Notes From the Baltimore Writers’ Conference

Friday, November 30, 2007
by Jill Earl

There are few things that will cause me to rise well before the sun on a Saturday. Breakfast with a friend. Me time with my Mac laptop at Panera Bread. A road trip to adventure. Even a writers conference will do the trick, which was the case two Saturdays ago as I raced across town for the start of the Baltimore Writers Conference.

An annual event, the Baltimore Writers Conference is sponsored by both Towson and Johns Hopkins Universities’ M.A. in Writing programs and the CityLit Project, a non-profit offering writing-related events in the Baltimore area. After missing it for two years in a row, I was determined to attend the 18th annual conference. How could I not, especially with it taking place in my backyard? I looked forward to the sessions, networking with other writers and, of course, yet another opportunity to purchase more books. Never mind that I haven’t been able to sit on my loveseat for ages because it’s covered with books.

So, armed with coffee and a rather delicious mini bran muffin, I slid into a seat to hear the keynote speaker, Marion Winik, author of a number of books and articles and a past commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered. With a sly wit, Ms. Winik offered up hilarious experiences of her own journey towards her unique voice, along with a diagram to help writers explore the part of the world they may choose to write about. Besides taking writing classes to improve our craft and soliciting feedback from peers, Ms. Winik urged us to read avidly because, “If you’re going to make the thing, you’ve got to read the thing.”

More coffee and another muffin in hand, I focused on nonfiction and headed to my morning sessions of choice "Writing About People" and the "Healing Power of Memoir." In "Writing," Hopkins M.A. faculty, Dale Keiger, outlined how to create profiles that hold the interest of readers by taking the facts and figures of a person’s life and transforming them into a compelling story. Towson writing instructor, Diane Scharper, shared excerpts from her latest book, Reading Lips, a collection of essays from a variety of disabled writers. Examining their memoirs, we learned how factors such as details, honesty, and clarity along with accurate research can offer healing for a writer.

During the midmorning break, I went for my third (or fourth) muffin and a stack of books, scoring a coupon at an area bookstore.

I thought I heard my loveseat groan.

After lunch and a bit of networking---including reconnecting with my favorite college instructor, who asked me to consider attending a conference next spring---my focus turned to the business of writing.

Screenwriter Khris Baxter’s, "Art of Screenwriting and Adaptation," discussed how to transform works such as novels, short stories and nonfiction into successful screenplays, while making the effort to retain the essence of the original work. The last session, "The Business of Blogs," featured a panel of local writers navigating through the blogosphere, including Towson graduate, Brian Stelter. Now a reporter at the New York Times, where he edits a TV blog and reports on the media world, Stelter founded the highly successful, a blog about the TV news industry, and sold it to at eighteen. Key points were finding out your USP (unique selling point) to get traffic to your site, keeping them there with consistent posting and creating a distinct voice. The day ended with a wine-and-cheese reception and more networking. And once I got home, chocolate to help sort through my notes and figure out how to incorporate the wealth of information into daily writing life.

And next year’s conference? Oh, I’ll be rising again on a Saturday before the dawn. By that time, my loveseat should be cleared---to make room for more books.

Jill Earl
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Write Anyway

Thursday, November 29, 2007
by Marcia Peterson

In two days, it will be December. Does that sentence make your eyes widen in panic? Hopefully, you have a less worried reaction, but it's true that the tasks of the holiday season can easily overtake our day planners and our minds. Writing projects often get pushed aside during this extra busy time of year.

What would you like to accomplish writing-wise in the final month of 2007? A certain word count on your manuscript? A December/January contest submission? One query? Or maybe just a commitment to regularly journal through the holiday madness?

If you want to write despite and through next month's challenges, then first decide that's what you want to do. Intend to write in December. Choose to make it happen.

To help with this endeavor, here is an exercise from creativity coach and author, Eric Maisel's blog. Try out his suggestion, and see what you come up with to help you get past some of the excuses (valid or not) that keep you from writing.

There are always things that get in the way of our creating. You might try using the following sentence whenever you hear yourself offering up a reason not to create. "Yes, I am tired tonight, BUT I will write anyway." "Yes, it’s been a stressful day and my nerves are raw, BUT I will write anyway, at least for a few minutes." "Yes, I can’t stand it that I’m fighting with John, BUT I will write anyway, even though I don’t feel like it at all."

To do right now: Take a few minutes and identify two or three obstacles, internal or external, that regularly prevent you from creating. Write each one down and append the "big but."

Yes, December is upon us, but don’t freak out. Well, at least don’t stop writing. Write anyway.

-Marcia Peterson
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The Usefulness of Writers' Guides

Wednesday, November 28, 2007
By Del Sandeen

I was recently at a Writers forum and someone asked, "How useful are writers' guides?"

I think this is a common concern for writers, especially those new to the business end of the craft. And it can be confusing because there are so many guides out there, all trying to help you get published.

The thing is, there's conflicting information in them because they're written by people who advise you on what worked best for them. Method A may be perfect for Susie Author, but it might be terrible for Bill Writer. Just as each of us is an individual with different tastes and routines, each of us writes a different way.

I often read that a writer should write every single day, whether she feels like it or not. Then, I read a snippet that a bestselling author only writes when the muse strikes him. So who do you listen to?

When I responded to that forum question, I said that all guides have useful information in them, but it's up to the reader to go carefully through that information and then take what's useful and leave the rest. Otherwise, you'll always wonder if you're doing the right thing. The right thing is what works for you.

Still, writers' guides are extremely helpful sources about what it takes not only to get published, but also what it takes to not give up even after you've received your one hundredth rejection. Writing isn't just about sitting down and writing. It's also about sticking with it, waiting (lots of waiting!), and believing that you'll reach your ultimate goal.

Because there are so many different guides, getting a recommendation for one from someone whose opinion you trust is always a good idea. Many guides are geared toward a certain type of writing, so choose the ones which best suit your niche. For instance, books about writing for children will differ from books about writing romance novels. However, the part about getting published will probably be remarkably similar in both.

I've gotten some great advice from writers' guides, but I've also known what wouldn't work for me. Recognizing what's disposable information for you may take some practice, but trust your instincts and use what makes sense to you and your particular style. Guides can be wonderful sources of knowledge and advice for writers--it's all in how you use them.

Del Sandeen
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Meet Deborah Sharp--Summer Contest Runner Up!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007
WOW: Congratulations to you, Deborah! How did you feel when you learned you were a runner up?

Deborah: I was thrilled my story was chosen. There were some terrific entries, so I felt like I was in good company.

WOW: We always have amazing writers enter our contests. Please describe the inspiration behind "The Worst Vacation Ever."

Deborah: I wanted to turn the prompt around a bit, because sometimes a truly awful vacation makes the best memories. Also, as a Florida native, I've always wondered what people do when they come on vacation to the Sunshine State and it rains non-stop. In my story, they sat on a soggy carpet at the putt-putt golf and laughed about the worst vacation ever.

WOW: I agree with you there. We always talk and write about our worst vacations for years afterward. Speaking of writing, you mentioned in your bio that you used to write for USA Today. How would you describe the transition from journalism into fiction writing?

Deborah: I joke that I'm a "recovering" journalist. I've found that my background as a reporter really helps in writing dialogue and meeting deadlines. Plotting was a bit trickier for me, since journalists get fired if they make things up. I've also had to learn how NOT to reveal my entire story in my first paragraph.

WOW: That makes for a challenge. You also mention that you're hard at work on your first mystery novel, MAMA AND THE MURDERER, which will be published in Fall 2008 by Midnight Ink. Can you tell us about the book and the path to the publisher?

Deborah: Actually, I'm now hard at work writing my second one, MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN. I obtained a two-book deal with Midnight Ink after I met the company's acquisitions editor at the mystery conference, Sleuthfest. (See? It can happen. Keep signing up for those conference pitch sessions!)

Midnight Ink will publish my first novel, MAMA AND THE MURDERER, next fall. They're currently reviewing my revisions on that one. The second one comes out in Spring of '09.

My books are cozy mysteries with a dash of comedy and romance. They're set in a down-home, southern-drawl slice of Florida that most people don't even know exists. Tiny Himmarshee, Florida, is mythical, but the region of the state is absolutely authentic. It's all cattle ranches and citrus groves; sweet tea and church suppers.

In MAMA AND THE MURDERER, Mace Bauer is just settling in to look for ex-boyfriends on TV's "Cops,'' when her mama calls, frantic. Mama's in trouble, which isn't unusual. Her antics drive Mace and her two sisters to distraction. But this time the trouble's for real: She's found a body in the trunk of her turquoise convertible, and the police think she's the killer. Unless Mace finds the real murderer, her mama goes to prison--just like the lyrics to a country-western song.

