which she will return a changed person. Where this scene lands can vary, but as a way of creating mileposts in the writing, I envision this scene near the end of Chapter 2 or 3—or about 45 pages in. (Notice where the inciting incident occurs in movies: about 20 minutes in, give or take a few.) My thinking is this: Having an opening scene and an inciting incident gives us room to fill in what the reader will need to know so she can be fully on board to embark on the journey with us. If we need to shorten the time or space in between, we can always do that.

For non-fiction of the how-to self-help type, you want to understand your Ideal Reader’s Big Question and their Why. This is much like the fiction/memoir protagonist’s big desire. You want to understand what your reader wants and why so you can best present your method, process, or program in a way that speaks to her heart and makes her want to buy your book.

  • I recommend beginning with questions. It is through questions that we can come to a deeper understanding of what our Ideal Reader most wants and needs. Can I lose weight and still enjoy food I love? Can I create more order in my life? Am I an empath? Can I rebuild my life after my divorce? How can our family best deal with my father’s dementia? How can I help my introverted child thrive in life? Why do I continue to have unhealthy relationships?
  • Next, comes understand how you can help and why you want to help. As the creator of your method, process, or program, you likely already know how you can help clients, customers, and future readers, and after understanding your Ideal Reader’s question and their Why, you will be able to more precisely describe this to her. Also, sharing why you want to help will create a connection with her, which will build trust, which will make her want to buy your book and your services.

No matter the genre of your book, creating a path for your people is essential in gaining clarity for yourself, as the writer.

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Give these tips a try and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear how it went for you.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!



Getting to Know Your People’s Histories: Using Backstory to Inform Character Development

In my last post, I wrote about the importance—necessity, even—of knowing your people… that is, your characters (for fiction and memoir) and your Ideal Reader, and yourself, (for non-fiction how-to self-help books).


After we delve into who our characters and Ideal Readers are, we can get to know them even more deeply through their backstories—or histories. These histories are what shaped their beliefs and identities. (This is true also for those wanting to write the self-help or how-to non-fiction book and will apply to you, personally, as well because your personal story—the life events that brought you to write your book in the first place—will likely be woven throughout your book.) Through these beliefs and identities shaped from our characters’ backstories come their desires.

When we understand, on a deep level, our people’s heart-felt desires, we can develop compassion for those desires, and embrace the motivations behind them and the behaviors that prevent our people from attaining them. This will not only inform our story trajectories in fiction, it will also inform a deeper understanding of ourselves in memoir and the true pain points of our clients and potential customers and readers in non-fiction books.

Another facet of a character’s backstory we want to think about is setting. Setting is both temporal and spatial.

Temporal Setting

The temporal setting of a book or story is the era in which it takes place. The temporal setting of your characters’ backstories is important because it will inform much about your characters’ beliefs, social mores, and behaviors. Think about a teenage girl born in the 1950s and one born in the 2000s. They will be two very different people simply because of the time in which they were born. Now, place one of those girls in the U.S. and one in the UK or Africa or Asia during each of those times periods. You’ll have five distinctly different people.

When we can get clear on the temporal setting of our characters’ backstories, we can start to think more deeply about the WHYs behind their desires, motivations, and behaviors, and we can not only have a deeper understanding of them as people, but we can also represent them with more integrity and compassion on the page.

Spatial Setting

Spatial setting includes spaces and locations that figured into the shaping of the character’s identity because spaces shape who we are. Think about your own significant spaces and locations: your childhood home, your bedroom, your family’s kitchen, your school, your backyard, your school bus, your family’s car(s)… Now, think about how those spaces shaped your identity, what you care about, what you want, and what you don’t want. The same is true of our characters.

A young man raised on a farm will come to his college experience with a far different set of beliefs and desires than one raised in Manhattan. Think about how each of these characters might show up to an accounting class or a writing class and what their expectations, intentions, and fears might be. When we put together our characters’ pasts with their present-day fears, we’re writing from a place that will generate stories of universal appeal because we can get to the emotional experience of life. And no matter where we were raised or when, we all experience emotions the same. This is the bridge between us and our readers.

Characters’ backstories may not show up in the stories we write about them, but knowing and understanding them will inform us and influence the stories we write about them.


Write 2-3 pages for one of your characters, your Ideal Reader, or yourself giving deep thought to their backstories and settings, and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about what you discover.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!



Getting to Know Your People: A 7-Step Process to Character Development

In past posts, we’ve looked at how important planning, scheduling, mindset, and commitment, as well as, workspace and ritual are to creating and maintaining a consistent and productive writing practice, one that will allow for the completion of projects of any length, but especially books.

After we’ve established this firm foundation for ourselves, we can start to move our attention to the creation of the book itself. And as I always tell my clients and those who attend my workshops, the first step toward writing a book is to get to know your people.

