Six Tips for Writing 'Clean' For Young Adults

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
In my newest novel, Blackbird Flies, I presented my book in a ‘clean’ form of YA. I’m particularly fond of the ‘clean’ category of young adult. There are a growing number of authors writing ‘clean,’ which is essentially delving into the same story lines and plots found in most other young adult or adult fiction but without the graphic violence, sex, or language. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with more graphic reads but personally I enjoy the idea that my books can be read by everyone, everywhere rather than be excluded from larger groups who may be offended or those too young to be exposed to such things. And let’s face it: the same story can be told just as brilliantly without all the detailed bedroom scenes or cursing.

Last week, I was asked to give a few tips for authors and authors-in-waiting who want to make it in this genre. I’d like to share them with our WOW readers, authors and writers too. Here they are:

(1) Research those already ‘making it’. The best kind of research an author can do is learning from those authors already selling books. Go to Amazon and search the top 10 to 15 books in the genre you write in. Read everything you can from those authors. They’re the ones to watch and learn from because they’ve already found what works.

(2) Learn about your audience. Just because we’ve ‘been there done that’ doesn’t mean we ‘get’ how kids are handling the same situations today. And because most of us are adults writing for younger people, we need to be sure we research the groups we’re writing about appropriately. Learn about young adults’ peer groups: how they dress, what they care about, what they don’t care about, how they speak (both to adults and to their peers—we’ll touch on that more closely in a moment), etc. The more accurate you are, the more appealing your story will be to the young adult audience.

(3) Speak as a young adult. Your writing voice needs to be that of a young adult rather than an adult speaking to young adults. Get out there and do some field work by chatting with a few young people in the age range you’re writing in. They offer invaluable insight!

(4) Write clean but not too squeaky. In cleaning up a manuscript we have to be cautious not to make it so squeaky that these age groups will avoid the book like the Plague. ‘Clean’ simply means presenting or saying things in a different way. There are many books my girls bring home from the library that still have the silliness, sarcasm, peer jiving and fart jokes but presented in more generally acceptable way. That’s the whole idea! Simply use more ‘show’ with reactions, facial expressions and body stances. Again, it’s important to listen to how these young people talk and react to one another.

(5) Have a good mix of the five ‘basic story ingredients’. I love using this analogy. To make food taste great, we need to tap into the five basic flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and savory. When writing a great story, authors need to have a healthy mix of, what I call, the ‘five basic story ingredients’: humor, seriousness (or delving into a serious topic/issues), a sprinkle of mystery, a pinch of drama and a surprise (big or small, depending on the specific storyline). Every story I’ve read or have written has a healthy combination of these elements. Some stories will have a little more humor or a higher level of mystery but almost all stories have these important story ingredients (even the romances!)

(6) Get input from your audience. Do you want to know what young adults are into these days? Do you want to make sure that your particular work is on the right track? Go right to the source. Have a ‘test read’ with a small group of young adults. Have them read your story, have a discussion and get their input on what to change or how to make it better. If anyone knows what appeals to young adults, it’s them!

Aside from everything mentioned above, the most important thing we can do as clean young adult authors is give these readers credit for their intelligence and their choices. These young people will be the adults of tomorrow and the books we write for them today will, hopefully, give them a solid road to walk on for their journey. Having our books on the shelves as ‘cleaner’ options to reach them, teach them and/or give them a voice is the highest honor I can think of.

Write on!

Chynna Laird has written two memoirs, an adult suspense and a ‘clean’ young adult novel. Aside from writing, she does what she can to raise awareness for families living with SPD and other special needs. Check out her Website (, main blog ( and her White Elephants blog ( to learn more about her and her work.
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Melissa Foster, author of Megan's Way, launches her blog tour!

Monday, May 30, 2011
& Book Giveaway Comments Contest!

How many different kinds of parental love are there? Is it more loving to hold on or to let go? Melissa Foster's novel Megan's Way addresses those questions and more.

Melissa Foster is founder of the Women's Nest, a social and support community for women. Melissa has written a column featured in Women Business Owners Magazine, and has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Melissa is currently working on her next novel and collaborating with a director to create a script for Megan's Way.

Melissa's interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, and helping women see the positive side of life. Although Melissa lives with her family in Maryland, she uses every and anything as an excuse to visit one of her favorite spots: Cape Cod.

Find out more about Melissa by visiting her online:

Author's website:
Women's Nest:
Facebook Fan Page

Book Giveaway Contest: If you'd like to win a copy of Megan's Way (print or e-book), please leave a comment at the end of this post to be entered in a random drawing. For an extra entry, link to this post on Twitter with the hashtag #MegansWay, then come back and leave us a link to your tweet. The giveaway contest closes this Thursday, June 2nd at 11:59 PM, PST. We will announce the winner in the comments section of this post the following day, Friday, June 3rd. Good luck!

Megan's Way
by Melissa Foster

What would you do for love?

When Megan Taylor, a single mother and artist, receives the shocking news that her cancer has returned, she'll be faced with the most difficult decision she's ever had to make. She'll endure an emotional journey, questioning her own moral and ethical values, and the decisions she'd made long ago. The love she has for her daughter, Olivia, and her closest friends, will be stretched and frayed.

Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Olivia's world is falling apart right before her eyes, and there's nothing she can do about it. She finds herself acting in ways she cannot even begin to understand. When her internal struggles turn to dangerous behavior, her life will hang in the balance.

Megan's closest friends are caught in a tangled web of deceit. Each must figure out how, and if, they can expose their secrets, or forever be haunted by their pasts.

Megan's Way is available for purchase through Amazon as a paperback ($14.95) and as an ebook Kindle edition ($0.99). It's also available through Smashwords.

----- Interview by Jodi Webb

WOW: Against the backdrop of parental love, the characters of Megan's Way dealt with terminal illness and a spiritual connection between people. Do you have personal experience with either of these that influenced you to include them in your book?

