Ultimate Writing Tool: The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck

Let me tell you a story…

My name is MJ and I’ve been in love with storytelling since I was a child. 

I never had trouble coming up with a rough plot or concepts for my stories, but once I started the actual writing part, I would always come to a place in the story where I would realize I hadn’t worked out an important detail. So, I would backtrack and try to weave it in. More often than not, this caused a snowball of issues that would quickly become overwhelming, and I would end up starting over completely from scratch or abandoning the story altogether.

So. Frustrating. 

Does this sound familiar?

To help me figure out where I was going wrong, I started the Augusta Writer’s Critique Group on Meetup in August 2018 to collaborate with other writers, learn from them, share my experiences, and support a community that loves words and assembling them into sentences as much as I do. Now boasting over 550 members, the Augusta Writer’s Critique Group has given me the opportunity to work with many writers who have become successfully published authors. 

Augusta Writer’s Critique Group

And it’s also given me the chance to work alongside writers who get stuck just like me.

My experience as a critique host has helped me to pinpoint the key questions that successful writers answer during their planning stage and unsuccessful writers do not. 

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck was born!

 I had 3 basic principles in mind when I was forming my vision for this project. 

1) I wanted to make a product that was straightforward and simple to use for any genre of fiction. 

I’ve acquired a lot of writing tools over the years, but a common problem in all of them was they were overcomplicated and hard to keep organized, not applicable to the genre I was writing, and most were too jargony. I found myself looking up more terms to understand those tools than doing actual research for my novel. 

Another problem, and perhaps the most impactful, was that none of these tools took my unique writing style into account, and I found the rigidness of their application very stunting for my Muse, which only added to my frustration.

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck is simple and easy to use.

There are 54 cards, comprised of eight categories shared across all genres of fiction: 

  • Muse
  • Plot
  • Main Character
  • Side Characters
  • Antagonist
  • Macro-Level Worldbuilding
  • Micro-Level Worldbuilding
  • Exercises

The cards are color-coded by category and numbered 1-54 so you can tailor them to YOUR unique writing style:

1) Go one by one from start to finish for a more structured approach

2) Select the exact color-coded category for a targeted approach

3) Or shuffle the deck for a spontaneous or randomized approach

Whether you’re writing a children’s picture book, a gruesome horror, a complex high fantasy world, or whichever section of the bookstore you imagine your novel displayed, the Writer’s Muse Focus Deck’s questions are applicable to all genres. 

2) I wanted to make a product that would be useful for both experienced authors and new writers alike

The biggest obstacle for new writers is not having a clue what questions to ask to create cohesive narrative and compelling characters, or to introduce page-turning tension into the story to hook readers and keep them engaged until the very last word. 

Even as an experienced writer, I still need a focus; a one-stop shop to invoke my Muse and pour my inspiration out into a cohesive, complete, and clear path to novel writing success. 

When it boils down to it, writers just want to write, to complete novels and get them out into the world for reader consumption. Spending weeks or months eeking out the details of a plot or characters, then finding out halfway through a draft that something important was overlooked and major rewrites are needed to resolve them is a nonstarter. 

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck is a smooth, fast, repeatable process that all writers can use to iron out the important details and get writing with confidence.

The deck’s eight color-coded categories address critical elements of storytelling shared across all genres of fiction. No matter how complex your story, this deck is specific enough to uncover the finer details, and high level enough to reuse multiple times in your planning stage to address more complexities if needed.

  • Four separate planets? Run through the Macro-level worldbuilding questions for each one. 
  • Eight main characters? The Main Character cards will enable you to give each one their own unique voice. 
  • Six antagonists? The Antagonist cards will help you sort out all of their devious intentions. 

3) I wanted to make a product that could be valuable for every stage of the writing process

As an experienced writer, I fully understand that a first draft is not a perfect specimen, no matter how meticulous your planning stage or process is. Once you start writing, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the story and move your fingers faster than your brain can keep up. A few things are bound to need a bit more fleshing out after that first draft is done.

