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Saturday, December 31, 2016

 

4 Ways to Close a Blog Post

On the last day of 2016, it's only appropriate that I close my series on blogging (blog titles & post beginnings were covered earlier in December) with blog post endings. WOW!'s executive editor Angela said in a recent comment that she sometimes had difficulty with blog endings; and it seems if a person covers beginnings, she should also cover endings. So here we are saying good-bye to 2016 and discussing how to say good-bye to your blog post readers, too.

1. A Question
If you want to see a good example of ending a post with a question, then please see just about any post on the Muffin written by Crystal Otto. She gives readers a question (sometimes many) at the end of her posts to ponder and answer in the comments. The benefit of ending a post with a question is that it invites comments, which if you are a blogger, you know comments are priceless. The only thing you really have to be careful about with this type of closing is the question you ask, which goes with the old saying: "If you don't want to know, don't ask."

2. Mirror the Beginning (also called a Circle Post)
Essay and picture book writers love circle writing. An example of this we all probably know, regardless of our age, is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The story begins and ends the same way. Many, many personal essays in books like Chicken Soup for the Soul tie the beginning and ending together with a sentence, a reference, a word, or an idea. You can do this with blog posts also. Let's say you are writing about character description, and in the beginning, you reference Stephen King's advice about NOT making your description sound like a clothing catalog entry. Then in the end, you write, "So now you know how to make Stephen King happy and your readers, too." That's a circle post.

3. A Call to Action
If you are writing a post persuading or convincing or asking a reader to do something, then end your post with a call to action. Bloggers who host contests or authors on their blog close posts with this type of ending frequently. Examples: "Buy Book ABC today for 99 cents."  "Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to be entered for a free agent critique."  "Donate to this charity and show your receipt to be entered to win a free writing coach session." It is always a good idea, even if it seems repetitive, to end a post, where you want the reader to do something, reminding them to do it. Marketing 101!

4. Conclusion or Old-School Summary
Remember the days of 5-paragraph essay writing in elementary and middle school, where you learned to write an opening paragraph with a topic sentence, three supporting body paragraphs, and then a conclusion paragraph wrapping up and restating your points in a clever way. Much easier said than done. Most blog posts do not end this way--I've seen 1, 2, and 3 much more. But I'm a fan of ending with a summary because I taught writing, was an English major, and feel that it helps readers takeaway what you want them to from your post. As an example, read the next paragraph because that's how I'm going to end this one!

So, now you know four fantastic ways to end your blog posts, completely ready for a new year of blogging. It's important to learn these because your blog posts are important--they are a way for you to communicate with your readers, pick up new fans, and market yourself. So whether you end with a question or a call to action OR decide to write a circle post or be old-school, your ending is the last thing people read before they decide to hit that comment button or better yet, buy something you're selling.

Margo L. Dill is a writing teacher, blogger, author, and editor, living in St. Louis, MO. Check out her blog here and her novel class in the WOW! classroom. 

keyboard photo by orangeacid on flickr.com

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Friday, December 30, 2016

 

Friday Speak Out!: How to Write a Better Query


by Tammie Ortlieb

The query is the business equivalent of a cover letter to a resume. It introduces your work in a no-nonsense, polished, professional sort of way.

First, what is a query? Think of a query letter as that two-year-old tugging on your shirtsleeves, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at ME!!!” The query is simply a letter that asks the agent, editor, or publisher to give your writing a look. That’s it, nothing more. The query is a sales piece.

The query process differs for fiction and nonfiction.

Fiction writers will complete the book or short story first and then send out queries. Nonfiction writers will pitch an idea. The idea, however, should be formed enough to provide sample paragraphs, an outline, or sample chapters should you be asked for that.

Good queries are constructed using the following basic format:

Paragraph 1 — Introduce your topic with some statistics, interesting facts, or research for a nonfiction piece. Offer up a tantalizing teaser for a short story or novel.

Paragraph 2 — Give the title of your work, potential word count, and tell us why the world needs to hear your story.

Paragraph 3 — Provide a short personal biography. Include only relevant information. Keep it short. Discuss any links or clips that showcase your work. Do not attach the clips. Editors will ask for these if they choose.

Sign off with a polite “Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Provide contact information, speak in a professional tone, and introduce a bit of your personal voice.

Unlike in the business world, avoid follow up if you have not heard back from the editor in a few weeks. Many editors will not respond to “no’s” and will only get annoyed from continued correspondence. This kills future chances at publication with that particular source. Many queries can be sent out for a single piece at any one time. Only one query, however, should be sent to each source at any time. For example, you might send out ten queries to different agents trying to sell your first romance novel. You would not, however, send queries to a single agent marketing your finished romance novel, a short story, and a How To Write Love Stories informational piece.

Many beginning writers feel they need to get fancy with font or format to stand out. The query process is one place you don’t want to stand out with glitter and curlicues. You want to follow format, appear professional, and leave the door open for future correspondence. Stand out with a strong voice, an interesting idea, and material that will interest the agent, publisher, or publication you are targeting. Do your research. Different agents are interested in different kinds of work.

Most importantly, get ready for rejection. It will happen. Keep your chin up, your head strong, and your fingers to the keyboard.

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Tammie Ortlieb is cofounder of and content creator for vegoutkalamazoo.com. She also blogs at lifeloveandpixiedust.blogspot.com. Professor, writer, and mother of four, she hones her query skills through channeling her inner two-year-old.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, December 29, 2016

 

The Writer’s End-of-the-Year To Do List

Yes, it’s a To Do list. But it’s a simple To Do list. I mean, I’m the queen of “Just Get ‘Er Done.” Heck, there’s one on the list that you can literally do with your eyes closed. But for now, open your eyes and let’s get started.

Dump ‘Em

This might be my favorite end-of-the-year task, the ruthless emptying of emails in Ye Old Inbox. But here’s why I can afford to be ruthless: I answer all personal and/or business emails in a timely manner. It’s the “extra” emails that I promise myself I’ll get back to…the newsletters, the blog posts, the miscellaneous writing offers... that sit in Ye Old Inbox, gathering virtual dust.

So chances are good, I can live without that information. So can you! Don’t think about it. Don’t waffle back and forth. Don’t wonder if you might have a moment to peruse old emails on New Year’s Eve when you’re sitting in front of the fire with a nice adult beverage. You won’t.

Dump ‘em.


Update ‘Em


Yeah, I know. You always mean to update your links, that personal information, your entire blog. But you haven’t and now it’s the start of a new year. Take an hour or so and tidy up things in your online world.

If you haven’t written a blog post in seven months, then blogging might not be the best online presence for you. Think about a website instead where you can occasionally list news and events. And if you have a website, check your links to make sure they’re still working. Add current information, maybe even a few photos.

Scan your social media sites to see which, if any, work for you. Better to have one presence you enjoy and keep up with regularly than a half dozen where you do nothing. You want people to find you fresh and engaging, not stale and shabby. And where are they going to look? Online.

