Tuesday, December 31, 2013



Resolutions for Writers
Rhonda Browning White

Turn the calendar page. Better still, break out an entirely new calendar. We have more than a new month ahead; we have a whole new year in front of us! Blank squares waiting to be filled with important appointments, blank lines waiting to be filled with significant words. The year 2014 presents a fresh start—a chance for growth and improvement—for every writer, so let’s resolve to do something vital and vivacious with each new day that’s given to us. What good is a New Year without a few resolutions, anyway? Print out this list, and make it yours.

·         . . . Write five days a week. If you’re one of those writers who lives by the mantra, Write every day, then goody for you! I live in the real world, however, where writing is a job—my career—and like any job, I do it five days a week, reserving the other two for my family and myself. Besides, life gets in the way, and it’s unrealistic to think we can (or would even want to) write every single day. We set ourselves up for failure when we insist we must write 365 days a year. Don’t fail. Allow yourself a couple of days off, but write the other five.
·         . . . Write 100 words a day (five days a week). Anyone—anyone!—can do this. You pound out several hundred words a day on Facebook, a thousand or more via email and a dozen at a time on Twitter. One hundred words a day is nothing. Nothing! A few of my friends and I started this 100-words-a-day challenge, and we hold each other to it. We report in daily, sometimes admitting defeat (kid is sick, car broke down, computer on the fritz), but more often gloating that we wrote 200 words—or 2,500 words. You’ll find that, more often than not, 100 words leads to 500 words, and soon you’ve written multiple pages. Even on the busiest days, you’ve accomplished something toward your goal, even if it’s only 100 words.
·         . . . Read, read, read! You can’t be a great writer unless you’re an avid reader. Read the genre in which you want to write. If you write romance, read the latest romance novels on The New York Times bestseller list. Be sure to read the masters. If high school was the last time you read Hemingway, Hawthorne or Flannery O’Connor, you’ve done yourself a great disservice as a writer. Works by these canonical writers are still around for a reason. Figure out what that reason is, and apply those lessons to your own work.
·         . . . Study the craft of writing. Resolve to read six books on the craft of writing this year. That’s only one book every other month. Easy-peasy! Some of my favorites include The Lie that Tells a Truth by John Dufresne, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, and Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. Especially good for beginning writers is Sandy Tritt’s Tips and Techniques Workbook  (available for automatic download online HERE), which includes fill-in-the-blank worksheets and direct examples to help improve your writing. Take a writing course at your local college this year, or attend a writers conference that offers courses in writing craft.
·         . . . Type “The End.” Have a file full of half-finished short stories? Seven different novel beginnings? Three memoirs that total less than a hundred pages each? Stop procrastinating, and finish something! This is where the 100-words-a-day challenge can help you reach the end of your first draft. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Write!
·         . . . Have my work professionally edited. What’s the difference between a traditionally published author and an unpublished writer? Many times, an editor. What do author-editors have in common? We have our work professionally edited. Yes, editors hire editors. It’s true that we can’t see our own mistakes in our writing, so it’s important to have trained eyes look over our final drafts. Professional editors will do more than find typos and grammar mistakes; they’ll point out that your character has green eyes in chapter one and blue eyes in chapter twenty. They’ll remind you that you left a loose sub-plot thread dangling back in chapter eleven, and explain where the middle sags. They’ll show you where you forgot to include internal conflict in a scene full of external conflict. In other words, they’ll help you make your writing much better.
·         . . . Network with other writers. Join a writers group in your area. Don’t have one? Start one. Your local library is a good place to begin, or post a bulletin on Meetups.com. Attend a writers conference where you can meet writers at your same skill level, as well as network with professionals in the field from whom you can learn. And by all means, support other writers. Write a positive review on Amazon.com or Goodreads.com of any novels or books you’ve loved, especially if those books are written by new or up-and-coming authors. One day, you’ll want someone to return the favor and write a review of your latest novel.
·         . . . Submit. Writing a novel and having it professionally edited will do you no good at all if you allow it to molder on your laptop. Whip out a polished query letter (which, of course, you’ve revised, edited and proofed), and send that manuscript out the door. Realize up front that you’ll receive rejections, and know that you may have to send out a few hundred queries to land an agent or publisher. Still, you must submit your work in order to have it traditionally published, so you may as well get started this year.

