Saturday, January 31, 2015

Day #31, 2015

"Where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? 
From within." ~Eric Liddell's character in Chariots of Fire
You can break the tape!

This is it... the final lap.
Our challenge concludes at day's end today.

Are you still struggling to catch up? Afraid you'll never make it?

The image shown in this post comes from my 2nd all-time favorite movie, Chariots of Fire. I included it, not just because it depicts winning a race, but because the story is based on a true life tale of unflagging diligence in action—and its attendant rewards.

Whatever you need to do to feel satisfied with your performance this month, you can still do. The very fact that you're reading this indicates that you participated in our January writing/editing program to some degree—and to us, that makes you a winner!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Day #30, 2015

Writing Groups 
because everyone's a critic

You want to be a writer.
Dammit, you are a writer!

As such, you'll need a cadre of readers to test your scenes and completed work. The more you write, the more content you'll have that needs perusal and critiquing. But where to turn? Friends and family will likely love your work on principle and turned a blind eye to poor writing, plot holes and weak characterization. What you need are people who can be objective and who are as dedicated to the craft of writing as you are so that they will invest time in reading your work by choice, not as a personal favor.

Writing groups were created for this very purpose... and frankly, one could say the same about Starbucks, where so many groups choose to gather and nurse lattes while waxing literary.

Not only will your fellow group members critique your work, they will offer advice and camaraderie. Chances are, they've been in your shoes and faced many of the same challenges as you. Plus, you get the benefit of reading their work and learning from their successes and opportunities for improvement.

The following are a few links to help you find the group that's right for you—whether as an in-person Meetup or digital gathering:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Day #29, 2015

The corner experience.

You've written yourself into a corner... now what?

Whereas the situation can appear to be a mistake requiring fixing, it may very well be a liberating opportunity for explosive creativity.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Day #28, 2015

Reading Owl by Marc Potts
Who? Who?

So many characters...
So little memory.

Plot may drive the action of your story, but characters are what really hook your readers and make them care about what happens to whom in your fictional world.

With that in mind, the more characters, the better—right? 'Fraid not.

The number of characters you introduce will yield a diminishing return on reading enjoyment, should you introduce too darn many of them—especially if you name them all. While minor characters and cameo appearances by colorful personalities can add humor, depth and intrigue to your tale, not every single person mentioned requires a backstory.

Does a waiter approach your protagonist's table and take his order? Wonderful! Let the waiter do just that—without giving us his first and last name, social security number, place and date of birth, psychological makeup, and so on.

If you've created a character you absolutely adore, but who, frankly, is superfluous to the story you're working on, simply set them aside and plan to give them a more prominent role in your next project.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Day #27, 2015


Mistakes—we all make them. Some of us making them often and in profusion. This fact should not discourage you, rather it should make you aware of the fact that we all need to be vigilant when writing—especially new writers.

Karen Fox's list of Common Mistakes of the Beginning Writer offers a refreshing take on the subject, providing time-tested advice along with rarely considered tips. As you skim the entries, pay special attention to the points that stop you in your tracks as those are likely the ones you need most!

1.  Show, don’t tell.

Telling is a narrative, distancing. Showing brings the reader in close, makes him/her part of the story, an immediate scene. Scenes are shown as they happen rather than described after the fact. Narratives make the reader feel like he/she’s receiving a lecture from the author. The author should remain invisible, allowing the reader to become wrapped up in the story. To write long passages of narrative, whether character background, needed information, or previous events, runs the risk of losing the reader. It’s more effective to bring out this information through scenes. You don’t have to reveal everything at once. In fact, it’s better to hold things back and eke them out a little at a time.

Scenes contain background (just enough to help reader get a picture of the setting), action, dialogue, characters.

However, be careful not to turn all narrative summary into scenes. Sometimes it’s necessary to deliberately slow things down or to add to a scene or for a repetitive action. Don’t want to show every race at the track. Summarize what doesn’t affect the story, then show the important race on stage. Slow pacing between active scenes so reader doesn’t end up breathless trying to keep up.

Use showing to convey your character’s feelings as well. It’s important for the reader to become involved in your character’s life, but you don’t want to tell your character’s feeling. Rather than saying Doug was angry, show Doug whirling around to kick the nearby signpost, his fists clenched or jaw tightened. The reader will share the emotion with Doug without being told what to feel. Use dialogue and action to get across your character’s feelings and resist the urge (RUE) to explain in detail. While you may think it’s vital for the reader to know that Doug kicked a rotting signpost for Broadway and Main, that information adds nothing to the story and only slows down the impact of his anger which is what the writer wants to get across.

Show, don’t tell with things as well. It’s not necessary to explain that the house was falling apart. Show your character nearly falling through the porch steps as she approaches, the door handle coming off in her hand, the flakes of paint that land in her hair. The reader will get the picture.

2.  Revealing characters.

A lot of writers feel they have to describe everything about their main character when they first introduce him to include a full description, past life and personality description. I recommend including some personal detail—just enough to give the reader a mental picture, but reveal the personality through bits and pieces in his dialogue and actions and internal thoughts. Introduce your character to the reader just like someone in real life—a little at a time.

Summarizing your characters puts limits on them so there’s no room to grow. By allowing the reader to get to know your character gradually, each reader adds his or her own interpretation and gains a deeper sense of the character than could ever be summarized.

Avoid going into the character’s past—another form of telling, even if you show the scene. It means going into flashbacks, which again slow the story and can make the story hard to follow. While the past can be important regarding who the character is today, reveal it through dialogue and action as the story progresses. The reader doesn’t need to know the reason why Alanna distrusts anyone wealthy, just that she does. The reason why can be revealed later when it has more impact.