People drive the creation of your book, and they deepen your own understanding of your writing project. So, who do I mean when I say “people?” I mean characters. I use the terms “people” and “characters” interchangeably, whether you’re writing fiction, memoir, or a non-fiction how-to self-help type book.


For fiction, obviously, the people are your characters—your protagonist and the antagonists and supporting characters that appear in the story to create the conflict essential for the unfolding of the story and who provide support and guidance to help your heroine to her ultimate desire.


The same is true for memoir with you as the protagonist and the people in your story—your real-life antagonists and supporting characters—who also create conflict and provide support and guidance.


In the case of the non-fiction how-to self-help book, the people/characters are, first, your Ideal Reader and second, you, the author
. The Ideal Reader persona drives the bulk of the decisions you will make about your book’s content and structure—more so than with fiction and memoir, in my opinion. Oftentimes, with this type of book, the author’s own story is woven in, so another important character to consider in this case is you, the author.


I recommend a seven-step process to help my clients begin to think more deeply about their people—their characters. In this seven-step process, you complete a series of “I” statements about each relevant character—write as much as you can, as least a page or two. The steps are as follows:

I AM _____________________________________________________.

I FEEL ____________________________________________________.

I ACT/I DO ________________________________________________.

I LOVE ____________________________________________________.

I SPEAK/I SAY ______________________________________________.

I SEE _____________________________________________________.

I KNOW ___________________________________________________.

When we apply these steps to understanding the people our books are about and for, we’re taking an important step toward making the vision of our book a reality.

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Give this process a try and leave a comment below about what you learned about your protagonist, your Ideal Reader, or yourself.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!


Want a more in-depth look at the process I take my clients through? Check out the Conjuring Clarity course right here.

Space and Ritual: How to Establish and Maintain a Consistent and Productive Writing Practice

In my last two posts, I wrote about how essential it is to plan, schedule, adopt the right mindset, and commit if we’re going to have a consistent and productive writing practice. While all these steps are necessary, if we aren’t deliberate about our environment—the space in which we get down to the work of putting words on the page—all that preparation may fall flat.

This isn’t to say we can’t write if our environment isn’t perfect. I’ve definitely written under less-than-optimal circumstances at times in my life, and many of us can pull that off and write in a crunch when we need to. The reality, though, is that we can’t count on being able to plop down wherever, whenever, and always expect the words to flow. Writing is hard enough as it is, so why not do what we can to create a space that provides us with surroundings that encourage flow rather than create obstacles and blocks?

For many reasons, many of us aren’t in our ideal writing spaces (I know I’m not), but there are ways we can make our current space and situation work to our advantage.

Here’s my dream: a small and stylish mid-century modern home in the mountains, probably on a lake, with his and hers studios and the sound of moving water just outside.

Here’s my reality: a small, modern studio apartment in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Here’s how I make it work: The cubby that’s supposed to be the dining area of my apartment is my work space (pictured above). I’m surrounded by books and everything I need to get words on the page. I also have a small fountain I run most of the day to provide the sound of water I need to feel content and in flow (and to create white noise to somewhat drown out the sounds of garbage trucks and construction outside). I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of downtown that provides me with a beautiful courtyard full of well-kept trees and plants all year long, so I can take a break and look out my window anytime.

I’ve also taken note of what Feng shui experts say about achieving flow in our work spaces. I’ve positioned my desk so I face out into my apartment while I work rather than face a wall. The effects of placing a desk against a wall can literally cause us to “be up against a wall” with our creativity. Feng shui experts also claim that the ancient part of our brain that’s still on alert to being chased by big animals that want to eat us will cause us to be constantly—even if subconsciously—distracted by what might be lurking behind us. Having a wall behind us creates a feeling of safety. And if we don’t feel safe, how can creativity happen? (A hack to this if you absolutely need to face a wall is to put a mirror on your desk so you can see behind you.)

If you want to create a new writing practice or if the one you have could use some freshening up, here are three steps you can take to bring newfound life to your writing space and practice.

