Friday, December 30, 2022

Setting New Year's Goals for Your Writing--Tips, Ideas, and Why It's Fun and Helpful

In a past post, I wrote about the helpful triad of the creative artist's life: will, vision, and comfort. I heard about this from a songwriter friend many years ago, and it's helped me make sense of the sometimes-crazy artist life I lead.

Will is the drive, the push to do, the action part of the creative process. Actually sitting down in the chair in front of the laptop or notebook. Sketching out scenes, writing pages, organizing your book structure, all the activities that are required to actually produce a book. Not enough will and nothing gets done. We've all been there!

(Writer's block, though, which some feel is purely procrastination, isn't a problem of will but of the other two aspects. Read on!)

Friday, December 23, 2022

Rest Breaks and Nonproductive Periods--How They Benefit a Book

I enjoy Loft teaching colleague Elizabeth Jarrett Andrews' occasional newsletter, PenFeathers. Her recent issue was about the challenges and benefits of rest and fallow periods in the life of the writer. She spoke about the difficulty they bring for some of us--and I immediately related. I am a poor patient, not enjoying enforced rest when ill, while my spouse loves it--the reading, the naps, the staring at nothing. I want to be up, to be productive. That trait has its blessings--I rarely get stuck with my writing goals--but easy acceptance of fallow periods is not one of them.

Sometimes life brings just what we need, not what we want. Post-Thanksgiving, I spent two weeks with covid. Nothing like some experience but still very unpleasant. Many days I could do nothing but stare. Our two dogs loved it--for once, I was motionless. Eventually, I was able to read and watch a movie. But write? No way. Everything got put on hold.

Friday, December 16, 2022

When to Give Up on a Book Project--and How to Tell

This isn't an easy subject to write about. It's simpler for writers working on short projects---essays, stories, articles, blog posts--to consider setting aside or trashing what they've done so far. Much more agonizing for writers working on books. All that effort, time, tears just wasted?

But there are books that are what I call "practice" projects, and they are important in the growth of the writer if not in the productivity. How do you tell if your current struggle is a sign to let the project go or a sign that you need more skills?

Friday, December 9, 2022

Story Cycles and Essay Collections--How to Think about Order, Flow, and Transitions

Books, being the long and onerous journey that they are, often benefit from the break of shorter writing projects.

I've written about this before here. I'm a writer who benefits from an occasional pause to the slog of a book. Although I used to feel mildly guilty about this sidetrack into short stories or essays, I usually come away refreshed and ready to sink into the long haul again.

Right now, as I've also shared, two of my novels are making the rounds of contests and publishers. There's nothing I can do to accelerate or make the process more successful. So I'm distracting myself with short pieces.

Friday, December 2, 2022

What's the Point? Why the Purpose of Each Part of Your Writing Feels So Important to Your Reader

I've written a lot in these newsletters about the stages of writing a book--the gathering of ideas, the play that comes next as the writer explores structure and flow, the refinement and revision that follows. Some writers pay no attention to these. They mix the flow writing with the editing, and they have enough skill to produce a good book. They are he lucky ones. Most of us need to keep a map along for such an onerous journey as a book, and the stages help keep the traveler oriented to where they are in the process.

One of the big tasks that comes along, often unwelcome, is asking What's the point? Writers ask this question at all stages but often it's unanswerable until revision. That's because we may not know yet. We may be writing blind, or according to an incomplete view of our book, which is completely normal and alright. It keeps us from getting too full of ourselves in the early stages.

I've read some writing recently, both unpublished and published, that had me asking that question. For the unpublished writing, there's still time to figure out the point.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Vision versus Will--Why Both Are So Needed to Create a Good Book

I love summer and fall but I long for winter for its stillness. I'm best able to vision in stillness--and by that, I mean clearly see what I want from my writing and my life.

A good friend once shared that she sees vision as a counterpart to will. Will being the energy to push forward, to move, to make decisions, to set oneself in the chair and do the writing that's on schedule for that day.

Without vision, though, it's just typing on a page.

And that, truly, can be fine. Sometimes vision doesn't come in early drafts. Two of my favorite writers, George Saunders and Ron Carlson, write eloquently and knowledgably about the non-visioning phase of putting words on the page, how essential it is, how often it gets very messed up when visioning is involved. We stop to consider what we are saying, and we're lost. The editor mind steps in, the sheer flow of words gets stuck in analyzing.

But, equally, I find there's a place after the words are downloaded when the writer must step back and look at the vision. Really, that's what "re-visioning" is, right? The necessary act of seeing again. Of looking deeper.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Must-Have's of First and Last Chapters

Stellar first chapters are a bear to write. They are also essential if you want to sell your book to a publisher. Most "samples" of manuscripts include the first chapter.

