The Creep Factor: Nine Ways to Add Eeriness to Your Story

Ragged clouds scudded across the swollen face of the blood-red moon. The rising wind caused the bare trees branches to clack together like skeletal fingers. It whipped strands of Randi Enderson’s pale blonde hair into her eyes, blurring her vision. Her heart thudded with fear as she called her son’s name. “Kitteridge!”

She spun around at a rustle in the underbrush, and her foot came squarely down on the tail of her neighbor’s black cat, Spectre. At his ear-splitting yowl, her flashlight dropped from her nerveless fingers, bounced hard off the ground and went out. Blackness enveloped her like a heavy cloak.

Lightning split the sky, throwing the trees and brush into an eye-searing bas-relief. Deafening thunder rolled through the countryside, shaking the ground. The first icy drops of rain pelted down. She had to find Kitt before his father arrived. Schulyer would have her in court in a heartbeat if he found his son shivering from wet and cold.

Randi staggered, need driving her. Her steps faltered, and the skin on her arms dimpled and the hair on the back of her neck stood as an impossible sound filled the air. It rose, far too close, long and ululating, a note out of nightmares and fairytales. No dog, no yipping Kansas coyote. Only one animal made that noise, the reverberation of violence, terror and death.

Crimson eyes gleamed in the darkness, as Randi found herself staring into the face of the wolf.

The piece above illustrates nine ways to add eeriness and suspense to a manuscript.

1. It uses the number one devastator of us all: Fear. Randi is afraid for her son. Afraid for his safety and of losing him.
2. It uses a ticking clock. She must find Kitt before his father arrives.
3. It uses a deprivation of the sense we all rely on most: Sight. The darkness and lightning make it hard for Randi to see.
4. It uses a “bus.” Named for the famous bus scene in director Val Lewton’s movie Cat People, it represents a scare that elevates tension, then turns out to be an empty threat. Randi’s stepping on Spectre is a “bus.”
5. It sets a tone with portents. The blood-red moon and the skeletal fingers of the trees let the reader know something untoward is about to happen.
6. It uses weather to add to Randi’s disorientation and discomfort. The thunderstorm with its lighting and rain drives her fear higher.
7. It piles problem after problem onto the character: Loss of sight, stepping on the cat, flashlight going out, lightning, thunder, rain, the thought of her ex-husband’s disapproval, all leading to the final terror of the howl.
8. It’s unpredictable. Small annoyances like stepping on cats and flashlights going out increase tension. No one lives in a vacuum. Everyday problems bug us all.
9. It throws the unexpected at the reader. The Kansas countryside is not a place you would anticipate coming face to face with a wolf.

I hope this post helps show you how to add the “creep factor” to your work. Enjoy this night of horrors and hauntings. I wish you a Happy Hallowe’en!

Writing Through the Tough Times

There comes a time in every writer’s life – and often several times – that the words don’t flow. When the act of writing is almost physically painful. Maybe it’s because of things happening in our lives that make concentration and writing difficult--one of those “tough times”, as in the illness of a family member, the loss of a family member, or the breakup of a family. Or maybe we just temporarily lose the desire to write. There are also countless other reasons in between. Whatever the cause, we become frozen in our writing, unable to proceed or sometimes even care.

Learning to write through these times and find a way to bring back the spark that led us to writing is an individual thing. One method may work for one writer, but won’t work for another. There are times when we may have to try several methods before we stumble upon what works for each of us. Some of us simply give up and patiently wait until an idea strikes and we find sitting at the keyboard pleasurable again.

If you are a published author with a few, several, or many books to your credit, you may not have the luxury of writing only when the muse is kind and the words are flowing. Deadlines will loom at the worst possible times. In these instances, the writer has no choice but to find a way to write.

But even those working toward their first sale should learn to find a way to write when the desire isn’t there. The day may only be a phone call away when, like those who have sold before have learned, there isn’t an option.

Here are a few suggestions gathered from my own experience and others who have shared theirs for different methods to write through the tough times, whatever they may be.

  • Forget about the work in progress (wip) for a day or two. Find something to take your mind off of it. Read a book, watch a movie, go shopping or even window shopping if funds are low. Do anything that will get your mind off your story. If you have a non-writing friend, go to lunch and try not to talk about writing.

  • Brainstorm with other writers, if possible. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a good brainstorming session, even if it’s for someone else’s book! But what if all your writer friends are online and live far away? Try a chat room or instant messaging. A phone call, if possible, is even better.

