Outlines and Novel Organization

Some people will cringe when they hear the word ‘outline’ in reference to working on a story or novel, while others may perk up in interest. Getting organized with your writing is much like getting organized in your life. Outlines can add structure, balance, and confidence to your project, and you don’t have to sacrifice creativity or organic discovery.

There are dozens of types of outlines for novels out there, and each project can benefit from a different type of outline. In this post, I’ll go over a few of the outline methods that I have used or worked with in the past. Perhaps one of these might be right for you!

Plotters and Pantsers

It’s not uncommon to hear writers talk about how they’re either a Plotter or a Pantser. There are even entire discussions held about this topic, and the eternal argument over which one is superior when it comes to writing. The answer, of course, is that neither one is better than the other – it all comes down to how you personally like to write. For instance, I pride myself on being a Plotter because I enjoy meticulous planning, research, and organization before I even start writing my first draft.

But being a Plotter or a Pantser isn’t a hard and fast rule. In reality, think of this more like a spectrum. As I go over the various types of outlines, I’ll point out about where they might sit on this spectrum.

You don’t have to be a hardcore Plotter or Pantser. You can fit anywhere that you work best.

What is a Plotter?

Put simply, a Plotter is just what the name suggests. These tend to be people who spend a lot of time organizing, planning, outlining, adjusting, and tinkering with their story.

Pro’s: Plotters tend to be more confident with their story, and don’t spend a lot of time wondering ‘What’s next?’ in their story because they usually already have that part figured out.

Con’s: It’s not uncommon for Plotters to get hung-up on details. They can fall prey to worldbuilder’s disease, or can eternally tinker with their plot and outline, and their work suffers for it.

There is a point where a Plotter can reach a state of diminishing returns. This means that the time spent outlining and planning becomes a detriment rather than a help. If you’re struggling with constantly rearranging or tinkering with your plot, you should ask for a fresh set of eyes to help get yourself back on-track.

What is a Pantser?

A Pantser is someone who doesn’t spend much, if any, time with plotting or organizing. These folks usually have a few key scenes in their mind, and let the story drive itself to get to those points.

Pro’s: A Pantser’s story can often feel more ‘organic’ and can be difficult to predict. This is because the writers themselves don’t really know what’s going to happen next.

Con’s: On the opposite side of that, these stories can meander and spend a lot of time going down rabbit-holes and side-plots until the story lacks a sense of plot progression.

Pantsers tend to struggle with ‘where do I go next?’ They’re driving without a map. They know what their destination is, but not necessarily where they are in relation to it. It’s not uncommon for a Pantser to get hung up on a single scene for a while as they try to puzzle out how to get to where they want to be.

Middle Ground (Plantser)

A Plantser is a healthy middle ground. These are people who create an outline to give themselves a sense of direction for how to get to various beats and events in their story. Then, as they write, they let the story have its own sense of self. This can and will alter their outline, but it lets the story have the organic feel of a Pantser, with the structure of a Plotter to keep them from getting lost in the sauce.

Pro’s: This is a great way to give your story a clear sense of progress while letting the characters and setting feel organic.

Con’s: It’s virtually impossible to keep a perfect balance. Most writers will lean more to Plotter or Pantser, so it can be difficult to pull yourself back on-track.

While a Plantser may sound ideal, every writer has their own method and style of writing. Your methods will change over time and depending on the needs of a specific project. Experience is what will help you shine brightest, and these different styles are merely guidelines to help you understand your own processes. 

The Misconception of Outlines

There is a very common misconception in the writing community that outlines and story structure make a story feel formulaic or bland. This is FALSE.

Storytelling is an entirely subjective medium in much the same way that any art is. The most skilled artist can have a style that some people love and others dislike. Don’t let the loud minority tell you how to write your story just because they don’t like the feel.

For instance, Star Wars and Harry Potter are very formulaic stories. However, their writers made them interesting and loved by millions. If you like outlines, use them! They’re a tool to help you, and the more you practice the better you’ll become at integrating outlines in a way that people won’t be able to tell that you’re using them.

Outlines as Tools

Remember that an outline is just a tool. A carpenter doesn’t build a house without a hammer or drill. Nobody accuses the welder of not being creative because they use tongs and a visor. Don’t be ashamed of your tools, and don’t be scared to use them to achieve your goal.

Why Outlines are Needed

Every story needs some form of an outline to work, even if you don’t realize you’re using one.

Most writers start a story with a particular scene idea. This can take place at any point in their story. As a writer starts to consider more scenes, and starts ordering the scenes into a sequence, that’s an outline. It’s very loose, but it’s still an outline.

You, as a writer, have to have some idea of where your destination is, and the landmark points that will get you there.

Common Outlining Methods


This style is good to make a loose, character-driven outline with room to grow as needed.

The Snowflake method is a great way to take a simple idea and start to give it structure. This method is good for new writers with fresh ideas. This is a 10-step process that guides you through establishing your plot and characters, without a lot of focus on peripherals or setting.

To learn more about the Snowflake method of outlining, click here.

Mind Map

The mind map is great for abstract thinkers as it doesn’t have an set method or style.

This is for the hardcore Pantser. A mind map is less of an outline and more of a visual board of the ideas you have. With a mind map you can utilize images, text, and even music to create a board of ideas to help you visualize your story without making it rigid.

Try making a Pinterest board or a playlist on YouTube or Spotify.