Update ‘em.


List ‘Em


Here’s where you get to close your eyes—not right this minute, people; you need to read all about goal-setting. But take some quiet time, a walk, or even a long, hot bath, and think about what you’d like to accomplish in the coming year.

And here is the most important thing to consider: Think about what YOU want to achieve. Don’t think about what your writer friend has done, or what that critique group member insists you should do. Where would you like to see your writing career going in 2017?

Got it? Great. Now think about what you need to do to accomplish that goal. Be specific and realistic. If you want an agent, then list at least three actionable goals that will help you achieve that main goal.

You’ll need to list specific goals for each main goal, but the time you put into this task will pay off. So close your eyes and contemplate. Then get to down to business with those goals.

List ‘em.


Send ‘Em


You don’t have to go full formal on thank yous. But the end of the year is a good time to send a quick email, expressing gratitude.

Did you work with an editor? A thank you with an “I’d love to work with you again in 2017” might be just the nudge needed to remind that editor of the great work you’ve done. At the very least, you can ensure that you’ll get an editorial calendar.

Know a writer who was especially helpful to you and your career? Bet he or she would appreciate hearing about your success. You just can’t go wrong with thank yous.

Send ‘em.

And so I'm sending you a big thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for all the lovely comments you've shared with me, thank you for all the support! Let's do it again in 2017, okay?

~Cathy C. Hall





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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

 

You My Beautiful Friend are Enough

There is a beauty that comes with self acceptance, but do you know what is more beautiful? Not caring what other people think. It's amazing! There are still those moments when I second guess myself, feel I'm not enough etc... I don't think anyone can be 100% self accepting and uncaring. We all have moments of weakness. About a year ago I became part of a group called Unicorn Moms. You may have seen my references to it on social media. The gist of it is this:

A Unicorn Mom is a mother 
who's not perfect, enjoys alcohol, 
has a sense of humor, and couldn't 
care less what you think. 

I don't agree with everything posted in the group, but I enjoy being part of a group where we don't get all over each other about our differences. (I also understand you don't have to drink alcohol to be cool - so if that's an issue for you, please know I didn't make up the definition or the term) I'm bringing this to you today because the holidays are hard. You don't need to be part of a group, and that's not why I'm telling you about it. You can be a unicorn without being a mom or joining a group. Be your own cheerleader - realize that you are more than ordinary - you are extraordinary! Especially during this, the time of year when we seem to doubt ourselves most. Regardless of your religion or tradition, you've likely been very busy and will remain busy through the new year. There are parties to attend (does this dress make me look fat? what if I say the wrong thing? does my hair look grey?) and there are people stopping by (is the house clean enough? did I make enough food? do you think anyone will notice I haven't cleaned under that since George W was president?). 

I feel great about myself until I start imaging what other people are thinking about me. A lot of this has subsided with age. I also remind myself that I am enough. I love enough, I laugh enough, I clean enough, I've also been ending some of my vlogs reminding my friends of the same thing. You don't have to be part of the Unicorn Mom group, that's not what this is about. What you have to do is give yourself a break. Especially when life gets hard. Cheer yourself on with positive thoughts and positive self talk!

2016 was one of those years. More people than not are saying "2016 was a rough year, I can't wait for it to end." Lots of things have happened that are completely beyond your control. What is within your control is your attitude. Remind yourself you are enough. Try to love more, laugh more, and don't care so much about what other people think. Let's all try to go into 2017 accepting our imperfections and loving ourselves just a little bit more.

What do you currently tell yourself when you look in the mirror?

What is your most beautiful trait (physical or otherwise)?

What group has been beneficial for you when it comes to being positive, motivated, and emotionally healthy?

What are you excited about in 2017 and beyond?

Share your thoughts in the comments - we would love to hear from beautiful YOU!

Hugs,
~Crystal

PS - what books did you get for Christmas? 
I'm excited to say I got a huge stack...stay tuned for reviews! 




Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 9, Andre 8, Breccan 3, and Delphine 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at:http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

 

Interview with Michelle Rene: 3rd Place Winner of the Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Contest

Michelle’s Bio: Michelle grew up in Texas and spent as much of her time either in a museum or a book. History, art, music, writing, anything was fair game. While most girls were writing about boys in their eighth grade diaries, Michelle penned her very first two-hundred-page novel by hand. No one should ever read that novel. Really, it’s terrible. She graduated from the Ringling College of Art and Design with her BFA in Illustration. She grew her art career as a production artist, painter, sculptor, designer, and video game artist. All along, what she really wanted to do was write. It was her passion and the thing she felt she was destined to do, so she decided she would focus on that instead. Since that epiphany, Michelle has had two novels, one novella, a novelette, and a short story published. Her historical fiction novel, I Once Knew Vincent, has won three different indie awards. Michelle didn’t stray too far from her video game days. Her game, Danielle’s Inferno, is set to release in November of 2016 with One More Story Games. Recently, she signed a contract with Amberjack Publishing to publish her novel, Hour Glass, in February of 2018. Michelle now lives in Dallas with her husband, son, and ungrateful cat. To learn more about her and follow her on social media, check out her website www.michellereneauthor.com.

If you haven't done so already, check out Michelle's award-winning story "Not Yet" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the WOW! Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write it?

Michelle: "Not Yet" was especially close to me because unlike a lot of my work, this one was inspired by an event in my own life. I had c-section with complications when my son was born, and the whole experience was so surreal and unnatural I felt I had to channel that somehow into a story. I loved the challenge of taking a moment so complicated and weaving into a work of flash fiction. Even though it was fiction, the truth in it felt very cathartic.

WOW: Yes! I’ve also experienced how healing it can be to fictionalize true events to re-experience and understand them. Can you describe the epiphany that helped you realized your calling as a writer?

Michelle: I am an artist by training and education. Since I was little, I always wanted to be both a writer and an artist, but I chose art when I away at college because believe it or not, I thought I had a better chance at a job. It turned out to be true, and I worked as a professional artist for years. The problem was working for other people left me feeling empty. I was using my art to tell their stories. I wanted to tell my own, and what is any creative endeavor if not to tell a story? I started focusing on my writing, and after I had my son, I devoted myself full time to it.

WOW: That’s inspiring that you realized what you wanted and went after it. What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?

Michelle: I enjoy those days you just get lost in what you're writing. You sit down to write and before you know it, it's dinner time in the blink of an eye. I love sending myself somewhere else to feel someone else's emotions for a while. The act of writing allows me to be a more empathetic person, and I love learning new things about the human story. What I like the least is not being able to write. My muse is a slightly abusive one. She likes to follow me around with a bell calling "SHAME" whenever I'm not writing. It can drive me nuts.

WOW: Oh yes. I think your muse must have siblings who follow many of us around with that same message, ha ha! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Michelle: I am currently about to start The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks because my agents told me I should. They are like close friends, and whenever they have something beautiful for me to read, I always do.