Equally important are ending chapters. But for a different reason: your reader. If a reader is swept away by the last pages, they are more likely to (1) read the book again and (2) recommend it to a friend. Both huge compliments and great ways to get your book read by a lot of people.

Best way to learn how to write these two most-difficult parts of a book? For me, it's by reading and studying other writers. And by allowing the beginning and ending of your own book to evolve slowly--possibly out of step with the rest of the manuscript.

I also learned via two other methods.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Writing Tough Material? Five Tools to Create a Stand-Out "Container"

Few writers I know enjoy writing "tough" material: especially when it's either dry as dust or a slap of heavy emotion. How to package such material in a way that pulls a reader in and keeps the writing from constant trauma requires skill. 

Easiest way I know? Provide a stand-out "container" for that scene.

Friday, October 28, 2022

My Favs--A Short List of My Go-To Resources for Craft Skills, Inspiration, and Writing Community

For years, I've collected best resources for writers. I've used these in my teaching and coaching, and for my own education, inspiration, and craft refinement. Most of you already have sites bookmarked or books dog-eared in your writing library. Here are a few you might consider adding.

If you've been in my classes or read this blog for a while, you may recognize some of them. Worth a review, so set aside an hour or two today or over the weekend to browse these wonderful places and fill up on ideas and encouragement.

Friday, October 21, 2022

The Submission Game--How to Keep Playing It without Getting Gut Punched

Back in the late 90s, I was a prolific and published writer in the nonfiction genre, with a syndicated newspaper column and quite a few books behind me. I knew the game of submitting for nonfiction publication. I had had lots of practice over twenty years, knew how much was serendipity and meticulous timing, how much was networking and who you knew, how much was about the piece you were trying to sell.

Cancer took away a year of my outer life at the end of that decade, and while I was recuperating from chemo, I took a hard look at what I'd done so far as a writer.

You may have had these life-facing moments, often brought about by trauma, serious illness, and loss. You get a chance to ask: What have I been doing and what do I long to do, that I haven't yet?

My answer was fiction. I wanted to learn about it, write it, and publish it.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Some Favorite Writing Newsletters--and Sites to Explore--to Boost Your Creativity

Some days, I resent the flood of info that enters my inbox. I don't really want more input or stim--those days, I'm barely juggling my own life.

Then there are the quieter times--or internally less fertile periods--when I seek out other people's words for inspiration. I want to read how other writers have handled stuckness, too many ideas or too few, publication woes, and having enough time and space to write.

Dana, who reads this blog, suggested I share some of the newsletters and sites that I read regularly and find inspiring. You probably have your favorites, but perhaps some of these will be welcome additions.

Most newsletters focus on either craft or publishing. Some are geared to nonfiction writers seeking jobs and others are all about how to write better prose. I like a variety, but scan the list below to see what might appeal to you.

If any of the links don't work, just google the newsletter name or the author.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Three Aspects to Create Healing via Writing--and an Exercise to Try This Week

Writing being one of the healing arts is not a new idea--there's been research since the 80s on this topic. James Pennebaker, from the University of Texas, Austin, launched my personal interest in this topic when I faced a life-threatening illness in the late nineties. Reading his and others' books on healing via writing clued me into the amazing medical documentation that's accumulated.

A favorite book I've mentioned before on this blog is Louise De Salvo's Writing as a Way of Healing. De Salvo reviews the three aspects that actually make writing a healing experience. They are key.

Before I learned about them, I thought just processing (on paper, with a friend, with a therapist) was enough. I've journaled for years and believe in its power. I've done the Artist's Way morning pages and many other techniques. But I was very interested to hear from De Salvo's book that simply venting (into my journal, into a friend's ear) doesn't have healing effects.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Writing the Cross-Genre Book--Some Tips on How to Successfully Straddle Genres

Early in the writing process, an author faces their genre. What kind of book will this be? Agents and publishers need to know, but more importantly, the author must know because structure often depends on genre.

Sometimes the answer is very clear. Other times, not.

I remember a great email from a writer in Virginia who told me how confused she was about her book's genre. "I’m either writing a very boring memoir or some sort of self-help book which has stories to illustrate my points. Which should it be?"

Friday, September 23, 2022

Writing the Unsympathetic Narrator--So What If Your Readers Don't Like Them?

Last week, I talked about false beliefs, how they create character change and growth. As a character in fiction or memoir faces the limitations of their beliefs about a situation, themselves, or the world, they often find a bigger view. That gives them the opportunity to change, to learn stuff, to become a more authentic person.

