Choosing Your Language

Thursday, February 28, 2013
Writing an airport crime novel? Know the lingo, but keep
your readers with you. | Credit: Elizabeth King Humphrey

When learning Spanish in my youth, I learned all the numbers, letters, colors, and so forth. As I grew older, I became fairly proficient at ordering beers in Mexican restaurants (and maybe a few other activities). Later, I moved to Europe and lived in a country where Spanish was not a very useful language.

In Prague, I worked in a law firm, an advertising firm, and a multinational news organization. English was not always the common, much less native, language in the office. Even worse, the language that folks often spoke was a specific language.

The language of their jobs.

When writing, you are trying to make your scenes as real and, at the same time, as approachable as possible. Police procedurals bring their readers into the action. But if the readers don't understand what is happening and what a phrase means, they are kept at an arm's length. Outside of the scene, not inside the scene, where you want your readers to be.

Even in fiction, you may find yourself having to learn about the language a character would speak in a law office or a nursery or an airport or a grocery store. To be authentic, understand that there's a good chance that gate change, for example, means different things in different industries. I once worked in a large office where it was common to ask "Where do you sit?" Your office location communicated an unspoken understanding about you and the hierarchy of the office politics. But that's not the same in other offices where I worked.

Sometimes in our non-writing lives, we encounter people who don't understand something that is second-nature in our daily lives. How do you explain the phrase to someone without insulting the uninitiated? Think about that and apply that to your writing.

Don't forget, as you revise, to have a reader who is not involved in the same industry read your work to make sure such specific language is understood.

In your attempt to be authentic, don't lose a reader on the page. Bring them in and show you know your stuff.

Have you used specific language in your writing? How did you keep your readers with you? Have you read any writers who manage to keep you with them?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, North Carolina. Some days she speaks several languages, especially to her kids, and she's not sure how she'd translate.
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Thinking of Writing as Your Career

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
by Lululemon Athletica (
A new class I'm teaching next week, "Writing for Children," focuses on thinking of writing for children (in magazines or books) as a career. In this class, we do a lot of goal setting and "dreaming"--what do you want to accomplish in six months, what do you hope to complete in one year, and what do you see your writing life like in five years. Some writers don't like to think about this--they want to be inspired by the muse and hope that the Fates will allow them to be published if it's "in the cards." But as a children's writer, I think it is extremely important to think about these short and long term goals and to consider writing as a career--even if you are also a nurse, teacher, plumber, stay-at-home mom, store owner, chef, etc.

If you don't take yourself and your career seriously, then no one else will. You will find your time to write taken up by all the other things in your life that take up your time now, and you will not be as productive as a writer.

When you use the word "career," you automatically start to take yourself more seriously. Consider the following two conversations.

Conversation A (between WOW! online student Gertrude and her husband, Mr. Understanding):

Gertrude: My new online class for WOW! starts today. It's about writing for children. You know how I've always been dabbling around in this, sweetie, wanting to write down the grandkids' stories for them.

Mr. Understanding: Yes, it's a wonderful hobby for you now that you're retired. I'll love to read your stories, and maybe you can get one or two published in that one magazine at our dentist's office.

Gertrude: Oh, wouldn't that be exciting to have someone else read what I've written. I'll make that my one-year goal--to get a story down and send it off to that magazine.

Mr. Understanding: Yes, goals are so important--my goal is to get my workshop cleaned out this summer.  Do you want to help me? It doesn't take that long to write a story for  kids, does it?

Conversation B (between WOW! online student Marge and her husband, Mr. Sensitive):

Marge: Honey, my new online class starts tomorrow, and I can't wait to take hold of my new career--writing for children.

Mr. Sensitive: Whoa, hold on here, Marge. What do you mean new career? Since when are you a professional writer?

Marge: Since I decided to be when I signed up for this class--our instructor is going to teach us to set goals and how to plan five years down the road to have the kind of career in writing we want. Plus she's going to help us send our stories to agents and editors.