WOW: How wonderful to get those beautiful recommendations. If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Michelle: It would be don't listen to advice, even mine. I see a lot of people try to tell aspiring authors what to do, and the thing is, it's different for everyone. Lots say, "Write something every day." I can tell you right now that doesn't work for me. I'm a binge writer, and that's what works for me. People say, "Read as much as you can," and while I personally subscribe to that idea, it doesn't work for everyone. One writer I know can't read anything while he's writing because he can't help but to write just like the author he just read, and it doesn't feel original. You as a writer will get a barrage of advice, feedback, criticisms, and notes. Listen to it, sit with it a while, and if nothing feels right for you, don't do it.

The only universal piece of advice I've ever found to be true is don't give up. I've won awards, but for every award I won, there are twenty I didn't even place in. The only way to succeed is to try. If you give up, you've already lost.

WOW: Fantastic advice. Thank you. Anything else you'd like to add?

Michelle: Success stories usually go something like this, "Her book was rejected dozens of times before it was published. Look at how she proved them wrong!" For every success story, even small successes, people tend to focus on the people who stood in a writer's way. The part that no one sees are the people who lifted the writer up. The group of family, friends, and colleagues who didn't give up on them. I'm so very thankful to my group. They never tire of lifting me up.

WOW: Thank you so much for your inspiring responses. Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

 

What Would You Dare to Write?

Photo by Pexels.com
I recently watched the movie “Nerve,” with my daughter. The movie was adapted from Jeanne Ryan’s young adult novel and follows the normally-reserved character Vee, who decides to step out of her comfort zone and participate in the online game, Nerve, which offers players a series of challenges in exchange for financial compensation. The dares start out harmless enough ($100 for kissing a stranger in a diner), but quickly progress to things like walking out of a department store in a stolen outfit for $2,500. Before long, Vee is no longer a player of the game, but a prisoner who must find a way to outsmart the game before she and her family lose everything in their possession.

The movie kept me on the edge of my seat, and from what I hear; the book has a similar pace. The players (and watchers) in “Nerve,” were mostly teens and younger adults—commonly perceived as a group of people more likely to take risks. But what if there was a similar game out there for writers? How far would we dare to go if the promise of lucrative payment hung in the balance?

I dare say if someone offered me $1,000 to submit a first draft of a novel to an agent I would hit send on that sucker quicker than the idea of embarrassing myself with a manuscript rife with typos would sink in.

For example:


  • Would a shy and introverted writer publicly post a short story online in the erotica genre if offered $5,000?
  • What kind of money would entice an writer to write about their deepest and darkest secret on their blog? $500? $1,500?
  • Do you think a journalist would submit a half-finished assignment full of errors to one of the editors who regularly supplies her work on a dare to make $3,000?
  • Would $20,000 be enough for an author to submit a horror manuscript to their literary agent who had already brokered a deal with a publishing house for a chick lit novel? Even if it meant losing representation?

I can’t help but believe I would be much more motivated to finish projects more quickly if the potential for a large bonus waited at the finish line. However, I don’t think I would have the nerve to sabotage working relationships with industry professionals and trusted clients for money, or write about the most mortifying moment of my life and post in on my social media feeds. But you never know, I guess.

What other dares can you think of that writers might participate in for this fictitious game of “Dare to Be a Writer?”


Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who probably plays it safe in the writing game a little too much. 







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Saturday, December 24, 2016

 

The Gift of Words

I've known I would be writing the Muffin blog post on December 25th for several weeks. So for several weeks I've been mulling over what I should write. Of course the things I could write about the holidays are endless. But this is a blog about writing. So what to post on Christmas about writing? 

Our home will be filled to the brim this weekend with myself, my hubby, three kids, two boyfriends, one dog and visits to various grandparents, aunts & uncles and cousins. There will be church, Christmas eve chili, Christmas morning breakfast, roast beef supper, an endless supply of homemade cookies and pierogies. There will be "It's a Wonderful Life". There will be my mom singing "Silver Bells".  There will be football. There will be gifts. I'm most intrigued by my son's mystery gift. Although he swears his Christmas gift was getting his tousled curly hair cut into a "I just made it through Marine boot camp" style, little birdies have told me he went shopping and had his own idea (usually he takes suggestions from his sisters and dad).

As you can tell, my holiday -- and I imagine most people's holiday -- has one common denominator: family. For some it will be the family they were born with, for others it will be a family they created out of friends and neighbors.

So I'd like to give everyone a chance to think over how much a part our families play, not only in our holidays, but also in our writing. When we were dating my husband spent many dates reading my short stories or tagging along when I went somewhere for an article I was researching. Not exactly his first choice for a fun Saturday night. My children have spent their lives hearing, "One more sentence..." or "No talking now. I'm calling someone for an interview." They survived NANO, bad moods brought on by writer's block or rejections and the boredom of attending book signings for mom's book.

What gift could I ever give to thank them for their support, sacrifice and patience? Early in our marriage, when we were poor in money but rich in creativity I gave my husband the gift of words. I wrote a piece of creative writing about racing (my husband worked on a pit crew) titled "The Knights of the Dirt Circle". He still has the original, painstakingly typed on my electric typewriter, complete with white-out marks. What better way to thank the people who are my writing cheerleaders than with words? So I'm going to spend some time this year completing a piece of writing for each of my family members so next Christmas I will have some truly unique gifts to give.

Merry Christmas!

Jodi M. Webb is writer living in Pennsylvania who also is a WOW blog tour manager. You can find her blogging about books at Building Bookshelves
 

To Open Today, or Wait Until Tomorrow... THAT is the Question

When I was growing up, my family started the tradition of choosing just one gift to open on Christmas Eve... the rest of the presents had to wait until the next morning.

It was a dilemma. I loved surprises--still do--so whatever I opened on the 24th lessened the surprise awaiting me in the morning.

The element of surprise (along with the hunt for gift boxes so I can finish wrapping)  made me think of writing... and what surprises (and obstacles) we face as writers.

photo by pexels.com


It's amazing--every time it happens--when I get surprised as a writer. For example, my latest two big projects both had aha moments as I was working on them.

In my adult manuscript, I had the ending for over a year. Set in stone. All plotted out.

Then the characters swooshed in and took over. They evolved during the course of the story, and they demanded the ending evolve as well. I had no choice but to listen.

Another surprise:  my most recent WIP for children began as an informational piece. A nonfiction book. I had the beginning down, proud of the descriptive language, the rich images. When I shared it with a writing critique group, one of the writers, a middle-school language arts teacher, said, "I think this story needs to be told by a kid. It would make readers relate."

Duh. Of course. So a nonfiction piece (surprise!) morphed into historical fiction.

And when I'm trying to cram a present into a too-small box 'cause that's the only box I have, I think about the problem I had during the last week of NaNoWriMo. I was stuck.

