Multi-published author and head moderator Cat Gerlach asked a bunch of writers on the forums what their toughest writings were. Here are their questions and her answers.


“Will I Live Long Enough to Finish My Epic?”

Will I live long enough to finish my Epic? … I seem to write in spasms, and only when suitably provoked. Which doesn’t happen often enough. It’s already been an ongoing thing for 25 years, and at the average rate of production, it’ll be another 25 years before it’s done. So… will I live long enough to finish it?? K.V. Moffet


You say that what actually provokes you best is discussing your partly-baked bits with an interested reader. Have you tried creating that reader in your mind? Since I have to walk my dog every morning, I talk to the reader I imagine waiting for my stories and tell her what I’ll be writing today. That pep-talk motivates me a lot to actually get the words that I wanted to write.

Motivation is a problem for many writers. It’s so much easier to procrastinate–oh, research … oh, a new story idea, shiny–as wonderful as all these are, they don’t help to get your novel written. You will have to make yourself sit down and type in the words.

You can find great tools for getting words on paper. There is writing software that will block the Internet until you make your goal, editors that’ll delete everything your wrote if you stop (a nightmare for me, but some people need/want that threat), tracking tools that calculate how many words you need to write to meet a specific wordcount goal, and then there’s Holly’s forum where the Write A Book With Me thread provides you with a great way to hold yourself accountable. All you need to add is enough glue on your chair.

Oh, and it might help to listen to Holly’s Motivation workshop.

How Do I Stop Procrastinating?

How do I stop procrastinating and do the work? When I actually sit down to do it, things go well enough. But getting me to sit down to do it (and not spend time on the forums, or FB, or doing other things) seems to be the problem. And I don’t want to force myself to do it because then it becomes ‘work’ and that takes all the fun out of it. James Husum


Determine what kind of writer you want to be. If you write because it’s a wonderful hobby, treat it like you would a hobby and only write when you feel like it. If you want to be a multi-published pro author, you will need to be aware that it won’t be fun every day. Sit down on a regular schedule and write.

If possible turn off the Internet for the allotted writing time (Holly suggests a 10 minute timer and that worked well for me in the beginning until I had found my rhythm). It doesn’t matter if writing is fun or if the words that come are perfect (everything can be adjusted during revision). Set small goals that you can reach to keep you motivated.

Also, find joy in the millions of things you need to do to write.

  • You found a great article and it’s sparking an idea? Enjoy.
  • You coded an eBook and uploaded it to a publishing platform, let the forum know and have some chocolate (or campaign if you prefer).
  • You sent your first story out to a publisher?
  • You got your firs rejection?
  • Your first sale?
  • A winning placement in a contest?

Celebrate it and congratulate yourself, your Muse and your Inner Editor. You’ll see that they’ll learn to love to come out to play even if writing is hard at times.

P.S.: If you do your “job” right, a reader will not be able to distinguish which part of your story gave you trouble.

Staying Fresh While Writing Long Fiction

How do you keep pumping fresh “I can do this” into a long project? Especially when your Muse goes “I’m bored”? Chris Makowski


To keep up your stamina, talk to other writers. Holly’s Write A Book With Me thread is the forum is a great place to regain your motivation.

If your Muse is bored, (s)he/it’s probably right. I found that trusting my Muse was hard (because I often had to cut my story severely) but it is always worthwhile. Maybe your Muse is bored because something is wrong with your story. Examine what you wrote to determine if there is a problem, and if there is, fix it. Talking to other authors can also help with finding a suitable fix.


All The Details vs. Sanity

How do I manage marketing and paperwork and still stay sane enough to talk to my family in coherent sentences? Elizabeth Winfield


There are but two rules.

  1. Always put your writing first.
  2. Whatever you do for marketing, you need to enjoy.

The reason for this is that the best marketing you can do is to write the next story.

Select only a few things you can do for marketing and stick with them.

The only mandatory marketing option is the eMail list since people signing up for it are your best assets. But handling an eMail list isn’t very difficult.

It suffices to send out an eMail whenever you publish something new (that’s where rule #1 comes into play again). Use the social media channels that you really like.

My favorite is Pinterest, and I can manage Facebook (since I don’t use it for anything private). I hate twitter so I use it sparingly or not at all. Your preferences will surely be different.

Arrange your daily writing schedule in a way that leaves you at least 2/3 of your time for writing and/or revision. Most marketing can be done in a few minutes a day if you’re consistent.

Trying to Build a Website

Trying to get my 63 year old brain through the learning curves of website construction is driving me nuts, because I have so many setbacks. While there are tons of free tutorials, free does not necessarily equal good, or helpful.

I’ve had to try a lot of badly made tutorials to find some that are clearly enough verbalized to be useful for me. Some guys talk way too fast. Others are too chatty and distract me with asides I don’t need. And almost nothing is clearly indexed to help me answer the problem I’m trying to solve, in the first place.

