Making a Difference

Have you ever uttered, “Why bother? It won’t make a difference,” or something like that?

Yeah, I have. Lots of times.

When I started writing and putting my work out in the public forum, I figured few would read my writing, but make a difference? Nah.

Every now and then, a person here and there would contact me via the phone or USPS (pre-Internet), telling me how my published piece affected them that day. As a blessing. As something they needed to hear. As something that made them think. As a reminder. Or, as pure entertainment that took them away from their problem(s) for a bit of time.

I didn’t think too much of those incidences as they were few and far between, though they did make me smile, and I’d put them in my scrapbook. I still didn’t believe I was making a difference. Me? From small town U.S.A.? Who the heck was I to think I could make a difference?

Years later, I started teaching. I watched as students became unblocked. They told me how they were loving writing again or loved writing for the first time ever. That they now understood grammar and punctuation better. Or, how the teacher from grade school or high school who had told them that they’d never be a writer had done them a disservice.

Because of an earlier experience during my bachelor’s degree where I was shown that I was plagiarizing, despite what I had been taught in high school, I became more and more interested in the subject, discovering it was huge problem but little publicized. I started teaching my students on how to avoid plagiarism because I saw them making the same mistake I had made. I wanted plagiarism to never be an issue for them, because not knowing was never an accepted excuse; being accused of plagiarism had and still has dire consequences.

At the time, I had a co-worker who said about my focus on helping students avoid plagiarism and taking the concern university-wide, “Why are you trying to hard? It’s not like you’re going to change the world.”

I forged ahead anyway, because I cared.

My students showed me I was making a difference via their papers. They told me, too. At least, I was making a difference in a small area of the world: my classrooms.

And then later, I graduated with my last degree having written a dissertation, Teaching Students About Plagiarism: What It Looks Like and How It Is Measured, that I chose to make as a free publication, because of the research discovery I made regarding two major studies. One study was pre-Internet, the other post-Internet, where the percentage of actual plagiarism had not changed, which countered those who said the Internet was to blame. That discovery begged the question that became my book’s topic. In publishing the book, I asked to received a monthly summary of its activity.

The book was published in June 2013. To date it has been downloaded 1,499 times to 246 different educational, commercial, organizational, governmental, military, and library institutions in 81 different countries across both North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Had I not requested that monthly summary, I would have never known the extent of its reach.

Have I made a difference? I’d like to think so, both as a writer and as a scholar in this case.

Believe it or not, we all make a difference, regardless of our field of work or where we live: as parents, teachers, military, fire, police, utilities, clerks, assistants, medical, artists, entertainers, rescue, therapists, non-profits, neighbors, communities, and as citizens.

We ALL make a difference and in many different ways throughout our individual lifetimes.

One of the ways where I’ve made a difference just happens to show up on a world-wide map.

So, to those of you who have others trying to stomp on your dreams, your ambitions, your goals, your work…

Ignore the noise and follow your own path.

Posted in Blogging, Inspiration, Motivation, Persistance | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Down the Rabbit Hole a.k.a. Life’s Little Hiccups & Big Booms

I’m behind in my writing.


I wish I could say that I don’t know how it happens, but I do.

While I accuse Life of sticking out its foot and tripping me so that I’ll look funny with arms flailing as I attempt to regain my balance and where other times I just fall badly, needing time to get back up and recover, it’s a lie.

Small trip-ups have been flat tires, weather issues that mess up my plans, tripping over my feet and bruising my shin and skinning my knee, bumping into furniture corners, dropping dishes of food on the floor, forgetting to pay a bill on time…

Big Booms occur when there’s a huge life-event for someone close to me such as an illness or death, where my computer is having major issues that take days to fix, or being in a multi-car accident that totals my car.

One thing I do know is that Life loves to mess up my plans. No, that’s not true either. Life has no emotions, no feelings. Life has no purpose, no goal, no intention.

Life just is.

A rabbit hole where our time escapes us in a reality of unrealism.

During the last six weeks, I’ve been dealing with an illness of my own creation, the worst kind of rabbit hole. Because of allergies, I’m no longer able to eat dairy foods. Of. Any. Kind.

Goodbye pizza, my beloved. Goodbye favorite comfort foods of lasagna, spaghetti, macaroni & cheese.

Ice cream!?  NO! You can’t leave! How will I survive without you?

It was that love of ice cream that got me in trouble. I didn’t just eat it once. I ate it five days in a row! Feeling no consequences, I was safe, right?


