Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year Writing Resolutions

Jessica Nelson

The New Year. The time to make resolutions that we a.) are unable to keep, or b.) have no intentions of keeping. We make such resolutions as “I’m going to lose twenty pounds this year” or—the one I am most guilty of making and never keeping—“I’m going to finish that (novel, screenplay, short story, poem).”

Last week, Rhonda Browning White mentioned the increasing reminders we receive to “Write Every Day!” as the New Year approaches. Most years, I tell myself I’m going to do that—write every day. Technically speaking, it never happens. I mentally write constantly, but I never seem to find the time to get it all down on paper. Life gets in the way.

This year, I’m making a different Writing Resolution. Instead of trying to write every day, I am resolving to learn about writing every day. (Well, maybe every other day.) Learning about writing could be as in-depth as reading a section of a writing-craft book or as simple as reading a book for pleasure and asking myself—in the words of a former classmate—Why does it work? Of course, Wednesdays are covered—all I have to do is read the latest Inspiration for Writers, Inc., blog!

That seems like a reasonable resolution to me. Since I’m always reading, it should be no problem to take a moment at the end of a chapter or a particularly moving scene to ask: What made it so good? Why was I moved? Why do I love or hate a character? What is it about the author’s style that makes her book easier to read or more interesting than another author’s? How can I learn from what this person is doing?

My New Year’s Writing Resolution is not to write every day, but to learn about writing every day. Not too hard, and definitely something I could do on a daily basis. Who wants to join me?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Write Every Day--Are You Kidding Me?

Rhonda Browning White

We’re now fully immersed in the hectic, er, joyous and peaceful, holiday season: Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Kwanzaa, Watch Night, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day . . . and the list goes on. We have shopping to complete, presents to wrap, trees to decorate, cookies to bake, parties to attend, dinners to host, football games to watch, and stories to write. What! Do you mean we’re supposed to find time to write over the holidays? Have you lost your mind?

That’s what I think each time I see a Facebook post, a blog entry, or a web article admonishing me to “Write Every Day!” Perhaps these reminders are popping up with increasing frequency in advance of the New Year’s Resolution craze. Or perhaps they’re showing up more often to drive me insane. Either way, I’m not falling for it. 

You see, over my twelve-year career as a ghostwriter, professional editor, and author, I’ve kept a giant secret, but I’m now going to share it with you: I don’t write every day. Sometimes I go two or three days without writing. Sometimes I go a full week without penning more than a simple grocery list (which I usually leave at home, only to discover it’s missing when I reach the dairy aisle—is it heavy cream or half-and-half I need for that recipe?), and, believe it or not, my writing never suffers from the break.

In fact, it often improves. 

How is this possible? For starters, you should know that I don’t believe in writer’s block. (I call it “writer’s laziness.”) Writing is a form of mental exercise, and, just like physical exercise, overdoing it can cause problems. The mind, like the body, needs time to rest and recharge. The best ways to recharge the writer’s brain are to read or to do something creative other than writing. Reading a great story—you can squeeze in a short story before bedtime, while sitting in the doc’s office, or waiting at the airport even on the most hectic days—or a writing craft book never fails to refill my writer’s well of ideas. Another prolific author shared with me that baking helps her put together scenes or chapters she’s struggling to work out in her mind. A poet friend paints gorgeous artwork between writing poems. Yet another author—a bestselling, award-winning author—told me he does some of his best writing while staring out the window or sitting on his porch for hours at a time, without touching a writing implement for days. 

Downtime is necessary for some writers to regenerate the creative part of the mind, and never is downtime more necessary for me than during the holidays. I’ll admit to you, though, that when I’m not in front of my keyboard or notepad, I’m often still writing. The idea for this blog entry came to me today when rushing through the grocery store. And while watching a little girl in red tights, a green sweatshirt and a motorcycle helmet stand with her hands on her hips while her father pushed a stalled Harley through a store parking lot, I came up with a great idea for a story scene. Were my hands on the keyboard? Nope. Did I have a pen in hand? Nada. Was I writing? Yes, I was. 

Tonight, when the house is quiet and the Christmas tree’s winking lights are reflecting on the wall outside my bedroom door, I’ll pick up the fabulous book of short stories I’m reading this week, and I’ll refill the writer’s well within my mind with strings of words that sparkle brighter than any light on my tree. And when the holidays are over, and my world has reached some measure of calm, I’ll again sit at my desk, and I’ll write.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Contest!

Jessica Nelson

Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!

Here at Inspiration for Writers, Inc., we’re gearing up for the holidays. Trees are up and lit, Christmas carols are playing on the radio, the shopping is done…well, mostly...or not at all. Anyway! We’re in the holiday spirit, and we want to spread the cheer!
Therefore—drumroll, please—we’re holding a contest!

Your challenge is simple: write a holiday themed story—Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, whatever it is you celebrate (or don’t celebrate)—of 1,000 words or less. Your story can be fiction or non-fiction, essay or narrative, or anything in between.

The contest will run from today (12/17) to Monday, January 5th, at midnight. You can submit your stories to Jessica Nelson at

Stories should be:

-1,000 words or less in length
-Sent in word document form as an attachment
-Written in Calibri, Arial, or Times New Roman font, size 11 or 12
-Double spaced

And remember:

-Be Creative!
-The stories don’t have to be perfectly grammatically correct, but it definitely impresses the judges if they are! (Especially when those judges are editors.)
-Feel free to go back through the blogs to pick up some tips for good writing.
-Did I mention, be creative?

We will award a first and second place. The first place winner will have his/her choice of a $50 gift certificate for any of Inspiration for Writers, Inc.’s services or an Inspiration for Writers, Inc. briefcase. Second place will receive the remaining prize. Both the winners and the winning stories will be posted as the blog on Wednesday, January 7.

Good luck, writers! May the Muse and the Holiday Spirit be with you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lessons Learned

Bonnie Rose Ward

I’ll never forget the day I received my first shipment of books. I eagerly leafed through the pages with a feeling of elation. Finally! The years of pouring my heart and soul into writing, revising, editing, proofing, and the many invaluable lessons learned along the way—not to mention the million pots of coffee—had culminated into my first published book. A dream come true!

If I could do it all over again—perhaps a sequel in the near future—boy, would I ever change a lot of things! It is for that reason that I want to share my journey—which at times was rougher than a washboard road—from writer to published author with you. For all you writers out there who are working on a manuscript or just finished one and are now ready to publish, this is for you!

When I neared the completion of my manuscript, I became giddy with anticipation that I would soon be an author. I truly believed that once I typed “The End” on the last page of my manuscript, all my hard work would be over, and I would send it out to a few publishers, and one of them would gladly snatch it up in a heartbeat. After all, I believed I had a great story and, besides, I wrote it to the best of my ability, and I checked and double-checked my spelling and grammar. What else was there? Well, let me tell you. Rejections! That’s what. One after the other. What a letdown. Where was a “Rejected Anonymous Group” when I needed one? However, I picked myself up, squared my shoulders and moved forward. I was too invested in this project to give up now. It was time to search for a professional editor.


