Thursday, August 25, 2016

GUEST POST: From Diction to Rhetoric to Writing

Kirk Hazen

In early January 1999, an aide to the mayor of Washington D.C. used the word “niggardly” in reference to city funds while speaking with two employees. Ten days after this usage, the aide, David Howard, resigned. The term “niggardly” means “in a stingy manner,” appropriate for a budget, so how did the use of this word lead to his resignation? Context and audience conspired to create misinterpretations of Howard’s utterance: his immediate audience was offended because they thought he had said the N-word. Once those rumors began about racial animosity, especially in a city office already divided by racial tension, they were unstoppable.

Diction is an important skill and one that gets better with practice, but choosing the right word is only one step in the process of crafting the best writing. Unless you are only writing for yourself, you must get into other people’s minds and assess how they view the world. On the large scale, this would require writers to be both sociologists and psychologists; in practice, walking a few feet in other people’s shoes is easier today than it has ever been.

Several modern word tools can benefit writers, and I use all of these tools in my own writing. These tools include electronic dictionaries, Ngrams, and corpora. Although there are several high-quality paper-based dictionaries (I recommend the American Heritage Dictionary), the benefits of an electronic dictionary are sizeable. Most importantly, these dictionaries save time with easy searching. Even the dictionary on my computer allows me to easily switch between dictionary and thesaurus so that I can fully flesh out a word’s etymology (its word history) and its regular ambience (the kind of context it normally occurs in). With these qualities you can better discern how others will understand the word. Keep in mind that all modern dictionaries (and there are hundreds of them for different specialties) are surveys of usage. That distilled usage is what the writers need to understand to be fully conscious of their writing.

Ngrams are another tool for understanding how words are used and what they might mean for different audiences. The Ngram viewer ( is a tool developed on Google Books that calculates and plots the frequency of words and phrases. There is a simple set of instructions ( that will allow you to search billions of words between 1800 and 2000. For any phrase or word comparison an author is deciding upon, the frequency and contexts for usage are quickly findable over the last 200 years.  

If authors need a more in-depth and nuanced assessment of the words in question, then searchable corpora are the answer. A corpus (plural, corpora) is a body of writings. Searchable corpora have been parsed so that most words are tagged with part of speech markers to allow for highly specialized searches (e.g. what adjectives come before woman/man?). At BYU, the website can connect authors to searches through hundreds of billions of words in American and British English as well as 45 billion words in Spanish. Perhaps the two most useful corpora for writers are the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA). For example, COCA can be searched by genre: spoken, fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, and academic texts, so, for example, researching authors can see that over the last century, the word “mauve” is most frequently used in fiction and magazines, but rarely comes up in speech or academic contexts. What writers do with such information is a rhetorical choice.

Consider the HBO miniseries Lewis and Clark, where modern writers needed to develop a script about the early 1800s but one which speaks to modern audiences. Pitfalls abound in such writing. If a word like “golden boy” sounds old fashioned to us, that might work for modern audiences, but it was not available until 1937, much too late for Lewis and Clark. If these former military men are going to curse on their dangerous cross-country expedition, should they sound more like Yosemite Sam or Deadpool? Cursing around 1800 sounded more like Yosemite Sam (“Tarnation!”) than any modern cursing, and the sexualized swearing of modern writing did not arise until the early 1900s. Such choices are artistically rhetorical choices where writers balance between historical accuracy and audience impact.

The interpretation of words changes over time, and those changes are outside of authors’ control. Consider the case of one of my English department colleague’s tale of a suspect phrase: In reading Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875) the European heroine (who speaks English, French, and German) tells her American suitor that she will not marry him until she sees his big house in San Francisco, saying “I like you very well, but I’m not going to take a leap in the dark, and I’m not going to marry a pig in a poke.” My colleague and I were both surprised that Trollope would have a character use the phrase “pig in a poke.” For both of us, the phrase is rural and colloquial and certainly American. But a bit of research shows that its usage in the mid-1800s was higher in England than in the US:


(To enlarge the photo, click on it. To see the original image click here.)
For modern writers to reach beyond themselves to other contexts and other voices, choices about what words mean for particular audiences loom large. Thankfully, modern tools allow authors to make informed rhetorical choices more quickly than ever before.


Kirk Hazen is Professor of Linguistics in the Department of English at WVU and winner of the 2014-2015 Benedum Distinguished Scholar Award in the Humanities. Hazen has been the founding director of the West Virginia Dialect Project since 1998, and he has been writing professionally since 1993. His most recent book is An Introduction to Language (Wiley 2015), and he can be found on Twitter @DrDialect

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Writing When You Don't Feel Like Writing

Stacy Tritt

Hello, blog readers. It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. I apologize for my long absence. But, I can explain, I swear. You see, I’ve had this excuse.

To begin, I want to give a disclaimer that I am not really writing a how-to blog so much as telling a story of what has worked for me recently to reclaim my creative writing when I haven’t felt like writing. By sharing my story, I hope you might find something that will work for you as well.

I said I had an excuse, and believe me, I’m full of excuses for not writing. There is one excuse that stands above all the rest, however, and I am sure some of you have used this excuse as well. I wouldn’t really call it writer’s block so much as creative straight-jacket syndrome.