Fictional characters needs to be larger than life yet still believable.  In order to do this, they need well-defined goals, motivation and conflict.  What do they want?  Why do they want it?  And what's keeping them from getting it?   Avoid using real characters.  Bits and pieces can be okay but real people are boring.  Even Robin Williams has days when he's not the life of the story.

How to reveal character (many books): dialogue from others ("I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with him."), internal thoughts about others reveal the character’s personality or the character’s own dialogue and actions.  The opening in The Great Gatsby uses other people's dialogue to give us a first glimpse of who Gatsby is.

This also applies to exposition—scene, setting or background, which is another type of character. Work in gradually, don’t lecture, reveal only what is needed.

3.  Point of View

Four major points of view

1st person (I)

2nd person (you)

3rd person (Jane)—recommended

Omniscient (author’s)—used sometimes for setting scene but keeps reader from getting into story

Purist stays in POV for entire scene—easier for reader to follow. Others (usually well-established authors) change POV often—can make it difficult to keep track.

Third person POV is the best to use for writing fiction.  First person is often done, however, especially in detective novels.  It can be more difficult to write because it requires keeping the tenses straight throughout.  First person can also be a useful tool for helping a beginning writer get into a character's POV.  Write the scene first in a character's POV.  This limits the writer to only what that character can see, touch, smell, hear and think.  Then change it to third person later.

Use the POV of the character with the most to lose in a specific scene.  Usually this is the hero or heroine.  If the central character is not on the scene, use the POV of the most important character.

4.  Dialogue

Again show, don’t tell. Use dialogue to convey emotions rather than tagging it. "You can’t be serious," she said in astonishment. Rather, she dropped her spoon, her eyes wide. "You have to be kidding me."

Read dialogue aloud to see if it sound real. What works on paper can often sound stupid when read aloud.  Watch for long paragraphs of dialogue. Most people don’t speak that long without pausing.  Break it up with action tags.   Avoid lecturing.  While research is great, pass it on through conversation with someone who isn't familiar with the subject instead of spending paragraphs describing the subject.

Watch ly adverbs. Usually don’t need them as they only describe a person’s feelings. Can be shown through action or dialogue.  Mark Twain said, "Every time you catch an adverb, kill it."

Don’t throw in a ton of dialogue tags. He growled. She exclaimed. He whispered. She murmured. He grimaced. She chuckled. He smiled. It’s impossible to smile, chuckle or grimace dialogue. Use "said." It’s invisible to the reader. Or better yet, use action tags to show who’s speaking. Sha’Nara whirled to face him. "I can’t believe that." If you do use a dialogue tag, use it with the speaker’s name first. Dave said. While said Dave is used, it’s most often in children’s books. You can do up to three interchanges without using any tags at all, but after that, the reader can get lost.

Be consistent in referring to a character. If you call him Mr. Ward on one page, then refer to him as Montgomery on another, the reader will get confused.  Also, watch the overuse of a person's name.  In another example from Robert Newton Peck's Secrets of Successful Fiction:

"Hello, John."

"Hi there, Marsha."

"Nice party we're at, John."

"Love your dress, Marsha.  New?"

"John, it's just an old rag."

"Wanna dance, Marsha?"

"Love to, John."

As you can see, this gets old in a hurry.

Make the dialogue fit the character. A teen age girl isn’t going to speak the same as a professional woman. A good writer can make the reader know who’s speaking simply by what and how the dialogue is said. Be sure to use contractions. That’s how normal people speak.

Use double dashes rather than ellipses to show interruption. Ellipses (…) indicate a trailing off or break in the conversation, such as showing only one-side of a phone conversation.  Use the double dashes/em dash (--) to show interrupt, then show what caused the interruption in the next line.

Start a new paragraph with a new speaker. Keep the internal thought with the speaker. Watch using a dialect. While dropping a ‘g’ or using a ‘lemme’ or ‘gotta’ will work occasionally, writing an accent throughout the book makes it difficult for the reader.  Sometimes a writer can choose select words and cadence to give the dialect needed without going overboard.

5.  Interior Monologue

Very important in writing. Reveals parts of the story not available through dialogue. A powerful way to establish character, but often overwritten. Again don’t explain if emotions or details are already shown through dialogue or action. This should be unobtrusive. Long passages of internal monologue often become ways of telling the reader information instead of showing.

One way to do this is to get rid of speaker attributions. Instead of Why had she said that? Because he drove her crazy, she thought, use Why had she said that? Because he drove her crazy.  He wondered what he’d done to make her leave can be transformed  to What had he done to make her leave?

Interior monologue helps set point of view. It is not the same thing as description, though the two can blend together.  Use impressions obtained through the POV character's senses.  We use our sight, hearing, smell without thinking about it.   Your character will, too.

You can use italics to show a character’s thought, but use sparingly. Too many italics are irritating, but they can be a good way to set off a more important thought in the middle of a monologue.

6.  Start in the right place.

Many beginning writers start with back story or description to set the scene.    This worked in early novels, especially gothics in which the opening scene described the moors and dark house.  However, today the reader wants to jump into the action of the story.  Start your book right before everything changes.

In the Writer's Journey, this is referred to as the Ordinary World.  Set the scene just enough so that we know how the Call to Action will change the heroine's life.   Show the conflict and challenge.  The threat.  The change.

In addition, the opening paragraphs should immediately address--without telling--where am I?  whose head am I in?  what's the problem?

