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How To Use a Spreadsheet To Plan Daily Activities

Last week, Randy Ingermanson told us all about the need for white space in the writer’s life. I hope you enjoyed that article.

You may have been left wondering how you should incorporate a little bit of that white space and still be sure to get to the important things each day? What’s the best way to organize use of time.

Believe or not, a spreadsheet may be the single most effective weapon at your disposal.

I can hear the groans already! “A spread sheet? How lame is that?”

Let me show you how I used a spreadsheet to order my days. Then, if you don’t like it, you’re welcome to complain all you like!

What I Did

There are a certain number of activities I have to do every day. There is another set of activities that need to be done each week. I plugged them all into a simple spread sheet.

Because I can’t ignore the personal and household things, I divided my activities into business-related activities and personal activities. I included everything I’d like to do each day on both lists.

Here’s the list.
Daily activity worksheet screen shot

The column on the left is a brief description of each activity. The column on the right is the number of minutes I want to give to each activity.

Because I’m a big believer in the 15-minute method of organizing my time, most of the activities are allotted fifteen minutes.

The overall list gives me the total amount of time spent during the day on business activities and personal activities. Keep in mind that this is the ideal. The ideal rarely ever happen, so this list is more of a road map than a list of Must Do items.

The Breakdown

Some business activities are daily and some are monthly. To keep activities organized, I categorized them.

For example, I do a weekly post on three blogs, so each of those blogs are listed under Daily Activities and allotted 15 minutes per day. Two other blogs are published once a month. They are still allotted 15 minutes per day, but I know it’s not likely they’ll require 15 minutes every day. If I get the portrait blog post by the first week of the month, that activity is no longer necessary for the rest of the month.

Daily activity worksheet screen shot

Some activities need to be included in the schedule, but aren’t daily activities. For the most part, they can’t even be scheduled. I can’t, for example, know in advance when a portrait client is going to have questions that require a lengthy telephone call. Students also work at their own pace, not according to my schedule. So I’ve combined those two activities and allotted them an hour a day.

Special Projects is another “occasional” activity. There won’t always be a special project to work on, but having that half hour built into the schedule as a huge benefit for those times when there is a special project in the works.

Daily activity worksheet screen shot

I did the same thing for personal and household activities. The few things that do require a set amount of time each day are listed separately. “Household” covers everything else. I may not be able to handle every extra household activity in 30 minutes each day, but some things don’t have to be done every day. The total for the week is 2-1/2 hours and I can get pretty much everything done in that amount of time each week.

And The Worksheet Says…

I have 270 minutes (4.5 hours) of business time and 180 minutes (3 hours) of personal and household time budgeted each day. In other words, if I work this list, I can expect to have seven-and-a-half hours of the day accounted for.
Daily activity worksheet screen shot
That’s a reasonable expectation, especially given that a large portion of the business time is set aside for activities that will not happen on a daily basis (special projects, students, clients, and miscellaneous). In fact, without those three things, this worksheet requires very little time spent on business activities.

However, I know from experience that if I don’t make some allowance for the unexpected, my daily activities will be totally upended when it happens. It’s better for me to give it a place on the list. You may not need to.

Also, there’s plenty of room to add fiction writing and portrait painting when the time comes.


A spreadsheet is just one way to organize your time and efforts. The method I’ve described here is just one way to use a spreadsheet. There are as many methods as there are writers, so experiment. Find what works for you.

The secret isn’t that you find the Magic Bullet; the secret is that you use whatever method works best for you.

Book Review – The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide

Every once in a while, something comes along that’s so important, it needs to be shared.

Such is the case with a newly released book, The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide.

The focus of this blog is the writer’s journey. My goal has always been to encourage other writers by sharing something of my journey to publication. That includes tips on methods and tools that have helped me write and polish a publishable manuscript.

In that regard, The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide: Every Indie Author’s Essential Directory-To Help You Prepare, Publish, and Promote Professional Looking Books is something every writer can use, no matter how you intend to publish.


Because part of the publication process is writing. After all, if you have nothing written, you have nothing to publish. Right?