It all started back in 2011 during my junior year of college. I was taking quite a few classes that required me to do this thing called “academic writing.” And night after night, I was reading and analyzing, writing essays and citing documents. One page after another. Then, when I would sit down to write something for myself, I found myself staring at a blank Word document. I might get a paragraph or two in, but all that by-the-books, almost-scientific approach to writing had dried up my creative juices and replaced them with analytical word vomit that saturated my sponge of a brain.

Fast forward a few years. I now work full time as a hotel manager. I write reports constantly. Add the massive number of hours I usually work, and, well, my same old excuse is still valid. My creative brain has been left out in the elements, going unnourished for so long that I feared it was dead. And the prolifically creative person I had once been had been replaced by a corporate American robot. If my middle-school self knew what I had become, she would scream, cry, and threaten to run away from home.

Being creative, writing, drawing, and dancing—things I once loved—had become an increasingly difficult chore. And it hurt. But still, I was unwilling to give up. I had to find a way to bring the joy of writing back into my life. So, I started journaling—something I hadn’t done regularly in about ten years. It was hard at first. At the end of a long day, I would sit down and write something short and boring:

“Long day at work today. Had to prep for the owner’s visit. Two extra reports due, and had to inspect rooms. Pretty tired. Splurged on some Starbucks, though, so that’s cool.”

There were nights when the last thing I felt like doing was sitting down to write about my day, but I made myself do it. I could not go to bed until I had written at least one sentence. After some time passed, it became easier. My entries gained some flair, and creative ideas started to come to mind while I wrote, and I started jotting down plot lines and character backstories—as well as doodling in the margins. My entries became much less tidy, much less about just me, and more about the creative being inside of me that was slowly coming back to life.

“Today was my day off. I walked around the front lawn with bare feet, the grass over-long because it has been raining so much that Rob hasn’t been able to cut it. The ground was so soft, and the grass so gentle against my heels, it felt like walking on a giant, fluffy marshmallow.”

Now, I’m not claiming any of my entries are writing gold, but they allowed me to start exercising my creative brain again. The simple act of writing just for me culminated into an ability to sit down and write again.

Creativity doesn’t always just happen. It’s something that must be practiced. And writing when you don’t feel like you have anything good to say is hard. Yet, journaling is fairly easy. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t feel the overwhelming need to go back and edit and reedit what you’ve just written before moving on to the next thought. Which is very liberating for me. So, now as I sit down to write, I’ve been trying to do it like a journal entry—get it all out, and then go back later to edit—something I have always struggled with. Without the practice of journaling, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that. It’s a simple way to keep your creative mind fed and alive while you wade through mundane daily life. And keeping your creative mind alive and well is the difference between a week-long writer’s block dry spell, and a lifetime of thinking you’ve lost your creative voice.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I don’t know where you are in your creative journey or on your career path. But perhaps the two don’t have to be at such odds. What I hope my experience might teach you is not to give up hope. Your creativity won’t lie dormant forever—not if you begin to feed it, and nurse it, and spend time with it. It might not be easy, but it will be worth it. Keep trying. Keep writing. And support each other. That is the biggest gift we as writers can give one another—our support. Whether a novice or expert, we all need a little encouragement now and again. Journaling is my way of encouraging myself as a writer, and something I hope I don’t forget soon, because supporting ourselves is maybe even more important than supporting each other.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer's Workbook

Sandy Tritt

It’s here! All 174 wire-bound 8.5” x 11” pages! You don’t need a PhD to understand this book. The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook explains writing concepts in understandable terms. EVERY WRITER NEEDS THIS BOOK.

The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook has been a work-in-process since 1998—the year Sandy began to edit professionally and founded Inspiration for Writers. At that time, there were few editing companies on the Web, and most were rather unfriendly. Sandy wanted Inspiration for Writers to be different—to be an editing company that truly cared about its clients and took the time to chat with them, discover their goals, and be there to answer questions for as long as they desired. That philosophy of nurturing and treating our clients as we would want to be treated may be the reason we’re still in business and most of our competitors from those days are not.

From the beginning, instead of simply correcting poor writing techniques, we explained why the correction was needed so the writer could learn from the edit and apply that knowledge to future endeavors. Since we ended up repeating instructions to address common writing issues, we created a set of tip sheets written in PLAIN ENGLISH so even novice writers could master the techniques without needing a dictionary to understand the terminology. As Sandy taught creative writing classes and workshops, the worksheets were created to help organize the writing process. Eventually, many of these tip sheets and worksheets ended up on our website and in the first incarnation of this book, The Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook. Over the years, many things have changed, especially in the publishing industry. Inspiration for Writers also grew and incorporated, adding quality editors and writers. We continued to add more tip sheets and worksheets, which meant we needed an updated book. So here it is.

The purpose of The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook is to assist you during every step of your writing career. Jam-packed full of writing tips, techniques, exercises, and worksheets, this workbook includes six sections.

Section 1, Getting Ready to Write, gives advice to beginning writers, including ways to find time to write, find a place to write, and to find a mentor to help you through the process. The remainder of the book is applicable to writers of all experience.

Section 2, The Basics, discusses the core components of a novel or memoir, including plot, setting, characterization, point of view, dialogue, gawking characters, and more. Some of the most difficult concepts to learn are covered in detail, such as how to create emotionally-mature characters, how to keep your narrator in line, and how to choose—and maintain—the perfect point of view for your needs.

Section 3, Advanced Techniques, explains ways to write more powerful prose. Included in this section is advice on handling flashbacks and foreshadowing, how to control pacing, and how to cut the flab while building the muscle of your prose.

