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Announcing...Punch for Prompt

If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you've probably noticed a new tab here.  It is called Punch for Prompt, and it's basically a place where you can punch a purple bar and get yourself a prompt.  And then another.  And then another.  A nearly endless supply of them, to be exact.  You can keep coming back and coming back and coming back and every time get a brand new prompt.  Cool, huh?




This all came about because I mentioned to Jessica Baverstock of Creativity's Workshop that I wanted to find a way to easily get prompts to people.  I love prompts and think they can encourage amazing writing.  However, the key to encouraging lots of amazing writing is having an endless supply of prompts.  When I discussed all this with Jessica, she brought up an idea she'd had--Punch for Prompt--and volunteered to write the code.  Of course, it took me about one second to say yes.  The new Punch for Prompt page is the result.

Now, before you do anything else, like choose a prompt, head on over to Jessica's blog because she's also featuring Punch for Prompt today and she's doing something way cool, I must say.  You'll have to find out what it is for yourself.  So go check it out.  Oh, and I must also mention her brother, Tristan Ward, a programmer of international repute, who also helped with writing the code.  Thanks, guys!

As a reminder, here's one way you can use a prompt:

1.  Punch for Prompt

2.  Choose a computer or pencil and paper

3.  Set a timer for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes

4.  Write without stopping or lifting your pen from the page

5.  Punch for Prompt again; rinse and repeat

Here are a few other posts on prompts:

7 Ways to Use Prompts With Your Current Project

Promptitude: What Makes a Good Prompt

On Writing Prompts

Happy Writing!

Please comment.  Do you use prompts?  What are your experiences with them?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Punch for prompt.  Follow the instructions above.  Remember, you can aim the prompt at your current writing project or work on something totally new and different.


Tips on Writing, Prepping for the Novel, Part Four--Story


Engrossed in a good story

And so we come to the end of this series on prepping for the novel with a post on story.  (To read the entire series so far, see the end of this post, where I'll list them all.

Story and plot probably hang up more writers than just about anything.  I know writers who create wonderful, dreamy characters and write like I wish I wrote, choosing the mot juste and spinning out amazing sentences.  And yet, they can't tell a story to save their lives.

And guess what?  Story is what sells.  It's why The DaVinci Code was such a success.  Or to use a more palatable example, why the YA trilogy The Hunger Games was a smash.  It's got story up the wazoo, with plot twists that leave the reader desperate to find out what will happen next. (For the record, the books also have complex, conflicted characters, which make them worth a read.)

But, here's the deal: you probably won't know all the nuances of your story when you are prepping to write it.  You probably won't even know them when  you're writing the first draft.  In innumerable posts on process, I've mentioned that the first draft is for you to focus on figuring out the story, while the second draft is to sculpt it to good effect for the reader.

Problem is, when you're beginning a novel, you need to have some kind of idea where you're going or off you veer into uncharted territory.  Enter the loose outline.

The Loose Outline

When I say loose, I mean loose.  I started writing Emma Jean's Bad Behavior with a simple list of scenes.  I used that as my guideline for the first half of the novel, and then things started popping and new characters arrived and with them, new scenes.  You can write your loose outline on a legal pad, a computer file, or index cards.  Think of it as a starting point and you won't get freaked out over it.

Some Tips for Pondering Story


Tension in a story is everything.  One of the biggest issues I see in student work is a lack of conflict.  Even when you are introducing character, find ways to create tension.  Put tension in your descriptions.  Put it everywhere you can.  Here's a hint: refer back to the character sketches you did where you figured out what your character wanted, needed, or feared.  Then put two characters desire's in opposition and you're in business.

Cause and Effect

Stories need to follow cause and effect: because of this, that.  After such and such happened, then...And so on.   The scenes  you devise in your loose outline need to be linked, or else you're writing a series of short stories. 

Scene and Sequel

The fabulous Jack Bickham wrote a whole book on this.  Bickham said that once he mastered this (he learned it from Dwight Swain) he started selling stories right and left.  Basically, a scene has a goal (the desire), the conflict (what stands in the way of the goal), and the disaster (what happens when the character doesn't reach the goal.  Because, you know, she shouldn't.)  A sequel is like an emotional respite after the scene.  The character has to regroup and figure out what to do next because of the disaster.

There's a great article about scene and sequel that you should read for a more complete explanation. Play with the concept and see if it doesn't help you prep to write you novel.  As a matter of fact, I'm going to go apply it to mine.

Okay, that's it!  Here's the list of posts in this series:

Part One--Tools

Part Two--Ideas and Process

Part Three--Character

Please comment.  We'd love to hear how you prep to write a novel or a book.

Create an inspired, successful writing life: Write a loose outline for your novel.  Be sure to incorporate the concepts of cause and effect and scene and sequel.

Image by Risen1.

Tips On Writing: Prepping for the Novel, Part Three--Character


Your novel is on one of these shelves!
First off, I know, I know.  I like me some convoluted headlines, don't I?  You'd think a writer would be good at firing off snappy subject lines, but alas, such is not the case with this writer. I think it's the novelist in me who loves to write long headlines.  Apologies.