The story had flowed easily. I was building the story towards the climax. The characters, the plot, the dialogue--it was almost effortless.

But when I got to the build-up to the horrific events (and they were horrible), I felt bored, like I was just going through the motions. Oh, I was moving things along with vignettes, but I knew it was going to need serious revision later on.

And then it hit me. I had infused so much of the main character's life into the story earlier, and now it was if all I was doing was listing events, one scene at a time. When I focused back on the main character and kept him in mind, my writing came easier.

Don't try to cram plot events into your story. Make sure there's enough room for them. If you need some bubble wrap, some "cushioning," try remembering what the heart of your story is...

... and repackage that part of your story. (And now I'm off to find a bigger box to wrap this pesky gift.)

Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! And may your words flow fast and effortlessly in 2017.




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Friday, December 23, 2016

 

Friday Speak Out!: Adventures in Ghostwriting

by Ayushi Pareek

In the past few weeks, I have written several articles, blog-posts, and even product descriptions for various websites. All under someone else’s name. It all started when I realized that I need to earn more money if I want a happy life. That was the moment when I seriously started searching for work. I found a lot of it online, but it still feels like I am stepping on eggshells. You never really know who to trust at first, and unfortunately, I had no one to guide me.

After weeks of struggle and bouts of depression; I landed my first job. It was a ghostwriting gig for a travel blog. I researched like a maniac and wrote, they published the article but the author’s description described a man I have never met. I wonder how he really writes, or if he even exists. How much of this world is really what it seems? Beyond this initial heartbreak, was the fact that this was letting me be financially independent doing what I enjoyed.

I am not saying there is a scarcity of resources for writers who want to publish their work. There are a lot of websites publishing content with proper attribution. But if you are stuck in a rut, desperately  in need of money, and can sacrifice your ego a little, ghostwriting might be the way to go. Search around; if you really want to make a living writing, the resources are abundant. So before you even consider giving up on this career; take some time to figure if it’s only money that is forcing you to quit. If it is, why not give ghostwriting a go?

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Ayushi considers herself a jack of all trades and master of none. She can be found writing like a madwoman in several coffee houses in Bangalore, India or here on WordPress.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, December 22, 2016

 

The Writing Life: 4 Things I Learned in 2016

Research means work, work, play.
I assume that there are a certain number of things that you and I have in common. After all, given the fact that we’re having this discussion at the Muffin, there’s a really good chance that we are both interested in making our living as writers. Because of this, I’m hoping that some of what I learned will benefit you as well. 

Getting 50 rejections in one year isn’t as easy as it sounds.  One of the goals I set for 2016 was to earn 50 rejections.  I was counting agent queries, editor queries, book markets and magazines, so I thought this would be do-able. But finding agents who represent picture book authors who don’t illustrate is tough. Because of this, I would find a suitable agent and submit to that one person so I didn’t send out nearly as much as I had planned. If I’m going to earn 50 rejections next year, I’m going to have to send out a lot more and that includes contacting 5 or 6 agents a month.

When you write for an overseas publisher, find their magic number. Right before Thanksgiving, I got a rewrite request from efuture, a South Korean ESL publisher. Before I submitted the manuscript the first time, I ran it by my critique buddies. One writer reminded me that I couldn’t build my story around the “power of three” unless I was sure that three was meaningful in Korean culture. What if they grouped things in four or six for maximum impact?  Lucky for me, the “magic” number is still three but I’m glad she reminded me to check.

I thought of myself as a pantser but I am really a plotter. Because I don’t tend to outline my nonfiction, I thought of myself as a pantser, someone who writes without an outline.  But most of my nonfiction has a natural order – the steps in a how-to, the order in which historic events happened, etc.  When I tried NaNoWriMo without a solid outline, I discovered that I have to know where I am, where I’m going and the major landmarks in between.  I am not a pantser.

Not every writer is flexible enough to write for a packager. The piece that really brought this home is the book I turned in yesterday, E-Sports! Game On which is about professional gamers.  Yes, people who make money playing computer games. My son and his teen friends all “get” it. I didn’t understand how rare my love of gaming is in my “age bracket” until I noticed how my peers reacted when I told them what I was writing.  They looked confused. Some actually got “triggered” (the word my son uses). While I wonder how many writers turned the assignment down, I’m glad I have diverse interests.

Those are the lessons that I’m taking with me into 2017. Keep learning and looking into new things (I hear Battlefield has a new game coming out).  Maybe you could outline or pants a new type of writing.  But most of all, keep submitting your work.  There are editors and readers out there and it is up to us to help each other find them.


--SueBE

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.
Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults which starts again 2/6/2017.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

 

From the Mouths of Teens

As winter break approaches, and the juniors in my English classroom are less inclined to focus on work, I find myself talking to them about issues unrelated to AP Language and Composition. Today, I asked them to write down advice to give to authors of young adult fiction, or to writers of fiction who are portraying teenagers in their novels.

Unsurprisingly, they had a lot to say.


Teenagers on Being Children

“Try not to portray us as children, because we don’t see ourselves that way.” This comment was the first one I read, and it is one I often have to be careful not to do in my writing. I work with teenagers every day and, while they are still children in many ways, they are also partly adults. Many students chimed in on this issue, asking they not be portrayed as younger than they are. As one so aptly put it, “We’re not naïve. We’re smarter than that.”  As a teacher, I learned early on that teenagers want respect. That holds true in our writing as well.


Teenagers on Stereotypes


The most popular piece of advice my students offered was for authors to avoid stereotyping teenagers. “Don’t be cliché,” they said over and over. Don’t portray girls as “desperate” or “over-dramatic.” One student begged authors to give them “strong minds.” Many said that authors try to make some students out to be exceptionally “cool” or “hip” when, in reality, all of them have incredible insecurities, and even well-liked students don’t feel as amazing as they are sometimes portrayed. “Just give them normal personalities,” another said, “because teens are always changing. And we don’t outwardly care about social status as much as books make it seem to be.” It’s safe to say that as authors, we should certainly avoid alienating them with preconceived notions.


Teenagers on Realism


I couldn’t believe how many students begged for more realistic books. As a lover of fantasy and dystopian stories, I sometimes forget how much they want to find someone just like them. Even the students who love science-fiction said they wanted “real” characters. In any genre, my students asked that writers not, “make it cheesy or unrealistic.” They want “plausible motives” with “relatable” characters. “Add diversity,” several added. “Not everyone is white.” My favorite line was probably, “They always make teenagers mainstream and hormonal. They hate their parents. Blah, blah. But most of us aren’t like that. And it’s okay to deal with actual issues – especially those dealing with young women.”


Teenagers on Love

This is where they drastically split. Some begged for more love stories. One girl wrote, “Romance! Even if it isn’t a story about romance, just a little bit is always needed.” Another begged for authors to bring an end to love triangles. A third said, “Chill with the romance. Not everyone, actually very few teenagers, have a love life. And not all of us want one, either.” So, when it comes to love, it looks like anything is fair game.


