Category Archives: Uncategorized

The #1 Challenge Facing Writers Today

It’s not what you think it is.

And you’re already a part of it.

Art Holcomb and I — you know Art if you been here a while; if not, Art is one of the foremost writing mentors and lecturers in the country — recently made a 30-minute audio recording, a teleseminar, really, that ended up focusing on this important topic.

Important, because it can sabotage everything about your writing dream, including your learning curve… without you even knowing it.

Writers are deluged with information. Some of it is obvious. Some of it is gold.

Too much of it is less than credible, and sometimes it is downright toxic.

So when Art asked me this question in the audio interview, I ran with it.

I am passionate about writers understanding the truth about what we do, how we do it, and the liberating, mind-blowing awareness that suffering is optional.

The purpose of the recording was to introduce my new video training products to his significant following and readership. So there’s that, alongside the observations of two guys who are among all the noise out there, screaming our lungs out.

You can listen to it HERE.


Another listening opportunity...

Last April I had the honor of presenting the Keynote address at the Las Vegas Writers Conference, after doing two workshops during the conference.  It was 74-minutes of gut- wrenching vulnerability, with harrowing tales from the writing road that made the audience wince, laugh and generally realize that I am not the grizzly bear middle linebacker of a writing guru-type that I am reputed to be.

Despite looking exactly like that in the video.

I just posted this on my new Youtube channel, if you have some time. It was shot from the audience, so it’s a little raw… as any worthwhile keynote should be.

Check it out HERE.


The Roller Coaster Ride of Writing Professionally

You write, you publish. Then you get reviewed.

You get praised, and you get blasted.

The thing that has amazed me is the vehement vitriol that some reviewers inject into their reviews. Don’t like my novels? Don’t get my approach to writing, because it isn’t quite like what you heard from Famous A-List Author at your last writing conference? Don’t like my analogies and my lists of criteria? Don’t like all the “big words” I use to preach the gospel of craft? (You’d be surprised at how often this appears in reviews… words like “Epiphany” and “story essence” and “thematic resonance” and “dramatic tension” seem to challenge and confound some folks… which to me is like the term “load bearing” fogging the brain of an aspiring engineer; if the language of the craft confuses you — it’s not my language, by the way, it’s the language of the avocation — what are you doing reading a book intended for writers who aspire to write professionally in the first place?)

Last night I made the mistake of going onto Goodreads to see what some of the folks out there were saying about my work. The novels and the writing books.

Big mistake.

Believe me when I say, as gratifying as some of the positive feedback is, the enthusiastic blasters suck up all of one’s attention — let’s just say my evening was emotionally compromised — leaving you wondering what you did to offend or confuse those who didn’t seem to get what so many others were appreciating?

Comes with the territory. That’s the learning here. Not everyone gets you., and not everyone gets it.

There is always a lowest common denominator in any reader demographic — in the real world they are confused by four-way stops and ATMs and still believe in characters that talk to you from the page, telling you what to write next — just as there is often some real validity in the criticism that resides within one, two and three-star reviews, not all of whom are haters.

Today was better. This review showed up on Amazon for my latest writing book (Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant), and it helped me put it all back into a healthier perspective.

Give it a read HERE.


If you’d like to check out my new training videos — there are five of them now, with more on the way — click HERE or HERE (this one is my new site for these virtual classroom video modules).

And if you’d be interested in hearing more about a new weekly Advanced Training Shots for Serious Authors — short videos with bluetooth-able audio (5 to 10 minutes, delivered to your Inbox every Monday morning), offering high-level learning and insight that applies to the application of the core principles, rather than an introductory context for them — drop me a quick email and I’ll add you to that rollout list.

Thanks for listening and reading. I really do appreciate you.




Filed under other cool stuff, Uncategorized

The Bottom-line Explanation of the Mass Failure of Authors

… And How to Avoid Being Among Them


In the omnipresent kumbayah of the writing community, it is considered impolite, if not impolitic, to utter this truth aloud: most stories fail. Most writers fail.

That has been true since the advent of selling stories for money, and it remains true today, even in a world in which anybody can publish anything simply by pushing a button.

There is a reason—an over-arching, infallible, contextual reason—that tees up a set of powerful, more visible explanations stemming from it.

It is this: more often than not, new writers don’t know what they don’t know.

Some new writers don’t even understand the nuance and depth of what that actually means.

Storytelling, much like walking, seems natural and organic. But while that is perhaps true on the story-consumption side, it doesn’t mean we can all be professional dancers or Olympic runners without learning a thing or two.

They are shocked when told that their novel—usually their first, but unless they figure things out soon, this becomes a foreshadowing of the future—doesn’t conform to the shape and flow and expectations of novels in that genre, followed shortly by outrage that there even are expectations that create a narrative shape and flow that result in dramatic and emotional resonance.

They have misunderstood the axiom that says “there are no rules,” skipping over the part that says, “but there are principles involved.”

That, by the way—the shape and the flow and the expectations—are precisely why newer writers need to hang on to their student card. Because like it or not, like gravity and taxes and the outcome of certain elections, they just are. They’re out there, waiting to make or break your writing dream.

From my perspective as someone who teaches the craft of fiction in addition to plying the trade, the real problem is that this blank page mentality seems to have been legitimized within certain segments of the collective writing conversation. As if there is nothing to know, beyond one’s innate, genetic gift of story sense. As if first drafts will always suck, even if you’ve been writing them for three decades.

As if suffering is not optional.

