The Story Toolkit: The Last Book Planning Tool You’ll Ever Need


The Story Toolkit

So, anybody who has followed me for any real length of time through the writing of a book or six, has probably heard me talk about The Story Toolkit that I use to plan out all my books.  This is the brainchild of my long term crit partner and editor, Susan Bischoff.  I’ve always thought of The Story Toolkit as having a mini-Susan there to ask me all the stuff she always asks me when I start a new book.  She’d say she wrote it for herself, as a means to have some hand-holding through the book writing process.  I think she just got tired of me asking the same questions over and over 😉  Either way, we’ve spent years refining the system and it’s finally available for everybody else to use!

My most essential book planning tool

toolkit-coverI cannot say enough good things about this system.  It’s made me a better, more efficient writer.  The only book I’ve had to fully redraft since I started using it was the one book I told myself “Oh, I don’t need to fill the whole thing out for this.”  (Spoiler Alert: Yeah, I totally did).  This system is not about plotting–at least not in the scary way that makes most pantsers hyperventilate.  It’s about PLANNING and BUILDING and figuring out all the important bits you need to know about your book–no matter where you are in the story.

The Story Toolkit may not be the last book you’ll ever need on story crafting, but it will ABSOLUTELY become an essential part of your arsenal.

Get yours today

She’s having a NaNo Prep/Introductory Sale for the month of October.  Grab this invaluable resource while it’s still only $2.99!!!  (And if you’ve got a Kindle Unlimited subscription, nab it through that for free!)

Round 4 #ROW80 Goals

Time for Round 4 already.  It’s been a hella productive year so far, and I’d like to finish out strong.  So, without further ado…

  1. Write 20 out of 30 days.  I never seem to have trouble meeting this.
  2. Finish expansion of Wish I Might.  I just got this novella back from the Virtually Yours anthology and am expanding it to finish telling the story that wouldn’t quite fit in the boxed set word count.
  3. Finish revisions on Autumn and Judd’s book.  Diving into these as soon as I finish the expansion on WIM.  I also have to decide on a TITLE, write the blurb, and do all that jazz related to release.
  4. Write second draft of Sooper Seekrit Project Book 1.  I did not use the toolkit on this and I’m paying for it.
  5. Plot and write Sooper Seekrit Project Book 3.  I’ve now been working on this trilogy for a year, so I’ve got a much better handle on the stories and settings, and I feel like this one will go better than the first one did.
  6. Prep print editions of Wishful series.  I’ve been putting this off, as it’s going to require dealing with print formatting, which I HATE.  And, of course, making the full covers.  But I’d like to have these put together for Christmas.

That’s it.  Short and sweet list, but lots to do!

Out of Routine and Impending Snowpocalypse

Updated: OMG, I have been trying to get this post written for two days!  

Blanket FortI don’t know what it is about holidays that just pull me totally out of routine for DAYS.  We were closed for MLK Day on Monday.  I spent THE ENTIRE DAY in my JAMMIES.  I can’t remember the last time I did that when I wasn’t sick.  It was pretty fabulous.  The blanket for was still up from girl’s night on Friday (because this is how we chose to watch Sense and Sensibility in honor of the passing of Alan Rickman </3) and I spent the whole day camped out in the living room by the fire.

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The writing has been going well.  I probably won’t quite finish this novel by the end of January, but I’ll be close.  I’ve cranked out 12.7k since my last check-in (which was Sunday before last).  A bit lower than I wanted, but I had stuff going on and needed to figure some plot stuff out.  All in all, I think this draft is going pretty well.

I’m in a mode for re-evaluating covers at the moment.  I did some playing around with cover options for Just For This Moment over the weekend, and was messing with Know Me Well, which I’ve never been happy with.  It doesn’t fit with the rest of the series.  I was operating on a shoestring last year financially and wasn’t able to hire my original cover designer.  Now that things have picked up, I think I’ll be rectifying that.

I was supposed to be traveling to Natchez for work today (because it’s now THURSDAY…where has the week gone?) but that just got cancelled due to the fact that they are apparently supposed to be having a literal blizzard type storm in south Mississippi tomorrow.  SNOWPOCALYPSE.  Preceded by a bunch of tornadoes and hail today.  Yay. Not.  Of course, probably we won’t get more than flurries here and not get out of work…because that’s almost always how it works.  I just want one snow day.  Is that too much to ask?

Shameless plug!

