I’m thrilled to have a guest blog gig at PFS on the third Wednesday of every month. When Cyndi D’Alba invited me, she asked what theme I wanted to use. At my other blogs, I write whatever interests me -- almost always something to do with writing or the writing life or books. But I didn’t have to think of what I would do here. I knew.

One of my favorite writing books is Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. I’ve read it at least three times, but I’ve never done the exercises at the end of each chapter. Writers who have taken his weekend-long workshops have raved about how much they’ve learned and how much better their books are. The exercises Maass took them through opened up new ideas and possibilities.

I’ve been having a hard time writing my wip, mostly because I keep stopping and starting to do promotion for the American Title V contest. For months, the contest has been on my mind instead of my wip. The contest is worth it, and I’m not complaining. I already know how to get my writing mojo back. I’m going to conduct my own breakout workshop by doing the exercises on the back of every chapter of Maass’s Workbook. When I’m finished going through all 34 chapters, I should know the characters better than I know myself and the plot better than my own life journey.

So that’s my theme. Once a month, on the third Wednesday of each month, I’ll blog about what I took from each chapter, and then talk about the one question at the end of each chapter that resonated most with me.

My original plan was to summarize a chapter and ask Maass’s questions at the chapter’s end. But my CP, Michelle Diener, said even though I was urging everyone to buy his book (the urge is coming!), asking every question could be copyright infringement.

Here’s my urge: If you don’t own this workbook, buy it. Maass uses examples from published breakout books in the chapters, and his explanations are motivating and instructive. There’s a reason why writers love this book, and that’s because it’s so good.

If you already own the book and have done the exercises, I hope you’ll stop by and share what you've learned. Or else consider this a time to renew your knowledge and use it on your wip.

If there’s ever a time to read the breakout novel, it’s now. In the book’s Introduction, Maass said because of changes in the publishing business he saw that opportunities and sales were shrinking for most writers. But not all. Many writers were getting ahead. He studied their work and wrote the results in his 2001 book, Writing the Breakout Novel.

He used the information with his own clients, and said “The results have been dramatic. Stalled careers have been turned around, agency revenue is way up, and many clients tell me that they are writing with new joy.”

He started his weekend workshops on Writing the Breakout Novel, which led to the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. He says, “Writing a breakout novel is the hardest work you will ever do. But it can be done, and done by anyone with basic fiction writing skills and the patience and determination to take his fiction all the way to the highest level of achievement.”

One writing problem I’ve worked on is putting tension on every page. For the last two years, I have "RAISE THE STAKES" taped on my computer. Maass pounds this into the reader. He pounds everything in.

What’s the biggest problem with writing that you need to work on? If you don't have any now, what was a problem you had before and how did you turn it around?

And if you haven’t voted this round on the American Title contest, please take a moment and vote for your favorite.

42 comments

  1. Arkansas Cyndi // February 18, 2009 at 7:44 AM  

    Maas's book isn't the faint of heart! What I mean is that he is so forceful in his opinions that when I was a real newbie, this book made me question if I was capable of writing!

    I think the problem is struggle with is conflict, on every page, in every scene.

    I also struggle with voice...how to keep my voice without letting critique partners voices seep into my writing.

    I look forward to your monthly blogs!

  2. Barbara Monajem // February 18, 2009 at 8:27 AM  

    Groan. I've owned Writing the Breakout Novel for a long time. I remember thinking it was fabulous when I read it, but that was long ago, and judging by the state of my WIP, I've forgotten too much. Thanks for the nudge! I just opened it again, and will order the workbook.

    BTW, I voted. Good luck, Edie!

  3. magolla // February 18, 2009 at 9:01 AM  

    Maass's book was one of my first craft books. I think writer's break out numerous times during their career. Shoot, just selling your story is a breakout if you've got a manuscript or two or five under the bed.
    I will alway struggle with group scenes. How much is too much/too little when you have four or more characters interacting within the scene.
    Thanks for getting the juices going, Edie!