Even Plotters can take advantage of mind maps as a way to help set up their aesthetic and get themselves in a good headspace for writing their project.

This can feel reminiscent of how we used to organize essays in school.


On the opposite side of the spectrum, the roadmap is for the hardcore Plotter. This structure breaks down your ideas, organizes every aspect of your story, and has you go step-by-step through the creation of your plot, characters, setting, scenes, locations, drafts, and wordcount. If you like to plan and plot, then this method might be for you.

1. The PremiseEstablish your premise in a 1-3 word sentence. Break this down by stating who the protagonist is, their situation, what’s in their way, and the primary conflict.
2. The Plot OutlineWith your premise in mind, write out your plot in its most basic form. What is the setting, what is the conflict, who is trying to solve the problem and who is getting in their way?
3. Character IntroductionsDraw out your major characters with a broad brush. This means to establish their name, basic story, and physical details.
4. Short SynopsisTake your outline and start pulling out the major plot points. Turn each major plot point into a one-paragraph explanation. This gives you a good overview of how things will play out. Be sure to look out for areas that are slow or meandering, and try to tighten those areas up.
5. Extended SynopsisNow take all of your synopsis and let’s expand this further. Elaborate on details, and start to fill in gaps where you’re not sure how the story will get between two points in the story.
6. Goal to Decision CycleThis step is designed to help you make sure that your audience understands the decisions that your characters are making and why they’re making them. Try breaking decisions down into six parts: Goal > Conflict > Disaster > Reaction > Dilemma, Decision. Your characters decisions don’t have to work, or be good. They just have to be understood by your audience.
7. Character DevelopmentIt’s time to really start fleshing out your major characters. Start to dive deeper into them. Write out their backstory, their personality type, their habits, quirks, hobbies, and anything else that you feel is relevant. The bigger of a role that a character plays, the more detail they should have.
8. Scene BlockingThis is where you start to outline each of your specific scenes. This includes the setting, location, characters, what they’re doing, and important dialogue. Remember to keep this loose, this isn’t a first draft, it’s just blocking out what you think needs to happen in that scene.
9. First DraftNot it’s finally time to start writing your first draft. With your notes and scene blocking, it should come naturally to you. Remember that for the first draft, it’s important to just keep writing. Get the sand into the sandbox. It doesn’t need to be pretty or impressive, and don’t worry if your characters start to go off-script. It happens to the best of us.
10. LocationsEstablish the important locations of your story. Give yourself a mental map and describe the location using your various senses. This can ensure a sense of consistency as you work.
11. Advanced Plotting with SubplotsStart delving into your sub-plots. These can be romances, political intrigue, side-quests, anything that is going to have a smaller, shorter version of a regular plot cycle (problem, action, resolution). Start to weave these into your story if you haven’t already, and let them give your story a new sense of depth and realism.
12. Character ViewpointsWrite out or consider the point of view of every character in a scene. View the scene from their eyes, and let that guide how interactions work in your scenes. This can keep characters from popping in and out of existence on a whim.
13. Redrafting and EditingYour first draft will never be perfect, and that’s fine. Once you’ve finished the first draft, you can begin the redraft. Go over your first draft and assess each storyline, each scene, character, location, and plot. Be honest about things that aren’t working, and see about tweaking them for the second draft. These can be major or minor changes depending on what needs altered.
14. Final Polish and FeedbackOnce you finish up your final draft (whether it’s the second of tenth draft or any number), look to find other writers to read over your story. Other writers can offer feedback that most readers won’t. Another writer is more likely to spot inconsistencies, cliches, and problems in your novel and offer constructive feedback.
15. Getting PublishedOnce you’ve tightened up your novel as much as you reasonably can, it’s time to start looking to publish. Your best bet is to query an agent, or try your hand at self-publishing. Just remember that self-publishing is a long, difficult road in itself and requires a lot of time and effort from you to be successful.

For a more in-depth look at the Roadmap outline method, click here.

The Sanderson Method

The Sanderson method is a healthy middle ground. With this method, you make a list of promises that you want to make in your story. Then you write out the steps that the story needs to take to fulfil those promises. Once you do that, you take all of your bullet points and start to thread them together. These aren’t direct scene plans, this is just telling yourself the logical course of scenes that need to happen. This still gives you flexibility and creativity while maintaining a fairly solid structure.

The Hero’s Journey

Rivaling ‘Save the Cat’ for the most famous/infamous outlines, this is what most people think of when they think of ‘formulaic’ storytelling. The Hero’s Journey, by Joseph Campbell, otherwise known as the Monomyth, is a sequence of story beats that can be applied to almost any story. This can be done intentionally, as in the case of Star Wars, or unintentionally as we see in Harry Potter. Being aware of the Monomyth allows a writer to spot areas of a story that could use polish or cohesion. As an outline, the Monomyth is both a boon and a detriment. I will go over Monomyth in more detail in my post on Scenes and Beats.


This is good for people who like to work with their hands and/or like a very visual medium. This method requires notecards, sticky notes, or just some type of uniform paper; a pen or pencil; and an idea. Start by writing the scene ideas you have onto your notecards. One scene per card, and set them aside. Once you’re done, you can start to lay out your notecard scenes in order of how you think they should happen. Now you can freely move these around and play with the order until you find something you like. Then you can write more scene ideas and fill out the sequence. Once again, you’re free to move these cards around and play with the ordering.


