Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Double Meaning

Have you ever used a term and later realized that it may not have been taken the way you intended? For writers, this is always a concern. I like to tell people that’s why I’m a writer first and a speaker second—I like the opportunity to make sure I’m clear. When I write a sentence that I later judge could be taken more than one way, I can edit it. When a sentence falls out of my mouth that I later realize might not have carried the meaning I intended, I can only cringe.

Today I was talking to my writing group about the depth of detail necessary to make a dramatic scene work—and that if a writer builds up to a moment of suspense, a payoff is required. Readers want to hear the details about the heist, the murder, or the romance. It's the moment for which they've been waiting. “It’s the money shot,” I said to the group. I was at home later, working on my blogs, when I realized that term can be taken in more than one way. When I said it, I was thinking of the term as it relates to paparazzi getting a clear shot of celebrity, but the original term refers to a much coarser event (go check Google if you don’t know).

Oh dear.

All I could do was laugh and blush at the same time.

Do you check your work for double meanings? Have you ever realized, after the words were spoken or printed, that your figure of speech might have been taken the wrong way? Just as misplaced modifiers can hang off the wrong word, a misused reference can leave the wrong impression. Sometimes the result is merely comical, and sometimes it’s embarrassing.
Photo courtesy of Jay Simmons at

Holiday Parties & Other Writing Prompts

Since the Just Write writing group will be on break until January 6, I cooked up a extra-large helping of prompts for today's meeting. Two of us tackled prompt number one with memories of alcohol-saturated parties (not necessarily the writers' saturation, might I add), but we also heard Emma’s letter to Santa, a story about bailing a friend out of jail, and a poem about that shattered mirror. Now it’s your turn. Pick a prompt that intrigues you and write for ten minutes without stopping, stalling, or second-guessing the direction you’ve chosen. Just write!

--‘Tis the season for holiday parties. Write about a memorable holiday party you attended.

--Are you an early bird or a night owl?

--“Dear Santa,” Emma wrote, “I don’t know if you can help me this year. But what I really what for Christmas is….”

--John saw the footprints. He leaned down to inspect them, and he was surprised at what he saw. “My God, that looks like….”

--Combine a plastic bag, a gift certificate, and a boulder in a story or poem.

--Have you ever had to bail someone out of jail?

--Marge was a hypochondriac, but this time it appeared she had a legitimate ailment. Harry was sick of her complaints, and he told her, “Look, I know you don’t feel good, but I’ve never heard of anyone dying from….”

--Jack painted the room blue because….

--If your life were made into a movie, would it be a comedy or a tragedy?

--The mirror shattered….

--Beth snapped at her sister, “Have you lost your mind? What would posses you to buy something like that for Mom and Dad? What are they going to do with….”

--When the car died….
Photo courtesy of Donald Cook at

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Another Time or Place & Other Writing Prompts

If you could travel to any time or place, where would you go? That’s the subject of my first writing prompt today. Of course, if that prompt leaves you blank, pick another prompt for ten minutes of freewriting—write without stopping, stalling, or second-guessing yourself. Just write!

--If I could transport myself to any time or place, I would go to….

--“I don’t care about your holiday plans!” shouted Carl. “I refuse to….”

--Jennifer threw the glass paper weight across the room, hitting….

--What is your favorite holiday food?

--Do you like to offer unsolicited advice? Why or why not?
Picture courtesy of Michel Marin at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving & Other Writing Prompts

In a few days, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. What memories do you have of this holiday? Take ten minutes to freewrite about your thoughts (or imagine yourself as a fictional character and invent some turkey day remembrances). If Thanksgiving leaves you uninspired, take another prompt and freewrite on it. Remember, freewriting means no stopping, stalling, or second-guessing yourself. Just write!

--Thanksgiving always make me think about….

--“I don’t know why you’re asking me these questions,” Delores insisted. “I was home all night. I don’t know a thing about….”

--Have you ever thrown a surprise party for someone?

--Combine a calculator, a camera, and a flower in a story or poem.

--Jason didn’t see the dog in the road….
Picture courtesy of Joel Terrell at

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Lost Boy & Other Writing Prompts

What would you say to a lost child? What would you do? In prompt number one, Ida confronts that dilemma. If nothing springs to mind about Ida and the lost boy, skip on down to a prompt that conjurs an image. Freewrite for ten minutes. At the end of ten minutes, read over your work. Do you have the start of something? If not, don't worry. Writing is great brain exercise, you know. Well, what are you waiting for? Open up that word processor or grab your pen and paper, and just write!

--In the produce section at the grocery store, Ida saw a little boy standing by the carrots. He was crying, and he looked like he was alone. Ida walked up to him and said….

--How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?

--“It’s still 85 degrees outside! We don’t need the heat on,” snapped Phil. “I’ve been on the phone for an hour now. I just want you to….”

--What’s the most unusual thing in your home?

--“I knew you were lying,” Janet said. “But I’d lie, too, if I’d been caught….”
Photograph courtesy of Mette Finderup at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hiking & Other Writing Prompts

Pick a prompt that intrigues you. Freewrite for ten minutes. At the end of ten minutes, you might have the start of a bigger story, or you might not. Just write!

--Do you (or did you) like to hike or camp? What are your experiences with the great outdoors?

--Charlie said to Ed, “Sure, he thinks we stole it. But we both know….

--I remember a big storm in….

--Have you ever had a cat for a pet? What have your experiences been like with cats?

--“You might think I’m just a crazy old showgirl,” Veronica said. “But I’m telling you that I saw….

--Do you have a video camera? What do you shoot footage of, and how often do you look at the tape?

--Darlene was angry at the computer. All her writing, all her pictures—poof! Just like that, they were all gone, and all Darlene could think about was….

--Combine a child’s drawing, a ruler, and a paperweight into a story or poem.

--If I have to speak in public, I….

--Do you have a fear of heights? Do you know anyone who does?
Picture courtesy of Angela Granger at

The Pouring Rain & Other Writing Prompts

I've got a double batch of writing prompts today. Grab a prompt that inspires you and freewrite for ten minutes. Don't think about what you'll eventually do with your work--just write!

--Jack sat in the pouring rain. He was drenched, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything because….

--What is your favorite song or type of music?

--Alice had done her best to overcome her dislike of Halloween, but….

--If you could be a professional athlete, what sport would you play? Why?

--Rupert scowled at Angie. “I told you we had to get rid of the body. Now we have to….

--The picture in Greg’s wallet reminded him of….

--George was furious. He shouted at his daughter, “Haven’t you ever heard ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’? Don’t you see how wasteful it is to….

--What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever had?

--On a sunny, pleasant fall afternoon, Betty decided it was time to….

--Linda and Ellen stared into the store’s display window. “I’m really not sure what that is,” said Linda. “My best guess is….
Picture courtesy of Linden Laserna at

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Digital Camera & Other Writing Prompts

My writing group came up with some very interesting ideas about what Beth found (or didn't find) on her camera when she got it back from John. What do you think? Grab your favorite writing implement and freewrite for ten minutes--if not about the camera situation, then about one of the other prompts. Let your imagination lead you where it may. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or even if you're remaining on topic. Just write!

--When Beth got her new digital camera back from John, she was surprised to find….

--What do you think of the philosophy “there are no accidents”?

--The one bad habit I’d like to change is….

--The farm was 30 miles from town, so Justin knew….

--How do you define a good writing day?
Photo courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski at

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Children, Guilt, and Writing Centers

Do you give much thought to the things that influence your writing? The list of possible influences is long, but we'll look at just three today: children, guilt, and resources. The presence (or absence) of children can play an important role in writing; they can be inspiring and interrupting, sometimes all at the same time. Some writers feel guilty when they write about other people and may even avoid certain topics because they don't want to violate anyone's privacy. And while technically all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil to write, unanswered questions can stymie a writer. Writing centers for students are common--why not for adults?

