Goals vs. Deadlines

About a month ago, I told my husband I wasn’t sure I was going to meet my deadline of finishing my latest round of revisions on my WIP by the end of March.

Him: “Wait, you have a deadline for that?”

Me: “Well, sort of…”

Him: “Who set the deadline?”

Me: “Um, well…I did.”


Yes, deadlines are kind of my thing. I know that I work best when I have an end date set. That’s not a bad thing — sometimes deadlines are required, and they need to be met (like during Pitch Wars). And in those cases, I’ll do what it takes to meet them.

The problem is that I tend to set *unrealistic* deadlines for myself when I don’t need to. There was absolutely no reason I had to get that round of revisions done in March. I was setting myself up for unnecessary stress and disappointment.

So now, I’m learning to rephrase: when setting my own end date for my work, instead of calling it a deadline, I’m calling it a goal. My goal was to get that round of revisions done in March. I didn’t quite make it, but I finished it the first weekend in April. And that was just fine!

As writers, we face enough rejection and are generally hard enough on ourselves. Easing up on our own unnecessarily harsh expectations for ourselves is one way we can lessen that stress.

Here’s to realistic goals and happy, stress-free writing!


A Time to Revise

coffeewritingThere’s a saying: writing is rewriting. Since participating in Pitch Wars, I understand that more than ever. It feels like about ninety percent of my time since last fall has been spent revising my novel! (I think my husband would agree.)

I am still far from an expert in revision, but I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredibly smart and talented people (Pitch Wars mentors, my agent) who are revision experts and who pointed out some writing mistakes I was making.

As I dove into revisions of my second book, I found myself using the same tips I got while revising my first book, so I thought I’d put some of them together into a post. It’s by no means the end-all, be-all of revision checklists, but I hope these tips are helpful to other writers.

Purple prose: I have a tendency to write some pretty flowery sentences. In small doses, that can be okay. But too many slow the story down. Hunt these darlings down and kill them. It’s painful, but necessary. The tip that really clicked for me regarding this: If the sentence moves the story forward, keep it. If it doesn’t, cut it.

Stick to the timeline: I never realized how much I love to jump ahead during an exciting part, and then recap. It’s like I felt the need to stick in my very own commercial breaks. Tell your story chronologically, and if you find yourself adding in a scene break/jumping ahead, really think about whether it’s the right decision.

Foreshadowing: I had a habit of essentially telling the reader about something before it happened–it was an attempt at foreshadowing, but what it really did was pull the reader out of the story. Let the reader experience the story.

Simplify: Too often, I’d use: “She started to walk” instead of “she walked.” Likewise, I can’t believe how many times I used: “She was running” instead of “she ran.” It’s a tedious process, but searching your manuscript for “start,” “began” and “was” can make a big difference.

Filter words: Ah, the dreaded filter words…felt, saw, heard, knew, realized, noticed…I’m guilty of using all of them! Search for these and get rid of as many as possible. Same with the word “just.” This is one I struggle with. Search and cut!

There you have it! I hope you found my revision cheat sheet useful. What writing mistakes do you often make? Do you know of any wonderful revision checklists out there that are super helpful? Let’s all help each other through this writing journey.

Happy rewriting!

A New Beginning

I am so incredibly thrilled to announce (scream from the rooftops) I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!


I have signed with Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. She’s amazing, and I am so lucky to get to work with her on THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND, an apocalyptic-friendship-adventure-love story I have poured my heart into!

You could say it all started with this PitMad tweet:

But it really started with Pitch Wars. Because THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND is so much stronger thanks to the hard work and literary genius of my brilliant mentors Meredith Ireland and Kara Leigh Miller. I’m so lucky to have worked with them, learned from them, and gotten to know them!

It’s been an exciting end to the year. Here’s to a 2017 full of joy, hope, and writing the stories of our hearts.

Pitch Wars Bio

Hello, everyone!

I was nervous about doing a bio—putting yourself out there is about as scary as having someone read your words, am I right? But then I realized this is a chance to get to know other writers better and participate in the writing community—which, seriously, is so amazing and supportive—so I decided to go for it!

So, here are some random facts about me:

I have three beautiful children: my stepdaughter is 18, my older son is 9, and my little guy is 4. I am so proud of them, and I love that they all love reading as much as I do!

Bros reading

I am an introvert who has become more outgoing over time, but inside I’m still shy and awkward. (And usually when I engage with a tweet, I second guess myself about 1,000 times.)

I am a huge fan of The X-Files, and I wish I would’ve known about fan fiction as a teen in the 90s—I totally would’ve been writing it. (Perhaps I can start now to finish out that cliffhanger they left us with…)

Mulder Scully

My favorite book of all time is The Handmaid’s Tale, and my top three favorite authors are Margaret Atwood, Gillian Flynn, and Liane Moriarty. But the books that got me back into reading and writing were the Hunger Games and Twilight series. (The Hunger Games series is still among my favorites.)