The Bullet outline method is great for quickly getting ideas out of your head. Start with a word processor and an unordered list. Then, just start writing. Think of each bullet as either a scene or an event that needs to happen, and write them in sequential order. Don’t stop to think about logistics–the goal of this method is to get ideas down. Once you’re done, you can go back and look over the list and figure out what you like and dislike. Take the ideas you like, and scrap the ones you don’t like, then try again. Keep going until you’ve distilled the list down to all ideas that you like.

  • Howard is a stocky, middle-aged man without much of a life. His life is: go to work 6 days a week, come home, eat, and go to bed.
  • Despite working so much, Howard is actually pretty bad at his job.
  • A new boss comes in and makes a bunch of changes, including cutting the fat from the staff. Howard gets fired.
  • Distraught and overwhelmed, Howard’s life is now completely directionless. He doesn’t know how to be jobless, and doesn’t even know how to make a resume! 
  • Desperate, Howard takes a class at his local rec center to learn how to make a resume for himself.
  • During his class he meets Tanya, a very proud and strong woman who teaches the class on weekends for a bit of extra cash. She is known for being harsh to people, but her ways work and her students always end up with jobs and happier for it.
  • During his lesson, Tanya singles out Howard in the class and verbally eviscerates him. Instead of teaching him how to do a resume, she makes it apparent that Howard doesn’t have a life. Without a life, he can’t make a resume anyone will care about.
  • Howard is kicked out of her class and distraught once again. He can’t even make a resume, how sad is that?
  • Tanya calls him the following weekend and demands Howard comes to meet her ‘at the track.’
  • The ‘track’ is a racecar track, and Tanya forces Howard to get into one of the cars doing laps and drive. Howard is exhilarated and stunned, after a few minutes of terror.
  • The next weekend Tanya takes him skydiving. And the weekend after that teaches him how to ride a motorcycle. Little by little, Tanya is showing Howard how to experience the thrills that life can give him.
  • On the final week, Tanya sits down and helps Howard write a resume. It’s not for another boring sales or business job. Howard ends up working on a ranch where he meets Abigail – his future wife, and a whole cast of new friends and adventures.

Three Act Format

Another somewhat ‘infamous’ or ‘formulaic’ outline method, but one that is also tried and true. Three Act format is fairly loose in what it needs, but ensures a solid sense of progression from beginning, middle, and end. Act 1 is where you introduce your main characters and the main conflict. Act 2 is the characters working to better themselves to solve the conflict. Act 3 is the solving of the conflict. This works very closely with the Monomyth, and I will go deeper into detail on this in the workshop for Acts and Story.


The timeline method is a bit more ambiguous, as it only works in the sequence of events from beginning to end. This is good for stories that take place over a long period of time and deal in a lot of minor and macro events. You can, of course, add smaller events and scenes and be as detailed or as loose as you want.

No Outline is Fool-Proof

Always remember that no outline is set in stone, nor are they designed to be rigid and infallible. Outlines are designed more to be guides, helping a writer move cleanly between events and to cut out the fat from pointless filler. Even the Roadmap method, perhaps the most hardcore Plotter outline, can be flexible and easily adjusted to the needs of the story at the time.

Drafting vs Editing

Remember that when you’re writing a draft, your goal is to get your ideas down on the paper. Don’t worry about things like word choice or high levels of detail, as those are all things that can be added when you’ve finished the draft and start editing.

Longhand vs Typed

Some people just work better with physically writing out their ideas or even their whole story. If you’re having a hard time getting invested, try writing your ideas down on a notepad and see if that helps stimulate your creativity.

An Organized Story is a Complete Story

Whether you’re a Plotter or a Pantser, any story needs some basic level of organization to make it work. Published writers have help in the form of agents, editors, beta readers, and writing groups to make sure that their work is ‘up to snuff.’

You don’t need to use the hardcore Roadmap method to make a great story, but do consider giving your project some organization and structure to help bring everything together.

I hope that this has helped you. Thanks for reading!

Finding the Writing Software That’s Best For You

When it comes to writing, the tools we use can be essential to creating the right environment for success. The Internet gives us access to hundreds of free and premium applications to write how we want, but what about finding the right tools for you? Creative writers need a different set of features from technical writers, for instance, and furthermore everyone is different and reacts to different stimuli.

Today I bring you a Writing Software Catalog featuring dozens of amazing writing tools, all personally tested. This post will only be going over a handful of cherry picked applications, but you can find the full list below where I detail the different software, where to find them, how much they cost (most of them are free, or at least have a free option), their feature list, and some personal thoughts on what makes that program unique.

2019 Writing Software Catalog

Writing Software List 2019

Are you ready to find your new writing tool?

Writing Software

Let’s start with the essentials: writing software. This is any program with a dedicated text editor designed to let you write. There are several types of writing software, from the most basic to the more complex, and finding the one for you can take some time. You should first determine a desired set of features you want to utilize, and start narrowing down the list from there.

Focus Writers

The most simplistic and bare-bones, that’s how the developers and users want it. This type of software is designed to make you focus on getting your words on screen and nothing else. If you want to go with the most stripped down focus writer, it will probably have nothing more than a basic text editor and a ‘focus mode’ which makes the program full-screen to eliminate all distractions. The more feature rich focus writers will have things like ‘typewriter mode’ (where your text will be vertically centered on your program’s screen) as you type. Good examples for this software include Calmly Writer and iA Writer.