  • Don't worry about perfect writing. You can do revisions later. Put a mark where your story takes a different turn than you'd planned (MS Word has a little highlighter that I adore for this!) and keep going. Make a note of what you might need to change in previous pages, but don't make those changes now. Unless you're the type of writer who revises as you write or reading over yesterday's writing and "fixing" before going on), don't go back and read through what you've already written. Just keep going and don't look back, at least for now.

  • If you're stuck, play the "what if" game. Let your mind free-write. Can you think of 5 different things that could happen? How about 10? 20? Make a list, then go through and see which ideas are usable. Give those few a thought and try them out.

  • Consider changing POV or staying in the same one instead of changing. Sometimes we're coming to our story from the wrong character.

  • Try interviewing your characters. If you've never done this, it can feel strange at first, but once you get into it, you'll discover a lot of things that may take your story in a new and interesting direction. An interview can be done verbally and with a tape recorder, if you feel comfortable doing it that way. Or it can be done on the computer. Either way, ask/type the question, then answer/type the question from the character. Start with easy questions and slowly dig a little deeper. As you ask and answer more question, you’ll think of even more to ask. You need to be "in the character's head" for this to work best.

  • Write something completely different. Write a letter to a friend about something other than writing. Journal, if it makes you feel better. Or maybe write that murder scene? More internal editors have been vanquished in this way.

Whatever you do, don't quit!! Keep trying different methods until you find one that works for you. You may also find that, although you’ve found a method once, it may not work the next time, and you may have to go through the list more than once. Remember that if you quit, you'll never know if that next submission would have been The One.

In the past almost ten years since I received The Call, I've been through a divorce, moved four times in the first two years, dealt with the loss of my best writing friend's husband (who was also a close friend) and my mother's death a year later. My daughters have blessed me with five grandchildren in the past 8 years, the last having just had open heart surgery at the age of four weeks. The majority of those times I've been on deadlines. I'm living proof it can be done. It also may be the reason for my ditziness. :)

While life changing events are a definite reason to give writing a short rest, be sure not to make it a permanent one. If you're writing on deadline--whether self-imposed or contractual--make a schedule, either with a daily page goal or set chapter goals. If you can get ahead of your schedule, time off can easily be taken. Remember to be kind to yourself. Rest, exercise, and healthy eating can go a long way to help combat the stress, whatever the cause, that keeps you from writing.

EDITING: Making It Your Best Effort

The first draft is finished and for some (not me) the fun begins, editing and revising. Even I, who hates going back through a completed novel, realize that this is a critical step in the writing process. This is the time to find as many character problems, plot mishaps, setting detail omissions, and other flat-out screw ups as you can and fix them before submitting to your agent, editor or publisher. The following are some of the editing tips I’ve learned along the way.

General Editing Tips
· Start the story fast, and then fill in the back story later in order to grab the reader right away.
· Make sure each scene leads logically to sequels.
· Make sure the plot movement builds in intensity until the black moment.
· Avoid dumping large chunks of expository matter to explain the background of characters or situations.
· Avoid forcing too much irrelevant data acquired from research onto the reader.
· Use a basic norm for chapter length through the entire manuscript.

Point of View Editing Tips
· Avoid going into a minor character’s viewpoint.
· Only switch viewpoints when necessary, never more than once or twice in any scene if possible.
· Tell each scene through the viewpoint of the character most directly involved.

Editing Action
· Watch using excessive internalization.
· Actions alone can distance a reader, but characters need to be doing something while they speak.
· Make sure all events happen because of the main character’s actions.
· Make sure characters have adequate motivation for their actions.
· Watch for body parts performing independently of the person’s mind control.
· Do not record every step a character takes, but include only the details the reader cannot infer from reading the text.
· Remember that men and women communicate verbally, but lovers do so in a dozen other ways such as: glances, touches, smiles, gasps and sighs.
· Make sure the characters react and act true to their natures, and that what they experience is believable to the reader.
· Watch being clinical, telling the sex scene by going through a checklist of actions.

Editing Dialogue
· Keep dialogue short and sharp, avoid chit-chat.
· Remember that people cannot smile, shrug, cough or laugh words.
· Delete dialogue that neither describes a character nor advances the plot.

Editing Description
· Appeal to all of the senses whenever possible.
· Develop each scene fully by giving details of changes in time, characters and setting.