When writers stop to describe scenery, the action stops.  A good example comes from Robert Newton Peck's Secrets of Successful Fiction:

Alma walked hurriedly down the dark and deserted street.  Hearing footsteps echo behind her, she darted into a telephone booth.  Before closing the door, Alma Glook knew she was not alone.  With her in that phone booth was a five-hundred pound gorilla.

"Help!" yelped Alma.

Seeing the gorilla, her thoughts turned back in time to when she was a little girl, back home in Topeka, living with her aunt Mildred who was a taxidermist and scratched out their meager living by stuffing gorillas.  In fact, her aunt had earned quite a reputation in college when she had, as a prank, stuffed nine gorillas into a phone booth.

As you can see, this diversion back to telling stops the action cold and leaves the reader frustrated.   He wants to know what's happening in that phone booth.   Fiction looks forward, not backward.  Try to weave in back story and description in small pieces that flow naturally throughout the story.

7.  Beats

Beats are little bits of action interspersed through a scene, usually physical gestures.  They often help the reader to picture the action while revealing a character's personality.  For instance, one sentence can define a character.  He blew his nose on the tablecloth.

Be fresh.  Notice people--what they do, how they move, the gestures that reveal their emotions and personality.

Fewer beats increases the pace and tension.  It's important to strike the right balance between beats and dialogue.  Some writers use beats in place of good dialogue.

It's not necessary to show every move a character is making.  The readers end up watching the action and lose track of what is being said.  Also avoid using mundane conversation.  While it's more real, it also slows down the story.  Here is an example from Jimmie Butler:

Two gangsters met over dinner in a cheap diner for a last strategy session before The Big Job.

"I've watched all week.  The armored car's always there at 3:55 on the dot, Louie."

"Perfect.  How many guards?  Oh, would you pass the salt?"

"Sure, here you are.  Two.  You like a little pepper, Louie?"

"Pepper?  No, but I'd like some catsup.  Does the two include the driver?"

"Catsup coming up.  Yep, sure does.  How about mustard?  Want me to pass the mustard?"


Give the reader just enough hints of what's taking place, then allow his imagination to take over.

8.  Paragraphs

Watch for paragraphs that run more than a half page in length.  This makes the page look crowded and puts off readers.  Instead, use lots of white space by turning long paragraphs into dialogue which is easier to read.

You can add tension but using short, quick sentences.  She ran to the door.   It was closed.  She tugged at the doorknob.  It wouldn't open.    But don't overdo it.  You can't keep up that pace for very long.

Along that line, consider breaking long scenes (over 15-20 pages) into two scenes.   Smaller clumps are more readable.

Write a series of scenes if necessary (like you're watching a movie), then add the sequel, which is the quieter section between scenes in which the hero or heroine thinks about what happened in the scene (the conflict) and decides on the next course of action.

9.  Repetition

While most writers learn to catch the repetition of certain words or phrases, all writers should also watch repeating a theme or effect.  As writers, we can get too close to the writing and miss these things.

While we want to make sure the reader gets the point, constant repetition can rob the writing of its power.  As we say in my critique group, put away the 2x4.  If I read about a gun lying on a desktop even in a minor short scene, I expect to see that gun again.

Watch using name brands.  Stephen King is a master with these.  They can add realism to your writing, but it can get out of hand.  For instance, you can call a car a Corvette, the first time it appears, but you don't need to say it's a Corvette every time you talk about it.  Car will do.

Watch using repetitive characters.  If you have several minor characters who are basically walk-ons or do the same thing, consider combining them into one.

Avoid stereotypes, especially in villains.  Even bad guys have reasons (valid for them anyhow) for what they're doing.  Make them real.

Avoid doing the same plot over and over.  While some readers want authors to produce the same story each time, it can destroy a writer's originality.

Once is usually enough.

10.  Research

Be careful with your research.  While you need enough to add realism to your story, the reader doesn't need to know every interesting fact you encountered.  Info dumps slow down a story and usually aren't relevant.  Probably 90% of what you researched won't make it into the book.

One successful author who does put a lot of detailed research in his books is Tom Clancy, but his books appeal to a military audience who like to know how everything works.   I have to admit I tend to skim over a lot of it.

However, don't assume you know something.  If you have the least bit of doubt, look it up.  Go to experts for advice if they're available.  Use friends, the library or the Internet.

Believe me, some reader will catch your mistakes, no matter how small.  And they'll tell you about it.

11.  Voice

Today editors are asking for a distinctive writing voice.  Unfortunately, this can't be taught.  It's not the same as style, though it is similar.  It's how you use your words and sentences.  Style is the presentation of a story.  Voice is the beat, cadence and words used to present it.

The best way to acquire a voice is to write, write, write.  It can appear through your characters so listen to them.  While each characters should have his/her own voice based on his/her life, emotions and thoughts, the way you present it becomes your voice.

One way to know you have a distinctive voice is by entering contests.  Normally, a strong voice will receive very high AND very low scores.  Few judges are unaffected.

12.  Plotting

Plot is what keeps your story moving.  However, you can't have things happen just because it's convenient for you.  Fiction is make-believe, but it must be more realistic than real life.  Even though something might have really happened, it won't work in a book.

Motivation plays a major role in determining the plot.  What drives the book forward is the character's choices and why she makes those choices.

Watch out for coincidence.  It can sometimes work in the beginning of the book, but never in the end.  The characters must be responsible for the resolution.   When coincidence happens, it's usually for the author's convenience in order to make the characters do what they want.  Instead, figure out why the characters want what they do.

13.  Names

Try to avoid similar names:  Mary, Martha, Margaret all in the same scene.   Makes it difficult to follow.  Try to use different letters for the main characters' names and vary the number of syllables.

