Novel Boot Camp: Workshop #1 Submissions

14577156699_e85ccc7396_oWelcome to the third annual Novel Boot Camp! I’m so excited to be back for another year of writing tips and workshops!

If you participated last year, welcome back to another year of Boot Camp! If this is your first time participating, thanks for joining us! Novel Boot Camp is a ton of fun and a great opportunity to get free feedback on your novel. If you don’t know what Novel Boot Camp is, you can read more about it here.

Because Monday is Independence Day, we won’t start delving into our first topic until Tuesday. Next week is all about protagonists with four video lessons on how to write stronger, better, and more realistic characters.

Today I’m opening up the submission form for the first workshop. For the next two weeks (starting Tuesday, July 5) I will be posting the results. Make sure to submit your opening in the form below and check back every day to see if your submission was chosen for a critique.

If you’d like to see the full schedule for Novel Boot Camp, you can check it out here.

Workshop #1: “I stopped reading when…”

ca_20150131_026Hooray for Workshop #1! This was my favorite workshop from the last two years of Novel Boot Camp so I’m very excited to bring it back this year.

Agents, editors, and readers make lightning fast decisions about what they want to read. This workshop is intended to simulate the querying experience for writers who are hoping to traditionally publish. For those planning to self-publish, this workshop helps demonstrate what readers might think of your novel excerpt when deciding if they want to buy your book.

Last year I worked through 100 novel openings during this workshop. This year I’m going to run this workshop for two weeks so that I can get through even more. My hope is that the critiques will help you to avoid mistakes that get submissions deleted by agents and that cause readers to put the book down (or click away from the webpage) without buying.

You will also have the opportunity to help your fellow writers by voting whether you would continue reading after the first page.

The Critiques

I will reveal my feedback on your submissions in multiple blog posts throughout the first two weeks of Novel Boot Camp. Each blog post will include excerpts from the submitted first pages. Your name and the title of the novel will not be included. Novels will be identified by genre only.

My feedback will include the text up to the point that I stopped reading along with a few brief comments about why I didn’t continue.

You can read last year’s critiques here.

Results will be posted every weekday from Tuesday July 5th to Friday July 15.

Because this is a free course, I cannot predict how many writers will participate. This means that unfortunately I cannot guarantee everyone will have a chance to participate in every workshop. I will post submissions until time prohibits me from continuing. Thanks for understanding!

Submit your first page below:


Comment Question: What do you think is the biggest problem with your first page?

Want to connect with other Novel Boot Camp Participants?


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Novel Boot Camp: Free Novel Writing Course & Workshop in July

16771863247_55acf2edd5_oNeed help with your novel? Join the third annual Novel Boot Camp and whip your story into shape!

What is Novel Boot Camp?

Novel Boot Camp is a free writing course and workshop for aspiring novelists. It includes daily video lectures, discussion questions, a Q&A session, and two writing workshops with both professional and peer critiques.

This year I’ll be moving from text-based lectures to video lectures. You can view the videos by subscribing to my YouTube channel, but if you’d like to ask questions, answer the discussion questions, or participate in the workshops, please follow this blog so you receive updates to your email.

I’m really excited about this year’s topics, which include:

  • Writing Strong Protagonists
  • Novel Structure & Plot Points
  • Scene Structure
  • Active & Reactive Scenes
  • And more!

The Schedule

4926954971_1a10788d3b_oJuly 1, Friday: Welcome Party & First Workshop

We’ll kick off Novel Boot Camp and submissions will open for the first workshop. During Workshop #1 I will be critiquing your novel openings and providing a brief paragraph of feedback. Last year, I critiqued 100 novel openings! You can check out last year’s version of this workshop here. I will be critiquing novel openings in the order they are submitted. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get through all submissions.

July 4, Monday: No Activity Today!

If you’re in the states, please enjoy Independence Day!

July 5 – July 8, Tuesday – Friday: Protagonist Week & Workshop #1 Feedback

This week will be all about protagonists. I’m going to cover character flaws, goals, motivation, and realism. Workshop #1 will run throughout the week with daily posts of first-page critiques.