After learning that most editors will give a free sample of their work, I sent a copy of the first few chapters to editors as far away as California and New York and everywhere in-between. As the samples poured in, my eyes hungrily devoured the pages. Ironically, the best editing job—hands down—came from right here in my own state of West Virginia; Inspiration for Writers, Inc. But, as ill-fate would have it, the promise of a “good” comprehensive edit for a much cheaper price by a different company won me over. I convinced myself that it would be a “good enough” edit and I could save myself a lot of money. Right? I couldn’t be any more wrong! When the edit came back it wasn’t anything more than a proof. Many of the pages didn’t even have a red mark on them. I knew that my book could be so much more, and in the end, we really do get what we pay for. If I wanted my book to be the very best it could be—and I did—I knew what I had to do. I turned back to Inspiration for Writers, Inc. It was the best decision I could have made for my book. 

Over the course of a year, Sandy Tritt, Rhonda Browning White, and I diligently worked on my book. Not only do those ladies go above and beyond—trust me, they do–but through it all, they made it fun and easy, they taught me so much, and they did it all without changing my story or my unique writing style. Besides hiring a good editor—and I advise that you do so because it’s hard to see all of your own mistakes or to look at your work objectively—I also can’t stress enough the importance that you, the author, must take full responsibility to see that your manuscript is in top-notch shape and the best it can be before you consider publishing. That means working with your editor, revising, proofing, proofing, and proofing some more. Some of you may be thinking, “But I want to publish my book now.” So did I, but I’m glad I didn’t rush into it. Be patient and do what you’ve got to do to get it right. In the end, you will have something you can be proud of. Winds of Skilak has won two book awards and today sits on Amazon’s Best Seller List in two categories, and has received rave reviews. I attribute my success to Inspiration for Writers, Inc. I have learned my lesson well and when my next book is written, I will save myself a whole lot of money, time, heartache and grief—I will make a beeline straight to Inspiration for Writers, Inc.


I had often heard that once your book is written and ready for publication, you’ve only fought half the battle. I didn’t want to believe that. Actually, I didn’t believe it. However, once again, I realized I was wrong. No surprise there! I now had the daunting task before me of trying to publish and market my book. So many questions ricocheted in my mind. How do I publish? Who do I publish with? Do I try to find a traditional publishing company or do I self-publish? That was an easy answer for me. Having already run the gauntlet of submitting queries and proposals only to get rejections, I decided to self-publish. Now, that’s my personal choice. I’m not advocating that everyone should self-publish. For me, it was right. And again, you have to be proactive—it’s your baby and nobody cares about it more than you. There are many publishers out there, so you have to do your homework. In all honesty, I started searching my publishing options long before typing “The End” on my book. Once I made my choice and paid for my publishing package, I still had a lot of work to do. Don’t think for one moment that if you go with a self-publishing company, your struggles are over. I returned my manuscript many times to the publisher because of their formatting errors. I had to work to make sure they got it right. But, the day I held my baby in my hands, all the labor pains and hard work of giving birth to my story was replaced with indescribable joy!


The first step in marketing is to find your target audience. Believing your book will appeal to everyone is a big mistake. You need to define who will likely purchase your book, and then figure out how to reach those specific people. Where do they hang out? What magazines do they read? For instance, if your book is about hunting or camping or outdoor activities, you might see if you can put your books in a sporting goods store, or perhaps write an article or put an advertisement in a hunting or outdoor sports magazine. I recommend using social media, like Facebook (my favorite), Twitter, and Pinterest, just to name a few. Start a website and/or blog and engage your members, keep them motivated. Look for online magazines and blogs that appeal to your target audience and see if they will hold a book giveaway or give you an interview. Advertise in newspapers. And don’t hesitate to ask for reviews. Reviews are an author’s best friend and they do make a difference. Just remember, you can’t sit back and expect your books to fly off the shelves all by themselves. It takes work on your part. And, last but not least, if you have a well-written book with a great story, word of mouth will be your best advertisement of all.

It has been a pleasure sharing my experience as a first-time author with you, and it is my hope that some of the information I have provided here can be of some help—and for you new authors or soon-to-be authors out there, I wish you the very best on your journey to making your writing dreams come true.

Bonnie Rose Ward

Award-Winning Author of Winds of Skilak: A Tale of True Grit, True Love and Survival in the Alaskan Wilderness. After fifteen years as a "wilderness wife" in Alaska, award-winning author Bonnie Rose Ward now resides with her husband on their farm in central West Virginia. They still maintain a self-sufficient lifestyle, raising goats, chickens, and other barnyard animals, with four dogs and a peacock named George rounding out the menagerie. Bonnie enjoys canning vegetables from the huge gardens sowed by her husband with heirloom open-pollinated seeds, and in her "spare" time, she continues to write her memoirs of the Alaskan wilderness.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Spaghetti Trap

Charlotte Firbank-King

You’ve probably heard the term Spaghetti Western. It’s a sub-genre of western movies that reared its head in in the 1960s whose main aim was to imitate what was already a successful genre. They were low-budget movies using unknown actors produced and directed by Italians. The movies were mightily slated by critics in the US, England, and Europe. In fact, an Italian critic first coined the phrase Spaghetti Western. Then A Fistful of Dollars became a box office hit and it was a free for all; everyone in the industry was in on the action.

The same can be said for romance novels. Scholars have made a study of the romance genre, and authors like Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Samuel Richardson, among others, are seen as the forerunners of romance. In the 1930s, British publisher Mills and Boon started churning out escapist, feel-good books with happy endings aimed at women. They had to be tasteful and chaste with wilting virgins and hunky men.

Barbara Cartland started her writing career in 1901 with a risqué novel, Jigsaw, which became a bestseller. She is still considered the most prolific romance writer of all time. She produced over 700 novels, writing 23 books in one year, for which she holds the Guinness World Record. Georgette Heyer accused her of plagiarism—an accusation the high-flying society gal, Barbara, managed to field with her team of lawyers. Her work naturally deteriorated and became what can only be called Spaghetti Romance.

My point is that millions of authors have followed in her footsteps with varying degrees of success, but mostly failure. With the advent of Kindle, badly written books have escalated the spaghetti trend. The Twilight saga set off a spate of vampire books and movies, and Fifty Shades of Grey has put erotica on a new high with no holds barred.

My question is, are there no original authors out there? I write romance, but I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. Years ago, when I decided that I enjoyed writing romance, a publisher told me to read as much as possible in the genre I’d chosen. I spent an unhappy year reading thousands of romance novels. At the end of this year of penance, all I knew was that I didn’t want to write like that.

I urge every aspiring writer to read as many books as they can in the genre of their choice—then think laterally and be original. Don’t fall into the spaghetti trap.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Interview with Literary Agent Joyce Hart

Sandi Rog and Joyce Hart

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of publishing? Most big houses these days require an agent. This means, in order to get your manuscript onto a publisher’s desk, an agent has to see if first, and it’s the agent who (if they like your work or think it’s marketable) will send it on through those mighty publishing doors. 

So, what exactly does an agent do? 

Today, please welcome Joyce Hart from Hartline Literary Agency.

Joyce has been a literary agent since 1992. She was formerly the vice president of marketing of an inspirational publishing company, and, as the president of Hartline Marketing, has nearly thirty-five years of successful experience marketing and promoting books. Joyce has been a pioneer in selling high quality fiction to the inspirational market and has built an excellent rapport with leading inspirational publishers. A member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), Joyce is a graduate of Open Bible College, Des Moines, IA now merged with New Hope College in Eugene, Oregon. Joyce is based at Hartline Literary's Pittsburgh headquarters.