Children and Writing

Have children—whether they are your own kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or students—affected and/or influenced your writing? Do you find children inspiring (or, conversely, uninspiring)? Do you think of future generations when you write? I thought about these questions when I read the article, “Writer finds children inspire fresh take on life and language” from the Grand Rapids Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

Liesel Litzenburger looks at the world in a whole new way these days, and she thanks her 2-year-old twins for the change.

"The process of having kids and being a mother radically changed my thinking on a lot of things," she said.

"I used to tell my students that cliches are cliches because they're so true they get worn out with use. So the cliche about a mother's love as absolute is absolutely true for me. My children are my center, my heart."

The Guilt of Observation

Do you ever feel guilty about writing about other people? Here’s an excerpt from “Writer’s Guilt” by Calen Crain at Atlantic Online:

The Depression-era writer who thought most—and felt guiltiest—about what it meant to make art out of suffering was probably James Agee. In “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” (1941), his book-length essay about three families of tenant farmers in Alabama, illustrated with photographs taken by the F.S.A.’s Walker Evans, Agee seems sickened by his freedom to write about the unhappiness of others. When, for example, in the course of his reporting, Agee inadvertently startles a young black couple by walking up behind them, he writes that “the least I could have done was to throw myself flat on my face and embrace and kiss their feet.” A sort of trespassing is involved in writing about other people, even when the writing is as gentle as one can manage, just as it’s a violation, however mild, to photograph a person, even though it’s in an artist’s nature to want to capture experience.

(The complete text of Crain’s article is on his blog, “Steamboats Are Ruining Everything,” along with several links to the digitized versions of pictures by Walker Evans, the photographer who accompanied Agree.)

Why not an adult writing center?

Since I get Google alerts on all sorts of writing topics, I recently came across an article about the opening of a new student writing center at a university—a place where students could get help not only with research papers, but also with resumes, letters, and other writing projects. What a terrific resource! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults who are out of school had a writing center, a place to get help with their writing projects? The simplest things can stall a writer’s progress. One of the most frequent dilemmas I encounter from writers in the senior age group, for instance, is how they can get a manuscript typed, particularly in a computer format. I’ve facilitated an adult writing group for eight years, and some of the questions I frequently get are: What’s the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing? How can I get a book published traditionally? How do I get an article published? If I’m not interested in publishing, what’s the heck do I do with all this stuff I’ve written? How do I deal with the negative emotions/memories I encounter when I write? How do I learn how to use a computer and/or word processor? Clearly, school-age students aren’t the only ones with questions about writing. What would an adult writing center look like to you? Do you think it would encourage people to keep writing, or to start writing?
Picture courtesy of Pablo Medina at

The Deserted Beach & Other Writing Prompts

Pick a writing prompt that intrigues you and freewrite for ten minutes--that means writing without stopping or second-guessing yourself. Don't think about how the story will turn out--just write!

--The deserted beach was a beautiful place, and Linda enjoyed her daily walks alone until the day she….

--What form of writing would you most like to master? Poetry? Essay? Short story? Why?

--Kevin smelled it before he saw it. It was an unmistakable odor. Before he walked into the yard, he knew he would find….

--“I’ve lived alone for a long time,” Gertrude told her grandson. “So if you want to move in with me, even temporarily, I must insist….”

--How do you feel about junk mail? Do you read it, or do you toss it in the trash without opening it?

Picture courtesy of John Byer at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Technology, History, and Keeping Your Audience in Mind

What do you think about technology’s role in writing, writing about notable historic moments, and making your allusions understandable to your audience? You might want to check out the following articles and posts to explore some of these questions.


How has technology changed your writing? Modern technology has given writers the Internet and self-publishing—and allowed us to ditch the carbon paper and Wite-Out. But if you’ve read a text message written by your kids or grandkids, you may be worried about technology’s effect on writing. Read this article, “Technology changing way students view writing,” for a different take on why modern inventions may be G8 for today’s kids.

Watershed Moments

If you’ve visited Sharon Lippincott’s blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, you may have read her post about September 11, “Watershed Memories.” Do you write about the defining moments of our day? Whether you are journaling, writing memoir, or composing fiction, the events we experience collectively can give important structure to our work. In my writing group, this topic expanded to include not just single momentous events, like 9/11, but also eras or long-term occurrences like the Depression, the Holocaust, and the Vietnam War. In former times, passing down stories between generations was common. Do you remember sitting on the porch and listening to older relatives talk, or attending a family reunion? Sadly, these are memories that fewer and fewer people have. Our scattered families also scatter our stories. Are you taking the time to write about the important events in your life?

Outdated References

How much thought do you give to you references and allusions? Do you keep your audience in mind? The annual Beloit College Mindset List gives us insight into references that younger people may not understand. Here’s an excerpt from the AP article that covered the list this year: “For most teens starting college this fall, rap music has always been mainstream, Mike Tyson has always been a felon, and wars have always unfolded on TV in real time.”
Picture courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilián at

The Boys & Other Writing Prompts

Today’s prompts start with a social question. What does Sam need to do to get along with the other boys? For a twist on this prompt, change the “he” to “she” and see how the story changes. (Yes, there are female Sams. I’ve known a few.) If Sam and his (or her) social dilemmas leave you cold, skip on down to another prompt. Pick one and freewrite for ten minutes. Let go of any expectations about how your work will turn out…just write!

--Sam was sure he would get along fine with the other boys, if only he….

--How did you learn how to type?

--“Of course I feel bad,” snarled Steve. “I just had surgery to remove my….”

--If only I could find the time, I would learn how to….

--Lucy was delighted. She had an entire day all to herself, and she was just getting ready to enjoy it when….
Photo courtesy of Valdas Zajanckauskas at

Friday, September 11, 2009

School & Other Writing Prompts

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils, the hint of crispness in the air, assigned seating, and the social minefield of the lunchroom... it must be the start of a new school year! Get some school spirit for prompt number one. Or scroll down and find something else that wakes up your muse. Take ten minutes to freewrite on any of these topics, or anything that they bring to mind. You won't be graded, so don't worry about what will become of your story/poem/essay--just write!

--The end of summer means the beginning of a new school year. When you were still in school, how did you feel about this time of year? Did you like school, or dread its arrival?

--Albert was puzzled about his lawn. It was dying, but he had no idea why until he discovered….

--Have you ever undertaken a do-it-yourself home renovation or repair?

--Mary planned Jack’s party for months. She sent almost a hundred invitations, but on the day of the party….

--The one thing that really makes me nervous is….
Photo courtesy of Tiffany Szerpick at

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Superior Scribbler Award

When I opened my e-mail on Monday, I found something wonderful in my in-box. Sharon Lippincott, blog author of The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, gave me the Superior Scribbler Award! Normally I’m overflowing with words, but in this instance, all I could say was “Wow!” To echo Sharon’s words, receiving this recognition was unexpected and much appreciated. It’s easy to wonder who’s reading your blog—or if anyone is reading your blog, on some days—and the Scribbler was a big dose of encouragement for me.

When I went searching for five fellow bloggers to nominate (a part of the Superior Scribbler recipient’s duties), I spent an entire afternoon reading through blogs, something I don’t take enough time to do these days. I also realized how many writers I’ve met through Twitter, and in fact two of the Scribblers are bloggers/writers I’ve met through this new social networking site.

