Tag Archives: A to Z challenge

Through the Window #atozchallenge


Quite possibly, the only Hanukkah song I’ve ever liked is the one that begins,

In my window where you can see the glow
From my menorah, on newly fallen snow

Menorahs have nothing to do with this post. Windows, however, do.

And that’s because I want you to stop and think about windows. About how you use them in your fiction.

Specifically, are they used as a diversion? To show that the character is ducking out on a difficult subject at hand? Is the author using the view out the window as a distraction from something that is difficult to write?

If not, are windows a way of bringing a bigger element into the scene? Do they widen the world-building? Does a lack of windows tighten the pace, the tension, the world-building?

Yep, on one level here, I’m talking about a literary device. It’s one that most authors aren’t aware they are using, because we’re told to use all our senses, and so it makes sense to expand those senses to what’s going on outside. Is there nothing in the house to feel? Then add some wind blowing outside. Nothing to smell? Add some flowers.

(First off, however, an author does not have to actually use all five senses in every scene. At least, not by the time the final draft gets uploaded. That’s a great exercise for first drafting and finding your way to the heart of the story — the puke on the page! — and then, as you revise, you can craft and shape out many of those unnecessary details.)

So think about your own work. Think about what you’re reading. (Because you ARE reading, right?) What purpose are the windows serving?

And if you’re using them to dodge something that’s difficult for the author or the character, is this a spot that could use a deeper push? Go and and get uncomfortable; you can always walk away if it’s too much.

But you can also come out with something brilliant.

Let me know how it goes for you.


To Ooze Unctuously #atozchallenge


One of those people who insist on living in my house and eating all my favorite foods has signed up to take a creative writing-fiction course next year in school. (To be fair, he does keep me in cookies, which he bakes himself.)

This really isn’t a post about food. It’s about how I groaned when I heard this. Not because I don’t want my kids to learn how to be good writers, especially of fiction. And not because I think all they need to do is read my blog and they’ll know how to be great writers.

But because there’s something about high school and teaching creative writing that puts an emphasis on big fancy words. Like Unctuous.

And the purple prose. “Shit,” he swore!

Oh, I can go on.

On the one hand, it’s great to take a bunch of high schoolers and encourage them to expand their vocabularies. But on the other hand, using words like unctuous is a dead-on signal to me that I’m dealing with a young writer. Someone who is still learning craft and is going to need… well, to have these sorts of words beaten out of them.

Now, fancy words like unctuous aren’t necessarily bad. I have come across spots where they are dead-on the right choice. But those spots are few and far between. I mean, say it. Unctuous. It leaves a slime coat on your tongue, does it not?


So here’s the point: sometimes, simple is best. Not all the time. But most of it.

And here’s the rule: don’t use fancy words and fancy language to impress your reader. Impress your reader with your knowledge of craft, of your ability to plot well, develop characters they want to spend time with, to write dialogue that rings true. And to use the right descriptive words, no matter how mundane and boring they are. (Did you see that? Mundane. Some would consider that word on the same plane as unctuous.)

Short and sweet today. Because I need to go find something to get the unctuous slime out of my mouth. But somehow, I have a bad feeling that if I go into the kitchen, my cupboards are going to be stripped pretty bare.

I do have young people who insist on living with me, after all. And they don’t like unctuous food any more than I do.

But they like the cookies even more.


Tip Me Over! #atozchallenge


Here is one I see All. The. Time.

Authors who put out a book, maybe two, and are immediately disappointed in their sales. Maybe they’ve done promo for it; usually if they have, it’s been minimal, sending out review copies and getting upset when they fall in the Black Hole of Reviewers, never to be heard from again (it happens more than you’d expect, and to everyone. Even me and Jett over at The Rock of Pages).

Keep writing, I always tell these antsy authors. Put more novels out. Build your network of contacts, and build your network of readers. But definitely put more novels out. Good novels, too, not garbage that you’re putting out to hit a magic number.

Since I began networking with other authors around the time I started self-publishing (in 2008, for those of you keeping track), one thing has held true: the tipping point for a novelist is around 5 to 6 novels.

What’s the tipping point?

It’s when you have enough books for sale that, if you market one of them, will somehow stimulate sales for the other four or five.

For some reason, you need five or six novels — not short story collections; sorry, folks! — on the market and available for readers to buy before readers will read one of your books and gobble up your backlist.

Why is this the magic number? I have no idea.

But I’ve seen it time and again.

That means you’d better get busy. And some editors, like me, love prolific authors. You guys keep us busy, and we’re here to be kept busy.

Really, there’s nothing to fear. Don’t fear bad sales. Don’t fear screwing up.

Okay, fear putting out a bad book… and then take steps to put out the best book possible.


To Series or not to Series #atozchallenge


Even before the rise of self-publishing as a viable publishing platform, authors were increasingly turning to writing series. Deadlines were getting tighter, but the worlds were familiar. The characters were familiar. And the readers wanted more.

Other than the deadlines, the other factors make sense. For a writer, being in a familiar world means you don’t have to engage in new worldbuilding, which is time-consuming and, frankly, hard. Same with building new characters, although the good series introduce new, fully rounded characters who you love just as much as the original players. Or maybe you love to hate them; it’s all good.

