Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Not eBay?

We at Inspiration for Writers have done something we've never done before and most likely will never do again. But we've done it for the fun of it, for the excitement of it. We've done it as a special Christmas gift to some lucky writer out there. What have we done? Are you sitting down? We are offering a gift certificate for the detailed edit and critique of a book-length manuscript (fiction or nonfiction, your choice, up to 100,000 words) on eBay. The starting bid is just ONE DOLLAR. There is no reserve. If there's only one bid, well, the winner will get a gift certificate worth up to three thousand dollars for that buck. Yep. For real.

The winner will also get the same personal care and professional quality we give every client.

Want to know more? Better yet, want to submit a bid? Just go to If you have any problems with the link, go to and search for item number 90646489420.

And if you still have problems, email me:

But whatever you do, hurry. The auction will end on Wednesday, Dec. 21. That's in TWO DAYS. Or less, depending on when you're reading this.

Please help us get the word out by passing this on to your writing groups, list-serves, blogs, enews, etc. Thank you!

If you prefer a more traditional approach (or a guarantee you'll "win"), we are also offering gift certificates of any amount for any of our services. You can visit our website at to order one yourself, or you can email me and I'll help you. We can email gift certificates so they'll arrive in time for Christmas, or, if you prefer, we'll gift wrap and drop ship for you. Yes, we'll even include a hand-written card personalized just for you. The good part? You'll get a 5% discount! Order a $100 gift certificate and pay just $95. Save $50 on a $1000 certficate. Certificates can come in any denomination, so you can make it fit your budget.You can also order a gift certificate good for a specific service instead of a monetary value. Email me and we can figure out the specifics and make sure you get exactly what you want. The best part? You can order one for yourself! It's a great gift to give--or to receive. This offer ends on December 23, so hurry.

Now, go enjoy your day and start the new year off right.

God bless us, every one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

All Work and No Play Makes a Dull Writer

by Guest Blogger Karin Gillepsie

Have you ever read the work of a young, uncorrupted writer? It’s like venturing into a jungle: Fresh. Green. Wild. Monkeys beating their furry chests. Parrots shrieking. Anacondas curling around trees. A chaos of creativity.

Such a writer is ruled almost entirely by her subconscious. The subconscious—let’s call her Crazy Daisy—doesn’t know the difference between a gerund and a dangling participle; she only cares about expressing herself. Writing is play, not work.

Unfortunately, Crazy Daisy, charming as she is, has a problem: her work meanders like a toddler strewing petals at a wedding; she needs to be reigned in.
Enter Ms. Grind.

Ms. Grind Cares About the Rules

She’ll tell Crazy Daisy that a sentence can’t run on for three pages or that exclamation points shouldn’t be showered over a page like pepper. She’s so bossy and judgmental she frightens away Crazy Daisy. Ms. Grind doesn’t care; she doesn’t needs that wild little girl hanging around anyway. Yet when she tries to have fun with her prose, it’s scary, like having Dick Cheney ask you to pull his finger. Most of her writing comes out freeze-dried and soulless.

Fact is, all writers are slightly schizophrenic, their minds divided between Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grind. We usually start out dominated by Crazy Daisy but once we immerse ourselves into the sea of endless writing rules, Ms. Grind tends to take over.

Can Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grind live harmoniously in a writer’s head? In other words, is it possible to create prose that’s technically proficient but also has passion, wonder, and playfulness? Yes, but only if you allow Crazy Daisy and Ms. Grind to play to their strengths.

New Ideas Usually Come from Crazy Daisy

You’re taking a walk or daydreaming and suddenly . . . BAM! You get a great idea. Crazy Daisy, impetuous minx, wants to start writing immediately. It’s like she has a case of diarrhea. You’ll be tempted to run with her. Don’t do it. Stop and take a moment to diaper the little imp.

Believe it or not, it’s time to bring Ms. Grind into the equation—not to shoot down the idea—but to structure it. Ms. Grinds loves outlines and plans and she’s good at them. After a little structure work, she might find that the idea isn’t workable after all. Sadly, not all of Crazy Daisy’s ideas are golden. She likes to take risks—and some don’t pay off.

In fact, it’s wise to begin every writing session with Ms. Grind and structure your thoughts when you sit down to write, whether to compose a short scene or a brief essay. You’ll satisfy Ms. Grind and give Crazy Daisy some perimeters. T.S. Elliot summarized this process:

When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its upmost and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.

Keep Ms. Grind Out of Your First Drafts

Once structure’s in place, it's time to let Crazy Daisy loose. Allow her to scribble on walls, turn somersaults or eat paste. Sometimes she might break down structural walls—but that’s okay too. Ms. Grind, however, isn’t allowed in. Why? Because she’ll keep up a steady stream of inner dialogue that sounds something like this:

That sentence was abysmal. It must be fixed immediately. Can’t you do anything right? Who do you think you are, passing yourself as a writer?

Occasionally Crazy Daisy interjects, bringing flashes of brilliance, but mostly it’s Ms. Grind who stands over the writer, wielding her ruler.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Grind doesn’t give up her authority easily. How can you keep her out of your head when you're drafting?

Learn How to Break the Judgment Habit

Most people aren’t aware of the stream of criticism flowing in their minds while they’re writing. Thinking is so fast and transitory, it can be hard to catch Ms. Grind’s endless digs. That why it’s helpful to develop a habit of sitting quietly and meditating for fifteen minutes each day. Ms. Grind will no doubt object, saying, “What a ridiculous idea. Do you realize we’re wasting valuable writing time sitting around doing nothing?”