Often names can determine a character for a writer.  I've had times where I had to know a character's names before he/she could come to life for me.

14.  Punctuation

Save the parentheses and semi-colons for non-fiction writing.  They tend to pull a reader out a the flow of the story.  Use em dashes and ellipses instead to set the pacing.

Watch for incomplete sentences.  At a minimum, readers want a subject and verb.

Keep modifiers as close to the subject as possible.  Here is an example of a misplaced modifier:  Running a comb through her hair, the snarls came free.   This implies the snarls ran the comb through her hair.

"He" will refer to the last male named.

Watch the use of commas.  In some cases, you can split an overly long sentence.

Watch the use of jargon, foreign languages or SF terms.  Explain what they mean at the first usage.  Avoid overdoing it or you'll overwhelm the reader.

Avoid "to be" words if possible.  They tend to slow down a story and distance a reader from the action.  Search for an action verb instead.

Be careful with exclamation marks.  Use them sparingly, such as in "Fire!"  This makes the word extra important when they are used.   Otherwise, the reader feels like everything is overly important.

15.  Don't make excuses.

Writers write.

Even when they're tired, busy, waiting for inspiration or have received yet another rejection.  This separates the writers from the pretenders.  Writers write.   Wanna be's make excuses.

Writing is hard work.  Force yourself to sit in that chair.  Set manageable limits.  Write one page a day.  In a year, you'll have 365 pages.

16.  Don't expect miracles

Writing looks easy until you actually do it.  I can't tell you how many people have told me they plan to write a book.  I'm not holding my breath.

While most folks have basic writing skills, not everyone is a storyteller.   Telling a story also involves training and practice.  No one expects a doctor to jump right in without learning some skills first.  The same applies to a writer.   There is an apprenticeship during which the basic skills are fine tuned and the storyteller emerges.

17.  Format

Use a crisp, clear type.  Most editors recommend using 12 point Courier with 1 inch margins.  This helps them to determine word count (estimated at 250 words a page).  Times Roman is accepted but makes it more difficult to determine word count.

Don't use fancy fonts.  Don't justify text.

Double-space.  Use clean, white paper.  Type on one side only.  Use 1 inch margins.

Put your name, title, and page number at the top of every page.  Manuscripts can get dropped.

Put THE END at the end so the editor knows there aren't any more pages.

Mail in a sturdy envelope--Tyvek is recommended.  Do not use the padded envelopes.   Editors hate opening them. 

Include an SASE for return of your manuscript.

Always keep a copy.

Allow a reasonable amount of time (at least two months) before you start querying an editor on your manuscript's status.

18.  Don't ask a friend to read it.

Friends are too kind.  They are more than willing to like what you write.   Use a critique group if you want honest feedback.

Write from the heart.  Don't chase the market.  It will show in your story.

Find a good critique group who will be honest but well-meaning.  But don't let them critique your story into something it isn't.  Learn to accept what works and leave what doesn't.

19.  Don't give up.

Writing is hard work and it's rare to sell your first book.  But take time to look back over your writing.  You'll see your improvement.

Take pride in small victories along the way--contest placements, personal rejection letters.

Keep writing.

* * *

Again, don't be discouraged to find you've made any or many of the mistakes mentioned above. Your writing should be a free-flowing expression of creativity. Editing will enable you to clean up the messes.

For those writing a synopsis, click here for a post may help you avoid mistakes with that specific undertaking as well

Monday, January 26, 2015

Day #26, 2015

Search and Re-search

When you're writing a story about a fictional realm, you can get away with pretty much anything. You exercise dominion over history, logic, even physics. But when it comes to the real world, any number of expectations come into play. This is especially true with mysteries. Whodunit aficionados will nearly commit murder if you dare create a caper that is not fully solvable. So what can you do to ensure your writing respects the knowledge and cunning of your readers?


The novel manuscript I'm currently editing involves some international travel. I felt it only fair—for the sake of the reader—that I do my due diligence in relating verifiable information as it related to my characters' journey. Thus, I consulted maps to figure out drive times from point to point, I looked up actual flight schedules, I calculated time zone differences, I searched out currently existing accommodations and restaurants, I conducted an internet search for popular food dishes in certain areas of the world...and so on.  

Would your own story's readers benefit from your doing some research? Are there elements you never thought to look up that could lend an extra dimension of excitement and authenticity to your work?  If so, hit the books! And enjoy the process.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Day #25, 2015

Wrap it up!

I was chatting with a friend the other day about the challenges of writing a satisfying story ending worthy of all of the action that came before it. While arriving at a story's conclusion is a fulfilling and sweet experience for the writer, it's often a much more intense moment for the reader—a make or break moment, in fact.

Coming up with an ending that works can be a struggle—not simply because we're reluctant to say goodbye to the characters we've come to love, but because we don't know how to say goodbye to them. Fortunately, Writers Relief offers some solid and understandable suggestions on how to have the last word.

9 Key Elements Of Great Endings For Books And Stories

After a reader finishes a book or a short story, it’s often the ending that resonates most strongly. In some ways, the whole book is about its ending: Everything leads up to the ending, and once it’s over, everything points back to it.
But great endings are hard to do well. They require a writer to have a lot of control over the narrative tension and pacing. They often gather many plot elements together into a singular compelling moment to create a high-tension climax. No easy task!

