December 4, 2010

Beat Your Holiday Writer’s Block

Clean out visions of sugarplums, shopping and baking, and bust your writer’s block with these quick and fun writing exercises.

1. Make A List. Check It Twice.

Look at each word listed below, and write the first word that comes into your mind. Don’t think. Just write. Or try “chaining.” Choose one word, write the first word that comes to mind; then build on that word, writing the first word that comes into your head. Keep going . . .

2. Throw On A Disguise

Imagine putting on a costume and becoming one of these familiar holiday icons. Choose one character listed below. Then, using their point of view, write a paragraph describing a character or situation from your story.

Ebenezer Scrooge
Santa Claus

3. Create A Few Grinch-a Phors

Listen to the metaphors in “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Then let loose and write your own over the top metaphors about a character, or characters, from your story.

November 26, 2010

Join The Holiday Read-Aloud Challenge

The busy weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah are when the true meaning of the season gets lost in the jumble of parties, packages and promises.

Are you looking for a quick and easy way to slow down and connect with your kids during this busy time? Then I invite you to join my Holiday Read-Aloud Challenge. Set aside one hour each week to read aloud together as a family. There are hundreds of winter/holiday books that your family can enjoy. Choose one or two, three or more, and build memories as you share this special time together.

Here's how to join. Leave a comment that says, "I promise." In doing so, you pledge to:

  • Turn off the television, computers, and cell phones for one hour each week between now and the holiday to join in reading aloud with your family.
  • Recommend at least one book with a holiday/winter theme that parents and kids can read together.
  • Come back later and let us know which books your family read.

Here are a few that you might enjoy:

Mistletoe Madness
by Miriam Hees

The Trees of the Dancing Goats
by Patricia Polacco

Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve
by Jan Brett

Christmas Stories for Bedtime
by Renae Brumbaugh

And, of course, the classics:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

October 2, 2010

Common Word Mistakes

Words can get shuffled around in our brains. We know which ones we want to use, but our brains tell our fingers to type a similar word, and there it is, instant mistake! Usage errors are easy to miss. One way to avoid them is to use the Find tab in the Edit menu in your word processing software. Here are some common mistakes to search for.

Misused Homophones:








Commonly Confused Words:

Lay means to place something down. I am laying the book on the table.
Lie means to recline or be placed. I lie down for a nap every day.

Sit means to plop your bottom down. My cat likes to sit on my computer.
means to put something in place or adjust it. Set the cell phone in its charger. She set her hair last night.

Who refers to people. Jack is the one who hit a home run.
That refers to animals and things. That is the dog I saw yesterday. That story made me laugh.

To decide when to use who or whom, phrase the problem as a question. If you can answer the question with him, then use whom. If you can answer the question with he, then use who. [Who or whom] went to the game? [He, not Him, went to the game.] The correct form is: Who went to the game?

Farther means physical advancement in distance. He walked farther down the road.
Further means advancement to a greater degree. She wants to further her education.

Use said for quoted and indirect speech. He said, "Hello, I am your waiter tonight." He said that he was our waiter.
Use told for indirect speech. He told us that he was our waiter.

Are you still confused? Then head over to Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She has five pages of word choice tips.


Rely on your spell checker, and your own eyes, to see if you’ve inadvertently made up words. Sarah Palin was criticized for using a made-up word “refudiate” to mean either “refute” or “repudiate.” Other similar examples are “conversate,” “misunderestimate,” and the often used “irregardless.”

It always helps to step away from your work for a while. Then come back and proofread carefully to see if have missed any words.

[Did you catch the mistake?]

September 18, 2010

Merriam-Webster is Watching You

You are being watched. Yes, the folks at are watching the words you look up on their website, and this month they listed the Top 10 Words of Summer 2010. Here they are.

1. “Refudiate,” Sarah Palin’s combination of “refute” and “repudiate.” (You won’t find this one in the dictionary.)

2. “Inception,” most likely connected with the summer blockbuster movie with the same name.

3. “Despicable,” as in “Despicable Me,” another hit movie in Summer 2010.

4. “Moratorium.” Webster’s suggests this one is related to the Gulf oil spill.

5. “Austere,” probably a reflection of current global economic conditions.

