Charts, and Graphs, and Tracking! Oh My!

(I'm running late this morning because of staying up until the wee hours to work on blogs.)

If given the chance, I’d be happy to spend most of my time creating ways to keep track of the things I do rather than doing them. It took me years to realize that I’m a very visual person. It helps keep my thinking clear when I can see an overall view of things. It also helps me remember things if I see them in writing.

Not only do I make the charts and graphs, but I keep them current with information so I know where I am pre-writing, during writing, and after writing. Give me a task or schedule, and I’ll make a chart or table or graph to track it.

Computers have made tracking easier, quicker, and less likely to get lost in a pile of papers. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on bookkeeping or tracking or plotting software. Nearly everything you need is probably already on your computer. It’s like having GPS in your car or on your cell phone. You can easily and quickly find out where you are and how to get where you’re going.

There are three basic programs I use: Microsoft Word, Works, and Excel. You might be surprised by how I use them.

While While Writing
(I keep a copy of each for each manuscript I start.)

  • Calendar (Word Calendar) -- to keep my timelines straight.
  • Characters (Word table) -- so I don't have to go looking to see what the waitress's name is.
  • Daily pages written (Excel) -- especially helpful during BIAW ;)
  • Age Chart (Works Spreadsheet or Excel) -- to know when main characters were born, went to school, had a major event in life, and at the time the story opens.
  • Proposal Page Count (Word table) per 3 chapters: #pages, date completed, #words for rough draft, 1st round revisions, 2nd round revisions, requested revisions pre-sale.
  • Status (Word table) – from submission through sale date
  • Storyboard (Word table) – my plotting device
  • Timeline chart (Word using Drawing) – for series

After Sale

  • Page count table (Word table) per chapter--A longer version of the Proposal Page count from chapter 1 through 12 (my usual book length)
  • Page goals (Word table) – for each chapter: date to be written, date started, date finished, date revised (final revision before submitting) and a check-off box
  • Percentage written (Word table) – broken down in increments of 5%, with #pages, #words, total running word count, date reached, in what chapter reached.
  • Running totals (Word table) – more detailed version of the running word count.

Completed Books

  • Completed book checklist (Word table)
  • Working Calendar (Word Calendar) -- to keep me on track when finishing a book. Call it my Goals Calendar
  • AAs/Galleys (Word table)


  • Response time charts (Word table) -- for tracking length of time between submission through responses and payments
  • Book Title, Submitted As, Hero Name, Heroine Name, Sold Date, On Sale Date
  • Yearly Pages Written

And those are only the tracking sheets I use most often. There are a few more old ones that I rarely use, but I’ve kept them, just in case. The above are tweaked and changed when needed, and, yes, I keep the information in each current as I work. That’s how I know where I am and how much it’s going to take to get me to the end of each project, whether a proposal or the finished book.

After creating a few Word tables, you can set them up quickly. You'll need an overall idea of how many columns and rows you need. Excel can be used for more than numbers! And Works comes standard on most computers and can be substituted for Excel when only text is used. The Calendar template is just one of many templates to use with Word.

Combine any of the tracking devices above with those Starla has shared, and you can have a much easier path to follow to your next book, and you'll always know where you are in your writing.

Carving Out Writing Time

Writing is an occupation, a job, a business, a career. Whatever you want to call it, writing is hard work and time consuming. For some people it is a part-time job, for others a full-time one. For others still, it is a hobby which they are trying to turn into a real occupation. No matter what level you’re working at as a writer, you need some kind of sense of time management.

Each of us is drawn in so many ways. Whether you’re working in or outside the home at something beyond writing, so many hours each day or each week must be allocated for that. If you have a family (children at home), you certainly must have time apportioned for them and taking care of their needs. If you have pets instead of children, you need to set aside so much time for their needs. If you have a husband or life mate, certainly you need to allocate time for nurturing that relationship (keeping in mind that sometimes more time and care is involved with this person than with children). This isn’t even taking into consideration YOUR needs, desires, hobbies, interests, or anything else. Oh, and, actually doing some writing hasn’t been mentioned either.

So how do you manage your life and your work as a writer? First, you need to determine exactly what your daily or monthly life entails, the “duties” you must handle. Actually make a written list of them and include some "unanticipated duties." Then sit back and look at your list. Sure it might seem overwhelming, but we deal with this stuff all the time, probably have been doing so for a long time. Obviously you can do these things. What you’re doing now by looking at this list is figuring out the priorities for your life chores.

A lot of us already keep a calendar of some kind to generally keep track of commitments. If you really want to find time for writing, you need to do a better job at using a calendar. I suggest going a step beyond the 30-day calendar with big blank squares for each day. Invest in an appointment book with hourly divisions, or a weekly calendar that has time divisions or just plain more space for writing in more details. You can also use one of the various calendar programs for your computer, such as Outlook. If you feel the need to have a written copy of the calendar with you, print it out of the program.