Joyce, we are honored to have you as our guest for an interview. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to share your knowledge with us.

Sandi: How do you define your job as an agent?

Joyce: We want to help our clients develop their careers. We hope when we sign with someone it’s for a long term relationship. One of my clients has been with me for 22 years and several have been with us for 10 or more years. I also see myself as an encourager. When the author gets discouraged about rejections, etc., I remind them of what a good writer they are. This is a tough business, especially in the last few years.

Sandi: How has the business gotten “tough” over the last few years? 

Joyce: There have been so many changes in the publishers. B & H closed their fiction line, now Harlequin has closed the Heartsong line, Harper Collins owns both Zondervan & Thomas Nelson, so their fiction is now Harper Collins Christian Fiction, thus there are less slots for fiction titles. Those are a few examples in the fiction market. In both fiction & non-fiction, platform is essential, good sales numbers for past titles are essential. With one publisher, they used to be happy with 5,000 in sales, now they want 20,000 in sales for each title. 

Sandi: Wow. You’re right. Getting published has gotten more difficult. You mentioned something about “platform.” Can you share with us what that is? 

Joyce: Platform used to mean you had to be out speaking and were well-known. Now platform also means you are on social media in addition to speaking, etc. Are you blogging, do you have a web site, are you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others as they become popular? You will be expected to do a blog tour once you get published. One publisher turned down one of our clients because she hadn’t been on her blog for 3 months. Interviews on other blogs are important too. Wherever you can get your name out there is important.

Sandi: Wow. When is the writer supposed to find time to write when they have to be involved with so much social media? You don’t have to answer that. There are a lot of expectations on writers these days. 

Can you share with us how you spend your day?

Joyce: Reading and answering-mails, sending out proposals, learning new things about this ever changing business, doing my best to keep up with trends. I usually do my reading evenings and weekends.

Sandi: How do you find new clients?

Joyce: We receive many queries via e-mail, most of which we reject. The best ways are either to meet an author at a conference or by referrals.

Sandi: What do you like to see in a cover letter?

Joyce: A short summary of the book, the author’s bio and publishing history, and how the author plans to market the book.

Sandi: What turns you off in cover letters? Any pet peeves? 

Joyce: The ones that say “this will be your next bestselling book” and the ones that tell us that God told them we would be their agent. I don’t mind people saying that, but for some reason they keep coming back to our agency. Maybe God has led them to us, and not always necessarily to be their agent, but to give them some solid advice.

Sandi: How savvy do you expect authors to be about publishing?

Joyce: It really helps if they know publishing. I prefer prospects to have been to writer’s conferences and to have taken online courses. If they write [Christian] fiction, it’s good for them to join ACFW [American Christian Fiction Writers] because of their many online resources. They need to know how to prepare a proposal.

Sandi: How flawless does a manuscript have to be before you will try to place it?

Joyce: It doesn’t have to be ready to go to the publisher. We’re willing to work with an author. We probably will suggest that they hire an editor. Most publishers want to see manuscripts that have been edited these days. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Sandi: What impresses you most about a piece of writing?

Joyce: Stellar writing, something that blows me away, whether non-fiction or fiction.

Sandi: What do you want from the writing itself?

Joyce: As in the previous question, something that blows me away. In fiction, something that touches me emotionally and keeps my interest. In non-fiction, I want writing that keeps me reading. Non-fiction needs to be accurate both with any kind of facts and theologically.

Sandi: Are first novels a hard sell?

Joyce: Extremely hard to sell these days. The publishers want an over-the-top platform.

Sandi: Are second novels a hard sell?

Joyce: It depends on how the sales of the first one were. It’s all about sales these days.

Sandi: Do you submit to an editor, or to a house? What’s the difference?

Joyce: For the most part we submit to an editor. This business works on relationships.

Sandi: How would the sale of a publishing house affect you as an agent? 

Joyce: It would depend. Sometimes they close out an entire line, such as the sale of Harlequin to Harper Collins and Heartsong was closed, and the editor lost her job. That’s tough, our agency had at least three authors who wrote for Heartsong.

Sandi: Finally, what do you enjoy most about being an agent?

Joyce: I enjoy the interaction with the authors and editors. Authors and editors both become good friends. I love books and I love reading our clients’ books. I love finding talented new authors and helping them develop their careers. I simply love what I do. When I started working for a Christian Publisher (Whitaker House) years ago, I found my niche in life. God is good, and I thank Him for leading me to work in Christian publishing.

Joyce again, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your knowledge and expertize with us. This is has been very helpful and enlightening. 

If you’d like to get to know Joyce better, and have a look at her submission guidelines, you can find her both on her BLOG and her WEBSITE

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bleeding on the Page

Sandy Tritt

Is writing an art or a craft? I've wavered on this, thinking one and then the other, but I believe the "truth" is that good writing must be both. A craft is something that can be learned, something that, with time and practice, can be improved upon. It is something that has basic rules and methods, such as using active voice, maintaining point of view, creating realistic characters, and writing sharp dialogue. It's what we give tip sheets to help explain; it's what we teach at writing workshops; it's what we comment on within the pages of your masterpiece. A good writer simply must have a good handle on the craft of writing.

But there is more to writing than craft. A perfectly crafted novel is not necessarily a good read. There is something more, something that oftentimes cannot be named but instead is felt, that separates a well-crafted book from an I-can't-put-it-down novel. In the 1946 book Confessions of a Story Writer, Paul Gallico (author of The Poseidon Adventure) writes: "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don't feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you're wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories."

That is what we do. We bleed on the page. We put our hearts and souls into creating not just a carefully crafted work, but a work of art. We don't create characters; we discover them. We get to know them. We don't decide what happens to them; we discover that, too. Whereas the craft of writing is a product of the brain, the art of writing is a product of the heart and the soul. The craft of writing gives structure to the end product while the art of writing is an exploration of The Truth and provokes emotion. Perhaps that is the greatest difference between craft and art—emotion. Just as viewing a great work of visual art can overwhelm us with emotion, reading a great work of literary art must also touch us deeply.

As editors, we love to nurture the artist in every writer. We love to highlight those passages that are exceptional and tell you how amazing they are—even if they need a little editing. We love to discover the great storyteller inside you and help give you confidence to continue to write and continue to hone your craft—so that you may, indeed, create a work of art.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Those Troublesome Words, Part 1: Lie, Lay, Raise, Rise, Sit, Set

Wilma Acree

There are two ways to distinguish between these words: (a) master their meanings and (b) learn which ones require direct objects (a noun or pronoun following the verb that receives the action of the verb). I use a combination of these methods.

            Lie (lie, lying, lay, (have) lain) means to recline or to remain in a fixed position. It needs no object. Examples:

                        Mrs. Jones lies down for a nap every morning. (She

                        She lay down late yesterday because she had a visitor.

                         Her book is lying on the nightstand. (It remains there).

            Lay (lay, laying, laid, (have) laid) means to put or place something down. It has an object. Examples:

                        Lay the dictionary on the desk. (Lay means put. Lay
                        what? Lay has an object, the dictionary.)

                        I laid the book there yesterday. (Laid means put. It has
                        an object, book.)