You’ll notice a definite trend with the bloggers to whom I’ve awarded the Superior Scribbler. Since I’m a professional writer who writes not only as a career, but also as a passion, I’m drawn to people who combine inspiration and information. Visit these blogs, and you’ll learn about writing from true professionals, get some tips on bringing wellness into your life, feel like you’ve had a visit with a friend over a cyber cup of java, and learn about great places to see in South Florida.

The five new winners of the Superior Scribbler Award:

Inkthinker by Kristen King. I discovered Kristen several years ago, and I’ve never failed to find encouragement and practical advice on her blog. Kristen is witty and accessible, and always informative. She’s a successful working writer, a goal many have but few achieve.

Real Words from a Real Writer by Kathryn Vercillo. I met Kathryn on Twitter, that ubiquitous social network. She’s a business blogger and professional writer who gives her view into the writing world.

Wellness Journeys Stepping Stones by Ellen H. Brown. I also met Ellen on Twitter, and her blog gives wonderful information on the balance and wellness we all seek, especially if you’re an entrepreneur (as so many writers are).

Coffee With Merina by Merina. Yes, it’s just what it says—a blog that makes you feel like you sat down for a visit with a friend. You’ll find a little reminiscing, some reflections on life, and a few words about books she’s just read.

My Fabulous Florida by Christine Michaels. Christine and I both sent in videos for the well-publicized job in Australia on Hamilton Island. Neither of us got the job (the lucky winner was Ben Southall), but both of us are still blogging about what’s going on in our respective cities; I write about Las Vegas and Christine writes about Miami.

I’m happy to let all the winners know that no public appearances are required, and you don’t have to do anything embarrassing on television (like walking around in a swimsuit, a la Miss America). However, recipients are asked to abide by these rules:

1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received the Award.

3. Each Superior Scribbler must display the Award on his/her blog, and link to this post, ( which explains the Award.

4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Thank you, Sharon, for awarding me the Superior Scribbler, and thank you to the authors to whom I've passed the award--I appreciate your words!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Helicopter & Other Writing Prompts

Why are the police buzzing around in prompt number one? Only you can answer that question. If police helicopters leave your imagination blank, move on to another prompt. Take ten minutes to freewrite without stopping, stalling, or second-guessing yourself. Just write!

--Janet watched the police helicopter circling over her house. She wondered what was going on, but she didn’t have to wonder for long. To her amazement, she saw….

--How has the current economic recession affected your friends and family?

--George laughed before he told his grandson, “I wish I’d saved more money, kiddo, but the truth is….”

--Think back to your school days. How well do you remember the weeks between summer's end and school's start? What stands out in your mind about that time? Did you look forward to being back in the classroom, or did you dread it?
Photo courtesy of madmick99 at

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nuts & Bolts Workshop For Authors: August 15 & 16

In case you missed the ads in the paper, the Nuts & Bolts Workshop for Authors is this coming weekend, August 15 & 16, 1 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. It's a free workshop sponsored by the Clark County Library District and Stephens Press. The workshop will be held at the Clark County Library, 1401 East Flamingo Road. I highly recommend this workshop, especially if you are a new or unpublished writer. The workshop's schedule:

Saturday, August 15

1:00 - 2:15 : Publishing Basics - How It All Works (Presented by Carolyn Hayes Uber, Stephens Press Publisher)

2:30 - 3:45: Polish Up That Manuscript! (Presented by Maralys Wills)

4:00 - 5:15: The Art of Editing (Presented by Jami Carpenter)

Sunday, August 16 - Art of the Memoir

1:00 - 2:15 : The Storyteller (Presented by Maralys Wills)

2:30 - 3:45: Thanks for the Memories (Presented by Jami Carpenter)

4:00 - 5:15: Now What? (Presented by Carolyn Hayes Uber)
Photo courtesy of G & A Scholiers at

Rejection is a Two-Way Street

Writers become accustomed to rejection, but we can overlook the fact that we’re also allowed to say no. Sometimes it’s a wise move to reject a potential client or publication. When I first started out, I accepted every writing gig I was offered. I quickly discovered this is a poor strategy. Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes. Here are some of the specifics I’ve learned to examine before accepting a gig.

Rejection Reason #1: A Poorly Focused Publication

Writers are consistently told to narrowly focus their work. How often have you heard, “If you can’t describe your piece in one sentence, you’re not focused enough”? The same goes for publications. I’ve found this to be a larger issue with websites than print publications.

In my early freelance years, I answered a call for submissions to a new graphic design website. The site had one or two articles posted when I pitched them, but not really enough to give me a good idea of their editorial preferences. Since I know a highly successful graphic artist, I pitched a profile piece on her. I got a green light. I interviewed my friend and wrote a standard profile that described her background and accomplishments, the big-name accounts she’d done, and her creative process. Between my submission and later communication (and I use that term loosely) with the editor, I noticed that none of the work they were posting had any congruity. The site was an eclectic mish-mash of articles and photo essays tangentially related to graphic design in a very hard-to-define way. When I didn't hear anything, I followed up with the editor. All she said was that they weren’t sure they could use my piece. She gave absolutely not a shred of suggestion, direction, or their desired angle. I re-wrote the piece, doing my best to make it fit their website... except that I couldn’t get a good handle on what they were looking for. Her one-line response to my re-written article? “We cannot use this piece at all now.”

A few months ago, I answered a call for submissions from a writing-related website. The editor responded positively to my e-mail and expressed her willingness to see my work. When I read the website—and I read it closely three times—I could never get a handle on what they were looking for. It was an odd collection of stories about fashion, writing, and health tips, among other things. I decided not to pitch any pieces to them (for more than just this reason, which I’ll explain below).

Rejection Reason #2: Difficult Individuals

One of my early gigs was working with a lawyer who wanted me to create copy for a promotional folder. This seemed like an easy assignment. I met with him and thought I understood what sort of image he was hoping to convey. I saw him as an honest, down-to-earth person whom people could relate to and trust. That’s how I wrote the copy. I sent him the draft and made sure to tell him that it was a first draft, and that he should let me know if the direction was right, if the tone was correct, and so on. Despite repeated attempts to contact him, I didn’t hear from him until the day I received a fax from his office. It was a mutilated version of the copy I’d done for him, full of egregious grammatical errors. When I finally got him on the phone, he explained that he’d given it to his secretary to correct. I’ll admit I did a poor job of customer relations at this point. After I told him that his secretary had done nothing but put errors into my work (along with asking him a few other questions about why he had selected this English-challenged person to rewrite my work in the first place), he finally blurted out, “You made me sound like I was picking hayseed out of my teeth! I wanted to look more polished!” With that finally established, I re-wrote the copy to make him sound more sophisticated and sent it to him. I never heard another word from him, but I did notice that he switched his firm’s focus from estate planning to personal injury not long after.

Around the same time, I co-ghostwrote a memoir that turned into a nightmare. The client refused to accept any direction, editing, or suggestions about the content of the book. She also had a thick accent that made transcribing interviews with her almost impossible. Not surprisingly, no agent was interested in representing her book. She decided to self-publish. Since our contract only covered taking a percentage of the profits from traditional publication, my co-author and I received no money from the few copies this woman sold on her own.

Since that time, I’ve worked successfully with many individuals as an editor and coach. My guidelines for working with individuals are non-negotiable.

First, I don’t take ghostwriting jobs for book-length manuscripts. Unless you’re working with a celebrity, most clients don’t have the funds to pay you for the work this involves. I was approached by a woman who wanted someone to ghostwrite her book about being the unacknowledged originator of a well-known award show. I did a little research and found that she’d been peddling her story to newspapers for a while. She exhibited several signs of being a difficult client, so I declined.