She’s no dummy. Ms. Grind knows that meditation is the best way to access all of Crazy Daisy’s wild brilliance. Meditation helps you to recognize Ms. Grind’s judgmental thoughts, and to ignore them when you’re drafting a piece.

When Crazy Daisy takes over the draft, watch out, because diamonds and gold nuggets will start shooting out of your computer. BEWARE. Don’t pat yourself on the back because that, too, is a judgment, and any time you make a judgment, you’re issuing an invitation to Ms. Grind. The time for judgment, positive or negative, is in the re-write. Not now.

Writing will suddenly be fun again and as effortless as letting out a whoop of joy. You’ll find yourself falling in love all over again.

One caveat: Crazy Daisy is very messy.

When you go back to revise, you might be horrified at the results. Yes, the writing was intoxicating but the hangover’s a killer. Ms. Grind will say, “I told you so.” Don’t listen to her. Simply ask her to help you clean it up. She’ll balk at first, saying, “If you left things to me there wouldn’t so much clutter.”

True, but neither would there be so much fresh, wild writing. Give it a try and see. It can be a little disorienting. You might not even recognize your own prose. By the way, there’s an easy way to tell which personality dominates your writing. If you love the drafting phase and hate structure and rewriting, Crazy Daisy probably dominates your writing. If you like outlines, loathe the drafting phase and love to polish your prose, you need a T-shirt that says “Team Ms. Grind.”

*If you resisted reading this article, thank Ms.Grind. She’s not interested in articles about making writing fun. It threatens her authority. She much prefers list articles like “Ten Ways To Punch Up Your Dialogue.” They’re useful; this article is a waste of time. Crazy Daisy, indeed.

Karin Gillespie is the author of five novels. Her publisher’s website is

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stop! Grammar Time!

There are several common grammatical mistakes that haunt everyone: even writers. In order to overcome this grammatical wasteland, you have two choices.
1. You can spend endless time studying, learning and relearning in order to become the world's next great grammarian... OR
2. You can take a look at this quick and easy cheat sheet whenever you have doubts about the the way you've used the words which, that, who, whom, its, it's, whos, or whose. Or if you an unsure about one of those pesky semi-colons

Graphic created and compiled by Stacy Tritt, Brigid Cain, and Kate Scott.

Included in the graphic above are some of the most common grammatical mistakes that people make in writing everyday, and was created and complied by a group of English 304 (Technical Editing) students at West Virginia University.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My First Semester in an MFA Writing Program

by Rhonda Browning White

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived on the idyllic campus of Converse College for my first semester in their MFA in Creative Writing Program. I was nervous about meeting my dorm-mate (Me? Staying in a dorm? With a total stranger? At my age?), who turned out to be a spectacular poet, mother and now my sweet friend. I wondered if I’d be accepted among a group of sixty students, forty-five of whom already had a history together, or if the professors and visiting authors would look down from their lofty positions as they berate my writing. After all, these people were real writers—authors whose names I recognized, whose novels and poetry collections sit on my bookshelves even now.

I needn’t have worried.

These same instructors and brilliant students are now my friends: we touch base via email, follow each other’s daily lives on Facebook, share links to interesting blog links and sometimes chat on the phone about everything from a class assignment to a great novel we’ve read to a recipe you’ve just got to try!

But what is a low-residency program, and what do you do in it, I’m often asked. Well I can’t speak for all of them, but I can tell you about mine. Here’s a typical day in the life of a Converse low-res student:

Breakfast in the dining hall (surprisingly yummy food), begins at seven and lasts until nine, and you are welcome at a table with your cohorts, or you might want to sit with a professor or a visiting author to chat about, oh, anything.

Before the first session of the day begins following breakfast, students can attend one-on-one meetings with their faculty mentor to discuss the semester syllabus, to brainstorm about a current project, or to chat about suggestions for their reading list. On some days, student group meetings are held in this time frame, as well. If students don’t have a scheduled meeting, they’ll often use this for a leisurely chat over coffee, free writing time, strolling the campus grounds (beautiful gardens, impressive statuary and quiet nooks for settling in with a good book).

The day’s first craft lecture follows. Doesn’t this sound boring? I mean, come on, a craft lecture? Let me tell you, these things are amazing! This semester, Dan Wakefield taught us using his late friend Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction, authors Leslie Pietrzyk (my mentor this semester—Yay!) and Marlin Barton gave inspiring lectures on story beginnings and using violence in fiction, and national bestselling author Robert Olmstead lectured on how characters’ thoughts can change the whole direction of a story. Powerful stuff, and these were only a few of the fiction lectures! “But wait,” you say, “do you mean you studied things other than fiction in a fiction program?” Absolutely! One of the reasons I chose Converse is that students are encouraged to attend lectures by professors outside their primary genre. Not only does this present inspiration in directions you might not have considered, but it provides a broader scope should you decide to teach in the future. Hence, I enjoyed seminars by phenomenal poets Denise Duhamel, Suzanne Cleary and Albert Goldbarth. I also benefited from seminars, lectures and readings by guest faculty and speakers, including Brock Clarke and Marshall Jon Fisher and faculty Susan Tekulve and our amazing program director Rick Mulkey.

A leisurely two-hour lunch followed each day’s first seminar, when you’d hear chatter and laughter throughout the dining hall and across the campus as new relationships budded and old friendships grew fonder. Of course, some of this two-hour period was usually spent writing or reading, digesting not only dessert but the instruction and information we’d received in our day’s first lecture.