  • The first step is to designate a physical space for writing. It might be a room in your house, it might be your kitchen table or countertop, it might be your living room coffee table, or it might be some other space you consciously deem as the area where your writing magic happens. This space, when used at the times you’ve scheduled as your writing time is yours and yours alone. Use it when no one else is home (if you live with other people), or if you’re fortunate to have a room of your own, be clear about and enforce boundaries.I’ve had a wide variety of writing spaces throughout my life, many of which have been dictated by money, where I lived, and the people I lived with. (More about this in my next post…)
  • The next step is to fill your space with items and objects that make you feel grounded and centered so you can comfortably settle into your body and allow the flow to happen (because our creativity flows through our bodies). This might be books, notebooks, your favorite writing utensils, plants, your favorite drink, snacks… whatever it takes to make you feel comfortable and ready to put all else on hold while you write. If you’re in a living situation that requires you to use a common space (like the kitchen table), find a few items you can place on the table and easily remove each time you start and end a writing/work session.I need plenty of light when I write, so in addition to the overhead light in my writing space, I have a small directional light. I always have drink with me when I write, too. Sometimes it’s coffee, sometimes it’s tea, sometimes it’s sparkling water… depending on the time of day, the weather, and my mood. I’m surrounded by books and sufficient flat surfaces so I can spread out when I need to, and all my notebooks, legal pads, and writing utensils are within easy reach.
  • The last (and maybe most important) step is to create a ritual around your writing. This can be elaborate, or it can be simple. Over time, the ritual will signal your brain that it’s time to settle in and get to work, and the more often you do it, the less time it will ultimately take to get your head in writer mode.My ritual looks like this: First, I turn on the overhead light and the small directional light to my left. Next, I plug in my laptop and phone so they won’t run out of juice while I’m working, and I turn my phone upside down on a shelf next to me so I won’t be distracted by texts that might pop up. (I always have the sound off, too, even when I’m not writing.) Then, I place my cup of coffee (or whatever I’m drinking) on the same cork coaster in the same location every time, and I turn on the water fountain on the low bookcase to my right. Lastly, I consult my list of writing projects—what I want to accomplish for the day—which I created the evening before. And I get to work.

    We’re creatures of habit, so if you’re struggling to establish a consistent and productive writing practice, trust that if you create the space (both spatial and temporal) and the ritual around your writing, you stand a far better chance of your creativity flowing.

    What do your writing space and practice look like?

    Please share a photo (if you’re comfortable doing that) and comment below.
    I’d love to know.

    Sending you mad writing mojo…

    Happy writing,


Attitude and Commitment: Your writing deserves your respect

In my last blog post, I wrote about how essential it is to plan and schedule if we’re going to get serious about creating a writing life. We can’t lean on inspiration. It isn’t realistic, and inspiration is a myth. Sure, we might find inspiration while living our lives, but if we’re serious about getting words on the page, we MUST create a practice and not wait to be moved by some outside magical force. Beyond planning and scheduling, there are two items we need to tend to before we can successfully move forward with and honor our impulse to write: mindset and commitment.

We hear these words a lot these days. In fact, we hear them so often, I wonder if their potency – of their power to change our lives – including our writing lives – gets lost. It’s one thing to acknowledge the concepts of mindset and commitment, but it’s a whole other thing to implement them in a meaningful way.

Think of all the things you’ve mastered in your life because you devoted the time it took to learn: riding a bike, driving, brushing your teeth… Or walking, talking, and feeding yourself. Wait a minute, you might be thinking. Those are ridiculous comparisons. I don’t think so…

Sure, we need some of those skills for survival, or at the very least, to get through our day in a modern world. But I believe we also need writing, creativity, and self-expression to get through the day, and for survival. As I said in my last post, that impulse to create is our life force wanting to move up and out of us – to be expressed and expanded. To stifle that life force harms us.

Can you imagine where you might be with your writing practice if you approached it with the same attitude and mindset you did all the things you’ve mastered in life, all the things you treat as “necessary?”

Please don’t buy into the notion that only certain people can write, only certain people have meaningful stories to tell, only certain people sit down and it just happens. Reject the idea that you can’t do it, that you don’t have time, that there are already enough stories and books in the world. (There will never be enough stories and books in the world!)

Instead, embrace your unique, never-before-lived life, your right to be in this world, your right to have a voice. Wrap your brilliant brain around the fact that your story, your book, will make a difference in other people’s lives.

And when you’ve finally let go of the self-doubt, the internal voices, the misguided, inaccurate, and faulty beliefs that have kept you silent, commit.

Commit to your writing they way you’ve committed to the people in your life you love the most. Commit to your writing the way you’ve committed to overcoming the most difficult time in your life. Commit to your writing like it’s your life line to a meaningful life. Commit to your writing as if your life depends on it.

It does.

Of course, you can remain physically alive if you don’t write. Of course, if you don’t acknowledge and honor your impulse to share your meaningful stories and brilliant ideas you’ll get through your days and complete the tasks that need completing. But your spirit and your voice will know. Your spirit and your voice will dim. They will hold back and slip into a modicum of existence. They will quiet. And that will be tragic.

What will it take for you to honor your urge to write?

Need some help clearing the clutter and forging a path to make it happen? If so, go get my COMPLIMENTARY Conjuring Clarity course and get busy shapeshifting your way to a regular writing practice.

And let me know how it goes…

As always, I’m sending you mad writing mojo… Happy writing.