Melissa: The storyline of Megan's Way came from a very personal event in my life. It had a profound impact on my view of relationships and the safety of them. It made me realize that people can make decisions that might be unthinkable to those around them, but make complete sense to them. I have lost loved ones that I hadn't realized that I'd had strong spiritual connections with, and it turned out that I did. I've had strong spiritual connections to people who I have not loved, but who those I know have loved. I believe that we all are capable of having strong spiritual connections, but it's something that our society doesn't accept as "normal," so people tend to not be open to experiencing such things. Megan's Way and Chasing Amanda have underlying paranormal/spiritual themes because it was part of the characters' being, and particular life experiences definitely played a role in the creation of them.

WOW: I've had research on the mind lately, but for my research it was as simple as calling my local recruiting office and asking them a few questions they were more than happy to answer. It occurs to me that doing research about people living with terminal cancer or spiritual connections can't be that easy. Did you seek out people during research and was it difficult to convince them to share their experiences with you?

Melissa: Research can be done in many different ways. I did not reach out to people with terminal illnesses, but I did reach out to those who had loved ones who had terminal illnesses, and remember, the Internet is your friend. There are many online forums where grief and illness are discussed in detail. Finding the inner turmoil was an easy leap for me, as I put myself into Megan's shoes, as a parent, and into my own shoes, as a daughter.

WOW: Megan's Way is being adapted to film and should be making the rounds of the film festivals this year. Could you tell us how this marvelous event came about? Did you write a screenplay and approach a filmmaker? Did a filmmaker approach you?

Melissa: This was an interesting path. Shortly after Megan's Way became available, readers were inquiring about adapting Megan's Way to film. I hadn't really thought about it much, and decided to just take a stab at it. I have no fear (and apparently no shame), so I called Dakota Fanning's agent, thinking that I'd never reach her, but at least I would have tried. She spoke with me on the phone, seemed interested, and I sent her a copy of the book to read. A few weeks later she requested two more copies, one for Dakota and one for her manager. I submitted those, and followed up about two months later. I received an email stating they loved the story and asking to see a screenplay so they could see if it would be a fit. I've since learned that the scenario was very unconventional, and who knows, she may have just been having a generous day. In any case, I went to work hiring a screenplay writer, and we developed a script that enhanced the role of the teen character. That script is called Pieces of Me. It's a strong script, but was not picked up. From there, I networked with everyone I knew, told them what had happened, and a year later, someone referred me to the director that I'm now working with.

WOW: Amazing! Just another example of how a writer's work isn't done once they type "The End." Were you thinking about the film possibilities for Megan's Way even when you were writing the novel?

Melissa: Probably. Every writer wonders, What If.

WOW: True, I think we all play that If I Was Casting the Movie game with our fiction. Did you write the screenplay?

Melissa: In the case of Megan's Way, yes, I wrote the screenplay, but quite by accident. Before hiring the screenplay writer (as previously noted), I took my hand to creating the script. I wrote a direct adaptation. Being an unconventional person, I then researched scripts and script writing, and was told (by many) that novelists were not screenplay writers and that I should hire someone who "knew" what they were doing. In the end, the director that is doing the film loved my adaptation, and that's the one she's producing.

WOW: So many writers are disappointed about the results when one is captured on film. How do you feel: worried, excited, impatient?

Melissa: I am thrilled that someone wanted to produce Megan's Way and bring it to film. For me, I've accomplished capturing someone's attention and succeeded in taking it to the next level. That's a feat in and of itself. I trust the director--she and I have similar visions. I'm excited and very impatient (as I am in every aspect of my life), but mostly I'm thankful. Even if the film doesn't turn out to be exactly what I might anticipate, it's likely to be a compelling, emotional journey.

WOW: And we're looking forward to following that journey. Aside from the film version of Megan's Way, what can we expect from you next?

Melissa: My third novel, Come Back to Me, is an international love story/tragedy. Tess Johnson has it all: handsome photographer/husband, Beau, a thriving business, and a newly discovered pregnancy. When Beau accepts an overseas photography assignment, Tess decides to wait to reveal her secret--only she's never given the chance. Beau's helicopter crashes in the desert.

As Tess struggles to put her life back together, and accept the growing child inside of her, a new client appears, offering more than just a new project. Meanwhile, two Iraqi women who are fleeing Honor Killings find Beau alive, his body ravaged. Suha, a doctor, and Samira, a widow and mother of three young children, nurse him back to health in a makeshift tent in the middle of the desert. Beau bonds with the women and children, and together, with the help of an underground organization, they continue their dangerous escape.

WOW: It sounds like once I get my hands on Come Back to Me I won't be able to put it down until I get to the last page! Keep us updated. 

---------- Blog Tour Dates:

Join Melissa on her tour! Check out these dates and mark your calendar. You can also snag a copy of WOW's Events Calendar here.

June 1, Wednesday @ Musings from the Slushpile: Learn about "Weaving a Theme Throughout Your Writing" from Melissa Foster. You can also enter to win a copy of Megan's Way.

June 2, Thursday @ Writing Come Hell or High Water: When was the last time you stared at a blank sheet of paper (or a computer screen) and thought, I just can't do it! Melissa Foster, author of two novels and working on her third, will be sharing her tips for dealing with anxiety.

June 8, Wednesday @ Tea Time with Marce: Don't miss a review of Melissa Foster's novel about family and secrets, Megan's Way.

June 10, Friday @ Books, Books, the Magical Fruit: Learn more about novelist Melissa Foster in today's interview and enter to win a copy of Megan's Way.

June 16, Thursday @ Books and Other Creative Adventures: Do you have secrets? If you were dying would you unburden yourself or take your secrets with you? Coreena reviews Melissa Foster's Megan's Way--a novel all about secrets. And don't forget to come back Monday for a post about writing while raising a family.

June 17, Thursday @ Fresh Fiction: Stop by for a surprise post from Melissa Foster and a chance to win a copy of her novel Megan's Way.