After much consultation, blood tests, and journaling what I ate and reactions, my rabbit hole unreality now consists of avoiding foods that are processed; all foods that I’m allergic to (tomatoes, garlic, vanilla, pork, hazelnut, raspberries, blueberries, casein, cow’s milk, pineapple, cauliflower, coffee, cashew, lemon, salmon, pear, orange, peas, green pepper, kidney bean, paprika, cod, flounder, cola nut, peanut, pecan, and sesame); all sugar except raw honey and pure maple syrup; and all grains, first because of the gluten that I have to avoid, and because I believe our grains are saturated with poisons that have been eliminated in every other country except ours.

To sum it up, I have a leaky gut and six months ago, my body’s inflammation level was at 20%. Today, my inflammation is down to just over 4%. I suspect most of that inflammation was in my gut. And, I was feeling great.

Well, at least I did until I consumed that daily week-long ice cream agenda.

Stupid me.

So, how did these past six weeks become a rabbit hole because I ate ice cream? Quite simply, my body reacted, culminating from an allergic reaction to what I thought was bronchitis. Even the doctor thought so when I went in after four weeks trying to control an uncontrollable cough. The prescription was steroids.

Two weeks later, I went to my regular doctor and discovered it wasn’t bronchitis at all. It was an infected sinus that required an antibiotic, not steroids.

For that six weeks, day after day I lay there, a couch potato with no energy, not even for reading, just thinking about my writing, or rather the lack of it as I felt as if I had become a professional procrastinator.

No one could help me. Only I had the power to climb out of this rabbit hole.

Life isn’t going to rest on its laurels and leave me without trip-ups and big booms.

At the end of my rabbit-hole journey, I’ve learned two things:

First, good health can’t be taken for granted. If I choose to eat stupidly in the future, I will have a stupid outcome. There’s no more thinking that this will be a test. Maybe there’s a chance…  No! The results are in; the food is forbidden.

Second, my writing can’t be taken for granted either. That if I want to write, I have to choose to write. During those major rabbit-hole BOOMS!, I will consider what I learned during my rabbit-hole summer, which I originally posted last fall.

Overall, however, there is no white knight, er white rabbit that I can follow.

It’s all on me.

My Rabbit Hole Summer – originally published October 2, 2018, Only for the Brave blog

Where did the summer go?

Here it is, the beginning of October, solidly into fall, and as I look back at this past year, I feel that I have nothing to show for it. What did I do all that time?

More accurately, I know what I didn’t do. Writing.

I thought about writing a lot. I talked about it even more.  And, I took a number of classes to learn how to become a better writer.  So, I guess, there is that. I did learn a lot through the various classes. Rebecca (Becca) Syme’s class, Writing Better Faster was just what I needed to get me out of my slump.

In her class, I discovered the big reason why I wasn’t writing. I’ve learned that major life-events shut down my creative process.  While I can edit, polish, and get a manuscript formatted, it’s impossible for me to create new words on a new project, meaning getting a first draft done is extremely difficult.

When I think back over other life-events when I wasn’t writing, I remember my sister dying while I was writing my dissertation, which was technical, non-fiction writing, not creative by any means. Because the writing was non-creative and I had a deadline, I was able to bury myself into the task. At the time, I felt like she was always with me, looking over my shoulder as I worked because it as the type of writing she would have done, which were non-fiction journalism pieces. She was really good at it.

Becca’s class was a month-long class and included taking three psychological-type personality tests, which I had done two previously at work and the last through another recent class.  Using those results and meeting with Becca one-on-one through Skype, I discovered there was a logical reason for my so-called writing silence over the summer, in fact for the past year. Where I was activity driven to clean out files, both electronic and paper, clean out and reorganize my bookshelves, go through the stacks of magazines and read piles of articles I’d saved, and other such activities. Another life-event had occurred.

What made Becca’s class special is that she took these test results, which in business was used to see how I fit in with my peers, and she attached them toward my writing. She was able to tell me what my best writing styles and techniques were and how I should use them to become a better writer and/or a faster writer!

For someone who likes to know the why behind anything, I was hoping for some aha moments and I got them. Several in fact. The biggest aha moment was the one I shared above. When I learned that, I stopped beating myself up, and stopped thinking I had been lazy.

Now, I’m better able to plan my schedule based on my new-realized strengths and can easily deal with the other tasks that received major procrastination. I now know how to deal with them.

Are you interested in finding out how you can become a better and/or faster writer? Becca gives classes every other month.

To join the class, go here:

If you’d rather be notified about an upcoming class, here’s that link:

Here’s the link to sign up for her newsletter:

As to my writing: I’m happy to report that over the weekend I finished the first draft of Burning Desire, the second of my Laurel Ridge novellas. And I’m now developing the characters for Arrested Pleasures, the third story in the series.


March 30, 2019 Update: Arrested Pleasure‘s first draft is written, and the characters and plots for the remaining four novellas in the series have been developed.

Looks like I might not be as behind as I thought. 🙂

Posted in Motivation, Persistance, Procrastination, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Year Means New Opportunities: But Wait It’s February Already!

Okay, I admit it, I’m a bit behind. But since there’s a meme on Facebook that says January was a practice month, that 2019 started with February, I’m on time!

Because it is the new year, it’s time to talk about goals. Or rather about goal-making.

Not successful at achieving your goals? Maybe I can help.

The SMART goal approach is becoming a hot item among writers; well, at least with two, Maris Soule and Diane Burton I know through my writer’s group, Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America (MMRWA). In fact, both recently blogged about making 2019 goals using the SMART method.

I learned about SMART goals when I taught English classes at Davenport University, a business college. Our students saw the SMART goals methodology used in most of their classes. All the committees I worked on used them, too. In those committees, spreadsheets were used to identify and then track our goals.

Is it any wonder I learned to love spreadsheets? Well, actually, no. I was already in love with spreadsheets before my academic employment. My love for spreadsheets occurred when I was working at W.K. Kellogg Institute for food & nutrition research, where I was a liaison between the cooks there and the procurement department at Kellogg headquarters. I had a wonderful supervisor who taught me how to create cell formulas and create pages that talked to each other. Some of those skills I was able to teach to my academic peers, and now I continue teaching those skills to my writer friends.

I’m big on goals. So are Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, and Norman Vincent Peale. These three men, through their books which I read in my 20s, showed me the value of having SMART goals, even though they weren’t called SMART back then. Well, at least, not in their books.

I’m a fan of making to-do lists, too. Daily ones. So, naturally, my goals end up on my daily to-do lists. I have a master lifetime list of goals, a yearly list, which then gets broken down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals.

Do I achieve all these goals? Heavens no. But, here’s the secret. Because of these lists, I achieve way more than I if I didn’t have goals or the lists.

Only when I start getting specific with the weekly and daily tasks is when I start crossing off items. The more items I cross off the list, the more I want to do. It’s truly addictive. And, there’s something magical about writing the goals down. If you’re already a list maker, you already know the best part of any list is crossing it off the items. It’s a rare day, though, when I cross off all tasks.

So, what is the SMART goal?  It’s an acronym for:



Action Oriented


Time Bound

SMART goals are why I love our writing group spreadsheet so much, because it’s a way to Measure the Specific, Time-Bound, Action-Oriented, Realistic, monthly, writing goals we individually set up. I use present tense verbs, or as infinitives (To + Verb) when writing the goals:

  • To finish editing [book title]
  • To clean out files
  • Research [book title]
  • Write one chapter of [book title]

I then take those goals and break them down into daily, sizeable chunks, doable in 10-15 minutes, others in an hour or so and place them in planner’s calendar. In the years I’ve been doing this, there’s only one month where I completed all the goals. Most of the time, I feel good to accomplished half of them.

Without the spreadsheet, without the SMART goals, I wouldn’t be doing much. Yup, I’m that lazy. That forgetful. Get that sidetracked. I refer to my list multiple times throughout the day.

Bottom line, it really doesn’t take a new year to create new opportunities. Each day is a new opportunity to start a SMART goal, even at 11:55 p.m.  After all, a lot can be done in five minutes. Such as creating a goals list for the year.

So, what are my goals for this year?

  • To republish two of my first three books published. The first one, Determined Hearts, is already published.
  • To plot out the four remaining novellas in my Laurel Ridge novella series. The first one, Shattered Dreams, is published. #2 & #3 have the first drafts written. Ideally, I’d like to write the first drafts for the remaining four, then start publishing them at the end of this year and next.
  • To edit 2-3 screenplays and publish them. My first screenplay, David & Goliath is already published.
  • To sort materials for writing how-to series
  • To plot out a historical (can’t decide if as a novel or a screenplay)
  • To write quarterly blogs (A huge improvement over last year’s few postings)
  • To schedule on calendar promotional days throughout the year. DONE!!! (On these days, I’ll spend creating Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest promotional posts and/or ads. During 2018, I recognized I was doing promotions 80% of the time, writing only 20%. I want to flip those percentages.)