Calmly Writer Focus Text Editor. Writing Software.
Calmly Writer

Word Processors

Probably the most well known kind of writing software, these programs generally include a primary text editor and strong formatting options. These lack features like focus writing or night-mode, which can make them more stressful on the eyes for longer writing sessions, but are great for laying out documents with nice formatting. Microsoft Word is the most well-known word processor out there, but great free options with full feature sets include: Google Docs, Libre Office, and Open Office.

Microsoft Word. Word Processor.
Microsoft Word

Breakdown Editors

A place for you to break up and separate your writing into workable chunks. These programs are great for planners, organizers, and non-fiction writers. Break up long chapters into digestible scenes or sections that can be easily reorganized, or set POVs apart with ease. These types of editors offer writers the ability to nest elements. For example, if you have Chapter 1, then you would be able to create little files within that chapter for each scene. Scrivener is a good breakdown editor, but other great options include Wavemaker and Bibisco.

Wavemaker. Writing software. Breakdown editor.

Planning Software

Among other types of notable writing software are planning tools. This type of software may or may not include a text editor for writing your novel, but this is because the main purpose of these applications is to help you plan, organize, and lay out your writing project. There are a few types to consider when you’re perusing the many useful applications out there.

Story Planners

These relatively specific programs are designed for creative writers to help them lay out the pieces of their novel from story summary, to scene breakdowns, themes, characters, and locations. Story planners are particularly useful for long, complicated, or multi-character stories that deal with different points of view and multiple narrative threads. My personal favorite software for this is Novel Factory, with Manuskript as a good alternative.

Novel Factory. Story Planner.
Novel Factory

World Builders

Software designed to lay out the elements of a world. This usually deals a lot less with the story, and a lot more with details about the world. Characters, timelines, encyclopedias, history, and more. This is great for writers (like me) who have hugely complex worlds to go alongside their stories. Beware of distraction though, don’t forget the whole reason you’re writing this! For desktop, I use a program called Campfire for worldbuilding. There’s also a fantastic website, World Anvil, that’s all about creating and posting your unique world for people to see, if that’s your thing.

Campfire Pro. World Builder.

Grammar Software

When you’ve finished writing, it’s important to go back and check over your work. Not all writers are spelling and grammar experts, and while most text editors offer spell check, there is a distinct need to make sure your work is grammatically accurate. There are over two-dozen well-established applications for grammar, spelling, and content purity and just like with writing software, each one is a little bit different.

Unfortunately, due to my background in English and editing, I don’t have as much of a need for these types of grammar applications, so I’m not the best source on which ones are better than others. My Software Catalog still covers over 20 different programs and websites, so you’re welcome to try them out and find the one that works for you. According to fellow writers, though, Grammarly and HemingWay are very good.

Other Useful Software

Aside from your text editor or story planner, there are other types of software that can be of great use to writers. Sometimes these other programs can be great to help you find inspiration when you’re in a rut.

Aeon Timeline is great for those complex stories with multiple characters and storylines, and can create things like custom calendars for fantasy worlds, or help you set a writing schedule for a project or a blog.

Aeon Timeline. Timeline creator.
Aeon Timeline

Wonderdraft and Inkarnate are excellent map making tools that anyone can pick up and use with ease. Inkarnate even has a fully functional free version that anyone can use, though it’s browser based. Wonderdraft will set you back about $30 USD, but it’s a one-time payment and can make huge, sprawling maps.

Wonderdraft. Map making software.

iMindMap, while a little pricey, can help you turn a basic idea into a solid concept for writing.

iMindMap. Mind mapping software. Planning software.

GinkoApp and Evernote are great for keeping notes and ideas online so you can pull them up whenever you want.

Ginko App. Note taking tool. Planning tool.

Choosing Your Tools

Now comes the difficult (but fun) part: Choosing the right program(s) for your toolbox. Like any good craftsman, your toolbox should be equipped with a collection of tried and tested equipment that you find yourself using often. You don’t need three different hammers, just a single good one that fits right in your hand. The same goes for you.

Most of the programs I have listed above are either free to use, have a free version (often called ‘Freemium’), or have a free limited trial. This lets you test out various programs until you find the one that’s just right for you. I highly encourage you to find an application that fits your specific needs, because we’re all different.

For instance, I’m very prone to headaches and migraines. With that in mind, an application’s UI (user interface) is very important to me. I like dark UIs with text-editors that aren’t white, because it’s much easier on my eyes. I also like to plan out my stories and worlds meticulously, so I like planning software over general text editors.

Your needs will probably be different from my own, though, which is why my catalog contains a description and feature list for each program, to help you narrow down the best options for you!

Productivity Or Distraction

Be careful with getting wrapped up in complex programs or ‘over-planning.’ Even I have caught myself spending more time planning and plotting than actually writing. Try not to let yourself get distracted by details so much that you forget to work on your writing! Just remember that no matter how detailed your world is, nobody will enjoy it if you don’t have a story to tell in it.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank all of the amazing developers who have worked on and created these programs. There are dozens that I haven’t listed here, and all of them deserve appreciation and credit for how much they help writers every day. A lot of these programs aren’t well known, and I hope that this list and post might get readers to pick up a new program and give it a try.

If you have or know of a program that isn’t listed on the Google Document, please leave a comment or contact me through my website or LinkedIn – I would love to know about it!

