Ninja Writers Book Club: Weeks 1 + 2

Ninja Writers Book Club -- Weeks 1 and 2. Here are the books that Ninjas are reading for the last couple of weeks.

Every Tuesday is Book Club day at the Ninja Writers Facebook group.  Ninjas post about the books that they’re reading or a book that has inspired them or that they loved. It’s so much fun, and I always end up with a list of books that I can’t wait to read. I thought it might be fun to actually link to those books here on the blog every week. Click any of the covers to be taken to its Amazon page.

Here are the books from the first two Ninja Writer Book Club Tuesdays.

(These are affiliate links. If you buy using one of them, a few pennies will go toward supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you so much!)



Young Adult


Mystery and Suspense



Literary & Classics

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Hump Day Prompt #2: What is Your Hero Missing?

Hump Day Writing Prompt #2: What is your hero missing? Here's an exercise that will help you figure out the perfect flaw for your main character.

Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.


What is Your Hero Missing?

It can be hard sometimes to think of a really juicy flaw for your story’s hero, something that will make them someone your readers can relate to and give them a place to rise up from.

That flaw is necessary. Without it, it’s so easy to write a boring, one-dimensional character that no one cares about getting to know.

Here’s an exercise that I’ve found that helps me to deepen my main character by finding that one flaw. It has two parts.

First, I want you to think about what your hero is missing.

What is the thing that’s left a hole in their life? It might be something tangible–a missing parent, a dead child or spouse, an amputated limb, homelessness. Or it might be metaphysical–a broken heart or a crisis of faith. This is a doubly good exercise, because it will start you thinking about your hero’s motivations in the story. Think about what drives them to move out of the comfort of their ordinary life (and ordinary lives are comfortable, no matter how much discomfort might be involved in them. Human beings don’t generally like change much) and into the special, scary, unknown world of the story.

Once you’ve figured out what your hero is missing, decide how that missing thing has left them broken.

Think about what that missing thing in your hero has done to them. How has it changed them? How has it left them broken? Your hero’s flaw lies in that broken place.

My Turn

My work-in-process is a retelling of Robin Hood. My hero is a 17-year-old boy named Rob Huntington. Rob is missing both of his parents. His mother died when he was six and his father died just prior to the start of the story. He’s been away at boarding school for two years, so even when his father was alive, Rob was missing a day-to-day connection with him. Rob has had a close, but complicated relationship with his father most of his life. His father never stopped grieving for his dead wife, which caused a layer of separation between father and son that they never overcame.

This lack of parents has left Rob with a broken sense of himself. He’s always known he was his father’s heir, but he didn’t expect for that to mean anything so soon. He has always known that he would have to live up to his father’s legacy, and he’s always believed deep down that he would fail. He hides his loneliness and self-doubt with arrogance. That arrogance is the flaw that might end up being fatal. It’s what he has to push past in order to survive. He has also developed a deep need to be loved, which drives him throughout the story. It’s something he has to temper, because it keeps him from seeing that the people closest to him are dangerous.

Your Turn

Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with!

Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post, and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links.

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Ninja Writer’s Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer

The Ninja Writers Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer.

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours for an hour so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, click here.


The Ninja Writers Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer. The Boob Tube Assignment.

Okay, Ninja Writers. Today you have my permission to spend your writing time watching TV. It counts. I swear!

One way to become a better writer is to start taking in stories like a writer. You’ve probably heard the term ‘read like a writer’ before. But, watching movies or television, even listening to someone tell you a story orally, like a writer are all just as important.

To take in a story like a writer you need to pay attention to two things: What works for you and what doesn’t. And then you need to analyze the reasons why.

Get in the habit of doing this every time you read a book, watch a movie, or yes, spend an hour in front of the old Boob Tube, and you’ll start to see why it’s so important. You’ll start to see how you can incorporate what other writers do that works for you (and don’t forget, movies and TV are both created by writers) and how you can avoid the things that turn you off.

