Monday, December 23, 2013

Back in January 2014 - and some upcoming courses

No, I haven't abandoned this blog. I've been finishing up two novels and a screenplay, and developing several new courses.

How to Write Fast ( )
Dates: January 6 – January 31, 2014

Crank up the efficiency and get that novel, short story, article or script DONE. Through exercises, evaluations, tips and technologies, you can learn to write faster. Discover how to break through blocks, get ideas, develop plots, draft and polish in less time without losing quality.

Endings That Buzz ( )
Dates: February 3 – 16
Answering the story question with clarity, emotion, and power ( )
Endings are your last chance to make a good impression. A great ending can close the sale with an editor, satisfy a reader, and get people talking   

Learn the four essentials of a strong ending. Find out how to reach "The End" and what to do if you paint yourself into a corner. Test your finale and discover how to finish your story in a way that will resonate with readers.

This class will be interactive as students bring questions and will work with the instructor and peers to find, enhance, and polish endings. We will also work backward, developing engaging endings and working through the essentials of building the stories they deserve.

How to Write Fast Again (
Dates: March 3–28, 2014

Write Flash Fiction!  (

January 6–February 24
Don't have time to write a novel?  Well, fewer people have time to read one.  That's why flash fiction is hot, with over 300 paying markets looking for well-formed stories of 1000 words or less. Learn how to write, market and sell these tiny tales.

Keynotes, Presentations, and Talks: Constructing a Speech that Delivers!
January 18
Speeches generate excitement, opportunities, and even affection. They can help you find new audiences and build your career. Many of the ingredients – storytelling, humor, understanding your audience, and pacing – are the same as fiction writing, but they need to come together in a different way.

This session will cover the purpose of speeches (for you, your host, and your audience) and the options you have for structure. Students will learn what they need to know about the audience, the essentials of logistics, the effective use of audiovisuals, dos and don’ts, and the most effective elements to open and close the speech successfully. The workshop will include forms that will help students prepare for their speaking opportunities. In addition, the instructor will draw on his own experiences and elicit those of students to develop a personalized set of tips for attendees.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why Write Flash Fiction?

My thoughts on the benefits of writing flash fiction (stories of 1,000 words or fewer) are posted over on Savvy Authors

Monday, October 21, 2013

More thoughts on the "prep sentence"

I've long advocated writing a sentence about what you intend to achieve the next day as a way to catapult yourself into productive writing. For revision, this is straightforward. Something like "review next three scenes for conflict/emotion" works. But composition requires a sentence that provides guidance on what to write. The sentence has to be strong enough to engage your imagination so you subconscious works overnight.

While teaching this week, I got pushed by a student to say more. I pulled a paragraph from a previous HTWF post:

The origin of my one-sentence prep is nineteenth century novels.  I talked about this in a different context on my How To Write Fast Blog:

Make sure something happens - Sounds simple, right? For scenes with little dialogue, this tends to occur naturally, but it is amazing how often dialogue does not move a story forward. And this is especially true if your characters are clever and charming. I do two things as a test. First, I title the scene. This forces me to think about it holistically as opposed to as a series of exchanges. Next, I add a subtitle that begins, "In which..." Anyone who has read a lot of older novels is familiar with these subtitles. "In which our heroine Beatrice steals Alexandra's locket." Beware of subtitles where a character "finds out" something or "insults" another character. Ask what finding out leads to. If she finds out her best friend has betrayed her, is she forced to flee Coventry? Ask about the results of that insult. Does Harold challenge Christopher to a duel at dawn?

Then I added this:

So... your sentence indicates something happens. Yes, active verbs are a must. A sense of conflict can be helpful. Mostly, I look for a sentence I respond to viscerally. Even better, I like a sentence that piques an emotion and makes me want to get writing right away. (That doesn't always happen.)

When I'm really stuck, I make the sentence the answer to a question like one of these:

- What has to happen
- Who am I leaving out
- What's the worst thing that can happen?
- What's my villain's next move?
- How will he/she break his/her heart?

On bad days, I may need to write 3-4 answers before it's time to give up.

I hope this helps.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Eight Tips for Bigger Stories (and Upcoming Online Courses)

I prepared this handout for a Bigger Stories presentation at Fiction Fest. Now I'm sharing it with you.