Handling Criticism

What Is Criticism?

We’ve all heard of it, and probably encountered it in one form or another during our lives. Whether it’s about our writing, our job, or how we cleaned our rooms when we were kids, there was a time in our life where someone told us that we need to be doing something different. This can feel insulting, degrading, and even damaging to our egos when we’re faced with the idea that people don’t like how we do something, especially if we worked hard on it. Criticism can be one of the most difficult things for artists to deal with, and that’s the crux of today’s message: how to identify, deconstruct, and handle criticism against our creative works.

It’s important to remember that most of the time, when someone gives us criticism, they don’t mean it in a cruel manner. It can be something as simple as “I don’t like how you did this” (destructive) or as complex as, “I don’t like how your character handled this situation because I don’t feel that this would have been the course of action that he/she took” (constructive). So let’s start by taking a look at the two major types of criticism and how to recognize the good from the bad.

Destructive Criticism

Let’s first handle the worst side of criticism: destructive. Now this doesn’t inherently mean cruel or hateful criticism, though it does include that. Destructive criticism simply means that it’s unhelpful and fails to explain why someone has a certain opinion. As stated above, “I don’t like how you did this,” is a form of destructive criticism because it gives the creator no indication of why someone didn’t like something. This is destructive because it can cause the artist to try the wrong fix, or dishearten them into thinking that the whole concept is bad and so they throw out the baby with the bathwater. When it comes to receiving unhelpful or destructive criticism, if the person giving the criticism seems receptive to discussion, try asking them to elaborate on what it was that they didn’t like from their initial comment.

The other side of destructive criticism is the not-so-kind side of things. When someone is intentionally mean or aggressive, this is usually done from a place of jealousy or self-deprecation. Some people only feel better when they’re tearing down someone else. The important thing to remember about cruel destructive criticism is this: ignore it. It’s like that old adage most of us heard as kids, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” The same applies here. If a ‘critic’ can’t articulate their thoughts in a way that is helpful or constructive, then they have no place to criticize you at all. I know it can be hard to ignore the people who want to be negative, especially when those can be the loudest, but if you let yourself dwell on their negativity then you’re letting them win. Don’t let them win. In a moment I’m going to go over how to handle this kind of criticism, so don’t worry.

Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism is either positive in nature, meant to build up an artist or writer, or detailed in how and where a work might be improved from the perspective of the consumer. Much like destructive criticism, there are two major kinds of constructive criticism. The first is what I like to call the ‘ego boost.’ This is when someone tells you that they like your work, but don’t tell you why, or what they didn’t like. Oftentimes this is just your general reader who gets enjoyment out of your work, and isn’t expected to provide more than passive feedback as to whether or not you’re generally on the right track. This kind of criticism (some wouldn’t even consider it that) is nice, but ultimately unhelpful.

The second kind is the very rare but highly sought after: well considered criticism. This is given by the person who dissects your work and understands your characters, plot, and setting almost as well as you do. What makes this so desired is that this person has a completely different vantage point of your work, the ultimate reader. These readers will often leave you lengthy dissertations on your work, taking apart and deconstructing your writing piece by piece. Unfortunately, a lot of writers have a tendency to feel attacked by this, as it can feel like a lot of negativity all at once.

How To Handle Criticism

Whether negative or positive, it’s always important to remember how to take criticism without letting it break you or your confidence. Let’s start with negative criticism again, as that is often what artists struggle with the most. For those used to getting a lot of praise for good writing, it often only takes one bad review or one negative reader to make them spiral into self-doubt.

In the event of getting criticism that provides no explanation of what a person didn’t like, the best thing you can do is ignore it. I mean it. If a person doesn’t understand why they don’t like something, or they can’t explain what it is they dislike, chances are that it’s not your fault. It’s most likely that your work simply wasn’t what that reader was looking for. If you feel that the reviewer might be receptive to further conversation, and if you feel that’s something you would benefit from, you can ask them if they want to clarify their thoughts a little more coherently. This, however, rarely works.

As I mentioned above, there are those who give great criticism who come off as overly negative or aggressive. Some artists feel that even a small amount of criticism is an attack. Unfortunately this can dissuade good critics from giving their thoughts to writers and artists who genuinely want to hear it. It’s important to remember that if someone took the time to provide you with a length, in-depth critique of your work, if they dissected and analyzed, and provided coherent feedback, then it usually means that they enjoyed your work. Seriously! They liked it enough to read over it carefully, to consider it on multiple levels, from plot to characters to settings, and then provide you with their detailed opinions. If they disliked your work, then this would be a waste of their time, and they probably wouldn’t do it. If you find that you dislike their feedback, just try to be polite about asking them not to leave such criticism in the future.

Finally, there are times when it’s hard to tell if someone is being destructive or constructive in their criticism. Someone who leaves a lengthy review but seems to just focus on the negative. Often, a good critic will also talk about the things that they liked, things that they felt the writer did correctly. This is the key to discerning whether criticism is destructive or constructive. If the critique is purely negative, especially if it’s berating or rude, it’s destructive and meant to tear you down. This should be either ignored or approached with caution. If they bring up elements they liked, or places where they feel something was done well, chances are that it’s constructive and meant to be helpful and insightful. 