Teenagers on the Unconventional

There were, of course, many random suggestions that I loved. “Every book should not end happy,” one boy said. Another wants authors to, “Be sarcastic! Using irony and creatively poking fun at the society that teens live in is great!” Along these same lines, my students asked for authors to give them something unconventional. “Not all teenagers are rebellious,” mentioned one, while another said, “Just because we were raised with advanced technology doesn’t make us stupid.” Many, in fact, mentioned this, feeling resentful, as if their generation has been stigmatized because technology is at their fingertips.

And lastly, my favorite piece of student advice: “When writing about teenagers, think about Carl in The Walking Dead. Teenagers, and kids in general, adapt to situations quicker than adults.”


Hopefully some of their advice will help you in your writing adventures. I encourage you to spend some time listening to teenagers. They have some great advice, and might help move your YA book in the right direction!



Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious book-reading nerds. She hopes you’ll join her in this lofty endeavor.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

 

Interview with Tara Lynne Groth, 2nd Place Winner in the 2016 Summer Flash Fiction Contest

Tara Lynne Groth writes short fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in multiple journals and one of her poems was selected to inspire two community art sculptures in 2014. She received honorable mention in fiction in the 2015 Carolina Woman Writing Contest and was a semifinalist for the 2015 and 2016 James Applewhite Poetry Prize. She is an alumnus of the Southampton Writers Conference. Her blog, Write Naked, is a place where she breaks down the misconceptions people have about being a full-time freelancer. She tweets at @WriteNaked. More at www.taralynnegroth.com.

Read Tara's winning entry here and then come back to learn more about this prolific writer!

-----interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Your winning entry, "Who Am I?" has quite the twist ending. How did you come up with the idea for the story, and what was your revision process like?

Tara: I got the idea for the story from a work injury my husband experienced years ago. The idea of having metal stuck in your eye really stuck with me and I wanted to use it in a story. I explain more about that here. The first draft of the story came about in one sitting--at a write-in I hosted in Asheville, North Carolina. After a few tweaks I sent it to my critique group (twice) and made more adjustments after the story didn't place in a contest. Since I love writing short fiction I'm always trying to convey a story in as few words as possible, so my revision process usually focuses on eliminating extemporaneous words, condensing sentences, and making dialogue push the story forward

WOW: A great example of how important it is to keep revising!  Write Naked, celebrated five years in 2016, and now pays writers for guest posts and sells sponsorships to advertisers. What are some of the ways you worked on growing the blog from its inception?

Tara: When I first launched Write Naked I immediately offered paid opportunities for guest bloggers. As a professional writer, I understand the importance and value in compensating writers. At the time I could only afford to pay $25 per post, but after a few months I had not received a single pitch. So I decided to run a special: $100 per post. That got the attention of writers! After a three-month promo period I reverted back to the standard fee. I raised the rates three years later. Right now I offer $50 per guest post, and $200 if I'm particularly impressed. When I receive pitches I look at the potential contributor's writer platform and generally (not always) select a guest blogger who has a large presence that can help grow recognition for Write Naked. Aside from compensating writers, I have a consistent series of posts that subscribers and new visitors grow to rely on. I feature an interview series 200 Words With So-and-So, provide Behind the Pen review of what didn't make the cut in an article or freelance lessons I learned from a client. The Day-in-the-Life series has been one of the most popular; it offers a window into the hectic real world of freelancing. I also participate with many events so I try to mention my blog when I introduce myself. I look for guest blog opportunities throughout the year and that helps tap into other audiences. On social media I use the hashtag #writenaked and my handle is @writenaked so that helps grow awareness too.

WOW: Sounds like a clever use of marketing, and I have a feeling you'll have a flood of new visitors after this interview goes live. As a speaker for various writing workshops and conferences, one of your suggested topics is "Aromas and Creativity." Can you tell us a little more about that?

Tara: A few years ago I was walking in downtown Raleigh and stopped in a shop that sold essential oils. While I wasn't aware at the time of the powerful health benefits and uses of the oils, as soon as I started smelling them I had ideas for stories and the smells triggered memories. I told the shop owner how inspiring the oils were and how fun it would be to do a writing workshop--and she agreed! She showed me a space in the back of the store that was perfect for a small group of writers. Before the first class she researched the properties of oils and developed a 'creativity blend' (or potion as I like to call it!). Then during the workshop everyone gets to create their own blend. We've held a handful of Aromas and Creativity writing workshops over the years--and I'm currently shooting for a date in the spring of 2017 for the next one in Raleigh.

WOW: Hmm. Sounds like something I might have to check out, since I'm not too far from Raleigh! You have also founded two different groups for writers, Triangle Writers and Asheville Writers. What are some of the events writers can take advantage of with these organizations?

Tara: Triangle Writers is located in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina and has a few critique groups that meet regularly. I host critiques, write-ins, seminars, workshops (like the Aromas and Creativity), retreats, and open mics. Asheville Writers is focused more on the career and professional sides of writing. I lead book marketing classes, publishing seminars, write-ins, and events related to the business of being a writer. Since I live close to Chapel Hill I'm not as present with my Asheville group, so I try to organize events each quarter there. In 2016 I started creating teleseminar versions of some of my classes, so anyone can attend from anywhere.

WOW: In addition to writing short fiction and poetry, you are also an accomplished journalist and SEO content writer. How do you balance your schedule and the different types of writing you do each day?

Tara: Ah, balance, wherefore art thou? I lead a highly regimented life. Before I go to sleep I organize the next day by the half hour. I know exactly what I'll work on and what I'll finish the next day. Once I have a deadline I put a hard deadline (usually a few days or a week before) in my calendar, then weekly/monthly countdown deadlines to reinforce it. With my freelance SEO content writing, some of that work is unpredictable. I have my anchor clients and I know how much time they require each month, but often one-time projects come through, so my days are stretched thinner then. In 2016 I stopped offering 1-hour free initial consultations. I reduced my initial consult to 15 minutes and that significantly freed up my time. I've also come to learn how and when I work best. Mornings are most productive for me so I get up early and spend time on the mentally-taxing writing then. I schedule all phone conferences and meetings in the afternoons whenever possible so that I'm not interrupted. This does not work for everyone. I encourage all writers to find what works for them and be patient in learning.

WOW: Great advice for us all. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us here today, Tara!

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Monday, December 19, 2016

 

Figuring Out What You Want to Do Next

"Listen to the whispers." -Sue Bender

Now is the time for setting next year's writing goals, but you may not be sure exactly what those goals should be. Do you want to focus on short story contests? Work on a novel? Try to make more money freelancing? Stick to journaling or blogging? Take a writing class?

Until you know what you're trying to do with your writing life, there's no way to start plugging monthly and weekly goals into your new calendar. Figuring out the big picture comes first. So what do you do when that picture is a bit hazy?