6. “Cacophony,” looked up most often during the World Cup soccer match in South Africa and attributed to the use of the “vuvuzela.” (Look it up.)

7. “Doppelganger.” George Stephanopoulos, on "Good Morning America," sent viewers searching for this word. Do you think Julia Roberts and the real Elizabeth Gilbert look that similar?

8. “Opulent,” a popular word around the time of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

9. “Vapid.” Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan used this word to describe her confirmation proceedings.

And finally, word number ten:

10: “Frugal,” relating to how Americans are adjusting to the current economic state.

If you haven’t visited the Merriam-Webster site lately, hop on over there and have some fun. Along with a searchable online dictionary and thesaurus, you’ll find dozens of fun word games and tons of information about new and interesting words.

What's In a Word?
Fascinating Stories of More Than 350 Everyday Words and Phrases

If you love discovering the origins of words and phrases, check out this book by Webb Garrison. What's in a Word? is the sort of book that you can read in small bites. Filled with trivia, it is guaranteed to inspire out-of-the-ordinary dinner table conversation.

Here’s a teaser: Do you know what it really means to “bring home the bacon?” This phrase originated in a 15th century entertainment venue similar to our modern-day reality shows. Way back in 1445, a church in Essex County, England began awarding a “flitch of bacon” to the pair of newlyweds who after one year of marriage was chosen as the perfect example of happiness and fidelity. A jury of six bachelors and maidens judged the contest, and the winning couple literally “brought home the bacon.”

What’s in a Word? is published by Thomas Nelson and available from your favorite bookstore.

Are you a member of Thomas Nelson’s Book Sneeze? Get free books in exchange for a review on your blog and any consumer retail website. Sign up here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

September 9, 2010

Story Elements -- 10 Tips to set the Scene

virtual realitynoun
a realistic simulation of an environment including three-dimensional graphics . . .

As a fiction writer it’s your job to create virtual reality, to design a setting that makes readers think in three-dimensional pictures. If you’re good at set design, your readers’ imaginations will interact with the environment you create.

Try these tips for setting the scene.

1. Create a setting to influence action. What elements in your scene will trigger your characters to react?

2. Use setting to create conflict. Think about contrast and opposition. An example from real-life: It’s a balmy, sunny morning on Khao Lak Beach, Thailand. A young couple sip their morning tea and make plans for the day when suddenly they are swallowed by a giant tidal wave 100-feet high. Do you see the contrast? A beautiful day turns ugly. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

3. Allow your characters' senses to help describe the setting. What do they see, smell, hear, feel and taste?

4. Think about your story's social setting. Imagine you’re directing a movie scene. Along with your main characters you have “extras,” people surrounding the central action. Look around your virtual environment at what these extras are doing. How do they affect the setting?

5. Use natural surroundings like weather, light and color to help set the mood.

6. Avoid obvious and overused settings like modern-day Paris, New York and Los Angeles. Your story will be more interesting if set in a not-so-familiar time and place. Take readers someplace fresh.

7. Search your surroundings for realistic settings. The perfect setting for your story might be in your own back yard: a boarded up house gutted by a fire, a carnival making a brief stop in your community, a cupcake bakery on the outskirts of town.

8. Set your story in an unlikely place, a love story in a lighthouse, a comedy in a graveyard, a ghost story in a circus tent.

9. Research, research, research. Make your setting believable. If your story is set in a real time and place, it has to be true to the actual setting. When I wrote Sydney's Outer Banks Blast, a Camp Club Girls mystery set in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I relied on photographs, maps, travel guides and tourists' reviews. Don’t guess. Do the research.

10. Show, don’t tell. A sentence like The wind was blowing is boring. Show how the wind interacts with your setting. The wind tossed the small boats as if they were made of paper.

A great setting is evocative, well researched and skillfully described. If done well, it immediately captures readers’ interest and holds it through the entire story – and that’s the primary goal of good fiction.

September 2, 2010

Beating Writer's Block -- How to Find Inspiration

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "In writing, there is first a creating stage -- a time you look for ideas, you explore, you cast around for what you want to say. Like the first phase of building, this creating stage is full of possibilities."

So, where do writers cast around? While suffering from writer’s block this week, I went on a quest to discover what inspires other writers. This is what I found:

Writers find inspiration spending time with other writers
at writers’ conferences,
in a writing class,
as members of a writers’ group,
networking online and
sharing personal experiences.

Writers find inspiration reading
magazine articles,
social media status updates and
online message boards.

Writers find inspiration observing
the sky, and
changes in weather and seasons.

Writers find inspiration viewing
plays, and

television programs.

Writers find inspiration listening
to music,
silence, and
everyday sounds.

Writers find inspiration in unique places:
flea markets,
historical re-enactments,
train or bus stations or airports,
natural settings like woodlands or beaches,
amusement parks and
(my favorite) in courtrooms.

And here are a few “out of the box” ideas:

Some writers find inspiration

wearing certain articles of clothing when they write (I can only imagine!),

eating specific foods while writing (or, I suppose drinking specific drinks?),

in a laundry room, sitting on a lawn chair and using an ironing board as a desk.

Are you laughing? Well, that last one came from Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code!

What inspires you to write?

August 8, 2010

Getting Rid of the Clutter

Hi, everyone. It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on The Walrus and the Carpenter blog. If you read my Christian inspiration blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I’ve been recuperating from surgery. Finally, I’m back to a normal schedule, and I’m tackling all the clutter that’s accumulated in the past few months.

Clutter distracts me from writing. I like my workspace clean and my bookshelves covered. That’s right, muslin curtains hang in front of my bookshelves because looking at the spines of all those books is too darn distracting. Any sort of physical clutter switches my brain from writing to the things I have to do. Some writers thrive in a chaotic environment. I prefer to keep clutter to a bare minimum. This week’s mission was sorting through a stack of papers that I'd piled near my workspace and putting away several boxes of book samples that arrived while I was sick.

Then there’s emotional clutter, all the unresolved mental stuff rattling around in my head. I had cancer. It’s gone now, but still my brain is swimming with thoughts of that and whether I’ll remain cancer free. Medical bills cause emotional clutter as does finding work and focusing on things in my life that I want to change. Phone calls, email messages and snail mail all contribute to emotional clutter. I can’t throw a cover over it, but I've found that it helps to change my writing venue. I like to get in my car and drive to a quiet place to write. (Read more about my quest to find the perfect place here.) I’ve been working on a book about my experience with uterine cancer, and so far, most of what I’ve written has happened at the lakefront and not in my home office.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Albert Einstein’s Three Rules of Work. He said, “Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” I’m hanging onto those words as I emerge from the clutter of the past several months. It’s been a rough road, but I’m moving forward with the help of simplicity, harmony and the hope of new opportunities.

I’d love to know how you deal with the physical and emotional clutter in your life. How does it affect your writing? Leave a comment and let me know.


Check out my newest book in Barbour's Camp Club Girls tween mystery series.
Available now at or from your favorite bookseller.

April 28, 2010

Finding a Mini-Writing Retreat

Kathryn Haueisen Cashen wrote an article recently for Writer’s Digest called “Create Your Own Mini-Writing Retreat.” She defines a mini-retreat as a quiet place where you can write uninterrupted for a short period of time. It’s a great idea. I sometimes get away from my home office to write in my car near the lake, but after reading the article, I decided to broaden my options and write at someplace new each week. But where?

I began the venue quest a few blocks from home at a McDonald’s restaurant. It was just before 8 a.m., and I ordered an Egg McMuffin and a large hazelnut iced coffee. (Those things are huge! Have you tried one?) I settled into a booth in the back near the restrooms, I booted the laptop and started to write. A Mickey D’s employee showed up with a broom. “Could you lift your feet, please?” she asked. “I’d like to get at those.” She pointed. I looked down at my moccasin-clad feet and realized that they were planted on a handful of smooshed, catsup-covered fries. “So, what are you writing?” She handed me some napkins so I could wipe the catsup off my shoes. She said she was a poet and suggested that maybe I could help her get published. Just then, a school bus loaded with kids on a field trip showed up. Everyone needed to use the restrooms, and my mini-writing retreat flooded with the sounds of raucous teenaged chatter and constant flushing. Not what I had in mind for quiet creativity, so I moved on to Plan B, the public library.