You've landed on the third part of my series on what you need to do before you write a novel.  You can read the introduction, with a bit about tools, on this post, and part two, about the idea and the process, on Wednesday's post.

Today's post is about character.  It is one of my favorite topics when it comes to novel writing, because I'm one of those writers who believe that all story comes from character.  Years ago my dearly departed mother told me to always make sure there were people in my snapshots, because photographs without people in them are boring.  And you know what?  Unless you're looking at a shot by Ansel Adams or someone of his ilk, she's right.

Novels are about characters in action.  They are about characters in opposition.  Novels are about characters in conflict.  And so on.  Given that novels are about character, it stands to reason that when setting out to write a novel, you should know a lot about your character.  So, here goes.


A good place to start is by figuring out what your character wants.  The novelist Kurt Vonnegut once said, "always have your character want something, even if its just a glass of water."  Desire drives the world.  It will drive your character, too.  (My husband tells the story of the time we were in Paris and I found a jacket I wanted to buy.  Suddenly, my French got really good as I found words to ask for the location of the check-out stand.  My desire for the jacket overcame my fear of speaking the language.)

If you can't figure out what your character wants, maybe it is a need or fear that drives her.  If you can't figure those out, proceed with the rest of the character exercises and then start writing.  It will come to you.

Get a Visual

It can be incredibly helpful to have an image of your character in mind.  Often people begin with a photo of an actress or public figure.  This can be a great starting point, as it can help to write a description to have something to work off.  Do a search on Google Image for multiple views to put on your vision board.  Or use models from catalogs, which also afford you many photos.  Or sketch your character. 

Do a Dossier

You really need to know the nuts and bolts of your character and a bit about her background.  Consider writing the following:

Name, nickname

Age, birthdate and place

Height, weight, build, description of appearance

Marriage and family history (siblings? parents alive?)

Physical scars

Emotional scars

Educational background




There's more you can do here, too--this is just a starting point.  As you write this, allow questions about your character to form and jot them down.  Then answer them.

Ordinary Day

What is your character's ordinary day like?  Write it out, from the time she gets up in the morning until the time she goes to sleep at night.  Where does she go?  What does she do?  Who does she see?  I learned this from a screenwriter (whose name I've forgotten) years ago.  It is amazing how useful this little writing exercise is; try it.  You'll learn a lot about your character.

These exercises ought to give you enough material to get going.  In truth, often a character pops into my head and I write a scene or two with her to see if she's got legs.  (Metaphorically, people, metaphorically.)  Once I ascertain that she does, then I return to these writing exercises to learn more about her.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Find images to represent your character and add them to your vision board.  Then fill out a character dossier and write her ordinary day. 

Please comment.  I'd love to hear how you get to know the characters in your novels and stories.  Do you write up character dossiers?  Take them out on a date?  Interview them?  Do tell.

 PS.  Typepad's spellcheck has been wonky lately.  Forgive errors.  I've gone back over it a couple times, but something may have eluded my eagle eyes.

Photo by Alvimann. 

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two--The Idea and the Process



On Monday, I began this series on prepping to write a novel.  In the first post, I talked about the tools you'll need to get going, and if you head on over to that post you can get caught up.  In today's post, I'm going to talk about the idea and the process--what to expect and how to schedule it.

It is important, when writing a novel, to consider that you're going to be with this baby for quite a long while.  Not quite as long as it takes to read a human child from birth to maturity, though it may seem like that.  But still, you're going to be working with this material for a long time  So make sure you like it.  I wrote a whole long post on this very topic last week, and its probably a good idea if you take a minute and go read it.





So now that you've committed to an idea that you love (or even just like), what next?  Well, that's the topic of this series, what you do to get ready to write a novel (or a book).  But before we get to character, setting, plot and writing the rough draft, I want to talk briefly about process and scheduling.


The Writing Process

It's really very simple.  Your first draft is for you to figure out the story, okay?  It is not for you to make things perfect.  It is for you to get a rough semblance of the plot and characters down on paper.  Don't worry yet about how best to present it to the reader, or how to dramatize it  How can you do that when you're still figuring out the story?

Whether or not you want to write up an outline is your choice.  I recommend it because it keeps you on track.  Doesn't have to be a fancy outline, even a rough list will do.  This way you save room for serendipity and the stray walk-on character.  You may also want to write a synopsis, which is like a fleshed-out, grown-up outline.  I don't.  But some people do.  Once you've got your outline written and done all the prep work it takes to get going on a novel, that's exactly what you do.  Get going on it.

I've written about the writing process here before, and even recently.  Here's some of those posts:

The Writing Process According to Novelist Gabrielle Kraft

The Writing Process: Letting Go

The Writing Process

The Writing Process Redux

The Writing Process Again

The Writing Process: The Three P's of Glumping

That ought to keep you going for awhile.  And so now we turn to scheduling. Or, what to expect when you're trying to write a novel and life gets it the way.

Scheduling/What to Expect

My best advice for scheduling a long writing project is to be as regular as you can, and stay flexible.  In a perfect world, which none of us live in, it is best to write every day.  If you can't, at least glance at your work, read it, or take some notes on it.  If you can't do that, think about it.  Direct your mind to it while you're walking or cleaning the house.  (Or in a boring meeting, but don't blame it on me if you get caught.)  You will be interuppted just when you're getting to the apex of a scene.  This will happen more times than you can count.  You will have to skip a writing session when your child or spouse gets sick.  This will also happen more times than you can count. 