June 20, Monday @ Books and Other Creative Adventures: Authors often call their book "their baby." But what if you have six other babies? Melissa Foster, author of Megan's Way, writes about balancing writing with a family of six children.

June 23, Thursday @ Kritter's Ramblings: Find out what Kristin thinks of Megan's Way. Return on Saturday for more about Melissa on Kritter's Ramblings.

June 24, Friday @ Steph the Bookworm: It's time to get in the habit! Melissa Foster posts about making writing a daily habit. You can also read a review of her novel Megan's Way.

June 25, Saturday @ Kritter's Ramblings: Don't miss an interview with Melissa Foster about her novel Megan's Way, which is being developed into a film.

To view all of our touring authors, check out our Events Calendar here.

Get involved! 

If you have a blog or website and would like to host Melissa or schedule a tour of your own, please email Jodi and Robyn at:

Book Giveaway Contest: Enter to win a print or ebook copy of Melissa Foster's novel Megan's Way!

Here's how to enter: 
1. For your first entry, just leave a comment on this post! Leave a comment or ask Melissa a question, to be entered in a random drawing.
2. For an extra entry, link to this post on Twitter with the hashtag #MegansWay, then come back and leave us a link to your tweet.

The giveaway contest closes this Thursday, June 2nd at 11:59 PM, PST. We will announce the winner in the comments section of this post the following day, Friday, June 3rd, and if we have the winner's email address from the comments section or profile, we will also notify the winner via email. Good luck!
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Tips from a Burgeoning Travel Writer

Sunday, May 29, 2011

photo by renjith krishnan
by: Anne Greenawalt

For the past three weeks, from Mother’s Day on May 8th until Friday, May 27th, I traveled cross country with my mom byAmtrak to interview other mother-daughter duos for a storytelling endeavor that will become the final project of my master’s degree in communications. 

I packed a portable “office” so I could blog about my travels along the way and document information about the people we met and the places we visited.  I included these items in my portable office:

-          Laptop

-          Digital camera

-          Digital and very compact video camera about the size of a cell phone

-          Digital audio recorder

-          Android cell phone

My cell phone came in handy because I used an app called PdaNet which allowed me to use the Internet on my phone to access the Internet from my computer, which saved me from purchasing an additional mobile Internet plan. 

This worked great – except at times when I did not receive cell phone service, which happened sporadically while crossing large stretches of the nation. (We went from the east to west coast and back, stopping in nine cities along the way.)  But during these down times, I could still create content and post it to my web site as soon as I came into a service area.

I have never completed a travel writing project of this scale before and often felt overwhelmed by the abundance of information that greeted me every day.  I could probably write about five separate books about this trip.

But as we traveled, I learned to keep my audio recorder, camera, and video camera available at my fingertips at all times so as not to miss anything.  I also narrowed my multimedia storytelling component to a specific focus – the mothers and daughters we met in each city.  Narrowing this focus was difficult because there were so many interesting tidbits about the trip I wanted to share.

For anyone interested in travel writing, these are my two biggest suggestions:

-          Keep your recording tools – at least a digital audio recorder and a digital camera – always at your fingertips to document as much as possible. 

-          Narrow your focus for each separate article or project you hope to complete.  Because you’re documenting your journey with digital tools, that extra information will be saved for you if you decide to expand to other topics in the future.

Have you completed large or small scale travel writing projects?  What did you do that helped narrow your focus or helped you create interesting content?  I’d love to hear your travel writing stories!

If you’d like more information about my cross-country mother-daughter storytelling endeavor, please visit my web site:
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Essay Shy

Saturday, May 28, 2011

“Mom, I wrote an essay about you and sold it!”
Over the phone there was just silence. L – o – n – g silence. Not my mom’s usual enthusiasm about my writing.
“Mom? It’s a nice essay. You’ll like it.” Hey, let’s face it…we could all write essays complaining about our mothers. Maybe she thought it was that kind of essay.
“I wish you wouldn’t have done that.”
Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve gone down this bumpy road before. My family doesn’t like the spotlight—no matter how small it is—that my writing shines on them. Before Career Day at school my eight year old instructed me not to mention the children’s book I wrote about him (even though it's never been published). My 19 year old barricaded herself in her room during high school when not only did I write an essay about her but it was published online. Online! Where her friends could find it! Although I’ve met her friends and they don’t seem the Christian Science Monitor target audience. My husband was equally mortified when an essay about him ended up in a Canadian magazine. My 16 year old has been spared the horror of being the subject of one of my personal essays. Instead, I’m using her in a YA novel I’m outlining. Shhh, don’t tell her.
Really, what do they expect? They’re personal essays. About people I personally know. Let me introduce you to my family, a.k.a. source material.
These are not “my family is horrible” essays. Because overall we’re a loving sort of family. Basically, these are “Awwww, how sweet” essays. So why all the dismay?
I suppose it's like your mom telling baby stories to your new boyfriend (which I just want noted that I do NOT do). Mom thinks it’s cute; you, not so much.
But what’s a writer to do? Is there anyone strong enough to resist the temptation to capture their family on paper—no matter how much they protest?
So inquiring minds want to know: Is it just my family, or is everyone’s family essay shy?

Jodi Webb has written many essays about her family, her latest for NPR This I Believe about her mom. It won't be her last. Her family is considering entering the Witness Relocation Program. Read more about writing (and occasional family snippets) at Words by Webb.
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Friday Speak Out!: How I Landed An Op-Ed Gig, Guest Post by Jewel Punzalan Allen

Friday, May 27, 2011
How I Landed An Op-Ed Gig

by Jewel Punzalan Allen

If someone would have said a year ago I would be writing an op-ed column for our local paper, I’d have laughed. Op-ed columns are either written by political science majors who know the timeline, down to the minute, of the current conflict in Bahrain, or they are professors slash lawyers slash experts. I’m neither.

More importantly, op-ed columns aren’t for the weak of heart. Since I’m not the bravest of writers, I didn’t think I’d make a good candidate. I bite my nails over every e-mail I send out. I lose sleep over blog posts. Heck, I even agonize over the wording on our shopping list.