And, even though Mace is the main character in my books, Mama demands attention. She loves handing out advice, especially unwanted advice to Mace on how to find a man. So, I gave Mama her own advice column.

Check it out (and send Mama a letter, if you're brave) at:
I blog about writing and life at:

WOW: Thanks for sharing. Your works sound intriguing. So, let’s switch gears. Which craft books on writing do you find the most helpful?

Deborah: Ansen Dibell's book, Plot (Elements of Fiction Writing), helped me understand the basics, like how to get from here to there in plotting a story, and the tricky business of point of view. I also love John Dufresne's fiction-writing guide, The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction. Other than those, my reference shelf has some volumes that scare my husband, such as Book of Poisons and Murder and Mayhem.

WOW: Wonderful. Do you have any other goals for your writing career?

Deborah: After a long stint as a reporter, writing other people's stories, I'm just happy to be writing my own.

WOW: I bet you are, and it appears that you’re doing a fabulous job of it, too. Tell us a little about the books and authors that continue to encourage you?

Deborah: I've found mystery writers and other authors to be amazingly generous in giving advice and counsel to those just starting out. All it takes is the nerve to ask.

As for those who I read, I'm a big fan of the late Anne George's mysteries. Her books were warm and funny and, like me, she wrote a Southern-flavored series about sisters. I also like Elaine Viets, Nancy Martin, and Sarah Strohmeyer, all mystery authors with a comic edge. Laura Lippman and Margaret Maron are good when I'm feeling a bit more serious. But usually I like to laugh when I read fiction. Covering news, I wrote stories for too many years that made me sad.

WOW: I can understand that comment. I don’t watch news on a regular basis, simply for that reason. What words would you like to leave with our audience?

I like this quote from Paul Theroux: "You can't want to be a writer. You have to be one."

WOW: How true! Good quote. Thanks so much for sharing a little of your writing self here with us today, Deborah. Good luck to you in all your writing!

Readers, check out Deborah’s winning entry here.
Deborah Sharp
"The Mama Mysteries''
In 2008 from Midnight Ink
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Burn the House Down

Monday, November 26, 2007
By Susan L. Eberling

On my journey back into writing after a long, motherhood-induced hiatus, I encountered fellow writers along the way who have served as guides to me. Ray Bradbury and Anne Lamott inspired me to turn off my inner critic that says I have to crank out a wonderful piece of work in the first draft. Really, they unchained me from myself.

“The first draft is the child’s draft,” Lamott wrote in her book, Bird by Bird, “where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” Anne Lamott advocates writing “crappy” first drafts. (This is not the exact language Lamott uses, but for now it will suffice.) Ray Bradbury encourages writers to “burn the house down” as they generate a first draft. He teaches to write what you love, what you hate, your passions, dreams and desires. Don’t write what you think you should write or what will get you published. In a 1956 article in The Writer, Bradbury says, “If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market . . . that you are not being yourself.”

Why is getting a first draft out so pivotal? Simply this: the rough draft is the clay from which we sculpt our finished work. Without a rough draft, no matter the quality, we have nothing to work with except growing anxiety and writer’s block. Both Bradbury and Lamott encourage writing first drafts with gusto and abandon. (Incidentally, this is largely the concept behind NaNo. If you look in their FAQs, someone asks what good could ever come from writing a novel so quickly? For NaNo’s answer, follow this link: Sit down at your computer and tell yourself not to expect anything except a bad first draft. It takes the pressure off. When the pressure is off, your inner editor is silenced and you can more easily find your voice and tap into your creative wells.

One day I decided I was going to “burn the house down” as I wrote a “crappy first draft” of an article I needed to write for a newsletter. I penned those phrases on a sheet of paper and put it next to my monitor where I could see it as I wrote. It worked. I quickly cranked out the draft that I needed and set it aside for a day to age like a fine wine. The next day my husband sat me down after lunch. “So, I found a strange note next to your computer, are you doing okay?” he asked, somewhat pensively. Seeing my note by the computer, he thought that I was about do terrible things to our home because of writing angst. It took some convincing to let him know that I was actually trying encourage and motivate myself.

So, what’s the bottom line? As writers, let’s release ourselves to write from our passions with zeal. Don’t hold back. Write everything that comes out of your brain. Everything. You can hack your work to pieces later, but go for the gusto, write a crappy first draft and burn the house down as you go.

Susan L. Eberling
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Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors

Sunday, November 25, 2007
Good morning fellow Bloggesses!

As most of you are aware, November is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The ladies at WOW are strong supporters of breast cancer prevention and do our part to help bring awareness. I have found a fantastic new call for submissions to the Cup of Comfort book series.

There will be a book coming out called, “A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors.” I’ve actually known about this submission call for a few months now but it’s hit close to home for me since—only in the last few weeks—four women close to me have been diagnosed and are currently fighting breast cancer. Four! And one of these ladies isn’t much older than I am. These brave women inspired me to do my part to help bring awareness on the prevention side. For starters, I do my monthly self-exam and have decided to do a yearly mammogram.

Let’s all do our part—as women and writers—to bring awareness, encourage prevention and help to bring comfort to those currently fighting breast cancer. I entered a story for consideration to Cup of Comfort about my grandmother who fought (and beat) breast cancer twice. And she beat it in the fifties when they didn’t have the medical interventions they have today. She was truly one of the strongest women I’ve ever known.

So, for my grandmother and all women fighting breast cancer, I encourage you to share your stories of enlightenment, courage, strength and inspiration. Not only will you be reaching out to someone with your story, you also have a chance to win $5,000 (with another $5000 contributed to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and publication of your story in Redbook magazine!) See details below and good luck.

Happy writing!


A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer SurvivorsIt has been said that "stories are medicine" and that "one of the most valuable things we can do to heal one another is to share our stories." This collection will include compelling, inspiring, and uplifting personal essays about the experiences and emotions of living with—and living after—breast cancer. Possible story themes include but are not limited to: diagnosis, treatment, emotional impact, support systems, healthy lifestyle practices, emotional healing, coping mechanisms, impact on loved ones, effect on friendships, effect on career/work, effect on romance/intimacy, life lessons learned, personal transformation, silver linings, gratitude, triumph over trials, body image, and more. All themes and writing styles considered, as long as the story is positive.Exclusively for the Breast Cancer Survivors volume, Adams Media is working in partnership with Redbook Magazine and will award a $5,000 grand prize as well as bonus prizes for three runner-up stories.

For complete contest rules, click here.

Submission Deadline: 12/31/2007
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Holiday Shopping? Here's a Resource for Discounts

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Kick off your Holiday Online Shopping with some free Discounts! is a resource I use on a monthly basis for discount codes. I mostly use them for WOW! when I’m in a crunch and need to purchase stock clipart to spice up our columns. I’ll buy clipart in bulk, and it can get expensive. So, utilizing these codes to save 20% off of $65 purchase a month is great. But you can find anything here. The site is very user friendly, and contains many different discount codes for online purchasing.

For instance, let’s say you wanted to purchase something from – all you’d need to do is type that web address into their homepage’s search box and see what comes up! The great thing about the site is that it’s all user-driven. So, codes are being submitted daily and users vote on their success rates, which are displayed beneath each coupon code.

Honestly, I don’t buy anything online without checking this website to see if there’s a code I can use. I don’t mean to sound cheap... But as a writer, I’ve always considered myself an expert researcher, and it’s just one of those things I’m compelled to do. If it’s out there and available, why not save yourself some money and use it, right? It’s not that much different than clipping coupons.

I’ve used the site to purchase gifts, clothing, books, and office supplies. So I’m passing the tip along to you just in case you didn’t already know about it. I hope it’s helpful for you this holiday season.

Have fun! And happy shopping. ;-)
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Confessions of a Saving Queen

Friday, November 23, 2007
By Margo L. Dill

A bright blue computer screen full of white letters and numbers in a strange code, instead of the opening page of Windows XP, is a frightening thing for any computer owner. When that owner also happens to be a writer, it is sheer terror. I experienced this horror at a local coffee shop a couple weeks ago when I accessed the Internet with their free Wi-Fi. After taking a terribly long time to get connected and go online, a message popped up: “A Trojan Horse has been detected.”

This, I knew, was not a good thing. Not because I knew a lot about computers, but I did remember the actual Trojan Horse story and how the Greeks used it to catch the Trojans unaware. To make a terribly brutal long story short, my laptop did not work after I saw this message, except for an annoyingly bright blue screen with the strange white code--only decipherable to people who speak computerese. SO, I immediately took my laptop to a computer shop and said, “Help!”