The third floor of the library is the quiet floor. There’s not much up there except old reference books and some nice, comfy reading sofas. It was still early, and I was the only one there. Perfect! I chose a sofa near a window and started to write. I heard the elevator door open. Coughing. More like retching. It was heading toward me. Did I have my cell phone on and could I grab it fast if I needed to? The cougher was a greasy-haired, bearded guy who smelled like cheap bourbon. His clothes looked, well, let’s just say they looked slept in. “You gonna be here long?” He eyed my sofa which I decided was his. "I don’t think so,” I heard myself say. He stared at me with glassy eyes. “I’m just packing up,” I added, already stuffing my laptop into its bag. I got out of there in a big hurry. So much for Plan B.

Plan C was the local nature preserve. I wasn’t dressed for hiking, but I knew about a path in the woods that led to a quiet picnic table near a stream. I walked the quarter of a mile, and before long, I was writing peacefully surrounded by all kinds of nature. Now, anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m a nature nut. All I need to see is the edge of an unfamiliar fleeting feather, and I’m off on a mission to find out not only what kind of bird it is, but also the sound of its call, its summer and winter habitats and its migration schedule. There were plenty of birds in my retreat spot, and I needed to get up close and personal with and Google all of them. I didn’t get much writing accomplished, but I came away proud of myself for seeing several White-winged Crossbills.

So, here I am in my home office writing a blog post. I haven’t given up searching for an ideal, or even so-so, place for a mini-writing retreat. I’ll try again next week. Maybe then I’ll go to the new trout hatchery or the "Streets of Yesteryear" exhibit at the historical museum. The possibilities for distraction there are endless, but sometimes it’s distractions that breed ideas for great creative writing.

Where would you like to write?

April 13, 2010

Writing: Stages of Development

Over at Writer to Writer, Cec Murphey is wrapping up a ten part series on article writing. He ends today’s post with: When you say, "This is the best I can do at this stage of my development," you give yourself permission to stop.

In the youthful stage of my writing development I rarely said, “This is the best I can do.” Back then, I soaked up writing advice like a wheat field gulping rain after a summer drought. I sucked in every drop of classes, workshops and books about writing. I read novels and memoirs until my eyes burned. Hour after hour I struggled to emulate famous writers, never allowing myself to stop. What I learned from that stage was that when writers get too saturated with the craft of writing they risk over-revising their work. I didn’t know what I was doing back then. I followed all the rules. Whenever I wrote, I thought about the skillfulness of my writing. I might be halfway through a paragraph and then stop to rewrite it, naively editing out some of my best words.

It was years before I moved into the next stage of my development and separated creativity from skill. I discovered I needed to put craft and creativity in separate compartments in my brain. If I didn’t, the craft of writing threatened to swallow my originality and imagination. I decided obedience isn’t an admirable trait for a creative writer. Moving from one stage to another, I gave creativity its rightful place taking precedence over craft. I kept my hand moving and wrote from my heart allowing words to bleed out on the pages. My writing at that stage was raw and unrefined -- but in a good way. I knew when creativity had done its best. Then I buried the manuscript for a while. I gave myself permission to stop before I unleashed the craft to edit.

Today, as a freelance writer, I don’t have the luxury of stopping. Freelance work comes with tight deadlines and not enough time for manuscripts to set for weeks or more to be examined with pure eyes. At this stage of my development I give my best effort, but I hesitate before I hit the send button in my e-mail program and propel the manuscript off to a client. Is my writing good enough? Craft is the frontrunner now. I battle with creativity wishing I could let it out more, like in the old days, to run uninhibited. I'm still learning to say, "This is the best I can do," and let go.

We writers set boundaries allowing ourselves permission to write wildly from our hearts and also to stop and let things settle. In the editing process, we stretch, reach for fresh words and search for new ways to use them. We struggle to stop, often doubting that what we’ve written is good enough. We are works in progress. The one thing that never stops is the often surprising and unpredictable stages of our writing development. The American writer and editor D.L. Doctorow said, “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”

What have you learned from your writing stages? Can you comfortably say, "I've done my best," and give yourself permission to stop?