Tips for Bigger Stories
By Peter Andrews
1)   Hook yourself first - Make sure you react viscerally to the concept. If you don’t need to write it, I don’t need to read it.           
2)   Push your premise – Don’t be satisfied with the first idea that catches your attention. Poke at it. Raise the stakes. Test different settings. Find the character who will change the most.
3)   Listen to your characters – They may be willing to go further than you are. And they probably offer a distinct point of view at no charge.
4)   Escalate – Raise the stakes. Increase jeopardy. Torture your protagonist.
5)   Read your work aloud – Readers want fresh, authentic voices. Reading out loud makes it easier to see if it sounds like you or someone you think you should be.
6)   Answer the story question – An ending is disappointing if you can’t tell if the protagonist succeeded. Oh, and make sure it is clear, one way or the other. Make it pay off.
7)   Make it emotional throughout – Otherwise, write nonfiction.
8)   Be courageous – Find what scares you and do it anyway.  Don’t worry about being nice or reasonable. Don’t worry what your mom will think when she reads it.
"Go big or go home." – Max Adams
"A writer is someone who has taught their mind to misbehave." -Oscar Wilde
How to Write Fast workshops
Lowcountry RWA 3/3/14-3/27/14
Black Diamond 11/4/13-11/17/13
Yosemite 1/6/14-1/31/14

Applications and Tools for Writers
Savvy Authors 11/18/13-11/24/13
Write Flash Fiction!
Savvy Authors 12/2/13-12/22/13
Bigger Stories
Lowcountry RWA 5/5/14-5/30/14

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Key to Writing Fast: Show Early and Often - Guest Post by Hillary Rettig

It is my pleasure to welcome a guest post by Hillary Rettig. Hillary is the author of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block. Hillary has taught writing and work productivity at Grub Street Writers, The Mark Twain House and Museum,,, and many other venues. For more information on Hillary and her work, visit

There are lots of techniques that will help you boost your writing tempo, but one of the best is probably to show your work early and often:
  • Show drafts.
  • Show chunks (paragraphs and pages).
  • And even show individual sentences and clauses. ("Hey, what do you think of this metaphor..." Or, "Super proud of this one...")
Show them to: critique buddies, workshoppers, editors, sympathetic friends and family members who get what you're doing and support it, and your social media lists.

The reason "showing" is such a powerful productivity enhancer is because writers with perfectionist tendencies tend to be terrified of having their work seen and judged, and so they create a "wall" between themselves and potential readers. They hide behind that wall, endlessly writing and revising, but never finishing or submitting or publishing--and sometimes they don't even write at all, since not-writing is an even more effective strategy than not-finishing for remaining unseen and unjudged.

And the more these writers hide, the taller and stronger the wall gets, until the idea of publishing seems truly terrifying and insurmountable.

In contrast, showing early and often helps "soften" and eventually eliminate the wall. And that tends to speed up the entire writing process, from conceptualization and drafting through to revising, submitting, and publishing. (The core reason this technique works, by the way, is that it helps you heal from any shame and ambivalence you have around your work.)

And this is all, of course, congruent with 21st century marketing via social media. We're long past the days when writers sequestered their work until it was fully polished and edited. These days, readers want to share your process via social media, and maybe even be included in it.

So, show your work early and often. Just be careful whom you show it to, however, because you don't need callous or clueless feedback. (Maybe no social media at first, until you get more resilient.) And extra points for telling your "showees" what response you want: e.g., "I know this is a draft so I don't want detailed feedback on grammar and syntax. But let me know if the general idea works for you." Or, "I really dig this metaphor I came up with!!! Just wanted to share it with you; no reply needed."

Eventually, you'll probably come to enjoy showing, and the resulting ongoing dialog with your community--and you'll probably also write faster than you ever dreamed possible.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fast-Tracking Memoirs - Four things to avoid

About every two weeks, I write a new Adventures in High School (AIHS) post for Blame it on the Muse. (The fourth, Odd Odyssey, went public today.) A blog entry every other week isn't much of a burden in itself, but it does add to my load and I mean to be efficient. I've already come to some conclusions on what not to do.
  1. Don't work from an outline. I tried this, and I found myself fretting about how little I had to say and the things I couldn't remember. What I discovered is that the act of re-envisioning moments from high school filled in details and provided answers I couldn't imagine in the abstract.
  2. Don't be clinical. Memoirs may have many qualities, but, above all, they must be emotional. My chief guide to exploring a memory is not the shape of the story or its completeness or the lesson learned. It's my visceral reaction.
  3. Don't pause. Memoirs have the quality of stories told aloud. Even more than for other works, it is essential to keep moving forward in the telling of the tale. In fact, I've found dictating (using Dragon Dictate) helps me to catch the nuances of the best anecdotes.
  4. Don't worry about the facts. Searching for names, exact addresses, and other details is a distraction (and often a sly way to dodge an unpleasant or embarrassing bits of the story). Take care of these later on. Or even ignore them. This isn't journalism. And, if you really name names, you might make enemies. Feel free to bend, embroider, exaggerate, and lie.
These are pitfalls to avoid so you can gain productivity, but there are some steps you should take, too. Edit the piece down to the essentials. The temptation is to tell the whole story. Almost always, this means beginning too soon, throwing in less interesting explanations and digressions, and carrying on well after the natural ending. Memoirs are not documents of record.