When I called my husband to let him know what had happened, I was remarkably calm. He was surprised, and I was even more surprised at my demeanor. Then he pointed out, “Well, you do have it all backed up, right?”

And you’ll all be glad to know my answer was, “Yes. On that Geek Squad online backup thing.”

Then he pointed out another fact so simple and true, “This is really just an inconvenience, then. Not a big deal.”

Now, I knew he was right. My desktop computer had crashed before a few years back, and I did learn my lesson about saving my work. (Although the wonderful computer man in Columbia, Missouri, saved all my files, and I lost nothing.)

But still the paranoid writer in me kept racking my brain, going back over my steps of the last day, week, month--did I save my book every time I edited it? It has to be turned in by Dec. 31. Do I have time to type the whole thing over? I did save it. I know I did, didn’t I? These obsessive thoughts haunted me until I got to a computer and checked my Geek Squad account.

For those of you unfamiliar with Geek Squad, they are a group of computer geniuses or computer repair people, whichever way you want to look at it, that work for Best Buy and drive around in little white Volkswagen bugs. I have no opinion on them one way or another. But this online backup service they offer is the next best thing to thin crust pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, and onions. For under $10 a month, you can back up all your files, wherever you want, 24 hours a day, and then access them from any computer at any location. Your life’s work is saved somewhere out in a secure, cyberspace place that the Geek Squad owns. I don’t claim to know how it all works. I just know it is extremely convenient and easy to use and I love it.

Anyway, I digress. So, I went to check to make sure I had been backing up all my files on Geek Squad’s online backup while my laptop sat at the computer shop. When I logged in to my account, I kid you not, there was NOTHING there. NOTHING. I then panicked. I wanted to call my husband and tell him, “This is a little more than a small inconvenience now, buddy. It’s seven years worth of brilliant writing.” (I could call it brilliant if it was missing because no one would ever be able to read it and say differently.)

I called Geek Squad immediately, and the first little agent said, “Did you try to refresh your screen?”

“Yes,” I said. “And nothing came up.”

“Oh,” he said. “Ummm, could you hold on just a minute?”

Time stood still. Sweat trickled down my chest. I almost stopped breathing. When he came back, he said, “My supervisor is having the same problem. It will be fixed within 24 hours.”

I breathed again, and it was actually fixed in a few minutes. When I logged on, my files were all there, happy to be read, but no longer claimed as brilliant.

As it turns out, the computer store did not fix my laptop because it was still under warranty, so I called the company to help. I had to wind up reloading Windows XP and erasing all my files saved on my computer. I admit I shed a few tears when the consultant on the other end of the phone said, “Ma’am, you do understand all the files in your documents folder will be erased?”

But I was lucky because I had backed my stuff up—all my stories, articles, and novels-in-progress were on Geek Squad.

So, my point of all this is NOT--don’t use your computer at a coffee shop and scream and shout if you ever see the words TROJAN HORSE on your screen. Instead, take the time to back up your files because you can be surprised at any time by those creatures on the Web. Your work is important!

My husband has me overdoing it a bit, though. Of course, this is the man that buys EVERY warranty and insurance known to man. Salespeople at appliance and electronics stores LOVE my husband and his eagerness to sign on the dotted line for the extended warranty. I actually had to stop him from buying insurance on a foosball table we bought on clearance.

Anyway, just in case, I am now saving my work on my hard drive, online backup, CDs, and a flash drive. Some of my stuff is even saved in email. But I’d rather have a little inconvenience, than a black hole any day.

Keep writing and keep saving!

Margo L. Dill
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Blog Entry for the 21st of Nano

Wednesday, November 21, 2007
21 November 2007 (Real World Date)

Well, fellow nano-ers, here we are three weeks into that wild, type till you drop, adventure. To those who have been watching, cheering us on, nodding and smiling weakly, we do know you are out there and as soon as it’s over we’ll pay attention to you again. This is a bleary eyed, sore wristed, attempt to cheer everyone on.

Since nano began on the first of nano, so long ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I started with the goal of simply keeping up at 1,667 words a day. This was so doable for me that I challenged myself to 2,000 words just to put some padding on in the event real life intruded. I have my total word count up to 40,000 now. However, let me tell you about life.

My family and I chose a cell company several years ago that was just getting started, a Montana owned company. We stayed with them and I think they have changed hands three times. They renewed our contract every time I went in to ask a question or replace a phone. Each time I was assured I was getting a deal. I added a third phone because a nice lady convinced me it was cheaper. Suddenly, we were paying huge bills and questioning the personnel who got out another contract. We made three payments in September and again paid an October bill. The reminder to pay them text kept coming up anyway. This month I opened the bill to see a whopping bill for $280.00. Enough is enough.

This bit of real life nearly cut my day’s word count down considerably. After standing around in a competitor’s store and filling out paper work, we signed a contract. Okay, now we have two new phones, funny how phones only work with the company you have a contract with. We have two new numbers to memorize, or put on speed dial. I also have to break up with the old cell company.

But, last night, when I should have been reading a book about Halo: The Flood, to my son before bed, I let him sit in front of the desk top while I finished up my daily supply of at least 2,000 words.

The stove that caught fire is gone, the new stove is working well. The new cells are working and I will turn them off when I nano and, as always, forget to turn them back on!

If again, you are a fellow nano-er and think you are too far behind, put the bedtime story off, put the kids in front of a really risqué video, turn off those phones and write!

For our cheer leaders and the people in our lives who are rolling their eyes, go ahead, roll those eyes, by the 30th of Nano life will return to normal and we can boast about that novel we wrote for the rest of the year. Your kindness has not gone unnoticed, when we come up for air, we’ll take you to McDonald’s.

Be well and write what you can! I’ll see you again about the 30th of Nano.

Sally Franklin Christie
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Interview with Runner Up--Beth Blake!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007
WOW: Beth, Congratulations for winning a spot in our summer flash fiction contest! How did you feel when you read about it?

Beth: I was so excited! It’s always nice to know that people enjoy your work. “Magic” was fun to write, and I’m so glad it was enjoyed by others as well.

WOW: It’s always great to hear that fun was involved in the writing. So, what inspired “Magic”?

Beth: I wanted to explore the idea that you don’t have to go anywhere, or spend a lot of money to have a great time together as a family. My parents were masters at this. We never had a lot of money growing up, but still we did so many “magical” things that have left me with so many memories. In fact, the tents out of sheets and encyclopedias and “popcorn snow” are two of the things we did frequently.

WOW: What a wonderful family environment! The way people spend their time together matters most. In your bio you mentioned that you’ve just graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in family studies and creative writing. That’s quite an achievement. Do you feel that the degree helps you when you write for contests and publications?

Beth: Definitely. I received some wonderful instruction in classes about creative writing that have made me the writer that I am. I feel blessed to have the family science background in my writing as well. Family is the core unit of society and if a story can somehow strengthen a family, then that to me is worth more than any monetary compensation.

WOW: That’s true, and kudos to you for acknowledging it so openly. Your viewpoint must help you with your writing. You also said you do freelance writing. How is that going?

Beth: Great! I am gaining wonderful experience and having so much fun! I have a few stories out in the market right now and more in the works. As for the type of writing I prefer, I like to write stories about relationships and how human beings connect with each other--whatever the specific genre might be.

WOW: You sound like you have fun with everything you do. That shows you have a truly upbeat attitude. Have you found inspiration from other books or authors you could recommend?

Beth: I love Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I discovered these books this summer and read the entire series in about two months. She inspired me to realize that in a world where so much of the media is about sex and violence, there can still be a simple, honest, story about life and family that ends up being a bestseller.

WOW: Good. That’s definitely inspiring! Do you have any other specific goals for your writing career?

Beth: My goal in life is to help strengthen the family, and I would love to do that through my writing. I’ve got a few ideas for a novel circulating in my head and am working on writing those down. As a writer, I feel one of my strengths is in detail, so I’m working on longer projects.

WOW: That’s fabulous. Let’s switch back to your bio. We learned that you love pouring over both classics and cookbooks. That’s an interesting combination. Do you think you’ll write a cookbook?

I would love to write a cookbook! I am a recipe nut. I will be 85 years old before I try all the recipes I want to try!

WOW: (Laughs) Yes, the world is overrun with recipes! On a different note, which classics do you find the most inspiring?

Beth: I would have to say any of Louisa May Alcott’s works. They have been good friends ever since I was a little girl. When I read them, I feel happy and behave differently. That to me is the mark of a good book--when I’m a better person because it was written.

WOW: Great! Could you end on some inspiring words to our audience?

Beth: All authors are actors. One of the greatest things I ever did for my writing was take an acting class. I learned how to get inside my characters’ minds, and write as if I were really that person. Make your characters live, just as if you were Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts.