Now take that new appointment book and write in as many of the “life” commitments you know about: doctor appointments, dentist appointments, your children’s soccer games (or whatever), community meetings you must attend, church time, etc. If you’re working (not the work of writing), “X” out your normal hours for that, too. And do not forget to allow special time for just being with your loved one or going out with a friend. There is, of course, all the other miscellaneous tasks we all do such as shopping for groceries, going to the drycleaners, getting a prescription from somewhere, cooking, cleaning, and lots more little tedious but necessary chores. But don’t put those on your schedule unless they have exact time commitments.

Next sit back and look at the “holes” in the schedule. These are opportunities for potential writing time. Maybe you are an early riser or can manage it if you really try. If you have an hour before your family needs you in the morning (even if you can only make yourself do this once or twice a week), plunk yourself down and work on your writing. At work, use your break time for quick notes on ideas for a project you’re writing, or use your lunch time for possibly writing a scene or whatever. After you get your nightly chores done or your kids to bed and your husband planted in front of the TV, slip off to your writing place and do some writing.

The more determined you are to be successful at writing, the more focused you need to be on creating a schedule that supports your goal. Some of the “life” priorities will need to shift a bit. More real time rather than just when-I-get-a-chance time should be carved out for writing, researching, or whatever other part of being a writer is necessary. Along with this, you should determine what your best time of the day is and try to schedule your writing work for then. I’m talking about the fact that some people are “morning” functional and get their best work or thinking done then. Other people are late at night oriented.

I haven’t gone into the breakdown of scheduling the actual various elements of what the writing career entails, like story creation time, writing the project, rereading and making revisions, writing a query letter and synopsis, submitting to an agent or editor, revising again, and all the myriad of promotional needs involved. Those items, too, can be woven into your schedule.

The point is if you don’t get a fairly good handle on time management, you’re going to drive yourself nuts. One of the things you need to consider is if you really want to be a writer, whether it is part time or full time. If you’re content with playing at writing because you enjoy it now and then, that’s fine. But if you honestly want to hone your skills and eventually get published in whatever manner, you must learn to carve out time for your writing career.


Twisters, hurricanes, earthquakes, oh my. What’s a writer to do when Mother Nature pops in unexpectedly? Not to mention, little tikes, sloppy-slurpy dogs, and teenagers who just have to get on the computer. NOW.

You better back up, girlfriend. No, really. Stop what you’re doing and back up your manuscript. Losing months (or years) of work because of a computer crash, weather-related power outage or something as simple as a teen playing a wacky war game would be like cutting off a much valued limb or decapitating your favorite childhood doll. What’s that I hear? A collective gasp. Am I being too graphic? I think not my friend. How would you really feel if you lost everything you’d painstakingly typed—in the blink of an eye?

Backing up your data is like hitting the save button only this time you mean it. Forget those colorful floppies. They went the way of the dinosaur. And I know there’s nothing like having a hard copy to marvel over. But, consider the poor trees. And do we really want to tick off Mother Nature? (refer to the first sentence for further clarification)

I use a thumb drive. These are often referred to flash drives, stick drives or USB drives. They’re cheap and small enough to carry in your purse or pocket and can hold up to 32GB of data. In comparison a floppy will hold 1.44 megabytes. A CD holds 700 megabytes. 1000 megabytes equals 1 gigabyte. 1000 gigabytes equals 1 tarabyte. And if a train left Chicago at 9:00am heading East and another train left New York on the same tracks at 10:45 going west . . . Well, you do the math. (grin)

External hard drives are becoming the in thing. You can back up all your data in a matter of minutes. They hold massive amounts and while they are nice, for the average writer, they might be a bit excessive and expensive.

Don’t own any of the above? Never fear. You can always send the complete manuscript to yourself via an email attachment. You can access your email from every computer in the world. All you have to do is save each manuscript in different folders and there you have it. No longer will you be at the mercy of Mother Nature or teenagers or a talented cat who likes to tapdance on your keyboard. Backing up your manuscripts will alleviate your worries, help you sleep better, ward off gray hair, and in some states, is a proven weight loss method. What more could you ask for? (grin)



When writing a book series the problem of details soon arises. How do you keep everyone’s names straight from book to book? How do you keep track of where your plot went so it makes sense as to where it will go? What tools are effective in keeping your sanity as you try to remember who did what, where, how, when and why, two books ago? Not to mention remembering the changes your agent or editor may have made along the way!

For my first writing project I envisioned a trilogy. When I began book two I found myself spending valuable time referencing book one for details so that I could stay consistent. It wouldn’t do to have people changing their names, ages or jobs between books. The timing details were the hardest: who did what when, and who else was around at the time. Future conversations would have lost their ring of truth if I didn’t have my own facts straight.