Here's what else you can expect:







And probably a few more I've not thought of.  Notice, however, I did not mention the word boredom.  Because when you're writing a novel, you'll never be bored.  I think that's true of being a writer, period, as well.

You can also expect to be damn proud of yourself when you're finished with this project.  And to have a healthy respect for even the crappiest of books you might see in the bookstore or library.  Because now you know what it takes to write a book.

But that moment is still far in the future.  We've still got some prepping to do.  And I shall move onto that in the next post.

Please comment on all this.  What do you do to prepare? What have you learned from writing a novel or book-length process?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Make certain you've got an idea that intrigues and delights you and write a loose outline.  Okay, okay you can do a synopsis, too. 

I'm putting together either a one-on-one coaching package or a group program around this novel prep, so stay tuned!

Photos by Mai05 and Creactions, both from Everystockphoto.

PS.  Sorry for the weird type font changes.  No matter what I do, I can't get them back to normal.  Typepad is a bit wonky these days.


Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One--Tools

So, I've written three novels now.  The first was a crappy mystery that never went anywhere (though

recently when I found a copy of it, I realized it was better than I remembered.) The second was my MFA novel and its not half bad, it's just got a plot that doesn't quite work.  I promised my daughter and daughter-in-law that I'd publish copies for them, so stay tuned, it may just appear here soon.  And the third novel is the first one I've finished that not only hangs together, I think its pretty damn good.  It is currently making the rounds in New York.

In all that novel writing, I've learned a thing or two.  And that is this: a bit of prepping goes a long way.  So that's what this post is about.  But first, a thing or two about the novel I'm currently writing.  I've been in a bit of a dry spell when it comes to fiction.  I kept coming up with ideas and working on them for a few chapters and then realizing they weren't going to pan out, for whatever reason.  Finally, this new novel, which I'm temporarily calling Jemima B, popped into my head (actually, when I was doing some free writing, proof that it works).

Good Enough?

But, here's the deal--with all my wandering through novels that didn't work, I had lost my ability to discern.  And I wasn't sure if this new novel was "good" enough to keep going with.  So I just wrote, didn't do any prepping or anything.  Finally, last week I mustered up my courage and took the three chapters into my writing group.  And, while I got specific comments about things that need to change, I also got that people liked it a lot.  So now, finally, I feel well and truly started on a project.  And I can go back and do the prep work for it. 

The Commitment

This is a statement of sorts.  It is saying, yes I commit to this novel.  Yes, I'm going to do what it takes to carry through to the end.  Yes, I'm ready to do it.

Are you?  This post is the first in a series.  I'm also thinking about putting this together as either a program or a one-on-one coaching product.  (If you're interested, email me and I'll put you on a list for the announcement.)  But you can easily follow along with the action ideas listed at the end of each post and get yourself ready to write a novel.  So, today, let's start with tools.


Here's what I consider essential, beyond a computer and pens:

1. A small spiral notebook, in which to collect all your notes.  Even if you originally note them on a scrap of paper, try to transfer them to this journal so they will all stay together. 

2.  A bigger spiral notebook, like 8 1/2 by 11 size, in which to do free writes, which are a great way to learn more about your characters and story.

3.  A binder in which to keep research and images related to the story.  This may also hold a completed draft if you so desire.

4.  A vision board.  You can make this so that it hangs on the wall near your desk, or you can put it into your binder.  But either way, do work with images for your book, it is amazing how helpful it is.  (You can download my free Ebook on how to create a vision board for your book by signing up to the right.)

5.  A stack of 3 by 5 cards.  These come in handy for all kinds of things, like to note scenes or character traits on, to name two.

Okay, that's it for now.  We're starting slow and easy.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Gather your tools.  Make it fun.  Go to the office supply store and prowl the alley.  Buy spirals and binders that you love, or take them home and decorate them. 

And, please comment: what do you consider the essential tools for writing a novel (or a book)?

Photograph by Hey Paul.

Hallmarks of a Good Writing Idea


I've been obsessed playing with Pinterest the last couple of days.   I love this new site where you can create online picture boards, tagging photos from across the web. Not that this should be a surprise--you're on the blog of a woman who offers a free Ebook on creating Vision Boards, after all.

But what interests me about it is why it has captured my attention.  In spare moments I zip over to my Pinterest page and create more boards.  In boring meetings I ponder subjects for new boards I could create.

This is the way I felt last week about my novel.  Yes, just last week. Oh dear, wonderful novel please forgive me for my betrayal!  This new infatuation will fade, as infatuations do, and I'll be back to you, my first and true love soon.  I hope.

This new love of mine begs the question: what is it about an idea that engages us?  What is it about a writing topic that attracts us?  And is it important to choose our subject matter carefully or should we just write about any old idea that comes ambling down the pike?

I happen to have opinions on this subject.  (I know, you're shocked.)  I think the subject you choose is vital.  If you're working on a book-length project, it is doubly vital, because you are going to be working on that project for the long haul, and it is very easy to get bored.  I know this from first-hand experience.  And the three novels I started and abandoned in between the one I'm marketing and the one I'm writing are testament to the boredom factor. 

They also attest to the mysterious state when you're working on something and it just doesn't feel right.  The muse, she is a strange creature and sometimes she feeds you ideas that aren't really meant to be developed.  (Which is why I like keeping an idea book, and jamming thoughts and snippets in it, all together.  Then half-baked ideas mate with other semi-developed thoughts and create full ideas.)  I once heard a writer say that ideas are like trains coming down the track--and if you don't jump on them as they come to you, the moment for that idea has passed you by.  Not sure I agree with that, do you?

As I've been pondering this topic, I've come up with some things that denote a good writing topic.  So herewith, hallmarks of a good writing idea:

  • It makes your heart go pitty-pat and you get an ineffable feeling of happiness and connection when you ponder it. (I say ponder on purpose, because generally this is a feeling that will come over you before or after you write, not necessarily during.)
  • The subject never bores you.  As mentioned above, you're going to be working with this idea for a good, long time, so if you're struggling to stay interested, that's a bad sign.  A very bad sign.
  • The topic is something dear to your heart, something you believe in fervently and really want to share with the world.  Fervor feeds feeling and feeling feeds writing.
  • It just feels right when you're working on it.  I know, I know, this is a bit vague, but I think you know what I mean.
  • You don't have to force yourself to work on it.  I realized this with a novel I attempted to create.  I hated working on it.  I could barely force myself to open the file.  Whereas I could barely keep myself away from the other novels I've written. (Until I got infatuated with Pinterest. Sigh.)

Okay, your turn.

Create as successful, inspired writing life: Run your latest idea through the above points.  Does it fit?  You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by choosing the right idea.  But don't worry, sometimes it takes a few false starts before an idea sticks.

Please comment.  I'd love to hear how you choose writing ideas, and if you have a criteria for which ones to follow through on.   What's the farthest you've ever gotten before abandoning a writing project?


Photo credit: brokenarts.

Inspiration for Writers: The Morning Ritual

Your happy morning sunrise
Call it a writer's ritual, call it a writing routine, call it whatever you want, but I believe that having a consistent structure to begin your day is vital.

For too many of us (and I fall victim to this habit also) the first action of the day is opening the computer and starting in with emails and social media. 

But does this truly serve you and your writing?  I don't think it does.  For one thing, dealing with emails and such first thing means you're telling the world it is way more important than you.  And it sets up a pattern of reactivity rather than proactivity.  Let me just tell you, if you desire to be a writer and get your words out into the world, you're going to need to be proactive.  Big time proactive.  So why not set up this pattern as you set up your day?

Writing gets done minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.  As Annie Dillard has said, "How you spend your days is how you spend your life."  And so why not set up those days right, allowing yourself a fighting chance at getting done what you want to accomplish?

Because that is what a morning ritual does, at least for me: it makes things possible.  Things like writing and thinking clearly and tearing through a to-do list.  Okay, that last doesn't happen every day.  A morning ritual might also be the one time in the day that you get some writing done. 

Mornings--before the hustle of the day sets in--are one of the few times we have absolute control over our schedule.  You might have to get up thirty minutes early to make time for a morning ritual, but believe me, its worth it.  So here are some suggestions for activities that can create a morning routine for writers:

1.  Meditate.  I don't know about you, but I must have coffee first thing in the morning.  Thus, meditating  doesn't work for me, at least as the very first thing I do, because it is impossible to sit quietly and focus on the breath and drink coffee at the same time.  What does work is for me is to drink my coffee while doing one of the other activities and then get a 15-minute meditation session in.  (I know, I'm a wimp.  The only time I can do longer sessions is when I go to a meditation class.)

2.  Morning Pages.  The classic morning activity for all writers and creatives, espoused by Julia Cameron in the seminal book The Artist's Way.  Morning pages involve simply glumping it all on paper in one three-page free write.  I love morning pages and if in doubt, there are my fall-back activity.  But sometimes I long for more focused writing in the morning, in which case I choose one of the following options.

3.  Your Current Project.  I wrote my novel Emma Jean's Bad Behavior by getting up at 5 AM and writing 2000 words before the day began.  Sometimes you morning routine will be the only chance you'll have to work on your current project.  Use it.  You'll whistle with happiness all day long.

4.  The Ordinary Day.  This is a fun thing to throw into the mix.  Write a complete chronicle of what you did the day before, hour by hour.  With details and description.  Not only is it fun, it is good writing practice and it teaches you a lot about characterization.

5.  Reading and Reflection.  My current favorite.  Right now, I'm on a spiritual reading kick, but books on writing would be just as appropriate to peruse.  I read a little, write down a quote that speaks to me, write about it a bit, read some more, write some more.  I love this ritual because the words I read serve as reminders to me all day long.  (I've got a list of both spiritual and writing titles if anybody is interested, email me and I'll send it to you.)

As you can no doubt tell, I get bored easily and switch from one routine to another.  Or sometimes I do several of them at once, such as read, do morning pages, and meditate.  (I try to meditate every morning, try being the operative word.)

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Choose a morning ritual and commit to it for one week.  Really pay attention to how it makes you feel and work throughout the day.