So when my local paper turned down my column proposal two months ago and asked if I could write an op-ed piece every other week instead, I nearly had a panic attack.

I hadn’t written a letter to an editor in years, how could I even consider writing 550-word opinions? How exactly does one go about writing an op-ed? Can an op-ed be meandering and gentle like my blog posts?

Just like any thorough researcher, I googled “how to write an op-ed”. I discovered that op-eds were not meandering and gentle essays. You have to get straight to the point. You have to take a stand on an issue. You have to develop a thick skin. Tough, but not impossible. More worrisome was, I couldn’t see myself coming up with 104 fresh topics in a year.

And yet the op-ed siren’s song kept calling to me. Surely the editor thought I had potential or he wouldn’t have asked. Besides, what was the worst thing that could happen? That I would elicit a barrage of hate mail? (That I would be so lucky to have readers!) That I would have nothing to say? (My husband would say I can be pretty opinionated.) That I would get facts wrong and look like a doofus? (Well, that wouldn’t be the first time as a journalist.)

Before I could change my mind, I e-mailed back the editor that I would do it. So far, I’ve surprised myself. I can sustain a coherent thought in 550 words. I can form a strong opinion and support it.

There are other bonuses: I pay attention to the world in general. I sit in airports and notice sailors saying goodbye to their families (my last column). I take a stand on hometown issues. I don’t need to write about Bahrain, but I can write about things that matter to me as a mom right in my backyard. I can give a voice to women and racial minorities. Just for the fun of it, I sprinkle anecdotes that read like snippets from a short story, full of detail. I get fan mail (okay, so it’s comments from my Facebook friends, but still). Best of all, I get paid to do it.

I think it’s one of the best ways to train as a writer. Just my humble opinion, of course.

* * *

Jewel Punzalan Allen grew up in the tropics (the Philippines) and now lives in the desert (Utah). She divides her time between being a wife, a mom to three kids, a freelance journalist, an op-ed columnist, a songwriter, and a novelist aspiring to be published soon. She blogs at


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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Word Magic for Writers: A Review

Thursday, May 26, 2011
Ever write a piece, reread it and think, 'Wow, that doesn't have any pop'?

The missing pop may be caused by your choice in words. Writing is a combination of essential ingredients that form a vivid finished product. If your work tends to fall flat or lacks any luster, check out Cindy Roger's Word Magic for Writers: Your Source for Powerful Language that Enchants, Convinces, and Wins Readers (copyright 2004, Writer's Institute Publications).

Sure, you discovered how to craft similes and metaphors in elementary school. Do you remember learning the A-Z's of writing? I know I did not learn all of the vocabulary Rogers introduces in high school or even college writing courses.

Rogers asserts that by mastering word tricks, like alliteration, polysyndeton, repetition, paradox, personification, and zeugma, your writing will enchant readers.

She's right. The first section of the book is filled with examples of word devices and techniques that will take a scene from blah to wow! The first 117 pages give pertinent examples from literature, newspapers, and magazines. After each concept is introduced, Rogers features an exercise that will jumpstart your creative juices. Each chapter ends with a summary of main points and definitions of the introduced vocabulary.

In part two, Rogers shares examples of vivid imagery, contrast, implication and style. Again, the book follows the same format, offering examples and exercises to improve a writer's word choice.

The final section concentrates on the hook, including selecting a title for your work, memorable opening lines, solid endings.

During my first read through, the pages felt a bit cluttered. But as I reread certain sections and worked through the exercises, I quickly changed my mind. Word Magic for Writers is packed with so much information that will make your prose pop. It's a must-have book for all writers who are looking for encouragement and enthusiasm about the words they place on the page.

Review by LuAnn Schindler. Check out more of LuAnn's reviews at her website:
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Healthy Eyes: Tips for Reducing Eye Strain

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The things we do to ourselves… Last week I decided it was too hot to have the lights on in my office. I worked in a dim room all week and ended up with an annoying twitch in my right eye. So, I decided to do some research on eye strain and how to prevent it. Are you ready for the condensed version?

Office Ergonomics:

Your computer screen should be at arms length, with the middle of the screen setting approximately fifteen degrees below your sight line. Place the monitor at a right angle to any window or bright light source to reduce glare.

The lighting in the room should be no more than three times brighter than the screen. The best lighting is indirect; the aim is to avoid glare and shadow. Use task lighting for any paperwork.

Paperwork should be placed at the same level and angle as the monitor, or directly in front of the monitor, to reduce the strain of repeatedly changing focus.

Rest and Exercise:

Take a break at least every thirty minutes to relax your eye muscles, either rest with your eyes closed for a few seconds or choose one of these exercises.

The Stretch

You know this one. Look up, look down, look left, look right-- you should be able to feel the stretch. Making “figure eights” will work just as well, or look around the room and trace the outline of objects with your eyes.

Zen Vision

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures where there are two possible images. For instance, one might see either a beautiful woman with a bared shoulder or an old hag with a wart on her nose. The trick to seeing both images is to look without focusing. This type of vision relaxes the focus muscles.

The Painter

Hold up your thumb, now look at your thumb then look at something distant. Go back and forth several times.

Finish by quickly rubbing your palms together and placing your hands over your eyes, the warmth and darkness will relax the muscles.


Did you know that when we are relaxed we blink twenty-two times per minute, but when we are at a computer we only blink seven times per minute? Blinking replenishes the moisture shield across our eyes. This moisture shield protects our eyes from germs and also allows proper light refraction for accurate sight. If your vision is fuzzy, or if your eyes are red or feel gritty, you may have dry eyes.

Artificial tears are perfectly safe to use as often as you need. Choose a good quality tear replacement product; many are available in preservative free formulas.

Increase your intake of EFAs (essential fatty acids), they are essential in keeping the mucous membranes moist.