How can I find my way through this morass of data to get to the answers I really need? Peg Fisher

my answer: YouTube is a good place to find tutorials. However, it is hard t say which of those will be suitable for your learning method. It differs.

The best thing you can do is pester the people on the forum who know what they’re doing.

After all, your website doesn’t need countless bells and whistles, free games, plus a pot of gold. All you need is a small section about you, the author, a place where you can showcase publications, and a sign-up form for your eMail-list.

How Do I Deliver My Sign-Up Bonus

How do I deliver whatever-bonus-I-planned for interested readers once they’re signed up to my eMail list? And is there a way to prevent people from downloading the bonus gift if they haven’t signed up? anonymous


There are two options to send your bonus gift to members of your list. You can either attach it to an eMail or you can upload it to a server.

The first method is easiest for your list members. The problem is that many spam-filters will catch mass eMails with attachments (and mailings to a mailing list are mass eMails). My suggestion is to avoid this method unless you’re sending a picture.

It is better to upload your bonus to a server and send the list members a link. If you upload the bonus to your own webspace, it is possible for people not on your list to download the book. As long as you’re still quite unknown, that’s not really a problem. However, you might want to investigate more secure servers like Dropbox or similar services.

My favorite for giving away additional eBooks is instaFreebie which not only stores your story (uploads are done as ePub or Word documents) but also converts it into very clean epub, mobi, and pdf files.


Balancing First Drafts and Revision

How do I balance this writing with revision thing? Elizabeth Winfield


Do you have regularly scheduled writing times? If so, you can either use the daily time window with 40% for revision and 40% for writing (writing always comes first) and with the remaining 20% for marketing, or you can alternate days or weeks.

You’ll have to find out what works best for you. Some writers cannot write while they’re revising, so if you find that you’re a single thread writer 8as I call them), do your best to finish one project before you start the next.

Remember that your aim is to make your book the best you’re capable of at that point in time. Don’t become a perfectionist or you’ll be revising longer than necessary.

When You Do the Indie Two-Step, There Are More Than Two Steps!

The part I’m having most trouble with is timing and order.

I want to know when to order the cover, when to contract with an editor, when to start promoting. I’ve been known to start buzz for a book then the timing falls apart and all the momentum I created fizzles.

There has to be a formula for book, buzz, edit, cover, formatting, uploading. I always get the order wrong and end up in a mess. C. L. Roth


This question is really hard to answer because it depends not only on your work ethic, writing speed, and personal network, but also on the time and work-ethic etc. of others. If your cover artist is fast, you can hire him later in the process.

I do it this way:

  1. After I finish the first draft and adjusted the plot mostly, I send the file to the cover artist
    and to beta readers with a fixed deadline when I need their feedback.
  2. After I finish the full revision (incl. polishing), I send the file to the editor.
  3. Then, I concentrate on writing the best blurb I can.
  4. I set up the eBook pre-order on Amazon.
  5. And the print version through Createspace (which I immediately take down again by making changes to the cover – this allows amazon to combine print and eBook way before the actual release, and reviewers can post their reviews before the eBook is released).
  6. Next I hand out ARCs to reviewers (reminding them that the book they get is still unedited).
  7. When I get the edits back, I start coding in earnest, adding the cover as soon as it is finalized.
  8. When everything is the way I want it, I upload all files and begin to build a buzz (mailing lists adverts etc).

Streamlining the Write/Revise Process

How can I streamline my revision process or write in a more orderly manner so that I have a finished product more quickly? Karen Lynn


I found that the more books I write using Holly’s HTTS methods, the easier the process became and the less I needed to revise. By now, I know my weaknesses and revision hardly ever takes longer than a few days.

It is important to develop a writing schedule that works for you. Use your writing time wisely and also allow for things that need to be done aside from writing (like marketing, coding, uploading). The more often you go through the process, the faster and easier it will become.

So basically my answer is, write more and become more experienced.

Boosting Productivity

How do I be more productive? How do I write faster, better, cleaner, and get the work to the market? James Husum


Write more, revise more, publish more.

Have a working writing schedule and stick to it whether the Muse shows up or not.

You can always improve scenes you wrote on days (s)he/it sulked, and sometimes you’ll even find that the scene isn’t half as bad as you thought.

After a while, the Muse will get used to showing up whenever you sit down at your keyboard.

The Writing Craft


How do I build really satisfying endings? Elizabeth Winfield


Use the hints your Muse gave you while you were writing the book. Usually, a lot of germs for ideas for a great ending are already there but you didn’t notice.

Find those and your ending will fit your story perfectly.

Techniques like Muse Bombs, LUC, and Toys on the Floor from HTTS will help you with that.

Writing “Between the Big Scenes”

I’m not sure if it’s a question exactly, but the thing that right now I’m discovering I need to learn how to do better is to fill in the necessary information between the candy bar scenes without having it read like filler. Gloria Hanlon


Things that bore you as a writer will also bore your future readers.