Second, I don’t argue over grammar. I do not have the time to explain why ending a sentence with a preposition is not necessarily an error, why the punctuation marks almost always go inside the quotes, or why the placement of serial commas depends upon where you went to school. I tell people which dictionary and grammar guide I use, and if they insist on putting errors into their work against my advice, I simply tell them it’s wrong, but that it’s their call.

Third, if a client can’t be a partner in the process, I don’t want to work with them. Whether that means contributing part of the writing or simply returning phone calls, we have to establish a good working relationship that’s acceptable to both of us. If a client can’t (or won’t) communicate about what they want changed or done differently, our business is done. I make it absolutely clear that a first draft is meant to be changed, and that I need them to tell me what they like and don’t like about edits or suggestions. I’m a good writer, but I’m not a mind reader.

Fourth, I do not take deals for a future portion of profits. I don’t care how fabulous a story is, unless you can show me an agent or publisher who is willing to take the manuscript immediately, I require something up front for my time. Non-writers have no idea how much work a book entails, or how long the process to get it published can take. After ten or twenty rejections, they often decide to self-publish their book, which pretty much eliminates any possibility of a profit. I don’t know about you, but I’m not usually in a position to work for free.

I worked with a novelist a few years back who had dreams of selling his book as a screenplay. I made a deal for a per-page charge and a percentage of future profits. After he decided to self-publish, I at least had been compensated for my time. If you decide to take a project without any upfront payment, be sure it’s a project for which you’re willing to be unpaid.

Rejection Reason #3: Mysterious and/or Error-Riddled Publications

A couple of years ago, I was delighted to get a call from a woman who had found me on the Web. What writer doesn't love it when the client contacts you first instead of the other way around? She was a PR person looking for general interest articles for her direct-mail magazine/adverzine that was allegedly being sent to high-income households. She described it as a real estate and lifestyle magazine, but I can’t really say what kind of publication it was because she never sent me a copy. Although I was puzzled by her insistence that due to high printing costs they couldn’t spare even one extra copy for me to examine, I went ahead and took the assignment because she agreed to my rate without any fuss. A few months after I had been writing for her, I discovered she was trying to get a website started. Some of my articles were on her fledgling site, and I was horrified to find that not only were errors inserted in my work ("petroglyph" had been changed to "petro graph," for instance), but that her publication was filled with poorly written religiously-themed articles. I cringed at the thought that an unknown number of people had seen my byline in this publication.

Remember that poorly focused writing/fashion/health website that I decided not to pursue? It was also filled with errors. Clips from our work are part of our payment as writers; without good clips, we can’t pitch bigger and better publications. Any publication that makes you embarrassed to admit you wrote for them isn’t worth your time. Any publication that I have to chase down for copies (or payment) is also not likely to get repeat pitches from me.

When you’re just starting out, you’ll be tempted to take every offer you receive. I’ve found that waiting for the right offer is usually better than taking gigs that are headaches. Remember, rejection is a two-way street that you get to drive on, too.
Photo courtesy of Svilen Mushkatov at and

Friday, July 31, 2009

Don’t Be Shy

Meeting other writers can be challenging because writing is a solitary activity. Most writers who are serious about their work are more concerned with spending face-to-face time with the computer than reaching out to other writers. For many writers, “networking” is what they hope the Geek Squad will do for them one day.

But writers do need to meet other writers, if only because non-writers don’t give a fig about the overuse of adverbs and dialogue tags. You’ll have to find other writers to talk to if you want to ask questions about the proper way to write a book proposal, how to pitch a story idea, or the best way to learn SEO writing. Whether you are writing as a career or because you simply love to write, finding other writers can be as important as learning how to use Word. Writers are all over the Internet, and for those who prefer to converse with a human, writing groups, workshops, and seminars can be found in almost every city.

Pick your method for meeting other scribblers, and don’t be shy. After eight years as a professional writer, I still get what I call “Author Awe” any time I talk to writers with more experience and better clips than I have. And never, not once, have any of the more esteemed writers I’ve met, in person or on the Internet, been anything other than helpful and gracious. That’s not to say there aren’t some stinkers out there; I’m sure there are plenty of surly and anti-social writers in the world. In my case, however, I can honestly say I haven’t met them.

I’m always surprised when a busy and successful writer takes the time to ask me about what I’m writing. Honestly, the last time this happened, I was shocked. Author Awe hit me. Why would anyone want to talk to a regional writer like me? Well, if you’re a writer, you know that writers are curious. We ask questions. We tend to be nosy. And we like to talk to other writers. After I got over being shy, I had a good e-mail conversation with the other writer (and mostly got over my Author Awe).

If you get the chance to talk (or e-mail) with a more established/published writer, don’t be shy, but don’t overwhelm her, either. To make the most of the contacts you make with other writers, especially those a few steps ahead of you, I recommend:

--Be friendly, but keep it professional. Don’t share your unabridged life story in the first five minutes. Actually, unless you become exceptionally good friends, don't share the unabridged version at all.

--Asking simple questions is fine. Asking the other writer to read your 1,000-page novel and give you a critique is not.

--If you’re at a writing group or seminar, keep your questions on topic. A writer speaking about the techniques of writing narrative non-fiction isn’t there to answer your questions on copyright.

--Be brief. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Every writing group, seminar, or workshop I’ve attended included one attendee who just couldn’t seem to stop talking, and talking, and talking… all while the writer who was speaking tried desperately to get the talker to shut up. If you have a long story or involved question, ask the other writer if you may contact her via e-mail or telephone.

--If you are e-mailing, remember to use proper punctuation, spelling, etc. Every piece of correspondence leaves an impression. Most e-mail correspondence should also be brief.

--If you’ve met on a social networking site (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), a little extra friendliness is fine, even appropriate. Just remember that while your old college pals might think those pictures of you after an evening of Jager Bombs are oh-so-funny, your new writer friend might not.

--Be sensitive to the clues that the conversation/e-mail exchange is done.

Don’t be shy, but don’t be a bonehead, either. Keep some simple guidelines in mind, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how willing other writers are to talk to you.
Picture courtesy of Kylie White at

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A New Boyfriend & Other Writing Prompts

It’s time for some writing prompts! Pick a prompt that grabs your attention, and freewrite for ten minutes. When you’re done, you might have the start of a new story, or you might not. Don’t worry about the end result—just write!

--Linda’s mother had a new boyfriend, and Linda decided she didn’t like him because….
--Have you ever won a contest?
--Bob found his wife passed out in the bathroom, and he mistakenly assumed….
--Are you taking a vacation this summer?
Picture courtesy of Brenda Lamothe Coulomme at

Frank McCourt: An Inspiration to Millions

On Sunday, the world lost a very special author, a man with a voice and a story that inspired millions. Frank McCourt’s first memoir, Angela’s Ashes, received the Pulitzer Prize, and he followed up his incredible debut with two more memoirs, Teacher Man and ‘Tis. When I heard he had passed away, I felt like I had lost a friend.

When I meet aspiring memoir writers, I tell them to read Angela’s Ashes. McCourt’s first book is a testament to the power of a well-told story and proof that one need not be famous to have had a fascinating life. If you’re a writer struggling to understand voice, read Angela’s Ashes. McCourt’s voice is lyrical and sad, coarse and delicate; he gave us far more than just the narrative of a childhood filled with abject poverty and challenges that would break many a grown man. He took his readers back in time with him. When I read Angela’s Ashes, I had to stop sometimes because the descriptions and McCourt’s voice were so penetrating, so real, that sometimes it broke my heart to keep reading. If you’ve read Angela’s Ashes, I’d bet that you, too, can still envision the McCourt’s home in Ireland as it appeared in your mind, no matter how long ago you read the book. He gave us not just his story, but his family’s story. He didn’t gloss over anything, and he showed himself to be a fallible human as well as a central figure.