July 11-15, Monday – Friday:  Novel Structure & Workshop #1 Feedback Continued

The second full week of Novel Boot Camp will focus on novel structure. I will cover the first plot point, the midpoint, the second plot point, the climax, and the pinch points. Workshop #1 will continue with daily posts of first-page critiques.

July 15, Friday: Workshop #2 Submissions Open

Submissions for Workshop #2 will open Friday morning. This will be a peer critique session, but I will be offering my critiques as much as possible. Due to time limitations, I may not be able to include every participant in the critique session. Sorry for any inconvenience.

July 18 – 22, Monday – Friday:  Writing Great Scenes & Workshop #2 Peer Critique Sessions

This week will focus on the two different types of scenes (active and reactive) and the key components of each. The peer critique session will run throughout the week so please stop by and critique the work of the other participants!

July 22, Friday: Q&A Session Submissions Open

The submission form for the Q&A sessions will open Friday morning. You will be able to submit any questions you have about writing or editing.

July 25 – 29, Monday – Friday:  Tailored Topics & Q&A Sessions

This week the videos will be tailored to the specific needs and requests of this year’s Novel Boot Camp participants. I will choose the topics based on issues with your first pages as well as the most commonly asked Q&A questions.

How Do I Join Novel Boot Camp?

There is no sign-up form for Novel Boot Camp. Simply follow the blog (RSS feed and an email notification form are available in the sidebar) so you will receive notifications of the workshops and daily lessons.

I hope to see you all there!

If you’re planning to participate in Novel Boot Camp this year, what are you most excited to learn about?



Novel Boot Camp #16: Doubt, Disappointment, and Pressure

6752478849_992be96c95_oNovel Boot Camp 2015 is over! It went faster than I ever imagined, but it was also a huge success! I am so thankful for everyone who participated, critiqued, commented, and made Boot Camp so awesome this year!

As Novel Boot Camp draws to a close, I want to talk about some of the harder non-technical aspects of being a writer: doubt, disappointment, and pressure.


Doubt can take many shapes and forms. Maybe you doubt your ability to execute your idea. Maybe you doubt that your idea is worth reading. Maybe you doubt that you will be able to stick to your idea long enough to finish it. Whatever form your doubt takes, it’s a normal part of the writing process.

I find what can help with doubt is to look at the novel as incomplete. Just because you’ve written a scene doesn’t mean that scene is finished. It doesn’t even mean that scene will end up in your novel.

If you view your novel as constantly in flux, it’s easier to dismiss self-doubt. Just because your execution isn’t sparkling right now doesn’t mean it won’t be sparkling later. If you find a section or an idea that’s a little clunky, try to shrug it off and say “So what? It’s not finished yet.”

Unless you get to the finish line and know for certain there is nothing else you can do to improve your novel, self-doubt just slows you down and prevents you from focusing on what’s really important: finishing the novel!


Disappointment usually comes after self-doubt but it can also feel like a confirmation that your doubt is correct. Whenever a writer gets negative feedback from an editor or beta reader, and whenever a writer gets a rejection, it’s normal to feel some disappointment.

We all want our novels to be great. We all want to be successful. It can be helpful to separate yourself from your writing skills and your writing skills from your novel. Because novels tend to feel like babies that embody so much of the writer, it’s easy to wrap up your self-worth or your identity in the novel.

Remember that just because this novel isn’t working, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. Some writers write fabulously in one genre and terribly in another. Maybe you just haven’t found your voice yet. Maybe this genre isn’t for you. Or maybe you didn’t connect with the characters. It doesn’t mean you can’t write.

Also remember that your novel is not you. When your novel is criticized or rejected, it’s not you that’s being criticized or rejected, it’s the piece of art itself. Sometimes thinking about it this way can help writers keep plugging away. “It’s not me they don’t like, it’s the novel in its current state. I can keep learning and do better!”

The key to taking criticism well and taking rejection in stride is separating the novel from you and your writing skills.


