Friday, June 24, 2022

Researching Your Characters--Why It's Important to Know as Much as You Can about Them

I've been revising my second novel, A Woman's Guide to Search & Rescue, in preparation for handing over to my editor and publication team in a month or so. This book has lived with me--its characters, as well--for many years. I'm excited to see them step on to a bigger stage with more readers. But before they do, I want to make sure they are fully realized on the page, as rich and vivid as they can be.

A few months ago, to finish my final tweaks on the cast in my novel, I took an online class on character interiority. The purpose of each week's lesson--there were four--was to help writers go from what they knew about the characters externally to what the characters could reveal about their inner lives.

I'd already spent many years on this, as I said, but the class drew even more out of me about these people I've lived with for so long.

If I were to pinpoint the most important take-away, it would be backstory.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Reading Voraciously--Why It Matters to Writers

I met one of my best friends--whom I later married much to my delight--over books. Early in our friendship, I asked what to offer as a gift for birthday and Christmas. The answer: "Books. Send me a box of used books, a collection of the best ones you've read."

I remember going to my favorite used bookstore to shop that November. I took a little hand-written list, titles I had on hand in my home library, but when I began browsing the bookstore shelves, I was astonished at how many books I knew--and loved.

I think I bought 30 books that day. Everything from children's books (The Dark Is Rising series) to young adult to adult fiction. Fiction was the only requirement--something to get completely lost in.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Using the Short Form to Get to the Long Form--Powerful Exercises to Boost Your Creativity This Week

A good writing friend once shared this piece of wisdom: Sometimes we have to get small to get big, with our books. Book projects span a lot of time and space. It's too easy to get lost in such an expanse, overwhelmed with all the details.

In my writing classes, I used two fun exercises to help writers manage the immensity. One exercise is a poem, the other is an exploration of one of your main characters, your narrator, or your potential reader, by putting them in a five-page short story.

These two exercises are such fun, they can feel like a sidetrack away from the "real" writing. But they give a serious boost to creativity.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Writing as a Way of Healing Ourselves--via the "Radical Power of Personal Narrative"

Can writing save your life, or some part of it? Does writing allow healing, or a small step towards it?

Although those living with the effects of trauma may not agree, I have used writing in my life to mitigate and sometimes heal from the effects of cancer and other trauma. Recently I was talking with a songwriter friend who has read one of my novels and I mentioned a scene that was fictionalized from my own life--and how satisfying, indeed healing, it felt to get that experience on the page. It didn't matter that I changed stuff to keep privacy; it was still cathartic.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Writing Journals, Notebooks, and the "Commonplace Book" as Useful Tools for Book Writers

This past week I sorted old writing files. For each WIP (work in progress), I'd created a writer's notebook, a journal of my journey through the years it took to plan, write, and revise--and eventually publish the book.

Some of these journals date back a decade. It's always a TBT to review them. Quite often, the early plot or character ideas barely resemble the final version. But they are always good seeds.

I know so many writers who have this practice of writer's notebooks or journals. In my particular version, I like to add collage, quotes, articles and research, title ideas, lists of possible scenes, books I wanted to read for inspiration, and a long list of ongoing questions.

For one of my novels, I created character colleges--the purpose? to see how much more distinct I could make each of them. I wasn't succeeding with this goal until I saw the collected images. Very useful.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Joys and Challenges of Accountability--Figuring Out What Keeps You Writing

For decades I've studied the element of accountability--what it means for the creative person, especially those involved in a long-haul project like writing a novel, memoir, or nonfiction book. A colleague once joked that books are like marriages. She added, "Sometimes I miss the one-night stands."

Books are indeed long commitments, and they require creative stamina, as I posted about last week, but they also demand a system of accountability to self, to project, to whatever keeps you writing.

They take an emotional and psychological toll which can wear away at any stamina you have, unless the accountability is in place. I love this quote from writer Red Smith: "All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." How do you keep writing if you're bleeding all over the place?

Friday, May 13, 2022

Where Do You Dream of Publishing Your Book? And What It Might Take

Where do you dream of publishing your book? How realistic is that dream? What are you willing to do to get there?