  4. Donnell // February 18, 2009 at 9:23 AM  

    On my keeper shelf, Edie. Seeing The Donald in person as we call him in Colorado LOL, a lot of what he says hits home. His words, tension on every page, wow, talk about no dead wood in your novel. This Breakout Novel shows you how to do serious editing, and only what's necessary writing.

  5. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 9:27 AM  

    Cyndi, thanks for inviting me to be a Fuzzy. :) You're right, and maybe it's not a good book for a new writer. Still, if they're the type to be scared away, better do it at the beginning. This isn't an easy journey we're on.

    I with you on conflict. I'm better, but it's something I'm always aware of.

    My CPs and I have such different voices, I'm okay there. I love my CPs!

  6. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 9:31 AM  

    Barbara, thanks! I loved the original book, but the questions in the workbook made me think. Even when I just read them.

    I hope you'll stop by next month and let us know how it changed your writing.

  7. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 9:36 AM  

    Margaret, I have a group scene in my wip and it's way too talky, so I know what you mean. I cut a lot, but it's still not good enough. I'll have to fix it when I get back to it.

  8. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 9:39 AM  

    Donnell, very cool. He gave the workshop in Minnesota last year or the year before. I wanted to go but WisRWA was having their conference about the same time. I couldn't do both, darn it.

  9. Ellen // February 18, 2009 at 10:17 AM  

    Hi Edie!
    great posting :) I know what book I'll be looking for next...

  10. LaDonna // February 18, 2009 at 10:32 AM  

    Hey Edie, I ordered them both. Me, who is usually a non-craft reader, recently bought Story by Robert McKee. It's like I'm on this journey to kick it up a notch. This was a great blog for me today, kinda like serendipity giving me a call!

  11. Liz L. // February 18, 2009 at 10:37 AM  

    Edie, great idea. I think Maass is the bomb. I went to one of his workshops a long time ago and afterwards, I threw out the first 125 pages of my manuscript. It made it a much better story. One of the things he suggested was throwing the entire manuscript in the air, then picking up a random page. If you don't see conflict on there - rewrite it. I haven't been brave enought to do that yet!!

    I'm looking forward to your monthly blogs, and I've already voted for DEAD PEOPLE. That's a good story and should win. You deserve it.

  12. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 10:45 AM  

    Ellen, thanks! This is one of the three books I recommend to other writers.

  13. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 10:46 AM  

    LaD, thanks for stopping by! I know you'll get a lot our of Maass's workbook. Let me know how you like Story.

  14. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 10:50 AM  

    Liz L, 125 pages? Eeek!

    He says that in the book about throwing the pages. I've looked at random pages (without throwing them in the air) and checked for tension. It's a fun exercise.

    And thanks for voting and for your kind words. :)))

  15. Nancy // February 18, 2009 at 11:20 AM  

    Edie, great post, and great reminder about Maas. I have the book and workbook (unless I loaned out one or both), and I need to read and do the exercises again.

    I'm with Magolla on the crowd scenes -- those are tough! Tension on every page is something to master, too.

    Thanks again, Edie!

    Light,
    Nancy Haddock

  16. Mary Marvella // February 18, 2009 at 11:56 AM  

    Hey, Edie! I am so glad Cyndi and chose you as a Regular Guest Blogger. I let her make the first suggestion and you were her immediate choice. I couldn't have done better so, BIG WELCOME!

    I can't wait for your next visit.

    Mama Mary

  17. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 12:09 PM  

    Nancy, Maass's books are awesome! He has another book out. I should read it sometime.

  18. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 12:10 PM  

    Mary, thanks! I'm glad Cyndi chose me too. It's an honor to be asked to blog here. And once a month is perfect!

  19. Judy // February 18, 2009 at 2:04 PM  

    Good thought. I think I'd better go get the book. I took a course from him some time ago but I've forgotten how important his thoughts are...

  20. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 2:13 PM  

    Judy, it's always great to have a reminder. When I took Margie Lawson's classes, I printed out her lessons and have reread them a couple times.

