An excerpt from Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas & Turning Them into Compelling Fiction by Denise Jaden

What do you love, connect to, or want to read when it comes to fiction? I’d like to delve into the heart of who you are and what you connect to most.

We’ve all heard the advice to “be yourself.” But how well do you know yourself, and when it comes to creating other characters, what does that mean? We’re also told to “follow your passion,” but what if you don’t know what, exactly, you’re passionate about? I believe that everyone’s true self  has great stories that are full of life and just waiting to be told, but we have to seek and explore our true self to find those stories. We need passion to deliver us to the end of the process — where we find resonance and kinetic energy — but how on earth do you find it?

First, get rid of all the shoulds in your writing. What is your level of desire to write a new story or to finish the stories you are currently working on? Do you feel any sense of obligation about writing these stories? In her motivational book Get It Done, Sam Bennett suggests writing a “Could Do List.” For instance, if you had unlimited time and resources, what might or could you do? Make this list, while understanding that you are under absolutely no obligation to follow through with any of these ideas. This is not a to-do list. It is a dream list that reveals what’s inside you.

In your journal, answer the following questions: When do you feel most alive? When are you most in love? Most enraged? What motivates you? What wrecks you emotionally? What angers you most? Harness these feelings and memories to find new ideas, and use them to sift through your ideas once you have an overflowing abundance.

What is dangerous about your writing process? Do you anticipate and plan for readers of your work? Do you add plot obstacles or situations to your writing that feel risky, that feel like they may take your story in the wrong direction, or that feel beyond your ability as a writer to pull off? If you answer “nothing about my writing is dangerous,” this may be a problem. If your writing feels humdrum, it may be because you don’t have anyone waiting to read your stories, or your writing doesn’t tackle high stakes. If you don’t feel much while writing your stories, your readers may not feel a whole lot either.

What is your personality type? Are you an all-in kind of person or a hold-back type? Do you tend to look up to other personality types or automatically discredit them? What about yourself do you hold in highest regard? What about yourself do you wish you could change?

What are your most prized values? If you haven’t, try writing a character with opposing values in a sympathetic way. Are you a dog lover? Write about a character who dislikes or is afraid of dogs. Are you always punctual? Try writing sympathetically about someone who is always running late. If your writing lacks vibrancy, try writing characters who conflict with you, and dig deep to discover their motivations. For your readers to feel deep emotions, you must write with deep emotion and passion.

As you discover new things about yourself and what inspires your passions, insert those ideas and motivations into your stories. At the end of the day, you want your stories to make readers feel as inspired as you felt when you first thought of them. Do your stories make you feel passionate? Do they inspire, invigorate, teach, and enlighten you? Have they helped you solve a problem? If you want them to do the same for your readers, they must.

The goal of knowing and recognizing the things that make you feel deeply is to inspire your writing, so I ask you this: Which ideas propel you to write

Denise Jaden, author of Story Sparks and Fast Fiction, fast-drafted her debut YA novel, Losing Faith (Simon Schuster), in twenty-one days during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Her second fast-drafted novel was published in 2012. She runs a fast-drafting challenge on her blog each March and lives outside Vancouver, BC, Canada. Connect with her online at

Excerpted from Story Sparks. Copyright © 2017 by Denise Jaden. Printed with permission from New World Library —




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Review of Story Sparks by Denise Jaden

Many creative writing books cover the mechanics of writing a novel. Story Sparks: Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas & Turning Them into
Compelling Fiction helps writers find a great story idea before writing hundreds of pages.9781608685097_FC

Anyone who has been hamster-wheeling a story idea for years or has hundreds of pages exploring various approaches on their hard drive knows there must be a better way. There is. Successful young adult novelist Denise Jaden shows exactly how to create the captivating stories that prevent dispiriting wasted time. Busting the “visitation from the muses” myth, she shows that inspiration is a skill that can be learned by understanding how story ideas work (or don’t), fertilizing the ground for fresh and sound ideas, and moving swiftly through stuck points. Practical and inspiring, Jaden’s approach celebrates the imaginative sparks that make innovations of all kinds possible while pinpointing the precise tools writers need to fan their unique creative flames.

Jaden shares, “I think the idea that everyone has a story in them is universal. I speak with many people who say, “I could never write a book,” but when I start to delve into their lives and the possibilities for stories within them, something lights up.” The truth is, finding great story ideas does not have to be a gift or a talent grown from birth. It is a skill, and it can be learned.