April 7, 2010

Ten Things Writers Can Do To Get Ready For Summer

Spring is here. It’s time to toss out the winter blahs and air out your office. Plan for the summer months with these ten spring housekeeping tips.

1. Weed out your portfolio.
Replace tired, old writing samples with fresh ones.

2. Update your resume.
Add recent projects. Don’t forget to include statistics if your books have sold well.

3. Revamp your writing space.
Cleaning your office is like a fresh start. Go through old files, and get rid of the clutter. Set up your desk near a window so you can enjoy the sights and sounds of summer. HGTV has some good tips for decluttering, cleaning and organizing a healthy workspace.

4. Overhaul your online presence.
Join LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Plaxo. If you're already a member of these sites, make sure your profile is up to date. Update your web page, or create a new one.

5. Make new contacts.
Commiserate with other writers through associations, message boards and social media sites.

6. Reconnect.
Look through your list of contacts. Reach out to say hello. You never know, a simple inquiry might lead to a summer writing gig.

7. Stretch beyond your comfort zone.
If you're stuck in a writing rut, plan to dabble in a new genre or take a summer writing class.

8. Brainstorm.
Make a list of topics that you would like to write about this summer.

9. Make a summer reading list.
Choose five books to read this summer. At least one of them should be about the writing craft. Try one of these:

On Writing, by Stephen King;

Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, by Rebecca McClanahan;

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser; or

Old Friend from Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg.

10. Find a summer getaway spot.
On warm summer days when you want to be outside, where will you go to write? Find one or more places conducive for summer writing. Put together a writing bag stocked with a notebook, pens and maybe even a snack or two. Keep it ready for those times when you need a quick getaway.

What other suggestions can you add to the list?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

March 20, 2010

Quiz: Do You Know These Authors?

Give yourself 2 points for each author that you can identify from the pictures below.

Need help? Look at the clues following the set of pictures. Give yourself 1 point for each author you can identify using a clue.


A. Best known for a 14-book series that inspired a classic film.

B. His most famous works were set at sea. He wrote what is often referred to as "The Great American Novel."

C. Today her work is studied in literature classes, but she died in poverty, relatively unknown. Toni Morrison called her "one of the greatest writers of our time."

D. Hester Prynne was the infamous main character in this author's most widely published novel.

E. Award-winning American author who spent much of her life in China.

F. His most famous fantasy novel found a resurge in popularity due to a recent film.

G. He is a distant relative of the writer of The Star-Spangled Banner

H. Well known for her beautifully illustrated children's books.

I. Best known for her famous novel set in 1860s New England.

J. Known for his dark stories, he is considered the inventor of the detective-fiction genre.

BONUS POINTS: All but two of these authors were born in America. Which two were not? Give yourself 5 points for answering correctly.


March 15, 2010

Revising: Show Don’t Tell . . . But Not Always.

Show Don’t Tell. It’s the Genesis of the writing process, the tenet learned in grade school. Immerse your readers in a stew of their senses: see, hear, feel, taste, smell and touch. Amen. But not so fast. It’s like that verse in Ecclesiastes 3 says: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Show don’t tell is no exception.

You can think of writing like applying makeup. Putting on just enough enhances one’s appearance, but too much can make you look like a waxy mold of a stringy, over-cooked ham. (See what I mean?) Good writers know that a manuscript isn’t finished until there is just the right balance of show and tell. But how do you decide?

When revising your work, first read each paragraph and look for telling places where:

  • You explain how a character feels,
  • You use an abstract description,
  • You tell about a conversation.

Then decide if these narrative passages need to be spiced up with some showing:

  • Is your character’s feeling a strong one? If so, then describe it by showing how the character looks and acts.
  • Is an abstract description enough? If not, then add some juicy images and raw details.
  • Is it sufficient to tell about a conversation? If a conversation is important, add dialogue to further develop your characters and move the story along.

Next, put your revising gear in reverse and check each paragraph for showing places. Look for the Extreme 3Ds:

  • Excessive drama. Remember the makeup analogy? Use just enough drama to enhance. Too much will pull readers away from the story.
  • Excessive dialogue. When characters talk, their conversations should be realistic. Too much dialogue can mean that characters are telling too much of the story.
  • Excessive description. Have you showed more than you have to? Sometimes, writers use too many words to describe. Look for wordy descriptions, and replace them with fewer and well-chosen words.