I finally got smart and started making lists. I listed all the characters from book one, their ages, occupations and etc. Then I made the list for book two and as I added new characters, down they went. I ripped a couple of pages out of an old calendar to jot down the action for a two month period in my story. Getting the timing confused was too easy and I constantly referenced those pages for half of my second book. I had other pages with future plot developments that I wanted to include for books two and three. (Some would call that plotting but I just call it keeping my brain intact.) I also listed the page number for each chapter beginning and a brief description of what was in it. That way I could quickly re-read whatever scene I was looking for. And then I got real smart and dumped them all in a file folder instead of digging through the piles on my desk. Now I pull it out and have everything I need in one place. Whew, what a relief!

This may not be what works for you and that’s ok. We all have different styles and preferences. But, if you are going to write a series, make life easier and start tracking your series details from the get go. You’ll be thankful later!

Organizing Tips and Tricks (Penny Rader)

Being organized is so not one of my strong suits. Ask anybody. :D However, I need to get a handle on it so I can keep track of the stuff I want to write about.

I hope you’ll share your methods with us. How do you keep track of all the idea snippets that come to you? How do you keep up with everything involved in the creation of each story/novella/book? If you write a series, how do you manage to remember all the details of which character is in which book and all the developments that occur throughout the series?

Roxann Delaney shared her series ‘bible’ with us at our last meeting. Maybe she’ll talk about it here? Pretty please?

Patricia Davids has participated in a couple continuity series. If we ask nicely, maybe she’ll tell us about the ‘bible’ that comes with those and how she works with them. Come to think of it, she’s also working on a series of her own, so I’d love to hear how she’s managing all the characters and details of those stories.

Starla Kaye should be writing this article. She is simply amazing. If you missed her post about how she organizes her story notebooks, you can find it here:

I, however, am severely organizationally-challenged. So I snooped around online to see if I could learn how to keep track of ideas and story tidbits. And since I’m planning a new series, I also looked for info about how to keep all those details straight.

I hope you’ll find some of these helpful:

How to Build a Novel Notebook by Vicki Hinze

How to Create a Spreadsheet to Organize a Novel by Jade B.

How to Organize Your Manuscript Project: A Guide to Organizing Work for a Novel or Non-fiction Book by Kay Reynolds

How to Write a Novel - Organizing Before You Write by Joe Nassise

The Novel Notebook by Lynn Viehl

The Novelist's Bible: Creating a Project File by Kim Kay

Organizing Your Writing--Part One--Preparation and Process
by Michelle Jean Hoppe

What do YOU do when you're planning a series?

So…what’s your system? Care to share with us?

Oh, I’m forever clipping pictures and articles out of magazines. Any ideas about how to corral them so I can find them when I need them?

When can I quit my day job?

The real answer to this question is not what new writers want to hear. The truth is...maybe when you reach 65.

Only a few writers make a lot of money. Just like only a few basketball players make a lot of money. It's a common misconception, but it does happen. So, if you'd made that first sale, when can you expect the money to come rolling in?

Here's the break down of how we get paid. Most major publishers of romance novels will only buy a completed manuscript from a new author. In general advances range from $2000 to about $5000. That is paid half when the contract is signed and half when the publisher says the book is ready to go to print. (A few revisions are normal.) Once the book is bought, it will be about a year to 18 months before it lands on the shelves. Then, you'll wait for your royalty checks. Most major publishers report sales to the author twice a year.

Okay, the money is coming in now. You've sold a second and a third book and you need more time to write. Can you quit now? Maybe.

It's a smart move only if you have enough savings to support yourself for at least a year. Or, your spouse can support you, has the insurance and retirement through his job.

Remember, out of the money you earn, 15% will likely go to your agent. Also, there is no taxes withheld from your monies so you'll pay self-employment tax and quarterly income tax. It can be a hassle being self employed.

Many of you know I reached the place where I quit my day job. I used up my savings at an alarming rate in the beginning, but I'm getting the hang of it now. I also write three to four books a year to support myself. I made a lot better money as a nurse. So is it worthwhile to be a self-employed writer?

You bet it is. May every one of you live that dream.

Not all writers write novels or wish to sell to big publishers. Some write articles or shortstories or publish with on-line houses. There isn't a great deal of money in this type of writing, but you can earn enough to make it worth while.

Find your nitch in the writing word and settle in for the long haul. It takes hard work, but the rewards worthwhile in more ways than one.

The Ups and Downs of Contests

(I'm filling in for Sharon, who is off enjoying Colorado sunshine!)

Is it ups and downs both? My opinion is, it's mostly ups, although there can be a down side to anyting and everything.

One of the perks of being an RWA member was getting the monthly "newsletter", the RWR (Romance Writers Report) because it contained a listing of all the contests being held by RWA chapters. I never reached the pinnacle of being a Contest Queen, meaning entering contest after contest, but I did more than my fair share. It paid off. Well, eventually. :)

There's a contest for just about anything remotely connected to romance writing. First chapters, opening hooks, best kiss, best synopsis, and the list goes on. A writer could have one or two manuscripts and enter them in contests for several years.