WOW: That’s new and sound advice. Thanks for sharing your time and thoughts with us. We appreciate it! Good luck with your writing!

Readers, if you haven’t read Beth’s summer entry, go here.
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Writing is Like Mud Wrestling?

Monday, November 19, 2007
Recently, I came across a box of lesson plans, syllabi, handouts, and miscellaneous student assignments that I had saved long ago. I'll share some of them here today, but I have to keep them anonymous. As a side note, most of these students were the traditional freshmen--younger than twenty years old.

In this assignment, I'd asked my students to work in groups to describe writing using similes. I found it interesting as I looked back through these examples. These are not only young writers, but many of them had zero interest in writing, period:

"Writing is like pulling teeth; it hurts your head."

"Writing is like a river that flows words. Like thoughts they widen and narrow, get full, and get empty. Sometimes, words are just like river water, clear or murky, and shallow or deep. Obstacles are also encountered, but can easily be overcome, and more calm waters can be found. Like the river, writing has to come to an end."

"Freewriting is like turning on a faucet."

"Writing is like sports--in order to succeed, you need all the practice you can get."

"Writing is like learning a musical instrument; it takes time and practice and patience, lots of patience."

"Everything starts with a thought. Whether you're painting a picture or writing a story, an image always comes to mind. The pen is your paintbrush and the paper is your canvas. With that creation begins."

"Writing is like the growth of a tree: the topic is the seed, the writing process is the maturing of the seed. As the writing process continues, ideas flourish into branches and the tree grows. It's a continuous process that takes a lifetime."

"Writing is like mud wrestling. The intimidation of the mud, the fear of your beastly opponent. Just grab on and never let go. Slip and slide. Go in for the kill. Lose control and don't worry about losing your top! Hold your ground and don't worry about finesse."

The last one above sounds like a perfect advertisement for NaNo! What do you think NaNo wrestlers?

Keep going NaNo writers! You can do it! Don't give up! ;-)
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Subject: Mid NaNo

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This is my first year as a participant in what we call NaNo. November is National Novel Writing Month, and people all over the world take up the challenge of NaNo. The challenge is simply to write at least a 50,000 word novel by the 30th of November. It isn’t complicated.

So, in October, I was still arguing with my inner editor about my ability to pull off a project that demanded 1,667 words a day, just to keep up. I think I can, I think I can, was my mantra coming up on the end of October.

My family can be very demanding. I have a brand new baby grandson for distraction. The phone rings too often. To make time for writing I had to draw a line, put up boundaries. Risk people being put out by my need to have time away from them while I wrote my 50K.

I started out by making a cap that has the words “Not Now I Am Nanoing” across the front. I rehearsed it with my family. If I wear the NaNo hat, unless their heads catch fire, I am going to have to get back to them. My frequent phoners were made well aware before the event that I was going to be incredibly busy and would be turning off my phones during the time I needed to devote to the ‘project.’

The first half of NaNo has passed and my family has been pretty good about letting me NaNo. However, when the stove caught fire a few days ago, I abandoned my ‘project’ and opted to help save the house. The fire was put out, but the stove was a total loss.

I have been able to keep my inner editor away. I try to bang out 2,000 words every day. I haven’t skipped any days and, as I write this, I have 33,622 words. When I feel a hard session coming, I simply change characters and pick up the story from another point of view. Three major characters are taking up the slack. I gave up on correcting spelling for fear of giving the inner editor a toe in the door.

During the next two weeks, less than two weeks, now, I plan to continue to set daily word goals. I keep the NaNo hat near and know where the off buttons are on my phones. Yes, I do forget to turn them back on, but the voice mail tells the opening scene, so callers are entertained. I am well into the last days of NaNo and when I reach the 35K mark I’ll start tying up loose ends.

To those who are NaNoing and feel wretchedly behind, you can pump up that word count. It isn’t too late to carve out more time, turn off those phones, stay away from that email and make a NaNo hat.

Be Well and Write Well.

Sally Franklin Christie
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Get Off The Path Of Self-Sabotage

Saturday, November 17, 2007
I have a story to share with all of you this week. Hopefully, it will show you—if nothing else—how we women have a tendency to sabotage ourselves personally and as writers simply by the way we see (or don’t see) things.

I had the worst week this past week. One of those weeks where tiny things—that wouldn’t normally phase me—pecked away at my patience until I was ready to hit the roof if I dropped a pen on the floor! It happens to the best of us. Unfortunately, such times also tend to put us in a funk where the good things in life are clouded over. But a conversation I had with a phenomenal woman changed my perspective.

On Thursday, we were almost an hour late for Preschool. Xander was screaming and tired and so was Jaimie. We were up all night the night before. I finally got them there and Jaimie clung to me, begging for me not to go. Her symptoms were through the roof and I seriously thought I'd have to remove her. But I guided her over to the book section, set up a chair so she'd have her back to the class, and asked her if she'd be okay reading until she calmed down (That’s how her teachers and I agreed Jaimie could still participate in classroom activities when her symptoms are too high to cope with the social aspect.) She gave a weak, "Yeah" and I left.

I stood outside the room and watched Jaimie through the window. She never participated—she didn’t even turn around. She read books until snack time then sat at the outer edge of the mats for song time (at the end). As tears welled up in my eyes I thought how unfair it was for a child to have to deal with what Jaimie has to every day on top normal kid stuff. Then I felt a strong, reassuring hand on my shoulder: Judith, the head of the Preschool programs (and the woman who helped me figure out ways Jaimie could participate with her peers.)

After asking how Jaimie was doing—and listening to me ramble on about our week and morning—she asked how I was doing. I was taken aback because I'm not asked that question often. I told her I was tired and how overwhelmingly sad it made me sometimes to watch Jaimie struggle. Judith kept her hand on my shoulder and told me how she thinks Moms are so unappreciated.

She says in Kenya—where she's from—mothers are viewed as Godesses. She said you can treat whomever else like crap but Mothers are respected and greatly loved. There's no Mother's Day in Kenya so children show their appreciation for their mothers in other special ways. Judith is the 10th of 11 kids and her mom was a stay-at-home mom for all of them. She said she and her siblings sang a special song to their mother whenever she felt overwhelmed or frustrated. Then she says to me, "I don't know how you do it with your three kids—especially with one special needs child. To me, that's truly amazing." I'm amazing? Her mother is amazing!!

She then told me that she and her husband have been trying for four years to have children. She wanted to have a big family--like the one she grew up in--but thinks she's getting too old to have a one (she's almost 40). But she told me—with a bright smile—she’d be patient.

"One day," She said. "I'll be blessed with a child. And, if it's not my fate to be a mother, I'll simply enjoy the children I help every day."

She gave me another squeeze, tickled Xander’s tummy then walked back down to check on another class she oversees. As I sat and reflected on Judith’s words, I realized how disillusioned I’d been. It was as though someone took my glasses off, cleaned them with a slap-of-reality solution then put them back over my eyes.

Yes, I had a bad week but good things happened too: I managed to conduct four interviews for article ideas and actually had a very successful writing week; I finished an assignment for school; was told I now have a 3.6 GPA; and Xander started walking. How did I overlook all of those wonderful things? One word: sabotage.

Why do we do that to ourselves? We do it in our lives and in our writing. We focus on those tiny irritating things that we allow to build up and block our view from the good things that are going on around us. Then it takes a beautiful angel on earth, like Judith, to rip down that blocker and swing our eyes back to what’s really important. She grew up with very little but with tons of love and a strong mother who taught her to see life for what it is: tough but with sprinkles of happiness to remind her not to give up. Ever.

So, how do you counteract sabotage? What ways do you help yourself to stay focused and motivated? Judith uses her love for children and her passion to assure equality and inclusion for all children. I have Jaimie to remind me that little successes are so important. We’d love to hear how you do it.

Keep your head up, wear a smile and keep writing!
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How to Manage Your Literary Agent

Friday, November 16, 2007
by Wendy Keller

I used to tell people there are three kinds of literary agents:

The ones who will be your best friend. They’ll take your calls any time of day or night. They will take you to dinner, they’ll help you make hotel reservations or have you stay in their son’s bedroom when you’re in town, they’ll even take a year or so of their lives to line edit your proposal. After nearly 19 years in publishing, my observation is that those kinds of agents – and there are many of them – are not really selling books for a living. They are either housewives earning pin money or a rich husband; living off a trust fund or otherwise employed at other jobs as well.

