That time I…

took the scenic route across America!

I spent a lot of time seeing beautiful country this past week. Not necessarily intentionally. I flew out to VA for a writers conference, and decided to drive back to Minnesota and stop at bookstores and promote my newest release Wild Montana Skies.

I got lost in Virginia seven times, Pennsylvania three times, Ohio twice, and Illinois once.

I did, however, make it home.

Every time I got lost, or took a wrong turn, my phone freaked out and went into a death spiral of rerouting. Rerouting, rerouting…

Which left me driving around unknown countryside, following my instincts.

I’m direction challenged and my instincts are not to be trusted.

Which is why I ended up in neighborhoods in DC where I passed the cleaners, the Jiffy Lube, the Shell station, children coming home from school and the local grocery mart.

I saw some beautiful country. Lush, rolling countryside boarded by bejeweled maple and oak trees thick with crimson and gold leaves, tucked away farm houses dotted with grazing horses. Peaceful. A moment to breathe in and enjoy the journey.

At one point during the dark night, as I followed twisty turns and over hill and dale I wondered if I would see the Headless Horseman throwing a pumpkin at me. I thought of a plot about a woman lost in the Virginia countryside, never to be seen from again.

We can sometimes feel this way when we find ourselves in the middle of our book. Our character has said something, done something unexpected and we’ve decided to follow the rabbit trail, see where it takes us. Maybe we like it…so we continue down another twist, adding another chapters until…uh oh. We might have seen some pretty country, but we’re horribly off course.

Just because you took a wrong turn does not mean you won’t get to your destination. You just have to back up and figure out where you wanted to go. What is the point of your story? It’s possible that you’re going to keep some of the things that you found on your scenic journey, for example a character, setting, a new piece of conflict, a secret that was revealed or even fresh spark of romance.

But at some point you have to pull up on the side of the road take a look at your goal and figure out how to get back on track.

Eventually I would find the highway again, and Google Maps would come back to life, as if I’d never been lost.

By the way, you can also add this scenic route into your character’s journey. There’s nothing wrong with your character getting a little off track or even lost in Act 2 and having to look at what he really wants, regroup, and get back on track, gathering in those things he’s learned along the way.

Just because you’ve been derailed doesn’t mean you will never get there. The key is to just keep writing.

In fact, getting lost isn’t isn’t too terrible thing, as I discovered when I was able to stop for coffee and a nice piece of gives you a moment to think through your story and figure out what it is your character, and you, really want.

Then focus in on getting there.

Writing is a journey…don’t panic if you sometimes take a scenic route.

Go! Write something brilliant. Because your story matters.


Susie May

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow! Are you ready? I wrote a book on how to pull your entire story together with one powerful question: The Story Equation. Pick it up at all your favorite online retailers. (and if you need more instruction, we have a mini-course in the Novel.Academy that takes you step-by-step through plotting using the SEQ).

PPS—This week in our Novel.Academy Peptalk, we’re talking about TRENDS in Publishing. Learn what’s hot, what’s not and how to use that knowledge to maximize your writing career! Check out Novel.Academy!

3 Brainstorming Sparks To Get You NaNoWriMo Ready

Photo by Karen Andrews
Photo by Karen Andrews

NaNoWriMo, the write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge, is not for the feint of heart.

But you aren’t chicken. Chances are you’ve faced down an editor or agent pitch with only two cappuccinos. Quite possibly you wake up before the sun rises or stay up after it sets to put words on the page, while raising a family, or working a full-time job.

Your life is the stuff of the courageous.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like you scale mountains, but you’re in a career where you know you will receive numerous rejections, still you face them fearlessly and swallow back disappointments with grace. (Outside of maybe that tub of Ben & Jerry’s you didn’t tell anyone about.)

November is your month to go big or go home. How do you get the first sparks for your NaNoWriMo? From your own courageous journey infused into your character.

3 Brainstorming Sparks To Get You NaNoWriMo Ready:

*First, start a spark journal. This is your NaNoWriMo thought bank. It won’t just be pieces of your characters’ journey and story structure. It will be emotions, words, stressful moments, music, muse, and so much more. Mark these segments with sticky dividers so they are easy to find.


 Spark One: Determine the place your hero/heroine is in at the start of the story. Identify their favorite thoughts, music, places to think, and where they go to find peace. If you love collage, cut out pictures that represent that either online, or from magazines.

This is what I call the frame of mind spark. Every day you sit down to write, review the pictures and sounds of where they are at in life before you start.


Spark Two: Determine your hero/heroine’s down and out response in the story. Create a segment that shows the thoughts, tension, fight music, junk food cravings, music binge that they take when discouraged.

Use your own life experiences to put this into emotional words. The hardest point of your month in October should be journaled about here. My Book Therapy taught me to keep an emotional journal. This is a very specified emotion you might find in it.

If your hero/heroine is to spend a good amount of time facing hardships that bring them to change, that is an emotion you should connect with on multiple levels of severity.


Spark Three: Geek out about your passion. If you love your hero/heroine, your plot, or your setting, here is the place to fill the pages with why you love your favorite one of these. Cut out pictures, write your emotions, pour it all on the page. Add musical inspiration, pictures, or prose.

Why? There will be a point this month where you will need to remember why you love this story. That is the time or times when this spark will be helpful.