Life is life, though. The opposite is also (sadly, often) true. We see the limits but we continue to embrace them. We may clasp even more tightly, fearing the unknown more than we detest our current situation. Character in fiction and memoir do this too, even more so. They become what's called unsympathetic.

Many writing books and many writing teachers have advised me to lean towards the more sympathetic character--if I want readers to engage in the story. I've found this sometimes true. If a character is really awful, or very stuck, and it's hard to get behind them, readers can detach from the story.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Your Narrator's False Belief--and How It Drives Your Story

Character in fiction and memoir is built on certain convoluted pathways. Because tension and conflict drive story, these pathways are often full of false beliefs or mistaken views of self and life that get examined as the story moves forward and the character grows.

As readers, we witness the journey: the narrator's relative ignorance or unconsciousness at the start of the book, maybe creating a life fueled by fear or anger; the changes as they grow more aware, shedding their limited views; the downslide of the tragic character who embraces their mistaken beliefs even more.

False belief makes a great structural model for story, both in memoir and fiction, and it's even applicable to nonfiction (the reader comes to your book with a limited view and uses your material to expand that view).

Friday, September 9, 2022

The Art of Time in Your Book: Working More Consciously with Flashbacks, Backstory, and Pacing

I read The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silbers many years ago, when I briefly stalled out with the then novel-in-progress. Normally, I consider time and its shape in a story at the revision stage, but I've learned it doesn't hurt to have it in mind as the chapters are initially drafted. I found this book very useful for memoir as well--anything, actually, that attempts to tell a story along a certain timeline, moving backwards and even forwards, trying to keep the reader oriented.

Some writers find that better shape and smoother flow via plot work. Raising the stakes. Finding character motive. I use these tricks too. But there's also a real use to getting concrete about your timeline--especially if you feel you are drowning in pages.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Rockin' (or Jazzin' or Rappin') Out: Why a Playlist for Your Book Can Help You Write It

Most writers know about free writing. It can literally "free" the random word associations inside your linear brain. Some use it as a warm-up before launching a writing session. Free writing allows whatever is blocking the creative pipeline to free up--or so I've found.

In the same way, exploration of sound can also free the creative flow. For me, sound is an important player in creation of theme, voice, and pacing, especially during revision.

I learned from one of my teachers way back in grad school to create a soundtrack for my book. Which became a playlist. To me, the soundtrack is one of the best parts of a great movie. Of course I love good acting, excellent setting details, and brilliant cinematography. But when the soundtrack is stellar, it can really intensify the meaning and emotion of each scene.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Am I Any Good? What to Do with That Question and How to Tell

I subscribe to quite a few writing newsletters and blogs by writers I admire. One is George Saunders who writes a Substack newsletter called Story Club. This week, Saunders answered a reader question about self-consciousness and the question "Am I any good?" In a brilliant response he gently guided the new writer through the self-education of two parts: the writer and the editor. If the question (Am I any good?) is asked during the writing part, it stops the process. It's an editor question, a question best asked and answered once the writing is at least roughly drafted.

A reader of this (my) blog wrote in recently about my recommendation to let a manuscript rest for 1-2 weeks before the editing part dives in. The 1-2 weeks is my best-guess minimum. Some writers need more time, some less. The goal of this rest is to allow a clean transition between the writer who is typing words on a page and the editor who is asking, Is this any good? The two are not usually in sympathetic conversation. They need to operate in separate rooms, especially if writing books is new to you.

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Pros and Cons of Workshopping Your Writing--How to Find the Best Feedback to Suit Your Writing Needs and Temperament

Learning the craft of writing is obviously essential in the long journey to get a book published. But learning the art of receiving feedback is also essential. When is the best timing for your draft? Who do you ask? And most importantly, what do you do with the feedback once you get it?

Most of us have war stories. When the feedback experience is bad, it can destroy the spirit of a piece and your courage and confidence too. I've suffered from many bad readers--comments that range from off the wall to outright destructive. I've also learned that bad readers are my own responsibility, in a large part. My naivete in how and when I choose to share, whether I structure the feedback or not, and what I allow myself in terms of post-feedback reaction determine the value, 100 percent. This was learned over many years and much heartache.

Friday, August 12, 2022

How to Discover and Develop Your Own Writing Voice--Your Uniqueness Manifest on the Page

I've been writing and publishing for decades, and for just as long, I've been considering, thinking about, and searching for my own unique voice as a writer. I have my characters' voices nailed down--usually. Although that can take multiple drafts. But if someone were to ask me, What is your voice, how is it different from everyone else's? I have to really think about it.