The book is organized like a well-stocked library into three categories: Prepare, Publish, and Promote. If you read no further, you know why I’m reviewing and recommending this book here.

Let’s Take a Look At Preparation

The Table of Contents for the Prepare section looks like this:

  • Content & Developmental Editors
  • Copyeditors & Proofreaders
  • Indexers
  • Cover & Interior Book Designers
  • Image Sources
  • Illustrators & Cartoonists
  • Translators
  • Writing Software
  • Writers’ Conferences & Workshops Offering Scholarships
  • Grants and Funding for Writers
  • Professional & Trade Associations
  • Best Books on Writing

A quick look at the section on writers’ conferences and workshops reveals conferences and workshops on all forms of writing and for writers of all ages. Big name conferences and local or regional conferences. Each entry includes a brief description and a link for more information.

All three categories and every sub-category are also jam-packed with information every writer can use. It’s a wealth of information that will save you a ton of time. Besides, it’s a great value at any price.

Yes, you can finish a book and get ready for publication without The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, but why would you want to, even if you are planning to publish traditionally?

About the Book

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide: Every Indie Author’s Essential Directory-To Help You Prepare, Publish, and Promote Professional Looking Books is the first and largest collection of curated and verified resources for independent authors who plan to publish their own books. Produced by a team with long experience in both traditional and independent publishing, the over 850 resources are listed in an easy-to-use format that includes live links, phone numbers, email addresses and brief descriptive copy. The Guide makes vendors and other resources easy to find by separating them into 33 distinct categories within the 3 main tasks the self-publisher must deal with. How to Prepare, Publish, and Promote their books.

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide ebook version is updated regularly to provide current information and links in the fast-changing indie publishing world, and the authors are actively soliciting input to keep listings current and comprehensive.

The book is available at

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple

Smashwords | Txtr


About the Authors

The Self-Publisher's Ultimate Resource Guid Cover
Joel Friedlander is an award-winning book designer and blogger who has been launching the careers of self-publishers since 1994 from his book design and consulting practice at Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California. Joel is a self-published author and the blogger behind, a popular and award-winning blog on book design, book marketing, and the future of the book. Joel is also the founder of The Self-Publishing Roadmap, a training course for authors, and and, where he provides tools and services for authors who publish their own books. He speaks often at publishing industry events and is a past president of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association.

The Self-Publisher's Ultimate Resource Guid Cover
Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder of BookWorks, the Self-Publishers association, and the founder of The Educated Author, and writes a monthly column on self-publishing for Publishers Weekly. She is a member of the Independent Editors Group (EIG) and has spent more than 30 years in the traditional publishing business, most recently as editor-in-chief of William Morrow, where at one point she had three books on the New York Times best-seller list at once. She has also been executive editor at HarperCollins, executive editor at Delacorte Press, Fiction and Books editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, and book reviewer for CNN. She is the author of seven traditionally published books and one self-published book. She moderates panels and workshops in New York City and Los Angeles and is passionate about helping indie authors learn to navigate the ever-changing landscape of self-publishing.


I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate program. That means that if you click on the Amazon links in the body of this post (the book cover image or the text links) and purchase a book, I will receive a commission on the sale. If you make a purchase through these links, thank you.

If you prefer not to use the affiliate links, click on the Where to Buy links instead or go directly to Amazon.

For more information and disclaimers, click here.

Dianna T. Benson Talks Books

I’d like to welcome Dianna T. Benson back to Writing Well. Many of you will remember Dianna joined us when her first book, The Hidden Son, debuted.

Dianna’s second book, Final Trimester, released May 19, 2014. It is the first in The Quigley Triplets series.

Q: Dianna, welcome back. Can you tell us why do you write the kind of books you write?

DTB: Suspense is my natural writing voice.

Being an EMT and a Haz-Mat and FEMA Operative for nearly a decade, I naturally implement my firsthand medical and rescue knowledge and experience into all my books.

Inspirational is a thread I love writing and it fits within my characterizations and plotlines like a key puzzle piece.