The famous “What if” questions can take you from one candy bar scene to the next.

Once you’ve got enough ideas to get you from once favorite scene to the next, make sure every single one of them has all the necessary elements, but most of all some form of conflict.

Not all scenes need to focus on the story’s main conflict, there can be smaller conflicts at the side, but every scene needs to move your story closer to your next candy bar scene.

If you manage that without boring yourself, you can be sure that your readers will sit on the edge of their seats when they get to read your story.

Finding the Voice of a Long-Unvisited Character

As I’m trying to edit an older piece I’m finding that I need to understand/know the character better. I know all the ‘facts’ about her (in lots detail, I know how much her house cost, what she pays for rent on her store, mileage on her car, etc.) but really finding her voice is proving hard for me. I guess I know what she thinks but not how she thinks it and I think that is the problem with the story that I need to fix before I can let people into her world. Erica_Damon


My preferred method is daydreaming. I sit down for a short time suing an alarm clock (usually a 10min time interval) and imagine myself into the character. I walk down the street and dream out the usual daily routine, the routine before my story started. I even talk out loud (so do that when you’re alone) to hear how my character (aka me) sounds. When I feel that I’ve got a grip on the character, I start working. The rest of the voice comes during the writing.

Your writing voice will develop with time, and like all writing voices, it will be unique. As long as you don’t deliberately try to copy someone else’s voice, I wouldn’t worry too much. Listen to your characters and you’ll discover their voice.

My question is: are there more tips and tricks for getting my Muse to come out and play during revision time, when all she wants to do is write the next cool story? Or in other words, how do I turn what feels like a right brain chore into more of a left brain play time thing? Ava_Fairhall

my answer: Use rewards. For every successful part of your revision, your Muse gets to help you with a flash story set in the same universe/world/town/room of your story featuring one of the story’s characters. When you’ve finished your revision, you’ve also got a nice little collection of additional material that you can either use as a treat for your fans or you can publish it as a companion.
Or allow her to daydream as soon as the day’s work is done.
Or let he choose music from a pile your editor likes enough that he can still work.
Or allow her to interact with your editor (yes, it does sound crazy to have two people separate from yourself arguing about character motivation, but it’s fun observing the two as if they were separate entities, believe me).
For me, rewards have worked best.

Technique: Writing Thoughts in Fiction

How do I handle characters’ thoughts? Is there a set rule? Usually, I put the thoughts in italics, and add: she thought. But that can be cumbersome. Casey Robb


You don’t always need to add “she thought”. Once the pattern you are using (and I’ll tell you about some more further down) is clear to your reader, you can leave out many of the thought tags.

Accepted patterns for thoughts are:

  • italics with establishing–(s)he thought
  • no formatting with–(s)he thought
  • no formatting with only a few establishing–(s)he thought

The last one seems to be the most common at the moment. However, it doesn’t matter so much which method you settle on. It’s more important to remain consistent. So if you’re using italics at the beginning of your novel, do it all the way through.

How to Start a Series

Writing a novel or series of novels, where do I start first?
Meaning and or examples; Do I start fleshing out characters? The world itself? Just jump in, start writing as it comes and then do world building and character fleshing? None of the above?
Charles Hoge


This question cannot be answered in just a few words. After all, Holly created a full course for it, and she starts with some basic information you’ll need to keep your story-verse consistent.

What kind of world will it take part in (we’re not talking about our world or fantasy worlds here, but about the relative size of your series setting). If it features the same little town for 10 volumes of the series, you cannot introduce an aunt from a different continent without setting up that there are other continents.

The same goes for your characters. If you’ve set up a main character with a supporting group where no one ever gets hurt no matter how many bullets fly around (remember the old A-Team?) you cannot write an episode where a person from that group gets shot and dies.

My advice is: take Holly’s How to Write a Series class when you can to develop a series that’s not only consistent but also interesting to you and your Muse. After all, you don’t want to be bored after the 5th episode when you’re got 10 planned. 😀

Getting Your Work Discovered by Readers

1…How do I get strangers’ eyes on my books? 1a…How do I find them and get at least the cover/title/blurb the 5ish seconds they need to become intrigued? Barbara Lund


It’s at the same time easier and harder than you think it is.

You can get readers by simply asking them (book bloggers, friends, members of your mailing list).

Many will love to read and will probably even leave a review.

For those people you cannot talk to directly, make the best cover you can, one that fits your targeted audience and looks great. Write the best blurb, catchy and enticing, and have the opening of your story, the part that’s visible as preview, up to par.

And when someone has read one of your books, invite them onto your mailing list so you can talk to them directly when your next release is due.

— Cat Gerlach

Tell A Writer
Katharina Gerlach

Multi-published author Katharina Gerlach is also Cat Gerlach, head moderator in the HollysWritingClasses.forums, and a woman who Gets. Things. Done. Multilingual, she both writes and publishes in English and German. Her website is She's a beloved moderator and a good friend. -- Holly Lisle