In Story Sparks, you will…

· Learn how and why stories resonate with us

· Discover new and fun ways to come up with story ideas

· Get help in choosing from ideas and then following through with them

· Troubleshoot ideas for potential pitfalls

· Find a lengthy appendix of ideas for getting unstuck

Denise Jaden, author of Story Sparks and Fast Fiction, fast-drafted her debut novel, Losing Faith (Simon Schuster), in twenty-one days during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Her second fast-drafted novel was published in 2012. She runs a fast-drafting challenge on her blog each March and lives outside Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her website is:


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Your Life-Changing Story: The Story You Need to Tell

By Sandra Marinella

We all have a story. Sometimes it is the story of being knocked to the ground – perhaps because of a cancer diagnosis or the death of a loved one. And if we aren’t careful a story like this can get buried within us. We can deny it ever happened and this might lead to physical or psychological problems. Let’s explore how we can find and begin to navigate a story we need to tell.iStock_000015201389Large

Ten years ago, at the beginning of his senior year, Ben sat in the back of my high school writing classroom. Against the wall. Over his head was an imaginary sign that read “Leave me alone.” But my job as a teacher was to knock down that sign. And while it took a few weeks, I did. On my third attempt at a conversation with Ben, there was a breakthrough.

Although he had few words for what had happened, he had a story stuck inside. It had shattered his life. He had scrawled bits of it in his classroom journal, but now he would tell me. “Last summer . . . my uncle . . . my best friend . . . died.” Ben had broken his silence.

While he continued to struggle with his words, Ben began to inch forward. In coming weeks he embarked on writing a personal narrative on this tragic death.   Still, it would be several more weeks before he would share it openly in class. Even then his story bobbed up unexpectedly. On the day narratives were due I asked if any students wanted to read their work aloud. Ben’s hand shot up — probably as much to his surprise as to his classmates’.

For a few seconds he sat staring at his essay, stunned that he had volunteered, but he found his voice. At first he read haltingly about “his lost friend.” But then Ben found his rhythm and read about the good times with his uncle — reading Rolling Stone, riding bikes, listening to U2, especially “Beautiful Day.” He described a visit to a memorial in Washington, DC, where he watched his uncle cry as he rubbed his fingers across a name. And he noted that Uncle Mark could neither forget this war nor talk about it. Then his voice softened, and Ben ended by describing a not-so-beautiful day when he opened the garage door to find his uncle shot to death. “Self-inflicted wound,” he read. “A suicide.” As students left my class that day, some paused to thank Ben for reading his story. Others paused to pat him on the back, and two girls hugged him. While this story would never be okay, on that day, Ben began accepting his uncle’s death and integrating it into his life story. In coming months Ben began to volunteer and work with local veterans. He was moving forward and trying to make something positive come from his loss.

Over two hundred studies show us that our personal writing can help us heal physically, psychologically, and even socially. In my work with writers, veterans and cancer patients, I have discovered there are stages that can help us find our way to healing and personal story transformation:

  1. Experiencing pain and grief. When you experience a trauma from a loss, illness, or any serious setback, you will experience painful emotions. While there is no set order for what transpires, initially you might want to ignore or deny what has happened because this helps to endure the shock.
  1. Breaking the silence. At this time, you find your voice and begin to express your emotions and share openly what has happened.
  1. Accepting and piecing together a shattered story. In this stage you begin to move your emotions into a logical framework and make sense of what has happened to you and what you plan to do about it.  Writing is especially helpful in this stage.
  1. Finding meaning. Here you make sense of your broken story and integrate it into your life. The story is complete.
  1. Rewriting or transforming your story. With the pain of this experience behind you, you can move forward with renewed energy to live more fully.

The Story You Need to Tell is a guide to help you find, share, write, edit, and grow from your stories. Here is a sample prompt  to help you find a story you may need to tell. If  at any point your writing seems too painful, you should put it on hold.

Writing Prompt: Finding a Story You Need to Tell

If you have not written about a difficult experience or trauma, you may want to approach it first by doing a structured writing. By answering simple questions, you can explore your experience and decide if you are ready to move forward with an in-depth exploration. Begin by completing each sentence starter, and follow it with a short paragraph of a few sentences. It should take about ten to twenty minutes.

  • The story I would like to explore is…
  • What comes to mind is…
  • What bothers me about this experience is…
  • What I would like to understand is…
  • I am hopeful that…
  • Perhaps it would help if…

Later come back and review this writing. At this time ask yourself: What have I learned? Is this a story I need to explore in more depth? Decide on your next step.

Based on the book The Story You Need to Tell. Copyright © 2017 by Sandra Marinella. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.

