Failures – Part I

This blog was originally published November 27, 2017, on my Only for the Brave blog, which is being eliminated as I decided to merge the two blogs. Because failure is an important part of succeeding for writers, I felt it was worthwhile reprinting the series about failure here.


So many times, I’ve witnessed students and new writers exclaim that successful writers never failed.

That’s when I would share this list of successful people who failed early in their careers.

When I shared this list with my students, immediately I had their attention. I knew what they were thinking: well, if that person could fail and still be successful, then there’s hope for me!

Everyone, absolutely everyone, unless they are a savant, start their craft as a beginner and will encounter failures.

Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few, and more often than not they will experience failure somewhere else in their career. Or they’ll stop with that one huge successful book fearing failure if they continue. Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind, was one such person. Truman Capote, of In Cold Blood, was yet another.

Here’s a list of successful people who failed:

  • Dr. Seuss was rejected 23 times.
  • Michael Jordon was cut from high school basketball.
  • Henry Ford went broke 5 times.
  • Helen Keller graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, became a famous author & lecturer.
  • Albert Einstein was rejected by the University of Bern on his Ph.D. dissertation saying it was irrelevant and fanciful. (And if not for his wife who typed the papers and submitted them, he never would have been published.)
  • Richer Hooker worked 7 years on M*A*S*H and was rejected by 21 publishers.
  • Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for lack of ideas.
  • Beethoven’s violin teacher declared him hopeless as a composer.
  • IBM, GE, RCA all rejected the Xerox machine.
  • Parker Brothers turned down Trivia Pursuit.
  • Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Maurice Chevalier, Shirley Temple, and Laurence Olivier all failed their screen tests.
  • Fred Astaire was cited in a memo by MGM executive after his first screen tests in 1933 that he “can’t act, slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
  • John Grisham’s book, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers.
  • William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies, was rejected 21 times.
  • Pearl Buck’s book, The Good Earth, was rejected 14 times.
  • George B. Shaw’s first five novels were rejected.
  • Mary Higgins Clark’s first short story was rejected 40 times.
  • Louis L’Armour’s first story was rejected 350 times.
  • Stephen King was rejected 41 times before his first manuscript was accepted.

Doesn’t this list give you hope? Sure did me!

Bottom line: The only ones who really fail are those who give up!

Posted in Blogging, Failures, Inspiration, Motivation, writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Personal Traits and Deepening Characters

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group

July question: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

Personal Traits & Deepening Characters

Currently writing a romance series of seven novellas, I’m starting the first draft of the fourth novella, Buried Hearts.

The first one, Shattered Dreams, is already published, with first drafts for the second and third, Burning Desire and Arrested Pleasures respectively written.

Because I’m writing the last first drafts of the last six before any more are published, it meant plotting the stories and creating the characters all at the same time.

Seven couples, seven romances, seven stories, with either the hero or heroine, if not both, all went to school together. Most were in the same graduating class, with two of them a class ahead of the rest. Some are best friends, some dated in high school, some wanted to date the other in high school but didn’t.

In Buried Hearts, Clint Anderson, a life-long resident of Laurel Ridge where all the stories take place, is giving a fiftieth wedding anniversary party for his parents and has hired balloonist, Gabriella (Gabby) King. He gets to know Gabby during the flight with his parents, and he’s smitten.

A long time ago, I learned when developing strong and interesting characters, I need to go deep. Down into the dark where their secrets are hidden. Secrets they haven’t talked about and feel ashamed to let others learn.

I learned that those secrets, those wounds drive that character. That secret determines how they act, what they do, what they wish for. Because I know all these things before I write word one, I’ve become a monster plotter.

Because all seven novellas take place within the same time period, I’m now in the process of plotting out their events on a monster spreadsheet. Did I tell you how much I love spreadsheets?

Plotting spreadsheet

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgePurpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!


Posted in Blogging, Characters, Inspiration, Laurel Ridge novellas, Motivation, Publishing books, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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?

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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.

Posted in Errors when writing, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment