Writing Resources

A craftsman is dependant upon the tools of his trade. Well, as a writer, you should also have a "tool" bag for your craft. If you haven't started a collection of helpful books on the subject of writing, here's a list of my favorites:

  • Art and Soul: 156 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit, by Pam Grout (2000), Andrews McNeel Publishers, ISBN 0740704826.
  • Blow Us Away! Publishers' Secrets for Successful Manuscripts, by E. Keith Howick, Jr. (2009), WindRiver Publishing, ISBN 978-1-886249-39-4.
  • Feature & Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdotes, by David E. Sumner and Holly G. Miller (2005), Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 0813805198.
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them, by Sol Stein (2002), St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN 9780312267490.
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King (2000), Scribner, ISBN 0684853523.
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies, by Sol Stein (2000), St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN 9780312254216.
  • The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner (2000), Riverhead Books, ISBN 1573228575.
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman (2002), St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN 9780312309282.
  • Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly, by Gail Carson Levine (2006), Collins, ISBN-10: 0060519606; ISBN-13: 978-0060519605.
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark (2006), Little, Brown and Company, ISBN-10: 0316014982; ISBN-13: 978-0316014984.


A Christmas Carol Writing Prompt

I just saw 'A Christmas Carol' for the umpteenth time and realized that I never get tired of it! As I watched each Spirit appear to Scrooge, I started wondering how the story would be told through each of their eyes. So, an idea for a writing exercises materialized as well! Here it is:

Tell a portion of the story through each of the three spirits eyes: Past, Present and Future Christmases. Imagine how their distinct personalities would see Scrooge and what they would feel towards him: pity, compassion, disgust? Speak in first person so we really get into each spirit's mind.


Thanksgiving Writing Prompt

Try and bring to mind a particular Thanksgiving dinner. Where did you go? Who was there? What events stood out in your mind? Write the scene so that all of the senses are involved: sight, smell, taste, touch, sound. For instance, is it the crumbly texture of your grandmother's pie crusts that you remember most? Maybe the smell of your uncle's cologne which overpowered the cooking food? Did you always have to sit next to your squirmy cousins at the little kid's table and start to feel claustrophobic after awhile. Was this the only time your mother brought out the good dishes? You'll be surprised where these memories lead you, whether it be to an emotional awareness of something you'd forgotten or perhaps never realized!

Whatever your memories, let's be grateful!


5 Tips for Avoiding Procrastination!

It's the writer's biggest fear--and hurdle. When you can't find the motivation to write, what do you do? Here are a few tips that hopefully will keep you out of that trap.

1--Find group activities to help overcome the causes of procrastination. Look up a local writer's group or create your own.

2--Stop daydreaming. The imagination is a powerful tool for the writer, after all, it's what you do! However, to do nothing other than dream of future success is actually lazy and ultimately leads to a great deal of confusion. A healthy mind needs to be focused on actually engaging in life not in dreams. Start to employ your imagination into assessing what needs to be done and whether or not your ideas are worth pursuing in reality.

3--Start planning. Putting aside some planning time can mean the difference between achieving your goals and just circulating around them. I've got some great tips back in my September post. Make a list, think about who you need to discuss things with, think about the things that can go wrong and then set those goals to combat it.

4--Commit to action. You are better off forgetting an idea if you are not going to take some action on it. Identifying a goal and using some program like the SMART system, you should be able to start identifying the various steps that need to be taken. Agree to a time frame with yourself and stick to it. Do a bit at a time and identify what you want to achieve at each stage. This will lead to ultimate success.

5--Be prepared to flex you goals. As you begin to break down your objectives, you will come to realize things that you hadn’t thought about when you were stuck in your “happy land” day dreaming state. This is perfectly OK and you should remain open to modification.

Remember, procrastination is ultimately a rather negative state. People get bored listening to someone’s constant ideas when there is nothing done to progress them. The procrastinator can end up more confused and inactive as the mind becomes tied up in the inactivity of dreaming. "Procrastination is the thief of time", as the famous quote says. And it's no joke!


Halloween Writing Prompt!

What a great time of year to let the "darker" side of your writing out. I was surprised recently when I looked up the top ten bestselling horror novels on Amazon.com. Surprisingly, there were multiple titles being written by the same author! It appears that the genre could use some new "blood" (pun intended). So, if you're looking to break into the horror market, here is a writing prompt:

*Write a paragraph using one of the three following categories and all of the words included:

Sheer Horror
  • scythe
  • fresh flowers
  • bloody corpse
  • dainty
  • screaming
  • deadly
  • discovery
Ghostly Ghouls
  • haunted visions
  • mimicry
  • safe
  • knock-knock
  • dragging
  • lifeless
  • from the chase
Kids and Candy
  • frills
  • trickery
  • little beggars
  • dentists
  • chasing sugar
  • costumed
  • clever


Writing Goals

I just finished up doing a class at the League of Utah Writers state-wide conference this past weekend. I'll summarize a few points that I made for achieving writing success with the 'SMART' program.

Specific: Make sure that your writing goal is not an outcome ("I want to be published" or "I want to be a bestselling author.") True goals are specific in nature and the more specific it is, the better sense of direction you'll have to achieve it.

Measurable: You have to be able to break your goal down into smaller, more measurable, steps. That way you'll know if you're en-route to your larger goal. Short-term goals can be determined by asking yourself "What, Who, Where, When, How and Why?" Such as "What will I write about? Who will I submit to? Where do I submit to? When will I complete this? How do I write this? Why should I write this?"

Achievable: This is not a matter of downgrading your goals to make them easy, but of balancing your time and talents against what you want to achieve.

Rewarding: What is your motivation for writing? Fame and fortune can be short-term and so you need to look at the larger picture.

Time-bound: Set timeframes for each section of your goal. This way, you'll avoid procrastination.


When Distractions Come Calling!

This past month has been rough. It's hard when you're a wife and mother (or husband and father) and there are numerous responsibilities that require your attention--and they don't include writing! I thought that after I finally got my children in school this past week that I'd have all of that glorious "me" time to start really focusing on my writing again. Well, hasn't happened yet. I've been pulled in many directions and can't quite seem to get back to business, as it were. So, if these blogs become few and far between, it's only because I'm working hard on figuring out how to balance my life so that my writing doesn't always take the proverbial back seat to everything else in my life. And when I figure it out--I'll be sure to let you know!


Making Your Character Come Alive

There's nothing worse than a two-dimensional character who you can't differentiate from the other characters. It's almost as if little clones are walking around in your book or story, carrying out the plot but without much success. That's because your plot springs from your characters. Here are some tips for making them richer and more distinct:

1) Determine their external characteristics. How can these add to their personality? That doesn't mean that you settle for cliches: pirate with an eye patch, car salesman with a gold chain. And sometimes you'll want to describe them in direct contrast to their personality: a villain who seemed to be a handsome, young man.

2) Develop their goals: These are what will drive your character. What they want and why? Some of these goals will be obvious to the reader, but not always to the character. Others will be the "mantra" that your character lives by. (ex: Scarlett O'Hara, "I'll never be hungry again.")

3) Figure out their point of view: That's right. What's the character's point of view? How do they see themselves, their family, the world around them? This can also be a part of their goals and motivations and drive the plot because perception is always reality for a character.

4) What is their flaw? No one wants a perfect character and so come up with a few weaknesses that will contribute to the plot.

5) Carry out a dialogue with your character and ask them several personal questions, such as: "Where did you grow up," "Who was your best friend," "What do you want most out of life." Get to know them as well as you know yourself.

6) Write this all down! Keep a 'character log' that you can reference as you write your story.


Writing Exercise

Here's a great writing exercise that will get your creative thoughts flowing...

Pretend like you're the offspring of a villainous literary character. Writer him/her a letter explaining why you've decided to be good, not bad. Try and capture the essence of the book/character by the words, phrases and thoughts you incorporate into your letter so that you don't have to spell it out for the reader who you're writing to.


5 Tips for the Aspiring Writer

Tip #1: Network with other writers through writer's groups and conferences.
Tip #2: Find opportunities to write every day, even if it's just in a journal.
Tip #3: Set goals for yourself as to what you wish to accomplish. Write them down.
Tip #4: Start small. There are numerous ways to get published; consider magazines, newspapers, local publications or online blogs.
Tip #5: Don't give up! Rejection is a part of the writing world and so use it as a stepping stone to improvement and success!


The Aftermath of Writing Conferences

Whew...I just got back from the LDSstorymakers conference. My head is swimming with new information, my ego experienced a little tweaking and I'm trying to figure out where to begin! Conferences are a wonderful, good/bad thing. You have access to lots of new facts from established, successful writers, but somewhere around the seventh break-out session you start to have doubts about why you're even there! Can you even write? That's why it's always important to have a little "detox" session when you come home. Don't start making any drastic edits to your manuscript, don't tell yourself you're not really a writer. Just sit and let it all sink in and then decide what, of everything you learned, is going to be of value to you. You don't have to do it all and you don't have to be like anyone else. What works for one writer won't necessarily work for you. Focus on a few of the technical things that you might need to change (punctuation, grammar) and then zero in on one aspect of your writing you'd like to improve (characterization, pacing, plot). If you've gotten good feedback on your writing before now, and especially if you've had a work accepted, you may not be as "broken" as you thought you were--so don't struggle to "fix" everything.


Going to the Head of the 'Writing' Class

If doesn't matter if it's been awhile since you attended school. Taking a writing class can be a great option to keep up your skills. Here are a few ideas about choosing the best one for you:

1) Determine what it is you're hoping to gain...more technical skills, some networking, or just to be surrounded by other writers. This will help you decide how much time and money you're willing to invest.

2) Consider taking an online writing course. Most of these are aimed at the novice writer, though you can find some that cater to the experienced, professional writer. You'll find them genre-specific as well: romance, sci-fi, poetry, scriptwriting. This is a convenient way to network and give you a new perspective on the writing world. Just do your research and make sure the group is reputable.