Sandra Marinella, MA, MEd, is an award-winning writing teacher and the author of The Story You Need to Tell. She has taught thousands of students and fellow educators and presented hundreds of workshops to veterans, teachers, writers, and cancer patients about the power of our personal stories and writing to heal, grow, and transform our lives. Sandra founded the Story You Need to Tell Project which provides workshops on the power of transformational storytelling and personal writing to increase well-being. Profits from her book support cancer research and provide educational scholarships to veterans and writers. She lives in Chandler, Arizona. Discover more at

Want to read more by Sandra? You can read an interview with her here and click to read a review of her book The Story You Need to Tell

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The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss

The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss (May 2017)  – A Review 

I know the power writing — even making the commitment to write your story — has to heal. 24 hours after I made the commitment to write my memoir, Riding Grace: Triumph of the Soul, I experienced a miraculous healing of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and memories of childhood abuse I had been dealing with for 12 years. The writing of that story provided further healing and an expanded perspective on the whole experience. It helped me glean the wisdom of it.

Now a book, The Story You Need to Tell by Sandra Marinella, has come out which explores the impact of writing to heal through process and true stories of others who have written their stories and experienced healing.

When writing teacher Sandra Marinella faced breast cancer in 2012, she decided to leave teaching and write to heal. And she did. Inspired, she dug out and read twenty-seven of her old journals. Here she learned the power of expressive writing to help her navigate the death of her brother, post-partum depression, her son’sStory-You-Tell-Book-1-450x696 mental illness, an alcoholic boss, a workaholic husband, and her cancer, followed by her son’s cancer. Journals I kept during my illness journey were not only healing at the time I wrote them. They formed the cornerstone of my memoir as well.

Although Sandra Marinella weaves her personal narrative and insights into The Story You Need to Tell, the focus of the book is on the five stages of writing to heal — stages that anyone facing difficulty can employ to make their lives better. During four years of research Marinella interviewed more than 100 writers — some famous — most not. These unsung heroes share their stories, which form the true heart of this book, and shed light on how writing can change us and redefine the way we live.

Integrated with these anecdotes of survival are significant findings culled from more than 200 research studies. These include:

  • Expressive writing offers us physical, psychological, and social benefits.
  • There are five logical stages to writing and healing.
  • Neuroscience proves our brains are wired for stories — and we can choose the stories that will define us and give us meaning.
  • We have the capacity to rewrite and edit our personal stories — and change our lives.
  • We need to open up, tell our painful stories, piece together our shattered experiences, embrace the positive, find our wisdom — and claim our new stories.

Sandra Marinella has taught thousands of students and fellow educators, presented dozens of workshops at the Veterans Hospital, Phoenix, and the Virginia Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale, and is expanding into a variety of health and wellness settings. She lives in Phoenix, AZ. Her website is

Alissa Lukara is the author of Riding Grace and created this website, Transformational Writers.

Want to read more by Sandra? You can read an interview with her here and click here to read an article on writing your life-changing story.

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The Story You Need to Tell: Talk with Author Sandra Marinella

Sandra Marinella has taught thousands of students and fellow educators, presented dozens of workshops at the Veterans Hospital, Phoenix, and the Virginia Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale, and is expanding into a variety of health and wellness settings. She lives in Phoenix, AZ. Her website is

What is The Story You Need to Tell about?

Most of us have a story — and sometimes we don’t even know that our story is waiting to be told. The Story You Need to Tell is about digging deep and finding the stories in you that need to be explored. It is a guide to transforming your life story. While I share my personal struggles with postpartum depression and cancer, over one hundred veterans, cancer patients, and writers stepped forward to entrust me with their inspiring, true experiences.

These storytellers shed light on how our stories and our personal writing can help us overcome emotional and physical hardships to heal and grow. They show us how to safely tell, write, and rewrite our lives in ways that foster resilience and renewal – and help us rediscover our personal creativity. Moved by these inspiring stories, I became passionate about sharing them.

While we cannot change what happened to us, we can change how we view it, write or rewrite it, and live it.  The book includes tips and activities that will help readers to use their words to heal and live more fully.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wrote this book because I have a passion for words. I think they can heal us, grow us, and transform us.

In 2012, I learned I had breast cancer and discovering you have cancer is traumatic. You have to navigate a new world and find new ways of coping. Since I had been a teacher and writer my entire life, I naturally turned to my writing and discovered it helped me find my way through the maze of this disease.

As I went through biopsies and treatment and surgery, I had what author Pam Houston calls “a glimmer.” I realized my personal writing was helping to keep me afloat.  I wanted to explore why and how personal writing held such power for me.  I immersed myself in the research on writing and began working with cancer patients and veterans who were struggling with their own stories.  Thunderstruck by what I learned, I wanted to share this knowledge with others:  writing can be a powerful therapeutic and transformational tool.

Can you give us an example of “a story you need to tell?”  Do we all have one?

I think we all have stories we need to tell. Often life seems to be shooting by at the speed of a comet.  Heart-ripping events happen to all of us and sometimes we are so rushed in our daily lives, we choose to ignore them or pretend they are not happening. These experiences can become buried in our inner psyche, and they can leave us troubled psychologically and physically.