Section 4, Self-Editing, draws attention to common writing problems and how to solve them. This section includes the steps professional editors take to make sure characters remain consistent, gives grammar and punctuation tips, and even tells you how to find beta readers. 

Section 5, The Next Step, discusses publishing options, including the detailed information needed to either query a traditional publisher or literary agent, or steps needed to self-publish. Included in this section are Rhonda White’s article on Tax Breaks for Writers, as well as a sanity-saving guide on how to write a book proposal.

Section 6, Reproducible Worksheets, provides 9 worksheets with detailed instructions on how to use them. The instruction sheets give tips on how to select a name for a character, how to find a story’s focus, and much more. These worksheets are reproducible, but we will provide a PDF or MS Word copy of the worksheets upon request.

Bonus tips are sprinkled throughout, as are exercises (with solutions!) to practice concepts presented.

Order your copy today in either the wire-bound (for easy copying of pages) hard-copy format for just $35 (includes priority mail shipping within the US) or $10 for the ebook version. Just go to and select the version you want. After you’ve paid through Paypal, click on “return to the Inspiration for Writers website” to receive your download.

If you have any questions, email us at

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Writing Perfectionist Problems

Jessica Nelson

Everything I’ve read—every writer’s guide, every website geared toward writers—says the most important part of writing is to get it on paper. Don’t worry how sloppy it is. Don’t worry if it’s barely comprehensible. Just get it on paper. You can’t edit and polish if you have nothing to work with, right?

But what if you can’t get it on the paper?

Many of our IFW editors proclaim there is no such thing as writer’s block. (I’m looking at you, Rhonda Browning White.) But the little kid in me wants to throw a temper tantrum and scream, Yes, there is such a thing as writer’s block! There is, there is, there is! as if it can somehow excuse all the months I go without writing a word.

But I don’t think writer’s block is the real problem—at least not for people like me.

Let me tell you why. I had an English teacher in high school who, for his doctoral dissertation, studied the processes and styles of young writers. He told me something that I didn’t know about myself: I do the writing, editing, and polishing stages all at the same time. Meaning, that I write, edit, then polish what I want to say all in my mind before a single word ever appears on paper.

So when I open my Word document and can’t get the words from my brain to the page, it isn’t writer’s block, per se. Rather, it’s that I can’t find the perfect way to say what I want to say. And if I can’t say it perfectly at that moment, I can’t say it at all.

It’s not lack of inspiration or writer’s block. It’s that my perfectionism—the ingrained desire for my writing to be perfect on the first try—stops my fingers from flying and my story from being told.

It’s a struggle for me to just write down words for the sake of getting them on paper. It’s like someone telling my five-foot, un-athletic, chocoholic self that I have to jump over a twenty-foot tall wall to get to the brownies on the other side. I’d rather deny myself the brownies than fail in the attempt to get them.

My other writing flaw is that I have to write in chronological order. Translation: I have to write scenes (or in essay writing, the elements of the argument) in the order in which they occur in the story. I can’t skip around and come back to it later. I just can’t. It’s not the way my brain works.

So sometimes I have to cheat. Trick my brain into letting me get past these little idiosyncrasies of mine.

When I can’t say it perfectly at that moment, when I just can’t write it out, I write a note in that spot instead. Sometimes it’s a sentence in parentheses that says “Characters have a heart-to-heart here” or “This is where his big secret is revealed” or “Transition here.” Sometimes it’s a more detailed summary made in the margin with Microsoft Word’s comment function. But this method allows me to remember what I was going to write so I can come back to it later when I finally have the perfect words.

This same method sometimes helps when I have to work out of chronological order. In a way, it tricks my brain into thinking we’ve covered that section. Then my brain might let me move on to the part I am ready to write.

Every mind is unique. Even—perhaps especially—among writers. Sometimes the typical techniques and strategies don’t work for all of us. So we have to find our own shortcuts, our own techniques and strategies to work around our writing roadblocks.

What writing idiosyncrasies do you have? What different or strange technique works for you?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Creating Your Character: Astrological Signs

Sandy Tritt

Sometimes, especially when initially creating a character, it’s difficult to get a good feel for the person this character represents. Sometimes, if you just toss the character into the plot and start writing, the character will begin asserting himself. Other times, not so much. If a character remains flat, it may be time to cheat. One of my favorite ways to add layers of dimension to a character (and to help me understand my character better) is to use a book of the Zodiac that includes both sun and moon signs. I decide which astrological sign best fits my character, then I research that sign to add some dimension.

The sidebar contains the supposed characteristics of people born between certain dates. Notice that only the three or four adjectives that are strongest for the sign are listed. Within a book of the Zodiac, you will find many more characteristics, including a breakdown of how this sign behaves in romance, in the office, and at play.

Using the range of dates listed for the selected sign, I then use a “birthday” book that lists characteristics and traits by birthday, and page through the selected astrological dates until I find the personality that truly fits this character. This often creates an “aha!” moment and is quite fun to do. The birthday books give enough of a character profile that we can feel like we truly know this character. It’s amazing how quickly a flat character can come to life.

Zodiac and birthday characteristic books can often be found in the bargain bin of your favorite book retailer. The “accuracy” of such books is not important—they are simply a tool that can be used to add depth to a character.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Scenes: What They Are and What They Need

Sandy Tritt

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but ever since I started writing, I threw around words like "scene" and "scene break" with the understanding that these terms identified essential elements of story writing. But for years I lacked the fundamental understanding of what a scene actually was. So for everyone out there who was like me, here's a breakdown of what a scene is and what it needs.

