How I Wrote a Novel (A Look into my Writing Process)

It's been almost six months since I first decided to embark on the National Novel Writing Month challenge (NANOWRIMO). To say I thrive on deadlines would be an understatement!

It was such an incredible (blurry) experience. In four weeks I wrote a first draft. (I started my NANIWRIMO at the end of November instead of beginning.) I watched the word count crawl up to my goal of 70,000. I stayed up until 3 in the morning writing, and drank tea all day to get me through to the next night, loving every second. And then I took a short break- I wrote the last chapter on Christmas Eve actually, and rang in the New Year with a completed manuscript under my belt.

Then, I began the extremely painful but enlightening process of revisions. First I tackled the big stuff, adding another twenty thousand words. Then I tackled the smaller stuff, effectively deleting ten thousand of those words. Then I killed my darlings, cut cliche's, and removed anything that made me cringe. Finally I did the line edits, over and over and over again, though I am certain I missed some. (Critique partners and beta readers for the win, guys!)

As soon as I got to the point where I was ready to query agents, I started thinking about my next book. I started with one idea, and then got another. I flushed out the ideas and decided which one I'd go with. And now I'm working on novel number two.

Because this is what I do now: I write stories! I couldn't stop if I tried, though I never want to.

I have a lot of people ask me about writing now, and how I got started with fiction. But I'm SO NEW to this experience, I certainly can't give expert advice. All I can do is share what works for me. Because if there is one thing writing a  book taught me, it's my PROCESS. I feel like I know my brain so much better now than I ever have.

So today I'm sharing my writing process for those who are a little overwhelmed with knowing where to start. I get that, and I felt it too. 


Here is the method I use when I approach writing.


1. I Research

One of the first things I do is create a new Word Doc, start a secret Pinterest board, and grab a fresh notebook. This trifecta perfectly encapsulates the many was in which I learn and remember.  I use my notebook to jot down facts I want to remember. I use my word doc to save links, and make notes. I use Pinterest for setting inspiration.

In my first book, the settings are real places -- places I've been -- so that was fairly simple. In this  new book, I'm creating a fictional town. This requires much more research because I want to get it right.

This brings me to another point: I think it's an author's responsibility to do their due diligence. Don't cut corners. Do the research. 

2. I get to know my major characters

I'm not the type of person who does full character write ups on all her characters before she starts writing. Because I discover things about my characters as I go. But, I do like to have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses before I start.

3. I outline plot points

The popular thought is that there are two types of writers: those who plot (plotters), or those who fly by the seat of their pants (pantsers). I think I lie somewhere in the middle there. I like to have a list of major and minor plot points, as a guideline, but I don't necessarily fill in the blanks until I write.

I know many writers who just sit down and write without knowing where the story is headed, and that's best for them, but it's not for me. My brain needs order beforehand to allow for more creativity.

4. I use Scrivener

Oh Scrivener, how I love thee. It really is amazing and I highly recommend it to all writers.

The first thing I do when I create a new Scrivener file is create three new folders and label them: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3. Then I fill them with a few subfolders, followed by "text" pages. That way it's all laid out and I have a visual representation of the chapters. Some people label them too, which I tend to do as I get closer to working on them.

I also copy and paste any Word Doc info to a new page in the research area. Whatever is related to the book goes in Scrivener.

4.  I stop researching for a bit

There comes a point in time where I have to stop researching for a bit. I am the type of person who wants to know everything about a subject before I write about it (see #1), but that can hinder me because perfectionism often kills progress.

I usually can tell at this point if I know enough to start writing. Do I have a good sense of the setting? Can I represent the voices of the community appropriately? Once I can answer yes then I take a break from research, save for minor things that take a moment or two to look up.

6. I write the first draft 

Now it's time to write. I've only just begun my second novel, and I'm not certain how long this one will take. I suspect two months. And I suspect the first draft will be in much better shape than my first one was as a first draft. 

I know people take weeks, months, or even years to write a book, but I don't think anyone could argue there is an appropriate amount of time it SHOULD take you. We all have different lives. Different obligations. This will look different for each of us.