You may have heard this myth promulgated at a writing conference keynote, for example, by a bestselling author—any number of them, in fact, because this is symptomatic—who, other than the investment of years and gallons of tears and alcohol, cannot come close to explaining how or why their latest book sold four million copies.

New writers in the audience tend to hear that number… four million copies… without hearing the inherent disconnect within the message itself.

Sure enough. Write just like Stephen King. If you can. But it helps to know what Stephen King knows, even if he rarely puts that in a box to share with the rest of us.

This is perhaps the number one, most prevalent explanation behind why writing is hard, why the percentage of wins is low, and why some writers struggle for years without getting it.

Because they don’t know what they don’t know.

Here’s a true story, one that is all-too common.

The story of a writer who didn’t know what he didn’t know. And then, when confronted by the The Truth, he wasn’t sure he wanted to buy into it.

At a writing conference a few years ago I was working the “blue page” desk, where writers dropped in for fifteen-minute consultations, five pages of manuscript in hand. Now, there’s not much that can be learned from five pages, beyond a first-hit assessment of the writing itself, and perhaps, how that one chosen scene plays.

One guy, very serious and confident—a bit of swagger, in fact—brought me his spy story. Before reading his pages I asked him to pitch the dramatic arc, resulting in a curious look. Because dramatic arc, at least as a common term, was one of the things he didn’t know that he didn’t know.

But that he needed to know.

It was an espionage story set in Paris. A retired US spy, formerly stationed there, is called back into service because chatter on the “dark net” has exposed a terror plot involving some bad actors (spy lingo for bad guy) that our hero used to interface with. His assignment would be to infiltrate and expose the terrorists and prevent the bombing.

Which, it occurred to me as I listened, is certainly something a reader would root for, and seems to be the raw grist of significant dramatic tension and a series of surprising twists. So far so good.

I asked him at what point in the story the hero—who had been shown being reactivated, shutting down his real life in the US before leaving, then setting up in Paris as he reintegrated with his former network—actually learn anything that required him to react. To move forward. Discover something. Encounter the unexpected. Or run into something that changed the game and made it all dark and risky and urgent.

He just stared at me, motionless. It was as if Rod Serling had hit the pause button.

“What I’m asking,” I said, “tell me at what point in the story your first plot point comes in?”

His eyes fogged again, so I attempted to clarify: “The key inciting incident. The doorway of no return, the launch of the core dramatic plot after all the setup has been put into play.”

Then his face suddenly lit up like an amnesiac being told he is actually a millionaire.

“Oh, that. It happens on page two-twenty, when someone he thought was an asset tries to kill him.”

“I see. As in, two-hundred-and-twenty?”


“How long is the manuscript?”

“Four hundred thirty-eight pages,” he said. “Thereabouts.”

We locked eyes. Time froze, the angels wept.

“So you’re saying that you have two hundred nineteen pages of setup in a four hundred thirty-eight page novel… yes?”

A beat. “Setup?” he inquired.

Deep breath. “Tell me what you wrote about for two hundred and twenty pages, prior to actually putting your dramatic arc into play. What happens over that span of pages?”

There was that term again. Dramatic arc. My bad.

Then he smiled. Sort of. Already sure his answer was the prize winner. It was, but not in the way he thought.

“You know,” he said, “the backstory, all about his life as an insurance salesman after his spy career, how he was restless… and there was his marriage breaking up, and his kid flunking out of Stanford…”

I jumped in: “For two hundred and nineteen pages? That’s what the narrative was?”

His smile began to wane.

“Have you ever heard the term, first plot point?”

He hadn’t.

“Key inciting incident?”

Head still shaking.

“Dramatic arc?”


“Any notion about story structure, the three-act paradigm, the four-part story arc, the contextual flow of the narrative, leading to and then launching the dramatic arc, with at least two primary shifts spaced evenly over the body of the story to escalate tension and create pace?”


I summoned my best smile and delivered my softest introduction to the presence of certain principles that apply to, and are evident within, nearly every modern commercial story, truths that enlightened, trained writers not only know, but understand and practice, including the names you read and admire and wish you could become someday.

Then I recommended a few books, mine included, that might help.

“Sounds like a formula to me,” he said as he got to his feet. Because somebody out there, maybe in a keynote address, had used the word formula in a judgmental, erroneous context.

“That’s just a word. Is gravity a formula? It just is. Same with the principles of solid storytelling.  It’s physics. Literary physics. They just are.”

He shook my hand, almost as if he felt sorry for me.

“I’ll think about it,” he said.

And off he went, about to pitch his novel with the fifty-percent-plus setup act to some agents, who would probably like the pitch, and just possibly, never even ask about how the story is presented.

They’ll ask for the pages, then five months later they’ll send him a rejection slip, without the slightest explanation beyond this being “at the present time, not what we’re looking for.”

And he will have learned nothing.

And thus the writing treadmill goes round and round.

We get to choose. Do we listen to the more informed voices in the writing conversation, or the ones that allow us to hide?

Or do we just run?


Breaking news: Story Engineering (2011, Writers Digest Books), was recently named by to the #3 position in their list of “The 27 Best Books On Writing.”

If you’re hungry for further training on craft, please consider my new training videos (five so far, with more titles coming very soon), which you can see on my new training website and through Vimeo.

Also, Storyfix readers receive a 25 percent DISCOUNT off the list price for these modules. Use the code – storyfix25off – during the check out sequence to implement this discount.

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