Edit Out Weak Words/Phrases
· Absolutely, actually, all, as a matter of fact
· Basically, carefully, certainly, definitely
· Fortunately, generally, hopefully, in fact, in particular
· Mainly, naturally, necessarily, needless to say
· Obviously, of course, particularly, quite, rather, really
· So-called, somewhat, totally, truly
· Unfortunately, very, whatever, whichever

Edit Out Non-descriptive Words/Phrases
· It, itself
· Now, pretty, stuff, this, that, these, thing, those
· A little, began to, I guess, I think, kind of
· Just, only, some, sort of

Edit Out Inert Verbs
· Am are, been, being
· Is, to be, was, were

Edit Overuse Of:
· Profanity, epithets, blasphemy
· Character’s favorite phrase
· Not only…but also
· Using “the” too often in a sentence or paragraph
· Exclamation points
· Beginning sentence and paragraphs with “he” or “she”
· Too many adjectives and adverbs
· To many “he said” and “she saids”
· Repetitive actions like sighing, nodding, and smiling
· Awkward sentence structure
· Too long of sentences
· Prepositional phrase strings
· Too much Italicization


When sitting down to write this blog my brain immediately shut down giving me a perfect case of, ta da, Writer’s Block. Ouch, not a great way to start this thing but oh well, I shall persevere. I decided that maybe my Roget’s Thesaurus might be of help so I looked up the word block, as in hinder. I was amazed at all the different words that I recognized from going through the dark time of the dreaded block.

Here are just a few that any writer who has experienced Writer’s Block should recognize:

Hindrance, obstruction, stoppage, constriction, restriction, restraint, discouragement, opposition, impediment, obstacle, snag, hitch, clog, preventative, lock, barricade, dam up, interrupt, choke, frustrate, baffle, defeat, cripple and dishearten.

When you get into Writer’s Block it can feel like you are suffocating, as if a giant boa constrictor is squeezing the life out of you. Your thoughts are impeded, dammed up within you and you are frustrated, baffled and disheartened over your efforts to break free. The words are obstructed, the opposition within you fierce and if you let it, it can defeat you. But there is also a very simple solution.

The most important word in the writer’s vocabulary is perseverance. Persist, go on, keep on, hold on, maintain your course, endure, and be steady and constant. Develop some backbone, stamina, tenacity and staying power. Stir up your courage, stay the course, walk through the fire and keep going through thick and thin.

In other words, no matter what it feels like, keep writing. Write and re-write and re-write again. Delete, re-do, edit and backspace but never, ever quit. As long as you persevere, keep going, don’t stop or give up you will make it through because the one thing that will kill Writer’s Block, is writing. Don’t worry about if it stinks or not. Don’t let fear have the upper hand, just keep writing. Ignore the voices of doubt that will plague you and keep typing away because eventually the block will dissolve under your assault of words. The dam will break and your words will once again flow freely upon the page.

Never give up and never surrender or as my handy Roget’s says; die in harness.
(Not literally of course!)

Keeping the Peace (Writing with a Family) (Penny Rader)

Juggling writing, family, and possibly an outside job can be enough to make anyone pull her hair out. When I first began writing I had several small children and step-children and I was a stay-at-home mom. When my youngest went to all-day kindergarten I took a job outside the house.

I hope you'll share what works for you. We can all use a little help. Here are a few things that helped me write and take care of my family:

I lived for naptime. (Still do!) Even the kids who were “too big/old for naps” had two hours of quiet time in their rooms after lunch. They could read or sleep. I didn’t care as long as they were quiet. No disturbing me unless they were bleeding or the house was on fire. If I wasn’t dropping from lack of sleep, I used that time to write or pester the library with questions.

My other favorite time of the day was bedtime. 8 pm meant put on jammies and pick up toys. 8:30 was bedtime. This worked for me because I’m a night owl and could write after they went to bed. If you’re a morning person, maybe you can get up an hour or two before everyone else and write then.

When a mom with kids the same age as mine moved in next door, I swapped playtimes with her. When my kids were at her place, I’d write. Boy, did I miss her when she moved. :D

I have a hard time writing “new stuff” while other people are around, so while the kids were playing or studying or watching tv, I’d edit or research.

As the kids grew, the older kids could watch the little ones for an hour or so while I wrote. Again, no disturbing mom unless someone was bleeding or on fire.

If you don’t have older kids, maybe you could hire a teenager or ask grandma to take them for an hour or so. Dad can also take the kids out to wash the car or go to a movie. It’s good for dad and kids to have time together. It always irks me when dads say it's their turn to babysit. Imho, it's their turn to parent.

If you’re able to block out times to write, say 1-3 pm, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, let your friends and family know that is your working time. Do not answer the phone. Do not answer the front door. Post a sign on the front door, if you have to.