A walk in the sun across the campus green led us to our afternoon workshop. Workshops are broken into genre—fiction, non-fiction and poetry—and each workshop includes only five to ten students and one or two professors in a roundtable setting. It’s here where the real work occurs, where students watch their skills grow like magic and their writing improve before their eyes. No kidding. I’m still amazed at how much better my writing was on the last day as compared to the first day. Not only were we instructed in methods to improve our work, but we applied those things to our writing and discussed what worked and what didn’t. Workshops were very “hands on,” and over the course of the residency, each student had an hour’s discussion and constructive critique of their own work by the workshop instructors and fellow students. Instructors welcomed our questions and encouraged each student to offer feedback and share their opinions of the selections we read and the writing exercises we completed.

A second stimulating lecture period followed our craft workshop. Some days, these periods consisted of events like a panel discussion of authors or even a sit-down Q & A with Algonquin Publishing’s Executive Editor Chuck Adams. Receiving this kind of insight into the world of publishing is critically advantageous to a developing author’s success and, as students, we were ever aware that we were being provided a “secret map” that will guide us through the tangled jungle of submission and publication.

Dinner (and more laughter) follows this last lecture of the day, then we’re treated to an hour of guest speaker, faculty or student readings. The readings are casual and comfortable, and some of the stories and poems shared take us from hilarity to tears and back again. The night’s readings end with a social hour, which tends to morph into social hours. As our ten-day residency progressed, these social gatherings grew longer as our conversations grew deeper and our friendships became stronger. A few at a time, students and faculty disbursed to grab a snack, study, write, or do a load of laundry. The common areas of the dorm (usually the veranda) always remained a social meeting place, however, even into the wee hours. Get an idea you need to bounce off someone? Head to the veranda. Can’t think of a word you need to complete a rhyme in your sestina? Head to the veranda. Can’t finish your bag of popcorn? Don’t worry, your friends on the veranda will devour it for you. Eventually—sometimes as the sky begins to brighten again—the rocking chairs slow, and the last few upright writers head to their beds and dream of new stories before time to rise and do it all again.

Too soon, our residency ended, but the flame of passion for writing still burns strong as each of us work from home to complete our semester assignments. We study the novels and books on our individualized reading lists. We write critical theory papers about what we’ve read, discerning what works and what doesn’t in those stories, and deciding what we’ve learned that we can apply to our own writing. We also write our own stories or essays or poems—creating packets that we’ll send to our mentor every three or four weeks. We stay in touch with our mentors and our cohorts, and always, we look forward to the next semester, when we’ll be together with our like-minded, creative family at Converse.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Make a Splash with Summer Writing Prompts

by Stacy Tritt

Summer heat fried your writer’s brain? Bust through writer’s block with these fun prompts!

1. First Line Revamp:

Take the first line of one of your old stories, poems, novels or nonfiction piece and try to take it in a new direction. Or, borrow someone else's first line to get you started. Here are a few you can use, but please, don't get in trouble for copyright infringement; make sure to make these your own or credit the author.

· “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

· Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

· “I am an invisible man.” —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

· “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” —Samuel Beckett, Murphy

· “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” –J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

2. Favorite Words Shake-up:

Write down several of your favorite words on small slips of paper, put them in a bag and shake them up. Be sure to include different types of words (nouns, verbs, and adjectives are all good choices.) Draw two or three words out of the bag and see if you can create some fun new lines that will get you started on a new story. Here are some of my favorite words to get you started.

Scissors, Creepy, Eggplant, Ghastly, Skipped, Dropped, Awkward, Guffawed, Lost, Monster, Toe, Outraged, Dangerous, Wandered, Kitten.

So, let’s say you draw the words Scissors, Awkward, and Kitten. You could come up with the lines, “I kept telling Bobby Blackburn that if he didn’t stop running with scissors, a kitten would laugh at him for being awkward. But would he listen? Of course not.”

Now, these lines may sound a little silly, but they just might spark a story: Who is speaking? What sparked the idea that a kitten would laugh at a boy? Is the narrator trustworthy? What really happened? If the answers to those questions don’t spark a story, they might just spark a character—or another situation. The idea here is to get the creative juices flowing, and to get unlikely words to match up.

3. Down with the Weather:

Look out the window right now. Imagine being stuck outside with only three items (any three items you want!) in the current weather. How would you feel, what would you be doing, what would be your emotional responses and physical instincts? Get a vivid picture in your mind of what it would be like, then start writing a scene from one of your character's view point about being stranded in the weather you see outside right now.

4. Point-of-View Switcheroo

Take a story that you’ve already written and change either the point of view OR change the viewpoint character. So if it was originally written in third person, try writing it in either first or second person and vice versa. Or try it from an omniscient narrator. OR, pick a different character as your viewpoint character. Here’s one example:

“Sally ran to the corner, panting.‘Wait! Don’t leave, you jerk! We weren’t done talking yet!”’

This could morph into;

“I ran to the corner, breath tearing at my lungs. ‘Wait!’ I panted, clutching my side. ‘Don’t leave, you jerk! We weren’t done talking yet!”’

The point of this exercise is to revisit your old work and see it from a different angle so you can improve it.

5. Social Network Stew:

If you are a member of a social network like Facebook, Twitter, or even blogs and email, they are a breeding ground for interesting phrases and dialogue. Try to create a conversation between two characters by tweaking random friend’s status updates, tweets, or one-liners from your email inbox. You’ll be amazed at all of the great writing fuel that you overlook just because it appears to be just a normal part of your daily life.

Got your brain cooled off? Or is it just heating up? Now that you’ve got your wheels turning, go hit your word processor, quick! The heat of your summer writing is just getting started.