Q: Besides writing, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

DTB: I’m a life-long outdoor enthusiast and high-level athletic competitor. I love spending time in any kind of nature doing something athletic and adventurous, especially with my family and friends. I enjoy traveling, reading, watching all kinds of movies, and watching Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, The Walking Dead, Castle and The Big Bang Theory.

Q: Do you use some of your experiences as an EMT for your stories?

DTB: The medical and EMS scenes I write are a combination of fiction plus a mix-match of a ton of real-life EMS scenes I’ve worked throughout the years.

Q: What fun or unique things can you tell us about yourself?

DTB: As a scuba diver, I’ve dove nearly 150 feet in the Caribbean Ocean in Grand Cayman. As a climber, I’ve reached the summits of thirty-three Fourteeners (in Colorado there are fifty-four mountains over fourteen thousand feet in elevation). In addition to scuba diving and climbing, I love to cycle and run. My father was a triathlete; he was killed in a bicycle accident when I was in high school. My oldest daughter competed at the 2012 US Olympic Swim Trials for a spot on the team that went to the 2012 Summer Games in London, but the Trials were only seven weeks after my daughter endured scoliosis surgery (thirteen-inch spinal incision to insert two titanium rods and twelve screws), so she was unable to swim anywhere near her best.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Final Trimester?

DTB: The idea for the killer’s character in Final Trimester sprouted to development the first month I worked in EMS due to an actual individual I encountered.

Q: One final question. What are you working on now?

DTB: Persephone’s Fugitive, Book #2 in the Cayman Islands Trilogy.

When a routine 911 call turns deadly, Paramedic Reyann Cooper finds herself held at gunpoint by injured prison inmate, Jason Keegan. The situation spirals out of Reyann’s control when the confrontation becomes a tense standoff between Keegan and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

As her patient’s hostage, Reyann fights to save them both before Keegan blows them up. She realizes his warning to the Cayman police is no empty threat since he’d rather die than spend the rest of his life in a prison cell. Reyann soon discovers Keegan is just as determined to survive as she is – provided he can escape Grand Cayman and disappear forever. As she struggles to trust in God’s protection, help from an atheist turns her struggle into a lure away from her faith.

About the Book

Final Trimester
Third Trimester Cover
Paramedic Jodi Duncan recognizes the work of a serial killer before the Myrtle Beach PD even suspects a connection between the deaths of two pregnant women. Despite the vast differences in the two cases, Jodi urges Detective Nate Quigley to think outside the box. After digging deep into the separate investigations, Nate finds no evidence to support a serial killer theory, and he warns Jodi to back off police business, which only fuels her passion for the cases.

When a third pregnant woman is murdered, Nate is named lead detective on the case and works to link the deaths in order to unmask and stop the serial murderer, a disturbed man who believes God and the devil battle inside his head to bend him according to their wills. As he fights both voices, his interest fixates on Jodi when he discovers her obsession with ending his rampage.

Where To Get Final Trimester

Dianna’s books are available wherever books are sold. Below are the links to Final Trimester at the three biggest booksellers:

Barnes and Noble


About The Author

Photo of Dianna T. Benson

Dianna Torscher Benson is a 2014 Selah Award Finalist (winners not yet announced), a 2011 Genesis Winner, a 2011 Genesis double Semi-Finalist, a 2010 Daphne de Maurier Finalist, and a 2007 Golden Palm Finalist. In 2012, she signed a nine-book contract with Ellechor Publishing House. She’s the author of The Hidden Son, her debut novel. Final Trimester is her second release.

After majoring in communications and a ten-year career as a travel agent, Dianna left the travel industry to earn her EMS degree. An EMT and a Haz-Mat and FEMA Operative since 2005, she loves the adrenaline rush of responding to medical emergencies and helping people in need.

Dianna lives in North Carolina with her husband and their three children.


What is the Writer’s Biggest Hurdle?

Every writer faces hurdles. They are a fact of life. Many factors play into the writing life. Imagination. Creativity. The ability to say what you mean in interesting and understandable ways.

But there is one thing that surpasses all of the skill and talent in the world. A friend of mine calls it stick-to-it-ivity. Without it, you’re just a well-intentioned and talented wannabe.