For example, I interviewed several veterans who had fought in the war in Afghanistan in 2009. One young veteran, Matthew Goldston, experienced the death of one of his best friends while in a fire fight. Of course, it was shocking. Soon afterwards he experienced a close friend being blown up by an IED or improvised explosive device. This friend lost all four limbs. And while Matthew – or Goldie — wrote in a journal, he didn’t write about these terrifying experiences. He did not have his voice for these stories yet. He was traumatized. And it is no surprise that when he returned home, Goldie began to suffer from PTSD. A few years later when I met him, he was beginning to talk about these experiences and get them out of the recesses of his mind. These difficult experiences needed to be carefully integrated into who Goldie is. They are stories that needed to be told even though they remain difficult for him.

Is there one story in your book that gripped you as you wrote?

There are many stories that gripped me as I wrote, but I have especially grown to love the story of Barbara Lee. I met her at a veterans’ writing group where I volunteered. Together we worked on her writing for about two years.  Initially I believe she had been invited into the group because she seemed to be struggling with PTSD and anger issues.  In the early months of our work together, she began writing poetry that showed us she was troubled. Her poems often revealed horrible imagery of dead bodies or rotten fruit.  Eventually it became clear that in her poems she was beginning to tell her own painful story – the tale of her own rape.  It had happened when she was stationed overseas more than two decades ago, and she had not told anyone. As we worked together, I watched Barbara slowly release this unspeakable story in bits and pieces – and then I watched her find her new story.  The experience was transformative for both of us.  As Barbara began to write about new ways of interpreting her world, she changed. She began to take her writing seriously. Today Barbara views herself as a poet and sees herself as gentler, kinder person. She is.

What are the benefits of telling your story?

Telling our story –especially giving voice to a difficult or broken story – allows us to heal from it. Every difficult event that happens to us has to be integrated into our lives. If your parents divorce, you have to rework your understanding of your relationship with them.  If you are diagnosed with a terrible disease, you have to realign your life to work with this new reality. And writing or sharing your story can help. Once you sift through the emotional turmoil, you can make sense of your new reality and then you can work to make the new story you want.

Cancer was not a story I wanted, but through my writing I was able to create a new story. I allowed myself to become not simply a writer but an author of a book. It was a wonderful outcome for me.

There are well over 200 studies that demonstrate how writing our personal stories can help to heal us physically, psychologically, and even socially. Some studies indicate that writing can lower our stress, improve our moods, reduce symptoms of depression, and give us a feeling of greater psychological well-being. These are all wonderful benefits that can enhance our lives.

You interviewed more than 100 writers for this book. Who were these individuals? How did you choose them?

I am a writer so I began by working with my writing students, especially students who had stories that I knew they were struggling to share. At writing conferences, such as  Esalen and Omega Institutes, it was easy to meet writers who were unraveling stories they needed to tell. And as I started writing my book, I was fighting my own battle with breast cancer so I volunteered to teach writing workshops to cancer patients and later to veterans suffering from PTSD.

Working with these writers was completely inspirational. While I served as their teacher, I often felt I was a student learning from them.

You did extensive work with veterans and cancer patients. What did you learn from them?

My biggest take-away from the veterans I interviewed was that when we are at war or surviving under stressful circumstances, it is common to deny or hold in the painful experiences you are having. Amid war you want to appear strong. But in the end these difficult events often become buried inside and eventually erupt in PTSD or an illness. I saw this time and time again in the work I did with vets.

I think the most important thing I learned from cancer patients is that you can be dying and be healed. I attended chemo for four years with a young mother who was living with stage four breast cancer.  And she helped me understand that your body might be in a serious decline and you may even be facing death, but you can choose to live fully. In the eye of this personal storm, you still control your story.  You can find the quiet in the storm’s center, you can come to accept what you face, work to be in the moment, and enjoy your family or your passions — walking, music, writing, gardening, reading, talking to friends, or cooking.

Your book is often touted as a “happiness project for those facing difficulties.” Why is that?

I think when we can let our emotions out on paper and then press the reset button or find a way to make sense of what has happened to us, profound change can happen. We can not only find our story – we can recreate our story. We can choose to move forward with our creativity and make needed changes. And these changes that transform us also can make us feel fulfilled – or even happy. Perhaps fulfilled is a good synonym for happy. We struggled with an event but now we can use that event to help us move ahead with our life in positive ways.

Are there times when you should not write to heal?

Yes. I believe there are stages to writing and healing. In the initial stages of trauma or grief it appears best not to write. You need time to absorb the shock and pain, and you need time to absorb what has happened. That can be a short time or it can take a while. It took author Elie Wiesel ten years before he was able to begin writing about his holocaust experiences.