If eye strain continues to be a problem, ask your ophthalmologist about computer glasses.

I’m more aware now of the improper lighting and the discomfort it has been causing, and my eyes feel better after trying just a few of these exercises. These tips helped me; I hope you find them helpful as well.

Robyn Chausse
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Time Management for Writers

Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Time Management for Writers

by Kelly L. Stone

One of the primary questions I am asked by aspiring authors is “where do you find time to write?” Most people already know that the answer is you don’t have time, you make time. But making time to write in what feels like an already crammed schedule isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Unless you try counting.

Let me explain.

It is a scientific fact that whenever you start counting the number of times you do a certain behavior, that behavior will either increase or decrease in frequency depending on what you want it to do. So one way to track how often you are doing a behavior is to count it.

Let’s say you have a suspicion that time spent on social networking sites is eating into time that you could be writing instead. How can you tell for sure? Get out a pen and paper and start counting how many hours you spend each day on social sites. One person in my writing classes did this and discovered she was spending 3 hours a day on social networking sites, and this was after working a day job! And she wondered why she never had time to write!

This can be done for anything activity that you want to eliminate, compress, or delegate in order to make time to write: tv watching, checking your email, internet surfing (under the guise of *research*), talking on the phone, going shopping, checking for loose change beneath the sofa cushions, and so forth.

An easy way to find out where you can shoehorn writing into any schedule, no matter how busy, is to use what I call the 24-Hour Time Budget™. It’s simple. Simply track every minute of your day for a few days; I suggest a typical weekday and weekend day for starters. This exercise is similar to writing down every penny you spend in order to get a handle on where your money is going; the goal is for you to see where you are “spending” your time in order to wedge in some writing. After a few days, you’ll have an overview of where the bulk of your time is going. Then you can scrutinize the budget to see where you can eliminate, compress, rearrange, or delegate some activities and fit in writing time, instead.

Don’t be surprised if you find, like my former student, that you spend a lot more time in non-essential activities than you thought you did. (The average person watches more than 4 hours of television a night.) Just lop off some hours on the social networking sites and focus on your WIP instead.

Leave a comment letting me know where you discovered you’re spending all your time, and be entered into a drawing to win a TIME TO WRITE or THINKING WRITE lecture packet. Two winners will be selected from a random drawing.


Kelly L. Stone’s ( novel, GRAVE SECRET (Mundania Press, September 2007) was called “powerful” and “well written” by RT Book Reviews. She is the author TIME TO WRITE, THINKING WRITE, and her latest book for writers is LIVING WRITE: The Secret to Bringing Your Craft Into Your Daily Life (Adams Media, September 2010).

Kelly is also a WOW! Women on Writing Classroom instructor. Her interactive workshop EMPOWER YOUR MUSE, EMPOWER YOUR WRITING SELF starts Monday, August 8th. Click here for more information and to sign up!
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Finding Structure in Your Writing

Monday, May 23, 2011
Have you ever had the problem with your writing where the flow seems stilted? The organization is a hodgepodge? What do you do?
There are several ways to drill into the piece. One way is, when you haven't used an outline in the beginning, one of the things you can do is to step away from the piece--whether fiction or nonfiction--and look at what you've written as if it is just unloading your brain and emptying all your research/knowledge out onto the page.
Think: What is the purpose of the piece? If it is fiction, where will it fit in the arc of the story? If it is nonfiction, what is the purpose of the piece?
Double-space and print what you've written. Take some different colored pens or pencils and look, line-by-line, for common themes or elements. For Theme A, use a red pencil; for Theme B, use purple; Theme C, use blue.
Once you've used this rainbow method, list out the different themes or subjects to determine where the various themes might fit in the larger work or to help devise the thesis or narrative arc. Study your list to see if any one area is smaller than the other. Is that an area that needs fleshing out or removing?
The first few times I tried this (on mainly my nonfiction writing), it was a little awkward. But the stepping away from the manuscript for short while, makes it much easier to re-focus my efforts and see the piece with new eyes. Bringing those rested eyes (and brain) and the colors is a fresh way to see how to impose a structure on a piece.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer living in North Carolina.
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Updates from WOW!: Flash Fiction Winners, Retreat Review Published

Saturday, May 21, 2011
Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest Update:

If you entered the Winter '11 Flash Fiction Contest or subscribe to our Contest Connection e-mail newsletter, you should have received an e-mail announcing the results of the Winter '11 Contest. For everyone else, you can find the results here. We just posted the results last night! Congratulations to all the winners and everyone who had the courage to enter the contest.

This season was particularly tough. All the entries you see on the contest winners' page scored a "15," which is our highest score. We had many other 15s that didn't make the cut, so if you purchased a critique and receive one that says you scored a 15, it's not a mistake. Your story was that good. Unfortunately, only 20 stories could place. And if you purchased a critique, you should receive yours before the end of the month (a week and a half). Our contest manager is sending them out one by one as a MS Word .doc attachment. If you placed in the contest, prizes will be sent out within a week via e-mail.

Read the winning stories here:


Review of The Tom Bird Method Write Your Book in 5 Days Retreats:

Our official review of the Write Your book in 5 Days Retreat is published! In this review, Robyn Chausse interviews retreat attendees to get the inside scoop on what it's like to attend this intensive retreat. She also interviews Tom Bird who shares some of his own personal struggles he had to overcome to become a successful author, as well as the inspiration for his method.

If you're a reader of The Muffin, then you probably remember Robyn's diary-entry style posts on the retreat. In contrast, this review covers the writing portion of the retreat--walking you through the prep steps, the retreat itself, and what others have to say about the retreat experience. It also has a sidebar of amenities, costs, and other considerations.

Read the review here:


I hope you're enjoying your weekend! If you're writing, you're not alone. :)
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High Moments in Life and in Writing

Everyone has high moments in his or her life. They have moments that make memories live, moments more important than life itself. The most memorable moments are wonderfully glorious or dreadfully heart wrenching. We all want the beautiful, fabulous high moments. 