3) You probably get one of those community newspapers in the mail from time to time. Open it up and see if there's a writing course available...there probably is. If there isn't, let your community college know and they might just add it to their next curriculum.

4) Workshops and conference can be found throughout the year, hosted by various writing groups. Again, they're probably genre-specific and will cost a bit of money. But often joining these groups will cut the fee down dramatically and would be worth considering.


Marketing and Promotiong Your Book

Five Things You Must Do:

1) Contact your publisher so you know exactly what they are going to be doing for you in regards to promotional materials, book signings, advertising, etc...

2) Order business cards that preferably show your book's cover, include the title, your name and contact information like an email address/web site/blog site. Carry these with you wherever you go and exchange cards with every new contact.

3) Join one online social networking site. This can be a general site like Facebook or MySpace or be specific to your area of interest (i.e. Mormon moms, thrifty shoppers, outdoor enthusiasts...)

4) Host a webpage or a blog. How often you update it can be up to you. Even a place where general information is available is a start. Then, try and link your site to as many other sites where people who might be interested in your book go. Once you're linked, the hard part's over and you can put your focus on other things.

5) When your book's release date grows near, contact local newspapers and volunteer to do an interview or send out your own press releases. Don't forget other venues like alumni magazines, church and civic groups for a little free advertising as well. If you have connections--use them!

Five Things You Could Do:

1) Visit local bookstores the week your book is released. Meet the managers and staff and, if possible, bring a little treat or promotional item that will remind them about your book. Offer to sign the books they have on hand. Have bookmarks you can leave for customers. For bookstores out of your area, consider sending fliers or postcards announcing the release of your book and thanking them for their support.

2) Find the names of reviewers related to your book's genre and ask your publisher if they'd send out ARCs (advanced reading copies) or electronic files to those reviewers at least 1-2 months before your release date.

3) Find out about local book fairs, writer's conventions or other venues where you could arrange a book signing. Think of your target audience and be creative. (i.e. grocery stores, athletic shops, bakeries, organic markets, cultural celebrations)

4) Arrange for public speaking situations where you can be "expert" on a given subject.

5) Enlist the help of family and friends. You don't have to do it all yourself!


A Word about Writing Conferences

Whew! I've hit two writer's conferences this past month, with another looming next month and one more the month after. When it comes down to it, sometimes I have to wonder if I really need to go to all of them! In this case, I did and still do, but here's a guide for you so you don't overdo it.

1) Plan your budget. If you can't afford it, you may have to reconsider a few.
2) Try and narrow down your writing plan so that you choose conferences that fit your needs the most.
3) Decide what the purpose of attending is: Are you there to learn new techniques? Network with other writers? Do a little shmoozing? Your motivation could be your guide.
4) Try and see if you've done anything worthy of being asked to serve as "Staff" at a conference. Any volunteer work on Committees or Boards could also garner you a free invite!
5) Most conferences are split up into days or sessions and you can always decide to attend only a portion of the conference. Also, skip the meals if money's tight. (They're usually not worth it!)


Writing Exercise

I didn't give my writer's group an exercise last night, so here's a good one I know will get you thinking.

Write for ten minutes without stopping. Define yourself by finishing these sentences:

I want...
I'm afraid of...
I remember...
I've already forgotten...
I am...
I will be...

You can always fill these in for a character you're creating as well. Really get inside their head.


Book Signings: Success or Failure?

Some writers may consider this the "dreaded" book signing that they must endure to help their book sell.  But with a little preparation and effort, it may just end up a success. Here are some tips:

1) Scope the layout beforehand by visiting the bookstore and introducing yourself to the staff. You'll see how much room you'll have, what supplies they already have and can get a feel for traffic.

2) While in the store, don't be afraid to suggest locations--you may want to hang out and see where customers naturally walk.

3) Explain to the manager what you'll be bringing. You can also solicit the staff's help by seeing if they'll put up a poster and really talk up your book and your signing beforehand. It helps if you give them a little treat for doing this.

4) Get the word out to local newspapers, online chat groups and any other networking groups you might have.

5) Make sure you bring the following that day: extra pens, a sign-up sheet for an email newsletter, candy or treats (gets the childrens' attention and the parents will follow) and consider having a drawing for a promotional-related prize, i.e. t-shirt with your book's picture, magnets, calendar, etc...

6) If they don't come to you, go to them. Get up and walk around.

7) Have a larger sign or banner at eye-level to the customers. If you put something on an easel, it will get their attention and help them notice you sitting there.

8) Remember this is about contacts, not just how many books you sell.


Writing is a Business!

I've learned nothing these past few weeks if not that writing is a business! Gone are the images of the withdrawn writer in his/her pajamas hunched over the computer keyboard. When that golden moment comes and you're finally publishing your first book, it's all BUSINESS!

First comes the contract negotiations which leave you feeling as if you've lost complete control over your creation...then the editing occurs. Ditto on the loss of control. When it hits the bookstores, you hit the pavement--visiting bookstores, giving lectures, telling anyone and everyone about your latest novel! And then, just when you think you're done, you have to figure out how to claim your hard-earned wages with the government.

So much for creative process.