McCourt’s book helped give me the courage to write my own memoir, and I followed his example of showing my own role in my past in as unvarnished a manner as possible. The title of his last book, Teacher Man, describes him perfectly, although I know it’s a specific reference to the years he spent as a teacher in public schools. His words taught many of us, millions of us who never met him in person. He taught us about life, about poverty, about hope. He taught writers that the ugly truth can be beautiful on paper, and that the story of a common man can be uplifting and insightful.

When I was growing up, we had this Irish blessing in our kitchen, and I offer it today in memory of Frank McCourt.

An Old Irish Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Upcoming Events at the Clark County Library

The Clark County Library District continues to bring Southern Nevadan writers terrific (and free) programs. I especially recommend the Nuts & Bolts Writing Workshop (co-hosted by Stephens Press). Just be sure to arrive early; if the last workshop is any indication, they will be filled to overflowing. All the events below will be held at the main library branch, 1401 E. Flamingo Road. Descriptions of the programs are taken directly from the CCLD’s announcement; inserted links are my own doing.

* * *
Sunday, July 19 at 2 p.m. ◊ Norm & Tony Curtis: Inside the Actor’s Studio – Vegas Style:
Norm talks with legendary actor, Tony Curtis, about his life, the movies and his latest autobiography.

Wednesday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. ◊ Meet the Authors: The Chosen Few: How to Become An Anthology Author:
Local authors Leslie Hoffman, Gregory Kompes and Tena Thompson are some of the chosen few who have had their stories accepted into anthologies on national, international, and local publishing levels. Come join us as they explain how to find an anthology to suit your writing style and common mistakes to avoid when writing a short story.

Saturday and Sunday, August 16 & 17 starting at 1 p.m. ◊ Nuts & Bolts Writing Workshops for Authors:
Join the Clark County Library and Stephens Press as we present 2 days of intensive workshops for writers! On Saturday we’ll focus on the “nuts & bolts” of writing and Sunday we’ll focus on writing memoirs, for pleasure and sales (one of the fastest growing areas in publishing).

Wednesday, August 26 at 6:30 p.m. ◊ Meet the Authors: Kid Lit 101: Breaking Into The Children's Literature Market:
What can authors do today to put the Child back into Children's Literature? Join us as authors Sid Goodman, Stacee Hallquist and Jackie Yoxen discuss their children's books and their writing experiences.

Wednesday, September 30 at 6:30 p.m. ◊ Meet the Authors: Self Publishing and the First Time Author:
Join us as Jo Wilkins, founder of Mystic Publishers and president of the Henderson Writers Group, plus a panel of local writers as they discuss self publishing and tips for writers who are starting out.

Thursday, October 8 at 7 p.m. ◊ A Supernatural Evening with Langan and Sokoloff: Things The Go Bump in the Night:
Sarah Langan (THE MISSING and THE KEEPER) and Alexandra Sokoloff (THE UNSEEN, THE PRICE and THE HARROWING: A GHOST STORY) talk about the dark fiction or horror genre as well as their new releases and their experiences writing and publishing.

Wednesday, October 14 at 6:30 p.m. ◊ Meet the Authors: #2 with a Bullet - Writing Your Second Book:
Join us as Jo Wilkins, founder of Mystic Publishers and president of the Henderson Writers Group, plus a panel of local writers as they discuss the pitfalls and perils of writing your second book.

Friday, October 16 at 7 p.m. ◊ An Evening with Max Brooks: Surviving the Zombie Wars:
Max Brooks, considered by many to be one of the world's foremost Zombie preparedness experts, will take the stage at the Clark County Library to explain the keys to success against the hordes of the undead that may be stalking you right now As we all know, the world we live in has become a rather scary place and the global increase in the number of Zombie attacks isn't helping matters any.
Photo information: My picture of Stephens Press President Carolyn Hayes Uber, taking questions after the March Nuts & Bolts Workshop.

Cats and Writers

What is it about cats and writers? Think about Hemmingway’s famous six-toed kitties and Cleveland Armory’s "Best Cat Ever." Cats and writers have a connection. Why?

I’ve always had a cat hanging around my desk. A feline is usually laying on the laptop, trying to drink from my water glass, or swatting at my pen. Sometimes we have disagreements. Sometimes we have full-blown arguments, like when my official office cat, Baby, decided to start spraying in the house. (After a stint on house arrest in the office, he’s been released, although he’s definitely still on probation. More about that in a moment.) Cats tend to be both stubborn and mysterious, little four-legged conundrums. Their moods and behavior can flip unexpectedly. When a cat decides that the belly rubbing session is over, he may quickly transform from an affectingly purring pet to a cranky creature with teeth and claws. I believe it’s that independent, unpredictable, inscrutable nature that draws writers to cats. If we could interview a cat, I think they might say the same about us.

Writers are almost as enigmatic as cats, at least to non-writers (and perhaps dogs). Think about it. There you are, working on an idea, mapping out that essay or story, when the phone rings or someone asks you to pass the salt, snapping you back into present time. Do you sweetly respond, or do you snarl, “Can’t you reach the salt yourself?” See, you’re acting just like that cat who has had enough belly rubbing. Just as you don’t know why Mr. Cat’s had enough, the unsuspecting person who wants the salt doesn’t know that you’ve just lost a piece of your plot over a condiment.

Study a cat’s behavior and personality, and you’ll find loads of material for characterization. Don’t get me wrong—plenty of dogs are overflowing with character (take Marley in Marley and Me, for instance)—but dogs are generally people pleasers. They want their people to be happy with them, but most cats couldn’t care less about making their people happy. They’re only a step away from being wild again, and if they could talk, I’m sure they’d tell us that on a daily basis. “Just fill my food bowl, human, and I won’t be forced to eat the poodle.” In many ways, cats remind me of the writing process itself: sometimes difficult, but ultimately rewarding. You know how your cat looks after he’s found a sunny spot by the window, after a good meal and the appropriate amount of petting? He’s purring and watching the birds, utter contentment on his face. To me, it looks like the feeling a writer gets when the story is done, when all the pieces have come together and the words are as close to perfect as we can make them.

Sometimes, however, the writing process doesn’t work out in such a sunny, happy manner. Sometimes it’s more like the day Baby Cat sprayed all over my bedroom curtains for no apparent reason. Even animal lovers have limits about acceptable behavior, and this totally crossed the line. No way could I cope with this, not with three other critters in the house (one of them sick), an almost-out-of-work spouse, and the pressing need to find writing assignments. Nope, that was it—good-bye Baby! You might know the feeling from a writer’s perspective; the story has gone hopelessly awry and you’ve no clue how to get it back on track. You’ve spent days (or weeks, months, or years) working on it. The descriptions are too thin, the plot is weak, or—even worse—it’s just wrong and you don’t why. You crumple up the paper, toss it into the trash, and mutter, “I can’t! I can’t fix this! I don’t know how!” Then the story has a few days to sit. That which seemed unfixable starts to come into focus. An idea pops into your head. You remember how much you wanted to write that story, how much it has burrowed into your soul, and solutions begin to emerge.

I’ve been ready to chuck plenty of writing projects. I’ve resisted the urge to delete my book from my computer, although at the time I contemplated it, it sure seemed like a good idea. After his misbehavior, I was ready to give up on Baby Cat, too, but I realized that urge was born out of frustration. After calming down, I took the time to sit with him, give him lots of love (and a heartfelt apology for threatening to send him to the animal orphanage), and contemplate what might be causing him to misbehave. The answers aren’t always obvious, for either cats or stories. Pushing beyond our limits, whether those limits are on our abilities as writers or as companions to our felines, can make us a little crazy. Accepting the unacceptable and fixing the unfixable is difficult, even painful. But when we move past our previously set limits, we grow.