(The following is adapted from the newest IFW tips and techniques workbook, The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer's Workbook, available soon.)

                                                                                           ~Jessica Nelson

Plot is accomplished through a series of scenes. A scene is the dramatization of one snapshot in time—what happens at one specific place and time. Of course, the action may unwind over a period of several minutes or longer, but once the action is transferred to a different setting or to a different character, that scene ends and another scene begins. However, we do not require a scene break if the viewpoint character himself is moving, say walking down the street from one house to another, or if the omniscient point of view is used.

Every scene in a novel must further the plot or develop a character (preferably both at the same time); otherwise, it’s an extraneous scene and should be cut. Every scene should also have a feeling of completeness about it. This is accomplished by ending the scene with an action, thought, or dialogue by the viewpoint character, hopefully resolving or reviewing whatever “mini-crisis” the scene presented.

(Tip: Make a scene feel complete by ending it with the focus on the viewpoint character.)

When a new scene begins, you, the writer, have a huge new responsibility. Have you ever thought about what happens to an unsuspecting reader when a scene changes? He’s been comfortable, hanging around and experiencing your story, aware of where he is, when he is, and through whose eyes he’s seeing/hearing/feeling things, when all of a sudden one scene ends and another begins. Your poor reader is snatched out of his comfort zone, zoomed through time and space, and is plunged into a new scene. God—er, um, you—only knows where he is now. He may crash into the same physical space he’s just vacated—or he may end up across the globe or even in a new galaxy. Five seconds may have passed—or ten days or a dozen centuries. Even more jolting, he could now be seeing and hearing and smelling through a different character.

It’s an extremely unsettling experience. That is, unless you, the creator of this world the reader is visiting, are experienced enough and thoughtful enough to guide him through the trauma. Oh, my! Did you even know you had this humongous responsibility? Well, you do.
Within the first few sentences of a new scene, your reader needs to know several things, including: 
  • Whose eyes he’s now seeing things through. (If you employ a single viewpoint character throughout the manuscript, this is not necessary.)
  • Which characters are present in the scene.
  • How much time has passed since the last scene ended.
  • Where he is in general—such as the city, state, country. If this general location has not been visited previously, we may need more information, such as if it’s rural, big city, etc. 
  • Location, specific: if inside, where we are, such as in a living room or inside a diner. If outside, if we’re in a vehicle, hiking, etc.
  • Time period: the decade we’re in. (If this does not change throughout the manuscript, you do not need to re-establish this.) 
  • Time of year: spring, summer, fall, winter—or actual month.
  • General time of day: morning, afternoon, evening, night.
  • Weather, if it affects the story in any way (and it usually does).
Additionally, the reader may need to know the date or the day of week, as well as any historically relevant happenings on that day. For example, if this scene occurs on September 11, 2001, and no mention is made of the collapse of the twin towers, your reader is going to question your integrity. We call providing this information grounding your reader, as it allows your reader to simply relax and become a part of the story instead of floating around in space, desperately trying to figure out where and when he is and through whose eyes he’s seeing.
(Tip: Research does more than add authenticity—it often opens the door to subplots and additional scenes.)
If it were not for the First Commandment of Writing—Thou Must Show, Not Tell—we’d just open each scene with a recitation of all the necessary facts. But, instead, we must be artistic about it. We must not just give all the information, but we must sprinkle it around and create amazing prose with conflict and suspense while doing so. The goal is to create a picture the reader can imagine in his mind. He must be able to envision where the action is happening, who is present, and what is going on. This balancing act of feeding information to your reader while maintaining interest is not easy. But it must be done.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Copyright--or Wrong?

Sandy Tritt

A copyright gives a writer “ownership” of a literary work. This means the copyright owner has the right to make copies, sell copies, and distribute copies of the work, as well as the right to license others to do these things. It also gives the copyright owner legal recourse should someone else make copies, sell copies, or distribute copies—in all or in part—of the copyrighted material. Once granted, a copyright protects the work for 50 years after the death of the copyright holder.

Now, for the good news: regardless of whether the work has been registered with the US Copyright Office, the writer of a work automatically owns the copyright. The only exception to this is if the work is completed under “works for hire” provisions, which means someone else commissioned the writer to do the work. An example of this exception would be work created under a ghostwriting contract (unless the contract states otherwise, of course).

However, should your copyright ever come into question, either because an unauthorized person has copied your work or because someone claims to have created the work first, it will be up to you to prove you are the author of this work. There are various ways you can offer this proof, such as by keeping various work-in-process versions of the work, by sending your work to a trusted friend via email, or by mailing a copy of the work to yourself (have the postal clerk hand-stamp the postmark, make sure the date appears clearly, and have the clerk seal the package—and then don’t open the package). Even though you may be able to prove your ownership, you still won’t have the public record of a copyright claim, nor can you file an infringement lawsuit until your work is officially registered. 

So, if you plan to publish your work and offer it publicly, you should register your work with the US Copyright Office.

When should you file for a copyright? You should not file for a copyright until your work is fully complete, edited, proofed, and ready to be published. Second, you should not file for a copyright if you plan to publish traditionally or, in some cases, with a full-service self-publisher. In these cases, your publisher will very likely make changes to your work to follow in-house style guides, and once your work is ready to go to print, your publisher will file your copyright for you. There is no need to copyright your work before it is published—and doing so may create a great deal of added work and expense.