Daydream

A good start is grabbing some quiet time and playing around on paper, listing all the possibilities for your writing life. What are some things you'd like to try? What are some achievements that would be satisfying? Write down whatever pops into your mind.

Imagine also what your ideal writing life would be like, if you were capable of anything. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? The answer will tell you a lot about your perfect path.

Focus

To get more clear about your direction, you can also ask yourself the following, meaningful questions from Rick Jarow's Creating the Work You Love:

  • What do you feel in your depths is the most important thing for you to accomplish in the next 6 months of your life?
  • Where is it most important for you to focus your energy, to spend your time, to give your attention in this next period of your life?
  • What are you being called to accomplish in the coming period of your life?

By meditating on these questions, you may begin to feel a certain focusing energy. You'll find a priority or a "point of attention" emerging. Listen to your inner guidance.

Feel

Lynn Robinson, author of Real Prosperity, offers some comforting words for the confused, and another question that you can ponder. "People rarely know exactly what they want," she says. "Ask yourself, 'What do I feel excited about?' Pay attention to when you hit on something that makes you feel lighter and enthusiastic, or even if you feel just a flicker of interest."

In terms of your writing path, what would excite you? Let the New Year be fun, including some writing activities you like, instead of only "shoulds." Plus, you'll need all the enthusiasm you can get in order to make your goals happen.

Consider what Roger Ebert said, as well: "Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you." Go for what feels exciting.

Experiment

Here's another thought that may bring some relief: you don't necessarily have to map out your entire year. How about a three-month or six-month plan? Does that feel less daunting?

You may need to try something, see if it works, and learn from the experience. You can always make adjustments to your goals as you go along, and change course as needed. "Our priorities will change over time," Rick Jarow writes. "This is only natural and knowing this can fuel current projects. We understand that they are not forever; and so for now we can give them all we have got to give."

Just concentrate on whatever you’ve decided to pursue at this time, without worrying about the future. You can reboot and start over at any time.

---

The writing bug is in you for a reason, and you have a unique and special contribution to make—even if you're not completely clear about what that is. Be patient with yourself as you to try to figure out where you want to go next. Keep writing, and keep taking steps toward what feels right. You'll make your way toward something great.

***

Marcia Peterson is the editor of WOW! Women on Writing's blog, The Muffin. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two daughters.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

 

How to Write the First Paragraph of Your Blog Post

Blog posts are important when used as marketing tools, freelance income, and editorial expression. To reach your audience online, connect with them, and get them to read an entire blog post, you have to begin with an opening that either gets right to the point (like this one), makes them laugh out loud (not like this one), or reaches them on an emotional level. This is not much different from what you've learned about article writing. However, with a blog post, you have a fewer number of words to catch your readers' attention because they're probably in skimming mode, until something catches their eye. (Have you seen the way people scroll through social media apps on their phones at top speed?)

Here are some beginnings that work well and why:

  • We all know life as a parent (single or not) is NOT easy. If you think it is and you are doing a good job, then you should write a book or bottle your mojo because you’ll make a fortune. For the rest of us, and I know I’m not alone, despite what Facebook says, I have thought of 3 very simple ways to make your life easier as a parent. (by me, on my blog--margoldill.com)

This beginning has humor and gets to the point in a few sentences. When reading this, you know the tone of the piece, and you know there are going to be three ways given to make your life easier as a parent. If you are looking for ways to make your life easier as a dog trainer or wanting to read a serious piece on parenting, you know to skip this article because thanks to my beginning, I spell out what readers should expect while waiting in the carpool line or riding the train on the way home from work.

  • There might not be a cure for the summertime blues, but there are a few things that might help with the creativity blues. You know, those dry spells you encounter when you can’t think of anything to write, or when everything you write seems awful? Yes, we’ve all been there! But creativity is the drive behind art, so when it dries out, we’ve got to tend it, help it bloom again. (From Wow! Women On Writing, Friday Speak Out author Erin Liles)
This beginning is also nice and short and immediately connects with the author's audience because it was published on The Muffin. All of us reading this blog have most likely suffered from the creativity blues. We've all probably felt the desperation that comes from it; and as she states easily in her beginning, we must get over it. Her promise in these few short sentences is that this blog posts is going to help us figure out how to get past writer's block, a creativity black hole. 

  • So far in this blog series, I’ve covered the importance of a website and a blog in your overall marketing strategy. Now we move into the ever-changing and exciting world of social media. (From The Lit Ladies, Camille Faye, author of Voodoo Butterfly)
This is a perfect blog post opening because readers know that 1) this is a series about marketing strategies; and if they like this post, they should look up the other two  2) this author has a humorous tone and knows that social media marketing is not the easiest for writers, but important 3) it's short. 

Don't panic. I've written plenty of blog opening paragraphs that are not perfect and do not cover the strategies I've listed here. But I really believe that you have only a few seconds to catch a reader's attention. Consider this also: a few places where you post your blog link sometimes show the first sentence or two of your post, so make it count. Try different beginnings based on the type of post you are writing, and most importantly, connect with your audience from the first line. 

Margo L. Dill is an author, editor, writer and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. Read her blog at margoldill.com or sign up for her novel writing course in the WOW! classroom. To read her post about how to create good blog titles, check it out here

computer photo by orangeacid on Flickr.com











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Saturday, December 17, 2016

 

Promoting Your Book

Here's a photo I posted to social media about a book I was asked to review
Greetings frazzled yet fabulous friends!

As a church organist and mom, I am in the midst of what is the busiest time of the year at our house. A friend stopped today and I wasn't home. She chatted with my husband saying "is that woman ever home?" Truth is, I'm not home nearly as much as I'd like to be. In the last few days, there have been some fabulous articles on The Muffin with tips and tricks on writing and time management during this time of year. Thank you to those lovely ladies who put those together. Now here I am asking you dear reader for your tips and tricks. The question is this:

How Do You Promote Your Book(s)?

You may be looking at me a bit strange at this point since I'm a Blog Tour Manager here at WOW!. Obviously I think every single author should promote their book by doing a book blog tour here with Renee, Jodi, or myself. Truth is, not everyone chooses that route. In fact, I get emails weekly from people who are attempting to promote their book(s) by themselves, via Tomoson, through Amazon reviews, etc... and then there's creating an author page or a street group on social media. Do you find book bloggers and email them directly? Do you create a hashtag for instagram and twitter? I truly don't even know what all is out there. So, let's get to sharing.

What have you tried that has NOT worked?

What did you do that really worked that you would absolutely recommend to others 
(this is where I'm hoping a few of you will pipe up and say 
"a blog tour with WOW!"...lol

If you included some swag in your promotion, what was the best bang for your buck? (ie: book marks, re-usable book bags, candles, etc...)

Did you do something in particular to track the results of your promoting? 
Is there really a way to do this?

Please Please Please leave some comments here
 - let's share some ideas that will help others. After all, it's the holidays!

