Remember to Exhale

I spent the last five days in Florida.

Exhaling two very busy months. Inhaling time with my husband as we celebrated his birthday. Reading fantastic books (James L. Rubart’s The Long Journey to Jake Palmer, Rachel Hauck’s, The Wedding Shop, Betsy St. Amant’s (with Katie Ganshert and Becky Wade) To Have and to Hold) and an exceptional book byAllen Arnold, The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love & Create.

We also did some fun stuff. Swimming in the ocean, jet-skiing, SCUBA diving. Experiencing life.


I’ve discovered that the busier I get, the more I need time to just breathe. To remember my WHY. To hear my thoughts, as well as others.

We need this in our stories as well. In writer’s terms, we call them scenes (fun) and sequels (breathing). Or Action and ReAction Scenes. Those places where the characters slow down, look back, respond to what just happened and consider their choices. AKA, regroup.

And, right in the middle of the book, we need a moment of WHY. (James Scott Bell explains this in his fantastic (short, and inexpensive!) book called Write Your Novel from the Middle.) It’s that moment when your character takes a powerful and realistic look at himself in the mirror. It’s this moment–it’s what he sees–that motivates him to continue the journey. Maybe he sees his inadequacies. His failures. Maybe he sees what he WANTS to be.

Hopefully he sees that to get where he wants, he need to change. Grow.

But he won’t get there without a moment to hear his thoughts. To ponder his WHYs.

To exhale.

If you’re stuck in a story today…or in life, GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to exhale for even just an hour. Take a walk. Sit on the porch and listen to your thoughts. (and do it without your phone!)

Make a delicious meal and savor it with a loved one.

You don’t have to go to the beach to exhale. (But admittedly, it helps.)

But, you do need to do it if you hope to write great fiction.

(By the way, Bethel Football won their game Saturday!)

Your story matters. Make time to hear it.

Go! Write something brilliant!

Susie May

P.S. THE STORY EQUATION is now up for PREORDER on Kindle! Are you struggling with HOW to put a story together? So was I…until I discovered that you could plot and write an entire book by asking ONE question. It all unfolds from there–and I show you how (and all my secrets). Preorder now: out October 11!

“The Story Equation is pure genius.” — Randy Ingermanson, author of Writing Fiction for Dummies

What Do Other Genres Have to Teach Us?

I have a fantastic critique group. It’s not just that they are fabulous writers, super honest with their feedback and helpful plotting partners, or that they are great friends that encourage and uplift me, but one of the best things about our group is that we all write in completely different genres.

One of us writes contemporary romance, one writes women’s fiction, one writes comedic historical, one writes suspense, and then there’s me, writing Biblical fiction.

Although we did not mean to organize ourselves that way, it’s been an unexpected blessing. Every single one of us has grown in our writing because of the strengths each genre brings to the table. Everyone has been stretched beyond our self-imposed borders by the interplay between our different perspectives.

I have learned to weave tiny pieces of these other genres into my work: pacing and strong dialog from contemporary, depth of message from women’s fiction, a little lighthearted banter and excellent timing from comedic historical, and just a tinge of mystery to keep those pages turning.

This desire, to find ways in which I can incorporate new, interesting techniques into my stories, also translates into what I choose to read.

From the time I was a young girl, historical fiction has always been my go-to genre. I did read some contemporary but would, more often than not, choose to delve into the past.

Not much has changed. I still adore slipping into rich, descriptive history and walking in the shoes (or sandals) of people from the past. But, over the past few years, I have pushed myself to try new genres, to explore what intrigues readers that gravitate toward suspense, or YA fantasy, or thrillers.

With each book or series, I try to analyze what pulled me in, what kept me flipping pages and then I consider how I can incorporate some of those genre-specific techniques into my own writing.

For instance, the book I am writing now has an element of mystery to it (although it’s still Biblical fiction) and also a little suspense. Therefore, although I’m not a regular suspense or mystery reader, I am challenging myself to read a few over the next few months, so I can draw out those threads in my story and make it that much stronger in the end and keep readers on their toes.

What genres have you shied away from reading? What do you think you might glean from reading outside your normal trends that would apply to your own WIP? Do you have writing partners from other genres that stretch and challenge you beyond your self-imposed borders?


There is nothing Connilyn Cossette likes better than digging into the rich ancient world of the Bible and uncovering buried gems of grace that point toward Jesus. Her debut novel, Counted With the Stars: Out from Egypt Series, recently released through Bethany House Publishers. Connect with her at

What’s Your Why?