Even if you have not yet filed for your copyright—or, if you have filed and have not yet received confirmation (it takes 8 to 13 months for the US Copyright Office to process your request for copyright), you may still use the copyright symbol and a copyright notice on your work. This notice is not required for your work to be covered by copyright, but including a notice of copyright could be beneficial, since it gives a reminder that your work is under copyright protection, it identifies to whom the copyright belongs to, and it gives the year the work was first published.

The copyright notice should be placed on the back of your title page. (You should not add a watermark to every page screaming “COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL.” This serves only to identify you as an amateur.)  The copyright symbol ( © ) can be created in Microsoft Word by typing a left parenthesis, the letter “C,” and a right parenthesis, with no spaces. MS Word will convert this automatically to the copyright symbol. Alternately, you can spell out the word “copyright.” The copyright symbol or word should be followed by the year the manuscript was first published (or requested to be published) and the owner of the copyright (your name or company). It should also include the statement “All rights reserved.” Here’s an example of how this should look: “© 2002 Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved.”

Other statements may follow the copyright notice. There are several formats that can be used, so you may want to examine the title page of several books and novels to see the type of material that may be included here. Here is a simple example:

                  Copyright © 2016 by Your Name. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

                  This Is My Book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


You may register your copyright either online or by snail mail. The application to register a copyright includes three requirements: completing the application form, paying a filing fee (currently $35), and submitting a non-returnable copy (or two, if you submit by snail mail) of your work. As of this printing, the wait time for an online application is 8 months, and the wait time for a snail-mailed application is 13 months, so it is more expedient to apply online.

To file online, go to the Copyright Office website at Be sure to read the tutorial on how to apply, and be aware that you’ll need to file Form TX. When you apply online, you can upload the final, proofed copy of your manuscript as it will appear when published. Also, be aware that a $35 fee (as of this printing) is required when you submit the request.

If you prefer to register by snail mail, you must first get an application from the Copyright Office website ( or by calling the Forms and Publications Hotline at 202-707-9100 (You will want Form TX). Once you’ve completely filled out the application, you can send it with a $35 filing fee and two copies of your book to:

                Library of Congress
                Copyright Office
                101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
                Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

You will not receive your material back from the Copyright Office.

One final word of warning: there are many scams associated with filing a copyright, so, as in all things, tread carefully. There are many companies who are willing to file your copyright for you—for a small fee. There is no reason to do this, as you will still need to fill out the forms, pay the copyright fee, and submit a copy of your book. It saves you no time and only costs you more money. There are also companies who claim they can “bypass” the wait or have special ways to deal with the bureaucracy. RUN! There is no way to speed up the process. Some scams claim they have an “alternate” copyright that is easier and faster. THERE IS NO SUCH THING. And, finally, some companies will access the Library of Congress listings and send you an email or letter stating that they have seen your work and want to publish your work. This is another scam by so-called “subsidy” publishers to separate you from your money.

So be careful out there. Learn to copyright—not wrong.

Monday, June 20, 2016

5 Reasons to Go to a Writers Conference

Jessica Nelson

I just got back from the three-day West Virginia Writers Conference in Ripley, WV. It’s one of the best gatherings of writers in the tri-state area. For the past five years, I’ve attended the weekend conference. I always have fun, and I always learn more about writing. And I always come back inspired to dive back into my various projects. So in honor of conference season, I’m giving you five great reasons to go to a conference.

1. You’ll learn something new. Writers conferences are a great place to learn new tips, techniques, shortcuts, and methods to improve your writing. Most conferences offer a variety of workshops in a variety of genres; you can learn more about your chosen genre, or you can branch out and try something you haven’t written before. If you go to a workshop on a genre you don’t usually write, you can learn something new that will help you with your current projects. A poetry workshop will teach you the importance of the perfect word and how to hear the musicality of your lines. A workshop on fantasy or sci-fi will teach you world-building, while a workshop on thrillers will teach you how to build suspense.

2. You’ll have fun. Writers conferences can be a blast! Workshops are filled with laughter as you learn and share stories. Meals are spent swapping stories with new friends and old. Free time is spent chatting with strangers or browsing books. And at the West Virginia Writers conference, nights are spent either around the bonfire with s’mores or hanging out on the back porch with music and adult beverages. Or, if you’re me, nights are spent in the room with your roommates, alternately kicking butt and getting your butt kicked at cards and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.

3. You can build a network. Having a network of authors, agents, editors, and publishers can be super helpful later down the road. And conferences are a great place to build that network! Many writers conferences will bring in a publisher or an agent or some other kind of book-industry representative. Go talk to them. Say hi. Get their business card. Pitch your novel. Make a friend. These are the kinds of people you will want to help you when it’s time for you to get your novel out into the world.

4. You might be able to go for free or at a reduced cost. I’m not sure about all conferences, but West Virginia Writers allows high school and college students to attend the conference for free in exchange for working as interns. Which is fine by this college student, because it means I do everything I normally would anyway, plus I get to help in workshops and get close to the presenters. This year, WV Writers offered conference scholarships in the name of Terry W. McNemar, a former WV Writers president who recently passed away. Do some research on your local conferences. They might offer scholarship or reduced rates. But you’ll never know if you don’t look.