So, today I’d like you to watch an hour, or a half-hour if you’re into sit-coms, of television. It can be a re-run of a favorite episode (that’s what I’m going to do) or a random something you find on your DVR or your favorite prime-time drama. It doesn’t matter. Just put on your writer hat and sit down to pay attention.

As you’re watching, pay attention to what works for you in that particular episode. Think about character, pacing, setting, the story that you’re being told.

Then ask yourself what the writer did that made you so happy. How did they make that character that you keep coming back for? How did they draw you into that particular setting? What’s so awesome about the dialogue?

Also look for things that make you cringe a little.

What did the show writer do wrong in this episode? Was there something that just didn’t set right with you? How can you not make the same mistake?

My Turn

I watched my very favorite episode of Outlander on Starz. The one I’ve re-watched, oh, A FEW times, while I wait mostly-patiently for the new season to start. The series is based on a book that I love, by Diana Gabaldon. This points out why this exercise is good to do on TV. That book is a bazillion (okay, maybe 800) pages long. It took me a week to read the first time. The episode is an hour long.

So the episode is called The Wedding, and not surprisingly it’s the episode where the hero and heroine, Claire and Jamie, get married.

What really worked for me:

This episode is really well paced. It shifts back and forth from the present (just after the wedding) to the near past (just before and during the wedding.) That adds to the surreal feeling of the whole situation–which is a woman from the 20th century marrying a man from the 18th century, even though she’s already married in her own time. What I learned from that is that getting creative with things like time in your story can have a positive affect.

It’s beautiful to watch. The setting is a church in 18th century Scotland. Claire is given a gorgeous gown by a brothel-owner to wear. Jamie gets to wear his own clan colors for the first time and just emerges as this beautiful man all put together for his wedding day. After watching this episode, I felt like I’d been at this wedding, with these people. All of this is a good example of how just having two people talking to each other isn’t enough. I need to remember to get out of my characters’ heads sometimes and use detail to draw the reader into the story and make them feel like they are a part of it.

I love the way the after-the-wedding part came together. They don’t know each other well, although there is attraction and a general friendship there. To save Claire from a vicious captain in the English army, they have to actually consummate their marriage. They take hours to bond first, which is kind of refreshing and also has the added bonus of letting the audience get to know both of them on a deeper level. The take away here is that sexy-times don’t have to be rushed into. The lead up can be just as tantalizing and exciting.

Diana Gabaldon has manage to create two characters that I’ve cared about for a solid twenty years. Everytime I go back to them, whether it’s a new book or re-watching an episode of the TV series, it’s like visiting old friends. I think it’s the chemistry she created between them that did that. I’m not sure I’d care as much about either Claire or Jamie alone. For my own writing, this reminds me that it takes more than just creating one compelling character. How those characters interact with each other matters a lot.

What I didn’t like as much:

Once the sexy-time part started, it went on FOREVER and was very graphic. I didn’t mind the graphic part, but around the third time they did the deed I was like–really, again? I found my mind wandering to how weird it must have been for the actors to film that scene. It actually pulled me out of the narrative dream of the story (something no writer ever wants to do) and slowed the pace of the story for me some.

Other than that, this is pretty much a perfect hour of television for me.

Your Turn

Watch an episode of a television show like a writer. Think about what worked and what didn’t.

If you’d like a worksheet, I’ll email a download to you if you click here.

Come by Facebook and share your work today. I’ll be there tomorrow at 5 p.m. PST for office hours.

Are you in this week? Leave a comment and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja. See you on Facebook!

Click Here for a free download of the printable Ninja Writer Story Log and to join the Academy.

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Hump Day Prompt #1: Your Hero’s Spirit Animal

Hump Day Writing Prompt- What is your hero's spirit animal-

I thought we’d try a new feature here that crosses over to our Facebook page. Any excuse to put your butt in a chair and write, and connect with the Ninjas, right?


So every Wednesday, I’ll post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.

This week’s prompt:

Write about your main character’s spirit animal.