The big question is: Why enter a contest?

There are several answers.

1. It's a great way to learn about deadlines. Your entry must arrive on or before a certain date. Miss it, and you just wasted $20 or more, plus postage. Not the best use of contests or money!

2. Biting your nails while waiting for the finalists list is a great way to ruin a manicure.

3. It's good practice for learning to format correctly. If it's a synopsis contest or the entry must include a synopsis, usually short and no matter if it's being judged or not, you learn how to do one by doing.

4. You trust your critique partners, but you'd like to have a completely unbiased opinion on your work. Let's face it. Critique partners are the best, but after a while, they can become enamored with your story and/or your writing. Getting another opinion (or 3!) can make you feel better or show you that you still have some work to do. The word to remember is FEEDBACK. (More on this later.)

5. If you're lucky enough to final in a contest where the final judge is an editor for the line (if category romance) or publisher you're targeting, opportunity can come knocking. There's nothing sweeter than to have a final judge editor request a partial or full manuscript, no matter whether the book sells or doesn't sell. Either way, you know you're on the right track, and you'll usually get some great feedback from the editor.

6. Some contests, like the Golden Heart, require that the manuscript be complete. This is a fantastic opportunity for a writer to finish the book!

I've never counted how many contests I've entered. Maybe more than 20, but defiitely less than 50. I was a finalist in 8 of them with 5 different books. 4 of those books sold, mostly later, and one, The Maggie, led directly to my first sale. The one that hasn't sold needs massive changes, because that was 13 years ago and guidelines have changed. Besides, I've learned a million things since then.

When it comes to feedback, it can be invaluable. My critique partner was a Contest Queen and the one who insisted I enter my first contest. She told me that if one judge said one thing, but the two others (usually there are 3) said the opposite or didn't mention it, not to worry about it. If two judges pointed out the same problem, take a closer look at it and revise if you feel it needs it. If three judges mention the same thing and find it to be a problem, it's time to really do some work. I discovered doing what she told me was the right thing to do. I'll admit that with some judges' comments, I completely ignored them. With others, I took them to heart.

For instance, one judge once told me the premise of my story (a guy and girl win tickets at a baseball game for a trip to somewhere, but must leave within only a few hours with only 1 packed suitcase.) She said that wouldn't happen. She should have attended a Wrangler's game, because that was prize in one of their drawings each game for a while.

Then there was a comment made by author Stella Cameron on one of my entries. She marked a spot that said "This book needs to start here!" I rewrote the opening, and decided she was right, but it was several years before I submitted that manuscript. That book with the changed beginning will be a Harlequin American Romance in January next year. (Bachelor Cowboy) The moral of that? Weigh the judges' comments before completely rewriting your book. Some are good, some aren't.

Entering contests can get expensive, so do your homework. Enter one that requires what and where your writing is. Those tried and true contests that have been around for several years can be some of the best out there to enter. If you're looking for an editor to see your work, check out who the final judges will be and enter those that will help you reach that goal.

One rule of my own making that I adhered to was to have completed manuscript before I entered that story in a contest. There was only one time that I didn't, but I wrote the last three chapters while waiting to hear on the outcome. That doesn't mean everyone must do the same, but it was an excellent way to get me to finish the book!

While you're waiting to hear on one contest or many, keep writing. Don't continue to submit the same one or two entries over and over. You need fresh "stuff". Each time you write something, you'll find yourself writing better. Entering contests will probably prove that, over time.

So don't be shy. Take the leap and give contesting a try! It could someday lead to the sale of your first book. In the meantime, it definitely can't hurt. And contest entry fees, plus the postage to send and postage for return of your score sheets and entry are deductible on your taxes. ;)

Record Keeping and Tax Deductions for Writers

The business of writing isn’t easy whether it is the actual writing of a piece of work, finding and dealing with agents, editors and publishing houses, handling all facets of marketing, or managing the financial aspects. But it IS a business and requires some kind of good record keeping that will make your annual tax preparation not a nightmare.

Unpublished vs. Published. If you’re as yet unpublished and don’t think you need to consider record keeping and tax deductions yet, think again. The IRS does state that you can claim a tax loss for business expenses even if you haven’t published anything yet.

Hobby vs. Business: Must show a profit after 3-5 years. Again, this is incorrect. The IRS states “as long as you can prove you are actively pursuing a career in writing” and as long as your expenses are considered “necessary business expenses” they are deductible.

Schedule C Sole Proprietor vs. S-Corporation. This can be a complicated decision once you are at the point of making serious income as a writer. Most writers only need to add the Schedule C form to your individual tax return, which lets you show both income and expenses for your writing business and helps lessen your tax burden.

