[Write that book] Step 1: Inspiration

I had a morning to myself the other day and was determined to be productive but my head was full of things I had to do. I didn’t know on which to focus first but knew that the more I thought about it the more I would be taking time away from doing anything at all.

So I turned to my support:

  • morning pages,
  • to-do lists,
  • recording and listening, and
  • meditation.

“How does this fit in with writing a book?” you may be asking yourself. Well, let me tell you.

The same processes that guide what I choose to do from a huge mix of what I could be doing, also guide the way I write a novel.

If you are anything like me – and a lot of other people out there – then you may have many many many ideas of what you could be writing. The ideas may be convoluted and bouncing around so much in your head, that you can’t seem to get started on your book.

One main reason for this is that the mind doesn’t work linearly and isn’t particularly focused all on its own. It’s a bit like a monkey jumping from idea to idea. It can be unsettled, unfocused and restless.

One way to get your mind to focus is by giving it something to do – usually counting breaths from one to ten and over and over again while letting your mind do its thing in the background.

In the novel-writing business, however, we need those thoughts because they are the nebulous mass that will ultimately give birth to brilliant and focused writing. Well, to original and genuine writing, if nothing else.

But we are not going to write from those thoughts. We are going to use those thoughts to get to the genuine story. Here are some ways to do just that.

Morning Pages

The first is what Julia Cameron in the Artist’s Way calls the Morning Pages.

[T]he morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: “Oh, god, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday? Blah, blah, blah…” They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions.

This is how the morning pages will help you find your story. While the point is to do these first thing in the morning before anything else, I think you can get away with doing them when you have a chance to write.

So, write the three longhand pages just like Cameron describes but focus on your novel idea. Don’t stop, don’t think, just keep going. Repeat yourself, if you need to.

Your job is to silence your inner critic and to get any ideas you have on paper.

Once you write something down you’ll find that more ideas come up, and then you write them down and more and more come up. It’s like you’re making space. These later ideas, though, are not the same as the first ones. They are fresh and new and they may not be what you need but they will clear up any drudge thoughts.

Once you’ve written your pages, go back through them and with a different colour pen, underline the ideas you want to add to your list of ‘book to-dos’.

When I did this with my thoughts this morning, I had an initial number of eighteen. After all the processes I’ve gone through, I am now at forty-five.

This leads to the second process – the Book To-Do List

Think of all morning-pages content as inspiration for your book. The thoughts don’t have to connect to each other and they don’t need to (and should not) be linear although one might follow another. You want creativity and a glimpse into the unknown. You want to find thoughts you didn’t realise you were having.

Write on a separate piece of paper, all the thoughts/scenes/ideas that will go into your book. Do you see a storyline or a structure yet?

Here’s something that might help you see where you are going with this:

At the end of the exercise, draw a book cover, as rough as you like, and write down the title of your book on the picture of your cover.

You may already have your title, and you can certainly change it at any stage before publishing, but it might be fun to see what you come up with after you have cleared out all your thoughts.

Two further steps will help you access any remaining thoughts.

Recording and Listening

Recording and Listening is a process of recording a message (easily done on smartphones these days) and then listening back to it. R&L is a great technique you can use to give yourself support in any situation. It can also give you some great insight and it allows you to detach from your thought and observe them. It’s quite magical really. It allows you to come up with things you’d never think of before.

Spend a few minutes recording your thoughts on all the ideas that have come up from your morning pages and your to-do list. You might just read them out to yourself and then add a bit more too. The important part is to then listen to yourself and see if you have a response.

You can record the response too. You might want to start by recording an intention for your book that you can listen to throughout this course.

One example might be:

I am doing this course because I have wanted to write a book all my life and this is my best opportunity to take the next step and achieve my dream. I commit to this process and I commit to supporting myself.


After you have done all the steps above, you may think there is nothing more to be gained from your mind. You might be right but there is a way to find out. Do some meditation.

Set aside 5-20 minutes (timed and pre-determined) and stare at a wall. Sit with your legs crossed or on a chair if you need to.

Breathe in, and exhale while counting one.
Breathe in, and exhale while counting two.
Breathe in, and exhale while counting three.

Do this until you count to ten. Then, start from one again.

If a thought comes up, notice it and go back to counting.
If you lose count, start again at one.

Set yourself the intention of sitting at the wall and counting to ten.
Now, notice what takes you away from your intention.

Meditation is as simple as that.

Go back to the breath.

Some thoughts will be so pressing that you’ll want to get up and write them down straight away.


If they are useful, they’ll come back once you’re done.

When your timer goes off, see if you need to add anything else to your grand to-do list. The one with every idea you could come up with. Add them.

Don’t worry about sorting it out or starting on anything. That will come with the next step.

Assignment: show me your book cover – paste it on Facebook or on Instagram. Remember to add #writethatbook to be in with a chance to win six-months coaching (your very own personal editor).

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Communicating, not illustrating

Communicate don't illustrate

Browsing through Instagram from my new account, the other day, I came across a book that was being promoted by its publishing company. I went to Goodreads and the reviews were not as positive as the heavily promoted ones suggested. There was a lot of scorn for frilly and overdone writing and descriptions that didn’t seem to have a point.

I quickly took the book off my TBR pile.