How To Give Criticism

In the event that you want to give someone else a critique of their work, remember what we’ve spoken of here so-far. Explain what you liked and why, and what you didn’t like and why. Be as detailed as you can be. However it is important to remember not to try to tell another person how to write (or do their art), or try to tell them how you do yours. It’s a very tricky balance to master, and every writer will take things differently. Make it clear that you’re doing this because you like what they’ve done so far and that you want to be helpful as a reader.

It’s also important to not give critiques to people who aren’t looking for it. This is actually one of the biggest sins I see from critics as a whole: critiquing artists who aren’t looking for it, or aren’t looking for it yet. Some artists can’t handle heavy critique, or they only want to hear it from certain trusted sources. It can be very damaging to an artist to try to digest critique on something they either aren’t finished with or aren’t confident in yet. As a rule (for myself), unless I see a statement directly from a writer that they want critique on a piece, I ask before doing so. It’s just polite.

Your Own Worst Critic

Finally, I want to talk about the worst critic out there: Yourself. In an earlier post I spoke about confidence among writers and the voices in our heads telling us how bad our work is. Like any artist, we spend more time with our product than any consumer. We were there for every word, every Google search, every typo, every deleted sentence or scene. By the time a writer finishes a book, they’re often sick of writing it. 

Remember that the reader wasn’t there for that process. The reader only sees what you put out to them, whatever that might be. They see the fruits of your labor, they taste the apple from the tree, they didn’t see you plant the seed and nurture it.

Don’t let your own criticism get in the way. Don’t let your insecurities trap you in rewriting hell. Push forward, move on, keep putting one foot forward and you will get to the end. Regardless of what anyone else says, regardless of their criticism, regardless of your own insecurities, the feeling when you type that last word is indescribable. Whether it’s your first book or your tenth, you will always be your biggest obstacle.

Criticism will always be hard to take, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a bad thing. When you learn how to discern between good and bad criticism, you will find yourself quickly evolving and growing stronger.

So what’re you waiting for? Hug a critic today!

Why The Indie Games Boom Is Important For Writers

Since the 1980’s, the Video Game industry has grown exponentially with the boom of technology. We’ve gone from 8-bit Pong to virtual reality so intense that we can mistake it for the real world if we’re not careful. It has gone from a few guys coding in their garage to a multi-billion dollar industry with more and more people joining in every single day. I won’t lie to you, this industry is just as complex and confusing as one might expect, but it’s one that’s highly rewarding and can provide some amazing products.

This article isn’t really about the history or power of video games, there are plenty of other books, articles, and videos that cover this topic far better than I ever could. Today I want to talk about one thing in particular. What can writers learn from the video games industry? Particularly, I want to focus on the Independent Games scene and talk about the similarity and differences for Indie Writers and Publishers.

What is an Indie?

You may be familiar with this term from another industry: movies, games, books, music, etc. Basically it’s a creative form of medium that’s produced or published independently of a large organization or publisher, usually by a single person or a small team. These indies usually aren’t that popular with the masses, but they often have their own dedicated following to support and love them, and that’s how the creators like it.

In regards to what we’re talking about today, Indie Books are usually self-published or from very small boutique publishers, and Indie Games are almost always self-published on a known platforms such as Steam and Itch.io. Think of Steam like the Amazon Book Store, it has a huge library of games from tons of people, you couldn’t hope to get through them all in your lifetime. A person’s search history and preferences will help auto-curate the system so that it usually shows you games relevant to your past interests.

The Rise of Indie Games

Since about 2010, Steam has been welcoming Indie Games onto its platform through Steam Greenlight (which was removed in 2017 for a more open system). This allowed more small publishers and teams to put their games out to a very large audience, as opposed to previous methods which required costly fees and strangling contracts to get small games onto store platforms like Playstation and Nintendo (XBox had its own Indie program).

So when Steam opened its doors to Indie Developers, it was a blessing. It allowed these developers to make their games more accessible to Steam’s massive audience, which made their chances of success spike exponentially. This started to put pressure on the large game publishers, because now they had to compete with more people in their space. At first, this didn’t seem like anything to be concerned about. There were a handful of relatively popular Indie games that came out over the years, but nothing that really made the AAA Publishers stand up and take notice.

So what changed?

Why Indie Games Are Huge

With the growing number of available Indie titles available through Steam, consumers had more choice. Their options were no longer AA and AAA game publishers and studios pumping out over-inflated titles, but smaller games that filled niche roles. Retro, platformers, tactics, strategy, puzzle, casual, shooter games and more became available in more variety and styles than ever before. A lot of Steam users took notice, along with the industry surrounding them. Major influencers like podcasters, YouTubers, and games journalists started to cover Indie titles more, gave them more praise and attention, and helped to grow the otherwise small cult following into a much larger audience.

Undertale by Toby Fox, released in 2015

Then in September of 2015, developer Toby Fox released his one-man project that would rock the Indie Games scene for years to come. Undertale was an overnight smash hit, and something that many users called a ‘perfect story.’ On the outside, it was a game that didn’t look like anything to get excited over, with simple 8-bit graphics and a strange combat system, however people fell in love with this title so hard and so fast that it shook the foundation of the Indie Gaming world.