5. You’ll make new friends. One of my favorite parts of conference is seeing the two dozen or so friends that I only get to see once a year. Sure, I keep up with them on social media, but it’s nice to catch up in person. And every year I make new friends. All I have to do is sit down next to someone and ask an opening question: Where are you from? or What do you write? Then I let the conversation flow. It’s great to listen to fellow writers animatedly talk about their current projects or favorite books. Let’s be frank: it’s just awesome to be surrounded by people whose weird matches your weird. Because those people, my friends, become your tribe.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

An Interview with Sandi Rog

Sandi Rog
Sandi Rog, one of our beloved editors and the author of Out of the Ashes (a 2016 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award finalist), has announced her imminent retirement from IFW. But she is moving on to bigger and better things--like her own publishing company! We are so proud of Sandi and honored that she agreed to be interviewed about her new company. We wish her the best of luck for the future.
And, without further ado, an interview with the splendid Sandi Rog.
--Jessica Nelson
Q: Congratulations on establishing your new publishing company, TULPEN PUBLISHING!What inspired you/made you decide to start your own publishing company?

A: That’s a great question. As you all know, I’m an author, and after getting several royalty checks over the years, I discovered, I can make more money off the blood, sweat, and tears put into my books if I publish them myself. This is becoming a trend among many writers, even bestselling authors.

 A good contract will pay authors 10 percent off the “retail,” meaning 10 percent off the price of the book. So if the book sold for $14.00, the author would get $1.40 per book. This is considered a fair royalty rate from publisher to author. However, there are publishers out there who only pay 10 percent off the “wholesale” price or “net” worth. That means if the book costs $7.00 to print, the author would only earn 70 cents off each sale of the book. I’ve dealt with publishers who pay both these amounts, and in my opinion (and most agents will agree), the royalty amount of 10 percent off the “wholesale” is unethical and unfair to the author. Not what I’d call “author friendly” at all. Ultimately, this is what motivated me to publish my own book, but I also made my company available to other writers because I know a lot of talented authors out there who can’t get a big house to take their work. It’s my goal for Tulpen Publishing to be another avenue for those authors so they can get their books published.

Q: Will you be publishing e-books, print-bound, or both? 

A: I will be publishing e-books and print books. I will say the e-books are the biggest sellers. I’ve made ten times more on my e-book sales than I have on my print sales. E-books are now the biggest sellers in the market.

Q: Is there a set royalties factor for each title, or will royalties be based on the genre?

A: I’m eager to treat any author who writes for Tulpen Publishing with a fair royalty rate. All authors, of any genre, will receive 10 percent off the retail price of their book.

Q: Do you plan to publish an equal number of male and female authors? (I ask this, because numbers are adversely skewed in favor of men with the majority of US publishers, outside of the romance genre.) New and established authors?

A: I plan to publish books that have a great story and are written well, no matter who the book is written by, whether male or female, or new or established. If you’re a new author and your book hasn’t been edited, please don’t submit it. Don’t waste your time, or mine. I will reject it. I’ve already had to reject several manuscripts for this very reason. This is also why I’ve added Inspiration for Writers (IFW) to my website. For people who need an editor, they can go to someone I trust. It’s important they know I’m not making a profit from any of their edits if I send them to IFW. If you run into a publisher that offers editing services, RUN in the opposite direction. They can’t be trusted, and they may just be out to get your money with the promise of publishing your book if you pay an exorbitant amount of fees. An author should never have to pay to be published (unless they specifically hire a self-publishing company). Tulpen Publishing is a traditional publisher. We don’t charge our authors for anything.

Q: Do you consider a writer's platform before offering a publication contract?

A: Platform is very important; however, I’ve seen authors without platforms become big sellers because their story is great! But I will look at an author’s platform, and that will have an influence on my decision. For those who don’t know what a “platform” is, read this ARTICLE.

Platform is kind of like managers saying, “We won’t hire you if you don’t have any experience.” Well, how do you get experience if you can’t get a job? Many publishers won’t take on an author if they don’t have a platform. In my experience, a GOOD STORY is what sells and what will then help build your platform, so don’t be discouraged if your platform is a little flimsy. Still, I do hope to see an author online: Facebook, website, blog, etc. We want more than just family and friends to buy the book.

Q: How involved will your company be with promotions? (i.e., book tour, advertising, free review copies, interviews, etc.)

A: Once an author is published with Tulpen, we initially offer 20 free books for promotions, giveaways, copies to keep, etc. The author’s book will be on our website, along with the author’s bio and a brief description of the book. We will also provide more copies (if the author has need) for promotions such as book signings, etc.

 Publishers today, whether big or small, have little to do with marketing. All the marketing belongs to the author, which is why it’s important to have a platform. I do share a Marketing Plan Sheet with my authors, and in fact, HERE’S A LINK to a welcome letter I send to all of Tulpen’s new authors (something few publishers offer).

Q: Will your company's books be stocked in independent bookstores, major bookstores, department stores?

A: Tulpen Publishing is a POD press, so if a person wishes to purchase an author’s book from, let’s say B&N, the buyer will have to order it, and will likely even be charged shipping (unless they’re a member of B&N; then they won’t have to pay for shipping). As for independent bookstores, if the author knows of one in their hometown, Tulpen can send the bookseller the author’s book(s) to put on their shelves. These small booksellers are usually more open to putting local authors’ books on their shelves, and it’s best for the author to make initial contact while Tulpen does the follow-up.