Are you planning on doing NaNoWriMo? What other sparks will you add to your spark journal?

​Don’t go down halfway through

Our football team had our opponents on the run. At halftime, we were up 32-3.

Comfortable lead. So apparently the guys decided, during halftime, to take a little nap, maybe get in the sauna, watch a little television…I dunno.

Because they left their passion in the locker room when they took the field for the second half.

Now, I’ve never played college football, but I know it’s not easy. You have to show up just to not get hurt. But there’s something that happens when you’re so far ahead you think about putting in the third string. You let go of your zeal, start looking at your watch, thinking about the burger waiting for you after the game.

Or maybe you’re just tired. You gave it all in the first half, and frankly, you need a break.

I get it.

Because I start out a story on fire, writing furiously through the first four chapters. It gets a little harder as I forge my way through chapters 7-8-9…10.

And then it’s halftime. Or at least, half-way through the book.

And I’m tired.

And I still have half the book to write.

And I really want a burger.

By the way, your character might have this moment half-way through the book, too, where they feel exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to hang up their pads and go home.

This is when they look back and see WHY they’re on this journey in the first place. They’re reminded of not only their motivation, but their greatest dream. And that the fight is worth it.

You, and your hero have to press on, or their journey–and your book–will fall apart.

Sort of like our team did. We landed penalty after penalty, gave the ball over three times with sloppy playing and suddenly the score was 21 to 32.


Don’t let the fact you have the rest of the book to write cause you to write poorly, take plotting shortcuts and short-change the emotion of your characters.

Here’s a tip. Don’t look at the entire book, the entire journey. Just take it “play by play.” Give just the next scene your very best. Then, take a little breather, and write the next scene. Just keep going, steady on, until the end.

If you need to write it poorly the first time—that’s FINE. You can give yourself permission to write poorly…as long as you don’t settle there. Go back and rewrite it.

I had a conversation a while back with an aspiring author about how to start her scenes. You can read it here. (Read the entire conversation inConversations with a Writing Coach)

Thankfully, our team woke up in the 4th quarter and pulled the game back into our hands.

So can you. If you feel like your book is sagging, tighten it up by asking:

  • What’s at stake in this scene?
  • What happens if my character doesn’t achieve their goal?
  • How can I create tension by putting my character in a sympathetic situation and making my reader care?

If you get tired half way through, and let your writing sag, your reader will close the book halfway through. And then no one gets to celebrate the final victory. Bummer!

Your story matters, and the fight is worth it!

Go! Write Something Brilliant!


Susie May

P.S. My new book,The Story Equation launched this week! Need to know how to create an ORGANIC, properly motivated character, and build an organic, powerful, yet easy plot? Check out the “SEQ!”


P.P.S. This week in Novel.Academy, we’re talking about TRENDS in publishing! Learn what’s hot, what’s not, and how you can use it to build your novel career. Check out Novel.Academy, over 100 classes on how to get published, and stay published and make your story matter!

When is My Manuscript Ready? by Angie Arndt

I had the amazing privilege to see Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck in action at the ACFW Conference in August. I loved watching them explain the LINDY HOP and Story Equation and to take questions from the audience. One question that was on all our minds was:

When is My Manuscript Ready? 

If you’ve written your very first complete first draft, congratulations! Take a moment to celebrate with friends and bask in typing The End.

However, there are several things you need to review, including all the lessons here on Be sure to click on the Novel Academy link and review those Pep Talks. After you’ve applied all those lessons, you may want check for these conference buzzwords:

Show, Don’t Tell. Some new writers think this is a secret password. Instead, it’s way to make readers feel a story more deeply. Write the story while looking through your character’s eyes. For example, instead of saying, “she felt cold,” say: “She shivered as the frigid wind swirled around her.”

The Character Arc. Make sure your main character has flaws at the beginning and improves those flaws throughout the story.

Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE). I love this Karen Ball-ism. This is a follow-up to #1. This means show the action with no back-story.

Which leaves you wanting more:

A woman walks up to your main character. She calls him, “Daddy,” then gasps and runs away.


A woman walks up to your main character, calls him, “Daddy,” then gasps. But instead of leaving, she says, “My father dressed the same and the memory was so strong, I had to call you that. You see, I was his only daughter and he died last year. I have yet to recover from that loss. I sincerely apologize.”

I hope you picked the second scene. Show the action without explanation.

Critique Partners or Groups. Send your baby to school. You don’t have to agree with every mark-up, but keep an open mind as you read the edits. A book is not a writer-in-an-ivory-tower experience. It’s an all-join-hands-and-write effort. The more minds that contribute to your book, the better it will be.

Beta Readers. Ask a few trusted friends to read and comment before you send it off. Be sure to explain to them what Beta Reader Etiquette is. It will save your feelings and your friendship.

Begin the Next Book.
Finally, after your manuscript is polished and put in the mailbox, start another book. Editors want to know that you can repeat the process. If they love this book, they’ll probably ask if you have anything else for them.

Better yet, begin the next book or series and tell them about it in your cover letter. Let them know you’re not a one-book wonder. You’re a career writer.


fb-Headshot aearndt 82113Angie is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. She’s working on a novel set in a small Southern town. She and her husband live in a big wood outside a small town in South Carolina. She would love for you to visit her, at