But there’s, of course, a flip side, and that’s the ability of the reader to keep up with all the series they are reading. Personally, I gave up trying and get to certain series when I get to them. The only one I may actively keep up with is Stephanie Plum, and that’s because I can take it out of the library and read it in a day or two. That’s hardly the sort of criteria you are looking for, authors!

For a young writer, just beginning to establish him or herself, series can be attractive endeavors. Not only do you have the ability to continue to expand one singular world, rather than reinventing it with each new book, but you can also continue the growth of your main characters, and that’s one of the best luxuries of a series. There’s lots of room to play, and you can put your series out as a box set, or offer the first for free, as a loss-leader but as a hook to sell the rest of the fun that follows.

Of course, there’s a downside, and that’s that the series doesn’t ever find its audience. If that happens, you have wasted a lot of time and effort on your project. And sometimes, a lot is an understatement.

But there are things you can do. You can write the best book possible. You can hire really good editors who can not only fix your mistakes but teach you how to stop making them, and who can teach you a better command of words and the craft of writing. You can hire formatters so your books look fabulous on all the various reading devices out there (including phones). Cover artists, to help catch a reader’s eye. And, of course, a really good marketing team who can do more than line up blogs for you to visit.

Yes, it’s expensive. But if you’re doing this across a series, the costs… some of them can be spread out across the series, such as marketing. Some have hidden benefits, such as working with the same cover designer until you both know what the next three covers will look like before you’ve even plotted them.

Like everything in publishing, to series or not to series is a crapshoot. But readers seem to like them, and keeping your readers happy is always a great way to retain readers and expand your sales.

Besides, really good characters are the sort you want to be around, and writing a series is always a great way to spend time with people you love to be around.


Revising Me #atozchallenge


I have an editor friend (well, I have a BUNCH of editor friends, actually, but we’re talking about one editor friend in particular right here and now) who says there’s a difference between editing and revising.

Editing is what you pay for.

Revising is what you do yourself.

Either way, let’s face it: even my clients who send me their first draft have engaged in some form of revision. They have worked their prose as they’ve created that first draft, shaping and honing their past words as the present unfolds on the screen in front of them.

I say it fairly often: in the quest to make the best book possible, you have to recognize that writing is a craft. You have to hone your tools, push and pull and mold your clay, your canvas — your manuscript — into its final form. It doesn’t just happen by itself. You have to work it. And work it. And work some more.

So, yeah. Revising your work, whether you do it as you go or you go through multiple drafts, is essential. There’s no rule about how much revision work you’ll have to do, and not only does it vary from author to author, but it varies from manuscript to manuscript and project to project, too. Sometimes, even chapter to chapter, scene to scene, and yes, paragraph to paragraph.

But you have to do the work. Bring that baby up to its best possible form. And then, because revising is what you do and editing is what you pay for, you send your masterpiece to your editor, who sends you comments and sets you up for another round of revisions.

Whoever said writing wasn’t a lot of work was either amazingly blessed or lying.

Or they don’t care about quality.

Trust me. I’m a voracious reader. Quality matters.

And how.

*And hey, do you like my post title? It’s a play on a certain Metallica song. (I particularly like this version, so if you’re convinced you don’t like Metallica, or you’re not sure, this would be a SUPER link to click on. Seriously. As we say in Ultimate, chilly chilly chilly!)


To Quit or Not to Quit (Shouldn’t be a Question) #atozchallenge


When I was younger — like, late high school, college and even grad school — I’d fight my tendency to be a writer. (Little did I know the editor gene wouldn’t be fully awakened for awhile yet) I’d vow I was quitting.

But over the years, the time between proclaiming, “I quit!” and returning to my fictional worlds shrunk, to the point that, as a married woman, I barely had the words formed on my lips and had to acknowledge the lack of truth to them.

Some of us are just cursed.

But if you’re not one of them, I get how hard this whole writing-as-a-career thing can be. It’s big. It’s scary. There are a million other books out there, and what feels like ten million other authors. And because we’re writers and we suffer from Inherent Writerly Insecurity, it seems like those ten million other authors are better writers, savvier marketers, smarter networkers; the whole deal.

It is enough to make a peson quit writing, and yes, I’ve had a few authors tell me that after their second or third book, they were done.

Not so fast, I like to tell them. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to tells me that it takes four, five, sometimes six novels before the momentum takes over and you have enough of a back catalog to stimulate organic sales. (Of course, this does NOT excuse the need for good marketing!) No, they don’t have to be a series — although it, of course, helps.

But you need a critical mass.

So don’t give up too fast. In fact, if you can NOT give up, if you can return to those days when you’d write for the sheer love of writing, you’ll be ahead. Write what you love. Write FOR love.

Network with other writers, and seize the marketing opportunities they present to you. Network with other readers. Leave reviews of books you’ve read because you want to.

In short, BE a writer. That doesn’t mean sitting around at home, slaving in front of a piece of parchment as the candle burns down and the tip of the quill goes soft. Not anymore! Being a writer means supporting other authors. Learning craft. Reading. Networking.