14581254038_8a626bc54a_oPressure can come from a lot of places. Sometimes family members or friends put pressure on writers to finish their work faster or to get published. But often the pressure comes from within the writer.

If writing is your dream, it’s easy to want it to come true as soon as possible. Sometimes this can result in manic attempts to finish a novel or to start querying before enough work has been done. I think this is exacerbated by seeing other writers who are successful, especially young writers who already have multiple books or writers who aren’t very talented yet are successful.

It’s important to remember that writing takes time. It takes a long time to come up with a beautifully cohesive novel, and no matter how much you want to be published, that novel needs to be given the time and space to grow up. You can’t push a kindergartner out the door and expect the little guy to survive on his own. It’s okay to take time, even years, perfecting your novel.

Doubt, disappointment, and pressure are part of the writer’s life, but they can be managed in a way that is motivating and productive rather than in a way that is discouraging and demoralizing.

You can do it. You can write your book. It might not be today or this year or next year or the year after. But you can do it. You just have to stick with it!

Bye Bye Boot Camp

I can’t believe Novel Boot Camp is over already! I don’t feel entirely ready to let go! You guys have all been so awesome and so much fun to work with.

I would love to meet back here for additional critique sessions. Maybe a few weeks from now. What do you think? I would love to see how things are improving and how we can continue to help each other grow.

I have gotten several emails from participants asking about donations. I run Novel Boot Camp for free because I want to give all writers a chance at improving, not just the ones with funds to seek private help.

If you would like to donate, I very greatly appreciate it, but it’s entirely up to you. Please do not feel any pressure if you can’t afford it. If you can afford it and if Novel Boot Camp was a help to you, you can donate by clicking the button below. Thank you!

donate-buttonI hope to see all of you back for Novel Boot Camp 2016! Hopefully we can also get together for a few critique sessions in the meantime.

Bye Bye Boot Campers! Thanks for an awesome Novel Boot Camp!

Novel Boot Camp #14: Questions about Voice

3210838977_26d9efb96e_oVoice can present a lot of challenges for writers. Today I hope to provide some assistance with your concerns about voice.

These questions were submitted to me by Novel Boot Camp participants. Feel free to submit your own question here.

Do you have any advice for women writing in a male POV or for men writing in a female POV? I love to write male characters in first person POV, but I’m not sure if it would ring true to a male reader.

Though society puts a lot of emphasis on the differences between men and women, we’re really not all that different in terms of how we think and feel in most situations. In my experience, people fail at writing the opposite gender when they try to put too much emphasis on “being” that gender. It’s easy to overshoot your target. For example, I’ve seen several men write female characters who talk too much about menstruation while actual female writers almost never touch the subject. On the flip side, I’ve seen females write male characters who focus too much on their man parts while male writers almost never mention it at all.

Generally writing is perceived as more feminine when it is flowery and emotional, and writing is seen as more masculine when it is direct and focuses on facts. But there is no hard and fast rule, and I certainly don’t advocate sticking exclusively to gender norms. Making the gender clear as close to the first sentence as possible is key.

A lot book reviews I read tend to assume that the character’s way of thinking is the same as the authors, which is not always true. It makes me a little nervous to write characters with with strong and/or controversial opinions as I’m worried people will not separate the character from the author. Do you have any thoughts or advice?

I touched on this topic a pretty good amount in my lecture on messages and morals. A character will be seen as the author’s mouthpiece if the character’s traits, motivations, desires, etc. don’t hold up under scrutiny. If the character development is flawless and cohesive, readers usually won’t assume the character is simply saying the writer’s opinion because the character will feel like a real person.

That said, if a message is pushed strongly, readers might still assume it’s the writer’s opinion, but that’s okay! You’re not going to please everyone. So long as you aren’t beating the reader over the head with the character’s opinion, you’re probably fine.

How can a tried trope still be presented as fresh and amusing (without predictable scenes)? Can this only be done with an outstanding voice or are there other ways?

An outstanding voice can make tropes feel fresh, but that’s certainly not the only way. Combining tropes in unexpected ways, inverting/reversing tropes, pairing them with unique ideas, strong plotting, and surprising twists and turns are all ways to make tropes feel fresher.