Proving Pursuit of a Writing Career. Even if you are not published, you can prove your determination to be taken seriously as a writer by sending and keeping copies of letters to agents, editors, or publishers. If you submit or query by email, keep copies of all emails involved, including responses. If you aren’t ready to submit or query on a particular work yet, send letters to prospective publishers requesting submission guidelines and keep copies for your records.

Necessary Business Expenses. The following are expenses to consider for tax deductions, remembering to keep all receipts and any logs:

•Postage, including return postage on your SASE, and shipping fees for books sent to wholesalers, retailers, readers, reviewers, etc.
•Writing-related books such as market guides, how-to books, subscriptions to writing magazines, and necessary reference books
•Office supplies such as paper, ink, envelopes, pens, highlighters, index cards, story board materials, files, blank CDs, sticky notes, thumb drives, card readers, external hard drives, etc.
•Marketing materials such as business cards, bookmarks, flyers, posters, postcards, brochures, press kits, press releases, etc.
•Long distance phone calls related to your writing, such as to a critique partner, agent, editor, etc.
•Internet service fees, if you use the Internet to develop your craft and/or to promote yourself and your work
•Writers group membership dues, gas mileage to meetings or conferences, meals that are related to the meeting
•Writers conference fees, hotel expenses, gas mileage and meals (these are deductible even for unpublished writers)
•Website set-up fees, monthly or annual fees for hosting, domain registration fees, any maintenance done by someone else
•Your published works donated to libraries or given away for promotional purposes (sent to reviewers, offered in contests, donated for fund raisers, etc.) may be deducted at retail value.
•Dry cleaning of clothes for speaking engagements, book signings or other author appearances
•Agent fees and commissions
•Books purchased by self-published and e-published authors to have for resale
•Other necessary business items such as a personal computer, a laptop, desk, filing cabinet, scanner, printer may be deducted based on a portion of the costs between business and personal use
•Office rental space for your writing business (such as renting a cubicle in Office This)

Mileage Logs. The IRS requires that good records be kept of all business mileage. A simple auto mileage log book can be purchased at any office supply store.

Methods to Keep Track of Business Financial Records. You can keep track of your income and expenses in a notebook, on a spreadsheet, or in a checkbook-style program like Quicken. I’m a spreadsheet nut normally, but I recommend using Quicken. At the end of the year you can print out some nice, simple reports that will make your tax preparation work easier.

For more information visit the IRS website at You also might want to get copies of publications #334 Tax Guide for Small Businesses and Individuals who use Schedule C or C-EZ and #535 Business Expense (which tells you what you can and cannot deduct), and #552 Record Keeping for Individuals.

Conferences: the Mirror of Stark Reality

Nifty title. Decided to keep it. It is near meaningless. Conferences aren’t. They are very important no matter where you are in your writer’s path.

I went to my first writer’s conference in 2004 in Denver. The world of writing was very new. I had two books finished—one a novel, one a self help. I’d never met my fellow WARA members, but I had a new wardrobe that I felt comfortable wearing. I signed up for the conference on-line. I roomed with myself, knowing I’d need some solitude. The only thing familiar to me was the town. When I left rural southwest Kansas after graduating high school, I moved to Denver and for six years worked a couple of jobs in the downtown area as well as had fun in the mountains.

Oh, I planned for this conference. Every detail was studied in advance. I was going to soak up as much information as I could on this new thing—the writing and publishing world. How did other writers live with the other worlds in their heads? What was a POV? A Golden Heart winner? I even planned how to escape up into the pines for a while to breathe free of the crowd. My laptop was with me to fill in the hours after the main events and before I lay my head to finally sleep. I scanned every word on networking does and don’ts and decided to don’t. I read up on how to communicate with people in meaningful conversations. I know, not everyone has to do that, but I wanted to be my shiny best.

My special hair fixin’s were ready. My bags were packed. I climbed into the car and took off. My car broke down. But it didn’t matter. I’d left a day early. My intention was to relax, have a good time, absorb what I could and finally meet another writer—maybe lots of them. I had no illusions. I’m not that interesting. I was there to learn and observe.

Here’s what I discovered. I’ve never been with a greater bunch of people in my life. I was welcomed at every turn. People were so busy networking they thrust themselves forward at every opportunity and asked me if I’d like to do all manner of things. They asked what I wrote, I told them. I ventured a few questions and a couple of kind souls shook their heads in dismay and escorted me to a workshop that they said I needed. And later they checked up on me to see how it had gone. I found in one workshop that if you don’t put writing first in your life, right after your children, that you’re not likely to get enough written to be an author of importance—dusting, cleaning and other things are no longer necessities. I attended every workshop that I could fit into.

I learned that others were fearful, and that a kind word and offer of support to a new Golden Heart winner got me invited to the Golden Heart party with her and her daughter—an invitation I didn’t inveigle. An experience I wouldn’t want to trade. A memory I treasure.