Writing is an art form. Clich├ęs like show don’t tell have their place, but they don’t command the writing and revising process. Great writers know when dramatization is needed and in what measure. Do you?

March 6, 2010

A Five-Week Mini-Course: The Forms of Writing

One of the best ways to polish your writing skills is to practice different forms of writing. Use your journal to complete this five-week mini-course. If you tackle it seriously, the result will be writing samples worthy of a place in your portfolio. Remember: What you write each week doesn’t have to be long, but it should be your best writing.

Weekly Assignments:

Week 1 – Narrative Writing
Choose one:
  • Personal narrative: Write a true story about your own life.
  • Fictional narrative: Write a fictional story.
  • Biographical narrative: Write a true story about someone else’s life.

Week 2 – Expository Writing
Choose one:
  • Compare-contrast essay: Write a short essay to show the similarities and differences between two subjects.
  • How-to-essay: Write an essay that explains how to do something.
  • Informative essay: Write an essay to inform or educate readers on a specific topic.

Week 3: Persuasive Writing
Choose one:
  • Opinion essay: Choose a controversial topic; then persuade readers to agree with your point of view by supporting it with strong reasons and examples.
  • Problem-solution essay: Present a problem and your solution; write to persuade readers that your solution will work.
  • Pro-con essay: Persuade readers to agree with your opinion by presenting the pros and cons of a controversial issue.

Week 4: Letter Writing
Choose one:
  • Write a query letter to an editor or agent; sell your idea.
  • Write a cover letter for a freelance writing opportunity that you found online.
  • Craft a polite, concise application letter stating why you and your project are the ideal recipients for a writer’s grant.

Week 5: Creative Writing
Choose one:
  • Write a short play.
  • Write a poem. This link will provide you with a list of different forms of poetry. Choose one form for this week’s assignment.

Daily Tasks:

Day 1: Prewrite.
Before you begin to write, gather information about your topic. If you are unfamiliar with the writing form, do some digging online. is a good place to start.

Days 2 and 3: Write.
Don’t worry about writing right, just write! Get your ideas down on paper.

Day 4: Revise your content.
Read what you’ve written and tighten up the content. Don’t worry yet about structural or mechanical problems.

Day 5: Edit for accuracy.
Clean and polish! Fix any grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence errors.

Ask yourself this question: How can I use this form of writing in my career as a professional writer?

(Fiction writers, think about how Expository and Persuasive forms can help you with structuring a plot. Non-Fiction writers, think about how forms of Fiction writing can aid your writing style.)

Congratulations! You’ve created a polished writing sample for your portfolio.

March 1, 2010

Blogs . . . Blogs . . . and 10 More Blogs for Writers

I love it when readers suggest blogs I should visit. Here are ten little gems that my writer friends have suggested. Enjoy checking them out, and then don’t forget to comment with your own recommendations.

1. Martha Barnette’s . . . Orts
Martha is one of the co-hosts of NPR’s “A Way With Words.” If you’ve listened to this weekly show, you already know that it presents lively and interesting discussions about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. On her blog, Martha posts “orts” about language. (She defines “ort” as "a fragment of food left over from a meal . . . figuratively, a fragment, esp. of wisdom, wit, knowledge.")

2. Six Sentences
Polish your flash fiction skills on this creative site for writers. What can you say in six sentences? Have fun reading the entries.

3. Questions and Quandaries
Brian A. Klems answers writers’ questions on this blog from Writer’s Digest. Also, check out these other Writer’s Digest blogs: “There Are No Rules,” by Jane Friedman and Alice Pope’s CWIM Blog. (Children's Writers and Illustrators Market)

4. The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar
If you think this is going to be a stuffy, academic blog, think again. The grammar mistakes featured here are sure to make you laugh while improving your spelling, grammar and punctuation skills.

5. Writer Beware
Every writer should be aware of this blog by Victoria Strauss. It reports some of the scams, schemes and pitfalls of publishing. Another similar site is Preditors and Editors. Add these to your must follow list.