Anyway, just as well I’m not having to travel and figure out how the heck to eat on Whole 30.  I’m on Day 18.  Over the weekend, I finally made the executive decision to allow myself one cup of tea a day as I like it.  A lot of Whole 30 is learning what foods are problematic for your body.  I already know that what goes in my tea doesn’t bother me.  I did the full elimination diet for allergies a couple years ago.  Since I’ve been drinking tea for nearly 20 years and I know perfectly well I’m not going to STOP drinking tea, now that the caffeine withdrawals are over with, it didn’t seem worth NOT drinking it.  Especially since my weight loss had stalled out because I was compensating for not having it by over-eating a bunch of other stuff (which totally didn’t satisfy the craving).  So.  Tea.  And the scale is moving in the right direction again.

Since I’m in the office today, I have a bunch of paperwork to catch up on.

Bring It 2016! Round 1 ROW80 Goals

Because I work for a university, one of the epic perks is a long Christmas break.  Since we’re off until after New Year’s, it doesn’t ever REALLY feel like a new year until I get back to work and into the normal routine.  Today is that day and I’m raring to go.  I’ve got eleventy billion things to catch up on, so I’m just gonna rip out my goals here real quick.

  1. Successfully complete Whole 30.  Okay not a writing goal, but I’m also starting this today, so it gets listed.
  2. Write 20 out of 30 days.  One of these days I should up this just because I usually hit nearly all 30 days most of the time, but as soon as I remove the wiggle room, I’ll miss it.
  3. Continue to get up during the week at 5:15 to write before my morning workout.  I started doing this during NaNo last Round and had surprisingly good luck with it.  It really helped me up my total word counts and keep my head in the story more easily the rest of the day.
  4. Finish Just For This Moment, Piper and Myles’ novella.  I started this one with the new year and have finally hit my stride.  God I love these two.  They’re so fun.
  5. Outline and finish Sooper Seekrit project Book 2.  It’s partially outlined already, so I just need to finish that out.
  6. Get back into my weekly gym routine.  I sorted out a new lifting routine over Christmas and started that this morning.  I am opting to wait until I finish Whole 30 to give C25k a try again.
  7. Learn Audacity.  I want to give audiobooks a try.  I thought I’d maybe turn some of my Meet Cutes into Podiobooks.  We’ll see how that goes.  I bought a course last year on how to do it.  I just need to go through it.

Anyway, that’s it.  Back to the grindstone.

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And We’re Off…A New Shiny and #ROW80 Update

Okay so I’m late with this #ROW80 update, but it’s because I have started a new shiny.  The holiday themed story that was SUPPOSED to be a Meet Cute has evolved into a full novella.  Because OF COURSE.

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I’d been worried since I knocked out my NaNo novel over the weekend because in the wake of November, I really felt like I’d lost my momentum and that the whole get up before dawn and write wasn’t going to be a thing I could maintain.  Turns out, I just need to have something plotted and actually be ready to go.  I ripped out a scene last night (between baking for a holiday party tonight) and another before walking the pups this morning.  Sixteen to go.  And really, this makes sense.  I can evidently write without my brain being fully online (my internal editor preferring to start her days later), but I can’t actually PLOT without being fully conscious.

Of course this wasn’t at all what was supposed to be next.  I’m SUPPOSED to be plotting out Myles and Piper’s novella (and I will, once I’m off for the holiday).  But whatever.  I always enjoy playing with a new shiny.  And, frankly, it gives me the feels to make Tara happy.  She’s had such a rough time of it and she totally pulled at me from the moment she showed up in Know Me Well.  Plus, I’m not going to have time to watch all the usual holiday movies, so this satisfies my holiday cheesey requirement.

Now I’ve got to think of a new title since it’ll be a part of the Wishful series proper, rather than a spin off Meet Cute.

Meanwhile, it’s time to deck the house for the holidays.  Hubby got us both a big Christmas present this year and hired a cleaning service to deep clean the house yesterday.  SO AWESOME!  I don’t think our house has been THIS clean since we moved in.  Tree tomorrow night, just in time for our party Saturday.

Post NaNo Dig Out and Christmas Prep

We had a good, hard frost this morning.  This is a sign we’re heading on into my favorite time of year.  No, I don’t mean Christmas.  I mean all the stuff I’m allergic to is going to stop growing and for the next three months, I’ll be able to breathe!  Also, I’ll look fetching in all of my lovely winter sweaters and fun coats.  I completely live in the wrong part of the country for my particular fashion addiction.  I’ve relocated my laptop to the living room for a bit just so I can enjoy a fire–because why not?