And mostly, having fun.

Because if you’re having fun, why contemplate quitting at all?


Purple Dinosaurs aren’t the Only Bad Purple #atozchallenge


No one’s beat up on Barney the Purple Dinosaur in eons, it seems. Is he even still on TV?

Unfortunately, his literary companion, purple prose, is. And like all unfortunate things, it shouldn’t be.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s learn to identify it so you can revise it out and avoid notes like Aaack! Who let the purple prose monster in here! or, if I don’t know you as well, This is veering a bit toward purple prose. How about wording it like this as an alternate?

I like to write fun comments.

Urban Dictionary (I kid you not) defines purple prose as, “a term used to describe literature where the writing is unnecessarily flowery. it means that the writer described the situation (or wrote the entire book, passage, etc) using words that are too extravagant for the type of text, or any text at all. basically, over-describing something. with stupid words.”

Now, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to add with stupid words on at the end there. Because obviously, if you wrote them, you didn’t think they were stupid, and since you haven’t revised them out yet, you continue to think they’re not stupid.

But over-describing, unnecessarily flowery writing… yep, that’s purple prose. I swear, we’re taught to write purple in high school, when English teachers everywhere encourage it as a model for good writing.

This is why you need to read a lot. A. Lot. And not just read but also pay attention as you read. Do you have a description of a room? Look at how the book you’re reading describes the room. Is your heroine overwrought? Examine how the writer of the book you’re reading describes it.

After you’ve observed until your eyes glaze over, come back to your own manuscript. Is your writing as clear? Does it snap? Purple prose never snaps. It goes on. And on. And sometimes on. And you stop caring.

The bedspread was quilted, by hand, Sienna was willing to bet, in four shades of yellow, from the palest Alpine glow to the brightest, sunniest yellow she could imagine. Just looking at it made her break out into a wide, uncontrollable grin that threatened to consume her entire face and half of her soul, too. But her favorite was the slightly less yellow than that brightest one, the one that merely suggested summer days and didn’t scream them and even though it didn’t make her smile as hard, she still wanted to smile. This one was a tender smile, touching her lips gently and caressing her soul with a soft spring wind.

“Hey, Sienna? I asked what you thought of Glen.”

Yeah… you see what I mean? Contrast that with this:

Sienna paused by the bed, letting her fingers run over the bedspread as she considered her best friend’s question. The spread was done in shades of yellow, the brightest of which reminded Sienna of Jenny’s smile whenever she talked about this Glen dude. But Sienna wasn’t feeling the love. What she felt was more like the pale yellow, a wariness, a hesitance to commit. “I see what you like about him,” she said carefully, her fingers picking the pattern of the perfect stitches, then finding one that was off.

“Isn’t he the greatest?” Jenny flopped on the other side of the bed, away from Sienna, and grabbed a stuffed rabbit, which she cradled to her chest.”

“I know you think he’s great,” Sienna said, trying to pick her words, “but you just met him a week ago. Maybe you should get to know him before you proclaim true love?”

While I say to my high schoolers all the time that sometimes curtains are blue just because they are blue, sometimes, the teachers are right and they’re blue for a bigger reason.

But they don’t need to be purple.


What a Novel Idea #atozchallenge


I hear this one fairly frequently from some of my younger authors: I have an idea, but I’m not sure if it’s a novel or a short story or what.

To which I always reply, “Just start writing and let’s see what you’ve got.”

It’s an idea not unlike the permission we often have to give ourselves to puke on the page in our first draft. Just shut up and write.

But the question these folks are really asking me is a little bit more complex, and that’s “Is this plot too thin to sustain a novel?” And the answer to that is… well, I can’t give you, my blog readers, a definitive answer, because it depends. Sometimes, clients come to me with more simplistic plots and no intention to add subplots. Maybe they are really writing a novella, not a novel, which tend to be leaner not only in length but in complexity.

And sometimes, they go the other way, and the first draft comes out to be 200,000 words long and they don’t know where to start cutting. And it’s not 200k of fluff or backstory, either. It’s that the plots are that convoluted. With the rise in popularity of a certain set of novels (nope, not looking at anyone in particular here. Is that sixth book done yet, Mr. Martin?), a set of writers is attracted to that sort of long, convoluted story. In fact, the High Fantasy genre (which, for the record, I love) is full of complex novels.

So how do you know if your idea is any good before you sit down and pound out thousands of words that just might lead you nowhere? What do you do if you’re one of the people who is looking for a guaranteed return on the time you’re going to invest on a project?

Well, you make an outline. Decide how the story’s going to play out. Know whose point of view you’ll be in, what the plot twists are, who the characters are. You take the time to plan out your idea or vision.

But if that’s too much trouble?

Then, with all due respect, maybe this isn’t the project for you. I can’t tell you the number of manuscripts I’ve read that have been simply amazing and incredible, but have failed to find their audience.

All I know for certain is that if you have an idea and you want to see it come to light, you have to put in the time. That holds for non-fiction, as well.

This gets into the “Life is a journey, not a destination” maxim, and I’ll let you ponder that one as you decide what sort of journey you’d like to take. But why not take this one?