So, tell me: do you have a morning ritual?  How does it impact your writing life?  Please share in the comments below.

*If you need help setting up a morning routine or any aspect of a successful writing life, I've got a few openings in my coaching.  Go to my writing coaching page to read more.

Photo by cempey.  I played with it a teeny bit on Typepad's new photo editor.

The Writing Process According to Novelist Gabrielle Kraft



I've been hiding from the world because of my new hair color cleaning my office and going through old files and I found a sheaf of notes from a long-ago writing class that I took.  (It was in 1991, to be exact, because I dated it.)  What happened was that my writing group at the time hired a local mystery writer to teach us the ins and outs of writing novels.  That mystery writer's name was Gabrielle Kraft.*


Kraft taught me the writing process I follow today, with a few adaptations.  She was convinced that every process needed a structure, and if one simply followed that structure, one would end up with a finished project.  This idea appealed to me then, and it appeals to me now.  Here are those steps:

1.  Idea

2.  Synopsis

3.  Rough draft

4.  Rewrite of rough draft

5.  Edit your rewrite

6.  Polish your rewrite

7. Professionalize yourself as a writer

Here's a bit more on each stage.

1. Idea

"Your imagination is a muscle--use it or lost it."  Direct quote from my notes.  Think about ideas all the time.  You'll learn by setting problems and goals for yourself.  You can also glean ideas from pictures (I love to do this in workshops)  Ask, who is this person?  Where did she buy her coat?  What is she doing in this photo?  Who does she love? Remember, what's important is what you do with the idea. 

2. Synopsis

Kraft thought this was vital.  I rarely write one, preferring a loose outline to being boxed in to a synopsis, which I find painful to write.  But I concede there is value to writing a synopsis.  "Accept that is it useful to do it," I have in my notes. Take one month to write it. Many agents and editors ask for them when you're querying them.  (As an alternative or addition to a synopsis, I'd suggest a vision board for your book.)

3. Rough Draft

"Be impractical."  I love this advice!  Kraft further advised us just to get it out on the page, and to be emotional.  Write extra and leave room for slashing. (Contrary to popular opinion, what I see most often in student work is that more needs to be added in rather than cut.  So this is good advice.)

4. Rewriting

To Kraft, this was "chiseling away the extra pages."  Cut away everything that isn't a novel.

5. Editing

One line might well do.

6. Polishing

The ultra-fine tuning.  Be obsessive about it.  Change commas, periods, words.  This is "putting the sparkle on it."

7. Professionalize

Alas, the notes for this step of the structure are lost to the recycling Gods.  But from what I recall, this referred to understanding your chosen profession.  Learn about the publishing world and what it requires of you.  I also fancy that if Kraft were giving this class today, she'd be talking up the need to master social media.

I've followed a variation on this structural theme for every writing project I do ever since I first learned it from Kraft.   I know that in general there are two kinds of writers--the process writers and the perfection writers.  Process writers write a rough draft from start to finish, and follow something similar to what I've outlined here.  Perfection writers insist that every word and sentence is polished before they move on.  Don't know about you, but that sounds like living in the depths of hell to me.

So, what's your take on this?  Do you write a synopsis?  Follow a structure in your writing?  Or, do you have a teacher who influenced you the way Kraft influenced me?

 Create a successful, inspired writing life: Commit to following this process or a similar one (I won't holler if you leave out the synopsis step.)

And don't forget, there's still one more day to enter my Valentine's Day giveaway!

*I've lost touch with Gabrielle, and an internet search brings up only links to Amazon and Abe, which are selling her books second-hand.  I believe she worked in Hollywood before turning to mysteries.  I'd love to find out what she's doing now, if anybody knows of her.

Photo by cogdogblog.

Forget About It and Carry On With the Writing (Or, The Only Way Out is Through)

I dyed my hair this week.  (Bear with me, we're getting to the part about writing.)

I dye my hair every six weeks or so.  But usually I dye it blonde.  I buy the lightest blonde dye I can find, just to give you an idea of my usual color.  Extreme platinum blonde.

Lately, however, I've been hankering for a change.  It is 2012, after all, and I'm feeling good--bursting with new ideas and a renewed vigor for the blog, and starting a new novel.  Time for something new.  And how better to express new creativity than to change my hair?

So I bought the box with the darkest hair color on it this time.

You can probably guess the outcome.

Elvira, not me

My hair was, um, black.  Like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark black.  I was in shock.  Every time I looked in the mirror, I screamed.  So I redyed it not once, but twice, trying to get it lighter.  And now it is a couple shades lighter than Elvira with some chestnut highlights.  A huge change.

But this experience turned out to be enlightening, because it reminded me of something: the only way out is through. 

Elizabeth Zimmerman

I couldn't stop my life because I hated my hair.  I had classes to teach, meetings to attend, shocked faces to confront.  I had to keep going.  Or, as the doyenne of modern knitting, the late Elizabeth Zimmerman liked to say:  Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.

We could amend that to say: Write on, with confidence and hope, through all crises. 