(c) Inspiration for Writers, Inc., 2011. For more writing tips and techniques, visit our website,

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Slice of Writer's Life

" Keeping the Well Filled With Creativity"

“So you see, imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”
~Brenda Ueland, author If You Want to Write, A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit

Creative people are dependent on their imaginations. The perpetual answer to, “What if?” fuels the work of artists, choreographers, teachers, writers and anybody who relies on ideas for sustenance. Ideas are generally responses to sensory input from the world we experience day in and day out. If all it takes is the world to stimulate creative ideas, where did the idea of “writer’s block” come from? How is it possible NOT to have something to write about if all we need is experience? Writers become too comfortable in their surroundings and what feels like consistency becomes boredom. Boredom becomes complacency. When the brain is bored it shuts down. When we stop feeding our brains a variety of sensory impulses, we go on autopilot for a while, then the ideas dry up.
In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, she describes a process called “filling the well” as the work creative people require on a regular, ongoing basis in order to maintain “focused attention,” or what I call awareness. Many people think they are aware, but most people are secure in their situations because they have created and repeated them over and over until the sensory organs shut down and they think they are experiencing writer’s block. While it’s popular to say you have or have had writer’s block, I think it’s a bunch of whooey. Because if we journal often enough, read plenty, exercise regularly, avoid foods that cause us problems, and engage the world in new ways then writer’s block is a myth. A writer may not have the whole story plotted out or be writing on the work-in-progress every single day, but as long as that writer keeps the keyboard tapping or the pushing the pen or the body and the mind thinking and moving, they are not blocked. Ever. How does it work?
I was in the audience at a book fair several years ago and young adult bestselling author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was answering questions. A young man asked what she did when she had writer’s block. Ms. Naylor responded, “I never have writer’s block. I have writer’s diarrhea. I don’t have time to write all the stories I can think of.” A very prolific writer, Naylor knew that the more she wrote the more she had to write, but everyone gets tired. That’s when the brain needs entertaining and the chance to feed itself with sights, sounds, motions, smells, and feelings it hasn’t experienced recently to shake up the creative juices and get them spilling onto the page again. This is what I refer to as creative play. It’s when a writer takes a leap out into the world and thoughtfully fills her mind with the ideas, arts, and images of other creative people.
It’s more than reading a good book or going to the movies. It’s going to museums, taking walks, taking pictures, doodling in a journal, taking a class in ceramics or ballroom dance, and attending concerts and lectures that open your awareness to the possibilities out there. The practice of creative play or “filling the well” is the opposite of what most writers do all day in their jobs. That’s primarily why it’s such a challenge. Our writing is about us and just us. We manipulate fictional lives and imaginary settings, but creative play demands we go out in the world and gain a new awareness by appreciating the work of other artists. It’s that simple. Appreciate someone else’s work in a deep, thoughtful manner on a regular basis and you will never run out of anything to write.

What do you do to keep the well full of creative juices?

Have you checked out my writer's guide to health and creativity? Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity (Who Dares Wins Publishing, 2011, is packed with ideas to help you in many ways. Visit my blog to get a taste of how to journal, exercise, relax, eat, and stay creative.

be well, write well.


(copyright Joy Held 2011)

Buy link:

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Slice of Writer's Life

"Three Things NOT To Say To An Editor"

You may already know this. Editors are not like other people. I mean this in a good way...some days. Even if you've worked with several already, there's a quirky one out there you need to prepare yourself for. First and foremost, editors are people too, albeit different people, but regardless of who or where they work, they are overworked, overscheduled, and overwhelmed. Cut 'em some slack.

It isn't an easy job convincing some writers to change their writing. Most writers take the "just open a vein" cliche way too seriously and consider their writing nothing less than the next great novel (or short story or article or etc.) The cold truth at the break of dawn is that if you have received a contract from a publisher or an agreement from a freelance editor on your writing, it simply means your piece shows promise. It is rarely, if ever, totally ready to go to print when it's accepted. Rarely.

Editing and revision should be a collaborative process. That means people have to agree to get along during the process. It isn't the editor's job to clean up the mechanics, plot problems, or sagging middle of your story. Plain and simple, it's the editor's job to point out the errant issues, provide some ideas for ways to improve, and it's your job to repair it. The editor (notice I didn't say, "your editor") is responsible for the big picture of your novel or article and how it factors into the overall premise of the magazine, newspaper, or the offerings of the publishing company. Your novel/article has been chosen to become part of a community of books or stories, and as the writer, it's imperative to work WITH the editor (and publisher) not against them. They truly have your best interests at heart as well as the publisher they work for.

Every opportunity to work with an editor is an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. Listen carefully to the editor of your piece and you will forever be changed for the better. Even an editor you disagree with has the big picture in mind when she makes her suggestions for changes. The changes are designed to ultimately make your work better, and isn't that what you want? Better writing every time? An open mind is all it requires. And civility. Be courteous to the editor. That means not saying any of the following to your editor in an email, over the phone, in your blog, on the loop, or outloud at a writer's conference:

1. "I'm going on vacation. You can finish the revisions can't you? It's just a couple of commas."

2. "I've always written it this way, and I've published three books writing this way. I'm not changing now."

3. "I'm expecting you to have the edits back to me in a week."

Put yourself in the editor's place. We are normally responsible for more than one manuscript at a time. We prioritize them according to when they were received AND when the deadline is if that is applicable.

Have you had a good or bad experience with an editor? Want to tell without using names? Try to share your story by showing what you learned even if the experience wasn't the best.

Meanwhile, have you looked at the digital version of my book Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity from Who Dares Wins Publishing? Check it out today!