Afterwards, we can grab that spot next to window and watch the birds.
Picture information: Baby Cat in the den. Check out that big belly.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Under the Plum Tree

Before I plunged head-first into a freelance writing career, I imagined blissful days full of nothing but writing. I was shocked (and somewhat dismayed) to find that writers who want to be in business for themselves have to do all kinds of non-writing things--networking, research, prospecting for leads. It's a challenge to balance the business of writing against the craft of writing. When I have to escape the gravitational pull of the Internet and telephone, I retreat to my backyard. No Internet. No telephone. Sometimes the hummingbirds get a little pushy when their food is low, and the mockingbirds can be downright obnoxious if my dogs get too close to their nest, but those are minor distractions. Under the plum tree, I can immerse myself in whatever I'm writing. In those moments, being a freelance writer feels like everything I imagined.

Writers: Where do you go when you want to focus completely on your writing?
Photo information: My outside office, under the plum tree.

A Hot, Sunny Day & Other Writing Prompts

Since it's too dang hot to go outside, grab a writing implement and take a prompt for a test drive... inside in the air conditioning, of course, unless you have a pool and water-proof writing tools!

--The mid-day sun was unbearable, but Derrick still had to....
--When was the last time you saw the ocean?
--"Why do you care if I've had 12 beers?" ranted Anita. "Just be glad I haven't...."
--Have you ever attended a family reunion?
Picture courtesy of Dan Shirley at

Friday, June 26, 2009


Have you ever heard the writing advice, “Start with the day that’s different?” Accidents, arguments, mishaps, and other assorted life incidents can give a writer a foothold into that different day.

For instance, what makes a person snap? Have you ever written a scene (or story) in which the character looses control of his actions, words, and/or emotions? What motivates him, and how can you show it to the reader? Readers want characters who are interesting and complex. Real people lose their tempers and do rash things; the consequences can make an interesting story.

The “day that’s different” strategy also works in non-fiction. True crime stories depend upon a steady stream of logic-defying murders, thefts, and assaults. If we ask the question, “What were they thinking?”, it’s rhetorical. We know they weren’t thinking at all.

Are your characters always calm, or do readers also see them become impatient or angry? Do their actions cause them grief--or relief? What happens on that day, that different day?
Picture courtesy of David Ritter at

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Social Networking: Helpful or Distracting?

In the past six months, I’ve done a lot of research into online social networking: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace. Writers are increasingly called upon to understand this environment. Clients are looking for writers who know how to set up and maintain an online presence on today’s popular networking sites. Additionally, these sites are often places for writers to meet clients and other writers. In pre-Internet days, socializing meant getting out of the house. Now you can chit-chat and network in your pj's.

The good thing about social networking sites (let’s shorten that to SNS) is that those of us who work alone can feel like we belong to a community. I haven't met face-to-face with most of the online writers I know, but I feel comfortable asking them questions and participating in online discussions with them. At Twitter, which I like the most out of the current SNS offerings, you can even join a Twibe—I’m with the writers and the journalers. Twitter’s 140-word limit on entries (a.k.a. micro-blogging) forces you to get to the point, which I really like. Subscribing to other people’s feeds, known as following, is an easy process. I found the learning curve a bit higher at Twitter than at other sites—they use lots of acronyms and symbols, and there’s Twitter etiquette on how to use them all.

I probably under-utilize LinkedIn, which is a great SNS for professionals. I appreciate being able to send e-mails to potential clients/editors with a link to my profile, which includes my resume and references. The site also offers some job postings.

Facebook feels like a cyberspace watering hole to me: chit-chat, silly quizzes and games, lots of fun pictures, flirting. After I set up my Facebook page, I had to admit I was stumped. What on earth was I supposed to do with it? Twitter and LinkedIn had an easy, business-related purpose to grasp, but Facebook mystified me. Was it for friends or business acquaintances? It looked more like an environment for friends and family to me, so that’s how I decided to use it (although there's no escaping some cross-over between friends and business on these sites). My Twitter feed publishes to my Facebook page, and I do my best to spruce up Facebook with pictures. The benefits of staying in touch with people are obvious, but I don't want to spend too many hours on these applications.

Any of these sites can turn into serious time wasters. You can fritter away hours posting witty 140-word blogettes on Twitter, taking quizzes like “What Kind of Storm Are You?” on Facebook, and requesting recommendations from former clients and colleagues on LinkedIn. Online social networking is here to stay, and writers especially should have online presence, but you’ve got to set some limits. Sure, now we can socialize in our pajamas from the comfort of our home offices, but is that always a good use of our time? I remember being in an office when the boss walked through and everyone stopped socializing. Maybe we need a virtual manager to march past our cyber-water cooler and tell everyone to stop talking and get back to work. Now, that would be useful.
Picture courtesy of A B (aprilbell) at

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mowing the Lawn & Other Writing Prompts

Take ten minutes to freewrite about....

--Richard was sick and tired of mowing the lawn, so he decided….
--My favorite vacation escape….
--Anna didn’t mean to hurt Nancy, but….
--What’s one article of summer clothing that you can’t do without?
--Jack was sure he was in love with Lisa because….
Picture courtesy of Steve Woods at

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bad Cat

Oh sure, I know he looks all sweet and loving in this picture. This morning, however, was another story.

Anyone who works at home must learn how to set boundaries while still remaining flexible. Unexpected things happen to everyone. If you work in an office outside of your home, you must deal with meetings, visitors, bosses, and other routine interruptions. At home, your interruptions come in other forms. Furry, misbehaving forms, in this case.

Baby Cat is this deceptively sweet-looking feline's name. Well, that wasn't his name this morning, but I try to keep things family-friendly around here. Baby was my late mother's cat, and one of the last things I promised her before she passed away was that I would take care of him. That was before he started spraying in my house a couple of months ago.

I was getting ready to go to work today, and since my office is at home, this includes a quick tidying of the house. I was in mid-tidy in my bedroom when Baby ran out of the room. Animals are a lot like children; I could tell he had done something wrong just from the wacky way he ran out of my room. That's when I smelled urine. Mr. Baby had backed up to my bedroom curtains and drenched them with pee. While I am normally an animal lover, at that moment all I wanted to do was catch him and tie his peeing parts into knots. He picked up on my angry vibe, and the chase was on.

My 11-year-old son was soon running after me as I chased Baby through the house. Luckily for Baby, he is fast, fat, and strong. I caught him once but he used his feline heft to break my grip and run away again. I was soon cursing and sweating. All I could think of (outside of cat homicide) was, "I haven't got time for this! I'm supposed to be working!" (Add curse words liberally for a more verbatim version.)

I share my office with this bad cat. When he moved in with us after Mom died, that's where he lived until he got used to our family. In an attempt to avert sure death, after ten or fifteen laps around the house, he dashed into the office and hid in "The Baby Cave," a portion of the closet that was created just for Mr. Spoiled. He hissed at me when I poked my head in and told him, "You're out of here! You are going to live someplace else! I will not have an animal pissing in my house!"

My son was aghast. He immediately laid down in front of the office door and announced he was on a hunger strike until I commuted Baby's sentence. "No, Mom, no! You cannot give Baby away! He was Nana's cat!"

All the while, there was the clock... ticking away my Thursday.