I am fortunate to know writers who are great manifesters. By that, I mean they clearly envision what they want with their writing, and they do absolutely everything to make that happen. It comes down to making themselves available to earn this gift. Which might sound odd to some. They also know that they can only control their side of things, not what actually happens once they release their book to the agent, publishing, or reader world.

That limit doesn't stop them. Not in the least.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Finding the Best Writing Class or Conference for Your Book Right Now

A blog reader suggested this great topic: what's the best way to go about finding the "right" writing class or conference for my book, my writing, right now?

There are so many out there, good ones and not so good. How do you choose wisely?

First, let's talk about the need for writing classes or conferences. What do they offer a writer? How can they possibly benefit you in your book-writing journey?

I'm a writing class junkie; I'll admit that first off. I love taking them and I usually love what I learn.

Friday, April 29, 2022

A New Take on Storyboards for Your Book

Last week, when I taught my all-day workshop on storyboards, I didn't tell the 30 wonderful writers my real feelings about storyboards.

Truth is, I dislike them. I revere them, and I use them because they work, but I absolutely hate the startle they bring when the process shows me all my gaps and errors: places I have too much or too little, where I've written on track or on a tangent.

Everywhere my book isn't yet working well.

Friday, April 22, 2022

My Love Affair with Scrivener--Software for Both Sides of the Brain

My love affair with Scrivener didn't exist before I wrote books. I was a dedicated Word user; I wrote stories, essays, and poems, columns and articles which suited themselves to the restrictions of a word processing program.

Short stuff doesn't demand much organization. I kept copies of the multiple versions of each short story or article in separate files within Word--I found it fairly easy to scan the directory and open when needed.

I also printed hard copies just because I had doubts about the voodoo of all-electronic at that time, and I kept them in a paper file folder until the piece was published.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Query Letters That Actually Worked to Catch an Agent or Publisher

Query letters are a bear to write. So many writers who have finally published their novels, memoirs, or nonfiction books remember the agonizing process of learning how to write and refine this all-important document. It's the first thing an agent or editor (if you bypass an agent) will see of your work, so not only does it need to carry the flavor and tone of your writing, it needs to be catchy, snappy, and slick enough to stand out, while being heart-felt and authentic at the same time.


I've personally worked harder, sometimes, on my query and synopsis than on many parts of my books. I've hired editors and coaches to just help me hone the query--that paid off, by the way--and I've given myself many months to work on it so the process didn't feel rushed. It does require a different part of the creative self than the manuscript, though, and I often found it tough to toggle between the deep immersion of writing and living in story and the marketing focus a query required.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Narrative Perspectives--Which Will Serve Your Story Best?

Deciding who is telling your story--that's a big moment in writing a book.

But even more important is deciding where your narrator will be standing, as he or she tells the tale. Is the narrator speaking in real time, as the story is happening?

Or from what's called the "retrospective" point of view, looking back from the distance of years?

Which narrative point of view will best serve your story best? And if both will, how do you move back and forth between them, weaving them together to make a cohesive book?

Friday, March 11, 2022

A System for Tracking the "Internals" in Your Fiction or Memoir

In my post a month ago, I ranted a bit about IM, or internal monologue, a technique that so many writers use to reveal the internal landscape of a character in fiction or memoir. IM is literally a monologue--a thought process, like dialogue except not spoken aloud. (If you missed that post, go to

There are other ways to reveal internals in your story, though--not just IM. But we may not be aware, as writers, that they are already present. When I learned from one of my past students about a nifty tracking systems for internals, I wanted to try it out and share it here.

Interiority or "internals" is a fancy way to describe the reader's view into your characters' inner lives. Some genres require a lot of this (memoir), some much less (thrillers). Internals are what makes a character real to the reader. Skilled writers reveal interiority in several ways. It's important to know what your genre requires and how to plant and build the interior lives, without having them slow the momentum of the story.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Making Your Characters Real Individuals, Making Them Stand Out

A MG (middle-grade fiction) writer in one of my past online classes posted a great question that sums up the main struggle most of us have with writing vivid characters.