Mr. Sensitive: You mean, you're going to be a writer--like when people ask you what you do, you are going to say, "I'm a writer." When are you going to help me paint my office?

Marge: (trying not to roll her eyes) Yes, exactly. I am a writer. This is my career, and I'm going for it. You'll have to ask your brother to help you paint.

Although these conversations are a little exaggerated, you get the point. You don't really have to take a class to get this attitude, but I think we all need to think like this. If you are working on a novel or a short story or an article--that you are planning to publish or show to anyone else--then you are a professional writer, and you have a career in writing. It's no different than a career in medicine or education or business. Your career should be important to you, you should have goals and aspirations, and you should be taken seriously.

So, come on, join the movement and start calling your writing your career today!

If you are interested in Margo's Writing For Children class, it starts online on March 4 (and it is CURRENTLY ON SALE!). For more details and to sign up, go to the WOW! Classroom. ( ). You can also e-mail Margo at margo (at) with any questions. Margo's first children's novel was out in October 2012, and she has two picture books under contract also. 


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Interview with Don Russell, creator of DARedit software and

Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Don Russell is a nationally known software developer and self-confessed “geek.” During a conversation with a friend regarding the cost of editing Don’s cerebral light bulb lit up and it’s been flashing ever since.

Don impressed us with his website,, which we reviewed in May of 2011. After many improvements, Don launched version 4.0 of the site and it is absolutely a joy to use. We really began to wonder, though, “Just what drives this man to constantly tinker with this editing website?” So, of course, we decided to ask!

WOW: Hello Don, welcome back to The Muffin! Automated Editing is constantly evolving—this must be time consuming. What drives you to constantly improve the website?

Don: Because it will never be “finished.” The problem with the English language is, well, the English language. It is amazingly complex, and totally inconsistent. It keeps evolving, and changing. So trying to write algorithms that can look at something so “squishy,” and still give valuable, valid advice is worse than herding cats. It never ends. Robyn, you once reminded me that Oscar Wilde spent a day inserting and deleting the same comma. Only a writer or an editor (or a senile algorithm creator) could see the wry, painful humor in that event.

Let me use the simple example of a period. We all know periods end sentences. Ah, I wish it were that simple. What if they are the end of an abbreviation, or part of a number, currency, or part of an ellipse? What if there is a following parenthesis or quotation? Are they part of an internet address? One of the most difficult things for our software is something that probably sounds easy—determining where a sentence was meant to end.

And what about certain words? “Friend” is a noun, right? Wrong! It can be a verb today (I just friended you on . . .”) or even, in very tortured English, an adjective (My friended neighbor is the one who . . .” And it could also be a typo/misspelling of “fiend,” or a common salutation. Ugh.

The bottom line is that every time I run a new test document through the software, I find something new—an exception I never thought of, or an outright error. Unlike a pro editor, around 20% of the time our software gets it totally wrong. That will never change, even as we improve and add to the software, because English is so squishy. (Just visit the forums at the CMS to see brilliant editors and writers arguing over how something should be done!) The only solution is to strap on the keyboard, brew a large pot of coffee, and get back to work.

WOW: How has usage of the software compared to what you expected when you started the project two years ago?

Don: I was not even close on predicting why members most enjoyed the site. When I started this project, my goal was to help fellow starting authors and I thought the main (perhaps only) use would be by authors who could not yet afford to invest in a great pro editor, and needed a low-cost way to get to the point where investing thousands in pro editing would be a great decision. They could catch most of their major errors and style issues, and get their writing to the next level to prepare for contests, first submissions, etc. Soon they would get to the point where a pro editor would be a logical next investment in their writing.

Yet today, with 20-20 hindsight, I discovered that there was another usage that has proven to be much more important to many users. The number one use is by authors who want a 24/7, easy-going English tutor to help rapidly improve their writing and style. The best example I can give is an author who told me “People keep telling me I have a run-on sentence problem. How can I change that?” Well, all she needed was a few passes with the software where all her run-on sentences were flagged, along with suggestions for improvement, before she made huge improvements in that part of her writing.