That’s why I also wanted a product that would help writers revise their first draft, and pinpoint exactly what needs more development to polish their efforts into something that’s ready to send to an editor, a beta reader, or an agent.  

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck lets you easily identify areas in your narrative that need more development so you can get to work on your next revision with a clear focus. 

So where am I in the production process?

The Kickstarter has officially launched!!!!! And you can see it for yourself by clicking here: Kickstarter Campaign

Watch the video!

The questions are written, and the vendor who will be printing them selected. 

The decks pictured in the photographs above are prototypes

I’m still narrowing down the cardstock I want the cards printed on. I have experimented with two different cardstock options so far: smooth and linen. 

The linen cardstock is by far the more durable and pleasant to touch than the smooth, but it’s slightly more expensive. 

I’m waiting on a third prototype made of eco-herbage cardstock to arrive to determine if the durability is up to the standards required for novelists who will be using this product again and again. 

Follow the Kickstarter to be updated when I receive the eco-herbage prototype and compare all the options.

Pledge your support for this product on Kickstarter and reserve your Writer’s Muse Focus Deck to experience how this game-changing card deck can help you focus your muse and get writing!!!

Available on Kickstarter!

ARC Review | From Heartbreak to Hopeful – by Shelby Catalano

A journey of healing and its grief, frustration, anger, sadness, and acceptance, and all of the emotions and trauma in between. From Heartbreak to Hopeful is a powerful collection of poems that reaches into the soul of humanity’s most difficult challenge: overcoming heartbreak.

I was given a copy of this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

From Heartbreak to Hopeful‘s 51 poems explore Shelby’s climb out of the depths of heartbreak, delving into the lingering trauma of her experiences and the painful process of healing.

As someone who has experienced heartbreak and trauma from a manipulative relationship like Shelby’s, I connected with her story, identified with her self-doubt, her anger, at times desperation, oppressive hopelessness, and loss of confidence in herself and life in general.

Shelby’s journey continues through to hope: recovery, acceptance, closure, and the freedom that comes from learning to love oneself again.

For anyone who is going through heartbreak now, this is a beautiful collection to inspire hope for the future and share the collective energy of healing and self-love between survivors. For those of us who have gone through it before, it’s a gentle reminder of what we overcame and how we are better and stronger for our experiences.

What is so unique about From Heartbreak to Hopeful is that the poems are arranged in such a way that they can be read in order from back to front as well, showcasing just how feelings of love can spiral into heartbreak. Reading it this way was surprisingly insightful in pinpointing the behaviors and warning signs of a relationship turning sour; a vivid reminder of how subtle toxicity can be in a relationship and how it can worm its way into the seemingly happiest of places. It was creative and eye-opening, and I give major props to Shelby for arranging her poems so carefully to be read both ways.

In addition to the poems and arrangement, she has also included several of her own illustrations throughout which are absolutely beautiful and enhance the emotional connection to the poems.

This is an awesome and powerful poetry collection to add to your library; a beautiful reminder that while heartbreak reaches deep, it isn’t permanent.

You can purchase From Heartbreak to Hopeful on Amazon through this link.

Happy Writing!
~MJ

Petey says hello!

Monthly Writing Prompt | July 2022

Excitement stirs inside your chest. It’s today! You’ve been looking forward to this for what feels like forever! As you get ready, something gives you pause. It doesn’t feel right, as though something, or someone, is pulling you back.

Muse Stimulators:

What is supposed to happen today?
Where is the POV?
Who, or what, is pulling them back and why?
How does your character feel about this sudden change?
What happens next?

Happy Writing!
~MJ

Petey says hello!

ARC Review | Amazing Offer! – Edited by S.D. Vassallo and Elle Turpitt

Old advertisements were created to be eye-catching when they were released, but when one sees them today, they may be even more noticeable. And downright weird.

Brigids Gate Press opened a submission call for short stories inspired by that weird, with all proceeds going to support the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping refugee families in need around the globe, a crisis whose numbers continue grow exponentially every day.