How can a writer evaluate, and thereafter  develop their particular strong suits?

I think if a writer has a strong suit, they are probably already aware of what it is. You might need other writers or an editor to help you identify your strong suits, but chances are if you don’t know what your strong suits are, you don’t have any. This is okay! Sometimes a writer develops more or less evenly across all areas without having one area that stands out as stronger.

The most common strong suits I see are: an ability to be extremely creative/original in concept/plotting, an ability to manipulate and utilize language in a way that is emotional or poetic, an ability to craft characters that are intensely realistic and emotional.

I’m not sure if I answered your question. Please comment if you meant something different.

I find it difficult to explain dialog between people without repeating the same word patterns. Like blah blah blah, said tom. Blah blah, exclaimed jake as he blah blahed. The “said tom” and “exclaimed jake” is what I’m referring to here. Doing this too much makes me want to vomit. If I got rid of the filtering here and just had the dialogue then the problem of identifying who said what pops up. I mean it’s obvious they’re talking and I don’t really have to repeat it, but how do we know who said what? How do I get around this without the agonizing he said she said?

Dialogue tags are not a requirement. They are designed to make writing clearer. An alternative way to achieve this is through formatting. If you only include action/thoughts/emotions from the character speaking in the same line as the dialogue, readers will always know who’s talking without it needing to be explained. For example:

Todd bounced on his toes. “It’s freezing out here.”

Mitch nodded. “Yep.”

“You want a cigarette?”

Mitch cocked his head. “You smoking now?”

Todd shrugged.

“That crap’s going to kill you.”

I didn’t need to use any dialogue tags to make the scene above easy to follow because the formatting is doing most of the work for me.

When you’re writing from a first person perspective is it assumed that all events being told have already happened? Is it like the main character is telling you ‘the reader’ what has already happened to him/her? If that’s true wouldn’t every action be described as “had said” or “had done”? Is there any notion of a present and if there is I find it incredibly difficult to keep the two distinct.

I think I understand what you’re asking here, but my apologies if I don’t . I assume you’re referring to first-person past tense. In that case, there may or may not be a sense of the “present” but I would say that usually there is. For consistency, I think it helps to think of your character as telling the story “now” even if the present is never relevant. So your narration might read:

I walked into the house to find Mom reading at the dining room table. She had a book propped up. She loves reading, always has. I approached her with caution, not wanting to jar her away from the story.

The line She loves reading, she always has is in present tense because presumably his mother is still alive and still has this trait at the point that he is relaying the story. This is your choice however. You could just as easily put that line in past tense as if everything about the narrator is in the past. Just keep it consistent.

When it comes to writing colloquial speech and accents, what does an author need to know? What works and what fails?

When writing an accent, make sure you truly understand what the accent sounds like so that it doesn’t come across as cartoonish. Sprinkle in a few colloquialisms or a few indicators of an accent but don’t write out every line phonetically because it will drive the reader crazy and it’s very difficult to read.

“I gotta get goin’ Ma. The man’s at the door.” is totally fine.

“I gotta git goin’ Ma. Da man’s at te’ door.” is probably too much.

Do you have any tips for writing voice specifically for YA novels?

Remember that teens are as diverse as adults. Not all teens are whiny brats. Not all teens are obsessed with sex. You can write your teenagers as diverse as you write your adult characters.

Make sure you listen to real teenagers talking. Read modern (last five years) YA novels. Watch TV shows or movies aimed at young adults. Listen in on conversations at the mall or movie theater. If you don’t know modern slang really well, don’t try to use it. Also note that most teenagers aren’t using slang or use it sparingly. I would go for a timeless youthful voice over trying to make it too modern, which (even if done right) will make the work quickly feel dated.

I hope this answers some of your questions about voice! I am still taking questions for tomorrow’s blog post if you’d like to submit yours.

Novel Boot Camp #13: Questions about Traditional and Self-Publishing

6987811982_6160f4e193_oToday’s post will cover some of the questions submitted to me from Boot Campers. If you would like to submit your own questions, you can do so here. Please also provide critiques for other participants over at Workshop #4.