That’s the benefit of the instant feedback from the software. It takes only a few times being flagged for a dialog error before you tend to stop making that particular dialog error in new writing. Misuse “which” and “that”—and the software points it out for you, so you easily learn the proper usage. Your writing gets better and better!

So my original goal turned out to be the number two reason. Oh, and the number three reason never dawned on me back when I started—business people checking reports and emails before sending out a potentially “embarrassing” mistake!

WOW: I confess; I’ve used the software to improve my writing as well! About your software, how do algorithms help us edit our writing?

Don: In a word—instant feedback! (Or maybe that’s two words!)

I cannot overstate how exciting it is when I get emails from members who find that their grammar, and therefore their writing, improves week after week as they use the software. People forget that the reason we want good grammar and punctuation is not to please the editors and publishers—but to make sure the reader gets our message! Good editing makes your intent clear to the reader. I think those who have the creativity to write are also, almost by definition, good learners. The software instantly points out problem areas, explains why, and offers suggestions. Their writing gets clearer and more powerful as the grammar becomes easier.

One other insightful comment I received was a bit of a surprise, but made a great deal of sense the more I thought about it. “The computer doesn’t judge or threaten. It just offers ideas late at night when I am looking at what I wrote. I can deal with that. It’s a lot easier than having my boyfriend point out every mistake he thinks I made.”

I get encouragement every week from members of our site who find that the instant feedback on their writing continually improves them, and make them better writers. The stories start to jump out from the words. After all, it only takes a few times when the software points clauses that are confusing before they stop making that mistake!

WOW: This has been quite a journey for you. What have you learned about yourself or others along the way?

Don: I am sad to say that one thing I have learned was a real surprise to me, and was very discouraging. In short, I find that more and more writers see very little value in proper grammar and punctuation, and their writing suffers as a result. I see this every day in e-books, blogs, and even major websites. They seem to believe that “. . . people should only look at the idea, not the grammar.”

Sadly, it is not as simple as that.

I think they miss the point about why editing is important. It is not just to live up to some silly rules set by ancient librarians somewhere! It is that the sole purpose of editing is to make sure your message and story are clear to the reader. Bad grammar or punctuation (unless you are Ferlinghetti!) destroys even great writing when it loses the reader.

The best examples of this are run-on sentences and passive voice. Neither of these is automatically “bad grammar.” Often they are excellent and powerful ways to convey and image or story. But more often than not, run-on sentences are so messy that they lose the reader completely. And passive voice often runs the danger of making the object of the sentence unclear. Beyond these two examples, I would guess that a large portion of those who purchase books (I personally would guess more than two-thirds) find bad grammar to be so distracting that it would significantly detract from their enjoyment of the work.

And all that goes double for contest judges and publishing acquisition evaluators!

The good news is that the best writers (in terms of creativity and stories) consistently have better grammar and punctuation. There seems to be a relationship between creative writing, and good grammar. The best writers create an idea, and then precisely use the English language to get it across. That is what hooks the reader. You somehow stop looking at the words, and start to enter the author’s vision. Neat!

WOW: You obviously love language as much as you love those algorithms! Thank you for visiting with us today, Don. We appreciate all the time you put in to help us polish our work. I'm sure writers will want to check out the new and improved

Interview by Robyn Chausse
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Inspiration in Creative Nonfiction

Monday, February 25, 2013
Like many writers, I find my life to be a valuable source of material. But what magical formula can transform that stupid thing I did last Thursday into a piece that will make readers laugh, cry, or smile as they recognize a reflection of themselves? I often find that magic in reading the work of other writers. Reading the writing of others can often help my brain recognize pieces of my life that would make intriguing subjects for my writing. And when I find such a valuable source of talented writers, I am eager to tell other writers about this magic.