                        The workmen are laying carpet. (The men are putting
                        down carpet. Laying has an object, carpet.)

            What makes lay/lie even more confusing is that the past tense of lie is lay.

            Rise (rise, rising, rose, (have risen) means to arise; to get up; to go up. It does not require an object. Examples:

                        The sun has always risen in the east. (There is no object;
                        the sun does not have someone pushing it up)

                        Like the sun, stars rise in the east.

            Raise (raise, raising, raised, (have) raised) means to lift up, force up, put up, or to grow a crop. It must have an object. Examples:

                        Raise your hand if you have a question. (Raise means
                        put up. Raise what? Your hand. There is an object, so
                        raise is correct.) 

                        I raised the window yesterday to air out the house.
                        (Raise means put up. It has an object, window.)

            Sit (sit, sitting, sat, (have) sat) means to take a seat or to rest. It does not have an object. Examples:

                        I always sit in that chair. (I always rest my body there.
                       Sit what? There is no object.)

                        I sat by the window for hours. (I kept my body there. Sat
                        has no object.)

            Set (set, set, setting, (have) sat) means to place, to put, or to decide upon something. It requires an object. Examples:

                        Joan set the vase on the table. (She put the vase on the
                        table. Set what? The vase. Set has an object.)

                        Tom set the toolbox on the shelf. (Set means put; there
                        is an object—the toolbox).

             Lay, raise, and set require objects to receive their action. If a noun immediately follows the verb and receives its action, these are the correct choice. In addition, they each involve someone or something putting something. If you remember this, these troublesome words will be problems no longer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Stacy Tritt

It’s that time of year again. The scent of pumpkin spice and cinnamon apples permeate the air, the first frost of the season killed my chrysanthemums for good last night, daylight savings time changing gave me one more precious hour of sleep, and, most importantly, it’s noshavenovember National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! So grab your keyboards, it’s time to hunch over our laptops with some hot apple cider and quit finding excuses to not write!

Okay, so maybe you aren’t so gung-ho about dedicating yourself to writing 50,000 words before the end of the month. Well, that doesn’t mean you’re a complete party pooper. There are still ways to get inspired, get motivated, and get encouragement from fellow writers without having to participate in NaNoWriMo, at least on the surface. Because this blog is all about using the resources from NaNoWriMo to your advantage, whether you are actively trying to write a new 50,000 word novel in one month, or not.

There are so many wonderful resources the NaNoWriMo organization offers to the writing community. Here’s my take on the best they have to offer:

When you sign up for NaNoWriMo, you select which region you’re from, so no matter if you are in Paw Paw, West Virginia or in New York, New York, you can find some writers nearby with whom you can network, and with whom you can exchange encouragement. The best part about these local groups? Write-ins! I can’t explain how wonderful it is to sit around a table at the local library or coffee shop with a bunch of strangers while you all type away—different worlds being created behind each screen. The creative energy that flows forth at such a gathering is something I have never experienced in any other setting. Write-ins can have many different nuances depending on who plans it, and who attends. Fun caveats are often added, like everyone puts a dollar on the table, and the first person to write 500 words gets the money, or everyone is banned from getting up from the table until everyone has written 300 words. These types of activities not only encourage you to get more words on paper, but they encourage you to utilize the writers around you, and allow them to utilize you. By encouraging and supporting each other, we all become better, more effective, and efficient writers.

NaNoWriMo offers various other inspirational resources. The NaNoWriMo organization gets professional writers from all over the country to send out encouraging messages to the participants of NaNoWriMo each week, as well as sending out new ideas on how to refresh your drive to write. If that isn’t enough, there are virtual write-ins for those in areas where there are fewer writers, or for those who are afraid of meeting strangers in coffee shops to participate in write-ins.

Word sprints are also great tools NaNoWriMo participants use to get words on paper, because, let’s face it, without getting the words out on paper, it is impossible to ever edit it up to be a best-seller. Word sprints can be done individually, or in groups in person or online. The idea of a word sprint is to write a set number of words in a designated period of time. Only have a half hour to write today? Make that half hour count by challenging yourself to write 500 words in that time. Seem crazy, impossible maybe? Try it. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can prove yourself wrong.

Some of you are probably wondering why these resources can’t be used by writers who don’t write long prose, or during months when everyone isn’t jumping on a writing marathon bandwagon. Here’s the best part: they can be! These resources can be personalized to any writer. If you’re a songwriter, great! Go sit around a table at a coffee shop with a bunch of other writers, and get the words to a new song down on paper before you leave. When January rolls around and you get snowed in, utilize writing sprints to get entire scenes written between hot cocoa breaks. The important thing is to forge friendships with fellow local writers now so that you can plan write-ins throughout the year. It is important to learn new techniques, to take advantage of new (and free!) writing opportunities, and, most importantly, to get yourself started on a regimen where you make time to write. NaNoWriMo isn’t just a trend, it is a resource for all writers, one which you should take advantage of while it’s available.

So, once you’re done reading this blog, head on over to, start meeting new writers, start learning new techniques, open up that fresh, new word document, and start writing! Your novel is waiting.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Frightening People, Terrifying Places, and Scary Things...

by Robert W. Walker
Author of Flesh Wars, Bloodscreams, Abaddon & more

How do we, as authors, get to the level of proficiency that readers send us comments like, “While I read your books, I have to put them out at night—on the porch”, or “I literally threw your book across the room, but crawled over later and finished it”?

That kind of compliment is music to the ears of suspense and horror authors, who are like big kids anxious to frighten our readers; we jump from the pages to shock you. But how do we manage it?

If we can frighten readers through use of our characters, our settings, and our props, then by all means we are turning our people, places, and things to good advantage and full-on use. We get there by means of the useful notion that the devil is in the details. Imagine, if you will, a child’s story—maybe Three Billy Goats Gruff or Charlotte’s Web, for that matter. In the one, we are convinced there is a troll beneath every bridge anxious to eat anything daring to cross it. Then the goat brothers sacrifice one another to the monster . . . creepy!

In the other tale, we have a spider coming to the rescue of a pig, and Charlotte and Wilbur have a full-blown relationship. The characters are fully realized—so much so that they come alive for the mesmerized reader. How can this be?

Details can sell us on any preposterous notion, as in my answer to spontaneous human combustion: creating a creature who smokes people the way we smoke cigarettes in my Flesh Wars books, or my witches in Abaddon who possess a young boy and direct him to become a serial killer. 

The reader is convinced to suspend disbelief through the careful planting of detail atop detail that uses all five senses and sometimes the sixth sense. It requires long and torturous rewrites to fully develop a scary person (antagonist or creature), a scary setting (loco-location), and frightful props (from ax, to cleaver, to Stryker saw).

Naming of names—be it people, places, or props—is also a way to get that fright factor working. Names are scarily specific—like Stryker saw—notice it gets capitalized as names should. The Lincoln Towers underground parking lot becomes even scarier as a modern-day haunted place due to the name, the specific location at Lincoln and Belmont in Chicago. (Notice more caps?) 

It is incumbent upon the modern author to find modern places to haunt, like a museum of modern art after hours, or a trailer park, or a single trailer in that park or … fill in the blank. Locations—and detailed locations at that—win the day when we wish to terrify.