Make 2014 the year you take your writing to the next level. Start today! 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Make up Your Own Mind: Letting the Reader Write

Rhonda Browning White

During my MFA days, I kept a journal of important suggestions and bits of advice passed down to me by professors, instructors, visiting writers and my cohorts; epiphanies, ah-ha moments, words to live by, definitely words to write by. I still turn to these one-liners, these brief explanations, these light-bulb statements that point me in the right direction when I feel lost or need inspiration. One such statement came from my mentor, author Robert Olmstead, who said to my workshop peers and me, “It’s not about what you write, it’s what you don’t write. Make the reader do some of the writing. Invoke, invoke, invoke. Make the reader conjoin A and C. Leave out B. Don’t burn words.”

For years, I’d spelled out everything for the reader. I wanted her to understand. I wanted to explain. Suddenly I realized that the best fiction—stories I love and re-read, are the stories that allow me to draw my own conclusions. And sometimes, in the re-reading, my opinion and conclusion changes. These stories become, for me, timeless.

Since then, I’ve sought short stories in which the narrative and its elements are not spoon-fed to us, stories where we are allowed to develop a relationship with the characters and draw reflective meaning from their experiences. Here are two examples I’ve found in The Best American Short Stories 2010, which we can examine and learn from to prevent ourselves from burning words.

In her story “All Boy,” Lori Ostlund writes of Harold, a studious and introverted child who is audience to the breakdown of his parents’ marriage (Ostlund 263-78). His father is gay. We know, without being specifically told, that Harold’s mother fears their son may have homosexual tendencies, so she protects him from being ostracized by teachers and classmates by telling them, “I guess Harold’s just all boy” (Ostlund 275). Ostlund never points out these things directly, but lets the reader reach this conclusion and determine for herself if Harold’s mother is in denial of her husband’s and son’s tendencies, or if she’s merely operating in the protective role of mother. Ostlund never tells us until the last paragraphs that Harold’s father is gay. We are allowed to experience this revelation as Harold experienced it; gradually, by applying our own knowledge and societal frames of reference to what is taking place. We experience for ourselves what Harold is thinking and feeling, so much so that at the end of the story, we want to usher him back into the safety of the womb-like closet, where he is protected from the harsh realities of the world.

We suspect from the opening line of Tea Obreht’s “The Laugh” that the darkest part of the story is over. “They were talking about the funeral when the lights went out” (Obreht 246). Still, suspense builds throughout as we learn that Neal, our narrator, feels guilty over some instance that occurred between him and best friend Roland’s late wife, Femi. He loved her, I inferred, though no steamy affair ever made print. Throughout the story, Neal does everything he can to protect Roland; physically, when he follows him into a pack of wildebeests without a loaded gun; and emotionally, when he places heavy sacks of flour into Femi’s empty casket to keep Roland from discovering that hyenas stole her body. Neal came face-to-face with one of these hyenas, though a pane of glass separated them. But the hyenas’ laugh, not their vile golden eyes, was what tormented him. “It was the laugh that made his stomach turn, and they laughed all the time, every night they were there, as if they knew their laugh made him wonder, made him want to come outside to them in the dark, or, otherwise, put a gun in his mouth” (Obreht 257). Yet, when the story ends, it isn’t the hyenas’ laugh that haunts him, it is Femi’s laugh. Again, the reader is left to her own inference, her own conclusion, based on her knowledge—not of hyenas, but of humans and human nature.

It is what we leave out, then, not what we put into a story, that provides the reader with a satisfying, poignant or devastating twist. Leave out the B parts. Let your reader reveal what has been hidden, let him write what is missing.

Works Cited

Obreht, Tea. “The Laugh.” Russo 246-62.
Ostlund, Lori. “All Boy.” Russo 263-278.
Russo, Richard, ed. Introduction. The Best American Short Stories 2010. New York:
          Houghton, 2010. Print.

Reprinted with permission of the author and Why The Writing Works http://whythewritingworks.com/2013/12/03/make-up-your-own-mind-letting-the-reader-write/

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Am Thankful for Mistakes

by Sherry Wilson
I am Thankful for Mistakes

This week as we give thanks for all of the wonderful things in our lives and celebrate with family and friends, I started to think about my writing life. More particularly about how my writing life might be improved—how all of our careers might be improvedby an attitude of gratitude.