Microwaves? No! Microdetail #atozchallenge


Let’s just get right to this one. What the heck is microdetail anyway, and is it good or bad?

It’s bad.

We’ll say that up front.

Here’s why.

Microdetail is that stuff that is basically fluff. It’s sometimes called play-by-play, or filler… but does that really give you an idea of what it is?

Didn’t think so. Buckle up, because here we go.

He stood from his seat and began to walk across the room, stepping over the wrinkled edge of the rug, staring up at the ceiling to look for cracks in the thatching, then circled a wooden stool that sat in a corner between the fireplace and the front door. He circled it twice before sitting, hooking his bootheels in the top rung and smiling as he felt the caked-on mud crumble loose at the contact, and then said, “The king’s men are waiting for your answer and have vowed to kill Harry if you don’t answer.”

Okay, that’s a bit of a distortion… or is it? I see it all the time in young writers, writers who need to include such microdetail as a means of setting the scene in their own minds, or who use it as a way to get to know their characters better.

As first-draft stuff, it’s fine. But… it’s gotta go before it hits your editor’s desk, if you can. (If not, I’m always glad to point it out.)

Microdetail holds up the pace. It shifts the focus of the scene from the important stuff to these small details that ultimately, in the grand scheme of the book, don’t matter. Or that belong somewhere else. And sometimes, they’re examples of lazy writing. (See he stood from his seat)

Now, sometimes, microdetail is important. Sometimes, it helps set the mood, or describes a character. And when it operates like that, it’s not bad stuff. It’s important.

But until you become experienced enough to know the difference between microdetail and the sort of small details that help paint a picture that truly help your book, you struggle. And that’s natural. It’s part of the learning curve of learning to craft a damn good book.

This is where good critique partners come in. And patient editors.

You don’t have to rely on others, though. This is where reading a lot comes in handy. Is the book you’re reading full of microdetail? Are there lots of descriptions, long or short, that don’t further the story or set a stage, paint a scene? Consider how the book you’re reading handles some of the details you’d like to include.

The next step is to write, write, write. Keep in mind those books you’ve been reading. There’s a reason some agents tell you to read as much as you write — it all soaks in. And then you can spit it out as you write and/or revise.

You got this. It’s hard at first, like all learning curves are, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.


Lazy Dazy: All About Language #atozchallenge


Well, not ALL about language, or we’d be here through the next couple of A to Z Challenges, and this puppy only happens once a year.

Today, we’re going to focus on lazy language. On what happens when you slap words on a page and don’t think much of it.

Honestly? Not much. I’m one of the few who will call a person out for using lazy language, and certainly, my clients come to me for a line or content edit hoping I’ll do exactly that. So, you know, since you’re paying me, I’m more than glad to…

Seriously. This is actually one of my newest and biggest pet peeves. It’s a certain construction: to where, from where — it makes me scream.

It’s lazy.

Pure and simple. It’s lazy.

And you, as an author, can do so much better.

Like this: She walked to where he waited near the water fountain.

Seriously. I see this stuff all the time, not only from my clients (who often wind up having it challenged out of them) but from books I read for pleasure. Not a lot of pleasure when it’s the same as dragging fingernails down a chalkboard.

Try this instead: He was waiting near the water fountain. She joined him.
Or even: She joined him at the water fountain.

(Whoa! I got rid of another poor language choice: she walked— that’s one that you can usually let your reader infer for themselves. Believe it or not, they will.)

He looked near where the sailboats sat. Beside them was where the mugging had taken place.

How about: He gazed across the marina. Right there. Beside the sailboats. The mugging had taken place right there.

And look at that: snappier language. Better cadence. You know that spot’s important, and that those pesky sailboats were somehow important and we’ll be hearing from them again. Do you get all that from the first example?

That’s why I call this lazy. Sure, we talk that way. Even I do, and I have no issues admitting it.

But speech and writing are different creatures, and it’s worth going that extra mile to get rid of the lazy stuff and replace it with something smarter, more precise, snappier. Not to say that it always has to be snappier, but it should always be more precise. After all, you only have so many words to work with, even when you’re going to self-publish and that means the word count is 100% up to you.

It’s a question of bloat. Of making your language work for you, not against you (which bloated language does).

So before you send me your manuscript, take a few minutes. Do a search for to where, near where, from where. See if you can change them.*

If not, be prepared for an awful lot of comments.

*Sometimes, you need the to where, near where, from where construction. SOMEtimes. Not all the time. Not on every page (Best-selling romance author, I’m looking at you). SOME is fine. Usually.


Write What You Know #atozchallenge


K. There are a lot of good k words. Kangaroo. Kumquat. Kitchen. and… Knowledge.

That’s what we’re going to talk about today, that old maxim to write what you know.

But… guess what? I’m not going to sit here and tell you to limit yourself. Nope! Not even close.

If you’ve been reading along all month so far, you know this. I said it during G is for Guns day: Go learn. Teach yourself. Find a teacher. Do whatever it takes to learn, to soak up that gorgeous stuff in life called knowledge. Add in some experience while you’re at it for a true ability to write what you know from a place of authenticity.