There’s definitely a lot of stick-to-it-ivity involved in writing but there’s more to most writing problems than not being able to stick with something.

In a word…


Fear comes in many forms. Some of them are obvious.

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of backlash
  • Fear of rejection or negative feedback
  • Fear of not being up to the task
  • Fear of looking stupid, silly, (insert your own)

Other fears are more subtle. So subtle we may not recognize them for what they really are.

  • Fear of success
  • Fear of having to write the next novel if the first does well
  • Fear of living without the safety net of a “real job”

Each of these fears are just as legitimate and potentially debilitating as the fears in the previous list. If you suffer from the fear of being successful or of writing a successful novel and having to write a second successful novel, you’re just as likely to give up on writing as you would be if you were afraid of failure or ridicule or anything else on the first list.

What’s a Writer to Do?

The first step is recognizing and acknowledging your personal terror. Look it in the eye and face it down. It won’t be easy. Quite likely, it may take some time to overcome. You will probably have to call on the support of your writing friends.

You also may need to resign yourself to working in fear for a while. The true mark of courage isn’t a total lack of fear; it’s acknowledging the fear and moving forward anyway.

I can tell you from personal experience that this isn’t a once-done-and-over battle. You will get better at facing down whatever fear keeps you from writing, but there will also be times when it’s a daily battle. Sometimes hourly.

The best tool–the only tool–I have for facing down whatever fears might be assailing me is to turn it over to God and let Him deal with it. I know I can’t overcome fear on my own because I’ve tried too many times. No matter how determined I am, sooner or later, the fear comes creeping in like smoke under a door and before I know it, I’m breathing its deadly fumes again. Turning it over to a power greater than I frees me to write or do whatever task needs to be done.

Most of the time, the knowledge that it’s no longer up to me to battle fear AND do whatever I need to do is all that’s needed to get me started. Getting started seems to be fear’s most secure stronghold, so that’s the moment when fear is best defeated.

How to Fall in Love with an Idea You Hate

by Danielle Hanna

A long time ago, I was writing plays for a small local theater. In one of these productions, I was forced to make a major character change due to stage logistics and found myself saddled with a character I despised.

The Pedlar

But this experience turned into one of the most valuable writing lessons in my career: How to take an idea you hate, but have to write anyway, and fall in love with it. The irony? This same character became my favorite out of all my plays.

Now, I apply this same technique every time I find myself growling at a project. It’s helped me stick to my personal goal of never writing something I’m not passionate about.

So, wanna know how I did it?

Because We Didn’t Have a Curtain

One cold day in December, I got a call from Mark, the producer and director. “I read your play, Dani,” he said. He told me he loved it—except for one problem.

“The general store has got to go.”

I was glad he couldn’t see my face. Part of me had known this was coming, but I’d been in denial. Plus I hadn’t been able to come up with a better alternative. The story centered around a couple of hold-up men in the Old West, and, well, they needed something to hold up. But the play also called for frequent setting changes. And at our reconstructed frontier theater, we had no stage curtain. (The deprivations of frontier life.)

“The audience is gonna get bored watching set changes,” Mark said, pointing out the obvious.

But he didn’t have a better idea, either. We hummed and hawed over the phone for half an hour, trying one idea, then another. They were all lame. Then the same stroke of genius hit us both and we spoke it at the same time:

“A peddler!”

It was perfect.

I hated it.

I was devastated to lose my general store keeper. But the character had to go, because the kindly old man I’d written just wasn’t the roving peddler type. This was a real kick in the gut, but the logistics of our primitive stage demanded it.

But a peddler? Great. The image that came to mind was some sleazy character pushing off cheap wares on gullible buyers. Total opposite to my grandfatherly general store keeper.

And Then Came the Pedlar

I tried to make the peddler more tolerable. Maybe more comedic. The story took place in the old west, so I started writing a tall, lean cowboy wearing a ten-gallon hat and a duster that was full of pockets inside and out and overflowing with merchandise. He was kinda funny, but he didn’t get far before I had a lightning bolt of inspiration.