In fact, it is true of any good writing that we want to be specific—all good writing is detailed to the nth degree; it is thesaurus-ing a mood, a point, a feeling, a wound, or a bleed out. We cannot get away with simply saying “it was hot” or “it was cold”—not by a long stretch—as we need to use every word possible that comes with heat (hot, searingly so), which must include sweltering, sweat, perspiration, and boiling, as well. For cold, we need to muster all the words at our command that show frigid, icy, ice-pick-shaped crystals beneath the nails painted with acrylic chartreuse, as in a fun house for my PSI Blue and Deja Blue.

So if there is a secret to scary writing, can it be that simple? Yes, it can, and yes, it is. As Stephen King puts it, “If you can’t legitimately scare the reader, go then for the gross out.” But even the gross out requires great attention to DETAIL.

About Robert Walker:

Award-winning author and graduate of Northwestern University, ROBERT W. WALKER created his highly acclaimed INSTINCT and EDGE SERIES between 1982 and 2005. Rob since then has penned his award-winning historical series featuring Inspector Alastair Ransom with CITY FOR RANSOM (2006), SHADOWS IN THE WHITE CITY (2007), and CITY OF THE ABSENT (2008), and most recently placed Ransom on board the Titanic in a hybrid historical/science fiction epic entitled Titanic 2012 – Curse of RMS Titanic. Rob’s next book, DEAD ON, is a PI revenge tale and a noir set in modern day Atlanta. More recently he has written Bismarck 2013, a historical horror title, The Edge of Instinct, the 12th Instinct Series, and a short story collection entitled Thriller Party of 8 – the one that got away. Rob’s historical suspense CHILDREN of SALEM, while a historical romance and suspense novel, exposes the violent nature of mankind via the politics of witchcraft in grim 1692 New England, a title that some say only Robert Walker could craft—romance amid the infamous witch trials. Robert currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia with his wife, children, pets, all somehow normal. For more on Rob’s published works, see,, or books. He maintains a presence on Facebook and Twitter as well.

If you want to check out the titles mentioned in this blog, here are the links:

Flesh Wars 1
PSI Blue
Deja Blue

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Constructing a Story Part 2: Builiding a Story

Charlotte Firbank-King

You have the glimmer of a story—basically the head and spine of your skeleton.

Make a list:

What genre is it?

Main protagonists—hero and heroine. How they look, their likes and dislikes, their flaws and strengths.

Main villain or villains—their looks, fetishes, etc.

Avoid back flashes as much as possible. Rather, write a prologue or weave the back flashes into the story through dialogue, but keep it BRIEF.

Don’t start the story with in-depth descriptions of the characters—make them natural through observation from a character or dialogue—again, brevity is the key word.

Every story has a problem that needs to be solved or there wouldn’t be a story.

We’ve had blogs on how to open a story—the first paragraph must capture the reader immediately—hook them.

Set the scene—give it atmosphere and ground the reader. Tell them where they are—the moon, Outer Mongolia, Bangladesh, or the Arctic. As you write, see, smell, taste and feel every single scene.

Present the problem or series of problems. Perhaps the hero finds a body. Now, we have a homicide or accident. He reports it to the heroine, who needs to solve it. This is where you need to be quite clear about “whodunnit,” but not the reader.

As you build the story, keep track of who is where and what they are doing at any given time. Make a list:

1) Joe finds body in car

2) Mary from NYPD is called to investigate

1 & 2: the problem to be solved 

3) Joe contaminates crime scene by hugging body

4) Mary furious with Joe

3 & 4: we have conflict between protagonists

Question that needs an answer:

Why did Joe hug the body?

Answer—the victim is his wife

Now Joe is a suspect

Enter Marc, the brother 

Joe accuses brother of having an affair with wife

Forensic expert discovers victim was pregnant

The baby’s DNA is not a match to Marc or Joe

This adds to the conflict and mystery.

All the while, you build atmosphere and tension—see and smell the car and surroundings where the victim is found—then the police station and the morgue. Show us Joe and Marc’s anger as they play a blame game—show us Mary’s frustration.

Make your reader fall in love with, empathize with, get frustrated by, or hate characters by fleshing out their appearance, traits, and personalities. But in small bites—DON’T do it all at once. You have the power as a writer to make readers feel what you want them to feel. Embroider on your characters as you go. Bring out their faults and strengths slowly. They must grow or deteriorate in a believable way.

Slowly, you build the story to a flowing climax. The character list will probably be added to, but watch the names. Don’t call one Joe and another Josephine. More tension as Mary gets to the truth—whatever you decide that might be. Keep the tension and atmosphere going. Watch the beginning and ends of chapters. Those were dealt with in one of our previous blogs.

Never start a story with cameos of each character’s traits, looks, likes and dislikes—that will just bore the reader—weave it into the story.

Don’t have too many unanswered questions, mysteries. Give the reader occasional clues without giving the game away. You can even lead the reader on a false trail to make the ending a shock, but that means keeping a tight rein on the plot.

Then start tying up loose ends as you work towards an ending.

Things to avoid:

Constant flash backs

A convoluted plot that becomes so confusing that you don’t even know what is going on. Keep it simple yet seemingly complex. Things have to run in a chronological order and be realistic.

Don’t create scenarios or coincidences just to make things work.

Show, don’t tell—see IFW tips.

Watch the point of view at all times and avoid head hopping—see IFW tips on POV.

Keep internal dialogue to a minimum, and don’t use too much internal or vocal dialogue as a vehicle to impart information.

Above all, the story must flow. Hook in the opening paragraph—the problem/mystery that needs an answer—build to a climax whilst resolving—then the final act where all is revealed. If the story has a sequel, then it ends on a cliff-hanger. 

In conclusion:

Research is vital. If you aren’t a forensic, gun, or knife expert—research it. Know nothing about cars or carriages? Depending on the era—research it. Even absolute fantasy needs research.

If your mystery/murder is historical, research even the manner of speech—but don’t go over the top with how they speak, especially when using the vernacular; you will just irritate the reader. Certain words weren’t in use a hundred years ago—check them first—the Merriam Webster dictionary is great for this.
Then edit, edit, edit, and edit even more.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Constructing a Story Part 1: Frankenstein

Charlotte Firbank-King

Like any journey one undertakes, planning is needed. Writing a book is no different. It’s a journey, a long one that will have you excited, frustrated and, at times, exhausted. Most writers have a story budding in their heads. If you’re like me, the stories rattling around in your brain can drive you nuts. I often just write these ideas and relegate them to a file where they may never see the light of day. Others won’t go away and I’m compelled to start. 

See your story as a body.

You are God in the story. You say which characters do what, how they look, how they act, what they love or hate, you control them all—not. Believe me, characters love to take control.

Back to the story. 

First you have a skeleton or even just a partial skeleton. Once you start writing, other ideas grow, then we add some of the organs, veins and arteries. At last we create a heart and brain, then cover it in skin. Well pleased with our efforts, we step back and decide it’s time for the first edit. However, some writers are so confident they decide it’s great as it is—well, maybe one quick edit—and then rush it off to a publisher they just know awaits their brilliant novel. 

You’re confident this is a bestseller. You pop the champagne and relax while you wait for the letter telling you that you are the world’s next great author. You’ve even spent the millions that will roll in. And what about the movie rights? Have to pick a suitable big star for the leading roll. Actually, throw in a few big names. Life is good while you think of a sequel.

