Ask Me Anything!
Candid chats with Sue Brown-Moore
As a revision book coach for fiction writers, I love talking storycraft! Occasionally I do Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions for my community, where you get to send in any question you want to ask me. You'll find all the currently released AMA videos on this page. I add more clips periodically, so join my email list to know when a new video chat is posted. (Use the menu below or scroll down the page to see more videos.)
Sue AMA July 2023: Intro
Hi there. I'm Sue Brown-Moore. I am a fiction book coach for authors who write happy ending stories where the heroes become better versions of themselves.
Today, I am doing an Ask Me Anything for my community, and you have sent in some great questions. So I cannot wait to just get right into this.
Okay, I'm going to keep all these answers anonymous because you didn't say whether or not you wanted your name shared. So I'm going to be safe and not share your name.
Question 1: "Is writing a waste of time?"
Question 1: Is writing a waste of time?
The first question is, "Is writing a waste of time?" I know that's kind of a doozy to get started on, but this is something that's really a special question to me, because I felt this way when I was a blogger.
So if you don't know much about me, I came up through review blogging for romance books. And one of the things that I loved about doing that job was getting to connect with not just the readers (who were phenomenal)—I mean, getting to connect with readers who loved the same kinds of things that I did... Not just love, but got excited about this book says, you're just like, yes, this is my people!
Right. That was how I felt. I just wanted to be around those people. So I put a lot of work into doing reviews for books, many of which were advanced copies and hadn't even come out yet. But the other part of that was getting to work with the writers. And I loved meeting authors. I loved being around authors. Your brains are so creative. You're so inspiring, because my brain doesn't work that way. My brain is more analytical, which is why I'm good at the editing part.
But the question was, "Is writing a waste of time?" And I blogged for something like 10 years, I think. And it was really my introduction into the publishing industry. And I got to a point where I just, I didn't know if it was worth it.
I was doing the equivalent of a part-time job, sometimes more. Like 20 to 30 hours a week of work. Including reading the books, managing a team—I had a review team of five people at one point. Keeping my website updated, doing all the grammatical editing and content editing on the reviews themselves. Doing all of the social media outreach. Making sure I had review copies in the pipeline. I mean, I was reviewing stuff two or three months ahead of when the release date was, or at least booking it two or three months ahead. And it was really like I was doing a job, a full job.
As writers, you're doing the same thing. If you are writing full-time, even part-time, it feels like it's full-time, right? Because you're putting so much effort into this. Maybe you're writing in your free time. Maybe you're writing when your kids are taking a nap. Maybe you're writing in the car in traffic, you're dictating to yourself. It just feels like you're doing all this work and nothing's coming out of it.
And I felt that way too. And what I ultimately realized was that my problem wasn't the work I was doing. It was the fact that I didn't have a goal. As a blogger, I didn't have an end game. I didn't know where I was going. I didn't know why I was doing what I was doing, aside from it made me feel good. I felt compelled to review books, but that need to... that compulsion... that need to review... It started becoming less important than the overwhelm that I felt every time I had to log back into my website and respond to a question or edit something or check on a review that was late or put in yet another review of my own, set up more social media. Everything was dragging me down.
If you're feeling that way in your story, I encourage you to think about why you're doing what you're doing. Why are you writing? What do you want to get out of this? For me. I didn't know, I didn't have, I didn't have a plan. And that turned into me just sort of doing the work. Week after week, month after month, year after year, doing all this work. And being the super ridiculous achiever that I am, I'm like, well, we have to go bigger and better every time. So every year it got more complicated. It got more stressful. More work.
And maybe that's you, maybe that's not, but if you don't have an end game— Like for me, I didn't say, well, I'm going to try to make this much money on ads or I'm going to try to transition into a different career. I didn't have a plan. I was just doing what I loved.
So if you're just doing what you love, and you don't have a plan, that's where I think you should start. You should think about, "Why am I doing this? If I did this for the rest of my life and I never got paid for it, would I still be happy?"
Ask yourself, hard questions. Write them down If you need to. Record yourself talking to yourself, whatever works the best for you. But I encourage you to really think about your why. Because in a story, that's what we do for our hero, right? We think about why the hero is on the path they are on. What are they afraid of? What choices have they avoided making? Are they just spinning their wheels? Because a story about hero who is just spinning his wheels is not interesting. Unless that spinning of wheels is an avoidance that you can identify and you can set as an end goal for the hero to overcome or face in some way. So are you doing it just because you're bored? Are you doing it because you're compelled? Are you doing it because you're avoiding something else?
So figure out what your end goal is. Figure out why you're having the problem you're having right now. Really think about this. And then think about what makes sense next. I know that's not the most succinct answer, but I don't want you to get stuck, feeling like you're in a rut because you don't have other choices. You always have choices. And even if writing the way you're doing it right now is not your best answer, maybe a different form of the same creativity is your best answer.
In my case, I went from blogging—review blogging, which is reading books and writing reviews of them, and then posting those reviews to share with other readers to help them find the books that are right for them. I went from that, because I realized that what I was good at... yes, I'm good at reviewing, but I'm also really good at giving feedback on a story. I'm good at finding the gaps in the story. And I discovered that through my blogging path—that 10 years that I did, I chugged through all that work—I discovered that I'm a pretty good editor. And that's how I got on the path to developmental editing.