Tulpen Publishing’s wish is to put God first: to be ethical, honest, furnish reliable edits, and offer an "author-friendly" environment with no upfront costs, industry-competitive compensation at 10 percent off the retail price, world-wide distribution, and numerous tips and help for marketing.

Q: Are you actively seeking submissions? If so, where are your submission guidelines posted?

A: Yes, we are open to submissions. You can read our submission guidelines HERE.

Q: Will you only be publishing Christian books?

A: If a book is clean according to your best judgment and a character experiences moral growth, Tulpen will be willing to take a look. But Tulpen is principally focused on Christian books.

Q: You're already a multi-published author, so what advice do you have for new writers who want to break into publication?

A: Write a story that you’re passionate about, a story that excites you. If you’re not excited, your readers won’t be either. Finally, learn the craft! The editors here at IFW can teach you a lot. But before hiring an editor, get your hands on the books below. Not only will they make your editor’s job easier, learning on your own first will improve your manuscript so much that you won’t have to hire an editor two or three times to get your book where it needs to be.

"Self-editing for Fiction Writers" by Dave King and Rennie Browne
"The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman
"As the Plot Thickens" by Noah Lukeman

Thank you so much for having me. It was an honor to be interviewed by my favorite editors.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Sandy Tritt

Pacing is a tool writers have to control the speed in which a story reads. Lush, descriptive segments slow the pace, giving readers a breather. Rapid-fire dialogue speeds the pace, leaving the reader breathless. It is up to the writer to decide when the pace needs quickened and when it should be put in slow gear.

Perhaps the easiest way to judge is to ask questions as you read. Do you start drifting? You need action. Is the conversation or action moving too quickly? You need narrative to even out the pacing. Beware, though, not to use repetition to slow your pace. Instead, find new things to say or new things to focus on. For example, during a highly emotional scene that is moving too quickly, allow the character to study a picture on the wall or watch children playing nearby. Or allow him to remember a conversation from the past. Or focus on one of his other senses, such as the smells or sounds in the background. This can add depth and an emotional layer, as well as slowing the pace.

We can also slow the pace of a chapter or even the entire manuscript by adding more description, more exposition (background information) and more internal dialogue (character thoughts).

Let’s look at an example:

Ray walked the mile from the hospital to Bob’s Sunoco. He found Gary in the bay, changing the oil on a pale blue Cadillac. He kicked his brother’s feet until Gary rolled from beneath the car. “We gotta talk.”

            “I get off at three.”


            “What’s up?”

            “Let’s walk.”  

            Gary followed Ray outside and toward town. “What did the doctor say about Mom?”

            “He put her in the hospital.”


            “He got the tests back.”


            “What did the doctor say?” Gary repeated.

            “She’s got cancer.”

            Gary stopped walking. “Cancer?”

             “Something about a mass in her brain.”

             “Does she need surgery? Does she have to take chemo? Or radiation?”

            “He says there ain’t nothing they can do. He says it’s too late.”      
            “Too late? Too late for what?”

            “Dr. Brown says . . .” Ray rubbed his head. “He says it’s too late. He says she ain’t coming home.”

            “What’re we gonna do?” he said.

            “About what?”

            Gary took a new pack of Marlboros from his pocket and tapped it against his palm. “The boys.”

            “I guess we gotta pick them up from school and fix them something to eat.”

            “I don’t mean now,” Gary said, opening the cigarettes. “Until they’re grown. Who’ll take care of them?”

            “Mom will.”

            “You okay?”

            Ray scratched the five-day-old stubble on his chin. “They made a mistake. We just gotta find Dad and get this all straightened out. Dad will know what to do.”

            Gary lit a cigarette and slowly exhaled.

This is an important scene, filled with kinetic emotion. Yet, it passes so quickly we don’t feel the full impact of it. This is where we need to slow the pacing down. To do this, we add two things: internal dialogue and description. In our rewrite, I will put the internal dialogue in red and the added descriptive passages in purple. See how slowing the pace adds power to the words:           

            Ray walked the mile from the hospital to Bob’s Sunoco. He found Gary in the bay, changing the oil on a pale blue Cadillac. He kicked his brother’s feet until Gary rolled from beneath the car. “We gotta talk.”

            “I get off at three.”


            Gary stood and wiped his hands on an oily rag. “What’s up?”

            “Let’s walk.” Ray feared his brain was going to explode. Too much was going on, too many things were changing. He’d read the front page of the newspaper over and over while waiting in the doctor’s office. The Apollo 7 astronauts were heading home after eleven days in space. President Johnson was negotiating for the release of fourteen North Vietnamese POW’s. And Jackie Kennedy, the dead President’s wife, was marrying a Greek billionaire the very next day. He didn’t even know if it was legal for the President’s widow to marry a foreigner.

            Gary followed Ray outside and toward town. “What did the doctor say about Mom?”

            “He put her in the hospital.”

            Colorful leaves swirled around their ankles, the drier ones crunching under their heavy steps. Gary kicked them out of his way. “Why?”

            “He got the tests back.”


            A young mother, her sweater flapping in the wind, pushed a baby carriage over the uneven sidewalk with one hand and pulled a stubborn toddler with the other. Ray stepped into the street to let her pass.

            “What did the doctor say?” Gary repeated.

            “She’s got cancer.”

            Gary stopped walking. “Cancer?”

            Ray slowed down until Gary caught up. “Something about a mass in her brain.”

            Gary was quiet for a long time, then spoke softly. “Does she need surgery? Does she have to take chemo? Or radiation?”