Actually, I do have a few more goals, but you get the idea. And you can see how I cross them off and write DONE at the end of the line. It’s both thrilling and fulfilling to write DONE.

And, that’s what this blog is: DONE! One-quarter of the way done for this quarter’s blogs.

So, how about you? Do you use SMART goals? Does this blog make you want to try using them?

Posted in Goals, Inspiration, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

9 Tips to Creating Inspiration

Inspiration doesn’t just happen. Inspiration is the reaction of doing something else first. In all good stories, characters act and then react. In the same way, there are actions, you, as a writer, must act first. The inspiration will follow. Here are nine different actions, different ways of getting started with the writing so that the reaction of inspiration can follow:

 1. Create a regular workspace and/or workplace.

Some settings or locations will inspire you to write more than others. Find those locations that work best for you. I know one writer who prefers bookstores and coffee shops. Another prefers the backyard deck with her legs propped on a chair and the computer in his lap. The best locations are those where you can easily move into your zone. Quickly.

Caution: Don’t get so married to your inspired locations, though, that you can’t work anywhere else. Which brings us to the next point.

2. Learn to write anywhere.

I know some writers who say they can’t write where it’s noisy. Putting conditions on your surroundings will create limits of 1) when you can write, 2) where you can write, 3) what you can write.

I’ve been able to write in airports, playgrounds, on a bus, train, plane, or in a car. I’ve written in various restaurants and coffee shops. I’ve written while standing in line, while sitting in traffic at a long stop light, or while waiting for a long train.

If a place is particularly noisy or has annoying background music, use headphones and listen to your own preferred music. In fact, the mere action of listening to your music will put you in the zone more quickly than you can imagine.

Regardless of where I am, once I start writing, soon, the world around me disappears. Yes, I’m cognizant of what’s going on around me, but those people and the noise don’t disturb the bubble I’m in, the thought process, the writing.

3. Learn to write both by hand and by machine.

If you limit yourself to just one mode of writing, you limit opportunities to write.

By being flexible. I’ve been able to add pages by hand, which once I get home, I’d type up, editing as I typed, often doubling the word count.

4. Carry your work with you.

Never leave home without some kind of writing: outline, printouts of the pages that need editing, or a scrap of an idea of a scene that you can flesh out by hand.

I wrote an entire book in mere moments because I always carried the last pages completed or an outline with me everywhere. The bulk of writing time came from lunch hours, where I had a sandwich in one hand and my pencil in the other.

While driving, I can dictate dialogue. Then when I get home, I’m writing around that dialogue. With today’s electronics, dictating where the machine can write the text is the way to go. You can clean up its errors later.

I enjoy editing more when I’m not at my computer, when I’m waiting somewhere or for someone. I’m focused, and generally uninterrupted, on the task.

5. Write first, reward yourself after.

E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and our phones distract us. Write first, then check your media or e-mail. You’ll be surprised how much more you can get done in a day by writing first than if you wait until the end of the day to do the writing.

 6. Schedule writing & honor the appointment.

Too often, we treat writing like a task on our To-Do List. Then, we don’t write because we’re tired or it’s too difficult, having delayed the task all day. Before we know it, a whole week has passed with no writing.

Treat writing like an appointment. Don’t bump that appointment unless it’s for an extremely important, serious reason.

7. Write every day.

Cultivate the habit of regular writing. Every day or, at least, five days a week. Minimum. It means putting your butt in the chair and just doing it, whether you feel like it or not.

8. Be willing to write crap.

Give yourself permission to write garbage. Garbage is good. In fact, a first draft should not be about creating perfection. The second draft is where you’ll rewrite by moving paragraphs and sentences, deleting words that don’t fit, and adding words to clarify the meaning, to add missing scenes.

Following drafts will be about more rewriting, then revising, and then finally dealing with the errors, which is where the perfection phase is performed. Trying to write perfection from the beginning stop you in your tracks. Guaranteed. You’ll begin to feel uninspired because you’re not created that perfection you hear/see in your head.

Stop trying to edit while you write first drafts!

9. Just gut it out – just get the first draft done.

The best writers, the most successful writers don’t worry about or wait for inspiration. Nor, do they try for perfection in that first draft.

They just write. Day after day without analyzing or criticizing what they’ve already written.