And so I reminded myself that the only way out is through.  And that, really, in the overall scheme of things, a bad hair dye job pales in comparison to the problems others are facing at the moment.  As I started thinking about the necessity of carrying on, I realized that this applied to writing as well.  So here are some handy-dandy ways to get through the bad times:

1. Keep writing.  This is the best solution, but also the hardest if you're having a writing crises.  But remember Elizabeth Zimmerman's words and carry on.

2. Take notes.  Instead of actual writing, take notes on your writing.  This can jar new nuggets out.

3. Read.  Every writer should be an avid reader, or else why are you writing?  Read either a book similar to what you're writing or a book on craft.

4. Take an intentional break.  Do something you love for 15 minutes, such as read, walk, knit, leaf through a magazine.  But make it intentional.

5.  Read your pages before bed.  Last thing before you go to sleep, read over what you've already written on what you're stuck on.  Let your subconscious work its magic while you snooze.

6.  Alter your state.  Walk.  Take a nap.  Meditate.  Go to the coffee shop.  Change your activity to alter your state so you're not just sitting there moping because the writing isn't going well.

7.  Talk to a writing friend.  Don't try this with a civilian, who won't get it.  But talk to a trusted writing friend, maybe she can help you figure out why you're stuck.

Oh, and by the way?  Turns out the new dye job isn't so bad.  Everywhere I go, people compliment me on it and their compliments seem genuine, not like they're trying to make me feel better.  And I'm actually starting to like it.  (Though I'm still surprised every time I look in the mirror.) So now I'm enjoying feeling fresh and different.  Just like in the writing.

What about you?  How do you get through writing blocks and obstacles?  How do you carry on?  Please leave a comment and let us know.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Make a list of things that help you carry on through tough writing times so that you can refer to it and put one into play when you hit a snag.

And don't forget my Valentine's Day giveaway!  There's still a few more days to enter.  Read my post on it and leave a comment, that's all you have to do.

Elizbeth Zimmerman photograph from the Simon and Shuster website.

Elivira photo from Halloween Magazine.

Tips on Writing: Writing by Hand

I know.  It's very shocking.  When I suggest to clients and students that they may want to try writing by hand, there is sometimes outright rebellion.  To most writers these days, writing means writing at the computer, whether that computer is a desk version or a laptop (my own preferred option).   Okay.  I hear you.  Let's get the cons out of the way:

The Cons to Writing by Hand

Writing by hand seems antiquated, the purview of spinsters writing delicate thoughts in their journals.  (And what is wrong with that? I ask.)

Writing by hand is slow and takes more time.

When writing by hand it is difficult to make changes.

Writing by hand makes your hand tired.

What else?

Writing by hand can be hard to read.

A brief aside, and a confession, before we get the to pros of writing by hand.  The confession is that I've been writing by hand a lot lately.  And loving it.  I've always had an affinity for writing by hand.  I love to write in my journal, for instance.  And I always go first to the paper with pen in hand when I'm developing ideas for a novel, whether I'm working on the big picture, or smaller scenes.

However, all that writing by hand was mostly in the form of notes.  There was always a certain point at which I felt it was time to hit the computer and do the "real" writing.  

Not recently, though.  Recently I've been writing whole scenes, even whole chapters by hand.  It is somewhat amazing.  And very freeing.  Because I like to get up first thing in the morning and write by hand.  Usually that has taken the form of journaling.  But because I now seem to be able to write first drafts by hand, I can do that first thing.  And this has increased the amount of time I spend on my novel.

(I also like it because if I go to my computer first thing in the morning, the email inboxes and social media are sooooo tempting.  And I am weak, so weak.  So writing by hand sidesteps all that and I don't have to exercise discipline first thing.)

So, shall we look at pros?

The Pros to Writing by Hand

Writing by hand feels like a more direct line to heart and soul.  (At least it does to me.  You?)

Writing by hand is even more portable than writing on a laptop.

Writing by hand feels good.

Okay, the truth of the matter is that I'm stretching to find more pros to writing by hand.  Given the technology we have at our fingertips (hahaha), writing by hand is just not practical.  But it is wonderful.  And if writing by hand helps me (and you get) words on the page, I'm all for it.

What about you?  Do you like writing by hand?  Hate it?  Why or why not?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Try it.  C'mon, just do.  Try writing a scene or first draft of an article.  See if writing by hand doesn't feel good and inspire you.  If no, there's no harm done now, is there?

Photo by twenty_questions.

Valentine's Day Giveaway for Writers WINNER ANNOUNCED

AND THE WINNER IS....KATE ARMS-ROBERTS! Yay, Kate.  Please email me with your address and so we can discuss mechanics of sending me pages.

Okay, here's what you've been waiting for: the next writerly giveaway.  After the success of my Christmas giveways, I've been chomping at the bit to offer another one.  Enter Valentine's Day. (Which is a week and a day away, by the way.  Just reminding you.)

This writerly holiday prize is two part.  Ready?  Here you go:



1.  A Smash journal to keep your ideas in.  I have a blue one of these and it is fabulous, even though I think it is designed for teenagers.  (We're all young at heart here.)  Why is it so fabulous?  Because its got a perfect bound cover, but is spiral-bound inside.  And all the pages are different, so you don't get bored.  But here's the number one reason why it is so flippin' fabulous: because the pen that is attached to it is also a glue stick.  So you can paste things in as easily as you can write in the journal.  As I mentioned, I use it for my idea journal.  (The cool thing about idea journals is that if you gather ideas in them and then close the cover, they mate while you're not looking.)  Check out this link to the Smash journal page of Amazon to read more.


