For Readers & Writers
from Susan Dennard
M&D Issue #136

March  29, 2018

What's in this heart-to-heart?

Recent Goings On:

Over the last week, I have felt more me than I have since this whole IVF process began last August. It is glorious.

I don't know if it's the spring sunshine or if I've turned a corner in my grief or if it's because I'm back at the dojo (and endorphins make you happy)...or perhaps a combination of all three, but I hope this me-ness lasts.

For the Misfits & Witchlanders:


Introducing the DenNERDs


Quick preorder campaign update! The enamel pins were mailed out, but there was a widespread issue with envelopes tearing open. If you did NOT receive two enamel pins in your envelope, then please email me and let me know ( Thank you!

Last December, an awesome Witchlander (Natasha, you rule!!!) suggested calling herself and other Dennard-fans "the DenNerds." Her point being that she doesn't just read my Witchlands books...

And she makes such a good point! I have the "Misfits" for fans of my SS&D series (and the original spark for the title of this newsletter!), and then there are also the "Witchlanders" for fans of the Witchlands. But what about the new readers who discovered me via The Executioners Three? And what about people who find me in the future, once the Witchlands are over and new series/books of mine hit shelves?

Plus, from a pure logistics standpoint, there are only so many titles I can fit into the Misfits & Witchlanders section of my newsletter.

Hence, as of yesterday, the DenNERDs are officially born!

The newsletter's title will stay the same (the Misfits + Daydreamers 'cos let's be real, we are all misfits), but this section will now be called "For the Den-NERDs."

I hope you find that name as fun as I do. ;)

For the Daydreamers:

False Starts



I was recently chatting with some Witchlanders...erm, I mean, DenNERDs, about "false starts."

False starts are those initial failed attempts at starting a new story. You know the ones I mean: when you begin writing and you’re all excited -- and you’re so SURE this is going to be the Best Thing you’ve ever written…

But then you sit at the keyboard and every single word is agony.

Or maybe a few scene(s) comes out alright, but the next day, as you sit down to proceed, you realize everything from before is wrong, wrong, wrong. So you toss it all out and start anew.

If you're like me, you'll wash, rinse, and repeat this process a least few times before the story finally clicks into place. Sometimes I need only two false starts; sometimes, I need twelve.

Now it used be that I would write an opening scene and no matter what I'd put down, I would power on to the next scene. I didn’t care if everything felt wrong because my philosophy at that time was that I could revise a first draft, but I couldn't revise a blank page.

Okay, sure. This is true -- one can’t revise a blank page -- but that philosophy also meant I wrote entire drafts that were wrong. I have thrown out so many complete manuscripts that it makes me ill to even contemplate.

And not only was that a colossal waste of my time, but it also made me lose ALL confidence in myself or my writing.

And look, if you've followed me a while, then you know ALL about my epic journey before I finally cracked my own creativity, so I won't get into that again. (Summary: Windwitch broke me. Then Sightwitch 2.0 saved me. Check out the video link above for more info.)

What I WILL tell you, though, is how embracing this idea of "false starts" can save you a great deal of heart ache and wasted words later on.

The key is to keep trying different solutions -- different entry points into the tale -- until you hit on the Right Story.


When I say the “Right Story” (and y'all know I say it often!) I’m referring to the story that resonates with you. The cast of characters and events that just CLICK. You feel their emotions, you see where the story is going, and you’re itching to share it with the world.

It’s so easy to trick yourself into thinking you know your story and your characters because you have such a strong URGE to tell the story now! It's shiny! It sings! And you've even made an outline for it, so let's go!

But often the reality is that YOU DON'T know your story. Why? Because working at the scale of an outline is very different than working at the scale of your novel.

I mean, I personally am the MASTER at coming up with great plot solutions that seem so easy in a synopsis...

But then I sit down to write those plot solutions, and I find myself unable to translate a one-sentence summary into a full chapter. Or I’ll be faced with characters who wouldn’t actually do what I had planned for them to do. Or what worked so well in a broad sentence will actually take twelve chapters to accomplish, and that's just boring.

So how do I know when I’m NOT telling the Right Story?

  • Every word is torture to write.
  • I’m constantly looking at the clock, my phone, my email, the ceiling…
  • I have no idea who my characters are, and I feel disconnected from them.
  • I’m exhausted shortly after I begin and the thought of writing more words makes me want to quit this whole writing career entirely.
  • I have no sense of how the characters will actually accomplish what they needed to do. Logically, it just doesn't work.
When these moments inevitably happen -- where nothing I’d planned seems to work -- then I go back to my index cards or brainstorming notebook or whiteboard and I think really hard until I find the Right Story.

This is true if I'm only just beginning a novel or if I'm halfway through or even mid-climax. If at any point, I feel that miserable resistance, I stop. I reevaluate.