They just do it. They gut it out and get it done. Only when it’s done, can the analyzing, the rewriting, the editing begin.

In summary:

  • Write that first draft without editing.
  • Write it fast!
  • Write regularly.
Posted in Inspiration, writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Eyes Have It–Or Do They?


Her eyes flew across the room.

His eyes dropped to her chest.

These two examples are typical detached body parts I see in written literature, more often than not, from beginners. I don’t know about you, but for me, not only am I jerked out of the reading, but I feel like I’m reading a Frankenstein-like horror tale when reading these phrases in a story.

The word that should be used is gaze, not eyes.

Even then does one’s gaze fly? No. Instead, a gaze moves across the room.

Can his gaze drop to her chest? Yes.

What’s the difference, you ask?

In the latter example, the gaze is moving downward, so drop is appropriate. In the former, flying is reserved for planes, birds, kites, and clouds. While our gazes move, they don’t fly. They move across, forward as in looking farther forward across the room or down the road, down, up, just as our bodies move forward, up, down, etc. Since we can’t fly, having a gaze fly doesn’t really work.

Bottom line: This stylistic issue is a detail, and the little details matter. I’ve heard and read where some say that they’re okay with this usage of eyes, saying that eyes and gazes do the same thing. Eyes do gaze. but eyes cannot fly across the room, not unless you take them out of the body and toss them. Literally.

To me, these awkward, unattached body parts jerk me out of the story and if I’m jerked out of it too many times, especially in quick succession, I’ll stop reading not only the book and probably the author, as well.

Was I ever guilty of this awkward style of writing? In the beginning, yes I was, until someone pointed it out to me. Thus began my exchange of gaze for those disembodied eyes. My goal is to always improve my writing, create my own style.

Are there stylistic moves I make that others might disagree with? Most certainly, but I know why I’m making those moves and I do so with purpose. That’s a topic for another blog.

In this particular case, in my opinion, the eyes don’t have it.

A strong, steady gaze from across the room will capture me every time.

Posted in Errors when writing, Stylistic Choices | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

If My Characters Feel So Real, How Can They Be Imaginary?

My life as a writer has provided me many meetings—some fun and some strange.

Fun meetings involve other writers, some best-selling authors, new authors, and many writes in between. Many have become friends.

Other fun meetings involve readers. Their enthusiasm is catching, and they always have great ideas regarding my characters, which always leads me down a path of thoughtful consideration.

I’ve met and become friends with lots of characters, too. Many of these characters that I’ve read about were created by other writers, and some of these characters came into my life via my hand. I wish I could say that I fully created them. They mostly just pop into my life, fully formed, wanting me to write down their stories.

Such was the meeting of yesterday’s character. Only this character is dark and sinister—not the usual, traditional, likeable character that I want to get to know. Generally, I have to probe to learn about my characters—particularly the wounds they are struggling to overcome, which creates the conflict in the stories. Just as in real life, the wounds are buried deep, so it takes time—often weeks—to reveal these wounds.

But this guy was different. He wasn’t hiding a thing.

So there I was, at one of my favorite restaurants in this small community. The place was crowded, every booth and table taken with people standing at the door waiting.

While waiting for my order to arrive, I was reading, as I typically do when dining alone. I was reading Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, a thriller for sure. Most definitely, it’s a dark story, and I was hooked, oblivious to everyone else around me.

All of a sudden this imaginary character—a drop-dead gorgeous hunk of a man with dark hair and dark eyes—sat down opposite me and said, “I know you.”

And then, he just stared. Waiting. Watching. And sharing his story.

The story, which includes a shocking ending, spewed from his mind to mine telepathically and with a gaze that never wavered. Seeing the end of the story, I broke out in goosebumps and felt my skin crawl.

I have other commitments, I argued.

He didn’t care. He’s wasn’t interested in knowing what I’m already working on, what my plan of writing projects looks like for the rest of the year.

Nope, it’s didn’t matter.

His wound was easy to see. No digging needed on my part.

He’s scary. He’s dark. He’s shallow and yet deep. He’s the bad boys of bad boys, but not in a good way or a fun way. He’s not someone you want in your house at all. That kind of scary.

Looks like I’ll be working on several projects, simultaneously. I have no choice. To get rid of him I have to write the story, and I’m not willing to postpone or abandon the others—even if for a short time.

A story that is going to lead me into the dark, spooky corners of an individual or two, who feels as real as any breathing, talking, blood-in-their-veins person in my life.

I can hardly wait.