There are agents who won’t return your phone calls. Ever. They will be abrasive. Some of them smoke fat cigars – and that’s just the women! Some of them, who represent some of the biggest names, have so many employees, if you ever speak to the agent again after you sign the contract, you can consider yourself lucky. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you when the book is sold.” No updates. If it doesn’t sell, you’ll be the last to know. Who are you again?

Then there are the rest of us. We’re out here pushing books every day. Making the editors into friends. Working to sell the best books at the best price to the best publishers, and encourage our authors to become supremely gifted self-marketers. Some of them smoke cigars (not me!), some of them return your calls when they can (sometimes not me), and some of them will find a way to take you to dinner when you’re in town – usually after your book has sold and there’s revenue attached to you.

The next thing for you to know before signing an agent is if this agent has sold and is selling books like yours. If so, that means that they know the same 25 or so editors for your topic that all the other agents who sell books like yours also know. There aren’t a whole lot of people. It’s a small, small world. In fact, going around Manhattan meeting all the editors in your topic area is sort of like the Disney ride, except that darn song doesn’t get stuck in your head. Oh - and there’s no gift shop at the end. So if all agents who sell in your genre sell to the same people, how do you know which one of us to choose?

Your job, should you be so lucky as to have a choice, is to find an agent who works like you do. Our client and motivational speaker Jim Cathcart’s book, The Acorn Principle, talks about “personal velocity.” Velocity is one factor to consider when choosing an agent. Does this person work/think/talk/move at the same speed you do? If not, are you comfortable with the speed they accomplish things? Some folks like it slow, some like it fast. What feels good to you?

Next thing is to ask yourself, “Do I trust this person?” Your “baby” will be in her hands for a long while. You must believe this person has your best interests at heart, and that your best interests and hers are the same. If you can’t trust her in your gut, don’t sign the contract! If you like the agent’s personal style, you trust him or her, and you believe they know all the right editors, sign the contact.

That contract should be clear. No fancy words that require $800 in legal fees. It should not lock you in forever, unless the book sells. (In which case, you belong to that agent as long as the book is “alive”.) You want to get answers – clear, honest ones – from the agent or their staff about anything you don’t understand before you sign. You don’t want to find yourself way out there. Many agencies list their contracts on their website, for your perusal beforehand. You can read mine at Most agency agreements are fairly similar. I’d be frightened to sign one that was radically different if I were you.

Once you’ve signed, make sure you have a counter-signed copy for your files. Then recognize that you have entered into a team. Perhaps you see it as a tandem canoe trip up Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. Chances are good your agent sees it as a relay. You’ve just handed her or him the baton, and she’s off and running! You get to take a moment to catch your breath while your agent takes over the sale of your book now. Take a deep breath, because the fun is yet to come!

© 2007, Keller Media, Inc. Want to use this article in your publication? Reprints welcome so long as the article and by-line are reprinted intact and all links made live.

Wendy Keller is a published author, professional speaker and literary agent. She helps authors and speakers make a difference in this world and she is behind the scenes supporting their efforts every step of the way. Wendy has developed some of the best writing tools and seminars for authors available at

To read more of Wendy Keller's articles, please visit our Articles page.
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Salaries in the Magazine World

Wednesday, November 14, 2007
This is from an editor's website:

"Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job"

The title says it all! Check out these sad pay rates of our industry:

Salary Reports

Position/Job title:
Editorial Assistant
2 weeks vacay, once you accrue it; 2 personal days

Conde Nast
Position/Job title:
Assistant Editor
2 weeks vacay, 4 personal days, good benefits

Time Inc.
Position/Job title:
Associate Editor
4 weeks vacation

Position/Job title:
Production Editor

Position/Job title:
Fashion Assistant
$20K + OT
with prior experience

Unspecified Regional mag
Position/Job title:

Niche Media
Position/Job title:
Editorial Intern

King Media
Position/Job title:

Trade magazine
Position/Job title:
Freelance Assistant Editor
$31K when full-time with sb, 2 weeks vacation, and traveling to trade shows

Hollywood Life Magazine
Position/Job title:
Editorial Assistant
Health and Dental

Position/Job title:
Becomes $15/hr with master's degree

Time Inc.
Position/Job title:
Editorial Intern

Position/Job title:
Assistant Editor
401K, free health; dental and life insurance; 15 days vacation; annual reviews

Unspecified Trade mag
Position/Job title:
Associate Editor
Plus $3K in bonuses

Manhattan Media newspapers
Position/Job title:
Features Editor
Half of full health benefits. 12 days vacation.

San Francisco consumer mag
Position/Job title:
Editorial Assistant
Summer Fridays, 2 weeks paid vacation, full benefits, bonuses on birthdays, "anniversary" of company, and New Years. Paid editorial travel 3-4 times per year.

Position/Job title:
Associate Editor
3 weeks vacation, sb

Time Inc.
Position/Job title:
Assistant Editor
4 weeks vacay, good benefits

McGraw Hill
Position/Job title:
Project Assistant
no benefits or paid vacation, but can take days off when you need it.


Suddenly freelancing is sounding a lot better!! You could make more by writing one of our feature articles than you would working for a straight week in some of these jobs... yikes.
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Summer Contest Runner Up--Shannon Schuren

Tuesday, November 13, 2007
WOW: Shannon, congratulations to you for earning a Runner Up space! How does this make you feel?

Shannon: Thanks so much! I can’t even describe it. When I received the news that I was in the top ten, I screamed so loudly I scared my husband. This is the first contest I’ve placed in, and really the first recognition I’ve received for my writing, so it’s very special for me.

WOW: We’re honored to be part of the excitement! What was the motivation behind "Wilde Women"?

Shannon: The experiences that the sisters share in “Wilde Women” are a mixture of memories I have from different vacations we took when I was a child. I wasn’t really sure where I was going when I began writing. I just had these recollections in my head that I wanted to get on paper. The story grew from there.

WOW: It grew well! In your bio you state that you’re the author of several short stories and two novels. Could you describe these accomplishments?

Shannon: All right, but feel free to stop me if I ramble on too long. I had always wanted to write, and had always kept a file of my dreams, newspaper clippings, and other sparks of ideas that I thought I could develop into interesting novels one day. Well, the file kept getting bigger, and as I was about to turn thirty, I realized that if I kept putting my writing off for “one day,” one day would never arrive. So I sat myself down and wrote a novel titled BEDEVILED GLASS. It’s a paranormal/gothic mystery about an architectural preservationist who is called in to restore an old stained glass ceiling. During the project, she discovers that the ceiling is tied to the previous owner’s disappearance. It took me three years to write, but I learned so much along the way, about writing and about myself. Now, I am in the process of looking for an agent, which has been a whole different learning experience!

I also took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year, and successfully completed a middle-grade novel titled How to Host a Ghost. The characters are loosely based on my two daughters, and because they inspired the book, I made the decision to self-publish on, so I could give them a copy as a Christmas gift. It is available for sale at major online bookstores and also at some local retail stores. I’m certainly not getting rich off the sales, but it is rewarding to know that my book is in print and being enjoyed by readers.

Most of the short stories I’ve written were for contests. My own ideas tend to be more geared toward novels, so I wanted to see if I could actually tell a story in less than 80,000 words. This led me to some of the prompt-based online contests, like the Writer’s Weekly 24-hour fiction contest, and the WOW! quarterly contests. I have only entered those contests where I felt like I could do something original with the prompt, so I really owe this success to whoever wrote the summer prompt. Thanks for a job well done!

WOW: You’re very welcome from all of us at WOW! You also mentioned that you spend your spare time working on your next book. Would you like to tell us about it?

I’d love to! I’m currently working on a suspense novel about a woman who is pregnant with her third child and believes that someone is stalking her. However, she suffered from anxiety and depression in her first two pregnancies, so she has trouble convincing people--including herself--that the danger isn’t all in her head.

I tend to be an anxious kind of person, especially when it comes to my children. Writing this book has been a lot of fun because I’ve taken some of my obsessive tendencies and fears and magnified them about 200%.

WOW: You are definitely energetic. You must find encouragement from other books or authors, right?

Shannon: Absolutely. I love authors. I go to book signings the way some people go to rock concerts. I’ve gotten to meet Lisa Scottoline, Janet Evanovich and Michael Perry in person (though not at the same time!). They were all fabulous and inspiring, although my meeting with Lisa was my favorite; it was a small gathering, and she actually gave me some personal encouragement about writing. I also love to go to other authors’ websites. I have no idea why, but I find it endlessly fascinating to read about each of their unique writing processes. Some of my favorites are,,, and Often, when I’m experiencing writer’s block, I get online and peruse their websites for some little bits of wisdom.

WOW: I’ll have to try that some time. Good advice. Do you have any other goals for your writing career?