Memoirs are perspectives. They have a point, which might not be obvious before the draft is completed (and which may necessitate a lot of rewriting so it is clearly and elegantly included).

I think a good memoir also is a nod to why the experience matters in retrospect. Presumably, the writer knows more now, and that should be part of what is between the lines. For instance, in my AIHS posts, the actual experiences often included pain, discomfort, and distress. If these moments had been captured immediately, they would have come off as whines or lamentation. Today, they're just funny.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Creating a "Call to Action"

This is an accidental post, written in response to an email from one of my How To Write Fast students:

Hi, Mary
You might check out this TED talk, though it is for a strategic call to action. 

And I found this not-too-bad page on outlining speeches.

The simplest call to action is one where the speaker/author has power and the action is already specific and measurable. The only real requirement then is absolute clarity (like a process diagram), with specifics on roles, timings, and what constitutes a satisfactory deliverable.

Things get trickier when the exact actions are less specific and when the accountability is lower. In these cases, the call to action speech or document must be increasingly persuasive. This may be the hardest sort of nonfiction writing, but here's what I keep in mind:

Know the audience and write the first draft to a specific person (the one person you would most want to have act), if possible.

Knowing the audience means using the right vocabulary, knowing what is appealing and interesting to that person, knowing what is already in that person's head about the subject, knowing what the points of resistance are, and knowing what will make it personal. You also need to know how that person is engaged and persuaded - logic, stories, images, whatever.

Know how tough a sell this is. How difficult action will be. How much resistance, hostility, and skepticism is out there.

The opening needs to grab attention and create a mood. It needs to put people into the right emotional space and make distractions and vagrant thoughts disappear.

The person needs to see how this is in their interest. It needs to touch on the right levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Stories, visions, evidence, and logical arguments may be used. Examples, including recognizing people in the audience specifically, may be helpful. Calling upon experts or getting testimonials can help, too. Questions and answers can be used at the end or within. Call and response is another technique.

Always make the benefits of success clear. Anything from a few extra bucks to the promised land.

What people often miss, especially execs, is the need to show support. This goes beyond "I'm behind you 100%." Tools, places to go for help, deferring other work, mentors, and more should be part of the talk (or included in a ready reference) because no one who thinks they are incapable of taking the action will make a real effort.

And it is best to have the motivation be intrinsic and positive. Otherwise, there is the danger of people gaming the system or even of malicious compliance.

The ending of the communication especially must be rousing, with reminders of what went before to make the case and the call to action stated clearly. In some cases, it may be important to have people publicly commit themselves to action at the end.

Overall, you need to keep that person's attention, keep the messages clear, involve the head as well as the heart, and make in memorable. To act, a person must understand what must be done (including the deadline and level of quality), be committed emotionally to doing it, have the necessary time, tools, and capabilities.

Does this help?


Friday, August 16, 2013

The Challenges of Writing a Trilogy - PJ Sharon Guest Post

I'm delighted to welcome YA author PJ Sharon today. PJ graciously was interviewed in a past post. She is author of several award winning independently published, contemporary young adult novels, including HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, ON THIN ICE, and SAVAGE CINDERELLA, winner of the 2013 HOLT Medallion Award for outstanding literary fiction. She is excitedly working on The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, a YA Dystopian trilogy. WANING MOON, Book One, was a finalist in the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Awards for the YA Category. Book Two, WESTERN DESERT released in June of 2013.

Writing romantic fiction for the past eight years and following her destiny to write romantic and hopeful stories for teens, PJ is a member of Romance Writers of America, CTRWA, and YARWA. She is mother to two grown sons and lives with her husband in the Berkshire Hills of Western MA.