Posted in Characters, Inspiration, writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

As a Writer Should I Blog? What Should I Write?

Often, when a new writer finds out that I blog, I’m asked one or more of the following questions:

Should I blog?

Blogging has different definitions depending on whom you ask. I liken blogging to the old newspaper and magazine columns that we used to read: humor essays, advice columns, recipes, parental or marriage advice, and so forth. For me, blogs should entertain or provide information.

It’s one thing to have a blog that only promotes your work, and it’s another to have a website that features your books, your presentations, your book signings, and where you have a blog, too.

What should I blog about?

1) Your blog should be entertaining or provide information. Entertain by telling a story or provide helpful information about what you do. Share what you know or how you do it. Share stories that involve other writers or your travels. Read other blogs to see what they do. Which ones hold your interest and why?

2) Write each blog so that includes a beginning, a middle, and an end, whether in telling a story or providing information.

3) If your goal is to have readers return to your blog, do you have a place where they can subscribe?

Can I talk about my book at all?

 Most certainly! But in a blog, do it in a way that entertains or provides information about its creation. Anecdotes help sell books but only if you can make that information entertaining. Readers and writers are interested in how you spend your time, what you do every day.

Do I have to blog?

Blogging isn’t for everyone, and not all writers blog. In fact, have you noticed that big-name writers have promotional websites but no blogs. How come? They’re busy writing!!!

I used to write a weekly newspaper column and I remember the time it took to produce those columns. I swore when I began blogging that I would not become a slave to the blog, but guess what? I’ve done just that.

My goal at the beginning of the year was to post in each blog each month. Well, duh! In doing the math, I’m writing a blog a week!  And it’s starting to take away from my story-writing time! So, I’m changing my schedule. I’m going to return to writing the blogs as a fun downtime activity when I need to get away from a story. When I still want to be writing and sharing but when I don’t want to be working on a piece of fiction.

While I admire those writers who can write and blog every week, I’m not one of those people.

My advice that comes from my own lesson learned here is that writing time for my books shouldn’t be sacrificed to the blogs. For me, blogging will be a reward for meeting my writing goals.

What do you think? Do you have a blog schedule you struggle to maintain? Are you a long-time blogger with tricks you’d like to share? Are you a beginning blogger who’s still trying to find a good fit?

Posted in Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When is a Book Ready for a Beta Reader?

I gave a presentation recently, “Self-Editing Made Easier,” to a group of writers who are at varying levels regarding their careers: some are new writers, just finishing the first draft of their first book; a few have multiple books out; a few are traditionally published; and a few going the self- or indie-publishing route.

I was asked, “At what point in my writing, should I give my material to a beta reader?”

My initial response was, when the writing is polished. Discussion followed as to what polished meant. That answer was easy: when it’s ready to send to an agent or publisher, or for the self-published, when the writer believes it is ready to be published.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about my response of when to involve a beta reader, and I began thinking about my own critique group and the readings we do for each other versus the manuscripts I give to my beta readers.

If I could go back to that meeting, here’s what my response would be now:  Whatever you want that beta read to be; whatever you want to get out of them reading your work.

To that end, I think there are two types of beta reads.

Organizational Beta Read

The writer believes there are no more holes, that the characters are likable and believable.

Overall, the job of a beta reader here is to:

  • Find plot holes – where events or the order of events just don’t make sense.
  • Determine if the main characters are likable/unlikable, as the case may be, and to tell the writer why or why not.
  • Point out areas of muddy or unclear meaning. Simply put, some scenes need clarification or more details in order to make sense.
  • Determine if there is too much or not enough backstory if this is a book in a continuing series.

Often readers will discover an author with a later book in the series, not knowing the history of the character up until this time. Consequently, it is the writer’s job to provide just enough of that backstory so that the reader can understand the character’s motives and wounds, but not so much that the reader is bored. That means backstory must be trickled in here and there, like bread crumbs leading the way out of the forest for Hansel and Gretel; but in this case, the bread crumbs lead the way backward into the earlier stories for the reader.

With this particular beta read, there is no focus on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This type of beta read is often performed in a critique group. The writers want to know early on in the writing before they have polished the writing, if the plot and characters are working. Often, the readers are getting chapters as they are written, because for these writers, it is easier to change the plot here, learning that something does work, rather than making coming back and making major changes once the draft is completed.

The crucial part here is that the writer must tell the readers up front not to worry about the grammatical errors. Instead, they are to be ignored.