Kids can help with housekeeping. They can pick up their toys, fold laundry, make a sandwich, etc. I especially loved it when they were old enough to take a bath by themselves. It's even cooler when they have a driver's license and can go to the grocery store and/or run errands. :D

It's good for your kids to see you work toward a goal. It shows them they can do what they love, too. That they can set goals and achieve them. They might even enjoy working on their own writing project while you work on yours. If you have an extra computer, let them type away. Or maybe you could keep a stash of cool pens and pencils for them to use. They might even be able to help you brainstorm some plot points.

When I took a job outside the house I would go to work early, after the bus picked up the kids, and write in the food court until the supervisor arrived. I would often use my break time to write.

Sometimes it's easier to write somewhere other than home. When I had a day off (and sometimes on the weekends when my dh was available to watch the kids), I'd go to the library and write. Nowadays there are also nifty coffee shops and bookstores with cafes to write in.

I found the following links and I plan to put some of their ideas to use. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, too.

As the Writers Juggle

Balance Your Life

Balancing Writing and Family

Balancing Your Family and Your Writing Career

Finding Time to Write: Striving for Balance

Juggling Hamsters: Tips for the Busy Writer

Juggling Work and Family

Mom Writers community

RLH: Balancing Writing and Family

So, how do you juggle writing and family/work?

The Elusive Conflict—or why can’t they talk it out?

There are many misconceptions about conflict. In our world of writing romance, a classic conflict is considered to be between two people with opposing deep-seated beliefs. The famous character arc is built upon the premise that two people in an impending relationship will change and grow, overcoming their internal beliefs, and cement their relationship at the end as the committed couple we want them to be.

There is a problem with this kind of tunnel thinking.

It leaves out all of the other delicious conflict that flickers between humans.

Delicious conflict?


Where? How? No one sent me the memo! (The frustrated writer cries into her….)

Conflict One

The conflict between men and women is as old as the two sexes. THEY DON’T THINK ALIKE. This bypasses the character arc altogether as it has nothing to do with learned issues. Here’s an example: The relationship is new. The guy wants to hold on to the newness and surround the woman. He is enthralled with the wonder of it. He is thinking on the here and now and maybe the next hour. He’s on short time. The woman asks him if she should book her vacation time to match his—three months away. He looks stunned. She immediately asks him if he thinks the relationship is a one night stand. He looks stunned and says something like no. She wanted reassurance that there is a real relationship building and not merely lust or fun—something more. Women think in long time. At the stunned look on his face, they end up in a tiff with her saying something like ‘I’m fine’. However, the tight jaw and clipped words don’t match. Everyone, including him, knows, she ain’t fine. He’s in trouble and with experience with women, he will conclude that is a trap that women set. She will conclude that men are only looking for one thing. Many promising relationships get shot in the head at this stage. This is conflict and it can last between two people for quite a while. Will it carry the entire book? No. But it can be a crucial element adding depth to a story. Friends and family of the character can weigh in on this one too.

Conflict Two

Family. Everyone has some. Some have a lot. A soldier has his buddies. Those are family too. Their needs, wants, desires, and unwelcome interference—sometimes by their mere presence or absence can cause conflict. Babies in books are a popular theme. They too cause conflict. Whose baby is it? When was it made? Is the other person going to cause difficulty? How about a loving interfering mother or as in some popular books, the grandparents causing our character’s grief? Suppose a dad won’t let a daughter become part of the family business—like chasing bail jumpers. She decides to start her own firm. Conflict with family can be loving, annoying, judgmental, violent, or even cold. None of which changes a character’s internal belief, necessarily, but adds dimension and color to a story.

Conflict Three

Money. Everyone has some. Some have much. Some have little. However, the attitudes surrounding money can add conflict. For example, maybe our hero/heroine has been taught all their life to attain a certain position in the family firm. Deviation from the plan means there is no money. Conflict comes as the characters try to figure out how to keep, hold, make, steal, give, or burn money. Money comes in many forms—cash, bonds, stocks, land, machinery, etc. This too has nothing necessarily to do with internal story arcing.

Conflict Four

Job. Everyone has a position in this world. Whether it pays a salary or like a herdsman grows his flock, a job is what a person does. Even volunteering, although payless, is a job. People not only have opinions about those, but also have to do them. Doing isn’t necessarily a part of the character arc, but it offers problems in delivery. A cattleman cannot leave during a snowstorm to attend something. As soon as possible he has to hunt his herd down. Finding all of them, feed and water them, as well as bring them home. It doesn’t matter how he feels about his job. He has to do it. Jobs conflict with people all the time.

Conflict Five

The villain. No character arc there. The villain gets to do or think what he likes to mess up the plans of others.

Conflict Six

Nature. Forest fire. Snow storm. Flood. Desert. Rock falls. Sunburn. Boat sinking. No amount of character arcing is going to affect these little babies one iota. Don’t think this is conflict? How the characters fight and overcome these obstacles is the nature of these conflicts—same as overcoming other issues.