Oh, that doesn’t mean you should become the world’s best downhill skier, but you should at least have an idea of how to snap your boot into your bindings. You should know what the different types of snow are and what each means for a competitor. You should know how races are run — and not just the part where the skier physically hurtles down the slope, either. What about the backstage life? How does all that come together, unfold, become a major spectacle that’s so seamless, people never stop to think about the logistics behind it?

All too often, we authors sit and home and dream. That’s where the genesis of our stories comes from, and it’s important stuff. It’s important stuff to sit and pound out a first draft, then spend time revising and crafting and shaping it, then sending it to our beta readers or our critique group, and then revising some more.

That is, after all, where the image of the solitary writer comes from. And it’s important stuff.

But so is being able to write what you know. Which means you have to shrug off the solitary part of yourself and explore this great big huge, wonderful place called the world. Travel. Learn a new skill. Explore something you’ve always wanted to. Use your book as your excuse, but gosh darn it, our rears spread when we spend too much time sitting on them, and our souls empty.

Who can write on an empty soul?

Go fill yours. Write what you know, and devote yourself to knowing a lot of stuff. You’re a writer, after all. For the duration of the crafting of your manuscript, you can have that same career as your hero or heroine. (Note that I said crafting, because that often starts at the research stage). Embrace life. Live in the moment, learn what you’ll need to make your characters and your book their best possible selves.

And then come back and write about it.

Go on. You can do it.

Write what you know — what a great excuse to know things.


What a Jerk! #atozchallenge



What a day to be writing about them!

(If you don’t know, April 12 is an auspicious day around here. That’s all I’m saying.)

Jerks are actually tricky things. Because as authors, we can lump them into two categories:
1. Idiots who are trying hard and who the reader ends up liking
2. Characters the reader is never supposed to like, and so doesn’t.

I mean, think about Screech on the old show “Saved by the Bell.” (And don’t ask why I picked that one because I can’t even begin to answer that question.) He was a jerk. But we loved him. In fact, we loved rolling our eyes at him and resisting our urge to be kinder to him.

That’s how he was drawn.

And sometimes, that’s the sort of character you have to create. Like Screech, he may not be the antagonist — and let’s face it; the easiest antagonists to write are those who have nothing about them to make the reader like them.

But the jerk who the reader grows to love? That sort of character takes a deeper skill, a better mastery of craft. This is the guy you have to finesse. You’re always on a tightrope with this one: If you go too far to one side, the reader will hate him. If you go too far to the other, you lose what sets him apart.

When he’s done right, the jerk who wins you over can become some of fiction’s most endearing characters. Think Rhett Butler!

The flip side, the second type of jerk, is much easier. Like I said, these are often the antagonist, the person who gets in the way of the lead character’s mission. They’re the bad guy in a mystery, the bad guy on Criminal Minds. You know the type. They’re usually one-dimensional and often cliched. They are there for two purposes: to be the bad guy and to get it in the end, so the reader and main characters can feel vindicated. They’re about the simple message that the bad guy always loses in the end, and the good guy always triumphs.

But in real life, the first type of jerk is much more prevalent, isn’t he? That’s because life isn’t as black and white as the bad guy always loses in the end. But then again, that’s why we like fiction so much. We need that clear demarcation.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that even though the jerk who you’re never supposed to like is an undeveloped, usually cliched caricature who has very little, if any, literary value (from a high school English teacher’s POV, or even from the educated reader’s), he still serves a purpose, and that’s the feel good that the reader comes away with. That sense of satisfaction that life IS neat and orderly and it all works out in the end.

So. Jerks. The good ones are hard to write. The easy ones serve a greater purpose.

Think about it. Can you tweak your jerks so the lines between the categories here aren’t so black and white?


Feeling Insecure? You’re Normal #atozchallenge


Our letter of the day is I, and what better I word is there for a writer than insecurity?

Look, even if you’re not a writer, you feel insecure from time to time. It’s normal.

But then you pour your soul out onto a lot of pieces of paper (or computer files, or one giant file… whatever your process is!) and you realize that there’s an inherent vulnerability involved with being a writer. That no matter if you thought you were writing about Dick and Jane, when you take a step back and give your manuscript a cold, hard look, you realize how many of your own issues and insecurities you’ve laid out on the page.

(Someone once claimed to have picked up a summation of my marriage from my short story, Mannequin! I will refrain from saying if he was right in his assessment or not.)

But it’s more than that. As writers, “You like me!” is something we strive for. Because, after all, if no one likes us, no one will read our books! And while writing remains a labor of love, it’s also a career — and how can you excel in your career if no one reads your works… if no one likes you?

I call it IWI: Inherent Writerly Insecurity. and yes, I’ve written about it a couple of years ago.

I think it’s important, because it spurs us as writers to do better. To focus on making the best book possible, which seems to have emerged as the unofficial theme of this year’s A to Z challenge for me.

And it spurs us to ask for help (hey, that was yesterday’s post!) and to steel ourselves for the feedback that comes with that help. Because as welcome as it is, feedback is daunting. It’s scary. And when your editor shoots from the hip (and I’m looking at myself… and all my clients here!), that feedback can be a bit tougher than you’d like it to be. I know that sometimes, because of IWI, my clients read my comments a lot more sternly than I could ever say them.