Writing can also become problematic when you become stuck in a bad story.  Dr. James Pennebaker, a leader in the field of writing and healing, points out that too much writing is not healthy. You want to avoid becoming a “a navel gazer” or someone who just keeps telling the story of a traumatic experience over and over. To heal you need to break your silence, accept what has happened, reflect, and then rewrite your story. Then you can release the bad story and move forward with a new outlook.

What do you say to someone who doesn’t like to write but needs to tell their story?

If you won’t write, I encourage you to tell your stories to others or even have someone write them for you. Owning your stories helps you to know who you are. It sets you free. This is one reason we enjoy being with our good friends. We can share our experiences and learn from them.

Storytelling is similar to writing your story. While Matthew Goldston kept a diary in Afghanistan, he no longer writes, but he does share his stories. He has learned to talk about his experiences with his buddies from his squad. From time to time they call each other and every fall they try to gather in the home of their friend, Nick, who was killed during the war.  With Nick’s parents they celebrate Nick’s short life, take a group photo by his gravesite, and share their stories.

What is the biggest take-away you would like readers to discover in reading The Story You Need to Tell?

I hope readers of The Story You Need to Tell will take-away an understanding of how powerful story transformation can be in their personal lives. There are logical steps to making personal change.  If something terrible happens to you, there may be a time of shock and quiet, but eventually you will need to break your silence and find your voice.

As you find your voice, your personal writing can help. It allows you to process emotions, and to start to make sense of what has happened and what you need to do about it. Once you understand a difficult story and find an end to it, you can let go of it and move forward – engaging in finding new meaning, new passions, and living more fully.

Story transformation can happen when we learn to make these positive changes in our lives, and this is definitely an important take-away from this book.

Want to read more by Sandra? You can read an article on writing your life-changing story by her here and click to read a review of her book The Story You Need to Tell


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Start Right Where You Are and Get It Done

A Review of a New Book by Sam Bennett

“When you decide that, you want something and you move toward it physically, emotionally or s84434piritually, then your movement opens up new pathways by which things can appear in your life,” writes Sam Bennett in her new book, Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists (New World Library, No
vember 15, 2016). “Even a very small step can cause a radical change in your relationship to the thing you want. Even a small shift in perspective can allow you to see new opportunities.”

Bennett’s mission is to help people get unstuck, focused and moving forward to achieve their goals. Nineteen years ago, she was stuck herself: couch-bound and depressed and not in the mood for a famous self-help book her friends gave her to cheer her up. But when she applied its ideas, she became a believer and now offers readers in this book 66 easy, doable changes they can make to reach their dreams.

These shifts can support you to amp up your intuition, get over fear of success, choose the right project for you, and build your “tribe” of like-minded people who will support, celebrate and cherish their involvement in your life

The book includes steps like getting your cell phone out of your bedroom, turning complaints into requests and releasing what no longer serves you, all small enough to prevent overwhelm. Other exercises center around embracing selfishness, hearing your heart rather than your obsessing mind and noticing the good, even if its just the leftover pizza in the fridge.

“No matter how long you’ve been dreaming your dreams, they are still alive, still possible,” writes Bennett. “Just because they haven’t happened up to now doesn’t mean they won’t happen. And just because your life, career, or projects haven’t gone the way you may have wanted doesn’t mean they are not going well. No matter what has happened to you up to now, you have an opportunity to create a new story, beginning right now.”

And that story can be one of joy. “That’s what this book is for: to help you make the little changes that will lead to big joy,” writes Bennett. “And big joy can make a big difference.”

Sam Bennett created The Organized Artist Company to help creative people move forward on their dreams and goals. She is a writer, actor, teacher and creativity/productivity specialist who has counseled thousands of artists and entrepreneurs on their way to success. Visit her online at:

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Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion can Free You From Your Inner Critic by Mark Coleman

A Review

Many writers are well acquainted with the “Inner Critic.” It is the voice that makes us second-guess our writing 84304by saying “not enough,” “not good enough,” or sometimes “too much.” No matter how brilliant the writing, the Inner Critic would have us believe it belongs on the trash.

But the Inner Critic is not invincible, though at times it may seem so, promises Mark Coleman in his new book, Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic (New World Library, November 15, 2016).

It offers readers practical tools for developing awareness and compassion necessary to make a radical shift in the way we think and feel about ourselves. It explores the big picture of the critic and self judgment. And it offers the skills needed to work with the critic, including the power of love to move past its negative impact.

Coleman speaks from personal experience. In his late teens, he was a punk rocker with a lot of rage, whose mind was full of self-flagellation. From his Inner Critic’s point of view, every decision he made was wrong, stupid or hopeless. Then he discovered mindfulness meditation and began the slow process of uprooting those critical voices. Now a renowned meditation teacher, Coleman learned the value of compassion and awareness to “navigate life’s inner and outer storms.”