Hey Peter, thanks for having me here today. It’s always a pleasure hanging out with you. For your readers, I decided to talk about the challenges of writing a trilogy. Specifically, the demands of getting each book out within a reasonable time frame. I’ll preface the post by saying that I am a relatively slow typist. I still have to look at the keys and never learned proper typing technique—a huge handicap and one I have not pushed myself to overcome and learn. Stubbornness is a double-edged sword, my friend!
As a “recovering pantster,” I had to decide up front that if I was writing a trilogy, I was going to keep a series bible and plot out each book ahead of time. A series bible is where you keep all your details straight about facts, family trees, character traits (descriptions), and technical/research data. I knew I needed to do all of my character grids and story arcs for my main protagonists, and plan out my production schedule. The industry standard these days is two books a year or one every nine months. With Indies, I have more freedom to set my schedule, but industry standard is more like three, or even four stories per year. Occasional short stories or novellas are almost expected between releases. It’s gotten very competitive out there and the more product you have on the market, the better you’ll fare in terms of discoverability and sales—as long as you can continue to create quality material. 
Now, in that, there can be no compromise for me. Quantity, in my opinion, is never worth risking quality. With all that said, I figured I could do a book every nine months. If I can grow an actual human being in that amount of time, I can certainly write a book.
I’ve found my limit—the hard way. But I’m happy with that pace and, if I’m not, I can change it. But to try to force more of myself makes the job, a job, and sucks the joy out of my writing. I treat my writing as a business, but I also treat it as an art and a passion, respecting the creative drive.
This is what I did. It’s a broad picture of my production schedule:
Between September of 2011 and March of 2012, I published three back to back releases every three months (Contemporary YA novels that I had already written and had tried to sell to traditional publishers).  While marketing and promoting those three books, I began writing WANING MOON in January of 2012. I published it later that year in September of 2012. That gave me two books in 2011 and two in 2012.
WESTERN DESERT took me nine months as well. I worked on it from September, 2012 to June of 2013. If I stay on schedule with the third book, it will be out next spring around March, 2014. That means only one book out in 2013…unless…stay tuned! The best part of being Indie published is that nothing is set in stone. If I need flexibility, I have no one looking over my shoulder but me, and I try not to do that. Our necks are stiff enough already, right?
I further break down my production schedule per book. I figure out a reasonable weekly page/word count which gives me some flexibility in taking a day off now and then. I know that I should be able to write a first draft in three months if I write 5-7,000 words per week. It takes me three months for revisions with back and forth edits from editors and beta readers. Then it takes me at least another month or two of what I call the 3P’s—polish, prep, and promo. The nine months is doable for me to create a quality work of YA fiction of about 70-90,000 words (WESTERN DESERT is my longest by far at 90,780 words). Publishing requires planning and discipline, but I like the work. 

Here’s where the art takes over and my yin energy prevails. I am compelled, for both artistic reasons and business reasons, to finish a contemporary YA romance I started last year, before I move on and write the third book in the trilogy. Oddly, I’ve had real trouble finding a name for Book Three, and I normally have no trouble naming my babies. This one just isn’t coming to me. That should have been a sign to me that I needed to take a step back.
To be honest, it feels great to take a break from the trilogy. I have learned as a writer to follow my gut and write what’s working if I want to be productive. But if I’m not inspired to write, the words will always feel like work. I was a bit fatigued after producing the first and second books in the trilogy and I needed a creative shot in the arm. The story I’m working on is doing that for me (by the time this post goes live, I’ll have written a whopping 20,000 words or so this month), so I’m going to allow the muse to take the lead. After all, I am the boss and I’m having fun! And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Contact Information for PJ Sharon
Follow PJ on Twitter: @pjsharon
“Like” PJ on Facebook:
Find PJ on Amazon’s Author Central page:
Follow PJ’s Tuesday Scribes blog @
Follow PJ on Pinterest @

Friday, August 2, 2013

Every Other Friday - Laura Bickle

Laura Bickle’s professional background is in criminal justice and library science, and when she’s not patrolling the stacks at the public library she’s dreaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs. (She also writes contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams.) Laura lives in Ohio with her husband and six mostly-reformed feral cats. THE HALLOWED ONES is her first young adult novel. The latest updates on her work are available at

Tell me about THE HALLOWED ONES. 

My newest release is THE HALLOWED ONES, a YA thriller. Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the outside world. But the outside world comes to her when a helicopter falls out of the sky near her house. Katie must confront not only a massive disaster unfolding in the world outside her community, but also the threat of darkness in her own increasingly fragile society.

What drove you to write THE HALLOWED ONES? 
I live not too far from a large Amish settlement. When I was a child, my parents would take me to visit, and I was fascinated by a world very different than the one I lived in. I’d see Amish girls my age over the fence and wonder what their lives were like. So, you could say it’s been simmering for a while.

Some of that curiosity lingered, and I always wanted to revisit it in a story. It popped back into my head when I was writing about a catastrophic contagion. Considering all the incredible self-sufficiency they apply in their everyday lives, it seemed to me that the Amish would be uniquely well-equipped to survive a large-scale disaster.