6. The Artist’s Way
This isn’t a blog in the true sense; it is the official web page of Julia Cameron. She posts monthly inspirational comments here. If you haven’t read Julia’s book, The Artist’s Way, please put it on your reading list. It’s a great tool to spur your creativity.

7. Cec Murphey’s Writer to Writer
Christian author Cecil Murphy offers words of wisdom learned from his career as a writer. Don’t miss this week’s post on avoiding the passive voice.

8. Michael Hyatt’s Blog
This is one of my favorites. Michael Hyatt is the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His posts are always interesting and informative, and he writes often about blogging, social media, leadership and books.

9. Fiction Matters
This blog for fiction writers includes writing tips, industry news, suggestions for useful writers’ tools and more. This week, they’re wrapping up a series on “pantsing.”

10. Fuel Your Writing
A blog chock full of tips, news, articles, inspiration, and tools for every genre of writing; also named one of the top ten blogs for writers 2009-10. Click here to see the other nine winners.

Are you interested in blogging statistics for 2009? Click here to read the 2009 State of the Blogosphere.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

February 22, 2010

The Top 5 Reasons Why This Writer Is Staying With Twitter

The following post is one that I wrote in July 2009 when Twitter had an estimated 6 million users. New statistics show that in January 2010 73.5 million visitors logged on to Twitter's site. That's an amazing 1,105 percent increase! I continue to use Twitter and like it.

A few months ago, I knew very little about Twitter except that the basic idea is to tell in 140 characters or less what you’re doing. Why, I wondered, would anyone care? I did some research and found that in April of 2009, there were more than 6-million registered Twitter users. Nielsen Online projected that by the end of 2009 that number will double, and in 2010 the total audience will top 18 million. Surprisingly, I discovered that people do care what other people are doing.

So, why did I join Twitter, and what have I learned? I joined because I found that many authors, editors and publishers are on Twitter. The trend has moved from personal web pages to social networking sites, and as a self-employed writer I needed to go with the flow. Reluctantly, I joined Twitter expecting to read a plethora of 140-character “tweets” about what people had for dinner and cute things that their kids had done. What a waste of time this is going to be, I said to myself. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. After using the service for three months, I’ve learned that Twitter is a cross between texting and micro-blogging. A well-formed tweet has a specific purpose that benefits others by informing, encouraging and even entertaining.

Here are the top five reasons why I’m staying with Twitter.

1. Networking with other writers. Anyone can follow you (read all of your 140-character tweets) on Twitter, and you can follow anyone back. Unless you choose to lock your account and require followers to ask for permission, you can gain a ton of followers in a short time with minimal effort. I began by following several writers I know, and before long, their followers were following me. In just a few months, I’ve connected with more than 300 followers, many of them authors, illustrators and publishers whom I might never have met had I not been on Twitter. Most of these users are also blogging and linking on Twitter to their blogs. I’ve discovered some great blogs this way that have both informed and inspired me.

2. Current publishing news along with insight and opinions from experts. As I began reading the profiles (brief bios) of various users, I discovered that many publishing “insiders” are using Twitter. I’ve found CEO’s, marketing execs, editors and literary agents, all tweeting about the publishing industry. Their 140-character tweets have led me to countless articles about trends and current news that I otherwise might have missed. If I had to choose just one reason to join Twitter, this would be the one. By following the right people, you’ll reap the benefits of valuable shared information.

3. Conferences by proxy. Often, writers and editors will tweet from the conferences they attend. With their Blackberries and iPhones, they share the key ideas in real time as events are happening. If I know in advance that someone will be tweeting from a writers’ conference, I log on, read their tweets and get some of the benefits of the conference without being there.

4. Marketing myself as a freelance writer. Twitter gives me the opportunity to inform potential clients about the kinds of projects I’m currently working on and what I’ve most recently published. I can also tweet about and post links to my latest blog postings. In 140 characters or less, in a carefully formed tweet I’m able to effectively market my writing skills and reach, possibly, millions of people. Having said that, the fastest way to kill the potential of getting new freelance clients is to use Twitter solely as a marketing tool. The key is to be real and be interested not only in you but also in what other people are doing. If you’re tweeting about yourself and your accomplishments all the time, your followers will lose interest and unfollow you.

