Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Where to start?

As many of you know, I have been deep into the editing phase of my second novel since January. Over the last week, I completed the formatting phase. 😊

Over the last few years, I have been asked how you do it. How do you start with a blank page and end up with a book?

First, let me say, you do NOT do it alone! It’s important to know your weaknesses and embrace them. Don’t try to cover them up. Find people who can help you in those areas. Also, and equally important, understand that their help is not free. You will need to spend money to self-publish. Understanding what you can do yourself, and what you need to hire others to accomplish, is the key.

There are many tools I have used along the way as well. Each phase of the book making process requires I wear a different hat and approach my project with a different mind-set.

The most important thing to do in the first draft phase is to simply shut up and get out of your own way. I think more dreams die before they even begin because we have a hard time doing this! We let every minor distraction interrupt us, and we let every moment of indecision derail us.

If our inner critic isn’t born with us, it surely is developed during our school days. Maybe it takes after a parent who never hesitated to tell you that you will never amount to anything. Maybe it stems from a teacher who took pleasure in belittling you. Maybe it was a group of other students who made you doubt yourself. Regardless of where your inner critic was born, you need to learn how to sit down and do whatever it is you want to do and just let it jabber away in the background.

“This is stupid.”
“Who would ever want to read or buy this?”
“Who do you think you are?”

Just let it roll off your back.
If it helps, you can occasionally yell, “Shut up! Maybe it will suck, but I am going to do it anyway!”

Go ahead.
Try it.
I’ll wait.

After years of practice at doing it anyway, you will improve. You will learn to quiet that inner critic and get the words down, or the paint on the canvas, or the ________________ (Fill in the blank. This advice works for all dreams.)

My tools for this phase are simple. Cheap notebooks, pens and/or a computer will take you there. I personally love to use my old Alphasmart Neo. Sadly they don’t make them anymore, but this little gem is perfect for spilling words out without getting hung up on rereading what I have written and trying to fix it as I go. They run forever on standard batteries, automatically save your work, have an instant on/off and only show a few lines of text at a time. Best of all, it is not connected to the internet! Distraction free writing! If you see one on EBay, I suggest you grab it!

For those of you who also need to be far from the pleasures of google and Facebook in order to focus, there are programs out there that can accomplish the same environment. Though I don’t have experience using them, I have heard good things about FocusWriter, WriteMonkey and OmmWriter.

I usually get the entire first draft done on my Neo, and then transfer the files into Word for the first rewrite. I am also a huge fan of Scrivener. It is an inexpensive and feature rich program that many writers love. Sadly, the learning curve is steep and I haven’t figured out how to use it to its fullest capacity yet.

When I am in the first draft phase, I bring very few rules to the table. I have found that NaNoWriMo is a great way to get my creative juices working – a monumental but doable goal, a deadline, and the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of other writers are writing at the same time. For those who are new to the game, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, sets us up to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Over the years, NaNo has taught me some valuable lessons.

  1. I can do this. The first year I did NaNo I reworded myself with prizes every 10,000 words to keep me motivated. In the following years though the high of finishing was prize enough.
  2. Before I can do this, I need to quiet that inner critic. She is welcome to return during rewrites and editing as long as she is constructive.
  3. To accomplish the monumental task, I need to make my writing a priority. If I don’t take it seriously, no one else will either. I must prioritize.

Both of my novels, Far Away and Ever After (2015), and the upcoming Magic Key (2018), started as NaNo projects. I’m here to tell you that 30 days may be enough time to get the story lines down. But to get to the point where I feel it is ready for the “publish” button, it takes a LOT more work. It takes different tools, and different hats, and a team.

I will be talking about the rest of the process this summer, so be sure to check back each week!


  1. Thanks for the advice 😊

  2. Rosemary Reader and Writer

    I too am just finishing the first edit of my Nano 2015 Novel. 50,000 is not full novel length… and then you need to sort out the rubbish you wrote in Nano.

    Thanks for this very helpful and informative post.

    • Rosemary, good luck with your novel! The length depends on the age group you are writing for. Many middle grade and young adult novels clock in right around 50,000 words. Some adult fiction, as well. My husband gave me good advice about that when I was editing book #2. He reminded me that I needed to just tell my story. If it takes 40,000 or if it takes 150,000. 😊

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