Throughout school we learn to write, so by the time we graduate, we figure we have a pretty good idea of how to write. But do we really? The shift between school and a professional level of writing is like the difference between school band and a professional music career. In both cases, there is room to grow, to learn, to get better.

I think it's when we forget about this quest that things become more difficult for us as writers. We need to give ourselves permission to relax a little and enjoy the process. I mean, if you decided you wanted to play an instrument and you signed yourself up for piano lessons, you wouldn't expect to play like Glenn Gould next weekor even next year, for that matter. You would practice. You'd put in your hours. You wouldn't do it because you thought you'd be able to play like Glenn Gould. You'd do it for the fun of it. Because, while learning a new instrument is work, it's also fun. That's why we call it playing an instrument. But we expect much more of ourselves as beginning writers. We expect to write like Hemingway, or Bradbury, or Stephen King. But what we should do is just relax, play around with the words and the ideas, and make mistakeslots and lots of mistakes. Try writing it one way and if you don't like the results, then try something else. Make the mistakes. Learn your strengths and your weaknesses. Find your own, unique voice.

We need to give ourselves the gift of allowing ourselves to make mistakeswithout judgment. I mean, you don't judge every wrong note you play when you learn the saxophone. If you put yourself down every time you make a squeak, you'll never learn to play. Just notice the mistakes and keep going. Next time through, try writing it a different way. What works? What doesn't? Why? Do you see just how large this gift is? When you are able to separate yourself, the person, from the written work, you'll learn so much from those precious mistakes. And you can be thankful for the mistakes because they bring you so much closer to the writer you want to be.

In order to be a great writer, of course, or any writer at all, for that matter, we have to put in our timepay our dues and practice. We have to sit our butts in our chairs and write. Like the cellist who will never get better without taking the time to play, the writer will never improve if he doesn't do the work. No amount of talking about being a writer or critiquing or reading will get you there. It's all about the hours in the chair. 

One good side effect of this, thoughregular hours in the chair lets the muse know where and when to show up.

Besides spending the time writing, I've learned that when gratitude becomes a daily focus, amazing things start to happen. I've seen this in my own life over the past couple of years. So now I want to extend this to my writing career. But what do I mean? How do you do it?

  • Make a list of the things you love about writing. Why do you do it? Why did you start writing? What makes you keep going? What parts do you absolutely love about the process?
  • Pick three things that you are most thankful for in your writing life. What are the three best things about the act of writing?
  • Write these three things on a piece of paper and tack it to your monitor where you will see it every day.
  • Get a stone, ring, necklace or some other symbol that you can carry with you throughout the day. Every time you touch this object, think about how grateful you are for your writing career. Close your eyes for a moment and think about what makes you happy. Maybe it's that feeling when the words just pour out onto the page and you feel like they're coming from a different placelike you've tapped into something bigger than yourself. Imagine yourself writing, the words just flowing through you. Let yourself feel the euphoria. Experience it as if it were real and happening to you whenever you touch the object. Get into the habit of doing this several times a day. At best your writing will flow better. At worst, you will spend several minutes a day feeling truly happy and content with your life.

So what's it going to be? You can go through your writing journey feeling like you'll never get anywhereyou'll never be one of the greatsyou'll never find that one right story when all the planets align and something like Harry Potter will fall into your lap or pop into your head while you're riding a train. You can count all the reasons you aren't as good as some famous writer. Or you can spend your time feeling good about all you've learned and the progress you've made. You can be happy that you had a good session yesterday and confident that you will again tomorrow. You can enjoy the process.

The top three things that I'm grateful for:

  • All of my wonderful writing friendsthose who critique my work, those who argue with me for hours over comma usage, and those who just let me vent when I'm having a bad day. Yes, these friends are any writer's greatest asset and I'm forever grateful for my writing buddies.
  • Unfinished projectseven if my time is limited and I struggle to find time to work on my own projects, I'm so grateful they sit there waiting for me. My characters are so patient. They only occasionally wake me up during the night and prod me to get back to work.
  • Those brief moments of flow when the words just pour out onto the page. It's as if the story is writing itself right in front of me. I cherish each moment and live for the next one.