Shannon: Just the usual. Find an agent, get published, make enough money so I can retire and write full time and hire a maid! Honestly, right now I’m just happy to be writing, and very grateful for my husband, children, and friends who are so supportive of my literary endeavors. And, of course, to WOW! for giving me the opportunity to have my first story and first interview published online. Thanks, WOW!

WOW: That’s sweet! In addition to the authors you’ve listed above, do you care to recommend any craft books on writing?

Shannon: I highly recommend Writing the Breakout Novel by literary agent, Donald Maas. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in one of his workshops this past spring, and it was the most intense, insightful, and useful workshop I’ve ever attended. I came home with thirty-seven pages of handwritten notes for my current novel!

WOW: That’s fabulous! Could you end on some writerly wisdom?

If you have the desire to write, then write. Don’t make it a “one day” activity. Don’t worry that it won’t be any good, or that no one will want to read it.

For those who would like to write a novel but don’t feel you have the time or willpower or imagination, consider taking part in NaNoWriMo this November. It’s exhilarating to attempt to write a novel in 30 days, and it really pushes your creativity and imagination to the next level. At least it did for me. Plus, if you finish, you get a cool icon you can download and add to your email signature! You can find more information at their website:

Thanks, Shannon. You're an inspiration. I think I'll get right to my writing!

Readers, please check out her winning entry here.
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A Holiday Treat from Robin Garland Consulting

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thinking of what to buy yourself this holiday season? Why not invest
in yourself, your writing and creativity. Robin is offering a 20
percent discount this holiday season on editing services and creative
ideas for manuscripts 20,000 words or less.

Other items offered are: layout for e-booklets and editing/story analysis for screenplays. Contact: for more information.
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Journaling to Better Health

"I will write myself into well being." ~ Nancy Mair

Most people consider their work to be stressful. But many writers consider their work a pleasure and, at times, therapeutic.

Journaling, for one, is considered a healthy habit. I don’t find the time to journal every day. Sometimes, my entries go at least a month apart; yet, I make sure I continue to fill my pages. Recently, I glimpsed a local news article about the various benefits of journaling. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I sat down and discovered the benefits are numerous. Journaling helps with:

• Stress management
• Therapy
• Recording memories
• Self exploration – discovering patterns, achievements, strengths, weaknesses
• Clarity
• Problem solving
• Sparking imagination
• Preventing foot-in-mouth mistakes

This is just a quick list, and I’m sure more advantages exist.

If you’re not a journal writer, but you’d like to give it a try, here are a few prompts to get you started:

• Write about a goal that you made into a reality.
• Choose one of the worst times of your life, and write about the best that came from it.
• Write about your biggest fear and how you could overcome it, even if it means visiting a hypnotist.
• Describe a memorable rejection from a publication.
• List out all the parts of your life for which you are truly grateful.
• Make a list of the people in your life for whom you feel the most grateful.
• What’s the weirdest memory you have? Chronicle it from beginning to end.
• Make a list of all the dreams you wish to come true before you die.
• Describe the strangest dream you can recall, or a recurring one.
• Write about the biggest, best, or most memorable party of your life.
• Spark a story for fiction from an amazing or unbelievable memory.
• Write about the last time you laughed so hard that you cried.
• Reflect on one of the most blissful moments in your life.
• Reveal a random act of kindness in great detail.
• What’s your best quality?

If these prompts don’t spark a series of word streams, then just write whatever pops into your mind. If you feel comfortable, send your journal entry here to put on the blog, even if you want to post anonymously. Let us know. This could be a lot of fun.

One of the best parts of journaling: there are no rules or guidelines to follow. You create your own path.

Now, if we could only walk or hike while we write in our journals, then we’d improve our physical health, too. Unfortunately, I don’t know a single person who can walk and write without bumping a wall, stumbling, or falling down.

Hmmm. Maybe I should ask for a voice recorder for the holidays. ;-)
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SEO Sundays: How to Write Key Words

Sunday, November 11, 2007
Keywords for Webmasters AND Freelance Writers

I admit I’ve been a little lax on “SEO Sundays,” but I’m back in the saddle again thanks to a little prodding. Ouch!

Today I’m going to talk about keywords, both in your meta tags, and in the articles you write. So, don’t skip out yet! This is something freelance writers should know about, not only webmasters.

As a freelancer I’m sure you’ve seen job postings that read something like, “We need a freelance writer to produce 5-10 keyword articles per week.”

In fact, if you’re a freelancer writing for an online publication, this has become the industry norm. So let’s start at the beginning.

The Gist

Not too long ago, there was a high demand for SEO copywriters. These wizards optimized your web pages by miraculously picking out a few keywords that boosted your ranking on search engines.

I’ve even had a team of these wizards approach me about WOW! saying that they’d optimize my website by creating a custom tailored set of 20 key words per year...for the small sum of a couple grand. Oh gee, thanks...but no thanks. Even when I was green that just didn’t make sense to me. I told them, “I doubt you’ll know my site better than me.” That was less than a year ago, and things have already changed.

Meta Tags aren’t all what they used to be

Search engines are no longer treating keywords as significant in your metadata. They tend to ignore the meta tag’s keywords and look to the actual page content. This is why it’s important to plan out your content before you write it and develop a set of keywords.

It used to be that you could plop 20 keywords, or 1,000 characters into your metatags and that was it. But when you think about it, this really doesn’t make much sense. If it were that easy, don’t you think people would just write anything on the page, not really caring what they wrote, and then put the real thought into their tags and not the content? Well, that’s what happened, and search engines had to be smarter. Granted, I still faithfully make a set of metatags for each and every new page/article on our website... just in case. So, let’s go over a few pointers—I wouldn’t want you to dismiss them all together because that wouldn’t be good advice. Things such as the “title” section of your metatags have more weight than any other part, so indeed, they’re necessary.

Tips for Building your Metatags

These are some basic guidelines when building metatags for your static website. Meaning, if you have a blog, you don’t really need this part, you’ll most likely have to concentrate on your content, and that’s coming up.

What metatags look like:

They all fall within the beginning head tag and head enclosure.

Note: There’s also a “robots” description that I didn’t add because for the most part, robots will follow the index automatically unless you tell it not to. It was created in 1996 and is meant to provide users who cannot upload or control the robots.txt file at their websites for the purpose of keeping a website’s content out of search engines.

STEP 1: The Title Tag

You’ll see some websites that have the same title tag throughout their whole website. I was guilty of this when I first started out. I’d put the same thing into each page of our website: WOW! Women On Writing is an Ezine that promotes the communication between women writers, authors, editors, agents, publishers and readers.

Yikes! For one thing, I quickly discovered that was way too long (too many words), and not descriptive enough for each page.


Standard practice says that the title tag of a page should describe the article in no longer than 65 characters, or 6-8 words.

Keyword or Phrase:

Put the keyword of the article or phrase into your title tag. Use your keyword once.

Examine your article:

Think of it this way: if you were doing a search on Google for a specific subject, such as, “how to get a literary agent,” wouldn’t you just type that in and see what comes up? It’s common sense.

Take a look at your article or the content of the page.

• Who are you trying to reach?
• What phrase might they type in?
• What subject is your article trying to relay?
• Get to the meat of it.

Whatever you do, make sure that phrase or keyword is actually in the article.


Remember that the title is the most important part of the metatag. This is what you see when you do a search. It’s the part that’s underlined and highlighted in bold (if that’s the term you searched for). All search engines bold your keywords.

Now remember, if you did a search on what I mentioned up above, “how to get a literary agent,” you’ll see that the article we just published by Del Sandeen a little over a week ago, which appears on page 3. That’s because it’s so new. Give it another month or so and it may appear on the first page. Static websites take much longer than blogs. But remember it’s also the content you’re searching for. The more common the phrase the higher likelihood that your page will be pushed back in ranking because of timeframe and relevance.

Yet, sometimes content can be so relevant on a static website that it shows up immediately. When I typed in: “Interview with Shai Coggins” (Note: From this month’s inspiration column) you can see we took the top two spots. Even before Shai’s website or b5media’s website.

(Note: see where it says in the upper right hand bar: Results 1-10 of about 16,000)

STEP 2: The Description

After you see the title on a search engine, right beneath it comes the description. It’s the blurb of what the article is about and how you’ll most likely decide whether or not to read that article.

Be honest:

That’s what I’ve found to work. Give a blurb of what’s included in the article (only the key points, or keywords) and describe it in no more than two sentences. You’re all writers, get to the meat of it!

STEP 3: The Keywords

Like I mentioned before, these tags aren’t cruised much by search engines anymore because they’ve been diluted. Most of the time search engines will crawl content before keywords – but there still is a necessary place for them.


