You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

I mentioned in my September 6, 2021 blog post, Books Read in August 2021 (a.k.a. What to Do When You Can’t Afford Writing Courses) that I’m taking C.S. Lakin’s “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel” online course. In today’s blog post, I’m excited to tell you about some of the things I’ve learned and accomplished in the last two weeks.

Don’t let the title fool you!

The name of the course doesn’t mean you can write a novel in eight weeks! Ms. Lakin just means the course lasts eight weeks. The course is intense. It covers a year’s worth of material. If I learn as much each of the next six weeks as I learned the last two, week, my head might explode.

The first week’s lesson about scenes and “high moments” was worth the price of the entire course. (No, I’m not getting any type of compensation for saying that!)

Photo credit: Elijah Hiett on

The structure of popular novels has changed in the last few years due to the influence TV and movies have had on our attention spans. The narrative-rich novels I loved so much by such authors as James Michener aren’t what readers want now. There are exceptions, of course, but this course is about the new norm. Scenes should just cover a capsule of time, yet every scene must serve a purpose and end with some type of change.

The second lesson was about microtension. I didn’t know what that was, so there was plenty to learn.

I’m still trying to grasp the many aspects of microtension. It seems to be just about anything that’s unexpected in a scene or even down to the sentence level. Ms. Lakin’s lecture about microtension was longer than an hour, so you would be correct to assume that I’ve over-simplified it here.

A bit of decluttering

In my recent struggle about what I was supposed to be doing or writing, I sought God’s guidance. One night I dreamed that I was going through a life’s accumulation of stuff and discarding or setting aside items to either donate or recycle. Most items were being discarded. When I woke up, I had clarity and felt like God was telling me to get rid of the clutter in my life. Sometimes you need to get rid of the old to make room for the new.

One bit of clutter I got rid of was a stack of Writer’s Digest magazines. I’d kept them because there were some good articles in them. Years passed and the magazines became a stack and there was no easy way to find a particular article when I needed it.

Photo credit: Bernd Klutsch on

I’ve gone through 55 of the 58 issues of the magazine that were taking up space on a bookshelf and tore out the articles I wanted to keep. I’ve organized the articles by topic in three 3-ring binders. (You see, I’m old school and I like paper)

A few of the categories in those binders are Character, Setting, Plotting, Structure, Point-of-View, Scene, Author Brand, Author Website, Writing Business, Genre, Editing, Self-Publishing, Pacing, Theme, Publishing Options, and Queries. There are many more categories, but you get the point.

With that project done – except for some articles that haven’t found a home yet among my topics — I’m able to easily find my notes on a particular aspect of writing to reread helpful items. Many other articles are saved on my computer. (See, I’m not completely old school!)

Since my last blog post

I continue to delve more deeply into my chosen genre, historical fiction. The novel I’m writing now could qualify as the blended genre, historical mystery. I’m analyzing recent historical mystery bestsellers, looking for such things as how and when backstory is given, how much microtension I can identify, scene length, and chapter length. All the while, looking to see how each scene builds to a high moment.

However, the ideas I have for two or three additional novels are not mysteries, so I hesitate to label the first book (and myself) in the historical mystery genre. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed and then have readers disappointed (or angry) when my other books aren’t mysteries. I know I’m getting ahead of myself on this, but it’s something I need to be aware of. It’s all part of the process.

Update on Whitney Plantation

This is a follow-up to my August 16, 2021 blog post: How the Word is Passed – Part I.

The Whitney Plantation near Wallace, Louisiana was greatly damaged by Hurricane Ida and is closed indefinitely. If you are inclined to help with the repairs, you can do so by visiting

For online articles about the damage suffered by the plantation, go to Hurricane Ida Damages Whitney Plantation | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine and Descendants Of The Enslaved Sheltered From Ida In A Historic Plantation’s Big House | 88.5 WFDD. Of course, you can also do a search engine search and find additional details.

Until my next blog post

Today starts Week Three of C.S. Lakin’s eight-week course. The topic is point of view, and I can’t wait to see what I learn in the coming days!

I hope you have a good book to read and time to enjoy a relaxing hobby.


18 thoughts on “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

  1. Wow! That’s smashing good Janet! One can tell how exited you are about the course and the knowledge you’ve been gaining. Splendid! I can’t wait to hear about the rest of the lessons. Best of luck and I am sure that after all the work you’ve put into this book it will be a best seller! Take good care and all the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the way you think! The more I learn about the “rules” of writing fiction, the more I wonder how 99% of the books I’ve read got published. It’s sad that the new trend is to write in short paragraphs and short scenes because the attention span of readers has decreased due to television. Thank you for your comment. The story I’m writing doesn’t seem to fit the mold for a specific sub-genre. So be it! Thank you for your comment.


  3. Have you thought of testing your writing formats on social media to see if they fit the short mode of today’s readers. It’s not the number of comments you get, but maybe there’s just one that utilized be utilized.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This has to be so exciting to learn so much in just 2 weeks Janet! I can relate to decluttering by tearing out the articles you want to keep and discarding the rest. Years ago I had to do that with recipe magazines, it is so much less space and like you said then you can find what you are looking for!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. No, I haven’t. I don’t really want to put parts of my novel-in-progress on social media — at least not yet. In light of what I’m learning in this class, I need to edit my short stories. If the current trend continues, I wonder if people will still be reading novels in 20 years. Thanks for your question and comment.


  6. Thank you, Diane. Yes — and all the pages torn out of Taste of Home… They’re organized now, but I still will never get around to trying half of them. LOL! I read cookbooks like some people read novels!


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