My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern-day Las Vegas. Rob Huntington’s spirit animal was hard for me to figure out. Rob is aristocratic, in that way that American children of privilege tend to be. But he’s also clever and resourceful, and when push comes to shove, he rises up and becomes a leader. I thought maybe his spirit animal was a peacock–something proud and beautiful, but ultimately a peacock isn’t very useful beyond being nice to look at. I finally settled on a dog. Not just any dog though. A pure-bred dog. And not just any pure-bred dog, either. A pure-bred working dog. Like a German Shepherd who works with the police or a Golden Retriever who works as a service animal. Beautiful, high-born, but hard-working and useful, too.

Your turn! Come share with us on our Facebook page. I can’t wait to read what you come up with.

If you click the little ‘get notifications’ tab on the right side of your screen, you’ll get a notice when the next Hump Day Prompt goes live.


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Ninja Writers Academy: Putting Your Inner Editor in Their Place

The Ninja Writers Academy: Putting Your Inner Editor in Their Place. Come learn how the Blythe Assignment can help you learn to deal with the voice inside your head that insists that you're a fraud.

Since I’m deep in revision at the moment, I thought this was a great time to talk to you Ninjas about your inner editor.

Your inner editor is that voice inside your head that tells you that your sentence isn’t perfect enough, your story is stupid, you’re a complete hack–a total fraud–and what exactly do you think you’re doing anyway, writing down your stupid story full of imperfect sentences?

Your inner editor will try to convince you, when you’re working on your first draft, to leave the writing to the professionals.

You have one of those, right? I know you do. I have one, too. Every writer comes with one, standard.

Today I’m going to teach you my trick for coping with mine.

First though, let me tell you something that’s super important.

You actually need an inner editor, so you don’t want to make yours go away completely. It’s only when that voice kicks in too soon that things go pear-shaped. When your first draft is finished and you need to look at your story with a critical eye? That’s when you can invite that editor out to play. And I promise, when the time is right, it won’t be so awful having that voice around.

The Blythe Assignment

Today I want you to personify your inner editor.

Seriously, go ahead and give them a name.

Mine is Blythe. She’s middle-aged and too made up, a bottle blonde, kind of trying too hard not to be frumpy in a weirdly Gothic way. She’s also super smart and really knows her stuff, but she can be a bitch about it. She’s kind of a cross between Mrs. Havisham and Joey’s agent on Friends. Remember her?


Now, I want you to give your inner editor a safe place to live when they aren’t working.

Blythe lives in a gold cage in my head. Like a bird cage, with a pretty lavender velvet cover that keeps her quiet until I need to bring her out to do her stuff.

When I’m in revision, and actually need Blythe, she doesn’t have time to tell me that I suck or that if I’m not careful everyone on Earth will realize what a Grade-A fraud I am. She’s too busy doing what she’s really good at–making my story shine.

Here’s what I want you to do: get out your notebook and free write about your inner editor. Give them a name and a description–and then imagine how you’ll keep them in line inside your own head. You can borrow my bird cage, or maybe you need a well to lower them down. Or an underwater palace for them to live in with their Mermaid wife. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s something that lets you imagine having control over when they come out and when they stay locked up.

Remember, when you’re drafting your Blythe needs to be on lockdown. When you’re revising, let them out to do their job. And, always, always, always, YOU are in charge.

Your Turn

Come on over to the Ninja Writers’ Facebook group and introduce us to your inner editor. Tell us about how you keep them in line in their off time. I’ll be around the Facebook group tomorrow (3/27) from noon to 1 p.m. PST for office hours if you have any questions about how to control your Blythe.

Want to join the Ninja Writer’s Academy? Click here to get notification when the next lesson goes live. Members get a PDF of every assignment.

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The Ninja Writers Academy

Ninja Writers Academy: If you have a story to tell and the ability to tell it well, you can change the world. Come learn how to tell it well.