“There is so much pain in life. And it is sad to watch people needlessly add to that by beating themselves up,” writes Coleman. “It is the love in our hearts that allows us to be vulnerable enough to recognize the burdens we carry. Love gives us a quiet strength that enables us to keep the critic at bay, hold our pain tenderly, and begin the journey of healing.”

Mark Coleman is the founder of the Mindfulness Institute and has guided students on five continents as a corporate consultant, counselor, meditation teacher and wilderness guide. Visit him online at:

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Jeff Herman’s Revised 2017 Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents

If your writer’s dream remains to get published using an agent and working with a small or mainstream publisher, you need guidance on how to get past the slush pile and into the hands of the jh-guide-2017-front-242x300people who have the power to accomplish your publishing goals. And the best guide book to support those goals is Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents: Who They Are, What They Want, How to Win Them Over.

I use it myself to check out insider information on agents and publishing trends. However, this book is not only about traditional publishers and agents. It includes insights into the future of both traditional and self-publishing and social media. It’s one of the “must have” reference books I recommend to writing clients and in my writing courses for writers who want to get published. Many successful writers call it a writer’s best friend (just read some of the testimonials).

A new, fully revised 2017 edition has just come out that provides up-to-date information about editors, agents, publishers, self-publishing, ebooks and even more resources in an ever-fluctuating book market. You will learn not only what those agents and publishers want — but what they don’t want, so you can get that book you’ve probably spent years writing read and published. Jeff Herman has himself been a literary agent for over 30 years.

Now in its 24th edition, the Jeff Herman Guide includes:

  • Information about U.S. and Canadian publishers and imprints, including preferences, names and addresses
  • Interviews, addresses and preferences of agents, including invaluable tips from 170 of the most powerful agents
  • Insider tips on how to approach agents and editors
  • Latest information on self-publsihing, ebooks and digital publishing
  • Insights on preparing a book proposal and writing the perfect query letter
  • Scams and what to look out for from predatory agents and editors

Herman’s agency has ushered nearly 1000 books into publication. He is also the coauthor of the acclaimed Write the Perfect Book Proposal and is often featured as an expert in print and broadcast media. His website is


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An interview with Kim Schneiderman, author of Step Out of Your Story

What does it mean to “step out of your story?” and how does one do that?kim-schneiderman

As I write in the opening chapter of my book,every life is an unfolding story, a dynamic, unique, purposeful, and potentially heroic story with bright spots, turning points, and abounding opportunities for personal growth and transformation.” Most people, when I present this idea to them, accept this to be true. And yet, many people don’t think about what that means. Until something happens that challenges their outlook on life, few take the time to explore the character they’re playing, what their story is about, who’s writing their script, and how the challenges they face can help them develop the insights and skills they need to move to the next chapter.

Stepping out of your story means being able to step outside your life to view it from a novel perspective, both literally and figuratively. That means seeing yourself as the hero of your story, and understanding how all of the classic story elements, especially your antagonists, might be conspiring to help you grow, as many protagonists do over the course of the narrative. Looking at your life this way can also help you embrace plot twists as opportunities to change your life.

Does how we tell our story matter? And if there are infinite ways to tell our stories, is there a best way?

Absolutely. Telling our story is a fundamental way that we come to know ourselves and make meaning of our live. We are constantly sifting through various competing narratives to make sense of our world for ourselves and others. Whether you consider yourself a heroic figure overcoming obstacles or a tragic victim of destiny often depends on how you choose to read the text of your life and the way that you tell your story. We might even describe suffering, in part, as the result of a storytelling deficit, a failure to find a good filing system that organizes the details of one’s life into a meaningful cause-and-effect narrative, which results in an incoherent or distorted story.

While there may not be a best way, there are certainly better ways to tell your story than others. My book proposes telling your story as a personal growth adventure, using the classic story structure to reframe challenges as stepping-stones to a more authentic self and richer life. The classic story elements – protagonist, antagonist, plot, climax, etc. – serve as the architecture of a story. Once we understand how each element of the story scaffolding supports directs and supports the protagonist’s character development, we can use “the story lens on life” to reconstruct a powerful, coherent narrative from the raw materials of our lives.

What does it mean to become a good reader of the text of our lives and how can that help us?

How we “read,” or rather interpret, our story affects how we feel about ourselves, which can influence how our lives unfold. For example, reframing the story of a cancer diagnosis as a tale of finding new sources of resilience and deeper connections with loved ones feels very different from telling the story as one of divine punishment or meaningless misery. In fact, studies show that a positive narrative, and the feelings they engender, can influence prognosis. Similarly, seeing a failed relationship as a lesson in intimacy, resilience, and humility will make us feel a whole lot better, and emotionally ready for our next relationship, than shaping the story as one of self-sabotage and personal worthlessness.

