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I’m so glad to learn that you’re writing fiction at the moment. Fiction is close to my heart, as I’ve drafted five novels and am currently revising one to submit for publication.

I’ve gathered these resources to support you in writing fiction:

Recommended episodes of The Secret Library Podcast about Fiction:

  • Let’s start with the magical Sarah Selecky, our most frequent guest, who is always able to conjure possibilities when she talks about writing
  • If you’re worried that your first draft is a mess, let Chip Cheek assuage your fears with his gloriously wild rough draft experience
  • You don’t need to write the way anyone else does. Don’t believe me? Diana Gabaldon has the most unusual writing process I’ve ever heard of, and it hasn’t slowed her down a bit.
  • Worried you’re starting to write fiction too late in life? Kit De Waal didn’t start until her 40s, publishing in her 50s and is a bestseller and a brilliant writer now.
  • Looking for that perfect balance of character development and plot? Ben Percy has the best voice ever heard on this show and the solution to this issue.
  • Writing a topic that feels intimidating? Let Rebecca Makkai share how she tackled the AIDS epidemic in The Great Believers.
  • If you need help working on dialogue, this conversation with Wesley Brown is excellent.
  • Get inspired to write about the less heard stories from Philippa Gregory, who writes about unseen women in history.
  • If you’re writing short fiction, Danielle Lazarin and Paul McVeigh are here for you.

Essential Reading for Fiction Writers:

  • You probably know Natalie Goldberg’s classic, Writing Down the Bones. It’s beautiful, but you may not know about Thunder and Lightning, which takes the process one step further. Just gorgeous.
  • If you haven’t yet read it, I can’t recommend On Writing by Stephen King enough. If you like audiobooks, he reads the audio version and it adds a whole new depth to the story to listen.
  • Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book is full of prompts and wonderful inspiration. Her book The Last Draft is also brilliant if you’re revising your novel.
  • One of my favorite books about being a writer ever is Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See. I fist read it over 15 years ago and it still feels every bit as relevant today.

This should have you up and running nicely with fiction, but try these if you still feel stuck.

The Perfect Writing Playlist

“The shadow to creativity is as elusive as the creativity itself.”
– Kim Krans

The creative self is a tricky minx, isn’t it?

One day, everything clicks and you can churn out page after page. Another day, it feels like squeezing words out of a stone, or your writing self sounds like an echo on a bad phone connection- tinny and strange and not sounding like you at all.

We all have bad days when writing- when creating anything, in fact.

So… how to set the scene in the best possible way? I am a huge proponent of music while writing.

Not music with words – I can’t handle the distraction there. But instrumental music, yes please.

I learned this trick from a fellow writer, and I have loved it ever since.

I write to soundtracks that have the same emotional tone as the story I’m working on. I even change based on the emotional tone of a scene.

Here’s some for you to try:

  • Writing a sad scene? Try the soundtrack to Jane Eyre.
  • Trying to build suspense? I love the score from the Matrix.
  • Got an action sequence that needs some oomph? Escape 700 from Hanna is pure gold.
  • Transporting into another world or another time? Inception is totally transporting.
  • Writing heady sci-fi? Try The Fountain
  • Getting romantic? Pride and Prejudice is lovely and sweet, and the Piano is for the more intense story.
  • Social commentary? Try Anna Karenina
  • To perk up a sluggish moment, many of the numbers in La La Land are so danceable. Many of these do have words, though…
  • And for a scary story, I can’t think of anything creepier and more haunting than theTwin Peaks soundtrack.

This is by no means a complete list, just some of my personal discoveries. All of these links lead to Spotify, and you can listen there for free with ads. If you have an account and think of an album you like to write to, it’s also fun to create a radio station- I’ve found loads of music I never thought of that is great to write to. (Who knew the Transformers score was so transporting?)

If you aren’t one to write with music, I hope this opens you up to what can often power me through some incredibly productive writing sessions. If you do write with music, this might help you choose what you listen to strategically to get you in the best mindset to channel the feelings you need to get through your next scene.

I hope this is helpful- I know putting this list together has me very eager to dive into my own writing…

Quarantine Writers Retreat


Welcome to the Quarantine Writers Retreat!

January 2021 update: **Please note that the QWR is no longer officially running, but I am still offering weekly Instagram Lives to check in about writing.**

During this uncertain time, we need to connect with our creative selves more than ever.

Many of us are staying indoors now out of necessity, and while we don’t have a choice about whether or not we are social distancing, we do have a choice about how we use this time.

My personal goal is to work through the revision and re-write of my novel.

I’ll be going live daily M-F on Instagram sharing tips, resources, and how the process is going as I work through my book.

I’d love to support you and your writing along the way.

Watch my stories on Instagram for the times each day — I have settled on 3pm Central European / 9am Eastern most days, but when I have clients or students, we may shift an hour either direction.

The archive of QWR episodes is available on the podcast Facebook Page and on my IGTV Channel, once that was up and running.

This time won’t last forever, but with some planning we can end up with something to show for it at the end. Creativity is an excellent way to manage anxiety, so let’s work together and take control of a really hard situation.

Starting 30 March for 13 weeks: 14 Day Writing Sprints!

Set your writing goal just for the next two weeks, starting Monday, 30 March. Make it manageable – don’t torture yourself right now, when things are crazy. Pick something small enough that it’s doable, but meaty enough that it will feel like a win to have done it after two weeks. Post your goal in the comments below, or on IG or twitter with the hashtag #quarantinewritersretreat.

I’ll be reporting my progress daily on live and cheering everyone on who joins or tags their goal.

Let’s get writing!

Additional resources to help you during this time:

The Secret Library Podcast, which I’ve been running for 4 years, has 166 Episodes and counting, all talking about the writing process, mindset, and how to keep writing.