The Pedlar

Something I wrote reminded me of a character in the movie Gulliver’s Travels. One of the Lilliputians, combing the seashore for “treasure,” was thrilled to find an old boot that matched one he’d found before. It was a piece of junk, but he was elated. It dawned on me that such a character would make a really funny peddler.

In honor of the Lilliputian, I renamed my peddler “the Pedlar” (British spelling) and gave him a Cockney accent. In addition to bestowing him with a passion for useless and broken merchandise, I made him as active as a puppy and had him engage with the audience—actually walking through the aisles and trying to trade with them. I had a blast writing his part, and when I sent the new version to Mark—

“This is fine, Dani. Thanks.” With a big smile in his voice.

Mark loved the role so much he couldn’t resist taking it himself. He said his Cockney was rusty, so he used his stand-by Irish, which was all the same to me. The audience was in stitches as he tried to trade for one woman’s “spectacles” and a child’s box of animal crackers. He was just as good with the characters on stage, the chemistry perfect. The hyper-active Pedlar contrasted with the stoic marshal and struck sparks (never truly meant) with the marshal’s deputy. He was a hit.

And beyond that, he earned a really special place in my heart. Pedlar went from a character I despised to my favorite out of all my plays. I keep wanting to find a way to bring him to life again.

And the Moral of the Story Is …

So how, exactly, did I do it? How did I go from grinding my teeth at this new character to bursting with passion? Three simple steps.

The Pedlar

First I acknowledged that I disliked the character I had to write. (You know, like at AA meetings.) “My name is Danielle and I hate the peddler.” It’s surprisingly important to stop and realize that you’re beating your head against a wall.

Then I asked one simple question: “What do I hate about this idea?”

For the peddler, it was the stereotype that was stuck in my head: a dishonest vagabond merchant with junk ware. I isolated that one problem—a character no one could love—and kept the rest (because I had to).

Finally, I looked at what I had left (still some sort of peddler) and asked the most important question: “What can I do to like this idea better?” In other words, good, old-fashioned brainstorming. (Or borrowing ideas from movies.) When I kept the junk ware and created a pedlar who was honestly convinced that it was treasure, and made him Cockney to boot (always fun), the Pedlar himself went from junk to treasure.

I’ve used this method ever since, and I’m so glad I stumbled across it!

Have you ever had to write something you hated? How’d you get through it? C’mon, fess up. Leave a comment below.

About Danielle Hanna

Danielle Hanna learned how to read and write at age four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She now writes Christian mysteries and has recently started her own freelance writing business. You can visit her at She’s happy to hear from you!

She’s also been my brainstorming partner since 2010. We’ve spent countless hours bouncing ideas off one another, helping each other with our stories, and generally providing encouragement and motivation to each other.

Writing Lessons From the Cat, Lesson 7

Tangled Leash

Forward progress is sometimes best measured in backward steps.

Unlike dogs on a leash, cats on a leash do not set out on a direct, line-of-sight course. They head for the first thing that looks interesting, investigate it thoroughly, then head for the next thing that looks interesting.

Even if the next thing is back near the place where they started.

Writing a novel is like that. It doesn’t matter whether you write as you go, discovering scene by scene what happens next, or you plan extensively before writing the first sentence. Sooner or later, you will find yourself moving in both directions at once.

Don’t sweat it. Check out those detours and new directions. Even if you end up back where the detour began, you’ll know one more way that doesn’t work.

And who knows? You might find just the right solution in that unexpected side trip.

What To Do With All Those Ideas

Last week, guest blogger Danielle Hanna shared a couple of ways to manage an abundance (read, too many!) ideas. The thrust of her article involved determining which new ideas fit with your current story and which do not. I won’t rehash the whole thing because you can read it here and I recommend that you do.

At the end of her article, however, she made the following comment.

Lots of writers keep a file or a notebook filled with story ideas. For now, that’s where your starlet belongs. Next time you’re in the mood to start a new idea, revisit the starlet. You never know—it may become a new North Star!

Danielle Is Right

For some writers–myself included–ideas run rampant. They have no respect for the story in progress, time of day (they seem to delight in disturbing sleep), or anything else. Not even each other.

Some days, they pop up like toadstools after a rain storm. They’re everywhere!