So there’s good stuff in IWI. Embrace it. Learn to use it as just another tool at your disposal.

And remember: If you let your insecurity paralyze you, you’ll definitely never get any book written, let alone the best possible book. So don’t be paralyzed. Reach out to others for help. I offer a While You Write service that lets me hold your hand as you work through your IWI (or through difficult plot twists and turns). See if your editor does, too, if you’re not my client.

If not, reach out to a trusted friend. A loved one. Whatever or whoever it takes, find your path through the insecurity and create the best book possible.


Help! I Need Someone #atozchallenge


Help? Who needs help?

Authors need help.

There’s the critique partners, the beta readers. The editors, the formatters, the cover artists. The publicists, book tour companies. Street teams. Agents, acquiring editors, the staff of the publisher, if the author goes that route.

I’m sure I forgot someone. Because these days, it takes a village.

And don’t forget the IT people! Whether you write on a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a phone (true story, that one. I once edited for an author who wrote an entire novel on her iPhone. She sold that sucker the night I sent it back with the typos corrected out), you need IT people these days if you’re gonna write a book.


There’s another type of help you can give an author. Yes, YOU. Doesn’t matter if you’re a fellow author or just a reader (and really, there’s no just about being a reader because without readers, who are we writing for?). YOU are an important player in the success of an author.

Sounds all high-falutin’, I know. But it’s not. Nope. Not even close.

You can leave a review online. You can buy a copy of the book and give it as a gift. You can talk about the book on social media and encourage your friends to read it.

It’s word of mouth, and of all the crazy promotions and schticks that authors resort to as they try to get more eyeballs on their books, word of mouth is the ONLY proven method. That gives you, the reader, the consumer, an awful lot of power.

Reviews help. Many sites consider a book’s worth not by its ranking but by the number of reviews — so even if you want to leave one star because the story was an utter failure and even dinosaur porn would be better than THAT, you are helping! (obviously, as long as the review is constructive in its 1- and 2- star discussion). Yeah, four- and five-star reviews are good, but there are plenty of people (like me!) who only read the 1- and 2-star reviews as we decide if a book is worth our time. Like I said: it’s a numbers game. The more reviews, the better.

It’s a nice and easy way to help an author.

And if you’re feeling unsure about a review you’ve written, drop me a note. I offer a service over here that’s super cheap and will help your review shine as much as the book you’re helping out.


Guns Going Bang #atozchallenge


Although I’ve said this before, it was awhile ago now. Since there are new folks here for the A to Z challenge, I’d like to repeat myself. Besides, this is one that I feel very strongly about.

A lot of books involve guns. A lot of books, regardless of time period and genre — including some genres that might surprise you (like YA and romance — not romantic suspense. Romance). If a gun’s been invented, it’s possible that one will make an appearance in a manuscript that crosses my desk.

Now, we can talk about the gun culture and how including guns in our books so easily and with such frequency helps perpetuate it. Or we can argue that fiction is merely reflecting our reality. Guns are everywhere.

BUT we’re not going to.


What we’re going to talk about is how you, the author, are charged to write what you know. And that means that if you don’t know much about guns but want to include them in your book, you owe it to your credibility as an author, and you owe it to your reader to get yourself over to a range or a sportsman’s club and learn.

Now, not all ranges and clubs offer classes to non-members. I get that. But many do. (Mine offers a ladies’ pistol class every October, for instance. And they offer other classes, as well.)

(Yes, I just came out as belonging to a sportsman’s club. What of it?)

Writing responsibly about gun use means knowing what you’re writing about. Educate yourself. Take a class. Find a certified instructor and hit the range. (And, like you expect me to say anything less, WEAR YOUR EYE PROTECTION!)

Learn what it feels like to have a gun barrel kick into your palm. Into your shoulder, if you’re shooting a shotgun. Learn how to seat it properly in that shoulder; it’s not nearly as easy as it looks (she says… from experience). Learn what it feels like to flick the safety. To load. What a bullet feels like, what a hot casing feels like when it pops free and grazes your cheek (HELLO EYE PROTECTION). What it smells like, how heavy it is, what it’s like when you’ve been holding it for long periods. Do you find using the sight intuitive?

I can go on and on.

These are details your reader expects your character to know. That means, by extension, your reader expects you to know them.

If you’re going to write about guns, do it from a position of knowing how to use a gun, how to hold a gun, how to fire a gun, and all the rest. Know what guns cost. Know what ammunition costs!

Write what you know.

Which means that if you don’t know first-hand, go find out.

I bet you’ll learn more than simply how to write about a gun in your manuscript. In fact, I’d bet an entire edit on it. Because unless you grew up around guns or have a career that made gun safety a priority and something as natural as breathing, I know from experience. You WILL learn.

And your fiction will be better for it.

Just wear your damn eye protection so you can read about it once the book hits the market.*

*For you not in the know, no, I did not hurt my eye while at the sportsman’s club or while otherwise handling a firearm. But damn if I haven’t learned to go overboard on the eye protection issue.


The Editor’s Wisdom About the First Draft #atozchallenge


Well, it’s this editor’s approach to the first draft, anyway.