Also, before the reading occurs, the writer needs to provide these readers with a short list of problem areas, where the writer already knows that there is a problem.

In most cases, this Organizational Beta Read is just that—a read to spotlight the plot and characterization—and nothing more.

Polished Copy Beta Read

This is the manuscript that has been polished by the writer. Supposedly, all errors have been removed, sentences rewritten, best word choices made, consistent character traits, hair, eye color, and the spelling of their names. Everything is correct and everything makes sense.

The goal for this beta reader is to find any error, any hole, anything that doesn’t make sense.

In conclusion, a beta read can be and should be anything you, as a writer, want it to be. Regardless if the manuscript is a first draft, a polished draft, or a draft in between, clearly communicate what you want from your beta reader.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a beta reader than to discover after the reading 1) that they should have been looking for something in particular, or 2) that they didn’t need to read it as a polished draft when in fact it was a first draft.

So, when is a writing ready for a beta reader?

Answer: Whenever you’re needing feedback. Just be sure to indicate what kind of feedback you’re seeking.

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I’m not inspired to write…now, what do I do?

Because I’m on various writing forums, I hear new writers asking, How do I write when I’m not inspired?

When I was a beginning writer, I wrote when inspired. At the time, I had a lot to say. My creative wells, my introspective thoughts had an outlet. Finally.

However, in that those writings, I didn’t consider audience. I didn’t consider structure. I had words on paper due to major streams of consciousness. I had no plan, no goal, so my writing was pure enjoyment.

I wrote because I wanted to. Because I had to. I was exorcising demons. I was opening up wounds and voicing feelings that once relegated to the shadows were now in full sunshine view.

And, then, the drought came.

I had nothing new to write. All my ideas were used up. I had sold some magazine articles but not at the level I wanted. The rejections far outnumbered my sales.

I needed to create new ideas and that’s where the writing became difficult. Additionally, I was young and uneducated, so my ideas were limited by my expertise, of which I had little unless I continued to write about motherhood, marriage, and gardening, none of which interested me anymore as a writer.

So, I started to write fiction. My stories had good beginnings and I knew what the endings would look like, but the journey getting there was like traveling into the desert and getting lost, where the creative juices just dried up, with no water, no oasis in sight. I was trapped among the desert dunes, also known as the sagging middle. I didn’t know what the characters should do, let alone what they should say.

Later, I would discover that I needed to plot more and panster less. But, that’s another blog.

Even after become a plotter and developed solid outlines before the real writing began, the first pages would come fast, followed by days of where I had no inspiration. I knew what the scene should look like, but, oh, putting the picture in my head into words on the page was difficult. The words wouldn’t come. One day, in fact, I sat in front of a blank screen for ten hours. Ten hours! I would start to type, then delete it. I started many sentences and removed every one of them, because nothing sounded right. To me, the writing sounded awful and continued into more awfulness.

How did successful writers do it? I wondered. So, I investigated. Here’s what I learned:

Inspiration isn’t something a writer can wait for or afford to wait for.

There are no shortcuts to inspiration.

There can be hours, days, and even weeks where lots of uninspired writing occurs.

Beginning writers often believe they can’t write unless inspired, but in reality, it’s the other way around.

Waiting for inspiration to occur before you can write is like reading the reaction of a character before the action has occurred. In stories, action occurs first, then the reaction.

In the performance of any writing—regardless of genre, length, audience, or media—the action of doing the writing occurs first. Inspiration will follow. For me, I’m not inspired again until I have completed the first draft, which is why I write the first draft as fast as I can.   That’s another blog, too.

Once I’ve finished that first draft, my inspiration is as high—if not higher—as when I first thought of the idea or when I’ve completed the full outline for the story.

Granted, the initial idea, the seed for the project, is the genesis of a story’s inspiration, but the writing of the idea is gritty work, sometimes dull work, and often painful work: it’s all about putting your butt in the chair and doing the hours, doing the work.

Just start. Don’t strive for perfection. Don’t delete. Don’t edit. Don’t analyze. Don’t second-guess yourself. And, don’t go back and keep rereading from the beginning.

Just write.


Regardless of whether the writing is good or bad.

That’s the secret of eventual successful writing.

The inspiration will come.

P.S. This particular blog went through several complete rewrites, with my not feeling inspired at all. I felt like I was going around in circles. Finally, I realized I was trying to cram three blogs into one. Major cuts occurred. My inspiration and my smile returned with this last draft as I proofed it.

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Creating a Cover

For the past month, I’ve been involved with designing two books covers, or rather, I’ve had two different cover designers creating them for me.  In both instances, I had an original vision, but in one instance, I had created an earlier cover myself and tried to go forward with that design.  Thus, that’s the journey I report here.

Once upon a time, I published a book that I titled Fuss and Feathers.  I loved that title.  She was the fuss and he was the feathers, but the editor didn’t.  As a result, Fuss and Feathers became

The Man on the Romance Cover 2The Man on the Romance Cover, and it became the first book to launch the new line of Moonlight Romance by the Starlog Group, creating a romance book in a magazine format.

Personally, I hated the title.  I hated the cover, too.  As the author, I had no artistic control over either.

While the characters matched the faces I envision—after all I had sent magazine ad tear sheets of what I imagined these characters to look like—I didn’t imagine them in this state of undress . . . especially her.

That was the era of bodice rippers.

Then, I got my rights back but was busy with school—writing papers for classes, teaching, and fulfilling my role as administrator—so, the book got shelved for the time being.

Then self-publishing became easier to do.  I thought, why not?  The story was still good.  I’d have to change the cover, due to not owning its copyright, and I wanted to change the title, anyway, along with my name and getting rid of the previous marriage pseudonym.

So, the new book with a new cover became

DH Diana's front coverDetermined Hearts.

At the time, I liked the cover.  I spent time learning new software and probably should have spent more time with the software.  I published it on Smashwords hoping for the best.  Unfortunately, there were no sales.  Nothing.  Of course, I wasn’t promoting it, and now that I think back on it, I can say my not liking the cover probably influenced my lack of promotion.  Consequently, I unpublished it.

Which brings us to February 2016.

I was ready to do the book justice.  The story was still good after I re-read it, at least in my opinion, though it did need updating and having errors that six other editors didn’t catch, fixed.

I contacted a designer, telling her that I wanted to put my hero in the background and possibly add a camera, placing it on the rock.  After all, the chipmunk, camera, and eagle were featured in the book, so why not?

We ended up with this:  Determined Hearts - Cover Final High Resolution

While said I was okay with the image as it had been my vision and we’d gone to a LOT of trouble finding the right body and matching it with a different head (the wonders of artistic manipulation!), there was something not right with the picture.  And, I couldn’t determine what that something was.

I knew the eagle wasn’t right, nor the camera, despite how many times we tweaked it and how much I wanted them there.  Even the bright light in the background bothered but I couldn’t say why.

And then, I saw the entire flat – the back and front cover combined, with the designer having chosen the back cover landscape. (But yeah, overall, it doesn’t look good, does it?)

Determined Hearts Full Cover - Flat with old ebook cover

Immediately, I knew what was wrong.

The back didn’t match the front and I loved, loved, LOVED the back cover landscape.  The front cover landscape was okay, but I loved the other more.

And then, she showed me the entire flatWooded Scene

and I was enamored.  This was my cover!  By now, we were both giddy about the future composition.

I wanted him placed on the front cover still, but up in the trees, reducing him in size.  We decided to place the chipmunk on the log.

Determined Hearts - Prototype Cover 2 (5)

The result:   A man who looks like he wants to ax murder a chipmunk!!!

(Are you laughing yet?)

I still laugh every time I look at this picture.  In all honesty, I can’t blame the designer.  She was following my wishes, my design.  Actually, she must have been cringing all along the way, wishing I wasn’t so stuck on my choices.

The landscape still looked good, but my hero had to go.  He was starting to look too angry, with an ax to grind.  (Groan.)

I needed a different hero.  In fact, I decided that the cover needed a couple.  The designer liked that idea.

I sent her a picture that I absolutely loved, asking if it was possible to use them on the cover even though they didn’t have legs showing and the fact that her hair was auburn rather than the blonde tresses that my original heroine was born with.

The designer sent me this. Determined Hearts - 1600 Cover eBook Final

Immediately, I knew this was my cover.

It was far easier for me to change the color of her hair within the pages then it would be for us to try tweaking the image.

And so, the cover was finished.

What a journey.  Probably close to 100 e-mail exchanges over several weeks, but we finally arrived a final product.

Behind the scenes, for any author who is self-publishing and working with a cover designer, there are a lot of decisions that go into creating a cover.  And, it’s always a collaboration—not always an easy one, but one that is totally worthwhile when the results are this fabulous.

Oh, and now we’re into the era of embraces and washboard chests.  I’m okay with that.

Update:  Determined Hearts is available for sale.




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