2.  A 25-page manuscript critique from me.  Doesn't matter what you're writing--a novel, a memoir, an article, a creative non-fiction piece or something else, I'll read it and critique it for  you. 

Good deal, huh?

So, by now you are wondering how to get yourself entered in this contest, no doubt.  Here's the skinny:  all you have to do is leave a comment below answering the question, what are you doing to celebrate Valentine's Day? 

Easy, huh?  You don't even have to confess anything about your writing.  Just tell us what your Valentine's Day plans are, (and if you don't have any that's okay, too, just write about that) and you'll be entered into the contest for the journal and the critique. 

Oh--by the way, check back here on the 15th, when I announce the winner, who I select at random by a random name generator site.   And, for the record, the folks who make Smash journals do not sponsor this contest.  It's just little ole me, cuz I love you guys soooooooo much.

Writer's Round-up Friday

My buddy Patrick Ross does an awesome weekly round-up on Fridays called Creative Tweets of the Week.  He always finds interesting tidbits and articles to post, so I'm copying him inspired by him to create a Writer's Round-up Friday.  Mine is not going to be a weekly feature.  Rather it will appear when I've got interesting links to share.

So, here we go.

1. I was featured in an interview about my writing coaching on Cheryl Reif Writes.  I tweeted the interview like crazy, but I woke up one morning and duh, realized I'd never blogged about it.  Blame it on my grandson, Henry, who is a huge distraction.  (I'm currently blaming everything I forget on him.  Since he's only two months old and the most beautiful baby ever born, there's no harm done.  On the other hand, there's a chance I may be scarring his delicate young psyche for life. Or that all this forgetting means I have Alzheimer's.)  Anyway, I really enjoyed the interview, because I don't often get to talk about my coaching.  So, thanks, Cheryl.

2. I was also featured on Writing While the Rice Boils.  More to the point, my free Ebook, Jump Start Your Book with a Vision Board, was featured. Debbie Maxwell Allen did a great job of talking about and talking up the book.  Thanks, Debbie!

3.  I was talked up royally by Sandra Pawula on Always Well Within.  Sandra was the winner of the week three Christmas giveaway, and she got free entry to the Make Money Writing class.  It has been so wonderful having her be part of it.  And she's got an amazing blog on self development that I love, so go check it out.

4.  My dear friend and colleague, Terry Price, is making the plunge to free-lance writing.  Yesterday was the day he unveiled his website. He also does coaching, so check him out.  Terr and I co-directed the Writer's Loft together, and as you'll see from his site, we've got a retreat cooking up for you guys also.

5. Before Christmas, I posted here about a comedy writing contest.  Specifically a contest sponsored by the Alliance for Family Entertainment.   Two lovely young women, Kristin and Christine, contacted me with info about the winner.  (I know, I know, I'm a bit slow at posting the info, sorry, guys.) This is actually cool because it confirms that the contest is bonafide, which is always a concern.  (Note to Kristin and Christine: it also make me more likely to post your next contest.  Do you have one for novels?  Because I have a humorous novel I'd like to sell.  Oh, but its probably not family friendly.  Never mind.) So, here is the information on the lucky hard-working winner:

Megan Angelo, a journalist and aspiring screenwriter, took home the winning prize of $5,000 plus the opportunity to be mentored by TV icon John Wells for her script, O’Connell for Congress.

O’Connell for Congress features Tim O’Connell, a self-described “high school screw up" turned failed businessman. Still, he has a party emporium millionaire wife, two rambunctious teenage sons, a child detective daughter and a new plan: to run for public office. But when Tim attracts the sudden interest of some powerful political strategists with their own motives, the O’Connell family is thrown into a world that they are not prepared to handle.

Angelo honed her skill by writing stories for publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Glamour, Business Insider, Philadelphia Magazine and BRIDES. Megan has been writing scripts for several years, entering contests regularly looking for her first break.

(You can learn more about winner Megan in the New York Times article about the contest.  She's, um, 27.)

 6. This is not about something that has happened, but rather something that is going to happen. Specifically, a Valentine's Day contest starting here, on this very blog, next week.  I'm inspired by the success of my Christmas giveways, and I've got my thinking cap on to figure out what wonderful writerly gift I'm giving away this time.  So come back next week, y'all and find out what I decided.

It occurs to me, rather embarrasingly, most of these links feature me.  Oops.  Sorry.  Next time I'll be more democratic, but I just wanted to give everyone who featured me some love.  So, thanks, guys!

Since this is a round-up of the week post, what's been going on with you?  How's life treating you?  How's your writing going? I'd love to hear about it.  Just leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Interview with Jessica Baverstock of Creativity's Workshop

Jessica Baverstock has been a great friend and loyal reader of this blog (she's also written a couple of guest posts for me), and when she told me she would be publishing her 100th post last month, I wanted to do something to celebrate.  And since I'm a curious sort and have always wanted to know more about her, I suggested an interview.  So here it is, complete with photos of her life in China, taken by and captioned by Jessica herself.  Thanks, Jessica!