I explained to my sobbing child that he would feel quite differently about Baby if the spraying continued. I explained that I would never take Baby to the pound, but that I was going to be calling the no-kill shelters and putting him on a waiting list. I explained that I could understand the spraying in the garage, and I could understand the spraying in a cat toy that another cat had used, but I could not understand spraying in my bedroom on my drapes. "I hate you," was his response. Baby Cat felt pretty much the same way.

I left a message at the shelter and waited for them to call me back. "Come downstairs so I can fix you something to eat," I called up the stairs.

"No! I'm not moving or eating until you let Baby stay." Great. That's what I get for teaching him about civil disobedience.

The lady from Heaven Can Wait called me back and broke the bad news to me about my bad cat. When I asked her about a waiting list, she said, "Oh, I'm afraid we're beyond that. We're not even taking names." They are overwhelmed with unwanted and abandoned cats. I asked her if the other shelters in town are in the same boat, and she sadly answered, "Pretty much."

I went back upstairs to tell Gandhi and Baby the Spraying Devil Cat that a reprieve had been issued. I put Baby Cat on house arrest in the office until further notice, and then I fed his valiant protector.

When I worked a 9-5 in an office outside the house, I regularly groused about stupid meetings, talkative visitors, and other office time wasters. As annoying as those things were, I never, ever had to deal with a cat pee interruption, nor did any of my employees lie down and refuse to eat until I changed my mind about a decision. All of which is why working in a home office will prepare you to handle just about any kind of interruption or delay. And, what the heck, I got a good story out of it after all.

BAD CAT UPDATE: Baby is still restricted to one room while I research his spraying problem. So far, I haven't found much information that I did not already know--namely, that spraying can be a notoriously difficult habit to break once it's started. The behavior may be a result of health issues, like urinary tract problems, which I read are more common in big fellas (15+ pounds) like Baby. I think it's also possible that his behavior may be jealously over our other cat, who has been sick recently. (Or maybe he and my dog who has colitis are in collusion; the dog has ruined all my carpeting, so maybe Baby offered to chip and and ruin the furniture and drapery.) I removed anything in his room that smelled like the other cat and have been giving Baby extra attention and affection. I'm going to try Feliway next, and we may be visiting the vet to rule out health issues. Fortunately, he has forgiven me for chasing him through the house. As I type, he's stretched out on the floor, purring.

Proofreading: The Blogger’s Bugaboo

The only thing that gives me comfort about typos and other icky errors in my blog posts is the knowledge that I am not alone. In this new age of blogs (and other types of self-publishing), mistakes like typos and misspelling can easily slip through the proofreading gaps to mess up a writer's perfectly brilliant post.

Murphy’s Law comes into play for me, because whenever I’m sending out loads of proposals and queries (all with links to my blogs), that’s when I find big, fat, embarrassing mistakes that ruin my punch lines or points. Yesterday I fixed some whoppers, and if a friend hadn't e-mailed me about my garbled words, my mistakes might have gone uncorrected for a long time. What’s a writer to do? How can a blogger keep her work clean and error free?

Here are a few of my strategies for avoiding (and correcting) those cringe-inducing mistakes:

1. If a post can wait overnight before it goes on your blog, let it sit before you give it a final proofing. This is the technique I use with all my print articles, and so far it's kept my print work very clean (and my editors happy). Unfortunately, the immediacy of blogging means it's not always possible/desirable to wait until tomorrow. If it can’t sit overnight, let it sit for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer. Your brain’s proofreading abilities work much better when you put some time between creating and correcting.

2. Proof from a hard-copy, if possible.

3. Read your work out loud.

4. Ask a writing (or English-savvy) friend to proofread your posts; this is what I do. Unless you ask for proofing help, some folks may be reluctant to tell you about your mistakes. (And we all know a few people who are just delighted to point out errors. Proceed with caution if you choose one of them to be your proofer. That’s a topic for another post.)

5. Re-read your own posts frequently. In fact, re-read large chunks of your blog on a regular basis to make corrections and/or post updates.

6. Know your weak points. In my case, if I become passionate about a topic and compose on the fly, right there on Blogger’s posting page instead of in Word, I tend to hyper-focus on the topic and miss errors. (My post on book banning became a grammar victim due to this hyper-focus.) I also have a tendency to leave words behind when I’m cutting and pasting in the throes of editing, which makes my sentences read like alphabet soup.

7. Accept that you will make mistakes. Put a good proofing system in place, and use it. I tell my writers that their work can be published or perfect, but rarely will it be both.
Picture courtesy of Piotr Lewandowski at

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Attention Las Vegas Crime and Mystery Writers

I almost overlooked the upcoming conference for crime and mystery writers because of its unassuming name. The Public Safety Writers Conference is hosted by the Public Safety Writers Association, which is a group of writers who share a background in emergency response, either as participants, writers, or both.

The PSWA Conference is scheduled for June 18-21 at the Suncoast. Writers may attend for one day, or for all three. Sunday only is $80 for PSWA members ($92 for non-members) and the full three-day conference is $300 (non-member price). Sessions range from "Writing for Trade Publications" to ""Putting Comedy in Your Mysteries." If you are a Las Vegas writer working in this genre, check out their web page for more information.
Picture courtesy of Julie Elliott-Abshire at

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Book Banning: Ignorance Hard At Work

Our democracy may come complete with free speech, but America has plenty of people who think that only applies to speech with which they agree. Writers everywhere should be concerned about censorship and book banning; these practices are just as troubling (and dangerous) as the collapse of the newspaper industry. In May, a Michigan high school teacher was directed to remove Toni Morrison's The Song of Solomon from her advanced placement English class. The protestors objected to the novel's profanity, sexual references, and violence. I don't know what's more absurd -- pretending that high school seniors somehow need to be protected from reality when America has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates of any industrialized nation, along with shocking levels of violence and incarcertaion -- or that in the name of "morality" it's a good idea to ban the very type of intelligent discourse that might prevent social ills.

Read this blog post from January Magazine for more details:
Picture courtesy of Johanna Ljungblom at

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Robert's Mother & Other Writing Prompts

Today was the last day before summer break for the Just Write Writing Group here in Las Vegas. In view of that, I wrote some extra prompts. If you’ve been here before, you know how this works, but if you haven’t tried a writing prompt, then prepare to pick your writing implement and take an idea for a test drive. Find a prompt that intrigues you and freewrite for ten minutes. No stopping, stalling, or second-guessing. Who knows where the prompt will lead you? Just write!
* * *

Robert’s mother’s voice blasted through the phone. “You’re a grown man! How many times do I have to tell you….”

--Would you consider having cosmetic surgery? Why or why not?
--Alice was baking cookies when she found out that Jason had decided to cut his own hair. Half of the child’s blonde curls were on the floor when she discovered him. “Good grief,” Alice said. “What are we going to tell your mother? I guess we’ll just have to….”
--How do you stay cool during a Las Vegas summer?
--You’re stranded on that proverbial desert island, and you can bring only three books with you. What do you bring?
--“I should have known better than to trust you,” Chad snarled at Lisa. “Now because of your big mouth, I’ve got trouble with….”
--Combine railroad tracks, a broken window, and a can of white paint in a story or poem.
--He was ready to file for bankruptcy on the day he got the call from….
Photo courtesy of Mateusz Atroszko at

Friday, May 29, 2009

Clark County Library Events

Some nice person at the Clark County Library District is kind enough to send me e-mails about writing-related events. The events for June and July are listed below (with thanks to the CCLD). They have some great (and free!) events scheduled, so get out your calendar to mark a few:

Friday, June 05 at 7 p.m. ◊ An Evening with Laurell K. Hamilton: Anita Blake, Las Vegas and Skin Trade, Laurell K. Hamilton, New York Times number one best selling author, returns to the Clark County Library to discuss the 17th novel in her popular Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, Skin Trade.