For me, false starts aren't limited to the beginning of the book. I hit them CONSTANTLY throughout my drafting process. Because again, working at the scale of an outline ≠ working at the scale of a scene-level sentence.

But then how do you know when I’ve actually found the Right Story?
  • I want to keep writing.
  • I slip into creative flow.
  • I feel connected to the characters and I feel their goals/wants.
  • I finish a scene feeling happily exhausted or possibly even rejuvenated.
  • I can easily see what’s going to happen next in the story (because I’m in tune with my characters and know what they would logically choose to do).

Now remember: just because you've found the Right Story doesn’t mean the book will suddenly pour forth without any effort. You still have to work.

In fact, I want to repeat that point: even when you've found the Right Story, it is still going to require effort to write it.

I think there’s a common misconception that if you just have the right amount of inspiration, you’ll suddenly write an entire manuscript without any exhaustion, boredom, or frustration. The muse will channel through you and BAM! It's all done in a few days, no edits necessary.

The reality is a lot less glamorous and a lot more tedious. Writing is hard, and most days, you just have to put your butt in the chair and get it done. Occasionally, you'll hit creative flow and the world will fall away while the words pour forth...

But in all likelihood, those days will be rare and the sloggier days will be the norm. You can do it, though. I promise.

And as for the no editing part -- HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. If only. If only. Yes, 'tis true I have to edit less when I find the Right Story, but I still must revise. A lot.

And you know what section of my book gets revised more than other part? THE BEGINNING.

Why? Because story openers have to do more work than any other part of the novel (introducing the character, the world, the hook, the stakes, etc.). So even when I find the Right Story and the scenes click into place, I still have to go back and make sure those scenes are checking off all the necessary boxes.

Now, because I know to expect false starts when I begin a new project, it takes a lot of pressure off my drafting process.

I mean, I KNOW this isn't the final draft...or even the first draft. This is just me taste-testing a few samples before I commit to an entire meal.

In fact, I 
embrace the fact that I’m going to “mess this up” and I use my false starts as jumping off points for further brainstorming. I get to stress-test my story right away, learn if it isn't going to line up emotional dominoes properly, and then look for a better solution. 

So for example, I've been trying for a week now to find the proper entry point into a book. I know what happens after Act 1 ends -- it's all very clear. But finding the best arrangement of scenes, the best opening POV, the best setting and hook (do I open en media res or not?)...

Well, I haven't found that perfect combo yet, and I've written three false starts so far. Which is fine! Each new attempt has helped me see the story as a whole more clearly.

Side note: when I’m working within a series and am super restricted on what I can/cannot do, I will end up with many more false starts than if I were starting something totally new.

But that makes sense, right? I am limited by what came before; the world is not my oyster; I gotta find the perfect entry point for a story that is already in motion. So it's only natural that I might need a few more tries before I find the Right Story.

I just want to add one more thing on this subject, and that is the idea of "simmer time."

Sometimes, you can write a hundred false starts (*cough* Windwitch *cough*) and the story still won't come. When this happens to me, I know it's because the story isn't ready yet. Just because I have a shiny idea and a shiny, airtight outline, that doesn't mean that I actually have a story yet.

Remember: working at the scale of an outline is vastly different than working at the scale of your novel!!! You might "know" your character (she hates the color blue, her hair is curly, and her father left her when she was young, so now she feels she doesn't deserve love), but that doesn't mean you know your character. It doesn't mean their voice is clear in your head and ready to be committed to the page.

Or, you might "know" your world or "know" your broad plot events or "know" that at the end they kiss and live happily ever after...but that doesn't mean you ACTUALLY HAVE A STORY THAT'S READY TO BE TOLD.

Stories take time to grow. To simmer. To bake. To accrue interest. Choose whatever metaphor you want! The end result is the same: if you're finding that you're just cycling through false start after false start, then maybe the book just isn't ready to be written yet. And in that case, the best solution is to step away and let it grow/simmer/bake/accrue a bit more. Work on the story that is ready.

I hope that, after reading this, you're beginning to see the appeal of "false starts." As I've mentioned before, my process is completely dependent on them, and not just when I begin a new book, but throughout the entire draft.

Now that I've stopped fighting that aspect of my creativity and instead learned to lean into it... Well, I throw out far fewer words and I enjoy drafting a whole heckuva lot more. Better to toss a few thousand words now than an entire manuscript later.

You tell me: do you find you write false starts when beginning a new project? Or at any point in the drafting process?

Upcoming Events:


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May 4, 2019
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May 7, 2019
New York, NY
June 1-2, 2019

Link Roundup:

Since there are a lot of new subscribers lately, I've been linking to past blog posts and newsletters. Happy reading!

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Copyright © 2019
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St.
Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018

I'm a misfit, a daydreamer,
a fangirl, an animal-lover,
a feminist killjoy,
and a gluten-free
cookie-eater. 🐙
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