Here are a few elements that can make for a great ending for your book or story:

The “right” ending. A good ending is in line with what came before it. Consider the deus ex machina technique of ancient playwriting. At the last second, the gods swoop in and save the right people. The end.
These days, that kind of contrived ending doesn’t jive with readers. The ending needs to be a logical, appropriate conclusion for what came before—not an ending that comes out of the blue.
The unpredictable element. Even though your ending needs to follow the action that came before it, the best endings aren’t predictable. This doesn’t mean you have to write a shocking plot twist; it just means the ending incorporates some element of surprise.
The plot twist. A plot twist ending can be ginormous or subtle, but what’s most important is that it’s not expected. Some writers have reported that the best plot twists “surprise” even them. Other plots twists are scripted from the get-go. Either way, a good twist feels surprising, but it’s also natural, appropriate, and somehow right.
The dark moment. Your characters’ dark moment arrives when all is apparently lost, when the gulf between hero and heroine seems too big, when it’s clear the aliens will win, when the truth makes the world look doomed and bleak. The blacker your dark moment, the bigger the emotional payoff if/when your characters triumph. Read more about character development.
The emotional epiphany/change. Your main character’s eureka moment can make for a good ending if the moment is big enough. The moment can be one of sudden understanding or insight. Whatever your eureka moment, be sure it has big repercussions for your main character, but also for all the characters around him/her.
The could-have-changed-but-didn’t dead end. If your book is character-driven (or literary), this ending might be especially useful. In this scenario, your character is given a clear opportunity to turn his/her life around. Everything hangs in the emotional balance. But in the end, the character goes back to his/her old ways.
Comingling happy and sad. Often, the best endings aren’t exclusively happy or exclusively sad. By writing an ending that’s both satisfying and full of complex emotion, your reader will be thinking of your story long after he/she turns the last page.
But, as always, it’s important to know your genre. If your readers expect a 100% happy ending, give it to them (or joyfully embrace the risks you take as a writer and cultivate realistic expectations).
Leave room for interpretation. Some great endings are open-ended. When you leave your ending open, you get people talking, thinking, and looking for answers.
Tie up loose ends quickly. After the climactic moment, don’t linger with long explanations of “what happens next.” Once the party’s over, go home. Scenes that follow the climax tend to be low tension.

The Right Ending For Your Book

Some writers find they need to experiment with different kinds of endings before landing on the one that works best for them. So don’t be afraid of trying different endings on for size, and pick the one that feels best. 
* * *
A couple more resources on facing the end:
from Creative Writing Now
from The Write Practice

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Day #24, 2015


Sometimes great ideas float into thought on the wings of effortless brilliance. Other times, our most earnest creative endeavors yield bupkis. Those are the times when a little zen can go a long way in relaxing you mind and spirit so that you're receptive to the inspiration you need and crave.

The following, from the WriteToDone site, is a list of 31derful tips compiled by Leo Babauta, the famed writer of the popular Zen Habits blog:

31 Ways to Find Inspiration for Your Writing
"You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." – Jack London
No matter how much you love writing, there will always be days when you need inspiration from one muse or another.
In fact, I would argue that inspiration is not just a desirable thing, it’s an integral part of the writing process.
Every writer needs to find inspiration in order to produce inspired writing. And sometimes, it can come from the unlikeliest sources.
I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite ways of finding inspiration — some of them obvious, some of them less so. But it’s always good to have reminders, and if you haven’t used a few of these sources of inspiration in awhile (or ever), give them a go.
  1. Blogs. This is one of my favorites, of course. Aside from this blog, there are dozens of great blogs on writing and every topic under the sun. I like to read about what works for others — it inspires me to action!
  2. Books. Maybe my favorite overall. I read writers I love (read about my current loves) and then I steal from them, analyze their writing, get inspired by their greatness. Fiction is my favorite, but I’ll devour anything. If you normally read just a couple of your favorite authors, try branching out into something different. You just might find new inspiration.
  3. Overheard dialog. If I’m anywhere public, whether it be at a park or a mall or my workplace, sometimes I’ll eavesdrop on people. Not in a gross way or anything, but I’ll just keep quiet, and listen. I love hearing other people have conversations. Sometimes it doesn’t happen on purpose — you can’t help but overhear people sometimes. If you happen to overhear a snippet of interesting dialog, jot it down in your writing journal as soon as possible. It can serve as a model or inspiration for later writing.
  4. Magazines. Good magazines aren’t always filled with great writing, but you can usually find one good piece of either fiction or non-fiction. Good for its writing style, its voice, its rhythm and ability to pull you along to the end. These pieces inspire me. And bad magazines, while perhaps not the best models for writing, can still be inspirations for ideas for good blog posts. These magazines, as they don’t draw readers with great writing, find interesting story angles to attract an audience.
  5. Movies. Sometimes, while watching a movie, a character will say something so interesting that I’ll say, “That would make a great blog post!” or “I have to write that in my writing journal!” Sometimes screenwriters can write beautiful dialog. Other times I get inspired by the incredible camera work, the way that a face is framed by the camera, the beauty of the landscape captured on film.
  6. Forums. When people write on forums, they rarely do so for style or beauty (there are exceptions, of course, but they’re rare). Forumers are writing to convey information and ideas. Still, those ideas can be beautiful and inspiring in and of themselves. They can inspire more ideas in you. I’m not saying you have to read a wide array of forums every day, but if you’re looking for information, trawling some good forums isn’t a bad idea.
  7. Art. For the writer aspiring to greater heights, there is no better inspiration that great art, in my experience. While it doesn’t compare to the experience of seeing the art in person, I like to find inspiring works of art and put it on my computer desktop for contemplation (Michelangelo’s Pieta is there right now). It doesn’t have to be classical works, though — I’ve found inspiration in Japanese anime, in stuff I’ve found on, in local artists in my area.
  8. Music. Along the same lines, it can be inspiring to download and play great music, from Mozart to Beethoven to the Beatles to Radiohead. Play it in the background as you write, and allow it to lift you up and move you.
  9. Friends. Conversations with my friends, in real life, on the phone or via IM, have inspired some of my best posts. They stir up my ideas, contribute ideas of their own, and they fuse into something even more brilliant than either of us could have created.
  10. Writing groups. Whether online or in your community, writing groups are great ways to get energy and motivation for your writing. My best short stories were done in a writing group in my local college (a great place to look for such groups, btw), as we read out our work to the group, critiqued them and made suggestions. The work of the other writers inspired me to do better.
  11. The Pocket Muse. A book full of writing inspirations. Can’t beat that!
  12. Quotes. I don’t know why it’s so, but great quotes help inspire me. I like to go to various quote sites to find ideas to spark my writing, turns of phrase that show what can be done with the language, motivation for self-improvement. Try these for a start: Writing Quotes and Quotes for Writers.
  13. Nature. Stuck for ideas? Go for a walk or a jog. Get away from sidewalks and into grass and trees and fields and hills. Appreciate the beauty around you, and let the inspiration flow through you. Sunsets and sunrises, of course, are two of my favorite uplifting scenes of nature, and anything involving water is also awesome (oceans, rivers, lakes, rain, rivulets, even puddles).
  14. History. It can be unexpected, but great people in history can inspire you to greatness. My favorites include Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Leonardo da Vinci, and other greats.
  15. Travel. Whether it be halfway around the world, or a day trip to the next town or national park, getting out of your usual area and discovering new places and people and customs can be one of the best inspirations for writing. Use these new places to open up new ways of seeing.
  16. Children. I have six kids, and they are my favorite people in the world (my wife and siblings and parents being right up there too). I love to spend quiet time with them, taking walks or reading. I love to have fun with them, playing board games or having pillow fights. And during these times I spend with them, I’m often reflective, about life, about humanity, about love. I suggest that children, with their fresh outlook on the world, can change the way you view things.
  17. Exercise. I get my best ideas most often while running. There’s something about the quietness, combined with the increased flow of blood through your brain, combined with being out in the fresh air with nature, that really stimulates the mind.
  18. Religion. Many of you aren’t religious (and many are) but it doesn’t matter much — the great religions in the world have ideas in them that are beautiful and inspiring. I’ve studied some of the writings of not only Christianity and Judaism but Islam, Bahai’i, Buddhism, Taoism, and many cultures with multiple nature gods. I can’t say I’m an expert at any of these religions, but I can say that any time I’ve spent reading the ideas of religion have paid off for me in inspiration.
  19. Newspapers. I used to be a newspaper reporter and editor, and I’ve become jaded to newspapers. The news seems like an endless cycle of the same thing, happening over and over again. However, if you know how to look, you can find human-interest stories that are inspiring. Stories about people who have triumphed over adversity. (Edit: I had “diversity” instead of “adversity” here and have now corrected … thanks for the catch, Bill!)
  20. Dreams. I’m not very good at this, but at times in my life I’ve tried keeping a dream journal by my bedside and writing down what I can remember when I wake up. Not because I think it’ll tell me something about myself or my future or past, but because dreams are so interesting in their complete disregard for the rules of reality, for their otherworldness and plot twists.
  21. Writing journal. I highly recommend this for any writer. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or something you write in every day. Just a plain notebook will do, although a nice journal can be motivating. Write down thoughts and inspirations and quotes and snippets of good writing you find and pieces of dialog and plot ideas and new characters. Then go back to this journal when you need ideas or inspiration.
  22. This popular bookmarking site is a treasure trove of great articles and blog posts and resources. I don’t do this much, but sometimes I’ll browse through these links to find examples of great writing by others. While you shouldn’t steal these ideas, you can often adapt them to your particular blog topic, or use the ideas to spark new ones of your own.
  23. Poetry. How can poetry inspire prose? Through its beauty and flow and style and use of rhythm and play on words. Through its use of language and music.
  24. Shakespeare. He’s not the only playwright, of course, but he’s undoubtedly the greatest, and the greatest master of the English language as well. While his writing can be difficult for those not used to the language of his time, a study of even one of his plays pays off immensely. The Bard wrote beautifully, used the largest vocabulary of any English writer, invented his own words, made up interesting phrases that are used to this day, had more puns and twists of words than any writer I know. There is no writer more deserving of our study and more inspirational to other writers.
  25. Google. Stuck for ideas? The old standby, Google, has often helped me out. I’ll just search for the topic I’m writing about and find tons of great resources.
  26. Freewriting. One of the best ways to get unstuck if you’re uninspired. Just start writing. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Don’t edit, don’t pause, don’t think. Just write and let it flow. You’ll end up with a lot of garbage, probably, but it’ll help you get out of your rut and you might just write some really good stuff among all that garbage.
  27. Brainstorms. Similar to freewriting, but instead of writing prose you’re writing ideas. Just let them flow. Speed and quantity is more important than quality. Within this brainstorm of ideas, you’ll most likely find a few nuggets of greatness. One of my favorite ways to get ideas.
  28. Flickr. If fine paintings and sculpture inspire you to greater heights, photography of some of the most talented people in the world can show what everyday humans can do if they try. I like, a real wealthy of amazing photography. Just browse through to find some wonderful inspiration.
  29. Breaking your routines. Get out of your rut to see things from a new perspective. If you usually take one route to work, try a couple others. If you usually get up, get ready for work, and leave, try exercising in the morning or watching the sunrise. If you usually watch TV at the end of the day, try reading or writing instead. Shake things up.
  30. Success stories. Another of my favorites. When I was training for my first marathon, for example, I read all kinds of success stories of people who had run their first marathon. It inspired me to keep going. There are success stories for writing, or anything else you’d like to do, that will inspire your brains out. :)
  31. People watching. This is an interesting activity for any writer. Go to a busy public place and just sit and watch people. They’ll amuse you, inspire you, fascinate you. There’s nothing more inspiring than humanity.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Day #23, 2015