Saturday, June 20 at 7 p.m. ◊ An Evening with Augusten Burroughs: Augusten Burroughs discusses his renowned memoir, Running With Scissors, his unusual life experiences, and the fame achieved as one of the most celebrated modern writers in the US.

Wednesday, June 24 at 6:30 p.m. ◊ Meet the Authors: When the Handshake Is Mightier Than the Pen, a Writers Group Open House: In June, this "Meet the Authors" series hosts an open house and "open mic" where authors can mingle with writers from a variety of local writers groups.

Monday, July 06 at 7 p.m. ◊ Urban Fantasy Superwomen: Chicks Who Kick A#$ : Vicki Pettersson (The Sign of the Zodiac) and Caitlin Kittredge (The Icarus Project), who have made a name for themselves in the explosive Urban Fantasy genre, come together to speak about their superhero series, the appeal of the paranormal in contemporary fiction and why readers can't seem to get enough of kick-ass female protagonists.

Sunday, July 19 at 2 p.m. ◊ Norm & Tony Curtis: Inside the Actor’s Studio – Vegas Style: Norm talks with legendary actor, Tony Curtis, about his life, the movies and his latest autobiography.
Photograph: My picture of the exterior of the Clark County Library at 1401 E. Flamingo.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vacation & Other Writing Prompts

Are you ready for summer vacation? Go there in your mind for prompt number one. Or skip on down to find something else that takes your imagination elsewhere for a moment. Write for ten minutes without stopping, stalling, or second-guessing yourself. Don’t form expectations about what you’ll wind up with—just write!

--Beth was excited about summer vacation because….
--What’s your favorite breakfast food?
--John’s computer crashed just as he was finishing….
--Do you remember the first wedding you attended?
--“Why on earth would I want to visit you?” snapped Betty. “After what you did, I never want to see you again. As a matter of fact, I hope….”
Picture courtesy of Johanna Ljungblom at

Step Away From The Computer

Sunday is supposed to be my husband’s day in the office. Time in the office has to be booked ahead because that’s where I work every day, and I get cranky about anyone bothering me while I’m working. When you work at home, you have to set very clear boundaries about your work hours/routines and what justifies an interruption. At my home, during my posted office hours, I am not to be interrupted except for valid reasons: compound fractures, excessive bleeding, dignitaries arriving unexpectedly, etc. Interruptions for other reasons aren’t tolerated so well. This is why we decided Sunday would be David’s day to take care of his paperwork. First, he protested about not getting office time during the week. Then he and my son told me they thought I should be barred from the office and the computer on Sunday. Completely.

At first, I thought this was vey sweet. They loved me so much that they didn’t want me to be in my office, away from them. Then I realized we don’t spend that much time together when I’m away from the office. In fact, they’re usually doing something and I’m… cleaning or cooking. My husband loves to build things and tinker in the garage and yard, and my son might be doing anything from playing video games to building Lego creations to helping Dad turn a pen on the lathe. I wasn’t telling them that they shouldn’t spend time doing what they wanted, but they objected to me being in my office, doing what I love to do. My initial feelings of flattery turned dark. What the heck was wrong with them?

I walked down the hall and asked my son, who was playing a video game, “So, if I’m not supposed to go in the office on Sunday, on what day are you not going to play video games?”

I immediately had his attention. He said, “What are you talking about?”

“This thing about me not going into the office on Sunday, that’s what I’m talking about. If I have to give up a day of writing, then you should give up a day of video games. And Dad should give up a day in the garage.”

“But that’s different! I like playing video games,” he said.

“Well, I like to write. When I’m in my office during the week, I might be doing anything. I’m not always writing.”

“I thought it was always work, so I thought you should take a break. Shouldn’t you have a day off?” he said. “I always thought it was stuff you had to do, not anything you wanted to do.”

I spend a lot of time doing all sorts of things in my office that involve writing, but that are not the kind of writing I yearn to do. I spend hours looking for work, researching topics, submitting proposals, editing, and other writing-related tasks—none of which are the wide-open, blank Word screen that I long for. If my son thought I was doing something I didn’t want to do in my office, what did that say? I realized that I’d let the business side of things overshadow the value of my writing. I like being a writer, but I don’t want my writing to always be work.

That afternoon, I found a way to hook up my laptop and write in the backyard. I made sure to enjoy the bird song and my blank screen, and I wrote about whatever I wanted. No one had objections to letting me work—oops, I mean, write, that day.
Photo courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cora and Irene & Other Writing Prompts

You’ve heard of love at first sight—how about dislike at first sight? Maybe you can get to the root of Cora’s reaction to Irene. If not, move on to another prompt. Freewrite for ten minutes without stopping, stalling, or second guessing your work. Don’t think about where you’re going… just write!

--Cora was a friendly person, and it bothered her that she disliked Irene from the moment she met her. Cora thought Irene was pretty, but….
--Are you afraid of bugs like spiders, beetles, and wasps? Or do you have a peaceful relationship with the insect world?
--“I’m 30 years old!” Alice told her father. “Why do you care if I….”
--The wedding was going beautifully, right up until….
Picture courtesy of Moi Cody at

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Disappointment & Other Writing Prompts

Freewrite for ten minutes on the prompt of your choosing:

--Denise was disappointed, but not surprised, when she got the news that….
--What do you think of the advice, “Follow your bliss”?
--Clarence heard scratching outside the door, and when he checked it out, he found….
--The one place I never want to visit again is….
--Janet knew she shouldn’t drink coffee because it kept her awake all night, but today she was guzzling java because….
Picture courtesy of Glenda Otero at

Thursday, April 30, 2009

You Are Not Allowed To Write About This

For the sake of fairness, I think anyone who moves in with a writer should be given a disclaimer. “Dear Potential Character for Many Things I Will Write,” is how it should begin, if we’re being honest. Since we’re writers, however, it would probably start, “Dear Beloved, Whom I Shall Memorialize in Many Ways.”

At my home, this can become a tricky issue because I primarily write non-fiction. If you’re writing fiction, you can honestly say, “Oh honey, I know this character is a lot like you, but it’s not you. See, he cheats on his wife and has a horrendous mole, and you’re faithful and mole-free.” In my case, I can’t use this defense. My husband has seen his name in my writing for twenty years now, and for the most part he takes it in stride. However, in the past few years, he’s started to become more conscious of the possibility that all sorts of things he says and does wind up in my work, and if it’s embarrassing or funny, the odds are really good.

My son noticed this early on in life. He started saying, “Don’t write about this! You do not have my permission to write about this!” at a rather tender age. Then both of them started asking, “You’re not going to write about this, are you?” from time to time.

“You never know,” I tell them.

About a week ago David and I were talking about a subject which I cannot reveal. He was telling me something that I can only tell you was hilarious, because the moment I said, “Oh, this would be really funny to write about,” he turned serious.

“You are not allowed to write about this!” he said. “I’ve got to draw the line somewhere! And writing about __________ is it!”

Obviously, I’ll be forced to write fiction at some point so I can continue shamelessly exploiting my poor husband and still honor his request.

Do you see why writers should give non-writers a disclaimer? “Dear Beloved, I know that over the years you will grow tired of seeing yourself in print, extra so if I am published. Please know that when you allow me to creatively use you in my work, it only increases my chances of publication, which is a good thing for everyone. You may not understand why it would be good for you if I am published, but you must simply trust me. Besides, why should I be forced to make things up when I have you? When you allow me to share your exploits with the world, it enriches my writing. Let me just apologize now for any future problems this may cause. With all my love, your writing partner.”
Picture courtesy of Armin Hanisch at