I found out that offering help in something like getting the book signing room ready meant that, as in my experience, volunteers were adequate but supplies were lacking. I’d come prepared and brought supplies. We all used them happily and were able to be done in good time. No one will remember that as a good time probably but me. Later I sat between two wonderful people at that book signing and found that helping out can mean putting a badge back together by sewing it. And the author thought that was a skill? She teaches writing.

I saw acts of perseverance. One poor attendee had slipped getting off the plane and after a trip to the emergency room, wheeled herself around the conference. I witnessed an act of sincere aching generosity. One writer had been told by her husband just before she left for the conference that her writing was a money drain, bring home a contract or quit. She had a trace of damp eyes as we all gathered in one of the lunch lines. Not too civilized, I asked her how things were going. (A civilized person would have given her space and ignored her, not being intrusive). She’d been assigned an appointment with an editor that did not suit her story. Another person in line at lunch that day, offered to give up her editor spot for her. Insisting she take it when she demurred. I encouraged her to take it. I hope she did. Both giver and recipient were blessed that day, whether they did the switch or not, for their hearts were full and I was blessed to observe that generous act.

I saw two women coming down the escalator, the one behind shooting excited fingers at the person just in front of her. There was only the three of us in that golden moment of time. The excited one mouthed something. I didn’t know who the woman in front was or why the woman behind her was so excited. The woman in front with short hair had no idea anything was going on behind her. I gave a smile and a thumbs up sign in the spirit of the moment and both women smiled, the woman in front a small curve, the one behind a beam. Neither saw each other’s face. I found out who Nora Roberts was later when I saw her picture in a book.

Another time, I was sitting in a corner with coffee and saw a well-selling team totally miss some important appointments and their agent nearly pulling out her hair. They later came waltzing in, totally oblivious to their error and entirely dressed wrongly for being seen by anyone with a camera. Three things learned. Even the famous can goof up and after you get famous make sure you’re camera ready if your agent has a date with you to meet people. Embarrassing your agent is not a smooth business move.

I was hijacked in elevators and hallways to go to meals, both inside and out of the Adams Mark Hotel, with perfect strangers. They were fascinating people with different experiences in the writing world. All I had to do was listen. The world opened up before me.

My WARA members finally found me. Bless them all. They made sure I was ok and could find them if I needed them. I treasure those moments too. I left during the business meeting. There was some heat in RWA that year, and I remember that I didn’t have an opinion so that’s the time I escaped up 6th avenue and went to the piney woods in the mountains. I was gone all afternoon and when I came back was refreshed and ready for more.

My laptop was a casualty. It turns out that when shut down and in their case you still can’t treat them like luggage and toss them around. I talked myself hoarse and didn’t fully recover my voice for at least a week. But this is what I learned (besides craft things). I’ve never felt more at home with a group of people. Conferences are important, soul-saving important. Writers NEED to meet other writers. I feel so strongly about it that every year since I’ve donated to a writer’s group that gives money so that others can attend conference. I’ve been anonymous until this year. I haven’t been able to afford the time, nor the full expense to go, but I’ve helped others to go—that’s how strongly I feel it is necessary. Understanding. That is worth far more than anything else is. Support is wonderful. Families and friends can do that, but Understanding and finding understanding is indescribably comforting. That comfort sends tendrils down deep. My memories of that conference and the feeling of connection stay close to me like a worry stone in my pocket. There if I need it. I am not alone. Others of my kind are out there. I didn’t know I was a ‘kind’ until that conference.

So, what do you do for a conference? Prepare, relax, don’t force it, be ready with a helping hand, (supplies, tape, scissors, etc.) a smile, a pen, paper, a few cards to exchange, and a ready ear. Don’t worry over the clothing issue too much. Except the New York Professional crowd who appear to favor consistent black, you could meet people better dressed at a funeral or church. I expect it may be different depending upon the city, but I’ll bet not much. Those workshop rooms are generally well air-conditioned. Bring a sweater. Drink a lot of water. Don’t pitch a book to anyone in a place you wouldn’t accept a date in—the bathroom comes to mind. Above all, don’t worry. They’ll like you because they’re like you.

Should I Join a Writers' Group?

Ages ago when I started writing my first book I was very alone in the process. My only source of information was from the library. Fortunately no one has to be in that position these days. Now we are overloaded with sources of information. If you are serious about writing should you consider joining a writer’s group? My response is a resounding “YES!” These are the reasons why:

1. Education You can read about writing and publishing in books and on line but to truly learn you need to practice and discuss. Think of it as not having to reinvent the wheel. If you are just beginning to write you can pick up all sorts of information that will make you a more productive writer, a better writer. If you are experienced the same is true as we all either continue to learn or grow stagnant. The added benefit for the experienced writer is getting to share what they have learned. No matter where you are on the spectrum from beginning to published you benefit from discussing writing, publishing, and life; from presentations on the same; from writing exercises done in a supportive group.