Funny thing is: I teach writing classes on voice. I can recognize in other writers, no problem. But to define or describe my own? Challenging, most of the time.

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Famous "Fifty Moves"--The Blunt Instrument's Invaluable Resource for Fiction Writers

I first came across the Fifty Moves list in an online class I attended for writers of flash fiction. It's a resource created by Elissa Gabbert and Mike Young, and it's proved invaluable for my own writing when I get stuck or can't remember the point of my story. I've mostly used it for fiction, novels and short stories, but I think many of the tips would be great for writing memoir too.

This week set aside some time to check it out. The link is here, but you can also visit and search for 50 moves to find it. Many good resources on that site as well, but this is my favorite.

Try one to three tips this week and watch as they spark up your writing life!

Friday, July 29, 2022

Writing Out the Sadness and Anger--How to Get Strong Emotions on the Page Authentically

Sometimes I come to my writing with a lot of emotion--from my reactions to life events, the world, my own self. Maybe you've experienced this, especially lately. Do you find, like I have, that it is tricky to translate strong emotions into story, in a way that a reader who is living a completely different reality can enter?

It takes a certain writing skill, certainly. But I also find it takes some personal processing time, either on the page or otherwise, to gain the objectivity that makes an emotion universal.

In my early writing days, I didn't understand this. I "journaled" my own emotions into my characters. Basically, this is told emotion--we tell ourselves the feelings and thoughts when we journal. Not a bad thing at all, very needed when we are trying to make sense of our lives. But these emotions are often one step removed from the reader--they are too personal to our lives.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Creating Your Life So You Can Create Better Writing

From coaching hundreds of writers over the years, I've learned that writing isn't an easy gift to an overcrowded life. Sure, writing can help us heal, can give us needed fresh air inside, can help us communicate our deepest thoughts to the world in the hope of making a difference. But it will never happen unless the life you lead supports it.

So this week's post asks a hard question: How closely do your writing and life intersect?

When my writing isn't happening, or feels stuck, it often comes from a kind of disconnect between my life and the writing life I'm envisioning.

Here's an example, in another art arena.

Friday, July 15, 2022

John Truby and the British Baking Show: Why Images Are More Powerful Than Words

Cleaning out my writing bookshelves this week, I found an ancient set of cassette tapes recorded by Hollywood script doctor John Truby. Cassette players are a thing of my past as well, so the set will probably go into recycling. But the book insert is still valuable, as are Truby's take-away from these lectures.

Bottom line: successful movies are written with images first, words second. I remember contemplating that idea for months after I heard him say it.

My chiropractor's office has a TV broadcasting the British baking show. I go there twice a week. So far I've learned about sticky toffee cakes, tuiles (wafer-thin cookies), and many more drool-worthy treats. The characters, with their Brit accents on low volume in a noisy waiting room area are nearly impossible to understand. But the images are easy. They speak of no-holds-barred extravagance of taste and texture and aroma. I used to be a professional cook; those images carry me right back.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Expansion/Contraction--Test the Pacing Strength of Your Writing

Pacing—a delicate affair in writing a book—depends on a balance of expanded and contracted moments. I think of it like breathing. Good pacing creates a rhythm between inhale and exhale, between how much we take in and how it is absorbed.

It's hard to learn. The fastest, most effective way is by reading good writing, of course. When I read a well-paced memoir or novel, I feel the author has kept my interest and delivered just the right amount of material in each chapter. There isn't any rush, but there's no lagging either.

I recently read The Farm by Joanne Ramos, published in 2019. About a community in rural New York where surrogates are paid to bear the children of the uber-wealthy, this is not an easy read. But the pacing was masterful. I read it in two days; I couldn't put it down. Similarly, I just finished The Guide, a new thriller by Peter Heller. Another challenging subject, but wonderfully written and paced. When I finished, I actually started reading it a second time, just to catch what I might have missed. A third, equally provocative book I enjoyed this month, this one a memoir, was Heating and Cooling, a series of 52 micro-stories by Beth Ann Fennelly. Two days for that one, as well.

Friday, July 1, 2022

One of My Favorite Writing Exercises--and a Few Reasons to Try It This Week

I'm a sucker for great writing exercises. Many years ago I came across What If: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Pamela Painter and Anne Bernays. I gave myself a summer task to work through the book, trying each exercise--more than once if I wanted. I dated the page I tried it and gave my thumbs up or down.

Most of the exercises worked well. What I mean: they gave me new insights into characters, ideas for plot, more concrete images for setting, a flavor of backstory that was needed. They did their job at illuminating my writing process and improving what I had on the page.

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.