Let's all give gratitude a try and see what happens. I don't know what will come of it, but what harm could it do? Let's spend the next year working on improving our attitude of gratitude and see where we are next year.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Children's Books: The Art of Writing with Illustrations

by Charlotte Firbank-King

Storytelling is a passion, even obsession. It is deeply satisfying to captivate an audience with drama, pathos, violence, tranquility or fantasy—to be the master of imaginary characters. Above all, writers aim to please their readers (after listening to editors’ suggestions and working with them to succeed).
Unfortunately, this is not always true concerning book illustrations. Many authors seem to think that once the story is written, that’s it. They adopt a careless attitude, choosing an art style that only suits them. Art is subjective, so beware of falling into this mold.
Kids love color, yet we see illustrations in children’s books executed in quick pencil sketches. Why is that? The usual reason is simple. It’s cheaper to commission an artist to do pencil sketches rather than a complex work in acrylic, oils, pastel or gouache. Watercolors are also beautiful, especially when combined with ink. But with children, I want to stress that illustrations must have impact and instant appeal. Kids form a huge section of the reading audience. Even toddlers will roam bookshelves and choose what they want. It’s critically important to make sure the illustrations in your book stand out among millions of others.
Simplicity has its place, but as with brevity of words, the drawing must be brilliant in its economy. One does not get brilliant when the artist is paid little and required to dash off a dozen pictures. I urge writers of this genre to spend the extra money—or have fewer illustrations. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. A children’s book may be well written, but if the illustrations are mediocre or slapdash, the book will NOT sell well. In fact, illustrations are the “hook,” and then the story captivates, but the two must marry
Adults or young adults generally don’t want illustrations of what heroes or villains look like. They want to form their own picture. Small children, however, want to know what characters look like. Their imagination skills are still developing. But be very aware when deciding how the characters will be portrayed. Violence or overt evil should not be illustrated. Kids may have nightmares if that is the last thing they see before going to sleep. In short, be sensitive to young minds.

Here’s something else to think about. When a parent reads to a child, the child typically sits next to him or her, on the left or right. If the illustrations are sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right, the child is jumping up and down, running or crawling from one side to the other. But if the illustrations are always on the left or always on the right, the child gets to enjoy the illustrations without running back and forth.
When it’s impossible to pay the price for quality color illustrations, consider having the artist illustrate the story in pen (not a pencil sketch). The child can then color the pictures so he can choose how he wants his imaginary world to look. Coloring in is an abiding pleasure for kids and gives free-rein to their imaginations.
And finally, always test illustrations by showing them to kids before publishing—they will be your best and most honest critics.

(c) 2013 Charlotte Firbank-King. All Rights Reserved. 

Charlotte Firbank-King is a writer, editor, and artist. Her paintings have been sold and exhibited throughout the world and have been commissioned by the Johannesburg Zoo, the Witwatersrand National Botancial Gardens and the Zulu Schools Trust, among others. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


  By Rhonda Browning White
“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” –Lewis Carroll, from Alice in Wonderland

            Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? If only that were the case! In truth, the beginning of any essay, story or memoir is often the most crucial part. It’s the part that causes a reader to decide whether to keep going, or to toss the book into a “not for me” pile and move on to the next one on the shelf. Fortunately, with a little work, you can write a strong beginning for your story that will hook a reader and keep her turning pages. Here’s how:
  • Don't censor your first draft. The first draft of your story isn’t the time for revision. Let the ideas flow, let your characters chatter and discover themselves, explore the scenery around them, let the story surprise you. If it surprises you, chances are good it will surprise the reader, as well. There will be plenty of time for revision later.
  • Once you have finished your first draft, study the ending. The ending of your story should be evident in the beginning. Now I don’t mean that you should ruin the plot by telling how the story ends on the first page, but there should be enough foreshadowing, enough intimation, and enough clues to intrigue and to create a feeling of satisfaction when the reader reaches the last page.
  • Introduce tension on the first page. There must be yearning. What does your character want that she cannot have? Make sure your story raises important questions; the how, who, where, why and what of your plot. Create tension by introducing internal conflict (what’s happening inside the character’s mind) and external conflict (the big problem that is happening around them). By introducing tension early on, we motivate characters to act, and we motivate readers to keep reading.
  • Set the scene. Tell us where we are in place and time. Let us see the location through the eyes of your main character. I don’t mean describe the color of the wallpaper, the style of the draperies, the method of upholstery and texture of carpeting—unless these play an important part in the plot of your story. When you describe a setting, describe it as your character might. For example, an architect might describe a horizon as a level foundation, while a tailor might describe it as a smooth seam.
  • Introduce the character. Give us a sense of the character’s voice. Does he speak in lofty terms, or does he use colloquialisms? What does he look like? More importantly, how does he see the people and the world around him? Dig deep into your protagonist’s thoughts to reveal character and emotion.