One evening while walking the streets of Beijing, I happened across a little boy and his grandmother. During the conversation we discovered that the little boy and I were both born in the same Australian city!

You're an Aussie living in China. For some reason, that fascinates me. Can you tell us why you're there and what you do there?

I grew up loving languages. When a friend of mine started teaching me some Mandarin Chinese, I found it addictive but slow going. Then someone invited me to stay with them in China for a month. In that month my language ability leapt ahead, and I discovered the wonders of living overseas.

Figuring that China was the best place to learn Chinese (can't argue with that logic) I've lived up here on and off ever since. It's such a fascinating place to live, and the more of the language I master the more I enjoy it. Language isn't just about understanding the words, it's also about understanding the people who speak it. Their intonation, gestures, personalities, culture, logic, history and landscape all influence how and why words are spoken.

I love watching people's faces change from concern, annoyance or outright distrust into surprise and openness when they realize they can speak to me in their mother tongue. It opens up a freeness of expression and a window into their soul. I have learned so much from these beautiful people.

Everywhere I look there are things to understand, photograph and describe. Even simple trips to the shops, to the doctor, to the acupuncturist all turn into hysterical adventures. What writer can resist that?!

I'm planning on starting a new blog soon, devoted to tales of living in China and descriptions of the wonderful people I meet, so I'll be able to share more interesting stories with my readers.

To earn a crust I do some work for a charity up here, helping them develop training materials for teaching nannies, teachers, mentors and foster parents how to look after orphaned children. It's a wonderful way to help out with my writing skills.

What is the most difficult thing about living in China?

It seems you need a minimum of three people for a Chinese chess match - two people to play and at least one person to watch. This is a common sight in parks and streets all around China

For me I think it's the sheer panic of not understanding what someone is saying. I have been studying Chinese for over 7 years now, but there are still so many words I don't know. I'm often presented with situations where I have no idea what is going on.

Every time the phone rings or there is an unexpected knock at the door, I steel myself for another interaction which my dictionary may or may not help me through. I have a good Chinese accent, which backfires because the Chinese expect me to understand more than I actually do. I had an argument with a telemarketer once because she thought I couldn't possibly be a foreigner with my accent, and I was telling her I didn't understand what she was saying.

Even when a Chinese person does speak English, there is still a language gap. Last week, when visiting the doctor she asked if I had "dyspepsia"* (I could not for the life of me remember what that meant) and then instructed me to 'respirate with my abdomen.'

Still, these experiences have given me valuable insights which I can then use to relate to foreigners in my own country.

I'd really love to hear more about your writing. First, I know you have an Ebook coming out soon. Can you talk about that?

 I recently released my first e-book, Tips for Those Contemplating Insanity. It contains 15 tips I've found useful for coping with overwhelming situations, and I'm already hearing back from people who love it. The e-book is available for free when you sign up for the Creativity's Workshop Newsletter.

After completing that e-book, I decided I should write something which specifically dealt with the stress and guilt writers often feel. As writers, we're under a lot of pressure to be creative, to pump out work, to accept criticism, to market ourselves etc. I personally find this takes the fun out of writing and saps me of energy – sometimes even leaving me too stressed to face the page.

So I wanted to write something which would free me (and other writers) from this pressure – a book with comforting reminders, helpful tips and gentle reassurance. Unfortunately, it's so much fun to write, and there are so many areas to cover, that it's turning into a far longer project than my last one! Still, I'm enjoying the journey and am really pleased with how it's coming together.

If you need your bike repaired, shoe resoled, keys cut or any number of other handy jobs done, you can find someone on the side of the street with the equipment and skills. Fascinating conversations are all part of the service.

And how about your novel?

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNo WriMo) last November I started writing a novel about Edward, an English businessman whose company sends him to China for work. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to take my Chinese experiences and wind them into a plot.

Because Edward writes manuals for a living (like moi) I'm experimenting with turning the novel into a manual for life in China, while weaving in plot throughout. It's still in experimental stages (such fun!) and full of sparkling potential. I can't wait to see how to comes together.

What are your writing dreams? If I could wave a magic wand and give you exactly what you wanted, writing-wise, what would it look like?

The confidence to believe in my ideas, to write my words, to market my work, to interact with other writers, and to bring humour, inspiration and entertainment to my readers – without the fear of not being good enough or losing my creative voice.

The skills/ability to craft stories, delve into characters and polish my work so that everything I work on will be good enough to be released to readers.

The freedom to explore plots, creative concepts and projects without having to worry about a bank balance or what others might think of the outcome.

The energy to complete all the projects spinning in my mind. Basically, it would look like lots and lots of my books available to be enjoyed by readers.

Oh, and while you're at it, can I have a lifetime supply of exquisite journals and perfect pens?

Now, how big a wand to you need? I'm sure we can get one made in China…

*Dyspepsia means indigestion.  (Editor's Note: I had to ask Jessica to remind me what it means.)


Isn't Jessica wonderful?  Before you go visit her blog, what's your take-away from the interview?  Please leave a comment.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Do you have an e-book in you like Jessica?  What are you an expert in that you could write about?

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