This interpretative lens implies that we value character development in ourselves as much as we value it in the books we read and movies we watch. It entails seeing every person and situation that shows up in your narrative as a personal growth opportunity and recognizing the subtle, often unrecognized personal victories that build character — such as facing a fear, changing an attitude, or kicking a bad habit. This is not necessarily how society traditionally measures success. But or psychotherapists and writers, these kinds of changes mark meaningful progress in someone’s lifelong development, whether that person is a client or an imagined character.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re unemployed, and you tell yourself the story that this is just another crappy situation that defines your very difficult life. You ask yourself, “Why does this always happen to me?” Then you finally land a job interview. What happens? If you haven’t eradicated your victim story, it may unintentionally seep out during your interview through your tone and word choice, or you may secretly sabatoge yourself. This may lead you to botch the interview, which causes more suffering and only confirms your negative story.

However, what if you saw the antagonist (in this case, unemployment) of the current chapter in your life (a chapter you might entitle “A Thousand Resumes”) as the necessary force that is pushing you to grow in new ways: perhaps that you are in fact ambivalent about this career path or that you tend to get easily discouraged. In a way, this antagonist is like a personal trainer, and this conflict is the force challenging you to develop your confidence or to become clear about your career direction.

Suddenly, as you exercise control over how you view your situation, the time between jobs becomes an invitation to work on yourself and build your muscles. Through this lens, you might say to yourself, “If I were reading this chapter in a book about the story of my life, I might appreciate that unemployment is nudging me — the protagonist — to get more organized and keep persevering in the face of adversity. I can choose to embrace that challenge, and forge ahead, or drain myself of valuable energy by sinking into discouragement.” Cast in this light, the power of interpretation via the story lens on life offers a powerful elixir for heartbreaks, disappointments, and existential angst.

Does putting a positive spin on your story make it less truthful?

We spin our stories all the time. Every time we open our mouths we make choices about how to tell a tale. Depending on your audience, we may emphasize certain aspects of the story over others, or omit certain details that seem irrelevant, inappropriate, or too complicated to explain. As we tell it over and over, we might remember certain parts we had forgotten initially, or new insights might lead us to spin the story in a totally different direction.

Is one version more truthful than another? Who’s to say? And how does one define truth? Is the objective experience of the things that happen – what I call the “outer story” any more truthful than the feelings we have about what happens – what I call the “inner story?” Some people tend to favor one of these two storytelling styles. But both are “true,” as far as they are meaningful, when it comes to understanding the totality of a person’s experience. That’s why for me, it’s less important whether a story is truthful, than whether it’s personally constructive.

Finally, there are ways to find the redemptive storyline without whitewashing over unpleasant circumstances, repressing feelings, or discounting important life lessons. By reframing your story as a personal growth adventure that identifies the ways you’ve grown as the protagonist of your narrative, there is room for all manner of feelings and experiences, which imbue the story with richness and texture. And the fuller the story, the more it approximates something resembling the truth.

Is there any research to support the efficacy of the third-person storytelling exercises in Step Out of Your Story?

A number of psychological studies in recent years illustrate that recalling past events or thinking about yourself in the third person helps you see yourself through kinder, more compassionate eyes. The reason is that the third person voice creates emotional distance between you and the circumstances of your life, enabling you to see the larger story with greater objectivity. For example, University of California and University of Michigan researchers used a psychologically distancing vantage point when asking participants to reflect on negative memories. Not only did participants report less emotional pain, less rumination, improved problem solving, and greater life satisfaction when discussing matters in the third person, they also gained new insights into those memories without feeling as emotionally overwhelmed. Similarly, in a Columbia University study, students were asked to describe recently upsetting thoughts or feelings, and these bad memories were recalled with less hostility by those using the third-person perspective. In an Ohio State University study, students who recalled humiliating moments in high school in the third-person narrative were more likely to describe themselves as having overcome obstacles than those who recalled similarly embarrassing moments from a first-person perspective. The study concluded that feeling like you’ve changed gives you the confidence and momentum to act in ways that support a perceived new and improved self.

It’s also worth noting that all of this research is aligned with narrative therapy technique known as “externalization,” which uses psychological distancing techniques to prevent people from over-identifying with their problems.

Do people need to be good writers to do the exercises you offer in your book?

No. As I tell my students, your masterpiece of living doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of writing. The exercises are designed for anyone who can compose a simple sentence. The goal is not writing well; the goal is self-discovery. The goal is to write powerfully and authentically. In my experience facilitating workshops, I’ve noticed that the written equivalent of stick-figure drawings may actually teach us more about ourselves than carefully crafted (and controlled) adult sentences. Words-smithing can be about the ego, which I’m trying to help people transcend via the third person narrative. That being said, people for whom writing comes naturally sometimes use the exercises as prompts to get really creative, and have subsequently written some beautiful pieces.