Shock and horror, a rejection letter. 

Now you’re in denial. They’re nuts! Right? No problem, another publisher will recognize your brilliance. A hundred rejections later you realize they can’t all be wrong. Maybe an editor will tell you what the answer is—the publishers all tell you to get an editor. 

Not entirely flattened, you send it to some editors. They each send a quote and blow your socks off—what? The editors tell you there are plot flaws—actually the plot is horrific, non-existent—the story doesn’t flow—then you’re telling instead of showing—your characters lack soul—your story has no heart and there are too many back flashes—there’s not enough atmosphere or you aren’t grounding the reader—the grammar sucks—too many adjectives and adverbs—the list is endless. Now you definitely feel demoralized and demolished—brutalized, actually.

Read the story through the eyes of the publisher and editor—read it aloud.

Oh, my God, you have a Frankenstein! The brain is where the bowels should be, the heart is lurking in the anus—the eyes are misplaced and the mouth dominates the face. The nose is in the back of the head, and the feet are where the hands should be, in fact, a hand is missing. The bladder is gone, along with the stomach. Even you can see this thing is a horror story.

What went wrong?

You didn’t plan your body before you started creating it! Then you didn’t edit, edit, edit and edit more. The less you edit the higher the editor’s quote.

I don’t say you mustn’t just jump in and write like demon, but at least be aware that there will be problems, and your first body (draft) will need a major operation.

The first draft always sucks. Give yourself a break, a couple of weeks to lick your wounds, then dust yourself off and jump in.

Take on board every criticism you get—don’t listen too closely to family and friends unless they’re hard-core editors that love you enough to be honest. 

Next week’s blog will be on how to construct the “body.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Children's Books and the Child's Character Trait Chart

Sandy Tritt

I was recently contacted by a gentleman, a children’s book writer, who asked me what resources we had specifically for writers of children’s books. He had purchased our workbook and was happy with it, but pointed out that our character trait chart was geared toward adult characters. So, I got to work and created a new CHILD’S CHARACTER TRAIT CHART. It includes some of the same fields as our old CHARACTER TRAIT CHART, but we’ve tweaked them to make them relate to children. 

Here are the fields in the chart: 

Full Name 

Goes By

Date of Birth


Address/Particulars about Where Lives

Race/Ethnic Background/Nationality

Height Weight/Body Build



Peculiar Traits (Freckles, Limp, Etc.)



Usual Walking Style



Style of Dress

Favorite Drink

Favorite Food



Favorite Subject 


Birth Order

Lives With

Wants to Be When Grows Up

Best Friend(s) 

Worst Enemy

Most Important Possession



What is a normal day like for this character?

Greatest Fear 

Major Goals

Views Family:

Family Views Him:

Views Friends:

Friends View Him:

Feelings Toward Animals:

Who is His Hero?

If you’d like to receive a free Word or PDF copy of this chart (formatted to fit on a single sheet of paper with space for your notes), please just shoot me off an email at, and I’ll be happy to send you one. If you’d like to see all our worksheets (this one hasn’t been added yet), as well as a collection of our tips and techniques, be sure to order our workbook ( And, of course, if you’d like an experienced children’s writer to edit and critique your children’s story, send it. A standard edit and critique is only $45 for up to 1500 words. (Please do not send payment until we’ve reviewed your story. We only accept stories we believe we can improve and that we believe will be viable). Email me at

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Shakespeare Revamped--Not

Charlotte Firbank-King

Many authors from bygone days, like Shakespeare, are eschewed by writers and described as difficult to understand and boring. I took A Midsummer Night’s Dream and modernized a few lines—how boring is that version? Not to mention, clichés were all that seemed to work.

I think it loses something vital and beautiful in the translation. Writers can learn a lot from the likes of Shakespeare, Dickens and even Homer.

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.

Hey, sexy Hippolyta, not long before we tie the knot, babe.
Four days before the next moon rises and the nights sure drag.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a cool time with you.
But, man, this old moon is slow to disappear, and I really have the hots for you.
That moon is like an old woman pushing my buttons.
And I don’t know how long I can hold back.

Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.

Relax, four days and nights will go in a flash.
Then a new moon will hang out in the sky like a sliver of light.
And hey, presto, we’ll be saying our vows.

Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth;
Turn melancholy forth to funerals;
The pale companion is not for our pomp.

Hey, Philostrate
Go get our Athenian buddies.
Tell then to snap out of it, catch a wakeup and organize a party.
I don’t want any long faces at our bash, like someone died.


I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with reveling.

Hippolyta, my darlin’, sorry I nicked you with my blade in that street rumble;
But, hey, it won your love.
I promise our wedding will be different.
I’ll show you a real good time with all the bells and whistles.

Not the same, is it? Perhaps Shakespeare is antiquated, but there is a lot we can learn from the poetic way he crafts his syntax.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Celebrate National Punctuation Day

Wilma Acree
(Grammar Guru)

National Punctuation Day (NPD) was founded by journalist Jeff Rubin in 2004 to draw attention to the importance of the correct use of punctuation. Its mission: to change the world, one apostrophe at a time. The celebration occurs each September 24 in the United States.
NPD maintains a web site ( and a Facebook page. Rubin welcomes submissions of photos of incorrectly punctuated signs, plaques, ads, newspaper headlines, menus, or business cards ( The organization sponsors a contest for students and adults each year. suggests several ways to honor the day.

Why should writers care about correct punctuation? First, it helps readers understand your intended meaning. There is a world of difference in this classic example: (A) Let’s go eat Grandma. (B) Let’s go eat, Grandma. (A) Dines on Grandma while (B) dines with Grandma. Your errors won’t be that extreme, but they will distract and mislead your reader. Secondly, you want your reader to believe you are intelligent and industrious—not too stupid or lazy to learn a few rules.

I recently finished reading a novel with an intriguing plot and compelling characters. It told a good story and could have been a great book, but it was rife with errors, mostly punctuation. The author ignored common comma rules and made up some of his own. If I were rating this book 1-5, I would give it a 3 instead of the 5 it could have earned. If I pay $19.95 for a book, I deserve an edited story, not one that looks like a first draft.

Choose AP or MLA style and review the rules. Show respect for your reader by having someone knowledgeable proofread or edit your manuscript. Celebrate correct punctuation every day!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Professional Edit Costs How Much?

Rhonda Browning White

You received your free sample edit back from a talented editor at Inspiration For Writers, Inc., and your editor pointed out issues in your manuscript that you didn’t even realize were there. Sure, you expected her to correct a couple of typos you may have missed, but you surely didn’t think your story contained passive voice, or inconsistent tenses, or lack of tension in the first paragraph. And you certainly weren’t expecting to learn that something that felt so clear when you wrote it is unclear to your readers (but upon re-reading, you now can see where it might be confusing). Perhaps you were surprised to agree with her when she pointed out that your main character is too flat or cliché. Upon reading—and rereading—your sample edit letter, and reviewing—over and over again—the changes in the sample edit, you understand that a professional edit is exactly what you need to take your writing to the next level.