Bethel University Football suffered another crushing loss on Saturday.  The sky overhead wept with the defeat, and even though the weather eventually cleared up, we were left soggy and frustrated.

Coached gathered the team around and said two things.

(Which I’m stealing to share with you.)

Listen to the RIGHT Voices.

And…What’s your WHY?

Why do you do the things you do?  Make the choices you make?

Why do you spend hours trying to write a great story, learning craft, enduring critiques, submitting your naked baby to the world?


For me, it’s because deep inside I have questions about life, truth itching to break free, to transform me, overflow into the people around me, and spill out onto the page in a way that I hope will set others free.

I believe my story—my journey, and my novel—matters.

Even if it’s just to me and my Creator. My writing makes ME a better person.  And if it touches the world around me…well, that’s a bonus.

So…what’s YOUR Why? 

Dig deep, find it.  Let it root you, AND ignite you (to mix metaphors there.)

Let it focus you. 

But don’t stop there! Ask your CHARACTER, “Why?”  Why this journey?  Why now?  What’s at stake? These are the essential questions to knowing if you have a book your reader will care about.

Without a Why, the people perish. Oh no wait, that’s not the right quote. But it sort of is, isn’t it?  Without a VISION, the people perish…and really, the vision is the outcome of a great Why.

Once you figure out your why, then, determine to hear only the RIGHT voices. The ones that tell you it’s worth the cost, it’s worth the struggle. And that there is a reason your story is aching to be told.

What’s Your Why?

Listen to the Right Voices.

And go, write something brilliant!




Susie May

P.S. We’re all about helping you find that great WHY at Novel.Academy. Over 100 classes on how to get published and stay published and write a story that nudges the world. Stop by and watch one of our free classes!

The Big 3 Questions Every Writer Should Answer

Before I begin to plot a novel  — before developing my characters or deciding on the obstacles they’ll face or devising their spiritual journey — I always ask myself the “Big 3 Questions.”


The Big 3 are focusing questions that every writer should ask before plotting a new novel. So what are the Big 3?

  1. What is your novel about?
  2. Why should anyone pick up your novel?
  3. What is your novel’s Story Question?


To understand the importance of these questions, let’s take the Big 3 one by one.

  • What is your novel about?

Keep your answer to this question simple. One to three sentences. If you don’t know where to start, write down your genre. Then give a straightforward explanation of your story’s plot. EX: Contemporary Romance. My novel is about the relationship between a young widow and her husband’s twin brother. (This was for my novel Somebody Like You.)

Another way to approach this question is if you’ve written more than one manuscript or published more than one novel. Consider the plots of your books and then answer the question: What are your novels about? EX: family, life not going according to plan, messy relationships, mistakes defining us, twins, estrangement, widowhood, secrets, where do we find significance, military, medicine/physicians

Doing this helps you begin to see the recurring issues you write about. This kind of question also shows up on the author questionnaires sent by publishers’ marketing departments.

  • Why should anyone pick up your novel? Another way to ask this: Why should anyone ever read your book? What are readers going to love about your book? What makes your book un-put-downable? When someone sees your name on the front cover of a novel, what kind of story are they going to get? EX: Rachel Hauck has a literary voice and is known for slip-time novels — stories two time periods intersect — as well as royal romances. Susan May Warren is known for family stories, as well contemporary romances laced with adventure and action. Me? I write contemporary romance with strong women’s fiction elements. 

Again, if you’ve written more than one manuscript or novel, step back and take a big picture look at your books. What defines you as a writer? Humor? Happily Ever Afters? Supernatural elements? Gritty reality?

  • What is your novel’s Story Question? 

I’ve written about Story Question before and, yes, it’s vital to know your novel’s Story Question (SQ) because it fuels your novel and keeps it moving forward. Your main characters and subplot characters are trying to answer your SQ — and your readers are subconsciously wrestling with the SQ, too. EX: Some of my novels’ SQs are:

  • Is it ever wrong to love someone? (Somebody Like You)
  • What if you discovered that what you thought was your worst mistake was actually the right choice? (Crazy Little Thing Called Love)
  • How do other people’s opinions about us influence our choices? (Almost Like Being in Love)


By answering the Big 3 Questions, you are discovering more about yourself as a writer: what you write, why you write, and how to connect with your readers on an emotional level through your novel’s Story Question. So what about you? Will you take the time to answer the Big 3 before starting to write your next story? 


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