I write a monthly column for The Wild Word, an online magazine based in Berlin, about the writing process.

I’m running a special:  Quarantine Writers Coaching session. I normally never offer single sessions outside a coaching package, so this is a big discount and an unusual offer. Book your slot here.

Finally, you can stay in touch with weekly writing inspiration via my newsletter, Footnotes, which addresses the writing life and mindset to keep you on track.


Next Draft


As a long-time lover of Instagram challenges, I thought a new decade was the perfect time to launch the very first one we’ve done here.

A new year is a wonderful time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the past year and a new decade is even more powerful. As writers, we need to remember to celebrate the small moments and wins that come along the way as we work towards large goals that take lots of time: finishing the draft of a book, editing a manuscript, and researching can all take months, if not years.

As an entry into this beautiful new decade, let’s take the chance to play a little bit and give ourselves a small win with a prompt to post each day in January in 2020. A new year is a bit like a fresh page in a brand new journal- delicious! But don’t think of this as a page that needs to be written on perfectly. Embrace messy drafts. Let’s remember that even though we write by ourselves, we aren’t alone in the world.

Join me starting January first on Instagram at #nextdraft2020. Prompts will be posted on New Years Eve here and on Instagram @carodonahue.

Hope to see you there!

7 Thoughts it’s Ok to Have When Finishing Your Draft

7 Thoughts It's Ok to have When Finishing Your Draft

It’s been a November of fits and starts as I close in on the end of the draft of the novel and I’ve been keeping track of all the crazy thoughts that come to mind when working on a book. It’s a threat to your status quo to write something. As I often discuss with clients, it’s really a crazy thing to do, writing a book. We spend years and years working on a story that a reader will consume in a matter of days or even hours before unleashing their opinions of how it could be different or better.

So why do we do it?

I believe, even with all the wild things that are running through my head now, that the process of writing a book is every bit as valuable to us and transformative as the change in status we feel from having written a book and being labeled “an author.” For this reason, it is perfectly ok to have the following thoughts and to continue forward, undaunted (or perhaps only slightly daunted) on toward your goal of finishing your book:

7 Thoughts it’s ok to Have When Finishing Your Draft.

Keep Going!

1. This really isn’t any good, is it? At some point during your draft this will come up. It is pretty much guaranteed. So when it appears, give yourself a high five that you are now officially in the writer club.

2. You don’t know what you’re doing. You should really stick to nonfiction / fiction / articles / short stories / journaling /email. Take your pick. The critic will tell you that you’re not cut out to write what you’re actually writing. What you’ve written in the past was a fluke and you’re not going to succeed at this one. This one simply means you’re writing something that your critic is afraid will have an impact. Again- good news! The critic doesn’t appear when we write grocery lists, so if this one shows up, you’re definitely on to something.

3. You’re writing the wrong story. {Insert shiny new idea here} would be so much better. Why not drop that one and try this new one? I fell for this one for YEARS. I switched book ideas so many times that I eventually had about five partially written novels. This is a really seductive premise. But guess what? This just means you don’t have to worry about running out of ideas. You already know what your next book will be- congratulations! All the better motivation to finish the current one so you can start the next. Again, distraction tends to appear when you’re onto something good with your current project.

4. Ugh. My character doesn’t feel believable here. I need to re-write this scene/this chapter/the entire first half of the book. I can absolutely raise my hand as being guilty of this one, and am as we speak in the middle of a section of the book I have written at least three times. Guess what? If you have a strong sense of who your character is, keep going with that new sense and then adjust in revision. Make notes on the changes that you want to make by going backward and then keep writing forward. This new insight into your character is great. Let it inform you in the next draft. Don’t let your inner perfectionist slow you down.

5. This draft doesn’t feel complete. I need more sensory detail/character descriptions/dialogue. It’s ok not to include every single thing in this draft. There will be things you want to add, change or cut the next time around and that is ok. Focus on what you can focus on now, and remember that no one is going to sneak into your computer and publish the book before you are ready. Go slow, and tackle what you can tackle in each draft.

6. Oh no! My draft is waaaaay too long. I’m out of control! If you are the sort of writer who feels like you just keep writing and writing and writing while the story balloons beyond the size of book you thought you wanted, don’t reign yourself in too much. This extra writing will give you insight into the story and character in this draft. You can always cut parts out if they feel unnecessary later. Plus, there is no reason to make a book shorter if it’s meant to be a long book. Diana Gabaldon doesn’t worry about how long an installment of Outlander is. Erin Morgenstern had 8 years between The Night Circus and The Starless Sea and the new one is a whopping 494 pages. Am I sorry to have a big book in my hands? Not at all.

7. I’m never going to get to the end, am I? Of all the beliefs, this is the one that has the potential to wear you out, which is why it is so important to keep writing forward, even when the quicksand of the beliefs above strikes. Don’t let these beliefs about how your book is supposed to be drag you down into endlessly reworking scenes and plot and ideas. Much of writing the first draft of a book is simply pressing forward and not letting anyone hold you back.

There will be other beliefs that threaten to trap you. Don’t listen to them. Just keep writing. If it’s been a long time since the first excitement of the idea for your book hit you, trust that the sparkle will be strong at the finish. If nothing else, picture typing a theatrical THE END on your manuscript and doing a celebratory dance.

If you keep writing forward, every word is getting you closer to this point.

You’ve got this. Keep up the great work!

If you’ve got other beliefs that have gotten their mitts on you, please do share them in the comments below. Let’s cheer each other through the much and mire to the finish line.

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Over the past twenty years, I've studied psychology with an emphasis on the creative process, worked in bookshops, as an editor, proofreader, and a writer. I'm full of stories and resources to share that will keep you coming back to the page. You don't have to do this alone.

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