(Also, as a note: don't be alarmed when you find yourself struggling through Act 2. I've spoken to many, and agree myself, that this was the hardest part of the book to write. Rivaled only by those first three chapters.)

Happy writing everyone! I hope this overview of my process helps those who are struggling. Let me know if you start your novel!


New on Thin Difference - 5 Things I’d Tell My 20-Something Self, 10 Years Later

Do you ever wish you could sit your younger self down and give him/her a talking to?

The thought has definitely crossed my mind on more than one occasion. In fact, during a conversation with Jon Mertz from Thin Difference, that exact idea popped up and we decided to give it a go - with a focus on leadership lessons of course. 

Today I'm sharing:

5 Things I’d Tell My 20-Something Self, 10 Years Later

Here is a sneak peek:

At the risk of sounding like a broken record - I can't believe how much I've changed since turning thirty nearly two years ago. It probably sounds absurd; how much can one really change that quickly? But I swear it, I've somehow managed to figure out the many problems I struggled with over and over for the entire decade of my twenties, in a fraction of that time

Perhaps it was the still developing prefrontal cortex - in fact, I'm fairly certain it was - but I am grateful for my once youthful spirit and determination. I was a risk-taker. I wasn't afraid to try new things and delve into the unknown. The results were mixed - some turned out the way I'd hoped, others were colossal failures - but with each experience, I was provided an opportunity to learn something valuable. I call that a win either way!




Learning to Write - 7 Books on Writing for Newbies


I've always loved writing. When I was a kid, my mom bought me an electric typewriter at a yard sale. It was shiny and smooth and colorful - a bright teal with cherry red keys here and there. I used to plop it on the dining room table, feed through a piece of white paper, and write. I'd write a few lines or pages, and then, unhappy with my work, I'd crumple them up and toss them aside. It was all very tortured-artist. The good stuff I'd keep, slipping the pages into a plastic protector before returning to my favorite pastime: reading.

I continued to write through high school (though I do admit to borrowing and submitting my sister's work on a few occasions - sorry Mrs. Clark!). But the passion was still there. It was one of the only classes I could bare to sit through.

Fast forward to age 23: I became a mom, a small business owner, and scored my first blogging gig. All shifted the course of my life in significant ways. Obviously parenthood is MAJOR, but the other two were big in their own ways. More specifically, in terms of writing, I learned what the people who run blogs want. I learned to deliver the goods. And I learned that I really did love writing, especially when I created this little home for myself back in 2011.

Then one day I decided to write fiction, and quickly realized I knew nothing about writing. Well, that's not really fair. I knew what I liked and what I didn't like. I knew what held my attention and what put me to sleep. I understood writing in theory, but the actual practice was a whole new, mind-blowing, world.

When I began my first attempt at fiction, it fell flat. I was overwhelmed and frustrated, mostly because the project itself was historical fiction - a big undertaking. It wasn't until I decided to write something purely for my own eyes - something that I myself would want to read - that the process began to flow.

But that was only the beginning. Maybe you're one of the lucky folks who can just sit down and let a story flow, but I'm not. My brain doesn't work like that. I knew I needed to learn more (everything) about the craft, so I started picking up books. I read On Writing by Stephen King first, over the summer. And when I was in Nashville in October, I scored a copy of Strunk & White's classic The Elements of Style at a cute bookstore near the Vanderbuilt campus. Next, I began The Art of Character by David Corbett, a suggestion from my brother in law Eric. My confidence was building, but I was still too intimidated by the process to put anything into practice.

During National Novel Writing Month in November I reached out to my friend Jenny, who recommended K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your Novel as a good place to start. (You can buy Jenny's first book Karma Gone Bad here. You'll love it!) And this book was a game changer for me. Eye-opening on many levels. From this point, I was able to write a first draft.

Now I'm in the throes of the revision process - adding layers upon layers to my chapters. And I'm able to do so because I have a box of tools I can go back to for inspiration, guidance and motivation. Today I'm sharing my favorite books on writing that I keep nearby. I like a straight-shooter when it comes to books on craft, so if you're like me, you'll enjoy these too. And if you've ever dreamed about writing a novel, this list is a great place to start.