Conflict Seven

Animals. You could consider them nature I guess, but a snake or spider in the right place seems different. Horse stompings, pigs running amok, attack dogs, spitting lamas, you name it, things can be quite a mess. Then there is the dog shelter where twelve dogs need attention. New kittens are found in a guy’s back seat when he left the window down on his corvette overnight. Baby skunks under the house. You haven’t see conflict until you’ve tried to wash honey off a cat in a shower. They can climb tile. Been there, got the scars to prove it.

Conflict Eight

Paperwork. The world runs on records. Suppose your character isn’t who the records say they are. That is another hurtle to face. Suppose the records say your character is two people?

Conflict Nine

Clothes. Tell me you haven’t heard about how she doesn’t think he owns anything without a hole in it. Tell me you haven’t heard about how he thinks that she shouldn’t dress in such see-through blouses now that she’s dating him. Yet clothes and how we feel about them is so basic this one is often overlooked.

Ok, I’m stopping here. There are conflicts all around us. Keep your eyes and ears open. Some of you will think these are plot devices. Conflict is conflict. None of these issues are going to be solved just because the hero and heroine sit down to talk about it. These conflicts aren’t going to go away just because a character took a growth spurt in his character arc. They aren’t large, but can be emotional. Some of these conflicts and how the characters react to them are strong enough to carry a story. Others can be small enough to add flavor or variety to stories, adding interest to those sagging middle pages.

My personal opinion is that there is no such thing as a character arc. Did I hear gasps? I think people do not grow and change. I believe that whatever is in a character or person is there all along and circumstances come along to reveal the hidden parts of a character. These hidden parts are usually hidden from the character. We never know, until we are tested, what is in us. This opinion is not the current norm in writing romances.

More on conflict can be found at Wikipedia.

You might like to use this little fun thing to discover your own or your character’s conflict style.

Happy conflicting.


Lucky is Good.

I was watching Stargate SG 1, my all time favorite show, when something one of the characters said really struck a cord with me. The handsome young hero had engaged in deadly combat and survived.

Let me paraphrase here.

“He is good,” said the old warrior
“No, he is lucky,” snarled the loser.
The hero smiled and said, “Lucky is good.”

Lucky is good. How true, I wanted to shout.

I have always believed that I’m a lucky person. In my life, I have cheated death at least four times. That certainly qualifies me as lucky. On the other hand, facing my possible death four times before I’m 57 years old could make me unlucky. Which is it?

Is the glass half empty or half full? Great question. I see the glass half full. Every time.

Does someone get published because they were good or because they were lucky? Ask yourself—are you lucky or are you good? You may not think of yourself as either, but I believe you should.

The national organization, Romance Writers of America reports that a first time published author (of full length novels) has been writing an average of four years and has an average of four manuscripts completed before she sold.


I can tell you one thing about writing four manuscripts. Your craft improves a lot between 1 and 4. It took me eight years to get four manuscripts done. I was nearing the end of that fourth book when I sold. Gee, I wish I’d written those four books faster. Oh, well, with my hectic life back then I was lucky to get that much done.

Lucky or good? If you ask me, the writer who believes in her heart that she is LUCKY and GOOD is the one who will find her book for sale at Barns and Noble. No matter how long that journey takes.

So make your own luck. Get good. Get busy. Write a book, then write another, and another, and another. It does no good to write them and not send them out. No one buys a book that is still only a file in your computer. Swallow every painful rejection and use it to fuel your determination. Write more, send it out again. With a lot of hard work, you may discover that you are both good and lucky, too.


Dialogue - Sets the Pace

Dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters. What brings that story to life is the character. And what brings the characters to life is dialogue. Without both you have just a bunch of rambling words on a page. Dialogue must serve a purpose. Your story should advance the story and develop character. Dialogue reveals a powerful gift. It is as simple as listening to others around you. Be aware of your surroundings. Look for over use of words.

Does your dialogue flow? When your characters talk, does it seem comfortable, easy reading?

Weave dialogue within the story. Writers have a tendency to say everything all at once. This takes away the excitement and the reader will lose interest quickly. Action helps to break up dialogue. Characters should be believable. In their speech and their actions. They should spring forth from the page. Their tone of voice, the dialect and their occupation will shine a light on their genre. Each character will develop his/ her identity. Know the market your story will be targeting for. Be sure your choice of words, such as profanity, slang or stereotype fit your story.