While you're chewing over those questions, I'll give you a quick sneak peak into two fun blog tours I am booking right now. Give out a shout (crystal@wow-womenonwriting.com) if you'd like to read and review one of these beautiful books.

January 30th 2017 Rebecca Fitton launches her WOW! Book Blog Tour of Wave Rider. Wave Rider is a book about a journey to healing from childhood sexual abuse, but there is also narrative in it.

Wave Rider by Rebecca Fitton
www.rebeccapottfitton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebeccaPFitton
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Rebecca-Pott-Fitton-1177935578923204/


February 13th 2017 Shirley Melis launches her non-fiction memoir Banged Up Heart; don't miss this amazing story of resilience and strength!

www.shirleymelis.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/widowedtwice
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shirleymelis


Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 9, Andre 8, Breccan 3, and Delphine 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at:http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

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Friday, December 16, 2016

 

Friday Speak Out!: 3 Tips for Beating the Creativity Blues

by Erin Liles

There might not be a cure for the summertime blues, but there are a few things that might help with the creativity blues. You know, those dry spells you encounter when you can’t think of anything to write, or when everything you write seems awful? Yes, we’ve all been there!
But creativity is the drive behind art, so when it dries out, we’ve got to tend it, help it bloom again.

Play around. Dive into absurdity and write. Take chances. You will succeed if you are fearless of failure.”
― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

1. Go with the flow. Take ten to fifteen minutes a day to sit down and write. Set a timer for the allotted time, put pen to paper (or keyboard, but sometimes engaging in the physical act of writing the old-school way helps to connect you to your mind more effectively) and start writing. DO NOT STOP until your timer goes off. Do not edit, do not stop to think about what you’re going to say, do not censor yourself in any way.

Writing this way helps to free you from your fear. It tells that inner editor, the one that makes us think we’re no good, that makes us pause, that makes us question, to shut up. This is all about letting whatever comes to mind flow. Let it all out. Even if you can’t think of anything to say, write, “I don’t know what to write.” Or, “I hate doing this.” But keep writing and don’t stop.

2. Think in opposites. Think of two words that are opposite. Lead/follow. Big/small. Together/apart. Lazy/ambitious. You get the idea. Write a few words about how a character you might be working on could be both things at once. A business man is successful and unhappy. A woman leaves prison only to feel caged by her circumstances.

Or, if you’re a nonfiction writer, think of how a concept might encompass two ideas at once. A business plan is complicated but easy to follow. The point is to stretch your mind, try to eliminate black and white thinking so that creative thinking can get through.

3. Look at visual art. Go to a museum, scour the Internet, or even my favorite, get on Pinterest and type “art” or “art inspiration” in the search box. You will be amazed at what comes up. Pick something that strikes you and write about it for a few minutes.

Taking some time each day to do some exercises like these will really help get those creative juices flowing!

Happy writing!

***
Erin Liles is a freelance editor and writer. She is the author of A Friend for Freckles, and her young adult novel is represented by Mansion Street Literary. You can visit her website at editperfectword.com.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, December 15, 2016

 

12 Resolutions

Today is my brother's birthday (Happy Birthday, Scott!), last week was my daughter's, next week is my nephew's. In preparation for the holidays my family has made 55 dozen pierogies and I'm gearing up to make about 10 batches of cookies. So far there have been two school plays, two school concerts, and did I mention it's basketball season for my son? Plus our family is on their second round of colds and sore throats. So, yeah...December is a bit hectic. I confess, my writing has suffered.

I'm convinced that the month of December is why we make resolutions on January 1st. It has nothing to do with the first of the year -- it's because the sheer craziness of December makes us throw all our good intentions by the wayside. So, how many of you are still actively working on their 2016 resolution? Is anyone raising their hand? I know I'm not.

That's why this year I'm revamping the new year's resolution. I think resolutions are a good thing. I work well when I have a concrete goal or deadline in mind. The trouble with new year's resolutions is they are often so vague they're easy to abandon or so LARGE they become overwhelming. That's why I'm taking a hint from a "How to Clean Your House for the Holidays" article I recently read when making resolutions this year.

1. Break it down. Things like "publish my book" are just too big. That's why I'm breaking down my goals into manageable chunks that are achievable in a reasonable amount of time. Ask yourself, "What can I do in 30 days, keeping in mind that my crazy, everyday life will continue?" It always helps to have something you can cross off a list, not something that stays on the list forever, taunting you.

2. Assign different things to different months. This year I'm not having a year long resolution. Each month I'm going to set a new resolution. Hopefully, some goals will be met by the end of the month or, if they are something I want to continue indefinitely (like writing daily) they will have had enough time in one month to have become a habit.

3. Let goals build on one another. You have incentive to finish one goal if you know an upcoming goal relies on your completing an earlier goal. For instance, you can't seek pitch your book at a writing conference (March goal) until you've finished your book proposal (January goal).

4. Be flexible. Let's not go crazy and set all 12 goals tomorrow. That's almost as difficult as setting one HUGE goal on January 1. Have a few goals in mind but, be prepared to shift your goals as your writing career changes. You may want to throw in a "Complete a short story" in for your April goal when you learn about a fabulous contest.

I'm easing back into a good habit with a January goal of writing daily. I'd love for you to share your January goal.

Jodi M. Webb is writer living in Pennsylvania who also is a WOW blog tour manager. She'll be sharing her monthly resolutions (and how they're going) in her blog posts throughout the year. You can find her blogging about books at Building Bookshelves

 

Turning the Holiday Season into Writing Gold


A few weeks back, Renee Roberson wrote a great post on how to survive the holidays as a writer, making helpful suggestions like planning ahead, making time for yourself, or working on a fun project. I’m going to piggy-back off that last suggestion and share some ideas on how to find inspiration during this crazy, hectic (and, let’s face it, often exhausting) holiday season.

We’re writers. We have incredible imaginations which work a mile-a-minute. We create characters,  story-lines, and even entire worlds! But when the holidays hit, it’s not uncommon find ourselves lacking ideas. This is when parties with close friends, dinners with kooky relatives, and poignant, quiet moments, which only seem to happen during the holiday season, can become our best friends.

All we have to do is observe and take a few notes.

The Cocktail Party

First, try watching the hostess. She’s everywhere, moving constantly. The kitchen, the living room. Back to the kitchen again. She has a look of happiness mixed with determination on her face. Notice her house. The candles. The tree, twinkling. There’s a red table-cloth decorated with delicate white snowflakes underneath perfectly aligned bottles of wine. The guests, too, are a wealth of writing inspiration. Every time a guest arrives, there’s a flurry of activity and laughter. They form small pockets around the house, telling stories, sharing triumphs. The temperature rises in the room as each friend arrives – maybe because of the growing occupants, or maybe the wine. Or maybe because friendship brings a natural warmth. Some people shine at the party. Others retreat to the couch and sip their beverages alone. A few slip out at the end of the night without saying goodbye.