When I say I got back into writing…I’ve been writing all this time for work, but a different type: I spent 10 years as a reporter and editor at a daily newspaper and now write for a university.

My favorite Harry Potter character is Molly Weasley, and I have been known to threaten to send a howler to my 9-year-old if he gets in trouble at school.


I try not to use MS to refer to my manuscripts because I have MS, and I tweet and blog about that as well as my writing. (Don’t want to confuse things.) My diagnosis is what spurred me to finally finish “that” book—you know, the one I’d been meaning to finish for years.

“That” book is what I’m entering in Pitch Wars: UNTIL THE END is adult upmarket women’s fiction that is THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE meets THE STAND. Lilia Franklin’s husband and son are on the shuttle to Mars, but she’s given up her seat to save an abandoned child. Now she must brave an apocalyptic Midwest to find another launch—before the asteroid hits. The story is dark and scary, with plenty of action and adventure as Lilia fights to get back to her family. But at its heart it’s a story about love and about finding your strength. I entered Pitch Wars last year but have since revised substantially, and I would greatly appreciate the help of a mentor to take my story to the next level. I’m ready and willing to work hard to get it there!

I need to up my Pinterest game—still working on creating boards for my manuscripts—but I put together this novel aesthetics collage:

Novel Aesthetics UTE

And here is a playlist based on UNTIL THE END:

Work Song by Hozier

Love Runs Out by One Republic

Beam Me Up by Pink

I See Fire by Ed Sheeran

Can’t Help Falling in Love by Ingrid Michaelson

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

Stand By You by Rachel Platten

Something I Need by One Republic

Next to Me by Emeli Sande

Writing a novel has been a lifelong dream, but once I finished it, I couldn’t stop with one! I now have a first draft of a sequel to UNTIL THE END, and I’m finishing up a thriller that is SHARP OBJECTS meets BIG LITTLE LIES.

Thanks for reading! You can find me on Twitter at @ElissaDickey, and find more Pitch Wars bios here. Good luck, and remember:

No regrets

Write on, friends.

Not Alone

I’ve tried many times to write about my story with multiple sclerosis, but every time, I can’t do it. Quite honestly, I don’t know what to say. Many blog posts offer tips and words of wisdom for others newly diagnosed. I don’t know where to begin — MS is such an individual illness, with no two cases exactly the same, so what works for me may not work for anyone else.

But maybe that’s just been my excuse. The thing is, it’s not easy to talk about. Even when I think I’m fine, when someone asks about it, I often realize I’m not. (Tears and awkwardness ensue.)

While I’m doing great now 2 1/2 years post-diagnosis, it was a different story three years ago. It’s not easy to revisit the scary weeks where I struggled to walk and had no idea why. Or the cold December day when I was diagnosed; I always flash to the moment after my appointment, as I sat in the hotel room across from the Mayo Clinic, staring in a mirror (very cliche-like), thinking about my future. The fear. The sadness. The uncertainty.

But May 25 is World MS Day, and I told myself that today, I would talk about it. Today, I would share something of value that could potentially lift up someone else struggling. The theme for World MS Day is Stronger than MS, and I had no problem thinking about what makes me stronger.

Not what, but who. Me kids MS Walk 2016

Because when I think back to that cold December day, I also think about my husband, driving us to Rochester through a blizzard on his birthday because we couldn’t go one more day without answers. He’s been by my side every day since, on good days and bad. In sickness and in health.

I think about my parents, driving six hours to take care of my little ones — one of whom had the stomach flu — so that we could go get those answers. I think about the text messages and phone calls from my sisters. I think about how, when I was sitting staring into that mirror, I was also staring at a dozen red roses, which my best friends had sent to my room, because even though they weren’t there with me physically, they were still with me. All of my friends and family have been with me ever since.

MS Walk 2016I think about my kids, who give me joy and strength every day. We completed the three-mile MS Walk this month. I took it as an opportunity to remind my 8-year-old about when Mom couldn’t walk very well, how it’s important for me to walk now because I can, and how much I appreciated him walking alongside me.

I think about the other MS Warriors I have met along the way, who have provided insight and a listening ear as I’ve navigated this uncertain disease. They are all what make me stronger than MS.

And so what I would say — what I am finally saying — to others newly diagnosed with MS is this: You are not alone. In this darkest hour, turn to those who give you light. Your family, friends, church community, co-workers. It’s scary to bring it up — and yes, tears and awkwardness might ensue. But you know what? You get through it. People are nice. They might not understand, they might not always say the right things, but they care. They want to help.