7 Books On Writing for the Newbie Novelist


Strunk & White - The Elements of Style

This is a must buy. It's a succinct reference book that you will go back to again and again.

David Corbett - The Art of Character

Creating characters who are not cliched is hard work. This is a must read if you want your characters to stand out from the pack. There are exercises at the end of each chapter that are thought-provoking and will have you digging deep into yourself.

K.M. Weiland - Structuring Your Novel

I love K.M. Weiland. She doesn't waste your time with unnecessary prose in her writing. She tells you what you need to know, shares multiple examples of others who have done it right, and prepares even the most unprepared for the exciting task of writing a novel.

Stephen King - On Writing

What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said? I would quote it all if I could. I never understood the Stephen King love until I read this. He is the wisest guy around. Definitely number one on my list for books on the craft.


Carly Watters - Getting Published in the 21st Century

This book covers it all. Written by Literary Agent Carly Watters, I highly recommend for anyone new to the querying process and those preparing their manuscripts for submission. It's a very intimidating task the first time you do it! Again, no nonsense delivery.


Steven Pressfield - The War of Art

The subtitle of this book is, "Break Through The Creative Blocks & Win The Creative Battle" - and this book will help you do just that. It's perfect for all of the dreamers out there who want something so badly but face resistance. This book has a spiritual element to it as well, which I loved. (He pretty much tells you of his belief in a higher power right off the bat.)


James Scott Bell - Revision & Self -Editing for Publication

You've written your first draft. Now what? On Writing is a great for revision details, but for those requiring more details, this book is amazing. Learning how to revise your work is hard. Harder than writing. This is a great reference.


A couple notes here. The first: while reading these books, it's important to keep reading fiction! It's so easy to get caught up in the technical stuff. Keeping rich stories in your life will help keep that balance and remind you why you want to write in the first place.

I also wanted to suggest buying these in hard copy. Ebooks are great, but you'll likely find yourself referencing them often, and it's just easier to do with something tangible.

As Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art,“The sign of the amateur is overglorification of and preoccupation with the mystery. The professional shuts up. She doesn't talk about it. She does her work.”

Okay Steven. I'll shut up now.

I'd love to hear your favorites! Share below!


Six Truths for Weary Bloggers

I was chatting with friends recently, and it became very clear to me that there is a process when it comes to blogging. We go through similar stages and phases. We experiences highs and lows. We are certain of ourselves then completely unsure. It seems to be quite common.

But it doesn't feel that way when you're in the midst of it.

It feels very isolating. It feels like failure. It may even feel like quitting.

There is a lot of competition in the blogging world, which can be discouraging. And coupled with self-doubt, blogging can become a chore instead of a way to express ourselves creatively and tell our stories. Stories that we need to share for our own healing and growing, and for the benefit of others too.

Today I wanted to share some truths I've learned about blogging for those who are in the weary stage of it all.

1. Your blog may not blow up. Ever. - There are many reasons why this is true. The number one reason is likely due to the fact that the blogosphere is oversaturated. But also, as my friend Michelle pointed out, most of us are now consuming our blog posts, and other articles through social media. It's what our friends/family/colleagues share through their social media channels that are we are clicking on. That plays a major role in driving traffic. Finally, the blogosphere may be oversaturated but it's also a very big space that sometimes feels small. You may think a blogger is huge, but in the grand scheme of things they are not. The ones that are huge are the exception, not the rule.

2. You should still have one. - If you plan on making a career for yourself in writing, then you need a blog. Agents and publishers will check you out. There needs to be something there. And with the simplicity of the process today, you can have a simple site up in sixty minutes.

3. You will probably get bored - How long is one person supposed to stay the same? What's the cap on that? Take the seven-year-itch and divide it by two - that seems like a reasonable amount of time to expect someone to remain stagnant in their content. I've talked to so many bloggers who face this challenge: they've grown, changed, become bored with writing about the same thing. How does one evolve and bring their blogging along with them?

4. You will ask yourself why you're doing this. - It's a wall that we all hit at some point or another: what am I doing all this work for? And it's a very important conversation to have with yourself. What are your writing goals? Do you want a book published? Do you want to make money through blogging? Are you treating your blog as a business? The answer to these questions will determine where you need to be focusing your efforts because...