How do I make my characters more distinctly individual? Different from each other, realistic enough to be believable, clearly so on the page?

Developed characters, fictional or real, should be individuals: distinct from others in the story. If they all blur together, it's hard to make them come alive for the reader.

One key to writing clearly individual characters is their backstory, the history that informs their story decisions. That's internal research that's often fun (and challenging!) to do.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Do You Need Quiet or Noise to Do Your Best Writing?

My home is noisy these days: two young dogs, all their toys and bones and chewsticks, the running and growling and play they love. I love it too, and I'm not in any hurry for it to change--they will only be puppies once. But my writing is. It craves quiet.

So just like a new mom or dad with an infant or toddler, I set my writing times when the pups have natural naptimes.

Before the pandemic, I wrote best in a noisy, bustling coffee shop in the next town. I'd head there with my laptop and earbuds and phone and order an exotic tea, a big enough one to keep me a few hours. Then I'd plug in my earbuds, find wordless music on my playlist, and begin writing.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Word Count Goals for the Three Acts of Your Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book

I've come across many templates for structuring books. Structure has become one of my geek-out topics as a teacher, editor, and writer. I love knowing how close I am to a perfect structure for a work-in-progress, whatever "perfect" might mean, because then I know where I can bend or break the rules and still keep the reader involved.

You don't have to fear that your manuscript will become a cookie-cutter without spirit or uniqueness. Structure is only the underpinnings, not the flair and freshness each writer brings.

I've long used the storyboard for structure testing. Its beauty is in its flexibility--it uses both random and linear thinking as it builds. So if you suddenly want to bring in another idea, you can. You're not bound tight to a certain progression, as an outline requires.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Working with Internal Monologue--When Narrators Think, Remember, or Talk with Themselves on the Page

Internal monologue can be one of those complicated craft decisions for fiction and memoir writers. When to use it well, when it's not needed, what style it uses to properly show itself on the page.

Not hard to recognize: most stories have brief moments when the narrator--yourself in memoir, the point-of-view character in fiction--pauses to reflect.

They think, remember, or talk with themselves on the page, but it's all happening inside their heads, not aloud. So it doesn't fall under the regular craft guidelines that dialogue relies on.

In fact, it's a tricky beast with constantly changing rules to use it properly.

Friday, February 4, 2022

What's Your Comfort Zone about Promoting Your Book? Thoughts on the Tricky Line We Authors Walk

When I began publishing, back in the 1980s, there wasn't much required from authors to make their books successful--other than the writing itself.

Sounds dreamy these days, doesn't it.

On my first books, the publisher assigned a publicist who set up gigs and I just showed up (talks, panels, interviews). Any paid advertising happened behind the scenes and brought sales. One of my early books even won an award, and I only found out after the fact.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Getting Your Work Out--How to Choose Your Best Avenue for the Time, Money, and Effort

A former student wrote me with a very good question about publication, a question so many new and even established writers wrestle. Is it better to try to get an agent, to go the traditional route? What are the advantages and disadvantages? If you decide to self-publish, what do you need to do it well? And what about the relatively new option of hybrid publishers--what are they about?

My first response to these questions is to send the writer to Jane Friedman's website and her book, The Business of Being a Writer. I admire Jane's smarts about the often-confusing publishing industry today. If you browse her site, check out her Publishing Paths diagram, which is updated each year to outline the differences between traditional and DIY publishing and everything in between. She's a goldmine of reliable information, in my opinion.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Tricks to Keep Your Writing Hot Even When, Baby, It's COLD Outside

I live in northern New England of the U.S., and winter is a fact of life. My neighbors are in their late seventies and they have lived here for seven generations and they love winter. Why live anywhere else, they ask, even as they shovel out their cars after another ice storm. The woman of the couple is an artist and she loves winter because she can hunker down in her studio. Winter is her best excuse for creating without any guilt or interruption.

I love winter too, for the same reason. The garden is frozen under its snow blanket, the pups sleep by the fireplace, and I can circle around my laptop and get lost for hours.

This week I want to share three tricks I've practiced these past winters that motivate me to keep my writing practice hot when it's cold outside. Maybe they'll inspire you too.