For a constant diet of good things for writers, subscribe to my blog by leaving your email at

Be well, write well,

Joy Held

Copyright Joy Held 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bring Your Character to Life

We're approaching the end of the Spring season, and you know what that means: new life all around us! This life is inspirational! And with a little help, might just inspire us to give life to our own creations: our characters.

Giving life to a character is one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer. It's also one of the most difficult. Too many times in fiction we witness the "cardboard" or one-dimensional character. It takes more than the snap of a finger to create real characters, those we can visualize and root for and love. Instead, they develop over time, over many hours spent together.

As a writer, you need to think of the development of characters as being a process, a life cycle, instead of a moment of genius creation. One of Inspiration for Writers most requested workshop is "The Life Cycle of a Character," which breaks getting to know a character into several phases.

CONCEPTION is the initial spark, the idea that originally causes us to want to create this character. Sometimes the plot generates a spark—we know a story we want to tell and we need a character to tell it by. Sometimes we see a setting—a country porch with a dilapidated swing—that makes us wonder what kind of person lives there. Sometimes we run across a photograph that sparks our imagination and we create personality to go with the physical features. Or sometimes we see a possession like an antique spinning wheel and wonder the type of person who would own such a thing. Whatever the cause, writers conceive a character from an idea.

During the conception phase, we need to start assigning characteristics (knowing that once our character takes on a life of his own, he may change any of our assumptions about him). But, to get started, we still go through the paces. You may find it helpful to use a Character Trait Chart to assign physical description and background information.

BIRTH is when we pick up the limp character that we assigned physical attributes and psychological traits to, hold him in our arms, and breathe the breath of life into him from our very own souls. It's also the turning point -- his actual birth—and we cease having absolute control over him.

The first breath of life is when our character has a goal or "character statement." What, more than anything else in the world, does this character want? Consider the following character statements:

To become wealthy so the love of my life will return my love.
To have fun.
To keep my family together.
To break into the Rock 'n Roll charts and become a rock star.
As you can see, a character's goal can be as deep or as vapid as the individual. Note that for some characters, this statement may be a life goal, but for others, it may change as the character matures. Regardless, this is what motivates our character, and we must understand this motivation if we are to continue to add depth to his personality.

Part of a character's birth is the "layering" of personality traits. I have found that a good book of the Zodiac that includes both star signs and moon signs is a "cheap" way to add dimension to a character. Also, I search psychology books for complementary traits. Using resources can help with your writing. For example, you may find that alcoholics often possess irrational fears and suspicions or that a criminal skyjacker often has a religious mother who confided in him, that bed wetters are often aggressive and have difficulty adapting to new situations. These are the types of traits that add dimension to our characters.

ADOLESCENCE is when our character begins interacting with his environment. How does the setting of the story affect him? What is going to happen to him and how will he react to what happens to him? What conflict or fatal flaw will prevent him from achieving his goal? How will he overcome this conflict or flaw? How will he grow?

MATURITY is the final fleshing-out of a character. We now add body language (be sure to study a good body language text to understand how posture, facial expressions and mannerisms affect the way we are received by others) and dialogue to our character. We need to give him a distinctive voice, not just externally, but the way he will think in internal dialogue. Perhaps most importantly, we need to understand his emotional makeup. To fully understand our character, we need to mentally try him out in several emotional scenes so that we can know how he will react.

DEATH. Great characters never die. Never.

So—giving life to a character is much like being a parent. We do the best we can for our characters, give them years of our lives, our love and understanding, but the day comes when they rebel and say, "Enough. Let me be me," and we must allow them to live their own lives. And that is when we as writers have truly given life.

For additional tips, worksheets, and discussions, order your own copy of the Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook, which can be found on our website:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Writing Tip Card - Writing Wrongs

What do editors do when they get bored? (Okay, that's a trick question. Editors don't have time to get bored). However, in their spare time, the editors at Inspiration for Writers, Inc., made a list of the top "writing wrongs" they encounter. As the list grew, so did the suggestions for what to do with such a list. The result? A 3.75" x 8.25" glossy card you can keep by your computer to remind you to right your writing wrongs before sending out your manuscript.

The best news? We'll send a free card to the first ten people who email Sandy at Be sure to send your full mailing address and state what you want (a free Writing Wrongs card). If you belong to a writing group and would like enough for your group, email Sandy with the number of people in your group.

Now, in case you can't wait for your full-color card, here's what they say:

Think your manuscript is ready to send out into the world? Before you do, polish your prose by eliminating or reducing:
~ Spelling and grammar errors. Proof once more.
~ Telling. Take the time to act out scenes with appropriate action, dialogue, and description.
~ Was, were, is, are. Each time you locate one of these “to-be” verbs, find a way to omit it. They are often a clue of passive sentence construction. Bad: There were three boys in the room. Better: Three boys wrestled in the gym. Note that fixing passive construction forces us to use more powerful verbs and urges us to be more specific.
~ Present participles (the fancy name for “ing” verbs). Replace with past tense wherever possible. Bad: It was raining. Better: Rain pelted the windows.
~ Helping verbs. Bad: She began to sing. Better: She sang. Bad: She could hear a train. A little better: She heard a train. Much better: A train whistled in the distance.
~ Adverbs. “Ly” words are a sign that a stronger verb is needed. Bad: She was exceedingly tired. Better: She was exhausted. Better: Exhaustion weighed her shoulders, ached her limbs.
~ Creative dialogue tags. Bad: “I love it,” she jittered. Better: “I love it,” she said.
~ Dialogue tags. Replace with an action or body language. Better: “I love it!” She hopped on one foot and danced around John.
~ Dialogue explanations. Don’t tell your reader what your dialogue shows. Bad: John told her off. “Don’t you ever do that again!” Better: John’s eye twitched. “Don’t ever do that again!”
~ Intensifiers. Very, really, totally, completely.
~ Any nonessential word. If a sentence reads just as well without a word, leave it out. Common criminals: that, of, prepositions at the end of a sentence, and suddenly used to create urgency (when action should be creating that urgency).
~ Clichés. If you’ve heard it before, so has your reader. Find a fresh way to say it.
~ Stacked adjectives. If you must use an adjective, pick the strongest one. Bad: The large, gray, angry fox attacked the rabbit. Better: The large fox attacked the rabbit.
~ Exclamation marks. Use only when shouting.
~ Ellipses ( . . . ). Use only when text is missing or, occasionally, as a device to show a falling off in tone during dialogue.
~ Redundancy. Say it once; say it right. Readers are smart. Really.
~ Viewpoint breaches. Know whose head you’re in and stay in it. Or stay out of all heads.
~ Smiling, nodding, laughing, sighing. Nothing wrong with these, but overuse will remove the sizzle from your finely-crafted words. If you use any of these more than once per scene, try to find more creative actions or fresher body language.
~ Gawking characters. Get your character out of the way of the action. Bad: John saw the sun rise. Better: The sun tiptoed into the horizon. Bad: Jill watched the squirrel shell nuts. Better: The squirrel shelled nuts.
~ Named emotions. If an emotion is named, it means you’re telling, not showing. Bad: She was angry. Better: She slammed her fist on the keyboard.

Be sure to request your card while supplies last. And remember, when you need a second set of eyes to review your writing, we're here.

(c) copyright 2011, Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Animal Contest Winner, and New Contest Announcement

Congratulations to Lori from Mason, Ohio, the winner of the Amazing Animal Contest for her piece, "Teaching Without Words." Lori won a free edit from IFW, as well as some other great prizes and bragging rights. Be sure to submit your entry to this month's contest. Details are below.

The Dialogue Recovery Contest

Why don't you show us what you can do with some interesting dialogue? For your hard work you could win a copy of Joy Held's Writer Wellness as well as some other great gifts from Inspiration for Writers, Inc., (not to mention the critical acclaim of being able to say you WON one of our prestigious contests)! Enter our FREE writing contest. This month's theme is Dialogue Recovery. Here's how it works: write a short story of up to 1,000 words, the only catch is that your story must start with one of the following bits of dialogue:

"Look out! It's coming right for us!"

"And that, my dear, is why your husband willed me all of his money." OR

"Check out those buns."

Be creative! The more fun you have, the better! Submit your story to with an e-mail title of "Dialogue Writing Contest" by 11:59PM on May 6th to be considered for the contest. Also in the text of the email, please give us your name, email address, and snail mail address (yes, we keep these confidential), AND, please let us know if we have permission to print your entry, your first name, and your city/state or nation in a future blog or newsletter column. I will send a "we received your entry" email to all entrants, so if you don't get one, email again or call Sandy at 304-428-1218 during regular business hours (M-F 9-5 Eastern time).

Our editors will judge the entries on content, creativity, writing style, and writing craft. The winner will receive a prize package that includes a copy of Joy Held's Writer Wellness, an Inspiration for Writers duffle bag, a GHOSTWRITERS tote bag, Inspiration for Writers notepads, and other miscellaneous goodies. Now, get writing!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Slice of Writer's Life

Submissions Open At The Following Publishers!

This is a quick update to let you know about a couple of publishers currently open to new submissions. Be sure to visit their sites for guidelines on the proper formats and procedures for sending in your work. Good luck!

Harbourlight Books is a new publisher focusing on quality Christian fiction. They are open to completed manuscripts only at this time and plan to begin releasing books in fall 2011.

Note the romance division of Harbourlight Books is a different address.


Comfort Publishing is a general publisher open to fiction and non-fiction in a number of areas. They don't specifically ask for romance but they claim in their mission statement they publish books "that might otherwise remain unpublished."


On the spicer side, do you have a manuscript that bends a traditional fairy tale in a different way? Victory Tales Press has limited openings for a new series called "Twisted Fairy Tales."

Victory Tales is definitely a modern e-publisher with a different perspective and is open to almost all variations of the romance/erotica genres.

Meanwhile, remember to visit my blog for writing life tips.

And pick up a digital version of my new second edition of Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity at the publisher's site.

Who Dares Wins Publishing

Be well, write well,

Joy Held

copyright Joy Held 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writing According to Diana Gabaldon

In October, I attended a presentation by Diana Gabaldon, the author of the bestselling Outlander series. The presentation took place at the Charleston Civic Center as part of the 2010 West Virginia Book Festival. Gabaldon shared her insights into how she wrote her first novel and established her career as a novelist. What I found most interesting was her writing process, her experience writing a series, and her advice to aspiring authors.

Writing Process

Gabaldon started writing her novel Outlander to practice writing and to see if she enjoyed writing a novel. What surprised me was that she did not start her novel knowing exactly what it would be about. In fact, Gabaldon picked a setting and worked her plot and characters around it. She knew she wanted to write about Scotland in the 18th century, so she went to the library to research that time and place. Gabaldon also knew that stories needed conflict. When she stumbled upon information about the Jacobite rising of 1745, she decided to work her plot around that historical conflict.

At this point, Gabaldon had found her novel's setting and conflict. She joked that she also wanted many handsome scotsmen in her novel, but she recognized that the story needed a woman to "add sexual tension and balance genders." So, she created a protagonist named Claire, then noticed that Claire "took over plot and told the story."