So if fiction writing is not satisfying you, where could you take this skillset? What's the next thing you could do? Now that said. The hardest work of the book... the hardest work of the first step of publishing the book... I should be specific here... is finishing that draft. If you're somebody who has not finished a first draft before, hitting the end is monumental.
And sometimes we have resistance to finishing. For example, I'm playing this game, Jedi Survivor. And I don't want to finish it. I've basically stopped playing it. I love this game. It's super fun. I get to be a Jedi, like with lightsabers, all kinds of lightsabers, like five different stances, which is amazing. But I don't want to finish it. Because if I finish it, I'll be done with it, right? I get to stay in the moment right now if I don't finish it.
Sometimes that can affect us as storytellers too. We don't want to finish the story because we want to stay with these characters. We want to stay where we're at. So if that's your problem, then think about, "What's my next step?" Really get excited about your next step. "Once I finish, then what will I do?" Right? "What's my end game? What's my goal?" Think about those things.
If being a working author—releasing books, publishing for readers (for end-reader consumption), to work as an author, earn your income as an author—if that's your end game, that's the top of your ladder, that's the thing you want to do forever... awesome. Great. Hurdle one, you have cleared. Because you know what your goal is, right?
So you need to learn to develop confidence in your decisions. And you're going to have to experience mistakes along the way. You're going to write some stories you just don't like. You're going to write some scenes that totally don't work. And that's how you learn to be a good writer. You have to figure out what works for you, what doesn't work for you, which ways make sense to invest time in, which paths do not. You don't know that until you try it.
So I would say just keep writing. Keep writing, as long as it feels good. If you're just feeling a lot of resistance because you don't like the story you're writing, that's a different problem. Maybe think about what would make you happy. Do you need to start a whole different story, or do you need to adjust the journey that your hero is on?
Okay, that was a super long answer. Let's move on to number two. I really hope that was helpful.
Self-study resources for Q1:
Question 2: "How do I outline my book (part 1)?"
Question 2: How to outline my book? (part 1)
How can I outline my book?
Now to be totally a hundred percent upfront, I specialize in revision. So my advice is always going to be centered around how to make a better story from an existing story. I am a revision specialist, not a writer. And when I create, I create chaotically. So this is me teaching you my strategy for how to take that chaos and tame it. Right? But you do have to be able to actually create the full draft of chaos the first time in order to do that revision pass.
But here is my advice for writing that first draft, from somebody who is chaos driven, who really wants to be ordered. I have this constant tug of war in my soul. I create chaos, because creation is messy. And yet I want order all the time and the two just don't mesh. Right? I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.
So my advice is to think about what you want your readers to feel. Then make a list of what you know about your hero. As much as you know about them, write it down. Go through a backstory exercise. Fill in as much as you can. Take a break if you need to recharge your energy. Look back at it the next day. Don't force yourself to do everything all in one sitting.
See if anything in this backstory triggers an idea or an inspiration for a scene. You're looking for big moments that you can set up for your hero and then plan that story around. You might find that these big moments are the Plot Milestones. So, the same Opportunity moment and Turning Point that we talk about in Liar, Liar, Plot on Fire.
You might find that they're just memorable moments in the hero's journey, but they inform where they (the hero) need(s) to go or where they need to come from. They can help you figure out where (the hero is) going or where the hero needs to start. Because our goal with the story, with a character-driven story, is to create a journey where the hero starts Mired in Fear. And remember, this fear is of an emotional experience. It's not a thing. It's not like falling or spiders. It's of feeling lonely or feeling ashamed or feeling uncapable.
So, we want to start in that place of mired in that fear, stuck in their life where they just can't do anything else. Right? And then by the end of their journey in Phase 5, they are Transformed because they are living bravely through confronting that fear. Even if they don't fully overcome it.
So as you write your backstory scenes, as you really dig down deep into that hero's history, think about what moments stand out, and ask yourself why those moments stand out. Do they help you understand anything else about the hero?
Now I do have a tool for helping you figure out that backstory, and it's called How to Build Breakthrough Backstories. It is a (virtual) workbook that you can buy on my website right now. It's regularly priced $27, and people have really given me excellent feedback about how this has helped them answer questions they didn't know they needed to ask, or have aha moments like, "Ah, right! Yes, of course that makes sense." Because I went through this series of questions. I did this table exercise. I did this short writing sprint, where I really got in the zone. That's what the workbook helps you do.
So I encourage you to look at that if you're struggling with that backstory development.
Self-study resources for Q2:
More videos coming weekly! (I will answer every question you sent in for the 7/21/23 cutoff. 🙂 We'll do another AMA sometime this fall, so be sure you're getting my emails if you want to submit a question.)
And I can't wait to help you build confidence in writing the right story in the first draft.
I help fiction writers learn how to spot the emotional gaps in your work before you sink dozens of hours, thousands of dollars, and your personal emotional energy into a publishing project. I teach you how to self-edit the way I would.
I've been called a "tough editor with a soft touch" because I cut straight to the heart of a problem and show you how to ask the hard questions that will gain you a surge in your confidence as a writer, as well as in the quality of your stories.
My courses and techniques work for most genres of character-driven fiction, but I specialize in romance for my small-group coaching programs.
Scroll down to learn more about working with me or learning from me!
Learn from Sue
Spot story-breaking plot mistakes in your own draft
Build a backstory that motivates the plot
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