2. Support An active, producing writer runs into roadblocks. Speaking about them with others eases the way through or around them. If you receive a rejection, your spirit is lifted by those who have also gotten them and by those who know they probably will get them. Support, encouragement and hope are invaluable on a long rocky road. Fellow writers who experience all that you do offer both. They balance the emotional seesaw we all experience in our writing careers and in our lives. They’ll commiserate with your rejections and there is nothing better than celebrating writing success with fellow writers.

3. Inspiration The sharing of experiences by the published authors in a group can be an inspiration for all. Their success shows it is possible that we too can be published. Also the members of a group inspire by helping--perhaps by brainstorming through a plotting problem, by giving “how to” information, by being there through any problem for that matter. That thought leads me to--

4. Friendship When I first joined WARA I had never had much of a chance to visit with other writers. Though I tend to be reserved and quiet I found that the members reaching out to me helped me reach out to them and others. It broadened not just my writing but my life. I’ve made several friends in WARA that I value greatly. My writing has been enriched. I have learned much. I have been blessed in no longer being alone.

5. Critical Support I was hard pressed to come up with a name for this one. I was thinking of the various critique groups within WARA. Those members who meet in small groups outside of our regular meeting to share what they write and offer constructive criticism to one another. Critique groups are not for everyone just as every critique group is not. But they are invaluable when you find the right one for you. It’s like having a sponsor and being one at the same time.

6. Agent and Market Information Fellow writers are a great source on current market trends and agents. If they don’t know, they can show you how to access that information on the Internet. Better yet, you can learn about what problems exist in dealing with agents and publishers and how to avoid them.

Should you join a writing organization? Do you want a safe, friendly environment to spread your writing wings? Do you want encouragement and support in your writing failures and successes? Do want to have recourse to a deep well of information; a place to discuss whatever is going on with your writing? If you do there is a writing organization waiting for you to join. Check out those in your area and find the right fit. I’m glad I did. I’ve listed a few writing groups in Kansas as a starting point. If you know of more in or near the Wichita area let us know. If you know of more reasons to join a writers group please comment on that too!

Wichita Area Romance Authors
Kansas Writers Association
Kansas Authors Club
Kansas City Writers


The business of writing really is a business. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all fun and games. Sometimes, it’s a lot of work. You have to keep cranking out fascinating characters, build worlds, throw in a lot of hooks, sprinkle in a few turning points and deliver a whopping climax worthy of your hero/heroine. Not to mention, keep excellent records for Uncle Sam, join a writer’s group/critique—or two and do a heck of a lot of research along the way. Tag along as I take you through my typical day.

5:30am. Yes, I realize that’s the crack of dawn, but I’m a morning person and no matter how hard I try to break the habit, I yam what I yam. I hit the treadmill running (grin) and then shower before reading the paper and kissing hubby goodbye and good luck as he joins the rest of the rats in the daily race. He’s not really a rat—not usually anyway.

7:00am. Tomato juice or Diet Dr. Pepper depending on what my calendar looks like for the day. Sometimes you just gotta have a jolt and since I’m not a Folger’s girl, I get my caffeine fix from a 12oz. can. And Cheerios. (I know Wheaties would be the logical choice for endurance, but Cheerios are my thing and since I doubt I’ll be gracing the covers of either box—ever—does it really matter?) Although, for around 15 bucks, at the Mall of America, you can get your smiling face on a box of Wheaties. I know, because my daughter did this and even though I still have the box, I’m not sure what 7 year-old wheat flakes might taste like. I find my missing glasses and call the folks. We make plans to hit the casino soon. I get dressed, start a load of laundry, do the dishes, tidy the living room and make the bed.

7:45am. Ahhhh. Finally time to get down to some real work.

8:00am. Daughter calls and I talk to her while playing a game on the computer, (best to get the game playing out of the way at the beginning of my day) before hanging up, I tell her I love her and miss her very much.

8:30am. Time to get busy. No, really this time I mean it. I check both of my emails, facebook, and checking account to make sure no one snuck in and sucked it dry. Answer a few emails and now I’m ready. I broke-up with my agent(long, story) so I’m in the process of obtaining a new one. That means research. My first stop on the web (well other than emails, facebook and my bank) is RWA and I make a list. I cross-check it with the list I made at the national conference and decide which agents I want to send my manuscript to and what each one wants to receive. I’m the kind of person who likes to see things in black and white so I make a chart and fill in the blanks with the who’s, what’s, where’s. Most want a dynamite query, synopsis, and 3 chapters. Check. I have all that except for the dynamite query. I need to punch it up a bit. I decide to work on that while I print out the partials.

10:00am. Off to Walmart to get printer ink. And porkchops, milk, lettuce, a banana and since I realized I’d left home without putting on any make-up, I pick up the big bag of M & M’s. The way things are going I’m gonna need it.