If you’ve included each of these elements in your first scene—preferably on your first page—then you have a solid story beginning. You’ve asked questions that the reader will want answered. You’ve piqued interest. You’ve created a character that is anything but cliché. Congratulations! You’ve crafted an excellent beginning!  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It's NaNoWriMo Time Again!

(Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month)

by Sandy Tritt

This is NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands of people from every walk of life join to make writing a novel a priority. They set the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel in thirty days—one month. It’s a lofty goal, but thousands succeed every year. And, not only do they succeed in writing 50,000 words, many of them succeed well beyond that. According to NaNoWriMo.org, over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. Over two hundred and fifty! Some of these have become quite well known, such as Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder).
I’m going to be honest with you. Although most of our editors at IFW have participated in NaNoWriMo at least once, I never have. But there must be something in the air in November, because this past Friday night—November 1—after my family was snoring away, I snuck out of bed and returned to my computer. I turned it on and started writing a fresh approach to a novel I’ve been trying to write for years. It was there—the muse was whispering in my ear and I suddenly knew the character’s voice, knew how I needed to start this story that’s been on the back burner for many years.
What about you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you ever participated in the past? If you did, did you finish? Did you end up with a novel? Tell us about it.
And remember—when you’re ready to have your NaNoWriMo novel edited, we’re here, standing by.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Most Important Sentence

by Charlotte Firbank-King
editor, writer, illustrator

The most important sentence you'll ever write is the first line of your book or novel. There's nothing easy about writing that first line—but many times, that line will decide if the reader will continue reading or not. Here's what that first line must do:
Hook the reader
Here is an example of an opening line—the hook:
The captain stood on the deck of his ship in torpid heat, slowly whipping his wife.
This was an example given to me years ago by a publisher, and I use it all the time. A number of things cause the reader to want to read on—things that hook them.
1) What era is it?
2) Torpid heat? Where is it happening?
3) Why is the captain whipping his wife? More curiously, why is he whipping her slowly?
The reader wants these things answered. They are almost compelled to read on. Hook your reader in one or two sentences. 
Hit the ground running
The first line is the most important part, next the first paragraph, then the first page, but having said that, if the first five pages aren't fantastic you will lose the reader. Most certainly, you will lose the publisher or agent. They’re very busy and can tell in the first paragraph if they want you or not. Then they are more convinced if the first page is great. However, that interest wanes rapidly if the second page doesn't deliver, but they will probably forge on for another page. After that, if you don’t continue to deliver, it’s all downhill and your manuscript ends up on the slush pile.
The opening paragraph doesn’t have to be a mother throwing her ten children into shark infested water—tempting as the thought might be when your brood is that big—but it does have to grab the reader’s attention and hold it.

Smaller hooks at the ends of chapters.
You want your reader to keep turning pages, so end each chapter with a hook that will drag them to the next one. After a gut-wrenching chapter the protagonist finally makes it to safety. You slow the pace, bring the reader down until they are ready to fall asleep and read another day. But then you drag them right back into the action. They must read on.
Emma sagged to the floor in lifeless air, safe at last. Then a door snicked open and icy fingers caressed her neck. End of chapter. A bit dramatic, but you get the picture. You could drag it out and switch to another character in the next chapter, but you might piss your reader off, so choose your moments with care.
Four examples of opening lines:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. (Stephen King, The Gunslinger.)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of time, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.)
They shot the white girl first. (Toni Morrison, Paradise.)
Lolita, the light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. (Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita.)
Examples of first paragraphs/lines from our editors
Our team of editors is immensely versatile and talented. The nature of their job requires them to work in different genres, which they do with amazing ease and skill. Although our editors can work in multiple genres, they can't work in every genre, which is why IFW needs editors versed in various genres. On a personal level, they each write in their preferred genre.

Sandy Tritt, short story, “Cousin Mary”:
What is the truth? And is the truth always more honest than fabrication? More noble? I don’t know. It makes my head hurt. But here I sit at the Crystal Cafe, waiting for my sisters. Stuffed inside my purse is the truth. The real truth. And I have just a few minutes to decide if I will reveal it.