But maybe you can’t afford it. (Why on earth do proofreads, edits, and ghost-edits cost so much, anyway?) First, let’s determine why the best editors charge fees that people new to writing may consider high. Did you know that the best editors hold writing degrees, are well-published, as well as teach at and attend conferences and workshops where they continually network with agents and publishers in order to stay on top of the ever-changing market? Did you know the best, most careful editors proofread an average of forty pages per day, edit an average of twenty, and ghost-edit an average of six? It takes a long time to do a good job. What kind of salary do you make in an hour? What kind of salary do you think a well-educated, professionally trained and skilled editor should make in that same hour? 

Okay, you say, the best editors work hard and deserve their pay, but I still can’t afford to have my 100,000-word manuscript ghost-edited! What are you to do? Will you give up? Will you let this tumbling block keep you from reaching your dream of becoming a published author?

Surely not! You deserve success!

So what options are available to a dedicated beginning writer who wants to reach publication level? First, you may want to consider having only a portion of your manuscript professionally edited. Make sure you submit the first chapters for professional editing, as these are the pages an agent or publisher will read initially. Purchase the highest level of service your editor recommends for your work, and send as many pages as you can afford. When your editor returns those pages to you, don’t just read them—study them. Study them hard! Print out your customized manuscript analysis, and read it multiple times, committing the lessons to memory. Carefully read the marked-up copy of your edit, and try to determine why your editor made the changes she made. If your editor suggested specific articles, books or websites on the craft of writing, read them. You can then apply those things you’ve learned to the rest of your manuscript, thereby improving both your story and your writing skill for your next project.

 It’s important to consider a professional edit as the investment it truly is—an investment in your writing career, and thus, your future. Can you forgo that extra-whip, double-shot, caramel-flavored latte a couple of times each week, and put that money toward an edit? Can you cook dinner every other weekend, instead of eating out, and put that extra expense toward your lifelong goal of becoming a published author?

Not only do you consider your edit as an investment in your writing career—the IRS does as well. Every penny you pay for a professional edit is tax deductible. (That is, as long as you hire a legitimate editing company that pays taxes, not someone who works on the side and takes money under the table.) This can greatly reduce your net expense. Also, Inspiration for Writers, Inc., accepts all major credit cards, as well as PayPal revolving credit. Know, too, that Inspiration For Writers, Inc. offers a variety of payment options that may help you acquire the level of service your manuscript needs.

It’s your story, it’s your dream, it’s your future. It’s up to you to invest in yourself and your future as a writer. When you are ready to get serious about your career as a writer, we are here to help you reach your goals.

If not now, when?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Charlotte Firbank-King


(Bet that had you running to the dictionary.)

This is how we "concoctastory." Open a file called Story Outline.

First thing:

In the actual manuscript:

Under “Chapter 1,” I put in the era or year and location of the story in italics. It just grounds the reader, lets them know where they are. But that’s me and it isn’t imperative.

In the Story Outline file:

Put in the date you start the story, for your own interest. 

Give a brief outline of the story for your own benefit, but this will probably change dramatically. 

Next headings:

1) Names and details:

In the View tool, I tick the Navigation Pane, then go to the Paragraph tool under General, find Outline Level, and click on the down arrow—it will open up options. I always use Level 1 for chapter heading in the manuscript and various headings in the Story Outline for easy access. The first heading would be Brief Synopsis. Be sure to change it back to Body Text in the paragraph tool before going to the next line, or you’ll have a million headings.

Name of hero and heroine—hair and eye color, height, build, defining features, age marks, scars, deformities, habits, twitches, tastes, occupation, likes, dislikes, traits—good and bad—ambitions, goals, obsessions, status in society, domicile, marital status, siblings, parents, etc.

In fact, anything you may need to remember as the story unfolds. Many of these details will change as time goes on, but the physical traits will probably remain the same. 

If you name specific details about buildings, furniture, or other setting items, list them here.  If they are mentioned again, you don’t want a purple building or chair to be pink later in the story.

As you write, add each character’s name and physical appearance. One may start off with a cast of characters, but the story may need a new character. It’s all too easy to forget that Joe had cerulean blue eyes. One often errs and gives characters brown or green eyes later in the book.

Minor characters, like a barmaid or footman, don’t need a name if they only make one or two appearances. In fact, it’s better to keep names to a minimum. Only add a description if you gave them a specific thing like eye or hair color, a squint or limp favoring the left leg—you don’t want them favoring the right leg at another point.

The names of ships, streets, buildings and places must also go into this file as they crop up in the story.

Make a note of things like Elvis borrowed $50,000 from Danny the hobo. Or he gave Leonardo da Vinci a $1 tip for opening his chariot door.

Be careful to keep names varied—don’t have Joe in love, working with or related to Jasmine, or worse, Josephine.

2) List of possible names:

Make a list of cool names for male and female people, dogs, cats, horses or any animal names. I make a habit of putting the list in alphabetical order and use only one letter per memorable character—lesser characters aren't important, unless their relationship is too close to the character they interact with.

3) Publishing details:

The author bio, query, synopsis, letters for agents/publishers, plus back cover blurb and tagline. Or you can put them in a new file, then make a folder with the book title.

4) Background info:

Almost all stories need research. Put the books used or where you found it on the Internet or the person who gave you the info. You may need to go back and check something. I have a separate file with all research relating to that story, then put it in the folder mentioned above if I copy and paste from the Internet. 

You would be amazed at how many ideas come to you as you research.

Writing needs preparation like anything in life. There is only one problem: a story can take on a life of its own and change direction—just go with the flow, be sure to change things in the Story Outline if you alter something. 

Above all, let the creative juices flow and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Finding an Editor in Today's Market

Sandy Tritt
When Inspiration for Writers, Inc. went online in 1998, there were only three other companies on the Internet. Now, there are literally thousands of editors there. Thousands. Anyone can claim to be an editor. There are no tests, no licenses, no applications. And, unfortunately, nothing will destroy your writing career faster than a bad editor. It’s so disheartening to see so many unqualified editors taking money from unsuspecting writers—and then making an absolute mess of that writer’s work, often not only ruining the manuscript, but also the writer’s confidence. 
Some editing firms have only one editor—which could leave you in a rough spot if that editor were to suddenly take ill or have an accident. Or, even worse, simply decided that editing was hard work and took off with your money. Some editing firms have zillions of editors who bid on projects, with your manuscript going to the one with the lowest bid—regardless of his or her qualifications as an editor or in your genre. Some editing firms feature a list of hundreds of editors available for clients to select from, with preference given to the "fastest" editors—those who edit the most words per day with no weight for quality. One company promises that any manuscript under 65,000 words would be delivered in five days. That’s 13,000 words a day. (Our full-time editors average 5000 words in an 8-hour work day). 
As far as I can figure, IFW is now the oldest continuously-in-business editing company on the Internet today. We have grown from a one-person editor to a company with twelve editors, a web guy, a grammar guru, and an intern. 
So, why have we survived when so many others have come and gone? 
  1.  Our editors are professionals. Most have a minimum of a master’s degree in English, are well-published, have won many awards, and are active in the writing community. Editing is not something we do on the side after working all day at a day job. Editing IS our day job. 
  2. We have integrity. We are honest in all our dealings. We let you know up front what a job will cost, and we do not have any hidden costs that pop up later. 
  3. We provide excellent value for the work we perform. While many editing companies appear to be less expensive, when you add in the “hidden” costs (fees for more than a pre-determined number of corrections, hourly fees for responding to questions, fees for quick turn-around, fees for telephone consultations, etc.) and the high quality of our service, others cannot compare. 
  4. We treat our clients the way we would want to be treated. We treat our clients with respect and with kindness. We are honest with them, even when what we have to say is bad news. When we edit, we evaluate the manuscript, not the client. 
  5. We provide ongoing service long after we’ve edited your manuscript. We’re here—and will continue to be here for you—for as long as you need us. We can advise you on your writing questions and be your sounding board. It’s what we do. 
At Inspiration for Writers, Inc., we believe writers deserve the best editor for their individual needs. Therefore, our editors never bid or otherwise compete against one another for projects. Instead, each manuscript is evaluated, and the editor who is best suited for the particular genre and writing level is given the job. All our editors are published authors with extensive editing experience and excellent grammatical skills. Each editor has gone through a rigorous training program that includes an apprenticeship before being certified by Inspiration for Writers, Inc. Additionally, Inspiration for Writers, Inc., employs only editors with high ethics and excellent people skills.
Before hiring an editor, do your homework. Google both the company and the individual editor. What do other people (not their own website) say about them? Are the editors published by traditional publishers (not self-published)? Are the editors active in the writing community? Do they give workshops? Speak at writing conventions? Teach at the university level?
To make sure we have the best match between writer and editor, Inspiration for Writers, Inc., provides a free sample edit for manuscripts over 20,000 words. We want our writers to be comfortable with the personality, style and expertise of our editors. For truly, the writer/editor relationship is a close one, and the writer must feel comfortable asking questions and receiving feedback. If your editor isn’t your trusted friend—the person who is there to guide you and protect you while never leading you astray—you need a new editor.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What are You Reading?