I find I say this a lot to authors, and they tend to giggle at me when I do. (I guess they are not used to my bluntness yet.)

Give yourself permission to puke on the page.

Seriously! It’s your first draft. If you’re not a writer who uses an outline, you need the first draft to figure out where you’re going.

If you are a writer who uses an outline, you need the draft to make sure you stay on point, and that the outline works in execution as well as it seemed to beforehand.

In other words: the first draft isn’t going to be the draft you publish. It’s full of puke, after all. It’s your test-drive, your chance to get to know your characters, feel your story, discover where the plot points and twists truly need to be, and how to execute them. It’s your time to use just eight million times, to engage in micro-detail, to lay it all out there.

You know. Puke.

Writing, after all, is a craft. The first draft is that time when you take the hunk of clay and begin the rough shape. You don’t use your delicate sculpting tools yet; you’re just feeling it out. This is the time (Hey, I’m actually listening to this as I am writing and that was kind of creepy to write those words as Jonny sang ’em) to be spiritual with your work. To rely on instinct.

This is stage one. That’s all it is.

So go ahead. Give yourself permission to puke on the page. Use only and surprisingly and suddenly until your fingers bleed. Make your characters stand from a chair and cross the room. (Ugh. Shudder.) Write passed instead of past. Take that inner editor and chuck her in the closet. Lock the door, even. Whatever it takes to let yourself go.

And yes, it’s okay if your notes have your character with green eyes and halfway through you realize nope, they’re blue and you’ll fix that later. That’s what revision is for. Heck, ALL of this is what revision is for.

Ahh… revision. That’s step two in the quest to create the best book possible. That’s when the sculptor’s fine tools come out. When coats get hung on hangers, not hangars. And this is a blog post for another day.

For now, go ahead. Give yourself permission. Puke on the page.

(And yes, there are some very seasoned and talented writers who spend so much time and energy on their first draft that they only need to write one draft. But they are special writers, with their own process. Don’t try to be like them. Be like you. Let your own process evolve, and stop getting in your way. Which is what happens when you don’t let yourself puke on the page.)


E for Editing, of course! #atozchallenge


I can’t go on about this one enough, so I’ll try to keep this post short (especially since yesterday’s got long).

Yes, you need an editor.

No, a beta reader doesn’t do an editor’s job.

A really good editor, like me, does more than catch grammar. A really good editor knows when to push you, and where. I know how to teach you the difference in the kinds of description, and what is needed where. I try to mirror your voice, so I’m not imposing myself on you. And I try to spark your own creativity to solve a problem, like in wording, rather than make you see it my way. Maybe my way is wrong, and your way is wrong, but I give you the push you need so that your new way is right.

All that. And more.

Don’t make a decision about an editor based on dollars. There is always someone cheaper. There are also so-called editors who don’t have much of a background in editing fiction. Maybe they were good at revising history papers and decided that meant they could take your money and call themselves an editor. I’ve seen editors who take to Facebook to crowdsource every last point of grammar. Sorry, but if you’re an editor, you should know grammar. I’ve met authors who realized there’s more money in editing than in royalties, so they switched gears. Their qualifications? Well, their book hit a best-seller list or two…

So, yes. There is always someone cheaper.

But is there always someone better? That’s what you need sample edits for. Does the editor respect your vision? Does s/he know basic grammar? Can s/he explain why s/he is making that suggestion? Do they offer suggestions or merely make changes to your text — in words you may not use?

Vet your potential editor. And never pay for a sample.

But always, for every book, hire an editor. Preferably the same one, but sometimes, you need to change it up. I get that.

Start here on your quest. Let’s talk because I’d love to unlock the magic in your manuscript. I’d love to help you put out the best book possible.


Describe, Descript, Desecrate #atozchallenge


Okay, I’m not sure what desecrate is doing there, except it sounded good.

Well… I am sure. Because when it comes to description, I’ve seen authors desecrate their manuscripts with too much of the wrong kind.

Wrong kind?


Like every other tool that authors use to craft the best book possible, description needs to be used in the right way. Taking time to describe every single room the characters enter in a fantasy quest is important in D&D. It may not help us understand anything new about the setting, plot, or character when we’ve had to stop all the action to take a long look around the fifteenth room. Or even the fifth.

Yes, you read that right: Ideally, description is used to help further the reader’s understanding of setting, plot, or character. It can be used to increase tension.

What it should never do is bring the entire works to a screaming halt. Description isn’t a time for an author to stop and let the reader catch their breath before we dive back into what’s going on. It’s a tool, and it needs to help further your story.

Now, can you have too little description?

Fans of Raymond Carver are going to scream, but yes. I believe so.

And for the same reason that makes too much description a bad thing: we need some to help us understand the character. Their basic personality, their perceptions, their sensibilities. What a character takes in, observes, and spits back out for the reader tells us a lot about who they are. If they don’t give us even a little bit, they begin to exist in a vaccuum. Or, as one of my clients says, “I’ve got a problem with talking heads.”

I never did like that band much.

