The Starting Point for your Character’s Inner Journey

I am up north at the writing cabin this week, getting ready for next week’s Deep Woods Writing Camp.

It’s gorgeous here, quiet and last night I was able to catch up on one of my television indulgences, Blue Bloods. In the season premier, wise police commish Frank Reagan sat at the dinner table and talked about the loss of one of the main characters in a freak accident (I’m not telling you who). He said, essentially, that we sit for a while at the table, sharing the journey with our fellow hungerers, and it’s during this ‘meal’ we make an impact. When we leave, our empty chair is noticed, and not easily filled.

We sit among the hungry.

The book business can be overwhelming. I do a lot of “sample downloading” before a trip, then read through the samples to find the books I’m going to relax with on the plane, or on a boat, waiting to dive, or even early in the morning, on the beach. I’m picky with my time, my content…I want a book that will entertain, help me escape and leave me feeling nourished. The books that linger with me are those that leave me strangely healed, at least for the moment.

Healed. It’s not like I walk around with gaping wounds, but like everyone, I have little lies, painful emotional nicks and scratches and when I read a book filled with truth, whether it’s a romance, or general fiction, or suspense, I feel as if I’ve been fed. Someone at the table has offered me a morsel of nourishment on the journey.

Why are we here? More importantly, why do we write?

We sit among the hungry.

I attended a women’s retreat last weekend, and the speaker pointed out Matthew 9:36. When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Harassed. Helpless.


Hungry for grace. Hungry for forgiveness. Hungry for Hope. Hungry for love.

What have you hungered for? What has nourished you?

Grace? Hope? Redemption?

If you’ve hungered for grace—write a story about grace. If you ached for second chances—write a story of redemption. If you are hungry for hope…you get the picture.

Because if you hunger for it, so do others.

(and by the way, giving your character a hunger is the starting point for understanding his/her inner journey!)

Your job in this world, and especially as a novelist, is to pass the potatoes–to nourish those at your table with the nourishment you’ve been given.

Your seat at the table matters. Your story matters.

Go, write something brilliant.

Susie May

P.S. We are all about going deep in a novel, to understanding not just the plot and characters, but the life-changing themes a novelist layers into their work. If you want to learn how to write books that change lives, then you’re a good fit for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat in Florida, Feb 23-27. We just opened registration. Payment plans available. Click HERE for more details.

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’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!

Keys To Handling Rejection

Hi Everyone,

It’s been awhile but I’ve experienced tremendous growth since the last time I wrote.

You see, I got a rejection letter. Yeah, and the email came through on Valentine’s weekend. Needless to say my husband was at more than a loss.

Can I just admit? I took some time to cry and wonder why in the world a successful businesswoman in her own right would ever subject herself to this crazy publishing world?

We all process things differently. I did your standard sit-in-shock cry and—in typical me fashion—said a prayer and went to bed. Everything always looks better after you sleep on it, right?

I woke up, and the email was still there with a resounding “pass.” After wallowing for 24 hours, I sent off an email to my mentors and went back to my day job—the day job in which I put in fourteen hours, on Valentine’s weekend. (Are you feeling sorry for my husband yet?)

Here’s the reply I got back from one of my mentors: “Best rejection ever!”


You got it. It’s exactly what she sent me via email. And you know, after my mouth hit the ground and I stared at the screen awhile, I saw that she was right.

Perspective, people. Perspective.

I wrote my first book, went to conference, got contracted with an amazing agent and submitted my work. I had accomplished something. I went back and re-read the rejection letter—and while I wasn’t jumping for joy, it could have been a lot worse.

Then I got my second perspective check. My agent said, “No = next opportunity.

So, I dusted myself off and started plotting a new story to be ready for the next opportunity.

I learned four important things that weekend:

  1. Allow yourself time to be upset, but move on. In that short twenty-four hours, I had friends praying and my family surrounded me with love and hugs and the ceremonial offering of Blue Bell Ice Cream.
  2. Pick your friends and mentors carefully. If I’d sent that email or contacted “certain persons,” they would have killed my dreams. They would have enjoyed saying, “What were you thinking?” Choose your friends wisely. Listen to the right voices.
  3. Get out of your head. You are your worst critic. Don’t live there. Get out and move on.
  4. Redefine no to yourself. No = next opportunity.

Oh, and I should tell you that my husband showed up at my work with a steak dinner for two that night. Yep, I will keep him.

So tell me, what wisdom have you gleaned from rejection letters?