Rhonda Browning White
I know you’ve heard it said before, “Good writers must read good books.” For most of us, this is a no-brainer. But do you realize how much what you read affects how you write? It’s true; the books and novels you read will directly impact your writing. Thus, it’s important for each of us, as writers, to read constantly and closely with the intention of improving our own writing. Author Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer is an excellent text on how to read with fresh eyes, to receive not only inspiration, but also instruction and technical assistance, from a great story.

What? But won’t reading with such concentration take the pleasure out of a story?

Of course not! In fact, with a little bit of effort, close reading (reading with attention to cunning plots, breathtaking sentences, suggestive detail, and other building blocks of writing) can make your reading experience more enjoyable than it has ever been. When we read a story with a keen eye on the way in which it was crafted, we learn how to apply those tricks to our own stories. Reading a powerful story in which we’ve examined every sentence—every word—seeking to understand why the author chose to use in the way she did, we can experience revelations, both about the story we are reading and about the way in which we chose our own words and phrases. We can discover new pleasures in selecting words for our own stories as we dive into the beautiful, bottomless pool of language discovery. Books and novels become our own private classrooms in which we study lessons in the art of writing. So, then, which classes shall we take?

I highly recommend starting at the top. No, this doesn’t mean we should forgo contemporary stories for Homer, Ovid and Shakespeare (though there’s much to be learned about plot and storytelling from classic literature). 

Begin with the bestseller lists. What makes those stories so popular and powerful within their genre? Read a few recent bestsellers similar to the story (or at least in the same genre that) you are writing. Find an author in your genre whose work moves you, and read everything they’ve written. Pay attention to what it is in their work that captures your attention, and try to mimic that style in your own writing. If you write mysteries, pick up this year’s edition of Best American Mysteries. (You can’t go wrong with any of the Best American series in your genre, whether it’s Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, Best American Sports Stories, or any of their other excellent collections.) We often learn best from the books we most admire.

Study books on the craft of writing. You’ll hear our editors often tell you how important it is to continually study the craft—professional writers make a career out of studying writing and applying what they’ve learned to their own work. Personally, I read at least five or six books a year on writing craft. This week, I’m reading Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Building Fiction. Next on my list is John Truby’s The Anatomy of a Story. Other texts I’ve read and to which I frequently return for advice and inspiration include The Art & Craft of the Short Story (good advice for many forms) by Rick DeMarinis, and what may be my all-time favorite, The Lie that Tells a Truth by John Dufresne.  

Medical students watch surgeons and copy their skills and techniques in the operating room. Dancers study the moves of famous choreographers and practice until their bodies ache from effort. Professional writers study the best authors, conscious of style, diction and sentence structure, and apply those construction details to their own work. 

Reading is what real writers do. What are you reading?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to Take a Critique

by Sherry Wilson
Taking a critique can sometimes be difficult for those of us who toil in private for a long time, churning out work and not really knowing how it will be valued by others. Giving up your work for critique is difficult, and receiving a critique with dignity can be challenging.

If your story is the subject of a live critique, you have a great advantage. You're going to receive immediate, honest feedback on your story. That is a privilege. It can also be hard to take. Most of us would like to bury our heads in the sand at this prospect.

I remember my first live critique. It was at a writer’s conference, and I was so nervous I’m surprised I didn’t pass out in the chair. Time was short so she concentrated on what would make the story better and she didn’t pull any punches. I felt like I’d been a few rounds in the ring by the time it was finished. It was probably the longest three minutes of my life.

It is difficult to take at first, but you do develop a thicker skin rather quickly. The most important rule to follow when receiving a critique of any kind, but especially with a live critique—do not argue.

As soon as the writer starts arguing with the person giving the feedback, all feedback stops. People will give you their opinion until you argue about it. Then they won’t bother anymore. As hard as it may be to take, you have to realize that what they are doing is a true gift. You cannot argue with readers once you have sold your work. They will interpret your story in their own way. You can’t control that. So you shouldn’t try to control the feedback from your audience either.

If the feedback is given in an on-line group, it is inevitable that you will receive an upsetting critique at some time or other. The distance of on-line relationships and the mood fluctuations of people will no doubt cause some to send off a hasty critique.

When this happens, do not write a note back arguing with the critique.

Really, don’t do it.

Let it sit for a day or two to gain a bit of distance and then re-read it.

Yes—re-read it.

You don’t have to agree with it. This is one person’s opinion, and that is all it is. But you might as well get something out of it.

So re-read the critique with an eye for what problems the person saw in the manuscript. You may not agree that these are problems, but you will see that there is a reason the person stopped there and made a comment. Perhaps they misinterpreted what you were trying to do. You may decide not do as they suggest, but you can see that you need to make your intentions clearer in that section.

Often, just the distance of a day will let you see that, while the critique might be a bit rude or brusque, there is something to be gleaned from it.

If you are paying a professional for a critique or an edit, you should find that the communication is professional and framed in a positive light. The editor should tell you what you’ve done right as well as point out any problems and give you suggestions on how to improve the story. But there is the occasional editor who will be more negative with his critique. If this happens, again, don’t argue.

If you don’t understand something, it’s perfectly fine to ask for further explanation.

If you can’t figure out why he made a certain comment, ask for clarification.

But don’t argue with him about it. You paid for the editor’s help and you want his opinion. You don’t have to agree with it.

In fact, receiving another critique from someone else can be a great help to you. It will show you which points really need to be changed and which are more a matter of personal taste.

If two individuals make the same point, you should look closer at their suggestions.

You need to develop a thick skin. That only comes from being subjected to critique repeatedly. Being able to use the critique to improve the work is the most important thing in making it. That is how you get better. The writer who gets published is the writer who perseveres.