11:30am. Printer is finally going like gangbusters so after filing the ink receipt in the tax folder, I check my email and then research editors I might like to work with—or rather who is willing to consider the type of book I write. I make another list and chart. After a bite of lunch with my sons, I consider a nap, but decide I can’t give in to temptation.

12:00pm. I open my current WIP and read over what I wrote yesterday and practically wear my finger out on the delete button. Sometimes it’s like that, sometimes it’s not. I forge through and actually get some pretty decent stuff written. Of course, only time will tell. The main thing is to get something—anything—written. It’s much easier to clean up the garbage than to write something new.

4:00pm. I switch gears and get the envelopes ready to mail to the agents and editors. I know without an agent my submissions will be added to the slush pile, but at least I know I’m putting forth the effort. Will I get rejections? Without a doubt. Will they hurt? Absolutely, but will I give up? Never. The one given in this business is that you will never be published if you never send anything out.

5:00pm. Time to start dinner and then spend the evening editing the hard copy, reading a book, or if I get lucky, I may write some more. I hit the sack early, cuddle with the husband and then plot, plan and let my subconscious dance with my muse because tomorrow is another day closer to finishing this manuscript.


August Blog Topics

We're really getting into some of the nuts and bolts of writing romance. Is everyone having fun? Is anyone learning anything? Who says learning can't be fun?

Because RWA (Romance Writers of America) held it's annual conference last month, we thought this would be a good time to discuss THE BUSINESS OF WRITING. Once you make the leap from writing for pleasure to writing for pay, there are many options to take a look at and decide if any will benefit you, the writer. From taxes to joining organizations, from whether an agent is needed to when to quit your day job, those questions encompass many things. We hope we can help you answer some of them or show you were to find more information.

The second half of August will be devoted to ORGANIZING TIPS & TRICKS. Pat will start us off, as she does each month, and there's no doubt she'll have some pearls of wisdom to share. Each writer has his or her own style of keeping track of research, making outlines, creating character and GMC charts, and tracking those submissions that can lead to the word we all long to hear: SALE! Share your experiences and thoughts. How do you do it? We'd love to know!

My Favorite Hero

I’ve had a lot of favorite heroes over the years. From Silky in THE ALASKANS, to Illya Kuryakin in THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., to Heathcliff in WUTHERING HEIGHTS, to Gerard in DARK SHADOWS, to Radcliffe Emerson in CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK, to Luke Skywalker in STAR WARS, to Adderly in ADDERLY, to Clive Bennett in BORDERTOWN, to Dante in DEVIL MAY CRY, there have been a lot of men in my fantasy life. I thought it would be hard to narrow it down to just one guy.

Then something happened that made me realize where the real heroes in my life lay. So I decided to tell you about my cowboys.

They were four brothers who grew up on a 1,100 acre ranch near the small Kansas towns of Coldwater and Wilmore. Their friends and family called them “Pete,” “Fat,” “Al” and “Bob.” They learned early about the hard work of raising cattle to send to market, and pigs and chickens to eat at home. As an adult “Fat” didn’t like to eat anything that came off of a pig but bacon because they ate a lot of pork when he was growing up. And he only ate chicken at Sunday dinner.

But they also learned to love the land, and had a great fascination and respect for the animals that lived on it. Being kids, they found time and ways to play, using sticks to make corrals and colored rocks to make herds of cattle and horses. They swam in “cricks” and stock tanks where “Pete” put a frog down the back of “Fat’s” pants one time. Like Little Arliss in OLE YELLER, “Fat” had to empty his pockets at the front door of the ranch house because he was always bringing home baby skunks, little raccoons, bull frogs and garter snakes.

They grew up in the faith of their fathers, and when they reached young manhood “Pete,” “Fat,” and “Bob” showed their personal courage by answering the call to serve their country during the long, dark hours of World War II. They returned to the ranch and resumed their lives. “Pete,” “Fat,” and “Bob” married and had children, both by adoption and the more traditional method.

They kept in close contact with their parents, each other and the ranch. Family gatherings were large and boisterous, with food, fun and children being the main focus. Cousins stayed in each other’s homes and with Grandma, and learned to love each brother just as if he was their own dad.

The brothers were far from perfect. Some of them liked the liquor a little too well, and there were family stories of some fights that occurred at bars and dances. “Al” particularly had trouble, as he was hampered in life by mild Down’s syndrome. But for the most part, they kept their noses clean and were an asset to their family and community.

I came to realize as I thought about heroes that these four men had all the qualities that mattered to me. They embodied courage, humor, hard work and common sense. They respected women and adored children. And all of them were pretty good-looking, too.

I lost the last of my cowboys on July 17, 2009. But I know I will never lose the love that they showed me or the lessons that they taught me. They are and will always be my favorite heroes.