It got me thinking about what the point of having this pretty language that did not progress the story was and why were these books getting such heavy promotion.

Traditional publishers spend a lot of money on new books and they have the contacts to get the word out. When you’re a self-published writer, you need to have a great story. You can’t rely on the amount of promotion dedicated to mediocre and terrible writers and a hell of a lot of them get published because they are dressed up in what will sell.

Ignore those for now and work on the writing.

I’m not suggesting that flowery writing doesn’t have a place in literature or a good story; it certainly does. It does however need to achieve two things:

  1. The writing and style must progress the story;
  2. The flowery writing needs to serve a purpose.

So go through your writing and see what your writing style adds to your story. Are there parts that seem irrelevant but you’ve kept them in because they’re pretty and flowery? Then either cut them out or give them a purpose. In this way, all the elements of your style will help you communicate your novel’s purpose.

Don’t just make something pretty; illustrations need to be on the cover, not in the text.

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Joanna Booth

Joanna Booth

Click here to open an infographic with a little about me.

You can email me at joanna@ephemeraldigest.co.uk.

I’ve been a book editor and reviewer for the past five years; data analyst and social researcher for nine years; software tester and documentation professional for three years; and I have undergraduate and graduate studies in law, politics, statistics, ICT, web apps, and programming.

I specialise in academic work and have worked on PhDs that include statistics and social research. I offer copy editing and feedback on your work, and can format your references and footnotes.

As an editor, the biggest problems I have encountered include the following:

Non-Fiction / Academic

  • Mistakes in the text – whether spelling or grammar
  • English by non-native speakers


  • Holes in the plot
  • Weak and inconsistent characters
  • Incoherent and irrational structures
  • Dialogue that isn’t believable and isn’t consistent
  • Police and other services’ procedures that aren’t accurate

I can help fix all the above or find you someone who will.

For a professional editing service, I offer the following:


I will check your text for spelling, grammar, understanding, and consistency.


Whether you are working on a fiction or a non-fiction manuscript, I can provide feedback on what will make your work even better. Before you send anything to a publisher why not have a professional pair of eyes check that everything is in order.

Email me at joanna@ephemeraldigest.co.uk to ask for a sample edit and a quote.

Typical cost is £100 for 20,000 words.

Sample edits are free.

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Opening scenes: Yippi-kai-yay story lovers – lessons from Die Hard

Die Hard may seem an unlikely way to learn what makes a great introduction but you would be amazed. There is a reason why this movie is a classic and has an 8.2 rating on IMDB.

Everything you need to know about the protagonist and his biggest flaw are revealed before the credits even say DIE HARD.


A plane touches down.
A man is gripping the arm rest of his aeroplane seat and the passenger next to him gives him some advice on how to “survive air travel”: walk around barefoot and make fists with your feet. He says,”Trust me, I’ve been doing this for nine years.”

The advisor looks up at John McClane as the latter gets his baggage from the compartment above and is horrified at the gun in his holster.

“It’s ok, I’m a cop. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for 11 years.”

John takes down a huge teddy bear from the compartment.

As he moves past a flight attendants, she keeps his glance longer than she should. He looks back. Then looks after her.

The credits say DIE HARD.

In the two minutes before the credits, you have just been given all the information you need about the movie:

  • The main character is a cop. He carries a gun.
  • He is taking a big present which is the clue to the fact he hasn’t seen his children in a while
  • He is taking this flight despite not wanting to – he doesn’t like flying
  • He finds other women attractive so his marriage is in trouble, and
  • At some stage he is going to take his shoes off and be barefoot

If you’ve seen Die Hard then you know that his bare feet are his achilles heel, as such. Once the bad guys realise that he’s not wearing any shoes they can take advantage of it and cause him a lot of pain.

All this foreshadowing and introduction took two minutes. Most people watching won’t realise how detailed the opening scene has been because it is interesting. We want to know more about John McCain. This is tough guy Bruce Willis carrying a gun and a teddy bear and not liking being on a plane. Where is he going? What is he doing?


So how can Die Hard help you with your opening scene. Here are the tips:

  • How can your scene be made compelling?
  • What does it say about your story?
  • How does it progress your story?
  • It’s a setting, a scene in its own right and a potential mirror of the ending.

Die Hard is based on the 1979 book by Roderick Thorp, Nothing Lasts Forever. The opening scene in the book however starts in a taxi that gets rear-ended. The Black driver has to get our protagonist to the terminal in 20 minutes but the guy who hit them is a maniac who is not letting them go. Leland, the protagonist, then tells the driver that he is an ex-cop, current security consultant. In this way we find out what the protagonist is willing to do, what he’s about, and the taxi driver gets set up to appear later in the story as well, just like in the movie.

The introduction is a bit longer than in the movie, which screenwriter Jeb Stuart changed to him already landing in the plane. Stuart knows a thing or two about action and suspense and he also wrote the screenplays for Lock UP featuring Sylvester Stallone, and the Fugitive with Harrison Ford.

He is excellent at knowing how to make the opening scene interesting, compelling, informative and useful. The useful part is the foreshadowing that you won’t realise is a vital bit of information but your subconscious will remember it and when it happens it will make even more of an impact.

You don’t need an action novel to use all these elements. Try it out on your opening scene and let me know how it goes. I’ll happily provide feedback.

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