Off the Beaten path 
(... and on the road of your own)

Thus far we've posted all manner of time-tested tips on how to shape up and fly write!  But what if your natural proclivities run counter-culture and you march to a beat of your own?  Dig the following anti-tips from the granddaddy of beat generation writers, Jack Kerouac, shared in his signature inimitable stream-of-consciousness style via the WritingClasses site:
"Fellow writers were always asking Kerouac how he did what he did. So Kerouac set down 30 essentials in something he called “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” These tips may or may not make sense to you, but that’s Kerouac, man."

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You're a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Day #22, 2015

There are still a few grains left...

Feel like the sands of time are slipping away and you'll never accomplish what you wanted to during this month's 31derful Words challenge? The good news is you really do have a fair amount of time left in which to write or edit at least 31 words. Heck, I think I've already written that many in this post!

If you want to put your name in the hat for complimentary self-publishing on Amazon, your goal is 31K words. Even if you have yet to write a single word, you can still meet this objective by cobbling 3100 words each day between now and the end of the month.

So why not dive back in? It's not too late to make your dreams of e-publishing a reality.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day #21, 2015

Claimed to be the world's largest scissors - Nossebro, Sweden

Editing is an arduous task at best--a heart-wrenching one at worst. You've lovingly crafted each and every word in your work to ensure a fantastic experience for your reader and yet, as all great authors must do, you must then revisit your writing as dispassionately as possible and edit the dickens out of it.

I've never taken a writing class (as is undoubtedly apparent) and I routinely commit every single blunder cited on the following list from TheWriteLife. Looks like I will have to go back to page one on my current project yet again. I'm sure it will be more than worth the added effort.

1. Cut long sentences in two

I’m not talking about run-on sentences. Many long sentences are grammatically correct. But long sentences often contain several ideas, so they can easily lose the reader’s focus because they don’t provide a break, leading readers to get stuck or lose interest, and perhaps the reader might get bored and go watch TV instead.
See what I mean? If you spot a comma-heavy sentence, try to give each idea its own sentence.

2. Axe the adverbs (a.k.a. -ly words)

Adverbs weaken your copy because these excess words are not truly descriptive. Rather than saying the girl runs quickly, say she sprints. Instead of describing the cat as walking slowly, say he creeps or tiptoes. The screen door didn’t shut noisily, it banged shut.
Find a more powerful verb to replace the weak verb + weak -ly adverb combo.

3. Stick to one voice

Sometimes it’s necessary to use both first and second person, but that can be jarring for readers. For example, you might start your introduction talking about yourself, then switch halfway through the piece and start addressing the reader. Try to stick to “I” voice or “you” voice throughout one piece of writing.
And if you must switch, start with one and finish with the other. Don’t move back and forth between the two. Your readers will get lost.

4. Remove extra punctuation

A powerful hyphen here and a thought-provoking semicolon there can be effective. But a piece of writing littered with all sorts of punctuation — parentheses, colons, ellipses, etc. — doesn’t flow well.
Oftentimes, you can eliminate these extra pieces of punctuation with commas or by ending a sentence and starting a new one — and that makes your writing that much stronger.

5. Replace negative with positive

Instead of saying what something isn’t, say what it is. “You don’t want to make these mistakes in your writing” could be better stated as “You want to avoid these mistakes in your writing.” It’s more straightforward.
If you find negative statements in your writing that contain don’t, shouldn’t, can’t or another such word, find a way to rewrite them without the “not.” That will probably mean you need to find a more powerful verb.

6. Replace stuffy words with simple ones

Some people think jargon makes their writing sound smart, but you know better. Good writing does not confuse readers. If they need to grab a dictionary to finish a sentence, your writing has room for improvement.
To get your point across, use words people are familiar with. The English language has thousands of words. You can certainly find a shorter or more common word in your thesaurus than a jargony one.

7. Remove redundancies

You don’t need to say the exact same thing with two words. Did you catch the redundant words in that sentence? Here’s a better version: you don’t need to say the same thing with two words.
Brand new, advance planning, basic necessities… the list of these common phrases is longer than this blog post. Check out’s 200 Common Redundancies and then start snipping!
Sometimes sneaky redundancies are separated by an “and.” If you say your sentences are straightforward and to-the-point, they are neither. You don’t need both words. Your sentences are straightforward. Or, your sentences are to-the-point.

8. Reduce prepositions

Though prepositions (of, in, to, for, etc.) are helpful little words, they make sentences more lengthy because they cannot stand alone. Prepositions need lots of friends. By cutting the preposition and the words that follow, you can cut three, four or even five words. Sometimes a prepositional phrase can be replaced with just one more direct word, or cut completely.
An easy way to cut prepositions is to look for opportunities to make something possessive. The car of your neighbor is really just your neighbor’s car.

9. Cut “in order to”

You never need it. If you’re going to the kitchen in order to make a sandwich… Your sentence could be tighter. Because you’re really going to the kitchen to make a sandwich.
That “in order to” makes it take a millisecond longer to arrive at the meaty part of the sentence, which means your story is dragging more than it needs to.