Limit your keywords to no longer than 1,000 characters. Some meta tag generators use 20 key words or so, but it depends on your keywords and phrases.


There has been some debate about whether to use commas in between your keywords. I prefer to use them, but others do not. This is because eliminating commas may increase your odds of search engines extracting different phrases from your keywords.

For instance, if your tag is "literary agents nonfiction book proposal" you might get ranked for "literary book proposal" but if the tag reads "literary agents, nonfiction book proposal," you'd have less of a chance to get ranked for "literary book proposal" because the comma separates the words.

That’s up to you. I prefer to use commas and phrases for my keywords.

Angela’s Secret Tip:

Here’s a personal tip I use for extracting keywords—and this can be used in your freelance writing for internet publications:

• Open MS Word
• Read your article and examine the key point you’re trying to get across
• Go to the “Edit” menu at the top and click on “Find”
• In the box that says “Find what” type in your keyword
• Check the box that says “Highlight all items found in” (and the dropdown box only has one choice: “Main Document”)
• Click the “Find All” button

This will immediately show you how many times that keyword is used in your article. It not only highlights the word in your article, it gives you a count right there in the box!

Take out a notepad and write that word down with the number of times it was used.

For instance: if I used the “find” tool right now to search the word “keyword” it comes out to: 34

That’s quite a hefty sum for one article!

So, examine your words and phrases, pick out the most relevant, do an MS Word Find, and tally your content. I know this is time consuming, but if you’re going to be getting paid top-dollar for your freelance writing (or if you want to), or own your own website, then these are important things to consider. Attention to detail will only help you in the long run.

Freelancers: Content is Queen

If you just scanned and cruised in because of the bold captions, do yourself a favor and read the tip up above. That applies to you!

Not a Copywriter? So what!

Truth is, keyword articles pay well. Why not learn how to roll with the times and get paid for your writing. By incorporating a few extra steps, you can make a lot more as a freelance writer.

You’ve all seen the job boards and listings for “keyword articles” – well, it’s not much different than writing a regular article. You just have to inform yourself, and soon you can be an expert.

If you’re a fiction writer:

Throw out what you know about fiction for your freelancing gigs. Throw out what you’ve learned about the dreaded “echoes” in your work, and make those echoes count. They are an important part of what will bring you the green.

As fiction writers we know it’s not good to repeat words, phrases, or even hint at the same words. Those echoes always meant that we were sloppy writers and didn’t have the capability to be descriptive. The opposite applies when you’re writing for the web. The more you can incorporate your keyword in a unique fashion so that the reader doesn’t realize it’s happening, the better.

As a fiction writer myself, I know this is one of the toughest things to do! But, think of it this way: you’re allowed to break the rules, so take advantage.

Keep your audience in mind:

When writing keyword articles, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the articles must be interesting to the target reader. Your articles should be filled with relevant content so that the reader won’t quickly move onto the next website. Give them valuable information, just like you always would.

As well as Search Engines & your Client:

Determine what your employer is trying to relate, then think of copy that will help enhance their traffic. Put yourself in their position. If you were someone searching for her particular product, or looking for some information on a specific subject, what would you search for? What keywords would you type into a search engine?

Writing it Out!

Remember not to overload your article with too many keywords. When writing your article, choose one main and two secondary keywords.

Here are a few tips to follow:

• As I mentioned earlier, make sure you include your primary keywords and phrases in your title.

• Repeat your main keyword in the first sentence of your article.

• Include your keyword as much as you can in the first 150 words of your article, as long as it’s readable and not ridiculous!

• Spread your secondary keywords throughout the rest of your copy.

• If you are writing a long article, make sure that you include your main keyword or phrase every 150 words or so at least twice.

• Include your keyword or phrase in your conclusion paragraph.

Remember your good writing ethics:

Write what sounds good and be creative when incorporating those words. Think of it as a challenge. Test yourself to see how creative you can be within a limited structure. By viewing it this way, it can be fun!

Summing it up:

Writing a keyword article is just like writing any other article. The only difference is that you’re challenging yourself to include certain words. Think of it like a prompt-based contest. You’re given a certain topic to write about and you must incorporate those words and ideas into your story. And I know all you ladies have the capability to do that, so why not try your hand at keyword articles. You may develop a unique ability to become an expert at something you’ve never thought of. Add that to your bio! And some green to your pocket.


Find out more “tips & tricks” when you subscribe to Premium-Green Markets: The Women’s Freelance Guide to Writing and Markets. First issue coming up this week!
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Do You See What I See?

Saturday, November 10, 2007
As a parent of a sensory sensitive child, to say we have tremendous challenges on a daily basis is an understatement. But, as odd as it may sound, Jaimie has taught me a great deal about the art of sensory detail. Allow me to explain.

We’re fortunate because Jaimie has excellent verbal skills so when we see the signs of a fit, we bring her down by asking her to describe what she’s feeling (hearing, smelling, etc.) so that we know what we can try to counteract the height of her reaction.

To Jaimie, a smell isn’t just “stinky,” it “crawls around in my nose like a spider—tickling and itching—until my tummy tries to come out of my mouth.” A taste she doesn’t like isn’t just “bad,” to her, the taste “sticks on my tongue like bugs on fly paper and I want to scrape it off with a knife!” And a light touch on her skin—which drives her crazy—feels like “thousands of creepy caterpillars crawling all over me and I can’t get them off no matter how hard I try.”

Can’t you just smell, taste and feel what Jaimie’s describing? That’s the art of sensory detail. It’s the ability to draw your reader into your scene by describing the character’s environment. But, of course, you have to be able to give enough description without going overboard and stay within your character’s vantage point. Believe me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

For me, I always do two things when drawing my readers into my character’s world: (1) I think of how Jaimie would feel in the situation I’m attempting to describe and “feel” things as sensitively as she would; and (2) I follow the advice of my Novel Writing instructor: “See things the way a blind person would. They need to pay close attention to everything around them in order to ‘see’ things.”

Brilliant! So the next time you come to a scene requiring vivid details, do this: close your eyes and absorb yourself in the scene. For example, suppose your character is at the beach. Can you hear the “thunderous roar of the waves as they crash into the shore?” Can you feel the “salty mist settle on your face?” What else is there? What can you smell? Taste? See? How would you set these up so we can sense them too?

Technically, we’re supposed to tantalize all the senses with our writing. Just remember, even when we don’t pay attention to it, every sense is stimulated in everything we do. The next time you’re out somewhere, pay closer attention to what's around you—like a blind person or Jaimie. “See” things the way they do and you’ll be writing those sensory-rich scenes like a pro.

I’d love to hear your favorite sensory descriptions. How do you create such scenes? Enlighten us!

Happy writing!
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Sex Sold Here

Friday, November 09, 2007
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Sex sells.

You see it portrayed everywhere--magazines, television, and billboard advertisements for clothing, perfume, and items like cars and hamburgers. Movies, television shows, and even children's cartoons and video games are full of sexual images and allusions. American society has more sexual references than any other country in the world, and nowhere else will you find such mixed messages.

Adult films are bad. Erotic literature is good. Exotic dancing is bad. Nude modeling for art is good. Sex with someone you love (outside of wedlock) is bad. Sex within marriage (even if you can barely tolerate your mate) is good.

How do these mixed messages affect the characters in your story and the story itself? No matter which direction you choose to go and what specific choice you make--in language, imagery, and character motivation--you are likely to offend someone's moral sensibilities.

Where does an author's responsibility lie? With the organic nature of her story and voice of her characters? Or with protecting the sensitivities of the reader?

How much, as writers, should we censor our content?
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Writers Write, Right?

Thursday, November 08, 2007
I’m certain you have heard this sentiment expressed again and again but it does, indeed, make sense. How can one call herself a writer if she isn’t putting pen to paper or tap-tap-tappity-tapping on the keys of her MacBook? Well, not too long ago I had to evaluate this exact notion for myself.

I’ve been calling myself on and off for nearly 20 years. I was, of course, most prolific in my early teens when every new heartache or adult reprimand manifested itself into a truly awful poem that dripped of undying teen angst. How I wish I were that way again. No, not emo and angsty, but rather, still turning to the page to express thoughts no matter how whimsical they may be.

As many of you know, we are now in the thick of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I thought this would be a brilliant way for me to get into the habit of writing everyday. After all, writers write, right? We are on day 8 of said NaNo and I officially have 794 words dedicated to my novel. That’s nearly a whopping 100 words a day and only slightly shy of the 1,667 words needed daily to arrive at the coveted 50,000 words come midnight of November 30.