If you ever feel you don’t have someone you can turn to, please check out the National MS Society. They have loads of information; they hold several events; and they could help find a support group in your area. Or, check out their MS Connections feature, which connects people with MS to each other for support and sharing.

A lot of uncertainty comes with having MS. But one thing is certain: You don’t have to face it alone.

Staying in the Game

Baseball 2016Lately my family has been busy with baseball – if there’s not a game, there’s practice, and if there’s not practice, we’re outside in the evening pitching to my 8-year-old aspiring major leaguer.

Of course, with baseball comes the heartache of striking out. And I have to say, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than watching your child go through a pain that you, too, have endured.

As he’s dealt with his first strikeouts, I’ve tried to impart encouragement:

You have to believe in yourself – you have to believe that you can do it.

But you also have to work hard – you have to practice your swing, practice keeping your eye on the ball.

But no matter what happens, you have to remember that it’s supposed to be fun. Win or lose, strikeout or homerun, stay in the game because you enjoy it.

As I’ve repeated these phrases, it finally occurred to me that I needed to take a look in the mirror. I’m usually one who cringes at sports metaphors, so I apologize, but I realized I need to take my own advice.

I will inevitably strike out – rejections will come. But one strikeout doesn’t mean I’m out of the game forever. Neither does two strikeouts. Or ten.

I need to remember why I do it – because I love it, because now that I’ve finally followed this dream, I couldn’t imagine not pursuing it.

I need to continue to work hard – to practice my writing – and believe in my stories.

Whatever your game is – be it baseball or writing or something else entirely – don’t let one setback bench you forever. Get back in the game, work hard, have fun, and believe.

Always believe.

Just Beat It

I’ll be the first to say that crafting a 35-word pitch used to be such a daunting task — it seemed nearly impossible to me. Then I entered Pitch Slam and Pitch Madness. Thanks to what I’ve learned from these wonderful contests, something clicked. I’m still not perfect at writing pitches, but now, I actually find it fun.

Now, I like to create pitches for WIPs. I’ve already created a pitch for my WF thriller — complete with comp titles, another thing I’ve really struggled with!

And speaking of areas of difficulty…enter the beat sheet. I probably should be embarrassed to admit that I’m just now discovering them. But the truth is, I am way too excited to be embarrassed. It’s not that I hadn’t heard of them before. “Save the Cat” came up at the first conference I attended last summer. At that point, though, my first manuscript was largely finished, so I filed it under “helpful things for later.”

Well, later turned out to be about a week ago. I found a nice template online and decided to fill one out for my finished manuscript. It was so cool to see what fit where. I can see how it’ll be a helpful tool if and when I need to revise again (which of course I’ll inevitably have to, at least to some degree).

So then I thought, why stop there? Within about a half hour, I had completed beat sheets for three WIPs: the manuscript that I’ve completed a first draft of (a sequel to the manuscript I’m querying); one for that women’s fiction thriller I recently started; and one for a YA with magical realism I started previously and have picked back up again.

Suddenly, I had road maps for all of these stories floating around in my brain. I do want to be careful not to plot things out too strictly — I’m a panster by nature, after all. But I’m continuously seeing the value of a certain amount of plotting.

Overall, it’s a great feeling to see improvement in those tough areas. And believe me, there are plenty of other such areas…comps, as I mentioned. Knowing when to revise — and sorting through conflicting feedback — is another. So is maintaining this blog.

But I’m working on not letting those things overwhelm me. Instead, I’m focusing on those moments when something clicks and becomes easier — like pitches, or beat sheets. I’m working on celebrating my successes, however small they may be, one step at a time.

What aspects of the writing process do you struggle with?

On Endings

Monday night was rough.More books for blog

I know that sentence conjures up images of raucous nights of partying, perhaps a high-speed chase or an arrest. But I’m talking “bad” from a viewer/reader sense. First, I was quite disappointed with the ending of The X-Files. Yeah, I’m talking about THAT cliff-hanger. Then later that night I finished a book, and it, too, had a surprising – and disappointing – ending.

After some (much) initial complaining to my husband and friends, I decided to turn things around and learn from this. I’m a writer – certainly I could benefit from examining exactly what irked me so much about these endings. Here’s what I’ve determined:


The issue: In case you missed my last post, I was a die-hard fan in the 90s, and I viewed this year’s resurrection as a farewell season that would answer questions and tie up loose ends. Instead, they ended what is supposed to be the final show ever with an abrupt, confusing cliff-hanger. I’m hoping this means another season or another movie, but thus far nothing has been confirmed.