What were your biggest obstacles? 
I’m one of those writers who needs the structure of a synopsis and outlining. I’ve always yearned to be someone who can just put pen to page have the words sprout…but I can’t do it that way.  I need a scaffolding to begin, a skeleton on which to build some story-flesh.

And I think that’s true for most writers. Learning our own processes takes a really long time. What’s efficient and works for me won’t work for the next person. It’s such an individualized process, and there’s no one “right” way to do it. The important thing is that you’re doing it.

What are your productivity tips?  
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is to set up a word count calendar and use it. It’s too easy to let the days and weeks slip by without anything productive happening. I keep a writing calendar and commit to writing a certain number of words a day. Otherwise, I tend to procrastinate. If I didn’t set deadlines for myself, I would never finish a book

I really suggest that writers try National Novel Writing Month at least once. It got my excuses and blocks out of the way, and helped me learn that what I thought were my limits were not really limits. They were just walls I’d set up in my head.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Introducing: Your Audience

Before I begin writing, I explore five questions about my audience: What are they interested in? What do they want/need to hear? What problem or question do they have? What's the right pacing? What voice will be most effective?

Many fiction writers write "for themselves," so they already know the answers to all these questions without even asking. The wonderful thing about having yourself as your target audience is you are likely to be passionate about the work, and that will bleed through. If you audience is similar to you or (as happens with some literary audiences) willing to meet you half way, you'll have a measure of success.

But writing for yourself in fiction can lead to stale writing for small or nonexistent audiences. Writing for audiences that are different from ourselves forces us to challenge our assumptions, come up with fresh phrasing and thoughts, and respond to questions. It creates a level of conflict that enlivens the work.

Of course, nonfiction writers (with, perhaps, the exception of memoirists) are lost if they don't keep the audience in mind. I write my technology blog for business people interested in innovation. I write my World Book articles for sixth graders who want some "gee whiz" and need to be able to explain what they read in class. I write speeches for impatient CEOs, distracted students, proud parents, skeptical scientists, and jaded Members of Congress.  One size does not fit all.

I always explore my audience, whether I'm writing fiction or nonfiction. And my first drafts are aimed at one person -- usually an individual I know well. (Later drafts I adjusted to draw in others, but starting with the person who is critical to success gives the work focus.) Here's a bit more on the five questions I must answer:
  • What are they interested in? In most case, you already have a topic that touches on the audience some way, but not always. Sales people, for instance, may have zero interest in how the widget they're selling works. They are likely, however, to want to look smart and knowledgeable in front of a client. Often, the writer has the subject right, but does not get the depth of information or the perspective right. Even if the answer seems obvious, this question deserves real thought.
  • What problem or question do they have? When there is a major issue or problem at hand, the audience is not open to hearing about other things. When I worked for IBM, I always wanted to know if audience members had any negatives in their heads about the company. Internal speeches often dealt with pressing concerns before getting into the main topic. When you clear the issue, people are ready to listen. 
  • What do they want/need to hear? A common flaw in writing is the urge to tell the audience what the need to know. Business leaders want to shove their five key points into the heads of employees, and fiction writers want to deliver all the essential backstory in the first few pages (often in a prologue). In most cases, the audience needs to know less than the writer thinks. And even if they will end up needing the information, when and how it is presented makes a big difference in how it is received. A rule of thumb I use in fiction is don't give them anything they need until they want it (until they are begging for it). And it is amazing how that approach also works in nonfiction, especially if the material is intended to be persuasive. So focus on what they want, and make them want what they need.
  • What's the right pacing? Some people like hard rock and some people like ballads. The energy and excitement of a work must match the needs of the audience and the intent of the work. Too slow is boring. Too fast is relentless. And what is the wrong pace for one audience may be just right for someone else.
  • What voice will be most effective? An old trick for gaining confidence is to match the vocabulary, accent, and tone of the listener. Aligning the voice of the writing with that of the audience can be a great strategy. But it is not the only strategy. Often, we are looking for a voice of authority. If you are talking about my health, you'd better sound smart (and compassionate). If you are explaining blue grass music, it won't hurt if you sound like you come from the Appalachians. Finding the right voice for a work can go a long way toward engaging an audience. The one caution is that the voice must be authentic. Which means you need to really know and inhabit it, with all the care and skill of a dedicated actor.
I use a lot of tricks and techniques to get my answers about audience. For speeches, I can find out almost everything I need to know from my hosts by asking them to tell me about the worst speech ever given to their group and the best speech given to their group.