Summarize Dialogue in many ways:

*Use plot and conflict to further dialogue along.
*Build suspense if the story needs it.
*Well-developed scenes.
*Establish the time period.
*And very important, have well-developed characters, as life like as they possibly can be.

What I try to do when I travel is watch other people. Take notes of everything around me. Watch lots of movies and TV programs. I listen to lyrics and above all continue to learn the craft of successful writing.

I hope to hear from each one of you. Share with me how you create good dialogue.


A Writer's Office

Some people say “home is where the heart is.” With a writer, it can be said that your office is where you are.” Actually, a writer can work in several kinds of offices and many of us do that. In the “ideal” world, the writer might have one specified office in their home or in an office building where they do all of their work. They completely separate their writing life from any other aspects of their life. This is where everything related to their work is located. Items here might include their research materials, reference books, file cabinets, desk and chair, computer system and monitor(s), printer, assorted supplies, and back-up disks.

If a writer is lucky she may have a designated room in her home that she can call her own. More likely she shares that room with other members of her family. You can be creative about claiming part of such a space into “your” writing area. I have such a room in my house, at one end of our long living room. I’ve managed to separate my writing space off by adding a room divider to hide my desk and some of my bookcases. I chose a divider that has places for photographs on one side, which I’ve filled with family photos. It blends in nicely with the rest of the room and is really a conversation piece, too. Someday, when I have spare time, I plan to add a way to hang writing-related photos on the side facing the writing space. Such things as character photos, pictures or brochures of settings, maps of the ranch layout I’m using or of the general area, etc.

Some of us also have what I call “mobile” offices as well. My mobile office includes having several different bags to carry my laptop within, each for varying amounts of mobile need. When I want to sit for a while in a coffee shop, on a bench in the park, or in some other public place, I use a simple, slim bag to carry no more than my laptop, flash drive back-up, and maybe the electrical cord to work a little longer.

I have a medium-sized bag that carries a file of research material, a pad of paper and a couple of pens as well as my laptop, back-up drive, and cord. This is for a little longer stay in a coffee shop part of a bookstore or other such place to sit comfortably for a while.

When I’m travelling, I use a larger bag on wheels to hold the laptop, back-up disks, cords, files of reference materials for the project to be worked on, and anything else fairly small to take on the trip. Since I fly a lot I really like having the bag on wheels. Laptops, no matter how small, get heavy when you’re trying to race between terminals in an airport. But I also don’t want a bag that is more than twelve inches deep. I have long legs and seat space is limited in coach. I prefer to put my bag in the overhead and not where my feet need to go. Bags with more depth than twelve inches can be a real pain to cram into the overhead space, particularly on the smaller planes.

Several of my writing friends are now using those smaller, lightweight netbooks as another kind of mobile office. These are a good secondary computer for people on the go, or for a writer not needing to work for hours on a writing project. They were mainly designed for quick, easy connections to e-mail, for web browsing and for lightweight computing. They are small and easy to put in a bigger purse, have a long battery life of between 8 and 10.5 hours, and they have several USB ports for backing up work to download on a bigger computer later. Most netbooks come preloaded with Windows XP and some with a trial version of Microsoft Office Home.

The point is that a writer can have many choices of an office and may use more than one type. We are creative people, including with our work space.


A lecture voice speaks into your earphones as you tour the museum:

“Language developed because we have a need for information to be passed from one group or person to another. As the years passed, some mother said, ‘Leave me a note if you’re going rabbit hunting while I’m at the stream, bathing your sister.’ She handed young Spikker a rock shaped like a rabbit and showed him where to leave it.”

A light comes on over a rabbit-shaped rock. In the background a primitive family is painted living in the ancient wilderness by a streambed.

Suddenly you wonder what it would be like never to receive any communication from another person in your life. Not written, not spoken, not texted, not phoned, not even from a television set or movie. It is uniquely human, the ability to pass information on from a person who is absent to a person who is present.

This communication can be almost instant, as in texting, or can span thousands of years, as in hieroglyphics.

Over the sands of time, distant communicators have had to attempt to make their communication more clear to their readers. The rabbit rock only worked for the one pair of communicators and did not work so well for leaving a note telling mom, he was going swimming. Punctuation was developed. In hieroglyphics, it is the border drawn around groups of symbols. In our modern written language, it is periods, commas, and all the other symbols that we use to express our intentions. The exact placement of these symbols is important for their exact positioning may change the meaning dramatically.

Here are two examples each using the same words, two commas, and one period:

1. Woman, without her man, is lost.

2. Woman, without her, man is lost.

Another example became the title to a book on punctuation. This is how I remember it:

The wild panda eats shoots and leaves. We learn that commas set apart items in sentences. Many of us would punctuate the sentence to read; The wild panda eats, shoots, and leaves. This sentence would make the meaning change vividly. No one wants shot at by a panda.