Last week was a bit of a post NaNo crash.  I wrote every day, but barely.  After getting up at 5:15 almost every morning of November, when the alarm went off this week, I gave it the metaphoric middle finger and rolled back over.  There was post holiday catching up to do at the evil day job and for assorted other things and I’ve lost momentum on my NaNo book.  I’m down to the last 4 scenes!  So in an effort to start reconnecting, I started a read through last night, fixing typos and small things as I find them and generally making notes of what all I need to tie up in this last little chunk.  I got through the first half before bed and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the first draft.  Of course, I haven’t REALLY stepped away from it long enough for the rose colored glasses to come off, but given how much of this was essentially fast drafted, I was expecting…worse.  So the plan is to finish the rest today and write the next couple of scenes tonight, after hubs has left for work and we’re done with obedience school for the day.

Also on the agenda is epic cleaning.  We’re having a holiday party next weekend and the house is an absolute pig sty.  It’s been hubby’s long week at work, so he hasn’t had the opportunity to help much other than doing a cursory and much needed vacuum yesterday.  My goal today is to rehome all of the stuff that’s accumulated on every horizontal surface in the house.  Why do we do this?  You’d think this stuff has nowhere to live.  Usually I’m pretty good about putting things away but right now, I’m just as guilty as my husband about just piling stuff up.  I foresee a lot of tossing of things in the garbage.  Hopefully that will leave things clear tomorrow for the start of some deep cleaning.  Starting with the kitchen.

With luck, hubs will be up in time tomorrow to help me pull the boxes of Christmas stuff out of the attic before he leaves for work.  We won’t get our tree until Friday, but I can start getting the rest of the house decorated up.  Right now we’re totally Those People in our neighborhood.  Everyone around us decorated Thanksgiving and the weekend following.  We were, of course, out of town for our delayed turkey day at my mom’s.  I’m feeling a lot like the Ditto Lights people right now.  I did manage to pick up a live wreath (still bare) midweek and yesterday I got some pansies and some kind of winter greenery to plant in the two pots flanking the front door and around the mailbox (which has been a weedy mess since summer).  It doesn’t exactly scream “holiday” but it is at least neater.  If only I had time to tackle the weeding of the REST of the flower beds…  Maybe I can carve out an hour tomorrow.  It rained a lot early in the week, so it’s actually a really good time for it because the ground is looser.

I’ve been very frustrated by the available choices in holiday reading and watching the last week or so.  It seems like 2 out of every 3 holiday romances I pick up are about a single parent.  And yeah, okay, I get the whole Christmas is beautiful in a child’s eyes, but that’s just not what I’m in the mood to read.  There are other stories about the renewal of Christmas spirit that happen without kids, so where the heck are they?  Apparently my brain was annoyed at the lack of options, so while I was wondering around Lowes yesterday, it spewed out a Christmas Meet Cute idea for a secondary character from Know Me Well with the little brother (who didn’t exist before yesterday) of a planned future shero in Wishful.  I got half of that plotted out last night before diving into my reread.  So depending on how things go, I might rip that out next, while I’m plotting out Myles and Piper’s novella.  There actually are kids in the story, but they definitely aren’t the focus.  We’ll see how things work out.  I’ve got 2 weeks left at the evil day job for the year, so LOTS of stuff to wrap up before then.  Time to get to work.

On The Back Side of NaNo

I realize I haven’t actually posted since the first week of November.  At all.  No check ins.  No funny stuff, no nothin’.

I decided a few days before the start of November that I was going to actually seriously try NaNoWriMo this year.  My tactic was to actually try getting up early to write, something I’ve avoided like the plague since…well ever.  Morning and I, not really on speaking terms, you understand.  But with the end of Daylight Savings Time coming SO FREAKING LATE, I decided to just keep on getting up at the same time and see what happened.

Turns out?  My internal editor says, “Screw that! I’m sleeping in!”  I actually CAN write at 5:15 in the morning.

I also fully embraced Write or Die, which has helped tremendously in just getting the words out and keeping me from zoning out and just staring at the blank page.

So, how’d I do?

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-SquareWell, I “won” NaNo on November 27th, before I headed up to my mom’s for our delayed Thanksgiving.   With one day left in the month, I’m sitting pretty at 52,511 words.  This is the most I’ve ever written in a month EVER.  And I did this while taking a month long teacher’s certification class, traveling for a full week for the evil day job, juggling holiday junk, and putting the puppy through obedience school (we’re still not done with that).