The Web and googling organizations and people puts a lot at your fingertips, but don't rely on that alone. Talking to people, preferably face-to-face, can provide details you can't get otherwise. I don't advise stalking. I heard as author talk about how she followed teens in the mall and even took their pictures surreptitiously. Not a good idea, unless you also want to research the prison system.

Friday, July 19, 2013

EVERY Every Other Friday - Links to them all

I'm honored and privileged to have had so many writers agree to be interviewed on this blog over the past year. From bestselling authors to those getting their first taste of publication, they have been generous with their wisdom and insights. They represent a variety of genres including nonfiction, science fiction, romance, YA, fantasy, and even rap music.

Here are the 26 writers who participated in a year's worth of Every Other Friday:

Kristan Higgins
Doug Solter
Carter Phipps
TL Costa
Gerri Brousseau
RC Bonitz
Jennifer Fusco
Barry Crimmins
Marian Lanouette
Melanie R Meadors
Bob Zaslow (Mr. Z)
MH Mead
Casey Wyatt
Katy Lee
Stephanie Queen
PJ Sharon
Sara Humphreys
Tawny Weber
Dani Collins
Joy Smith
Kate George
Kourtney Heintz
Eileen Cook
Alex Benedict
Denise Alicea
Kara Ashley Dey

Thank you, one and all!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing on the Road

When you're in airports, hotels, and the homes of friends and relations, it's harder to be a productive writer. The cues and creature comforts and replaced by distractions. And, when you reach for that reference, note, or favorite pen, it's not there.

Here are some tips on how to keep your momentum going when you're on the road.

Set modest goals - Be happy if you find 15 minutes each day of productive time on a project that matters to you. More is better, but small advances are fine.

Anticipate problems - Know what your resources will be. Will you be sharing a space? (Bring noise-cancelling earphones.) Will you have no connectivity? (Bring essential references.) Will you have childcare responsibilities? (Bring something that will keep them occupied.)

Plan ahead - Know, for each day, what you will do during your 15 golden minutes. Make it as specific as possible. (I will rewrite the "first kiss" scene. I will list nine ways my hero can fool the monster.) Make it real writing, not writerly activity (such as research and promotional activity).

Accept good enough - Sometimes you get lucky and the muse enjoys the new environment. Words pour out and they are beautiful and fresh. Usually, the prose is a bit off. This can lead to new discoveries, but it is more likely to lead to more rewriting later on. Forgive this. Most people simply fall apart and get nothing done and take several days at home to get back into the groove, so you are way ahead of them.

Seize opportunities - When I travel, I'm rarely without a few index cards and a pen or pencil. For this modest investment, I have gotten wonderful returns in terms of capturing (in full sentences, of course) sensory input, character studies, overheard remarks, and flashes of insight. A lot of these have worked their ways into scenes (sometimes years later), and a few have anchored stories. Note: This is a glorious bonus, but it doesn't replace the 15 minute (or more) commitment you make to yourself.

Overall, you have two jobs when you are on the road...  First, you need to move forward on a project that matters. Even a few inches is enough. Second, you need to get the most out of your trip in terms of what it can bring to your writing and on its own terms. Do gather sensory details and new perspectives. Don't cheat your relatives or your clients or your muse.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Every Other Friday - Kara Ashley Dey

Kara Ashley Dey says she likes fantasy, speculative and paranormal fiction with romantic elements. She also enjoys interviewing multi-talented artists and writers to find out what "makes them tick." She believes sharing experiences is a great way to learn about the world and ourselves, and she is a firm believer in rejoicing in other people's successes - "It's free and it feels great."

She says, "Living in Houston with my darling husband has taught me about the blessings of great neighbors and Texas BBQ. My favorite critics are my two plump cats that purr their pleasure at most everything I write."

To keep in touch:
Twitter: @KaraAshleyDey
blog:  (latest reviews in games, movies and books)
websites: (Romance Reviews and News) (Spell Caster interviews of multi-talented artists)

Tell me about STEALING SKY.
My book starts off as a "spoiled girl meets cowboy" sort of romance, but has a big twist by Chapter Three. Before you know it, the hero and heroine are over their heads in trouble and that doesn't stop until the end. 

What drove you to write STEALING SKY? Who did you write it for?I knew that I wanted to write a space pirate book, but I also hoped to turn the pirate theme on its head. Instead of the heroine being abducted by a roguish pirate captain, I wanted the hero to be captured by sexy female space pirates. This also afforded me many sub-plots and twists and turns. Every character has a reason for what s/he does. You get male and female points-of-view from several characters.

I also wanted a book that would appeal to readers who enjoy action-adventure stories, and science fiction, and who like a touch of humor mixed in with their occasional angst. STEALING SKY is for men, too. It's fun and hot. The hero, Skai, is not just a man without a shirt. I think men will want to be him and admire him. The story is just as much about him as it is about Cassie and the rest.