Television and actors, news reporting, and even the teleprompter used by speakers to deliver speeches, use the language of writing. Our current president is adept with teleprompter use, which makes the speech he delivers an act of communication between other times, yet delivered in person. This is a unique type of written communication where the recipient of the message does not see the ‘paper’. Punctuation is very important there too, for a missing punctuation symbol or one mis-used can have global consequences as message is read aloud.

Luckily, for we writers of fiction, punctuation is important but no one is likely to lose their life over it. However, the feeling the author is trying to convey can be missed, sludged, and cause enough confusion that even a good reader gives up. Punctuation conveys mood and emotions and is an essential building block of the writing craft—like wall studs in a house. You have nothing without them and you don’t have much if they don’t do their job.

Here are a couple of books that are useful references. They are small and easily read:

Strunk and White The Elements of Style

Essentials of English

Don't Just Lay There

I received the best advice I ever got about sex during a late night drag up Douglas Avenue when I was in high school. A young man in his twenties told a car full of eager teenage girls, “When a man is making love to you, don’t just lay there.”

That suggestion to be an active participant has stood me in good stead in both my love life and my writing. Passive voice, using was, were or other forms of the verb to be, followed by a past participle (normally an –ed ending) is a habit a lot of writers follow.

I had years of writing experience under my belt when I sold the short story “A Time to Die” to The Magazine of Unbelievable Stories. The piece was too long. I had to cut 800 words from the story. To my abject and utter surprise, I discovered that I shortened the story by 400 words just by going through and removing passive voice writing.

The website for the University of Wisconsin states “At the heart of every good sentence is a strong, precise verb; the converse is true as well--at the core of most confusing, awkward, or wordy sentences lies a weak verb. Try to use the active voice whenever possible.”

In active voice the subject of the sentence does the action. In passive voice the subject of the sentence receives the action. An example is:

Active voice: The dog bit the man.
Passive voice: The man was bitten by the dog.

Check your writing for passive voice and use the following suggestions to change the sentence to active voice.

Look for a "by" phrase (e.g., "by the dog" in the last example above). If you find one, the sentence may be in the passive voice. Rewrite the sentence so that the subject buried in the "by" clause is closer to the beginning of the sentence.

If the subject of the sentence is somewhat anonymous, see if you can use a general term, such as "researchers," or "the study," or "experts in this field."

Strong active writing will catch the attention of an editor. It also reduces your word count for a more accurate word and page count. A word to the wise, use of the verb to be is not always undesirable. Neither is passive voice. However those topics are the subject of another blog.

Carving out Time to Write

No matter what the stage of your writing career; no matter in what stage of life you are, finding time to write is difficult. I started writing when my children were three, five, and seven. Finding time meant 10 PM to 3 AM. I thought once they went to high school I’d have more time. Then it was when they left for college. They long ago established their own lives and I still have trouble carving out writing time. Now it’s my mother instead of my children. It’s health problems instead of different sports every night of the week. Life changes every day but the one constant is lack of time. Sometimes it’s like the graphic I’ve used to illustrate this post: Chisel five minute here, chisel fifteen minutes there. So what is a writer to do?

I offer a couple of basics that experience and research have corroborated for me.
1. Set your writing time at the top of the list of things to do. If it’s not important to you, it won’t get done. There will always be the lure of something else that needs done. Writing has to take precedence.

Does that mean you must do it first in your day to make sure it gets done? Not necessarily. You and your experience will answer that one. I suggest you follow your natural body rhythm. An early riser? Get up earlier than usual and write. A night owl? Carve your writing block there. Everyone’s day is different. Only you can know where best to take the time to write.

2. Organize your day so there is time. This is never easy. I seldom followed my written (who has time to write a plan you ask!) schedules exactly. Some days I wondered why I had ever bothered to think I could organize time with three kids in different school, teaching full time, wife, mother, chauffeur, etc. Murphy’s Law (What can go wrong, will) seemed to rule. But I found over the long haul that having a schedule and discipline helped. Sometimes we have to use tough love on ourselves. Email, blogs, Facebook and Twitter are all time gobblers. Set up boundaries for their use even if that means setting a timer. Also limit how many games of solitaire or spider solitaire or Free cell you play or if you play at all until page(s) are written. Tough love indeed when applied to ourselves but it will help carve out more writing time.

Writing success is 90% persistence. BITHOK—Butt in chair; Hands on keyboard. I make time for what is important to me. REALLY important. Family vies for time, the house vies for it, work gulps time, and all of these are important. But writing is a part of you. A part that demands expression and makes you whole.