Amazing Offer! features 24 short stories and poems inspired by a range of old advertisements. In some stories, the ad was more blatant, and others were more subtle, but all of them showed an incredible breadth of imagination, intrigue, and introspection. I came away from reading this collection awed by the amazing talent I had just read and still immersed in the emotional high I shared with these characters who, if they didn’t live in a supernatural world, could very well have been me in every sense.

These stories are fiction, but each one seemed to highlight a very human struggle within ourselves and the world around us, and I can honestly say that this is the first anthology I’ve read where every single story inside was an absolute delight.

Beautifully edited by S.D. Vassallo and Elle Turpitt, the cover design by Ellen Avigliano is also eye-catching and highlights the myriad of stories within.

This is my favorite anthology from Brigids Gate Press so far, and I will be purchasing a physical copy once it becomes available. The Kindle edition can now be purchased and read immediately from Amazon.

As mentioned previously, all proceeds go to support the International Rescue Committee. It is the best and most impactful $4.99 you will spend this year!

Click here to purchase your copy: Amazing Offer! and prepare to be blown away.

ARC Review | Blood – by Tyler Pennock

Pain, anger, confusion, survival–elements all of humanity shares–come into conflict with society’s demands for purity, joy, and conformity in this moving compilation of poems written by Tyler Pennock, an Indigenous LGBTQIA+ individual.

There’s something about poetry that comes from the soul, from a place of vulnerability, from a place of honesty, and self.

Blood has a heartbeat.

In reading Blood, I came to know Tyler, their hurt, their hopes, their dreams, I saw him reach, and fall, and reach again, struggling under the weight of cultural suppression, identity oppression, and heartache. And through it all, I learned something more about myself too.

As a white woman reading this, it made me reconsider my beliefs–my misconceptions–of what Indigenous individuals experience in a colonialist world; the injustices, expectations, limitations, the suffering, how even hundreds of years has not eased the crushing impact of our past, and our present is even more suffocating in many ways for many surviving in a system designed to advantage the few.

I was moved by Blood. It’s eloquent, at times harsh, and the realities of the poet are deeply expressed in every line. It’s raw, powerful, and I was drawn into its rhythm, connecting with its themes and messages, learning to feel the emotional notes. Learning to understand and acknowledge Tyler’s pain. Coming to appreciate and admire Indigenous culture in a way that’s never been presented to me before.

I’m not an expert on poetry. Sometimes I understand what I’m reading, and sometimes I don’t. Some poems just seem to rhyme without any meaning or feeling underneath, but Blood has a heartbeat of its own. Blood is one person’s experience, but it can be a platform for many. There is a message for everyone, both similar and dissimilar, and that is what made these poems so amazing.

If you enjoy poetry or aren’t sure if you do and just want to read something that makes you think, makes you feel, makes you want to be a better human, then I highly recommend Blood. It’s simply beautiful. It’s courageous.

Blood is being published by Brick Books and hits bookshelves 1 September. It is currently available for pre-order.

Inciting Incident How-to

The Inciting Incident is one of the most critical plot points in your story: it justifies why your story is even happening, so it needs to be well developed out and executed for maximum impact.

The Inciting Incident is the transition point between your Introduction, where your reader learns about your main character and what their day to day looks like, and the Rising Action, where your MC is going to grow, learn about the big bad, wreak havoc, make mistakes, and inch closer to that Climax of tension, suspense, and resolution.

The Inciting Incident needs to have a large enough impact that your MC is either willing to leave or change their normal day to day, or it needs to pose a great enough impediment to prevent them from coming back or returning to it.

Try to include foreshadowing for the Inciting Incident somewhere in your Introduction phase, maybe through character dialogue, in something they hear, or even in a thought or behavior. Think of how you can keep this foreshadowed thread active throughout the book to avoid the Inciting Incident becoming a “Convenient Catastrophe”.

Convenient Catastrophe’s are inciting incidents (or other events) that happen for a singular purpose and then are forgotten about or dismissed for the rest of the book. The issue with this is that significant events always have a lasting impact on the world and the MC, especially if it interrupted your MC’s normal day-to-day. So without any resolution, Convenient Catastrophes often feel shoehorned in and disconnected from the rest of the story, and they can take away from the believability of what happened to your MC.