10. Don’t use “start to”

Did you start to walk the dog, or did you walk the dog? Is the car starting to roll down the hill, or is it rolling down the hill? “Start to” is a more difficult phrase to deal with than “in order to,” because sometimes you do need it. But more likely than not, you don’t
Rather than making “start” the active verb, use the verb that’s actually more active — like walking or rolling — to tell your story.

11. Nix “that”

In about five percent of your sentences (total guess from the grammar police), “that” makes your idea easier to understand. In the other 95 percent, get rid of it! “I decided that journalism was a good career for me” reads better as “I decided journalism was a good career for me.”

12. Replace “thing” with a better word

Usually when we write “thing” or “things,” it’s because we were too lazy to think of a better word. In every day life, we may ask for “that thing over there,” but in your writing, calling anything a “thing” does not help your reader. Try to replace all “thing” or “things” with a more descriptive word.

13. Try really hard to spot instances of “very” and “really”

This is a very difficult one to remember. I almost never get it right, until I go back through my copy, and the word jumps out at me, and then I change the sentence to “This is a difficult one to remember.” Because really, how much is that “very” helping you get your point across?
It doesn’t make the task sound more difficult. Same thing with “really.” It’s not a “really” difficult tip to remember. It’s simply a difficult tip to remember. Got it?

14. Make your verbs stronger

“Make” is sometimes used in the same way as “start to,” in place of what could be a stronger verb. For example, I first titled this post, I wrote “25 ways to make your copy stronger.” When I re-read it, I realized the verb wasn’t strong. I’d used “make” as the verb, when it doesn’t tell the reader much at all. So I changed the title to “25 ways to strengthen your copy.” Eventually I realized “tighten” was an even better verb.

15. Ditch the passive voice

As this UNC handout explains, using the passive voice isn’t really wrong. But whenever you have the chances to make your writing clearer, you should  — and avoiding the passive voice is one of those instances.
I know the passive voice when I see it, but I’m bad at explaining it, so I’m going to leave that to Grammar Girl. Explaining grammar is her specialty.

16. Refer to people as “who” not “that”

John is the guy who always forgets his shoes, not the guy that always forgets his shoes. It’s easy to make this mistake because that has become acceptable in everyday conversations. But it’s more noticeable when it’s written down.

17. Avoid “currently”

“Currently” is virtually always redundant. Don’t write: “Tom Jones is currently a communications director.” If Tom Jones is anything, he’s that at that moment; you don’t need “currently” to clarify. Just get rid of it.

18. Eliminate “there is” or “there are” at the beginning of sentences

This is often a symptom of lazy writing. There are lots of better, more interesting ways to start sentences. Oops. See how easy it is to make this mistake? Instead of starting a sentence with “there is,” try turning the phrase around to include a verb or start with you.
For example, replace the sentence above with “Start your sentences in a more interesting way.” If your copy includes a lot of phrases that begin with “there is” or “there are,” put some time into rewriting most of them.

19. Match up your bullet points

Bullet points are a popular and effective way to organize complex ideas. Just make sure your bullets correspond to one another.
Too often, writers mix and match mistakes with what you should do or make transition to shoulds halfway through the post — which only confuses the reader.
If your piece is called 3 Career Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make, here’s a bullet point that works:
  • Forgetting to tailor your resume each time you apply for a job
Here’s one that doesn’t work (because it’s not actually a mistake — the writer inadvertedly switched to what you should do):
  • Make sure you tailor your resume
Often you can turn any idea into a tip by adding a verb. For example: “Remember that sitting on your head helps you write better.” Make your bullet points consistent and your writing will read more smoothly.

20. Use contractions

Which sounds more personable: I am heading to the market that is close to my house, or I’m heading to the market that’s close to my house? Contractions make your writing sound friendlier, like you’re (not you are) a real person. And that makes it easier to connect with readers.
Contractions can also make your post easier to read and comprehend. So go out of your way to include them in your posts! Your editor will thank you.

21. Steer clear of the ing trap

“We were starting to …” or “She was skiing toward …” Whenever you see an ing in your copy, think twice about whether you need it — because you probably don’t.
Instead, get rid of were or was, then eliminate that ing and replace it with past tense: “We started to …” or “She skied toward …” Pruning excessive “ings” makes your writing clearer and easier to read.

22. Check your commas with that and which

When used as a descriptor, the word “which” takes a comma. But the word “that” doesn’t. For example: “We went to the house that collapsed yesterday” or “We went to the house, which collapsed yesterday.” Confused about when to use “that” vs. “which?” Grammar Girl offers a great explanation.

23. Replace “over” with “more than” for numbers

Over 200 people did not like your Facebook page — more than 200 people did. Of course, everyone will know what you mean if you use “over.” But using “more than” is one of those little details that will help your writing shine.

24. Hyphenate modifiers

Whenever you modify a noun with more than one word, you need a hyphen. Lots of people don’t follow this rule, so it’s a great way to show you actually walk the walk. That means you need a hyphen if you’re writing about full-time work.
But you don’t need one if you’re working full time. Got it? The exception: No need to hyphenate modifiers that end in “ly.” Those are OK on their own. So your newly hired employee doesn’t need that hyphen.

25. Identify your tells

No matter how good of a writer you are, when you sit down to write a first draft, you have a tendency to spit out sentences in a certain way or use certain words. The more familiar you become with editing your own copy, the more quickly you should be able to pick up on your tells. And, the more ruthless you can be to eliminate them from your writing.
“Start to” plagued me while writing my book; I made the “start to” mistake again and again. But once I knew to look for it during revisions, I was able to correct it. (Hint: If this is a problem for you, try using Word’s search function to look for “start.” You’ll catch each one, so you can evaluate them individually.)