What were your biggest obstacles?
Knowing when to stop editing myself. Thank goodness I have an amazing editor, Tania. Plus she is a friend so we have a relaxed process. This helps to quell my panic over whether the book is perfect or not. I've learned that striving for perfection can gut a book--literally rip the charm right out of it.

What are your productivity tips?
Number one most important tip--Manage time, which I don't. It's my biggest challenge this year. I have so many projects and websites that if I get even a little behind, stick a fork in me. If I accomplish time management,  I will feel like this year has been a big success.

Just wanted to add that STEALING SKY made the top 100 Galactic Empire books on Amazon. Yay--I'll take that, thank you!. :) It's currently 40% off.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Simplify Your Story 1 - Major pillars

Clever, contorted, complex prose drives away readers. Unless you have rabid fans or you've become an honored author or you don't care about having an audience beyond your friends, don't do it. Or edit it out.

Most readers want to be absorbed into a book. They want a page-turner. They do not want to be confused or forced to reread. So clarity is a fundamental value for any writer who aspires to having a large audience. It's okay for drafts before the final to be jumbled, fuzzy, and self-indulgent. They are the prototypes and experiments, not the production models. But the last draft, no matter how deep and challenging the subject matter, needs to be clear and (mostly) effortless to read.

The clarity of your story depends on three major pillars: the beginning, the goal, and the ending.

The beginning is how you make your first impression. For some reason, a lot of amateurs choose to unleash the pyrotechnics here, evoking everything literature profs wallow in. This is no place to fall in love with your poetry, to strain a metaphor, or to make promises you don't intend to keep. The beginning has enough challenges -- setting up the world, establishing the genre, providing the story question, introducing the main characters, and getting things going -- without complicating the job. And all of this needs to be done without making the reader wade through a lot of heavy narration.

Charm. Seduce. Engage. Use simple sentences and make it moment-to-moment. Don't backtrack or reflect. Don't worry about what the reader "needs" to know (or, worse, what you want him/her to know). Above all, don't worry about impressing the reader. Readers don't show up for writers; they show up for stories.

Your audience can only root for the protagonist if they know what the goal is. And I favor Michael Hague's view that there should be a visible goal. If you can't imagine a photograph that shows success -- the outlaw lying dead in the sand, the astronaut stumbling out of his pod alive, the athlete clutching her trophy, or the lovers in an embrace -- try again.

This doesn't mean a story can't have internal goals (it should) or that the protagonist needs to be aware of the true goal (what he/she needs rather than what he/she wants). And it is fine to have the main goal evolve and change. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy goes from wanting to justify Toto (and herself) to wanting to leave home, to wanting to get back home. It all follows logically, with no confusion. It also nicely raises the urgency along the way. And her enabling goals (getting to the Emerald City, getting the broom of the Wicked Witch) are also clear. (In a larger sense, Dorothy always wants to be secure and -- as represented by Toto -- intact.)

Having the goals change to reflect changes to the character and including tactical goals is just fine. But if a reader cannot state the goal at any point of the book, or if the shift to a new goal is difficult to explain, that's a problem. And, from my reading of unpublished manuscripts, it's a common problem.

Some protagonists seem to have Attention Deficit Disorder, constantly picking up and discarding goals, abandoning tactics before they come to fruition, circling back to earlier goals, and changing their minds. They also seem to make unexplainable choices, what a mentor of mine called "advancing the plot by stupidity." They pursue multiple goals at once, seemingly trying to edge forward on many front simultaneously. Multi-tasking heroes are crazy-making.

The ending is where the writer closes the deal. Like beginnings, endings need to do a lot of things at once -- paying off the investment the reader has made in emotions and time. I go into detail on creating endings in other posts, but, above all, the audience must know what happened. Did the protagonist succeed or fail? Did he or she grow and change? Does success make the world better or worse? Does the ending make sense?

I'm all for nuances and the bittersweet and unintended consequences and even a few blanks for the reader to fit in. However, 1) none of this should be unintentional, so if a beta reader praises an accidentally complex ending, fix it, and 2) there still should be a Hague photograph, even if its deeper meaning is ambiguous. One more thing: unless a sequel is built into the story, tie up the important loose ends. Don't frustrate the reader.