From there, Gabaldon used the setting, conflict, and characters to develop her novel. She did the latter in a peculiar way as well: she wrote the scenes out of order as they came to her, rather than writing the story from beginning to end.

The way Gabaldon experiments with her writing process shows how writers who want to write can carve out a novel from as little as one element. Perhaps we can jumpstart our creativity by focusing on whatever elements we have (setting, plot, characters) and then linking those elements to others. Or perhaps we can complete the scenes we know we want in our story and, by doing so, discover subplots or hidden characters in our story.

Writing a Series

Gabaldon also explained how she structured the Outlander series itself. First, she mentioned the value of cliffhangers. A fan once noted that one of her novels "wrapped up everything so neatly," and she joked, "Well, see if I do that again!" Cliffhangers give readers an incentive to buy the next novel in the series by either leaving part of a conflict unresolved or by introducing a new conflict. Gabaldon wraps up several plotlines in her novels but always leaves an unresolved or new conflict to keep her readers hooked.

Another topic Gabaldon discussed was the shape of her books. She explained how stories have shapes; for example, the shape of her novel Outlander includes three triangles whose peaks represent the plot's emotional climaxes.

We can come up with ideas by plotting the shapes of our own stories. A peak too early might suggest that the rest of the story will drag without any more climaxes. To fix this, add a subplot or two to build complexity. On the other hand, a long climb to a peak might suggest that the story will drag unless a few minor climaxes occur beforehand. We can also "plot" multiple characters to see where we could add minor conflicts to the overall story's structure.

Advice to aspiring authors

After describing her writing process and the structure of her series, Gabaldon gave the audience advice. First, read everything so you can find out which subjects and writing techniques you like (and which ones you dislike). For example, I never knew I loved economics until I took a course in it. If you find a subject you enjoy, find out more about it, and if you like an author's writing technique, try it out yourself.

Second, write to get your ideas down on paper and to practice writing. Writing down ideas gives you material to work with and completes a major step in the writing process. Also, writing shows you what writing methods work best for you.

And third, don't stop writing. It takes effort to start writing down ideas, and once you lose that momentum, you will probably struggle to pick it up again. Writing constantly will keep that momentum going and can even accelerate it by keeping your work fresh in your mind.

I hope Diana Gabaldon's experience and advice gives you ideas to work with in your own writing. If you want to know more about Diana Gabaldon and her work, visit her website.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Slice of Writer's Life


Writers write. Writers should write something everyday. Yes, seven days a week and something besides checks made out to the electric company. But where do the time, the energy, and the ideas come from? Believe it or not, it's a self-perpetuating cycle. The more you write, the more you have to write.

In my book Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity, I describe writing to be a muscle. And like the other muscles in our bodies, the writing muscle needs to be exercised and kept in tip-top shape. The writing muscle is kept well toned only by writing. The more we write, the better shape our writing muscle is and the more we have to write. See? Self-perpetuation cycle. What counts for writing exercise?

I keep my own writing muscle in shape by journaling almost everyday of the week, writing several blog posts a week, and writing book reviews for several online sites. And yes, I still have plenty of time, energy, and ideas for my historical romance novel in progress. The key is discipline and not going overboard with what you have to say in any one area. It also helps with learning key fiction elements such as pacing, passive voice, and RUE (Resisting the Urge to Explain.) My writing muscle is warmed-up by the blogs, reviews, and journal entries I write. It's in those playing fields I am able to watch myself change and progress as a writer. This blog post today is a good example. Let me explain.

Writing blogs, journal entries, and book reviews for several years have taught me to get to the point with what I'm writing in my fiction. The reader wants to know what's important first, not after a six or seven adverbial phrase describing every bat of the character's eyes before they utter a word. What the character is doing is integral, but when two people are in the same room and on the same page, they need to be talking to keep the pace of the pages turning for the reader. I have also learned not to repeat what the character says with something we at IFW like to call "narrator intrusion." Which is what I just did. I just told you something, then intruded on your thought processes by telling you what I just told you. In this fast paced world of ebooks readers want to know and get on with it. Don't stall them. They will put your book down for good.


What do you say in a blog? My good writing friend Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone, The Writer's Guide to Social Media is currently doing a fab series on what, why, and how to blog.

You will not regret subscribing to Kristen's blog. Take my word for it. Because blogging is not only about getting the word out about you as a writer, it's most importantly about creating community. Another change in the publishing world. Blog. It's eventually good for your writing in sooooo many ways.


I started writing book reviews because I wanted to read the books my young daughters were reading so we could have a conversation about them and so I could keep connected to their lives. They've grown up to be voracious readers and I still review books for kids, teens, and adults. Here's the latest review for POSER, MY LIFE IN TWENTY-THREE POSES, Claire Dederer:

Writing book reviews keeps my writing muscle toned because it forces me to read and analyze as a reader, writer, and editor. That's everything I am after mom, cook, laundress, etc. ugh... Anyway, book reviews aren't exactly easy to write and the format calls for a strictly limited number of words. Again, the practice keeps my fiction writing lean and well paced. Because of reading books and writing reviews, I can almost instantly spot a mistake in my own work because my writing muscle is in tune.

By the way. Look at the top of the book review site and click on the button Review for Us and get started!


Journaling is something I've talked about at length in the archives of this blog and my own site for Writer Wellness.

Visit and subscribe by clicking on the "subscribe" button at the top and get email alerts when I've posted a new blog! See? Community!