Create your own high moments. Fulfill your dreams, enjoy where you are in life. We don't always know when we're going to have a high moment. Weddings and births are two of the highest moments in life, but there are others. 

One evening my husband and I had a big fight. He came by in the morning and insisted on taking me to breakfast. I balked, but eventually gave in. We live in a small city, so a memorable moment was created when on a big marquee, these words glared: "Cher'ley, I'm such a butt. Forgive me. I love you, Del." I told him he must immediately remove that because the way our names were spelled everyone in the town would know it was us. Of course, I allowed him to return to the house. That was one of many high moments he's given me. 

In writing, the writer has to create high moments. That special memory in my life showed forgiveness and reconciliation. We had people cheering for us to make up, especially the owners of the marquee, so we made an impact on their life. Other instances make for memorable moments too, like, a caring heart, transformation, growth, character strengths, or death. 

Even a character that is mean or cantankerous can have an extreme moment that is memorable. When I was 11 years old, I had a teacher who insisted on calling me Betty, which was my mother's name. I didn't respond to her when she said, "Betty, what's your answer?" She cracked me over the head with a yardstick. I said, "My name's not Betty." She said, "You know who I'm talking to." And so it goes, a high moment in my life, not a good high, but a memorable one.  

These are just a small amount of things that make a story cling to the reader's mind. Donald Maass has a chapter about this in his Writing the Breakout Novel workbook. Linda Joy Myers wrote an article for WOW about Memoir Writing and she reinforces the importance of having high moments--become a heroine.

A high moment doesn't have to be great big or consume a great deal of time, it just has to be strong, memorable. Share with us the highest moment in your story or the highest moment in your life, besides getting married and having children.

Photos Creative Commons: 
Pic 2: 
Pic 3: Wikimedia Creative Commons
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Friday Speak Out!: Overcoming Fear, Guest Post by Christina Kapp

Friday, May 20, 2011
Overcoming Fear

by Christina Kapp

This winter Vida: Women in the Literary Arts published some interesting statistics concerning the inequality of publications among men and women in several major literary publications. Whether you write literary fiction or not, it’s worth looking at because it raises some interesting questions about the behaviors of women writers versus men, and can be as inspiring as it is depressing.

Clearly men are being published in greater number than women, so the obvious question is: Are editors truly male biased, or is something else going on here? Can there really be this much disparity in today’s publishing culture?

In a response to Vida’s statistics Tin House editor Rob Spillman blogged, “Male authors, in the face of rejection, are much more likely to submit more work, (and sooner) than their female peers. This is true even when the female author is explicitly requested to send more work.” What Spillman’s response suggests is that it may very well be less about editorial bias than simply about submission numbers. If women aren’t submitting as aggressively as men and there are fewer submissions by women, it stands to reason that we’re likely to be published less often. Sounds obvious enough, but is this really the case? Are we, as women, placing ourselves at a distinct disadvantage by distrusting our work and not submitting enough or responding to requests for more work? Are we self-discriminating because the number of submissions it can take to get a piece published simply overwhelm us?

For any writer, male or female, it is worth looking at our level of confidence in our writing and our commitment to getting our work out. Crafting an exceptional story is hard, but being dedicated and thick-skinned enough to understand that rejection is simply part of the process of publication, and not necessarily a commentary on the writing, may actually be harder. Are we up to the challenge on both fronts? Are we ready to push back against the statistics by putting fear aside on the basis that our work is just as good?

I hope so. I know I have been guilty of being too careful, nervous, or hesitant with my submission strategy. I’ll admit it. I am nothing if not completely insecure, and I know that it affects my ability to get my work published. I have been that woman who receives a kind rejection asking for more work and puts it aside, thinking, “someday I’ll have exactly the right piece for this one, but not now,” or “I’ve been rejected three times in three years. They just don’t like my work.” I know I shouldn’t, but I do take rejection personally. I feel all those terrible things: disappointment, frustration, embarrassment, shame. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s hard-wired. Maybe I’m self-defeating. However, I thank both Vita and Tin House for sharing these statistics and being so open about what is going on beyond my computer screen in the larger world of literary publishing. I hope we can all learn something from it, and press on with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism.

* * *
Christina Kapp is a mom, writer, and occasional triathlete who leads the New Jersey Writers Society's Franklin Chapter. Her fiction, poetry and essays have been published in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runnersapt, and Best of Eclectic Flash 2010. She blogs at:

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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Writing for Blue Mountain Arts

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Sarah Nagel, an editor for Blue Mountain Arts, is visiting with us today to give us some information about writing greeting cards and books for this company. I'm sure many of you will find this interview interesting; and hopefully, you'll find some writing tips, so you can see your work in print. So, let's go!

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Sarah. According to your website, Blue Mountain Arts creates cards, books, and gifts. Tell us a little about the products you offer and your company.

Sarah: Susan Polis Schutz and Stephen Schutz founded the company in 1971. Idealistic and very much in love, the couple left the busy East Coast in search of a new life in Colorado. In the basement of their apartment, they silk-screened posters of Susan's poems paired with Stephen's paintings and then traveled the country selling the posters from their pickup-truck camper. Everywhere they went, people were drawn to the candor and emotion of Susan's words and to the beauty of Stephen's illustrations. What began as a way for Susan and Stephen to spend their time together doing something they loved quickly became a publishing phenomenon.

Today Blue Mountain Arts continues to be at the creative forefront of personal expression and is a thriving international publisher. Blue Mountain Arts plays an essential role by helping people to connect with each other and strengthen the bonds of family, friendship, and love. Our products are designed to touch the hearts of those who give and receive them.

WOW: That is an awesome story. I love to hear about people who follow their dreams and find success. So, what kind of submissions are you currently looking for?

Sarah: We are looking for submissions on love, friendship, family, special occasions, and any other topic that one person might want to share with another. Because our cards capture genuine emotions on real-life subjects, we suggest that you have a friend, relative, or someone else in your life in mind as you write.