Inciting Incidents and other significant events are going to be memorable to your MC, so as you unfold the Rising Action, have your MC think about it, experience emotions, or change behaviors as a direct result of the Inciting Incident. Doing this will make your inciting incident realistic to the reader and add depth to your narrative and MC. You may even want to include a deeper resolution for the Inciting Incident in your Climax or Conclusion by having your MC come to accept what happened, repair the damage done, or establish a new normal in spite of it or because of it.

I hope you’ve found this helpful!

This video explores this topic as well, I hope you enjoy!

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Monthly Writing Prompt | June 2022

Your lungs are burning, sweat is dripping down every inch of bare skin. The stench, mingled with other subtle and potent smells makes it harder to breathe in the precious gulps of air. Just a little bit more of this, and that’s it. No more. But a small part of you, deep down, suspects you’ll be right back here again eventually.

***

Muse Stimulators:

What is the POV doing?
What do they believe doing this achieves?
Do they want to be done with it?
Where are they?
Are they alone?

Happy Writing!
~MJ

Petey says hello!

ARC Review | Musings of the Muses – Edited by Heather and S.D. Vassallo


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ancient Greek tales are dominated by males: male heroes, male motives, male accomplishments and desires. In 2021, the founders of Brigids Gate Press set out to change things up and opened a submission call for new perspectives on these beloved tales: the untold perspectives, the hidden truths of the myths, the silenced voices of time immemorial. The other side of the story.

Musings of the Muses is an anthology of Ancient Greek mythology stories retold from her perspective: The women who were always present but never allowed to speak to history, never allowed to defend their name against the male hero; sentenced to be judged for eternity through the eyes of the patriarchy. Brigids Gate set out to give them their voice.

They succeeded.

Disclaimer: I have a vested interest in this anthology, as my short story “Before Gods” is included in its publication. However, I know a great story (or collection of stories) when I read it and I’m confident that you will find my honest ARC review of Musings of the Muses to be trustworthy and accurate.

There are 65 stories included in Musings. Some are more in the classical style, and some have been reimagined in a modern setting with modern concepts and technology. There is a healthy dose of poetry as well, and a wide range of Greek cast members, from Medusa, to Titans, to Olympians, to Monsters. Charybdis and Scylla even featured in the story “Lover’s Quarrel,” by Georgia Cook, which I found fascinating. I was also delighted to read a clever Hera story in “Respectfully Yours, Bridezilla,” by T.L. Beeding. I’ve always felt Hera’s reasons for hunting down Zeus’ illegitimate children were presented a bit poorly, so I found her story in Musings to be exceptionally creative and satisfying. Another one of my favorites was “Thinking Outside the Box,” by Dominick Cancilla, a parody of the horrors inside Pandora’s box that was delightful and crafty.

As with all anthologies, there were some stories that didn’t connect with me as well as others, but every story delivers compelling characters, well-developed arcs, and a fresh female perspective that is sometimes warm, and sometimes chilling. Heather and Steve at Brigids Gate Press have an eye for great stories, and there are so many assembled here. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with this purchase.

My one critique is that it isn’t long enough. Which is odd considering there are 65 stories and 422 pages, but there are some personal favorite heroines in Greek mythology which did not have a retelling in this anthology, and that was a bit disappointing. My hope for the future is that Brigids Gate will open a submissions call for a Vol. 2 sometime in the future.

Musings of the Muses is available for Kindle and Paperback on Amazon.

Happy Reading!

~MJ

View all my reviews

Petey says hello!

Monthly Writing Prompt | May 2022

A stirring inside of you draws you closer to the noise. Blood begins to pound in your ears as your excitement–and apprehension–grows. As the scene comes into focus, it’s not quite what you expected to find, and the faces you see–had hoped to see–aren’t either.

***

Muse Stimulators:

  • Are the feelings of the POV good or bad?
  • What is the source of the noise?
  • Who are the faces the POV expected to see and who are the ones they find?
  • What was your POV hoping/expecting to be happening?
  • What happens next?

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Petey says hello!

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