At first I felt like a failure for not banging away at my keyboard and producing the words that No Plot, No Problem! encouraged me to crank out. I, once again, felt I was not a real writer. I was ready to throw away my latest copy of Writer’s Market and cancel my subscription to Paste magazine. (The latter really has nothing to do with writing, but rather something I enjoy and in my dramatic fit I felt I needed to practice self-deprivation for being bad.)

But then I had a better way to look at this. (Never mind the fact I’m not sure what I would do without the free music sampler that comes with each edition of Paste.) The fact is that although I’m not reaching the NaNo goal, I AM writing. No need to tell myself that I’m not the next Octavia Butler or Louise Rennison, I’m me and I’m writing. No need to count the words, it’s the writing that matters.

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Give the Writers a Piece of the PIE!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Writers strike has officially entered its third day and Americans are forced to watch terrible reruns. These shows depend on writers to give them fresh content every day, and without them, TV land dries up.

There still have been no new negotiations scheduled on the main sticking point between writers and producers: payments from DVDs and shows offered on the internet. And why shouldn't writers get a piece of the pie? If the big guys are getting paid, shouldn't writers get a fair share for their work?

Writers are the fuel that keeps the multi-billion dollar motion picture and television industry driving, and without the content that the Writer's Guild of America ( provides the industry comes to a grinding halt.

Former Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Michael Eisner dismissed the Hollywood writers strike as "insanity" and "too stupid," warning writers that they were sacrificing real income for a hope of revenue that studios did not yet have. "For a writer to give up today's money for a nonexistent piece of the future — they should do it in three years, shouldn't be doing it now — they are misguided they should not have gone on the strike. I've seen stupid strikes, I've seen less stupid strikes, and this strike is just a stupid strike."


It's been almost 20 years since the last strike, and the truth is that almost everyone in show business is overpaid... except for writers (According to a quote from Alec Baldwin). He also said, "I have always been pretty clear about the fact that we are nowhere without the writers in our industry."

What are the writers asking for?

The contract between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expired on Oct. 31 thus propelling the strike.

The WGA is gunning more than ever to secure a bump in compensation for members’ work on DVD (4 cents per DVD) and in new media, following its failure to do so when the two sides last renegotiated the Guild’s contract with AMPTP in 2001 and 2004.

WGA West assistant executive director Charles Slocum believes producers can stand to be more generous with DVD. “We’ve been unhappy with the home video formula since 1985, which was in its early, early days,” said Slocum. “As we look back, it has been 25 years of revenue at this low, low rate. Writers pay their mortgage out of this. And it looks like we will have a very healthy DVD market for the next five to 10 years.”

Celebrities Rally to Support Writers:

From AP:

Jay Leno rolled up to a picket line on his motorcycle with doughnuts for striking writers at NBC.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus marched with pickets at Warner Bros. in the shadow of a giant billboard advertising her CBS show, "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

Even Democratic presidential candidates weighed in Monday, as writers got a little help from their famous friends during the first day of their strike against movie studios and TV networks.

Barack Obama said he stands with the writers and urged producers to work with them to end the strike.

Hillary Rodham Clinton called for a contract that recognizes the contributions writers make to the entertainment industry.

Each candidate has received more than $2 million in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry.

In Burbank, Louis-Dreyfus wore a cap, sunglasses and Screen Actors Guild T-shirt as she joined strikers chanting, "Hey, hey, pencils down. Hollywood's a union town." "How this is resolved will directly affect our union, too," she said, referring to the actors union contract that expires next year.

In New York, Tina Fey of "30 Rock" joined strikers outside Rockefeller Center, the headquarters of NBC.

Ellen DeGeneres wasn't spotted on the picket lines, but her publicist Kelly Bush said she took the day off in support of the writers on her daytime talk show.

Noise and other disruptions caused by a picket line interfered with filming at a location being used for the CBS show "Cane."

About 20 writers chanted, screamed and used a bullhorn outside a cafe near the CBS lot in Studio City, causing the production to move back onto the nearby CBS lot.

Tom Hogan, a location manager for the show, said filming began hours before the pickets arrived and involved a script that was finished several weeks ago.

"But you know what? I support them," said Hogan, a member of Teamsters Local 399, which represents truck drivers, casting directors and location managers.

Strikers near Universal Studios marched across a freeway bridge and waved signs at passing motorists.

Outside the landmark gate of Paramount Pictures on Melrose Avenue, drivers honked their horns in solidarity with strikers.

Despite the support, the financial reality of a work stoppage loomed large for many striking writers.

Michelle Mulroney, 40, and her husband both write feature films. "I'm fortunate. I can strike for a while," she said. "But most people I know will feel the crunch today."

Zoe Green, 26, certainly will. She sold her first pilot, but the strike is preventing her from writing the script. "This will be very tough for me personally, but I 100 percent support our cause," said Green, who was on the picket line. "I'm going to be struggling on $6,000 until this ends."

Now I'm interested to know:

What are your thoughts on the strike?

If you were a part of WGA would you go on strike even if that meant struggling for a while?
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Meet Amanda Frederickson--Summer Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

WOW: Congratulations for placing in our summer flash fiction contest! Could you describe how you feel?

Amanda: When I got the email saying “You’re in the top ten,” I was ecstatic! I was bouncing off the walls. I even printed the email and taped it to the front door.

WOW: We love to hear details like yours! Please tell us, what encouraged you to write “Remembering Georgia”?

Amanda: When I read the prompt, I started thinking about my past summer vacations, and we really had gone down to Georgia one summer to help rebuild houses after a tornado had torn through (it may have been more than one, but I don’t remember a lot of the details). We really did meet the man and his son, and the son played with my brother and I since we were the only kids.

WOW: That’s a good use of the past to create the fiction. In your bio you mentioned that you recently graduated from college with a double major in Creative Writing and Communications. Congratulations on your achievement! Do you think these degrees play a huge role in your desire to write? Do they make it “easier”?

“Easier”? Not by a long shot! I don’t think the degrees themselves have really made much of an impact on my life (yet, at least). Going to college, on the other hand, was something that I’m only really just now realizing I had desperately needed. Not for the classes (the sum of what I truly learned directly from a class is this: don’t staple a manuscript), but for the experience. I ended up with the second major in Communications because there were so few Creative Writing classes. But the friends I made and the experiences I gained were priceless.

WOW: That’s great. You also said that this is your second time to get published. Would you like to share the first?

Amanda: The first was winning our college press’s chapbook contest, which was open to juniors and seniors. That win completely blew me away, because my school is rather infamous for poetry, and my skills for poetry can be summed up in what I think is the best poem I’ve ever written:

Writing poetry
Is as simple and painless
As pulling teeth.

My chapbook entry was not only prose, but science fiction. The acceptance letter even said “your poetry submission has been chosen…” So, at first, I was half convinced it had to have been sent to me by mistake.

WOW: That’s funny. But it was obviously not a mistake. So, have you found encouragement from other books or authors you could recommend?

Amanda: I highly recommend Holly Lisle’s book Mugging the Muse. It’s a lot of helpful, down-to-earth advice on not just writing, but on a writer’s life as well, like dealing with agents and critique groups. Another really good one is No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, who started NaNoWriMo (which is coming up in November, and which I really strongly recommend anyone who writes to take part in. It’s the craziest writing binge you’ll ever be on, and it’s a blast to boot). It’s an awesome book for just pushing through and writing.

WOW: Wonderful suggestions. Thanks. Do you have any additional goals for your writing career?

Amanda: The ultimate goal is to be a novelist. Technically, everything else is candy, though I’d love to see my name on a bestsellers list. One day. Over the rainbow.

WOW: Rainbows happen! We also learned in your bio that you you’re working on a website for your jewelry. Are you an artist first, or a writer first, or both?

Amanda: I am a writer to my bones. I finished my first book manuscript in 5th grade, before I even considered “being a writer.” My jewelry feels like a hobby (though I’ll probably never make as much writing; it’s the sad fact of that profession).

WOW: Yes, but it’s a satisfying career. In terms of the craft, which books do you find the most helpful?

Amanda: In addition to the two I already mentioned, another good one is The Plot Thickens, by Noah Lukeman (and I’ve heard his other book, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, is really good too, though I haven’t read it). Also, Orson Scott Card’s book on writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and David Gerrold’s book, whose title slips my mind and seems to have slipped from my bookshelf. (A lot of the basic principles translate to other kinds of writing, even if Sci-Fi and Fantasy aren’t your genres).

WOW: Thanks again for more suggestions. As we near the end, would you like to add any advice to our audience of writers?

Write! Nothing will happen if you don’t put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

WOW: Well said, Amanda. Thanks for sharing a little about your writing self here on WOW! We wish you well with your endeavors.

If you haven’t yet read Amanda’s winning entry, go here.
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