5. Twitter is less time-consuming than other social networking sites. I find Twitter easier to integrate into my schedule. I have my iGoogle home page set up so I can see my Twitter feed (there’s a gadget for this). Then, as I’m working throughout the day, I scan the tweets. If I see something interesting, I might take a minute to type a quick tweet to respond, or I might copy and paste someone’s tweet and retweet it to my followers. While I’m doing my own writing research, if I find something interesting that I want to share with my followers, I tweet them a link. It all takes very little time. I like it that I don’t have to write a longer message or have an ongoing conversation. I leave that for when I have time to email or instant message with my friends.

There are several other reasons why I’ll continue to use Twitter. I’ve connected with followers who share my hobbies and interests, and I enjoy trading ideas with them and seeing the photos that they post. (Twitpic allows users to easily share links to photos.) I also like Twitter for breaking news. A sidebar on the home page shows “trending topics.” If there is a major news event on the national or international scene, chances are that I will read about it first on Twitter and that someone who is an eyewitness will be tweeting as the story unfolds. A few weeks ago, I was able to read tweets from people in Iran who were experiencing firsthand the aftermath of the Iranian elections. I’ve also been following the current status of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two American journalists being held by North Korea....Oh, and there's one last reason why I'm staying with Twitter -- it's interesting to read what other people are doing!

If you would like to learn more about Twitter, I recommend that you read Michael Hyatt’s blog posting “The Beginners Guide to Twitter.” Michael Hyatt is the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and an avid Tweeter with about 35,000 followers. Or, if you prefer to jump right in, go to the Twitter web site and sign up. It’s free, it’s easy and it’s fun.

February 13, 2010

"Said Bookisms" in Dialogue

“Said bookisms” is a term editors use. It refers to verbs that replace the word “said” in a dialogue tag.

“The accusations in this article are garbage,” Victor growled.

“Growled” is the said bookism in the above sentence. Other frequently used said bookisms are: demanded, declared, murmured, shouted, shrieked, exclaimed, inquired, queried, replied, implied, whispered, hissed, barked, frowned, laughed, sneered . . . I’m sure you can add others to the list.

Developing writers often try to replace the word “said” with a more exciting verb. But is that necessary? The answer is usually no. Overuse and misuse of said bookisms can lead to writing that sounds amateurish, like Victor growling in the sample sentence above.

Here are some questions to think about when using said bookisms in dialog tags:

1. Is the said bookism believable?
Visualize your character performing the action the tag describes. For example, the word “growled” conjures an image of an angry animal. When I read it, I imagine Victor baring his teeth like a wolf ready to attack. Using unbelievable tags can pull readers away from your dialogue and even make your writing sound silly. Avoid characters that speak while smiling, smirking, laughing, squealing, shuddering and growling.

2. Is the said bookism stronger than the dialogue?
In other words, does your character need to bawl, shriek, frown or laugh? To avoid melodramatic tags, try to strengthen your dialog so you don’t need a said bookism:

“I’ll have him arrested,” said Victor. “The accusations in this article are garbage.”

Sometimes, it’s as simple as adding punctuation:

“The accusations in this article are garbage!” said Victor.

3. Is a said bookism necessary to show how the words are spoken?
Sometimes you need to use a said bookism to give readers a clue about what a character is thinking. If you must use an alternative to “said,” then choose a word that best describes the idea to your readers:

“The accusations in this article are garbage,” Victor surmised.

Instead of

“The accusations in this article are garbage,” Victor thought.

4. Do you need a dialog tag at all?
Most of the time, you can get away with eliminating the tag altogether by showing your character in action:

Victor slammed the paper onto his desk. “The accusations in this article are garbage!”

5. Is a “said” tag sufficient?
Review what you’ve written leading up to the dialogue. If you’ve done a good job with scene setting and character development, a “said” tag should be enough:

“The accusations in this article are garbage,” Victor said.

Readers barely notice said tags in well-written manuscripts.

When you finish a manuscript, it’s a good idea to run a search of quotation marks (“) and check your dialogue tags. Whenever possible, use “said.” If you find yourself caught in a string of saids and you absolutely must use an alternative, then choose your words wisely. Use said bookisms in small doses and always with a purpose.