            “He says there ain’t nothing they can do. He says it’s too late.” Ray remembered that part very well. He’d argued with Dr. Brown, insisting there had to be something. She had three young boys who needed her.

            “Too late? Too late for what?”

            “Dr. Brown says . . .” Ray rubbed his head. “He says it’s too late. He says she ain’t coming home.”

            They walked slower, silently, past the library and into the park. Pre-schoolers played on the swings and slide, laughing and shouting.

Gary leaned against an oak tree, his dirty gray jumpsuit blending into the trunk. “What’re we gonna do?” he said.

            “About what?”

            Gary took a new pack of Marlboros from his pocket and tapped it against his palm. “The boys.”

            “I guess we gotta pick them up from school and fix them something to eat.”

            “I don’t mean now,” Gary said, opening the cigarettes. “Until they’re grown. Who’ll take care of them?”

            “Mom will.”

            “You okay?”

            Ray scratched the five-day-old stubble on his chin. “They made a mistake. We just gotta find Dad and get this all straightened out. Dad will know what to do.”

            Gary lit a cigarette and slowly exhaled.

            Ray watched the smoke disappear into the October-blue sky. A foreigner. Two hundred million people in the United States and the President’s widow was going to marry a foreigner. No wonder the world was so damned screwed up.


 Likewise, to speed the pace, omit everything except for the direct action or dialogue. Ignore descriptions, ignore reactions, ignore anything other than the bare necessities. This is necessary when the action is more important than character reflection. Let’s look at the following example, in which Gary and Ray are trying to repair a barn roof destroyed in a storm when the storm comes around again. Gary slips on the wet roof and is now on the steep slope of the roof, his weight partially held by a fragile drainpipe below. Ray is able to extend one hand, which Gary has grabbed onto. David is trying to reposition the ladder so Gary can climb down. Here’s how NOT to do it: 

            “Can you reach the ladder with your foot?” Ray asked. He wondered how long it would be until the drainpipe gave way.

            “If I move it,” Gary said, “I won’t have anything to hold onto.”

             “Just me.” Ray’s arm ached from holding Gary’s weight. He hoped David had seen what was going on and would try to move the ladder. Someone had to do something. Otherwise, Gary would fall.

            “I don’t trust you that much,” Gary said.

            “Looks like you ain’t got much choice.” The rain still fell. Ray looked at the sky. Dark clouds hovered even lower. The rain was there to stay.

            The ladder vibrated again.

            “Shit,” Ray whispered. “I wish they’d stop shaking that thing.” It made him nervous. Surely David knew that shaking the ladder also shook the gutter. And any little movement added pressure to it. It could snap at any time.

            “I wish they’d stack up some hay underneath me.”

            “Hell, as much rain as we’ve got today, you’d just land in the mud. Ain’t gonna get much softer than that.” The mud had to be deep. But still, he knew it was a long fall and Gary would most likely break some bones or worse. He remembered when he’d broken his leg in tenth grade. It was so difficult trying to get around the school on crutches and it seemed that his leg itched all the time. He’d stuck an unbent clothes hanger under the cast to scratch his leg.

            “You trying to tell me to jump?”

            “Nah. You’d probably pull me down with you.” Ray knew Gary wouldn’t really do that. But he also knew Gary was still angry with him for spending the money on the drum set.

            “I’d damn sure try.”

            “Let me have your foot,” David’s voice said.

            “No,” Gary answered.

            The roof shimmered in the rain. If the situation had been different, it would even have been beautiful.

            “I’m right underneath you,” David said. “If you lift your left foot, I’ll put it on the rung.”

            “Shit,” Gary said. “I’m trusting Ray to hold me and you to guide me. I might as well jump.”

            “Or apologize for being such an ass all the time.”

            Ray smiled. David had a point. All the boys had taken Ray’s side of the argument. Except maybe for Joey, who hadn’t said anything. But then, Joey never did talk much.

            “I’ll jump first.”


It’s difficult to be too worried about Gary with all the internal dialogue muddying the situation. Let’s look at how cutting all the internal dialogue and description adds immediacy and excitement to this scene: 

            “Can you reach the ladder with your foot?”

            “If I move it,” Gary said, “I won’t have anything to hold onto.”

             “Just me.” Ray’s arm ached from holding Gary’s weight.

            “I don’t trust you that much,” Gary said.

            “Looks like you ain’t got much choice.”

            The ladder vibrated again.

            “Shit,” Ray whispered. “I wish they’d stop shaking that thing.”

            “I wish they’d stack up some hay underneath me.”

            “Hell, as much rain as we’ve got today, you’d just land in the mud. Ain’t gonna get much softer than that.”

            “You trying to tell me to jump?”

            “Nah. You’d probably pull me down with you.”

            “I’d damn sure try.”

            “Let me have your foot,” David’s voice said.

            “No,” Gary answered.

            “I’m right underneath you,” David said. “If you lift your left foot, I’ll put it on the rung.”

            “Shit,” Gary said. “I’m trusting Ray to hold me and you to guide me. I might as well jump.”

            “Or apologize for being such an ass all the time.”

            “I’ll jump first.”

Reading our prose aloud is perhaps the best way to judge the pace. Listen as you read and consider if the action is happening too fast or not fast enough. And remember, there is never one right answer. The pace of your story is just one more element that contributes to your unique writing style. Experiment, study, write. But in the end, use your own judgment.