Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Schimmel’

Organized chaos? What’s your method for outlining and keeping your story on track?

Virtually every author,  fiction or nonfiction, needs a method for outlining and staying organized. Day 10 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to describe their outlining and organizational processes. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.


Day 10 writing prompt:

Describe your process for outlining your book. What do you do to stay organized? Do you use a software like Scrivener? Index cards? Sticky notes? Giant posterboards taped to the wall?

Sometimes, the desire to write the book shows up before we even know what the book will be about. That was somewhat the case for me with Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World. It was also the case for my friend, Joe Torres.

Joe’s been attending the Phoenix Publishing & Book Promotion Meetup (PP&BP) for a few months, and every time he comes, he’s made some significant progress on his book. A couple sessions ago, he described his outlining process: grabbing several huge sticky-back sheets of poster paper, slapping them on the wall, and recording the ideas for his first novel as fast as they come to him.

Joe's outlines

Joe’s outlines

My process was a little tamer. Mind you, there is NO right way or wrong way to do this. It’s just important that you have an outline of some sort and know who your characters are, where they came from, what they did yesterday, what they will do tomorrow.

My story is about a man who travels around the world, visiting 23 countries over the course of a year-and-a-half. It’s an audacious undertaking, as I personally have visited five of those 23 countries. Which means the book required research. Back in 2004 when I began writing, the Internet was still young and there were no such sites as TripAdvisor.com or LonelyPlanet.com. But there were Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, and I used them heavily in the planning for Stan’s trip.

As I mentioned yesterday, the novel began as a submission for the 3-Day Novel Contest. The rules prohibited writing ahead, but allowed participating authors to construct a full outline before the contest got underway. So I spent the three days prior to the contest ensconced in travel books up to my eyeballs, deciding where Stan would go, and how he would get there. Knowing I’d never been most of the places he would go, I made a deliberate decision to keep many of his visits off the main tourist thoroughfare. For example, he doesn’t go to London, Paris, Rome. Of course there will always be a reader who’s been there to catch me up on an error or inaccurate description, regardless of where Stan travels – but why give them extra ammunition? I have had several globetrotting friends as beta readers, asking them to check the descriptions for accuracy. The reports thus far are that my depictions are quite good, particularly for my not having visited most of these places in person.

Microsoft Word - schedule - lo 2013

Since the novel is told partially in flashback, I also had to create a timeline so that I could keep track of Stan’s past. When did his dad leave? When did he graduate from college? Get his MBA? Start dating Gretchen? Meet Paula? As new details find their way into the story, I add to the timeline. It’s just a Word document, stored in the “Stan” file of my computer.

I’ve tried Scrivener, and it seems like a great tool for someone who needs a lot of help to get and stay organized. I was already so far into my novel by the time I came across it, though, that moving all the information into the Scrivener system seemed like more work than reward. Fellow author C.K. Thomas wrote a blog post for the PP&BP blog about the importance of writing character profiles, something I would not have initially thought to do, but now consider a worthy time investment.

The tool you use to organize your outline, keep your characters straight, and move your plot in the right direction is unimportant. What’s important is that you do those things. Readers notice inconsistencies, like moving a scene from the beginning of the story to somewhere toward the end, but forgetting to remove subsequent mentions that now pre-date the original mention of the episode. They notice when a character started out as a Boston native, but somehow and inexplicably morphed into a guy who’s originally from L.A.

A screenwriting system I learned from Jeff Schimmel could easily be applied to novel writing. It involves a couple of decks of index cards. One set is for the characters. Each character gets a color, and every detail about the character is recorded on a different card. Physical description,3d cover significant relationships, education, hobbies, etc. Another set of cards is for the scenes. In Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, it would make sense to use a different card (or set of cards) for each country Stan visits. Dialogue goes on another set of cards. What eventually emerges is a storyboard – a graphic organization system that allows you to pre-visualize the story.

Please be sure to check out my next post, which overlaps quite a bit with this one: about my research process for #StanTravels.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to staying organized in your writing!



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Writing student evolves into book marketing teacher

For the next 27 days, we’ll be taking a little detour from the traditional marketing posts you’ve come to know and love on the Marcie Brock blog as I lead by example and follow my own writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge. There’s still time to register. Join today and qualify for drawings for daily giveaways for every day that you post.


Day 2 writing prompt:

What kinds of classes, programs, or workshops have you taken to hone your skill as a writer? What sorts of exercises did/do you use to improve? Have you ever taught a writing class or workshop?

The teacher teaches what the teacher needs to learn.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Throughout my writing evolution, I’ve been on both sides of the teacher’s desk – and I’ve found both of these truisms at work in my life.

Of course, my most expansive writing instruction came in the form of my BA in nonfiction from the University of Arizona, part of the university’s esteemed Creative Writing program. At the time I was in school, the UA creative writing program ranked up there with Iowa as a great place to get an MFA in writing. I’ve frequently thought about going back for that master’s degree, but have yet to pursue it.

One event from my undergrad experience still stands out vividly, though. It was the first day of class, maybe

Timid teacher? REJECTED!

the second semester of my sophomore year when I was finally beginning to take credits toward my major. I’d been looking for a good fiction writing class, and one instructor came highly recommended so I signed up for his section.

Though we were just beginning work toward our undergrad degrees, the instructor took some time to explain the MFA program, telling this group of budding young writers that in order to actually receive that coveted master’s degree, you had to publish your work with a ‘real’ publishing house. One kid immediately piped up to ask whether the instructor had been published yet. I’ll never forget his response: “No – I’m too afraid of being rejected to send my manuscripts out.”