It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with our products prior to submitting material, but don't study them too hard. We are looking for original work that does not sound like anything we have already published. Keep in mind that we do not accept rhyming poetry, one-liners, or humor.

WOW: Do you prefer authors to query you first or send complete manuscripts? Do you take simultaneous submissions?

Sarah: We can’t make a decision to accept a greeting card for publication based on a query. We prefer to see the entire piece. However, our publication process is a little different when it comes to books. We ask authors to send us a book proposal rather than the completed manuscript. If you’re not sure what a book proposal entails, you can request our guidelines by e-mail (write us at editorial (at) The guidelines will provide you with some more specifics.

Simultaneous submissions are fine, but let us know if your submission has been accepted for publication elsewhere, so we can take it out of the running.

WOW: Got it! So greeting card copy needs to be sent in; and book proposals are preferred for book ideas. Can you give our readers some tips on writing for Blue Mountain Arts?

Sarah: Have someone in mind as you write. This is one of the best ways to achieve the personal, one-to one conversational style that works best on our cards. When it comes to writing for our most popular themes — mom, daughter, sister, and love — it’s especially important to find new ways of expressing the kind of feelings and words everyone associates with those subjects. We get a lot of poetry, for instance, about “Daughter, I remember when you were little,” or “Mom, you were always there for me.” If you can find a different way to convey these types of universal feelings, you’ll definitely get our attention.  

WOW: Thank you for the specific examples. What is the importance of people writing about their feelings whether or not they publish these pieces?

Sarah: Words have such tremendous power to heal, inspire, and clarify. Writing about your feelings gives you a path to better understanding your emotional state and why you’re feeling that way. And when you share that writing with the people you care about, they come to a better understanding of you, as well. It enhances your relationships.

Most importantly, you don’t have to be the most eloquent writer or the best speller; you just have to share your feelings in whatever words come from your heart. And written words shared in that way — through a handwritten note or a letter — have a permanency about them that really can’t be matched by texts or Tweets. So often, letters from loved ones become keepsakes that are passed down and cherished by future generations. Even if no one else ever sees them but you and your intended recipient, the rewards can be so great.

WOW: So true! Words are powerful. Do you find writers start writing for personal reasons, and these stories and poems often end up being submitted to you?

Sarah: We have so many stories along those lines. We get poems not only from the people who wrote them but from the recipients, as well. A mother will write us and say, “My daughter wrote this for me on my birthday, and I think it’s good enough to be on a card” — and we’ll end up publishing it. So even though they’re from a very personal point of view, they resonate so profoundly with people in similar circumstances.

In some cases, we may have to modify certain references that are too specific—i.e., we’ll remove the name of the street from the line, “Mom, all the kids on Martin St. always wanted to come to our house” — but in general, we do everything we can to retain that very personal and sincere feeling of the original. The author’s unique voice is very important to us.

WOW: Tell us a little about your current poetry contest.

Sarah: We publish some long poems on our cards; but at a certain point, we are limited by the physical size of the card. So we created the Poetry Card Contest on our website, as a forum for publishing some outstanding longer poetry that might not work as well in a greeting card format. It’s an ongoing, biannual contest with deadlines of every June 30th and December 31st with cash prizes for first, second, and third. There is no fee to enter, and you can submit as much material as you like. We also publish the winners on the website.

If you are looking for more ways to connect with us, you can join the Blue Mountain Arts Backyard Facebook Group or follow us on Twitter

WOW: Thank you, Sarah, for sharing so much about Blue Mountain Arts with our readers today. So, writers, get those pens working or your fingers typing and work on those submissions! 

interview conducted by Margo L. Dill; 

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What's Hiding in Your Newspaper?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The other day I read a two paragraph item in my local paper about a mysterious break in at a gas station. No money, tools, or other valuables were taken. Just a gumball machine—an empty gumball machine. Most people would say “Teenage prank” and move on to the weather or the sports scores for the local softball team. Of course, I’m not most people. I’m the type of person who says, “How cool would it be if there was a treasure map hidden in the empty gumball machine. Something people were willing to kill for?”

As a writer I’ve found that my local paper has been an endless source of ideas and sources—and not just for murder mysteries. When was the last time you dissected your local paper? Here are a few of the things I’ve found in the last week:

Rowing and Reactors

Again this was a two paragraph item buried in the sports section about a Naval Academy cadet who was on the female rowing team. Naval Academy and rowing team are two things not popular in my landlocked section of Pennsylvania. I emailed her coach who set up an interview and not only did I learn about crew but also about being a caring for the nuclear reactors on aircraft carriers—her specialty.

Drug Expert

Another teeny notice about a presentation at a local high school about bath salts(the drug kind not the actually put in your bathtub kind) given by a Pennsylvania State Police Drug Recognition Expert. Where else would I get to meet a Pennsylvania State Police Drug Recognition Expert? Who knew this position existed?

Old Fashioned Food

Several ads about an environmental festival for kids held at the county fairgrounds. I went and not only did my son have a great time but I learned about shagbark hickory syrup(like maple syrup but made from tree bark) and met a man who makes bread in an outdoor oven who is teaching the art of breadmaking to his grandson.

Anyone of these interesting things I stumbled across with the help of my local paper could turn into an article. So after you read through your local paper to find out if you need an umbrella today and if your favorite store is having a sale go through again. Read everything from sports to meeting notices to advertisements. Chances are you’ll find something quirky that would interest people outside your local area. Don’t overlook all those stories right in your backyard.

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Want to Write? Start with the Necessities

Sunday, May 15, 2011

So, you think you want to be a writer?

It doesn't matter if you devote 24/7 to the writing life or work another job and squeeze in writing time when possible. You still need basic necessities that make writing an easier task.