Of course, there's a lot more to simplifying a story. Sub-plots need to support the main story. Viewpoints need to be consistent and properly selected. Language needs to be cleaned up, refined, and distilled. Failing in these areas can pull readers out of your stories and make them stop reading. I'll cover these aspects in future posts.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Every Other Friday - Denise Alicea

Here's what Denise Alicea says about herself:
Born in Manhattan, New York and raised in Connecticut, I found that I was more interested in what went on in the past than in the future. This makes me a huge history buff. I’ve always enjoyed reading books starting from ancient history, fantasy, science fiction, poetry, and, of course, romance. I also loved the arts, so my first love was once drawing and painting until I found a new medium that would inspire me to try something new.

What led me to write? I started to write poetry when I fifteen years old. This was all due to a family member sending me a poem that she had written, and it sparked a fire that has never gone out. I began to write my heart out, and went from writing poetry to my own stories. I love to write with a bit of everything from romance, humor, and, of course, adventure. Everything inspires me from art, people, and music.

I was published at fifteen years old in my own community and gained a few finalists nods for my poetry and stories alike online through various writing communities. When I am not writing, I am blogging at my personal blog or my shared blog at The Pen & Muse.

Tell me about what you're writing.
My newest short story is a time traveling romance named "Fireworks." After the death of her beloved grandfather, Sarah is left alone to take away his things when she finds an interesting picture of a friend of her grandfathers. Sarah’s never met the man of her dreams no matter what she has tried. One magical night will change everything, literally. What’s a girl from New York going to do with a man from the 1940′s?

What drove you to write "Fireworks"? Who did you write it for?
I'm a big fan of the early nineteen hundreds. I also wanted to try my turn at a new short story with time traveling aspect with romance. I'd done it before with my young adult short story, "Consoling Angel." I also was asked to do an short for Dark Castle Lords anthology and did it with great enthusiasm, as I did one for Christmas.

What were your biggest obstacles?
Writer's Block. Isn't it everyone's? I find it so hard to write on command, and, when I try to, it ends up becoming crap. So I try to go back to the things that inspire me whether it's me going for a walk, watching a movie, listening to music, or just reading.

What are your productivity tips?
Some of my favorite productivity tips are to always have a small pad and pen together. You never know when the inspiration is going to strike. Also if you have a smart device, whether it be an iPad or iPhone, use it to your advantage! Find apps and use the notepad on them to write when you get inspired. Most of them provide so many apps on the go. Some of my favorites include: Pages, Evernote, and Final Draft.  

Purchase links:



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

First Anniversary!

I’ve been exploring productivity on these pages for a full year now, and I'm still having fun. From the beginning, I knew that I would cover the basics – tips on preparation, drafting, and rewriting. More themes emerged, based primarily on feedback and requests, including dealing with distractions, collaboration, and refilling the well.

Bigger Stories and Writing Tools took on lives of their own – leading to courses, as well as multiple posts.
Gwen Hernandez deserves special mention. Her guest post on Scrivener accounts for about one in seven of my pageviews and continues to bring me new readers.
Thanks also to the many writers who have been featured in Every Other Friday interviews:
Alex Benedict, RC Bonitz, Gerri Brousseau, Dani Collins, Eileen Cook, TL Costa, Barry Crimmins, Jennifer Fusco, Kate George, Kourtney Heintz, Kristan Higgins, Sara Humphreys, Marian Lanouette, Katy Lee, MH Mead, Melanie R Meadors, Carter Phipps, Stephanie Queen, PJ Sharon, Joy Smith, Doug Solter, Tawny Weber, Casey Wyatt, and Bob Zaslow.
And, of course, thanks to all readers, especially those who leave comments.
Believe it or not, I have more to say on the themes that have carried the blog this far. More authors have agreed to be interviewed, and I hope to have more guest posts. And I’m curious about new ways to become more productive: Helpful forms and questionnaires, useful tropes, journaling help, crit groups, mentors, and more. Of course, I welcome suggestions on new topics or deeper explorations of old themes.
For those who geek out on numbers, here are a few statistics:
151 Posts
Over 26,000 pageviews, with 4,600 in the last month
Pageviews for almost 100 countries
Top Ten Posts
  1. Guest Post - Write Faster with Scrivener (Gwen Hernandez)
  2. Plotting for Pantsers 2: Build your storytelling muscles

  3. NaNoWriMo Success 2 - Fast Drafting

  4. Bigger 4 - Creating Endings That Buzz

  5. Six Ideas on How to Prepare to Write Productively

  6. Writing Prep 5 - Distraction Number One, Husband Interruptus

  7. Rewrite 8 – Stronger Verbs for Better Stories

  8. Every Other Friday - T.L. Costa Interview

  9. Do You Listen to Music When You Write?

  10. Draft 9 - Let's Get Physical

Thanks again. I’m having a great time, and I hope you are, too.