Here are a few sites with some interesting perspectives on carving out writing time.

Please share with us the “tricks” you use to ferret out writing time in your day. Maybe one of them will help us “carve out” more writing time than we now do!


No, this not a self-help blog for big-chested writers. So you ask, what in the world could one thing have to do with the other? Consider dividing your manuscript into thirds. Top (beginning) Middle (duh) Bottom (ending). If you’ve got too much information or backstory dump in the beginning then your novel will be top heavy. Admit it, would you have been as curious about this blog if the title had been Backstory Dumps and Beginning Heavy Writers. I think not.

Backstory is everything that has happened to your major players from birth. Whoa. If you’re thinking that’s a lot of stuff. You’d be right. These are the incidents, accidents and important events that have happened to your characters. These are the things that have shaped their world views not to mention their expectations of the people around them. Quite simply, these are the things that have made them who they are. It provides their motivation or reasoning as to why they act and react the way they do.

Do we need backstory? Absolutely. But, we do not need to know that the reason Hero-To-Die-For doesn’t date is because he was stood up for the prom on the same night that his mother left his father and his big brother ran off with the lady who runs the dry cleaners. Or that Heroine Extraordinaire has commitment issues because she was left standing at the altar because her finance decided he was gay and wanted to spend the rest of his life in Memphis with his tabby cat named Elvis and a struggling piano player who just so happens to be losing his hair. These events can be included later, but only eluded to at the beginning.

For example, this latest manuscript I’m working on had the heroine being fired from her dream job in the first chapter and then her leaving town in the second chapter where she gets arrested. I wrote it, liked it and then decided to scrap it for a stronger more exciting beginning where she gets arrested right off the bat. Her internal thoughts hint at her woes, but that’s it. A brief mention on page 3—for now. I will, of course, go back and fill the reader in on the details later on, but for now, I hope it leaves the reader wondering what happened to place her in the bank parking lot, in a borrowed Lexus, with a bottle of wine and a loaded gun resting on her chest.

Make no mistake that in order to write believable characters you have to know their backstory top to bottom and from the inside out. You just don’t need to squeeze it all in the first chapter. Spread out the good stuff. Keep your readers wondering why and they’ll keep reading to find out.


How many hours a day do writers write?

Great question. The answer, of course, is that it's as varied as the men and women who call themselves writers.

To gather some information about this question, I went though old interviews with some well-known names. Here are their answers to the same kind of question.

Nora Roberts : I sit in front of the keyboard all day. On a perfect day, I get up and maybe work out for about 40 minutes or so – because I’m on my butt the rest of the day. I usually go up to my office by 9:00 and work for about 6 – 8 hours. And I write…check email…write some more. After dinner, I either call it a day or go back to work for a while.

Janet Evanovich : I'm always working! I usually write seven days a week for a minimum of four hours a day -- sometimes I'm at the computer from five in the morning until ten at night, eating Cheez Doodles, drinking Coke, wishing I was someone else… Nora Roberts, maybe.

Debbie Macomber: I'm an early riser, so I'm usually up by 4 a.m. (That, my friends, isn't a misprint!) I spend the first hour and a half of my day reading my Bible and devotionals and then writing in my journal. After that I'm off to the local high school pool to swim a half mile, and then home to shower and get ready for work. I'm usually at my office before 8 a.m. My office is in a lovely Victorian-style building in Port Orchard, about five miles from my home. My suite of offices includes three desks and a small kitchen/conference room downstairs and a turret upstairs. It is in the turret that I have my working desk. I employ two full-time and one part-time staff members, in addition to a personal publicist. By 9 or 10 I'm usually at my computer, working on my current novel.

Okay, I used to want to be a writer like our Starla when I grew up. She has awesome page production. However, I now want to be Debbie Macomber

In searching through numerous other interviews with famous and not quite so famous authors I found the average daily writing hours are 3 to 4 hours a day. Remember, most authors have other jobs besides writing.

I average 4 hours a day, four to five days a week. I like to write from 10pm to 2am.

How many hours do you write?
This month we'll be mixing it up a little with two topics, THE WRITER'S LIFE and BEGINNER'S MISTAKES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM.

Ever wonder how published authors manage to write a book in only a few months?

Writing with a family and all the time and emotional demands they have can cause havoc in a writer's life, but there are ways to do it!

What mistakes do new writers make the most?

We'll be blogging about those things and more this month!

Also, we've added a poll and will change the questions every few weeks or whenever the mood strikes, so check it out and let us know what you think.