  21. Karin Tabke // February 18, 2009 at 3:10 PM  

    Hey, Edie, you need to write the Blogging Break Out Novel!

  22. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 3:45 PM  

    Karin, that's what I want to do with GG.

  23. Pamela Varnado // February 18, 2009 at 4:45 PM  

    What a wonderful way to share the knowledge you'll gain from the book. I already own it, but seem to have forgotten all the wisdom it imparts. Thanks for reminding me and I look forward to reading your comments.

  24. Liz Kreger // February 18, 2009 at 5:27 PM  

    I'll have to follow your progress, Edie. I'm not one to read books on writing, and I've never read Donald Maas's book but I'm interested in seeing if it helps you with your WIP

  25. Arkansas Cyndi // February 18, 2009 at 7:39 PM  

    Has anyone gone to one of Maas's workshops? What did you think?

  26. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 7:51 PM  

    Pamela, the first chapter that I'll talk about next month is on heroic qualities. That's going to be fun. :)

  27. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 7:53 PM  

    Liz, you and Michelle will see if it helps in my pages and not just my blogs. You'll get the real proof!

  28. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 7:54 PM  

    Cyndi, Donnell attended one of his workshops. I think Theresa Walsh did too. You can ask them about it.

  29. Scarlet Pumpernickel // February 18, 2009 at 8:00 PM  

    Edie, welcome to the Fuzzies! Pull on your pink slippers and snuggle up by the fire. We're looking forward to your blogging with us!

    Scarlet

  30. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 9:26 PM  

    Scarlet, thanks for the welcome!

  31. Mary Ricksen // February 18, 2009 at 9:45 PM  

    I agree Cyndi, everyone looks at things differently. I welcome you to our monthly blog, and look forward to it! Yeah Edie!!

  32. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 10:16 PM  

    Mary, thanks for the welcome!

  33. Mary Marvella // February 18, 2009 at 10:27 PM  

    Edie, you rocked today!

  34. Edie // February 18, 2009 at 10:56 PM  

    Mary, thanks! Next month will be better, with a real chapter. That means I'll have to do the work. lol

  35. Jianne Carlo // February 19, 2009 at 9:06 AM  

    I think Donald Mass' book and workshop is invaluable for any aspiring and even established authors.

    So much so that when the Florida Romance Writers' chapter discussed doing a writers' retreat, I suggested having him do his one day workshop.

    If you this workshop is ever in your area, try your best to get to it. You won't regret it, I guarantee.

    Jianne Carlo
    www.jiannecarlo.com

  36. Edie // February 19, 2009 at 9:25 AM  

    Jianne, I just went to your website. It's beautiful!

    I will go to Donald Maass's workshop the next time he gives one in the area. Last year, Liz Lincoln Steiner and I co-ordinated an all day workshop by Margie Lawson. It was awesome and I've glad we did it, but I'm not ready to do something like that again for awhile.

    I'll suggest a Donald Maass workshop and see if someone else wants to handle it. LOL

  37. marciacolette // February 20, 2009 at 7:09 PM  

    Oh no. Another craft book. ;) The only one I can find among my book graveyeard called a TBR pile is Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. I have a feeling Maass's book will go in the room and never come out.

  38. Edie // February 20, 2009 at 7:42 PM  

    Marcia, you have natural talent and don't need any stinking books. ;)

  39. Cynthia Eden // February 20, 2009 at 8:49 PM  

    Ok, Edie, you're making me want this book!!

    Some of my chapter mates caught one of his workshops and they couldn't stop talking about how great it was!

  40. Edie // February 20, 2009 at 11:10 PM  

    Cindy, it is worth getting this book. Although you don't seem to have any problems with plots or characters. :)

  41. Joanne // February 22, 2009 at 8:59 AM  

    Hi Edie,
    Welcome to the Pink Fuzzies and thanks for posting. Maass's book is excellent for craft.

  42. Edie // February 22, 2009 at 9:18 AM  

    Hi Joanne! Thanks for the welcome!