First, you need a space. Virginia Wolff believed a woman needs a room of her own. And, she's right. A writer needs an office/spot at the dining room table/a booth at the local coffee shop that she can call her own. Granted, some places provide better work opportunities than others, but a writer needs a space to set up shop. When I started freelancing, I converted a former bedroom into my cramped office, but I made it comfortable by repainting the walls to a cheery tangerine, adding memorabilia that inspires me, and using the space for writing only. What is your ideal office set-up?

Second, you need supplies. Even though you'll submit the majority of your work online, you still need to stock up on basics, like envelopes, paper, and stamps. I also make sure I have plenty of ink cartridges on hand, as well as Post-It notes, notebooks, batteries, postage (it's a 17-mile trip to town) and pens. I keep a separate notebook in my office, kitchen, bedroom and car. You never know when inspiration will strike! If you will be conducting interviews on a regular basis, invest in a digital audio recorder. It's a time saver! What office supplies do you have available?

Third, you need a computer and accessories. When I began freelancing, I didn't have the latest, greatest computer. I had a five-year-old laptop that was slow as molasses. But, I could still produce articles and stories. After a couple successful (translate: lucrative) sales, I upgraded to a computer that fit my needs. This included a photo software program, since photos must accompany most articles I write, as well as digital movie making software, since more online publications are asking me for a video to accompany a story package. But you can't just think about what computer you need. Think internet connection and make sure it's reliable. You also need to consider a printer, camera, digital video recorder, and scanner, depending on what you write. What type of computer essentials do you rely on most?

Fourth, you need a phone. Plus, it needs to be reliable. Nothing is more frustrating than being in the middle of an interview while on a cell phone and the network cuts out! We do not have a landline in our home, so I rely on my Blackberry to connect with contacts. With its myriad features, I use it to schedule appointments, network, send Twitter updates, and even type a story if I am on deadline. Do you use a land line, cell phone, or both to connect with your contacts?

Finally, you need time to write. Setting up an office and filling it with supplies doesn't make you a writer. Putting hand on keyboard, converting thoughts into characters, or picking up a favorite pen and pressing it against fine-lined paper (or college-rule for those of you who prefer wider spaces) is a great starting place.

Now, you are a writer.

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's writing at

Graphic by LuAnn Schindler
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The Right Tools for Planning a Writing Group

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Yep, using the right tools for planning a writing group can make it a whole lot easier. In my on-going attempts to set up and continue the regional writing group (a three-county section of the larger state organization), I had done all the "right" things: I had a list of members from the area; I had a list I collected at the first meeting; I had agreement from a used bookstore to use their backspace on a regular basis.
I started looking at e-newsletter programs, convinced that was the direction I should be going. I needed those tools to help build my writers' group. After all, this was going to be a expanding group. Even if I was volunteering for it, being around writers and creatives the cost would be worth it. But I couldn't decided on a program to use. Email would have to be my right tool. A week before the meeting, I rushed to send out an email to re-cap our first meeting and setup the second meeting. I asked the folks what they wanted to do and figured our second meeting would be spent hashing out the details about who was branching off into critique groups and who wanted to attend our programs presented by local writers.
I arrived at the meeting place and time. The bookstore had written in wobbly chalky penmanship "Writing Group Tonight" on its sandwich board outside. Passers-by, I was told, were expressing interest. It all seemed like it was coming together, I thought as I waited for the group to appear.
(The suspense is building!)
How exciting that this was actually happening, I thought during my second half-hour of waiting.
I started calling my husband at that time and was willing to sit it out longer, I would just double-check what I wrote in my email. Maybe I'd put the wrong time? The wrong place?
The more I searched my email folders, the more I realized: I hadn't sent it out, at all? Could that have really been the case?
Without getting into details, I drafted another email. This time, I hit send (cc-ing myself as a guarantee) and the responses started floating in.
Now, if I can make sure that I have a speaker for next time, we'll be doing well and, hopefully, growing our little group. And getting back to writing.

What tools do you recommend for keep in touch with a group? What tools have worked for you? And has it every happened to you...when you thought you'd sent an email and you hadn't?

Elizabeth King Humphrey, who is in the midst of a month-long blogathon at The Write Elizabeth, is a writer in North Carolina.
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Friday Speak Out!: Why I Write, Guest Post by Babette Hughes

Friday, May 13, 2011
Why I Write

by Babette Hughes

People who know that I write for love and not money probably think there’s something wrong with my moorings. They don’t quite comprehend that writing can be an end in itself, even a profoundly rewarding one. In fact, writing goes into the making of a good life.

A good life, for me at least, means making connections with the world around me. It means a heightened awareness of people with sensitivity to all sorts of subtle shadings. It means an existence without murkiness. The discipline of writing conditions the mind for this kind of life. It has enabled me to develop a tri-dimensional or stereoscopic habit.

The women in my life become more defined over time in their own uniqueness, and, as I write, I feel a sisterhood blossom like spring flowers. We are wives, widows, daughters, mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and aunts. We run houses and businesses, we nurture babies and husbands, and we take care of parents. We garden and run for Congress as we listen and console. Writing reveals these fulfilling, frustrating, and satisfying roles to me in a new dimension, exciting my imagination.

When I sit down to write, I change places with fate. I am its master at last. For a little while I am no longer one of millions dominated by forces outside my control--I become truly omnipotent. What could be sweeter? I create my characters and make things happen or not happen to them. I make them happy or sad. I look at life from a few steps back, as if viewing a painting. I fashion, manipulate, and maneuver. I know what is going to happen because I make it happen.

We women are a mixed lot--invincible and vulnerable, independent and needy, insecure and powerful. I have tried, in my writing, to understand and celebrate the gloriously complicated lives of women for my own and my readers’ discovery. To me, this is the supreme function of all writing. It is no easy calling, but its rewards go so far beyond the mundane that I hope to practice it for as many years as I have left on earth.

* * *
Sunstone Press just released Babette Hughes’ second book, The Hat, a historical novel about a bride coming of age amidst the Cleveland Mafia during Prohibition. Babette lives in Texas with her husband, JD, and dog, Polly. Visit the author at and join her fans on Facebook.


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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