Undertale and Stardew Valley

Undertale’s success was based on a number of elements, and a little dash of luck. Success is never guaranteed, but a good product will almost always be successful if it’s put in the right environment. Undertale was a simple game, with no complex game mechanics, it could run on any machine, and it was affordable at a grand total of $10 USD. This made it accessible to the widest audience possible which was anyone with a computer and an imagination. It offered a cast of fun and colorful characters and turned the idea of monsters being the bad guys on its head. This game turned the monsters into the victims, scared of the humans who often took joy in killing them. Additionally, it offered the player the choice of fighting and killing the monsters, or being a pacifist and sparing the lives of the monsters the player encountered. This had a drastic effect on the game’s overall story by the end.

So the bottom line was that the game was unique, creative, offered a solid message, and was available to a huge audience. This game’s success suddenly put Indie Games on a lot of people’s radars, making them curious enough to try other Indie titles. This is just a brief overview of Undertale’s concept and story of success, and there’s a lot more information that can be found about this game elsewhere.

Stardew Valley by Concerned Ape, released in 2016

The other major Indie success that really grabbed people’s attentions came a few short months later in February of 2016. Another one-man creation, this one by developer Concerned Ape, Stardew Valley was a simple farming simulation game that dropped onto Steam with massive overnight success. Stardew Valley was a simulation style game, where the player inherits a farm and has to build it up into a successful part of the local community. It came with a large cast of unique characters, a decent sized playable world, and plenty of ways to spend time. This game was inspired by a previous AA game franchise called Harvest Moon, which previously had only been available on console systems like Gameboy, Nintendo DS, and Playstation, but never on the PC.

This game gave players a relaxing setting, with a strong emphasis on character-driven stories and choices. The characters that players interacted with also dealt with real-world problems, such as mental health, physical handicaps, love affairs, and more. They were interesting and more real than people were expecting, and it lent to a lot of replayability with a simple gameplay loop that didn’t get boring. Much like Undertale, this game also gained a fast and strong fanbase that kept it alive well past when most people were talking about the game, and later spawned more farm-game copies that are still in development.

Storytelling Unchained

Video Games offer a method of storytelling that’s very different to books and movies. They allow character driven stories through choices, making it so that someone can replay the same game multiple times and get a different experience each time through. Much like books and movies, this form of storytelling requires its own set of rules and guidelines to be successful, and this genre is still one that’s in its early stages of growth. However video games still have a lot to teach writers in all mediums, both about the law and nature of writing, and about the audience.

Gamers tend to be more impatient than readers or even movie goers. Players are often much more focused on quest driven content, skipping the quest text just so that they can get to the big bad boss at the end of the level. This means that game writers have to be more visual in their storytelling, not relying so much on big dumps of quest text or on-screen dialog, and leaning more on storytelling through the world.

One game in particular, Dark Souls, told an entire story without any in-game quest text or exposition dumps. Players are still scrambling to assess every single in-game element, flavor text, and world scene to interpret the story behind the game. There is a lot to be learned about storytelling through the reader’s (or player’s) imagination, leaving enough there that the audience wants to fill in those blanks. This is something that I see a lot of young authors afraid to embrace, wanting to make sure that their whole story gets told with minimal mystery when they’re done.

The Indie Boom

I talked a lot about the Indie Boom for video games through Undertale and Stardew Valley, both massive Indie success stories that put Indie games on the map for a lot of people. I think that the Indie Boom has yet to happen for books, particularly in fiction. The large book publishers still have a stranglehold on the book market, making it so that only they can put their books in brick and mortar stores, and at more easy access to readers. These big publishers have their rockstar writers who somehow put out 5-6 books a year, while most Indie writers struggle to find an agent.

This isn’t a segment to complain about how impossible it is to break out into the world of writing. Any industry has its difficulties, and part of the reason why success is so hard to achieve is because nothing good comes without a struggle. I want to point out that Amazon and several other smaller sites (like Smashwordsand Goodreads) have made huge strides for the Indie writer to help get their books out to the public at a reasonable cost. It’s possible to publish a book on $10 USD if someone really wanted. The means are all there.

The point of this article is to state that the Indie Boom could happen at any moment, any day. Now is not the time to get discouraged because the world of Indie writing isn’t as big as it could be. All it will take is that right book, that breakout novel that catches the right person’s attention, that’ll snowball into a whole new age of reading across the world!

So the big question you have to ask yourself is this: Will that book be yours?

A Writer’s Confidence

Every person in the history of our world has struggled with confidence. They struggle with thinking their work isn’t good enough and often need the affirmations of those around them to help calm the tumultuous thoughts that plagued them. Today I want to focus on getting to the heart of the problem: Why your confidence is lacking and how you might fix it. Being confident is a lifelong struggle that we all grapple with, everyone handles it differently. The important thing is to figure out what exactly you have a hard time with so that you can handle the root of the problem.

So what is the magical cure? I used to think it was to just act confident, even when you aren’t. My husband and I had a rule that was simply, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.” This isn’t wrong, nor was it right, but it has lead to us doing a lot of odd or silly things that made us question our judgment. You see, my husband has this natural leadership element about him. He isn’t afraid to be the first person to try something new, which means that his philosophy of “Do something, even if it’s wrong” really works for him. It isn’t so great for people like me, though it has helped me get out of my shell.

The philosophy that I ended up using to help with my confidence was a little more realistic to myself. I just remind myself that nobody is perfect and that everyone makes and has made mistakes. Nobody is above foolishness. Some of us like to hold ourselves to a much higher standard, trying to make ourselves appear infallible, but in the end this just makes our follies stand out more.