Are you KIDDING ME?!!? I remember thinking. How on earth was he going to teach us anything if he was too big a chicken to even try to get his own work published? If he couldn’t encourage us from his real-world perspective, I had no use for him. Well respected or not, I dropped his class the next day.

On the other hand, I LOVE the teaching side of things. I’m not much for teaching writing, though. Perhaps I just don’t find it that interesting? Marketing, however, is something I really enjoy teaching – because it’s so useful. People can walk out of my workshops and programs, implement the tools I’ve taught them, and see almost immediate results in their book businesses. As a result, many of my classes run the gamut from putting a book together to marketing it once it’s done.

My husband, sister, and I recently decided to try our hand at writing a screenplay. We’d been at it maybe 3 months when the perfect teacher did appear. Still so grateful to Hollywood screenwriter Jeff Schimmel for his 2-day workshop during which I took 75 pages of notes! It’s coming up on a year that we’ve been working on this thing – but it’s actually getting close to finished. And now, we know exactly what to do with it when we’re done.

I’ve always believed the most successful people study their craft. Yes, it certainly helps to have innate skill at your chosen art – be it calligraphy, creative nonfiction, or throwing a curveball. But honing that skill with the help of a seasoned instructor is the thing that truly sets the natural talent ablaze.

Wishing you the best in your writing (and marketing) studies –



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In honor of our 1-year anniversary (May 2, 2012), we’re hosting the Author Blog Challenge! It starts June 2 and is open to published authors, authors-in-progress, and would-be authors. Come check us out and register today!

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Imitate – DON’T COPY – others’ successful ideas!

All the good ideas are already taken.

* * *

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Those who know me will tell you that I am anything but cynical. Optimistic to the point of unrealistic sometimes, but rarely if ever cynical. Nevertheless, I do sincerely believe that there are very few new ideas out there. As I mentioned recently in a webinar on eBook Basics, unless you are in the know enough to be writing the latest celebrity biography or on the cutting edge of a brand new scientific discovery, virtually anything you write has been covered by someone before you. That being said, ingenuity and creativity abound – a secondary aspect of creativity is to generate “meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations.”*

Copy vs. imitate. The girls are even wearing their rings on the same fingers!

I’m part of a screenwriting project with several other writers. As we were tossing around ideas for a script the other day, one member of the team said, “No – it’s already been done.”

Then, lo and behold, I attended Jeff Schimmel’s screenwriting class, where he told us, “It’s good if [your script] is like something else.” And, regarding TV, he said, “Write a copycat show. The networks appreciate you if you bring them an idea that works.” In other words, people (studio and network executives, in particular) like things with which they are already familiar. In fact, the new term in Hollywood for remake is “reimagining.”

One good way to mine new ideas is to see what other authors or experts in your industry are doing.

  • Hit the Google and do a search for “author websites” if you need inspiration for your site.
  • Pore over the titles in your subject area on Amazon for book cover ideas.
  • Read other blogs in your area of specialization to see what your colleagues are writing about.
  • Check in with the mainstream publications (on- and offline) on a regular basis to see what’s making the news.
  • Visit YouTube to see what kinds of creative videos are being done around your sweetheart topic.
  • Attend classes and workshops, even if you could be the teacher, to see how others are approaching the same subject.
  • Look outside your own industry for ideas. Henry Ford borrowed the assembly line idea from a meatpacking plant, and revolutionized the auto industry!

The goal here is to look for inspiration – ways you could do something similar while making it your own and, one hopes, better. The idea is NOT to copy (or plagiarize) someone else’s work, but to look for ways to take their existing concepts and give them “meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations.” Don’t be Evander Holyfield, to whom it was suggested that he come up with his own product like the “George Foreman Grill” – and literally created the Evander Holyfield Grill. D’oh!

Let your reimagination reign. Your experience, your lens, your world view give you the advantage of seeing things from a new perspective – YOURS. Whether it’s the topic for your book or a strategy for marketing it, examine what has worked for others, and use that as the jumping off point that will catapult you to your own success!

Happy exploring!


* from Dictionary.com


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If your skills need improvement, INVEST in yourself and take a class!

I recently attended a screenwriting workshop presented by Hollywood veteran, Jeff Schimmel. To say I learned a lot of immensely useful information is the biggest understatement of the year. But as valuable as the literal information I received from the workshop was, the even more important thing I received was encouragement. “Anyone can sell a screenplay,” Schimmel said.

Of course, the caveat is that it’s a great story submitted through the proper channels in the proper format. Piece of cake, as my personal trainer used to say.

This workshop was an investment for me: Money. Sixteen hours of valuable time I could have spent working. My intense energy and undivided attention. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

Here are my takeaways for a first-time self-publishing author:

  • YOU can do it! But it probably won’t be easy.
  • You will have to make some investments. You may  have to give up your weekends for a year. You may sleep a little less, or occasionally miss “Modern Family.” If there are things you need to learn, find a qualified teacher, spend the money, put in the time, and get yourself educated.
  • When someone gives you a road map, follow it. In attempt to stand out from the crowd, we can have a tendency to spit on the system in an effort to do it our own way. The thing is, the system is there because it works. If someone advises you to create an outline, write a marketing plan, rehearse your pitch till you can say it in your sleep – accept that advice, because those are the steps a successful author takes. Use your creativity in the right places: to create a great book, for a mischief marketing campaign, to reach the rock star whose blurb will help you sell books.
  • If you’re willing to work your butt off, you will write, publish, and sell your book.

Writing, by its nature, is a solitary occupation. But every once in a while, it pays to step out, find a community, get some support, and enhance your skills.

Happy learning!



We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.


Visit Write | Market | Design to download your Marketing Skills Evaluation. This will help you determine how close you are to SBM status, and where you may need a little extra boost.

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