The Large Family Gathering

Relatives are writing gold. My grandmother has prepared more food than three-hundred people could eat in a week. It’s spread across the table. There's a giant, colorful antipasti, topped with red peppers, black olives, and salami. Fried green peppers hit the table and are gone in five minutes, the relatives forking them greedily and slapping them between two thin slices of freshly-made Italian bread. My grandfather has passed out in his favorite recliner in front of the television by two in the afternoon. Two aunts argue over politics, their voices rising in the living room, while four more relatives arrive at the front door and bustle in without knocking, kissing cheeks, dropping presents at the tree. An uncle tells a war story before pulling off his shoes and socks to show us his massive bunion which he swears is the government’s fault. As the night progresses, and the wine continues to flow, there are roars of laughter while we share old family stories. Each relative talks over the other, and nobody cares.

The Outdoor Mall

Begin by capturing the night. It’s a muted quiet. The air is crisp and cool, and my breath comes out in little puffs as I stroll, shoving my hands into my pockets. People-watching is also key. Couples cozy up together, smiling at one another. Children stare at the ice-skaters, begging their parents to let them skate. The parents shake their heads and tug the children forward, despite their protests. A homeless man shuffles by, and people stare at him – some in pity, some with indifference. You see a teenage girl saunter past wearing a light-up reindeer nose. Her red heels click on the stone. After she passes, you notice she also has on a reindeer tail and antlers. The teenage boy sitting on the bench notices her too.


The holidays don’t have to be a stagnant writing season. I encourage you to jot down the little nuances in each of your holiday experiences, just like I did. While they’ll work well with a holiday-themed piece of writing, there’s no need to keep the characters or the situations in the holiday season. Look at their gestures, their facial expressions, and their reactions to others. You can morph and mold them to work with any piece of writing. Use them to your advantage!

I’d love to read some of your favorite holiday observations. Please share them in the comments!





Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious book-reading nerds. She hopes you’ll join her in this lofty endeavor.




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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

 

What's Her Secret?

Don't you just love a good character flaw? How about a big, fat, juicy secret that your protagonist wants to hide? Was there an embarrassing affair, or is she a high-school drop out who conveniently forgets to disclose that information on job applications? Did she get a DWI, or play a role in an unfortunate “incident” that could stand in the way of a security clearance?

In my last post I wrote that good writing is about putting yourself in the audience's shoes, and letting the reader experience what the character feels. And often, what we see and feel isn't comfortable. Many popular protagonists are barely hanging on due to a shady past, bad relationships, self-destructive habits, or character flaws.

Conflict builds tension. Will the secret get out? Will the protagonist be able to keep her job long enough to save the company from bankruptcy? The clock is ticking as information that could get the hero fired is sent to the Human Resources Department. The H.R. clerk (Clerky) who normally checks these emails is at a seminar, (whew) and won't be back until tomorrow.

But wait, her nosy colleague's computer is broken, (or is it?) so he decides to check email on Clerky’s computer. And he knows Clerky’s password. And did I mention he wants Clerky’s job? Meanwhile, our hero is meeting with the bankers, trying to make a deal to keep the company afloat. What will happen? Will the deal be negotiated before the email is opened and she's automatically fired? Turn the page to find out.

Use secrets and character flaws to build conflict in your story. Determine the one piece of information your protagonist doesn’t want anyone to know, and start there. Then advance the story by increasing the tension that comes from hiding that weakness, flaw, or secret. Although the hero may not like having a secret that could ruin her life, your readers will love you for it!

***
Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She also blogs at writRteachR.blogspot.com.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

 

Meet Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Winner, Linda Peters!

Linda Peters is a writer and speaker based in Long Beach, California. As an active blogger, Linda writes AndroidAfterForty.com, a collection of lifestyle articles that help people who didn’t grow up with computers to successfully navigate today’s technology and impress their grown children.

Linda’s first book of flash fiction, Somewhere to Turn: stories (written as Linda Courtland) is included in the Seaborne Library’s Flash Fiction Special Collection, which was compiled by the directors of the International Flash Fiction Association (IFFA) at the United Kingdom’s University of Chester. Linda is also the author of Way of the Whale: A Novel (2014), a story about finding peace from the point of view of a captive killer whale.

In 2016, Linda and her husband Tom Peters co-authored Our Socially Awkward Marriage: Stories from an Adult Relationship on the Asperger’s End of the Autism Spectrum, a collection of flash memoir stories about the effects of Asperger’s Syndrome on their relationship. Together, Linda and Tom write and lecture about relationships, health and disability issues. They also do business writing, strategic planning and grant consulting for nonprofits and arts organizations through their company, Peters Communications. Follow Linda on Twitter at @WayOfTheWhale.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Summer 2016 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Linda: Thank you so much!

I’ve followed WOW! for many years. In 2008, I entered the WOW! Winter Flash Fiction contest (as Linda Courtland) for the first time and my story, "Change Management," won second place.

I drifted away from flash fiction and wrote a novel about a captive killer whale and also co-wrote a book of essays about Asperger’s Syndrome and relationships with my husband Tom Peters. And I kept reading WOW!’s newsletters.

When the Summer 2016 Flash Fiction contest was announced, I read the bio for guest judge Stephanie Fretwell-Hill of Red Fox Literary and thought my writing might be a good fit. I edited Difficult Relatives down to meet the word count, crossed my fingers, and sent the story off through the ether for judging. I’m so glad that I did.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Difficult Relatives?

Linda: I’ve always loved nature and am concerned about what’s happening to the planet right now. If I toss an empty plastic water bottle into a regular garbage can, I can’t help but think, “Hmm, what would the Earth have to say about that.” It wasn’t much of a stretch to give the Earth a voice.

WOW: What’s your revision process like? How much editing did you have to do on your flash fiction piece?

Linda: I had a writing teacher once who forced us to eliminate all adverbs from our writing and he’d only tolerate the occasional adjective. It was a great experience and it turned me into a ruthless editor. When you have to convey information with only nouns and verbs, you’re forced to find unusual ways to tell your story. All these years later, I’m still brutal with modifiers.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Linda: I know it sounds cliché but my stories usually start as a flash of inspiration. When an idea grabs me, I work best when I can take it and run—just sprint to the finish line and then wait until the next idea takes hold. To keep track of ideas as they occur, I still use pen and paper, but if I’m out and about, I’ll use my smartphone to jot down a sentence or two and then email it to myself.

In terms of place, it doesn’t much matter where I am because the story is being told inside of my head. I just scribble it all down. A lot of writers set aside a certain number of hours each day to write, taking a marathon approach to their craft, but that type of routine has never worked well for me.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Linda! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Linda: You’re welcome!

I do have some advice: Don’t let fear stop you from expressing yourself. We’re all scared to put our work out there to be judged. It’s totally normal to panic about sharing your stories with strangers. The challenge is to find a way to do it anyway.

***

Our Winter Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN
For details and entry, visit our contest page

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