If that sounds familiar, what do you do to keep from being trampled? Or having your current work-in-progress trampled.

The Idea File

Sometime ago, I described what I do with all those ideas (read about The Idea File here).

Today I want to describe in some detail what exactly The Idea File looks like.

The Idea File is really a collection of three categories, each of which denotes a different level of development.

  1. Ideas described in narrative summary
  2. Ideas described by scenes
  3. Ideas developed into summaries
    1. Partial summaries
    2. Complete Summaries

Because I have so many summaries, I’ve divided that file into sub-categories. That is an organizational decision. If I’m looking for a fully developed idea, I know exactly where to look. If I’m not, then I can look in all the files.

One Liners

In addition to those weighty documents, I keep a running list of ideas that can be described in three lines or less. I write enough to recall what I was thinking, but not so much that it takes more than just a few minutes to jot it down.

I keep a pen-and-paper version of the list so I can jot notes whenever and wherever they occur. I type them into a master document whenever I have a few moments.

Entries on that list are things like:

  • A story about elderly people on their own after their retirement facility is destroyed.
  • A story about the importance of Truth
  • A story about the importance of being virtuous
  • A story about a Scot in a wheelchair

These ideas aren’t developed in any sense of the word. Not even in my imagination. But they are interesting enough to have snared my attention, so I don’t want to lose them.

They might even concern existing stories. More than a few of them are about retired stories.

Why Are These Files Important?

I don’t know about you, but every new idea looks a like shiny penny. It’s like Christmas morning and seeing all those gaily wrapped packages under the tree. You can’t wait to see what’s in them.

But there’s no way to open them all at once, even on slow days. Nor would I want to take the time to develop every idea that moment it appears.

Nor do I want to forget them.

So I record them when they appear. Later, when I have time or am looking for an idea, as Danielle mentioned, I can go through those lists and see what might look good on any particular day. Some ideas are developed bit by bit. Some never go any further than the one liner I wrote when the idea appeared.

But they are all there. Waiting.

Because you never know when some old idea might be just the bright, shiny new idea for your next novel.

Take Charge of Your Story Ideas, Part II: Too Many Ideas

Danielle Hanna

In Part I, we discussed an easy way to fill the gaps in your idea file by mining your own life experiences. But what about the opposite problem—too many ideas?

It’s easy to be distracted by everything that shines. Pretty soon, your whole story has run down a bunny trail and you’re not even sure anymore what it is you’re writing—or if you should be writing it at all! Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, the only tool you need to keep on track is the North Star.

Look for Your Story’s North Star

If you suffer from ADHW (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Writer disorder), the key is to find your story’s North Star. The North Star embodies the heart, soul, and spirit of your story. In all likelihood, it will be very closely tied with the inspiration that first gave birth to your story.

In practical terms, the North Star can be almost anything:

  • Your lead character’s personality
  • Your one-sentence summary
  • Your story’s theme

My North Star tends to be my character’s journey—e.g., a foster child’s struggle to trust. The important thing is that your North Star speaks to you on a very deep level. It gets you excited every time you think about it. You fill pages of your story journal with it. You wax eloquent about it to your cat.

Don’t rush this step. Sloppy coordinates will get you lost. Your North Star is the essence of your story, the one thing you should never feel tempted to compromise. Whatever else may change, the North Star will always be there.

Look for the Guiding Light

Now, next time a new idea comes along, wait just a moment before you run with it. Yes, it’s shiny, but your North Star should be brighter.

Take a hard look at that new idea. Brainstorm it for a few minutes, or write it for a paragraph or a page. See where it’s going.

Now hold it up to the North Star. Does this new starlet augment the North Star’s light, making them both shine brighter? Does it enhance that true essence of your story? Or does the starlet compete with the North Star, undercutting your story’s essence?

Only keep that which enhances the North Star. But what to do with that shiny starlet?

Look for Other Stories

A writer with too many story ideas has a real gift—a never-ending supply of new stories. Don’t throw away that starlet that didn’t fit with the North Star. There was nothing wrong with that story idea—only that it belongs to a different story.