5. You will have to choose between blogging & something else. Most of us have to make a living somehow. Either we are working full time, or raising children, or both. There is always something else that demands our immediate attention and will win it. That leaves us with little time for anything else - for getting closer to accomplishing our dreams. And the reality is, blogging is often a stepping stone: it's not the ultimate goal. But it's scary to step back. For many of us, our blogs feel like home. But the more we hold on to the comfort, the longer it will take to see our dreams through.

6. Quality > Quantity. If you are at that point where you have to step away from your blog a bit, fear not. Quality > quantity. I'd rather read a personal blog entry from the heart a million times over a product review. I would rather hear an update from you every three months than be bombarded with your every move. And I'm not alone. Whatever you decide to do - the majority of your readers aren't going to bail on you.




On Change...

Of the many fears that consume us as a species, the fear of change may be atop the list. It begins when we’re youngsters: imagine the tearful goodbye as a parent leaves their child on the first day of day care or preschool. Normally there is an adjustment period there for both parent and child, and it’s not often a pretty one.

The same is true for all changes in life: the transition from middle school to high school, moving away from home for the first time, working a full-time job fresh out of college. We’re creatures of comfort living in a world where we are forced to systemically evolve for our first two decades of life.

During that time, however, we just do it. We don’t really complain (not to anyone who could change the outcome anyway). We follow protocol, and in the end, we hopefully leave that period of time evolved in a significant way; mostly in the areas of education and social behavior.

- See more at:


Distractions & Solitude

Have you spent much time alone in your life? Have you ever lived by yourself? Have you traveled without company?

I grew up in a busy home with two siblings and a revolving door welcoming family and friends any time – the house was never quiet! When I moved away from my parents home at 18 the trend of chaos continued, and as I grew older I began to realize that I really preferred it this way: I despised being alone.

Back in 2011 when I launched my exploration into spirituality and mindfulness, I began to understand that my disdain for solitude was revealing that something important was missing in my life. I was avoiding myself, and instead of trying to figure out exactly what I was avoiding, I let distractions fill in the void.

Continue reading over on the Thin Difference blog...

(Photo source via Thin Difference)






New Writing Project Details

I promised I'd share details about my forthcoming writing project when they were available - and today is the day. Below is an overview of Because of All You May Become, a collaboration between myself and Monique Coleman, an actress/humanitarian that uses her voice to help change the world and inspire others to do the same. I promise to share more details about the release as they become available.

Thank you for your support & encouragement along the way!


Because of All You May Become

Written by Monique Coleman & Heidi Oran

Each of us share a common truth: below the surface we are dreamers. We dream of happiness, love, and living our purpose. We dream of finding meaningful work, changing the world, and leaving a legacy for others to follow. Often the seeds are planted in our early childhood and youth -  we spend hours daydreaming of the life we hope to live in the future. As the years pass and we hit our teens and twenties, the challenges begin to stack up and we lose our way. The reality is that loss in unavoidable, fear will show up when you least expect it, and disappointment is inevitable.

Because of All You May Become aims to guide young people through these challenges, by staying true to three core principles: we need to take ownership of who we are, move from inspiration to action, and challenge our perception of the world, approaching life with renewed clarity. Through an exploration into our inner world, this book will offer you inspiration, practical ideas, and tangible takeaways to help you unlock your full potential and move closer to living a life of meaning, purpose and joy.

Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on the release of the this project, and any news!

Thank you!



Having Many Passions - Blessing or Curse?

I have been blessed/cursed - depending on how you look at it - with many passions. From stepping on a stage and performing in a play, to playing different instruments and singing, to  writing short stories and blogging - the list of my passions could go on for hours. And I'm not even exaggerating, there are ALL PASSIONS.

For a long time I felt like I was alone, but now I know that I'm just one of the many multi-passionate individuals out there.

But is it, as I suggested above, a blessing or a curse?

I assure you, it can get pretty frustrating feeling a tug in so many directions. But at the same time, I love exploring the different directions.

To read my thoughts, continue reading here.