Jimmy Carl Harris, “I Come to the Garden Alone,” the first story in his short story collection, Wounds that Bind:
 I buried you next to him.

Jessica Murphy, “Nature’s Conscience”:
 I awoke with a sharp pain in my back, sprawled across what felt like cables.

Sandi Rog, Yahshua’s Bridge:
 Alexander held his breath as the man he’d never called Daddy forced him underwater.

Patsy Evans Pittman, Blood Kin & Other Strangers:
Deena stood in the kitchen of the house where she grew up, giving the creamed tomatoes one last stir. It was hot as blazes and the window air-conditioner in the dining room didn't help much. She blew the fringe of bangs out of her eyes, then swiped at the sweat on her upper lip with the sleeve of her over-sized WVU tee shirt.

Sherry Wilson, Second Beginning:
The cameras flashed as Danielle stepped out of the limo, her sights on the entrance of the Royal Albert Hall. The paparazzi swarmed around her like killer bees and she longed for a cloak of invisibility, if only for the short trip to the doors.

Rhonda White, Good Friends. Read the rest at Steel Toe Review: Contemporary Southern Arts & Literature – http://steeltoereview.com/2013/09/16/good-friends-by-rhonda-browning-white/:
She has a great body, my friend does, I’ll give her that. And I have no problem telling you she’s at least ten years younger than I am, and looks it.

C.F. King, All Things Carnal:
Thomas Gantry wore tolerance like a hair shirt, with grim determination. Daily, he did penance for Man’s sins. Self-flagellation was his redemption, and joy his nemesis.

As you can see, it’s important to start your story with a line that makes people want to read on. If you’re having trouble with this, let us know. We can help.

© 2013. Charlotte Firbank King. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Keep Writing

Rhonda Browning White

The most ardent, self-disciplined taskmasters occasionally have weak moments when we find it hard to write, but it’s important to work through those feeble hours. How do we do it? How do we make writing a priority and encourage ourselves to put words on the page? These easy steps will keep you going through the driest days of writing drought (and doubt).

  • Give yourself permission to write. To whom does this dream, this life-goal, this road to success belong? It belongs to you! So why do you need anyone else’s permission to pursue it? Simply put, you don’t. You only need your permission. What are you waiting for? Go write!

  •  Beat your doubt into submission. Face it; you’re not going to wake up each morning eager to jump headlong into writing. In fact, most days you won’t even want to get out of bed without hitting the snooze button at least once. Don’t wait for the Muse to sit on your shoulder. She’s a fickle little witch, anyway. You don’t need her. Write without her, just to spite her!

  •  Write down your dreams. Start big! New York Times Bestseller list? Fine. Now break it down. Might need to write a book first, right? That’ll mean finding an agent, as well. How will she know you’re any good? Ahhh, yes, she’ll see your list of bylines. Don’t have any? Time to write some short stories, articles or poems. Have you already written some good ones? Then send them out! Breaking your dreams into manageable pieces is the first thing to do. Then take one step toward completing those steps each week (or each day). And keep writing.

  •  Accept that you’ll never see the bottom of the laundry basket. There will always be clothes to wash, pots to scour, floors to mop and bathtubs to scrub. And they’ll be there after you’ve finished writing today. (Trust me; the housecleaning fairy doesn’t exist—I’ve set many traps for her, to no avail). If dinner isn’t started on time, order pizza, and keep writing. Ask your family to pitch in and help with chores. If they ignore your pleas, they’ll figure out that someone needs to go to the grocery store when the cupboards are bare. In the meantime, keep writing.

  •  Learn to accept rejection. Realize that a rejection of your manuscript isn’t a rejection of you, as a person. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer. It may simply mean that your work was too long, too short, too funny, too sad, or didn’t fit the space or theme of a particular magazine’s forthcoming edition. Or it could be that the agent or editor simply doesn’t like the genre or style in which you write. The next agent might think it’s the best thing she’s ever read! Rejection happens. Get over it, and keep writing.

  • Submit your work. The best thing I know of to inspire more writing is publication. Of course you must take a moment to dance your way back from the mailbox, and you may have to crack open a bottle of champagne, or go out to dinner tonight to celebrate your success. But as soon as you return home, start writing. It’s important to feed the excitement of inspiration with words and more words. And more words. Your words. Build off your own momentum. Keep writing!