Lots of writers keep a file or a notebook filled with story ideas. For now, that’s where your starlet belongs. Next time you’re in the mood to start a new idea, revisit the starlet. You never know—it may become a new North Star!

About Danielle

Danielle Hanna learned how to read and write at the age of four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She now writes Christian mysteries and has recently started her own freelance writing business. You can visit her at her blog, She’s happy to hear from you!

She’s also been my brainstorming partner since 2010. We’ve spent countless hours bouncing ideas off one another, helping each other with our stories, and generally providing encouragement and motivation to each other.

Other Articles by Danielle
Making a List and Checking It Twice: How to Know If an Idea is Naughty or Nice
Working With New Characters
Skin Diving With Characters

Take Charge of Your Story Ideas, Part I: Not Enough Ideas

Danielle Hanna

Sometimes your ideas run fast and furious. Sometimes they slow to a crawl. But if you’re going to get a novel done at all—and particularly if you’re ever going to be a prolific author—learning to manage the flow of ideas is essential. In Part I of this two-part post, we’ll talk about what to do when you’re out of story ideas.

What to Do When You’re Out of Story Ideas

Ever wish you had a bottomless treasure trove of story ideas and plot twists? For free? You do. It’s called Life.

You may think your life is BORING. But look closer. Think a little more critically. Everything that happens to you is a story—and with minor adjustments, or even as-is, carries the potential for epic novel material. The beauty is that your personal experience can inject your story with noticeable authenticity.

Look for the Conflict

True story: I’ve just bought a new (okay, used) motor home, and I’m proudly driving it back to my house. I’m cruising down the Interstate, just getting the swing of handling this 23-foot road monster, when I start losing power on the up-hills. Pretty soon, the engine coughs and dies.

I did say it was used, right? As in, gas-gauge-doesn’t-work-anymore used. But no problem! I have an auxiliary tank—and I even know how to access it. I switch the little lever under the dash. The engine revs back to life … then coughs and dies again.

Conflict: not one but TWO empty gas tanks on my brand new (used) motor home.

Look for Escalating Problems

It’s rush hour. I’m in the farthest lane from the shoulder. My mirrors aren’t adjusted right. I’m half-way between an on-ramp and a bridge with no shoulder. (Yes, this is still a true story.)

In real life, it never rains but it pours. That’s the pits when you’re stuck in the middle of a problem—but it’s a bonus when turning your experiences into story material. Your reader will get bored with a challenge that stagnates. Instead, the conflict should stubbornly get more and more problematic.

So look at your real-life conflict and ask yourself how it became more problematic over time.

Look for the Climax

I crane my neck and glimpse just enough space to cross over to the shoulder. I literally coast to a stop on the itty-bitty strip of safe zone between the on-ramp and the bridge. After a brief moment of pounding head on steering wheel, I call my dad and ask if he can swing by with a gas can.

Every conflict eventually reaches a point of resolution. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes a little of both. How did your problem resolve?

Look for the Story Potential

Okay, so running out of gas on the Interstate isn’t exactly epic novel material—or is it? Look for a moment at all the things that could have gone wrong:

  • I could have been stranded twenty miles from the nearest town
  • I could have been stranded after dark in a questionable neighborhood
  • I could have been on my way to a vital appointment
  • I could have been “helped” by someone I’d rather not get help from
  • I could have been rear-ended

See? What may have been a minor annoyance in your life has big story potential if you know how to leverage it. What if this happened to your heroine while she was rushing to save the day? What if it resulted in a major collision? What if the guy who pulls over to help is the antagonist? Suddenly your every-day experience takes on new life.

Everything that happens to you is a story—your story. With just a dash of creativity, you can easily use your life as a never-ending reservoir of story ideas.

In Part II, we’ll talk about the opposite problem, what to do with too many story ideas.

About Danielle

Danielle Hanna learned how to read and write at the age of four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She now writes Christian mysteries and has recently started her own freelance writing business. You can visit her at her blog, She’s happy to hear from you!

She’s also been my brainstorming partner since 2010. We’ve spent countless hours bouncing ideas off one another, helping each other with our stories, and generally providing encouragement and motivation to each other.