Ninja Writers Academy

Get an assignment on Saturday, share your work in our Facebook Group for feedback, then come back on Sunday for office hours. Are you in?

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The Ninja Writers Academy is completely free.

Imagine blog posts, only interactive and full of way, way more awesome.

Here’s how it works.

–Most Saturdays (I won’t say every, because life and soccer tournaments happen, you know? But, definitely MOST) I’ll post a lesson here.

–You can take it in, ponder it, maybe produce a little work. If you want to share what you’ve done, come on over to the Ninja Writer’s private Facebook group. Trust me, you will LOVE it there. Post what you’ve come up with. Comment on other people’s posts.

–Then, on Sunday afternoons I’ll hold office hours. I’ll be online a specific time for an hour and we can talk, you can ask questions, I’ll answer them.

How fun does that sound? Seriously fun, right?

This is not going to be a high-stress, turn-in-your-assignment type thing. It’s a low-key, super supportive way to learn a little something. The lessons will have a PDF version that you can print out and stick in a binder, so after a while you’ll have a bunch of them you can refer back to.

It’s also a good reason to put your butt in your chair on a Saturday and work.

And one more excuse for Ninja Writers to activate.

Are you in? If you want me to shoot you an email on Saturday mornings when the posts go live, just fill out the form below.

Ninja Writers Academy

Get an assignment on Saturday, share your work in our Facebook Group for feedback, then come back on Sunday for office hours. Are you in?

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How to Be a Ninja Writer

Ninja Writers Manifesto: Ninja Writers start, we persevere, we finish. Are you a Ninja Writer?


There are a lot of people in the world who would like to write a book some day.

Ninja Writers are the ones who get it done. Ninja Writers actually start. We push through. We finish.

We keep going, even when we feel like frauds.

We learn, when we aren’t sure how to do our stories justice.

We are more than a community.

We’re a revolution.

We believe that stories are important. They matter. They can change the world.

In fact, we know that stories are really the only thing that ever really has.

Being a Ninja Writer is the difference between dreaming about being a writer, and actually being one. There are three steps to being a Ninja Writer. Are you ready to take them?

Click here to download the Ninja Writer Manifesto.

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Accountability 101: Give Yourself a Gold Star

CLICK HERE + download my favorite accountability tool

When it comes to writing, productivity and being able to stay on task through a very long process is KEY. Here's how I do it. It works like a charm, every time.

Dear Ninja Writer,

Sometimes I feel like I should have “if you want to be a published author, you have to finish” tattooed on my forehead. That’s kind of long though, and it might look weird on dust jacket pictures–so I’ll just have to settle for saying it over and over again.

If you want to be a published author, Ninja Writer, you MUST finish your first draft. There is no way around it.

I want to share with you my favorite accountability tool for getting that done. It’s something so simple, you learned to respond to it in kindergarten.

Give yourself a gold star every day.

Victoria Schwab is a YA author who has a deliciously simple strategy for keeping herself motivated to write, and keeping track of her daily word count goals. It’s so easy and so effective. I wish I’d thought of it years ago.

All you need is a calendar and a pack of small stickers. I like the nostalgia of stars, but use whatever works for you. I think Victoria uses owls in her video, which I’ll link to below.

Seriously, all you do is write your goal on the calendar. I do it every morning, because I know myself well enough to know that trying to plan ahead in this case will lead to me stalling out if for some reason I can’t do something next Tuesday that I was sure today I could.

When you complete your daily goal you give yourself a sticker.

Victoria made a video about it, because it worked so well that people started asking her about it.

Trust me. Watching that calendar fill up with shiny stars is addictive. You won’t want a gap just because you didn’t feel like working that day. The stickers will be a nice visual reminder to plan your writing time into your week. It’ll give you an incentive to prioritize those hours.