Questions about self-publishing were among the most common questions submitted to me by participants. I hope to shed some light on both traditional and self-publishing below. Continue reading

Workshop #4: Peer Critique Session

6752478685_bc1b9e857c_oWelcome to the first part of our last workshop! The previous peer critique session was a huge success so I’m looking forward to all the great feedback in this session.

Each novel opening has been pasted on its own page with its own comments section. Please leave your comments in the individual comments sections rather than on this page. Continue reading

Workshop #4: Peer Critiques & Ask the Editor

3470413515_11d4f27c6b_oI spent a lot of time considering what to do for the final workshop this week. I wanted to make sure that it is as beneficial as possible for the most amount of Boot Campers.

So this week we will have another peer critique session. You guys really rocked the critiques last week! There was a ton of great feedback, and I got emails and messages from a lot of really happy participants. So a big pat on the back to all of you!

I have also been getting a lot of questions from participants about things not covered (or not deeply covered) in Novel Boot Camp. So I want to give those writers the chance to ask their questions.

Depending on the type and number of questions I receive, I might replace the lectures this week with Q&A sessions. I have to play it by ear depending on the participation level.

You are free to submit to both workshops (you don’t have to pick just one). The submission forms are below. Thanks!

Peer Critique Workshop

This week I would like us to focus on scenes a little deeper into the novels. It is your choice where the scene takes places, but please do not submit your first page again.

I suggest choosing a scene that is emotionally charged, a scene that demonstrates your voice, or a scene that you know is not working but you aren’t sure why.

You may provide context for the scene by briefly outlining who the characters are and what led up to the scene, but there is a combined cap of 1,250 words for the explanation/context and the scene itself.

I will post submissions twice this week: tomorrow (August 25th) and Wednesday (August 26th). If I do not have your submission in by 8am EST on August 26th you will not be able to participate.

The Golden Rule: Do not submit your novel opening if you do not intend to critique the openings of others. This is not fair to the other participants.

***Important: Please leave a blank line between paragraphs by entering after each paragraph after you’ve pasted into the submission box. This spacing will not show up for you, but it will show up on my end. If you do not leave a blank line between paragraphs, I will not add them for you and it will make the submission difficult to read. Thank you!***

Q&A Session

For the Q&A session, you are free to ask any questions you like about writing, editing, or publishing. I ask that you please only submit your two best questions and that you keep them as brief as possible.

I cannot put two submission forms on one page, so to submit a question, please click here:

Q&A Session Submission Form

Thanks to everyone for making Novel Boot Camp such a great success this year!

Novel Boot Camp #12: Follow Your Vision

14592834649_e53ec5eaa9_oAt the beginning of Novel Boot Camp we talked about brainstorming and how to be creative. Coming up with ideas isn’t difficult for most writers. We can sit and rattle off dozens or maybe hundreds of ideas (a hippo escapes the zoo, a girl gets possessed by her mother’s ghost, a dog saves a child from a kidnapper…you get the idea).

But coming up with great ideas is a lot more challenging. So today I want to talk about how we know whether our ideas are working for or against our novels. Continue reading

Novel Boot Camp #11: Improving Voice

3251651362_5ef5e48744_oVoice is possibly the most elusive part of being a great writer. It’s tough to pin down why some voices work and others don’t. We love voices that feel real and authentic, but we also love voices that are over-the-top and full of outrageous personality.

It’s tough to develop a voice and for some writers it’s the hardest part of the writing process. Once you’ve gotten down the structure and you’re avoiding grammar mistakes, your writing might still lack the sort of voice that publishers go crazy for. Continue reading

Novel Boot Camp #10: Morals and Messages

3211518494_c59efde0ea_oHistorically, storytelling was often used as a tool to convey religious, moral, or even political messages. Stories made concepts easy to pass along to others, especially when not everyone could read.

But today, we no longer tell stories for the purpose of conveying morals. This doesn’t mean that books today never have morals, but it does mean that the publishing industry expects the story to stand on its own merit. Continue reading