I believe that the true key to building confidence within a writer, or within anyone, is to develop a sense of humility. Being able to laugh at yourself, at your own work, and not take yourself too seriously will make your confidence nearly unshakable. I say nearly because nobody has truly invincible confidence, we all still get shaken from time to time, no matter who we are. That, I think, just helps to make me all that much more confident if I’m honest.

The Voice In Your Head

When it comes to any form of art, we often find ourselves doubting whether our work is going to be good enough for our audience. We’ve all had those voices of doubt in our heads:

“They won’t like it.”
“This is dumb.”
“Why should they care?”
“They’ve seen this before.”

I want to help you silence those little voices in your head. Whether that voice is your own, your parents, friends, or just someone you admire, you need to understand that yours is the only opinion that truly matters. You need to learn to be confident in yourself and your own skills before you can expect to find success out in the world.

When you write with the intent to please or appease others over satisfying yourself, you will fail. If the message that you’re putting forward isn’t the message you truly believe in, your work will suffer for it. This isn’t meant to be negative, and I’m not trying to put anyone down. In fact, just the opposite.

On Writing For Others

I sometimes get asked, “What’s so bad about writing for others?” The answer is simple: When you start to write for anyone but yourself, you step outside of your own realm of consciousness. You might have an idea of what someone else wants and what they like, but you can’t know for absolute fact. It’s because you can’t know for absolute fact that doubt can slither in. Write for you and know that those who love your work, love your work, not whatever or whomever you’re writing for.

Also allow me to state, for clarity’s sake, that I am talking about your own creative works. This doesn’t apply so much to technical, business, and copywriting.

Keep that in mind as well, that people love your writing for a reason. You give them what nobody else can, you give them what they can’t otherwise get.

Building Your Confidence

There are dozens of self-help books out there about confidence and how to find it. I don’t want to discourage you from seeking some of those texts out if you feel that you need them, however I want to share (for free) my own method of building my confidence whenever I feel doubt about my own work. This may work for you, or may give you ideas on what to try for finding and building your own confidence with your craft.

Whenever I find myself struggling with my confidence, my skills, my own opinions, my first instinct is to learn more about the subject in question. Whether it’s writing, editing, marketing, or any of my hobbies, I seek out knowledgeable sources in that field and I try to learn about where I might be failing. When I doubted myself on the developmental structure of my stories, I read Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee, then went and dissected the story structure of some of my favorite books for deeper understanding. When I struggle with editing, I turn to the Style Guide, or other more learned Editors in my field. Once I can focus in on where I felt doubtful, I can study it, dissect it, then return with fresh eyes and renewed confidence.

Additionally remember what I talked about at the beginning of this article. Nobody is perfect, including you. When you start to doubt yourself, remind yourself that your heroes messed up too. Your favorite writer probably faced more than a few rejection letters, your favorite book had to go through several drafts and iterations before it ever got into your hands. Remember that there is only one major difference between you and your idol: They didn’t let their lack of confidence stop them. Once you get past your lack of confidence, anything is possible.

Success shouldn’t be about how much money you made, or how many people read your book, or how much praise and acclaim you get. Success should be measured solely in the fact that you did something you set out to do. You had an idea, you wrote it down, you worked on it for hours and hours until you were satisfied enough with it, you went to an agent or publisher. Regardless of whether or not your book ever hits store shelves, know that you’ve already done something that so many others haven’t done. Rejection isn’t failure. Harry Potter was rejected by almost a dozen publishers before it was picked up. Rejection isn’t failure. You succeeded the moment you finished your first draft. The moment you decided to finish your novel.

If you take away only one thing from this blog post, let it be that: Rejection isn’t failure.

Changing Those Voices

Once you accept that you want to be more confident, then you need to start working to change those voices in your head. The only person you have to please is yourself, and you can learn how and where to improve. Other voices? They don’t matter. Write for yourself, create for yourself, and most importantly: be yourself!

There are dozens of little tricks that have been developed by coaches and psychiatrists to help us fight against the negative voices in our head. They developed these methods because everyone struggles with negative self-image, even them. Perhaps especially them!

Try writing yourself a letter or a note. Talk about all of the good things you’ve done and accomplished in your life, even if it’s ridiculously small. Try writing it when you’re feeling good about yourself, write it down by hand if you can, and keep it somewhere safe. When you’re feeling low, pull that letter out and use it to remind yourself of the good things you’ve accomplished. If you accomplish something new, add that to your letter.

Exercise has both physical and emotional health benefits. If you’re feeling low-energy, uninspired, or just bad, try running yourself through ten minutes of exercise. Go for a jog, do some push-ups, some jumping-jacks, you’ll be surprised how you feel once you’re done. Your body releases endorphins that will help you feel better and more energized.

Use meditation to try and clear your mind of negative thoughts for just a little while. Use YouTube to find a video on positivity, or a pep talk. Try listening to ambient sounds. Do something to get you out of your own thoughts and focus on something else for a few minutes. Then come back to it with a new mindset, and you might find that those negative voices aren’t so loud anymore.

Write With Confidence

I know that this sounds difficult to those who struggle with confidence. I don’t have any magic words to make you suddenly more confident, and my only suggestion is to keep working at your craft. If you don’t feel good enough to show your work to the public yet, that’s fine! Remember the beginning of this post, try and figure out where exactly you’re struggling with and work on that. When you start to see improvement in the areas you feel weakest in, you’ll feel your confidence start to grow stronger.

The only person that you need to impress is yourself!