Now, is this a permanently sustainable pace?  Probably not all the time.  I’ve been pretty underslept this month.  But it definitely proves that I can push myself and produce considerably more than I have been.  It’s helped me learn where I was losing a lot of time and how to get more firmly in that fast draft mode instead of edit mode.  Now I haven’t looked at the draft.  It may need a ton of revision.  And that’s fine.  I’ll look at it when the book is done (I lack about 15-18k).  The point is the GETTING IT OUT so that it can be edited.

Meanwhile, I just released a new Meet Cute Romance.  Once Upon A Setup, a novelette of around 13,000 words, is a companion story to Be Careful, It’s My Heart and is a crossover with my Wishful series. It’s available at Amazon, Smashwords, iBooksKobo, Scribd (more coming), for $0.99.  Add it on Goodreads!

The historic Madrigal Theater in the heart of downtown Wishful is on the verge of closing its doors, and Piper Parish is on a mission to save it–even if it means pulling a little deception to get her best friend back up on the stage where she had her heart broken.  When new-to-town newspaperman Myles Stewart catches on to his co-star’s shenanigans, he has a choice–keep quiet or get to the bottom of things.  He’s never been able to resist a story…and he’s not sure he wants to resist Piper.
Once Upon A Setup Daylight 9
I also put together a boxed set of all five of my Meet Cute Romances.  It’s enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so if you’ve got a subscription you can read it for FREE.  Or you can nab it for $2.99.
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5 Tools to Increase NaNoWriMo Productivity

Whether you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month or not, chances are, if you’re a writer, you suffer from procrastination and having the attention span of a squirrel on crack.

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When your writing time is limited, it’s important that you make the most of it!  Here’s a collection of my favorite 5 tools to increase NaNoWriMo productivity.

  1. Moosti.  This website is a timer based on the Pomodoro method–you know that thing where you work in 25 minute bursts, with a brief break.  You can dial the time up or down, according to your personal preference.  I tend to need a little longer than 25 minutes to really get going.
  2. StayFocusd.  This one is a browser extension that allows you to nuke the internet.  This one’s fantastic for those of us who compulsively surf the web when we hit a snag or just because it became IMPERATIVE that we find out what’s going on on Twitter or see what our friends had for lunch on Facebook.  There’s a safe list for sites you need to access regardless.  I have all my favorite ambient noise channels listed there.  Now unless you install this on ALL your browsers, you can still get around the restriction, but this works for most people, I think.
  3. Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator.  If you don’t want to nuke the ENTIRE internet, this one is good for locking down most of Facebook.  You can still leave your own statuses and still access chat (handy if you’ve got word sprints going with buddies there), but you won’t lose hours to Buzzfeed posts or LOL Cat pics.
  4. Momentum.  I actually just installed this this morning.  It makes each new tab you open a pretty zen picture and reminds you of your daily goal.  Good for giving you that extra bump to focus.
  5. Write or Die.  This is not something I use on any regular basis.  The lack of formatting bugs me (even though really that’s something that may slow me down, which is the point of it not having it).  I actually have Write or Die 2, the desktop edition (paid version–worth the $20 if this kind of thing works for you), which has a lot more bells and whistles (I prefer being able to reward myself with puppies rather than punish myself with spiders or other creepies).  You can still access the old, free web-based version here, though it is definitely not near as feature rich.

#ROW80 Round 4 Goals

I feel like all I’ve been doing for the last month is spinning my wheels, constantly behind and trying to catch up, without a lot of success.  This is…not a good thing.  I get All The Things done because I have a carefully balanced system of spinning plates.  When new elements are introduced, that balance is disrupted and I get…um, not nice.  I tend to bite. Being behind on things stresses me out.  Having lots of new elements foisted on me that are out of my control stresses me out.  Having extra work dumped on me because of other peoples’ ineptitude really stresses me out.  Given that I’m dealing with all of these things at the Evil Day Job and have been for a while, the stress and anxiety has been building like a pressure cooker.  I despised group projects in school–my teachers always stuck me with the slackers and idiots.  Like I was going to trust my grade to THEM?  Screw that.  I was getting an A.  I still despise them as a grown up.  Doing things by committee takes forever, it’s inefficient, and leads to all kinds of problems.  Yeah, yeah, I need to be sporting a t-shirt that proclaims Does Not Play Well With Others.  It cracks my mother up that my job is as a project coordinator (really, I’m great at it as long as I’m allowed to play God–which is the norm…just not for our primary project right now).  Anyway, the last few weeks have not been awesome.