The lesson: Don’t leave your fans hanging. If you don’t have a sequel waiting in the wings, don’t leave your ending so open that readers are left lost and irritated. Sure, there’s room for a bit of mystery/ambiguity sometimes, so the reader can fill in some blanks. At the end of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, we don’t know where Offred is being taken (to a good place or bad), except away from her current horrible situation. The “historical notes” provide just enough clues to satisfy me as a reader. But to me, this is the exception. Usually, I want resolution, closure, satisfaction.


The issue: I’m not naming this book because I don’t want to be a jerk and also in case anyone else is reading it. The book is superbly written; this is an excellent author. But, the ending (again, to me) was a disappointment. Readers find out in the last 10 pages that things weren’t as they seemed – the MC had already died, some characters never even existed. Later, I realized this ending could be a way to show there have been so many lives cut short throughout humankind’s history of wars, etc., and this was a way to imagine how one of these lives could’ve been led. But here’s the thing: I’d invested a lot of time and energy into this 450-page novel. I felt betrayed, honestly. I cared about those characters who ended up not being real. (OK, yes, I know this is fiction, so technically none of the characters are real, but you get my point.)

The lesson: Don’t trick your readers. You want them to feel happy they’ve invested in your characters and your story, not end up feeling cheated. I do love twists, but I also think timing is key. I can’t say for sure, but it might have helped if I would’ve known about this plot twist sooner and had more time to come to terms with it. Think about GONE GIRL – you go through half the book thinking Nick is a wife killer on top of being a douche, and then halfway through you’re thrown the curve of whoa! She’s alive! He’s not a killer, just a douche! But you have plenty of time to process it. And then you as a reader are in on the the secret.

The disclaimer: I realize a lot of this boils down to personal preference on my part. These are my interpretations of the endings – these are the lessons I am personally taking away from them. Other readers and writers could and likely would disagree – perhaps you do, too, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

As for me, I’ll definitely be applying these lessons to my writing from now. I might even go back through my finished work and try to determine if I’ve made these mistakes. Of course there is no way to please everyone, but you can work hard to create the best possible experience for your readers. I think that’s every author’s goal.

I Want to Believe

X-Files book

I got this book as a birthday present circa 1996.

Something revolutionary happened this month.

My all-time favorite show as a teen returned to television. And the new X-Files is amazing, if you ask me. I heart Mulder and Scully today as much as I did 20 years ago.

Before this new season began, I had fun catching up with the last few seasons and the second movie. I enjoyed the anticipation leading up to the premiere.

And I have absolutely loved the camaraderie of tweeting about the show with other X-Files fanatics. This is what has been the true revolution for me: the realization that there are so many fans out there – that they were there, like me, back in the 1990s.

Yes, this show about us as humans not being alone has now helped me realize I was not alone. Growing up in a small Midwestern town in the 1990s, I had no social media to connect me with like-minded X-Philes following the adventures of FBI’s finest agents. Now, a part of me wishes I could tell my teenage self that she wasn’t alone in her interests.

X-Files drawing

And here is the fan art I drew as a teen. 🙂

I would also tell her: Love what you love. Watch the TV shows you want to watch. Read the books you want to read. Be who you are.

I’ll have to be content with living that truth now, and I’ll add one more: Write what you want to write. Stories from the heart are what speak to people and help inspire them to be who they are.

That truth has always been out there. And I want to believe it.

2016 Reading Challenge

Last year, I made the mistake of not keeping track of how many books I read. I hope to not repeat Book challenge 2016that mistake this year, so my plan for 2016 is to make it official with this post, and to keep updating it as I complete books.

I don’t have a specific number I’m trying to achieve, but I came across a 2016 reading challenge that includes the following categories:

  1. A book published this year: ON THE EDGE OF GONE (December)
  2. A book you can finish in a day: DUCK ON A BIKE (June)
  3. A book you’ve been meaning to read: THE HISTORY of LOVE (January)
  4. A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller: NEVERWHERE (March)
  5. A book you should have read in school: GROWTH HACKER MARKETING (December)
  6. A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF: HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (July)
  7. A book published before you were born: THE BELL JAR (April)
  8. A book that was banned at some point: THE ZAHIR (August)
  9. A book you previously abandoned: THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST (October)
  10. A book you own but have never read:
  11. A book that intimidates you: WRITTEN ON THE BODY (January)
  12. A book you’ve read already at least once:

I love this idea, and I’m already thinking of books on my (ever-growing) TBR list that fit some of the categories. I’m currently halfway through THE HISTORY of LOVE (amazing so far), which will be one that I’ve been meaning to read. [UPDATE Jan. 29: Finished and added to list!] I’m also reading HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE with my son, which fits number six. And I think I’ll pick an old favorite, JANE EYRE, for number 12.

I can’t wait to start filling these categories in! What are your reading goals for the year?

UPDATE: I realized I need to add an “other” category because I keep reading books that don’t fit any categories!



A GOD IN RUINS (February)