Obviously, no one can predict the future. How then is it possible to predict your own character arc?

One of the ways I help readers get a sense of their character arc is by completing a character sketch of themselves in the third person narrative, assuming the role of both author and protagonist. A character sketch is a technique that helps authors flesh out the personalities and interior world of the protagonist before embarking on a novel. It involves answering a series of imaginative questions that paint a holographic picture of how the protagonist might evolve over the course of the plotline. The character sketch presumes that the protagonist is the soul of every narrative and the engine that runs the story. So, too, I want my readers to understand more deeply who they are as evolving protagonists. The more they understand about who they are, what they’re made of, and what’s driving them, the more they’ll get a sense of where they’re heading.

How can the antagonists of our stories help us grow? Can’t they also bring us down?

Many of us don’t think twice about pushing ourselves to the point of pain and exhaustion at the gym. Yet when life pushes us to exercise our emotional, spiritual, and mental muscles, we often would prefer lighter, gentler, no-impact routines. However, until we are willing to build these character development muscles, we will remain somewhat stunted in our growth, unable to actualize the full strength of what we are capable of, whether in our career, relationships, or communities.

That’s why antagonists are an important part of our story. They are like the personal trainers who push us beyond our perceived limitations to develop our flabby, underutilized emotional muscles. As with a personal trainer, we might openly swear or grin through gritted teeth. We might assign the person sadistic aspirations, thinking the trainer wants to harm or destroy us. But if we read between the lines, whether we like it or not, our antagonist can help us strengthen the underdeveloped areas within ourselves. By definition, they force us to stretch beyond our perceived limitations to discover the true depth of our own capacity to love, succeed, and overcome obstacles.

That’s not to say that we should seek out conflict for personal growth’s sake or use character development as an excuse to endure chronically painful or unpleasant circumstances. Constant pain is a sign that something is amiss. Yet any workout should include a little discomfort so we increase our flexibility to handle more intense situations with greater degrees of ease. It reminds me of something a dance teacher once told me: “Sometimes, when you begin to stretch, your muscles scream ‘no, no, no’ — they don’t think they can handle the tension because it’s never been asked of them before. But as you gradually ease into the pose, they relax and discover an untapped capacity for elasticity.”

Why do you ask readers to focus on the current chapter, rather than asking them to reframe something that happened in the past or look at their whole life?

While exploring the influence of the past on the present can help us understand ourselves better, we can also get bogged down in old storylines — instead of visiting the past, we might pitch camp there or continue to circle the same old beaten tracks.

The present, however, is the place where change becomes possible. It is the precise moment in the story when you, as the protagonist of your story, can take action and grow. One of the foundational exercises I ask readers to complete is to name and describe the current chapter. From there, I help them reconstruct their story element by element. Eventually, they reassemble these pieces into an empowering new narrative about where they are and where they’re heading. And here is the beauty of this process: once we name our current chapter, distinguishing it from previous chapters within our larger narrative, we may see how the present moment offers possibilities to embrace a new reality and further develop our character. This new awareness can help us get a fresh perspective on areas where we might feel stuck, reframing life’s inevitable trials and tribulations as purposeful experiences that won’t last forever.


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Step Out Of Your Story: A Review

    From the day we’re born, we become the star and spin-doctor of our own life story in progress with all the trappings of what makes a story readable and worth sharing — turning points, bright spots, plot twists, cliffhangers, conflicts, and important life lessons. Yet, few of us take time to figure out what our story is about, who is writing our script, why we’ve selected our chosen roles, orStep-Out-of-Your-Story how the challenges that we face can help us develop the strengths we need to move to the next chapter.
     STEP OUT OF YOUR STORY is a self-help writing program designed to help anyone who can compose a simple sentence get a fresh perspective on a familiar story— their own. Psychotherapist and freelance journalist Kim Schneiderman utilizes research-inspired methods to help people who are stuck — in a dead-end job, relationship, or stage of life — imagine themselves as the star of their own stories with the power to reframe and reclaim their personal narratives.
    Drawing on the elements of a story that many of us learned in grade school, she helps readers assign titles to different chapters of their lives, observe recurring themes, identify supporting characters, and explore how the inevitable tensions of life create opportunities for personal transformation.
    Schneiderman encourages readers not to be concerned about the quality of their writing. “Your masterpiece of living does not have to be, and isn’t meant to be, a masterpiece of writing,” she writes. “In this case, writing is meant to serve as a tool for self-discovery, not self-torture or eventual publication. All you need is a pen (or a keyboard) and a sense of adventure. So put on your story glasses, shift your perspective, and enjoy the journey!”
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