Meanwhile, remember to look for a digital or print copy of Writer Wellness, A Writer’s Path to Health and Creativity at Who Dares Wins Publishing,

And check out these great blogs for ideas to keep your writing and publishing healthy and prosperous. Bob Mayer Jenni Holbrook Kristen Lamb Inspiration for Writers, Inc.

Be well, write well.


Copyright 2011 Joy Held. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 7, 2011

FREE Writing Contest for March 2011

Have a story about an animal? Want to win a FREE 1,500 word edit as well as some other goodies from Inspiration for Writers, Inc., including a tote bag and some writing supplies? Enter our FREE writing contest. This month’s theme is amazing animals. Submit your story up to 1,000 words to with an e-mail title of “Animal Writing Contest Entry” by March 31. Also in the email text, please give us your name, email address, and snail mail address (yes, we keep these confidential), AND, please let us know if we have permission to print your entry, your first name, and your city/state or nation in a future blog or newsletter column. We will send a "we received your entry" email to all entrants, so if you don't get one, email again or call Sandy at 304-428-1218 during regular business hours (M-F 9-5 Eastern time).

Our editors will judge the entries on content, creativity, writing style, and writing craft. The winner will receive a prize package that includes a FREE 1,500 word edit from one of our renowned editors (a $45 value!), an Inspiration for Writers duffle bag, a GHOSTWRITERS tote bag, and other miscellaneous goodies. Now, get writing!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Biggest Liar Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Stephanie from Milwaukee, WI who is the winner of the Biggest Liar Contest! Stephanie won some great prizes, bragging rights, as well as a spot in our blog and newsletter! Be sure to submit your entry to our next contest so that you have a chance to score this great honor! Here's Stephanie's entry for all of you to enjoy:

It is hard to pick the biggest lie that I have ever told because there are two that I really benefited from as a parent. The first lie was that our vacuum cleaner had the ability to pick up not only small items from the floor but big ones as well.

So when my children were younger and refused to pick up, all I had to do was bring out the vacuum cleaner. I would plug it in, turn it on and at the whirring sound my children would scream and run around like crazy picking them up. They believed this lie for several years.

My other lie was that moms have eyes in the back of their head. When I originally said that, I meant it as a joke but my daughter who was about five years old took it quite literally so I thought I might as well take advantage of it. I would continue to remind her throughout the years that I could see everything.

One day when she was about nine years old she came up to me with this sort of scared look on her face. I asked her what was wrong and very seriously, with a sort of tremor to her voice she asked, "Mom, when will my eyes begin to grow in the back of my head?"

She must have figured that it happens to females and she wanted to know when to expect it. The sad thing is she really, really believed this but I couldn't help but laugh when she asked. It was then I confessed the truth to her. Needless to say she wasn't very happy with me. But somehow I have a feeling she will use my lies when she becomes a mother.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Inspiration... For Writers!

by Rhonda Browning White

You’ve heard me say before that I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do, however, believe in writer’s laziness, writer’s excuses and writer’s procrastination. I’ll agree—albeit grudgingly—that you might sometimes need inspiration in order to put fresh words on paper. When you feel you have nothing to write about, often it’s because your internal censor is telling you that you can’t write. You have nothing to say. Well turn that sucker off, and stop letting it run your life! Seek a tiny bit of stimulation, and start stringing words on paper. You don’t have to attempt a bestseller today; you simply need to encourage ideas to flow from inspiration. You may ask where you can find that inspiration. (You’re kidding me, right)? It’s all around you! If you feel the brain-pipes are clogged, here are a few ideas and prompts to get the ink flowing, again.

Newspapers –

  • Pick up any random newspaper and write down three headlines. Any three will do. Now link these headlines into a (somewhat) cohesive story. Hint: Tabloids can provide crazy story ideas that just might turn into a saleable piece!

  • Look at a photo in the newspaper, but don’t read the caption. Write your own caption for the picture, as if you were in that photographed scene. Now write the article to go with the caption.
  • Circle twelve random words from different articles or advertisements in the newspaper. Write them down. Now write a short-short story using all of those words.

What if? –

  • You wake up in jail. How did you get there, and why? Who will you call—and who will you hide this incident from?
  • You open a box and find something that will change your life forever. What is it? Tell the story.
  • Your character is a really bad guy. Really bad. But today, he knows he’ll never again commit another crime. How did he come to this point, and what was his wake-up call?
  • Your character is a near-perfect person. Today she commits a felony. What happened?

From literature –

  • Pick any scene from Shakespeare and re-write it with modern characters in your hometown. Think of the story of Hamlet occurring in downtown Boston.
  • Mesh a modern-day story with an old fairy tale. For instance, a friend wrote a hilarious story of “Forrest Gump and the Seven Dwarfs.”
  • Write down the first line of any novel. Now use it to begin a new, completely different story.

Other sources –

  • Choose a scene from one of your own stories. Write it from a different character’s point of view.
  • Look in the Yellow Pages for any random company, and think of the career of a person who works for that company. Write a scene based on their job.
  • Think of a song you enjoy and read the lyrics. Now write a story based around those lyrics.
  • Think about a rumor you have heard. Change the names and setting, then write the story.

I encourage you to try at least one writing prompt each week, even if you’re in the middle of writing a novel or nearing the end of your memoir. Often when you allow your creative mind to switch gears and play with something different, new ideas will form that can enliven your current work. Consider writing prompts your “throw away” work. Don’t worry about revision as you write—just write! If the story turns out to be amazingly good, and this will happen from time to time, then you can go back later and tighten, revise and build upon the initial draft. And when you’re ready for an edit or proofread, you know where to find us!