So description, like everything else in fiction, is a tightrope. It takes skill and instinct to know how to wield it most effectively. The best way to gain that skill and hone that instinct is to read, read, read, and write, write, write. Pay attention as you read. What does this descriptive passage achieve? Does it stop the action in order for you to drink in the surroundings?

And then sit and write. Do you need long descriptive passages, or can you use a few words to create a broad brush stroke that conveys the essence of what you are trying to say, so that you can return your focus to the plot, the pacing, the tension, the fact that your male lead is trying to take his shirt off but you’re embarrassed, so you’re focusing on the way the silk flows instead of the washboard abs and warm, silky skin underneath?

Ha. Gotcha.

But think about that. It’s the best example of description you’re going to get in this post. So take a few minutes. Think about the picture I just painted. Count the words.

Do you REALLY need to stop the action and make sure you hit all five senses in order for a description to be good?

I didn’t think so.


#atozchallenge: All About Characters


A writer can have a lot of different areas in which to be strong: dialogue, plot, pacing, description. We’ll get to some of them this year and save others for future blog posts.

Today’s letter in the A to Z challenge is C, so let’s focus on one of the other big elements that are vital to a good book: characters. You know: the people who populate your pages.

(I like alliteration.)

Now, we all know that it’s important to develop really good main characters. A lot of authors use a character study sheet or make a character bible to help with this. If you need an idea of what they look like, go and Google it. (Just be careful about all the links you’ll get to displays of character in the Bible, which is an entirely different creature and not germane for today’s discussion.)

I have a template I can share with my clients, when they need it. I’ve used it myself, in my own writing, on occasion (Yes, this is one of the many benefits you get when you’re a client around here). It’s long and very detailed.

Now, as I say to a lot of the young writers I work with (and we’ll talk about what exactly a young writer is later in the month, so stay tuned), you, the author, need to know all this information. Whether they are left-eye dominant may never come up in your story if they never shoot (a gun, a bow, a camera) but it may affect how you, the author, view your creation. Or the sort of house the character grew up in.

Yet these are the forces that shape your characters, and so it’s important for the author to know this stuff. Believe it or not, some authors think delving this deeply into a character is a waste of time, or that anything they learn about the character needs to go on the page.

To the first claim, I laugh. Nothing about working on your manuscript is ever a waste of time. It’s all an exploration, an exercise into deepening your knowledge of your characters.

And to the second, I argue that it does wind up on the page — just not in the way they expect. And this is why taking the time to create an in-depth character sketch is important: Because the more you know your character, the more authentically you will put them on the page. The little things you know about them will find a way to ooze out, into how they speak, into what their eye lingers on, on the way they appreciate the situation they’re in.

Getting to know your characters as deeply as possible is vital.

Now, all that said, you also need to know a little bit more about your non-dominant characters (aka the antagonist and the protagonist). Your secondary characters, the people who do more than walk through a scene and wave. Anyone who’s around for any length of time needs to be more than just The Maid, or The Deputy, or The Fairy Princess. They may not need an entire backstory or a complete work-up of their attitudes and motivations, but you need to know more than what’s on the page. You need a rough sketch of who they are and what they are up to. (Many a secondary character has arisen to steal the story and spawn a book — or a series! — of their own.)

Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s easier to ignore this step, or to rely on stereotypes.

But remember our goal here? The best book possible.

That means putting in the work. Taking the time to build your characters from the ground up, from the inside out. It’ll lend your manuscript an authenticity that it won’t otherwise have, and that in turn creates a book that readers can’t help but engage with.


Best Book Possible: The #atozchallenge


With the introductions out of the way, let’s talk about what every author wants to produce: the best book possible.

Some authors really are good enough to sit down, pound out a draft, go over it once or twice, send it to their editor, make the tweaks and fix the mistakes, and put it on the market.

Most aren’t.

Which means that producing the best book possible is going to take time. It’s going to involve figurative amounts of blood and guts and literal amounts of sweat. You’ll lose sleep over it. You’ll lose sleep because of it. You’ll take naps in the name of letting your subconscious work.

And you’ll sit down at the computer time and again and put down fresh words. And even more, you’ll sit down and craft the words you’ve already written.

You’ll push yourself to the point of being sick of your own words, your own story, the characters who chase you through your days and your dreams. And that’s when you’ll send your baby out to a beta reader, maybe, or an editor definitely, and hear words that always seem harsh and cold.

But you’ll dive back in anyway.

Because the best book possible isn’t going to hatch out of an egg. It’s going to take work. It’s going to take humbling yourself. It’s going to take pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do, into places you dream of going.

And once you’ve done it enough times, you’ll hit a groove. You’ll approach that process where you can pound out a first draft and have it be almost ready for publication. That’s experience talking. That’s learning your own process and if you need to start a book with an outline or if you need to simply sit and let the story unfold around you. You’ll learn which instincts to trust and which internal monologues to ignore. And you’ll learn to win the battle against Inherent Writerly Insecurity.

It’s a lot. Writing a book isn’t easy, and the avalanche of bad books that are being published — by ALL publishers — shows that all too clearly.

Fortunately for you, there’s help along the way. And we’ll delve into that help later in the month.

For now and for always, focus on writing the Best Book Possible.

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