Victoria uses a sticker for every 1000 words and looks to me like she has one or two stickers for just about every day. We’re not writing that fast. Remember, A Novel Idea is the slow road to a finished novel that doesn’t suck. I simplify it even further and just give myself a star for completing whatever the writing task I set for myself that day is. One day, one goal, one sticker. If you wanted to, you could use a sticker for ever 1000 words–that would work if you’re only writing a couple of times a week. Or every 250 words (that’s one double spaced page) or every 500 words.

I personally like the momentum of doing at least something on my book every day when I’m writing one. I’m going to lay down the law right now, though, and say you’re not allowed to feel bad if you’ve decided that you’re only doing to designate two or three nights a week for working on your book. Your goal might be doing a little research, or watching a TV show from your inspiration list (Click here if you’d like that exercise. It’s a good one.)

I want you to promise me that you aren’t going to let missing a sticker derail you. Not completing your goal is a learning experience. It means that you need to work on your time management. Just write tomorrow’s goal in the morning and work for that star. Writers have a tendency to be right-brainers–and I can tell you from deep personal experience that right- brainers have a habit of letting guilt completely derail us.

Not. This. Time.

Say that out loud, Ninja Writer. And mean it. We are all going to finish the first drafts of our Works in Progress. And we’re going to have fun and build community and kick some ass while we’re at it.

So, get yourself a calendar and some gold stars. Today if possible. By far my favorite tool for this kind of accountability is my FRED (that’s a Folder for Reaching the End of my Draft.) It’s just a simple printable calendar and writing log, stapled into a manila folder. Over the course of the month, I use my folder for notes, lists, brain dumping, mind mapping–whatever I need it for. Artistic, super effective, and FUN. You can download your own FRED here. Or use your planner. Or a wall calendar. Whatever will motivate you.

(Note that I didn’t get a star on March 11. I had a weird day and I just didn’t do what I’d planned to do. But I didn’t let it stop me from moving forward.)


Okay, Ninja Writer. Go forth and write good stories. 



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Meet the Writing Planner

Meet The Writing Planner--the only planner designed just for fiction writers. If writing a book is on your list--you need this! Come watch the video to see what's inside.

I’m willing to bet that I’m the most right-brained person you know. Even if you don’t know me, I’m more right-brained than anyone you know. I can (almost) guarantee it.

My head is SO FULL of ideas and I’m constantly starting things with huge amounts of excitement. The trouble is that I have to work really, really, really hard at sticking with something through to the end. If I didn’t do that work, I’d have a million (okay a hundred, at least) half-written novels and nothing publishable. Because publishable = finished.

It’s so easy for my brain to side track me onto the next thing before I’ve finished this thing. So, I have all of these little systems for making sure that when I start a book, I actually finish writing it.

The one thing that has helped me the most when it comes to being a right-brained writer is The Writing Planner. I developed it about two years ago and it has just been the biggest help. It’s like an accountability partner, a log book, a traditional planner, and a story planner all rolled into one awesome package.

Since it’s nearly impossible to adequately describe The Writing Planner to you, I made a little video showing it off. (Be warned, I suck at video. This isn’t a slick, fancy, video. It’s just me, showing you The Writing Planner while I’m sitting at my desk.)

There you have it. The Writing Planner, in all of it’s awesome glory. You can buy one by clicking here. If you’d like to get it at a huge discount, I’d love to send you a coupon code. Just click the yellow button!

Click here to get a big, fat discount on The Writing Planner!

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Want a Spot in A Novel Idea: The Full Course–for Free?

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Hey, Ninja Writers!

I wanted to let you know that you can enter from now until March 25 to win a free spot in the spring session of A Novel Idea: The Full Course (worth $750.)

If you win, you’ll take part in a full year novel-writing adventure. You’ll work with me and the other Ninja Writers as you plan, write, edit, and prepare your first (or next) novel for submission to literary agents.

If writing a novel is on your list for 2016, this is a great opportunity to actually get it done.

As an added bonus, when you enter, you get a lucky URL that you can share with your friends. For every person who signs up using your URL, you get THREE more entries!

If you’d like to enter CLICK HERE.

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