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I’ve been on a crusade the last two weeks to find some kind of Get Things Done/Project Management app/software where I can lay everything in, set dates, get reminders, snooze anything that’s not relevant yet, and have a record of completed tasks at the end (because it would make compiling my annual review SO much easier).  I’ve tried Asana, Producteev, Azendoo, and have finally come back to Todoist, which I’ve used in the past but now has more robust features than it did baack then.  I found an IFTTT recipe that’ll add a line to a spreadsheet for each completed task, giving me that list of what I did.  I can email a task directly to Todoist and have it added to my list, which will be great because I lose things in Outlook all the time.  I just have to learn the tagging system for all of it.  My boss is about to be out of town for the rest of the week, so I’m taking the opportunity to screen my calls at work, get the new system set up, and TAKE BACK CONTROL OF MY LIFE.  Which brings me to my goals for this round.

  1. Get Todoist set up to manage my work life.  This reduces my stress, makes me less likely to miss something or drop some of those spinning plates, and puts me in a frame of mind where I am able to waste less brain power on this kind of thing.  That leaves more for writing.
  2. Write at least 20 days out of 30.  Oldie but goodie.
  3. Write and release a Meet Cute Romance.  I’ve got  a new one plotted out, I just need to buckle down and write it.
  4. Do the 31 Day Purge.  I’m not concerned with getting it all done in 31 consecutive days, but I’d love to have my house seriously purged of excess crap by the end of the year.
  5. Do yoga at least 5 days out of 7.  I’m working my way through a 30 Day Yoga Challenge now, and I’m just…not good at working out on weekends.  But I am enjoying doing just a little bit of yoga a day–15-20 minutes, especially after work, while supper is cooking.
  6. Get my class updated for spring.  I don’t even know WHICH class I’m teaching yet (my department head hasn’t told me), but almost all of them need updating to go along with new textbooks.  This is a monstrous pain in the butt, as it means re-recording almost all my lectures.  Ugh.  I’m so over wanting to do any of this.  So…that is, unfortunately, what I will be doing over Christmas holidays.

There are some other things I’d like to do, but this is all I’m committing to.  Because I’m splitting my writing between multiple projects, other than the Meet Cute, I don’t anticipate finishing any of them before the end of the year.  But we’ll see.  I’m off to taekwondo to work off some of this frustration.

#ROW80 Round 3 Goals

It is officially the start of Round 3 for A Round of Words in 80 Days.  So, time to state those goals.

  1. Write at least 20 out of every 30 days (oldie but goodie).
  2. Write, revise, and prepare for release my novella for the upcoming Virtually Yours anthology.  This one is a Wishful tie-in following Reed Campbell (youngest cousin of Cam from To Get Me To You) and Cecily Dixon (Norah’s intern, also from TGMTY).  I’ve got it all outlined and ready to go.
  3. Revise and release Know Me Well.  This is Liam and Riley’s story, the third installment in the Wishful series.  I should be getting revision notes back from my editor any day now.
  4. Decide whether or not I’m going to write the novella I’ve been kicking around following Dillon and Avery from Once Upon A Coffee.  If I decide to do it, outline and write it.
  5. If I don’t pick up with Dillon and Avery again, I’ll be outlining and starting on Something’s Gotta Give, the next Wishful novel, following Autumn Buchanan and Judd Hamilton (you’ll see more of them in Know Me Well).  This book has been beating at my brain–or more specifically Autumn has–since February.  It’ll be another meaty one, more along the lines of To Get Me To You, and I CAN’T WAIT.  I haven’t had a character be this LOUD since Elodie from Red.  If I don’t get to it this round, Round 4 for sure.
  6. Go through Couch 2 5K again.  Hubs and I have joined a local gym (he got a PHENOMENAL deal through work for both of us), meaning I’ll have access to treadmills in AC again.  I haven’t quite figured out what my schedule will be (as I definitely have to walk the dogs every day), but that’s something I’ve been itching to do.  It’s good thinking/plotting time.
  7. Finish putting together my Preparing To Launch class for writers.  This is an adaptation of a presentation I did for WANACon last year, going over everything people who are planning to self publish need to know before doing it.

That should do me.