I found 80 pages of magic recently when reading issue 47 of Creative Nonfiction, an issue that focuses on the writing of women. After reading the issue entitled “Female Form,” I had a sheet of paper covered with ideas for essays that had to occurred to me while reading Creative Nonfiction. Reading this writing on an amazing variety of subjects ranging from aging to hunting to memory to brains I found dozens of ideas popping into my head.

The editors of Creative Nonfiction write that they didn’t intend to create an all-female issue but were drawn to issues about “the senses” that were written, for the most part, by woman. These pieces may have been written by women but without reading the bylines you would not instantly pinpoint the writers as women. They are, simply, good writers. Each piece is strong and raises many questions for the reader to muse over long after the last word has been read. Even the illustrations that pop up throughout the literary magazine will make you think and hopefully, inspire you to write.

In addition to personal essays and other types of nonfiction, Creative Nonfiction also shares commentary, interviews and more on the process of writing.

Thanks to the editors of Creative Nonfiction who offered me “Female Form” to enjoy. Perhaps I should add them as co-writers to all the pieces I write inspired by this issue that captured my attention as both a reader and a writer.
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Use a Timeline to Develop Your Story

Sunday, February 24, 2013
I've been reworking (okay, heavy editing and restructuring) of a book I've been working on for what seems like 10 years. (It's actually been that long. I'm a perfectionist. Sigh.) While reading, I noticed several elements seemed contradictory, especially when talking about time. A couple details seemed out of place, like the order was jumbled, causing confusion in the storyline.

It reminded me why, when I taught composition and even creative writing to high school students, I would use a timeline handout, like the one in the photo. In order for a story to be consistent, discrepancies in time (or setting or character growth) cannot be present.

Here's how it works:

  • Make a timeline of events from the time period. I'm not talking within the story, I'm talking about a timeline of what was happening in the world during the time period include in your piece. When I wrote a one-act play for my students to perform for competition this year, which was based on 9/11, I wanted to include the number one song in the U.S., and within each vignette, I planned to feature a bit of pop culture. I made a timeline for how the events of that day unfolded and researched pop culture tidbits. It added a great sense of place to the plot.
  • Make a timeline for a character. How does a specific character get from point A to point B? It doesn't matter if you're talking about specific movement, the timeline can show events that cause a change in personality or a moment that leads to character growth.
  • Start plotting. I like to mesh the two timelines together and create a scene. It's a handy tool that shows where pacing needs to increase, action needs a jolt of energy, and characters need a healthy dose of conflict to create a stronger story.
Once I made a timeline for the chapters that are causing trouble, I located the discrepancies and was able to make adjustments that strengthened the storytelling.

Have you used a timeline to help define your storyline?

by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of her work at her website.
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Why Taking a Risk at a Writer’s Conference Is a Good Thing

Saturday, February 23, 2013
I’m at a writer’s conference this weekend, and at first, I was disappointed that several of my good friends wouldn't be attending this year. But then I thought, that’s okay. I won’t play it safe. You see, when I don’t know many people at an event, I’m sort of a different person.

It’s funny but true. I stand a little taller, I smile a bit more. I can’t be lazy, falling back on the old reliables. When I look around and don’t recognize anyone, I have to put my best foot forward. I want to make a favorable first impression, so walking into a room full of strangers definitely keeps me on my toes.

Now, maybe you’re wondering why I bother. After all, we go to writer’s conferences to learn writing stuff, right? Isn't it enough to find a chair and take copious notes at the workshops? Maybe pay extra-close attention if you've paid for a manuscript critique?

Well, yes, there’s that purpose to the conference. But a writer’s conference is also a wonderful opportunity to make a few connections. If you play it safe, you’ll never meet anyone. So you have to take the risk, and give yourself a push.

Of course, us writers are notoriously reserved. If we liked the whole social scene, we probably wouldn't be hunkered down in our cubbyholes, writing. So. How to pack a push?

Come prepared to put yourself out there. Bring business cards to share. Sit at the table where no one seems to know anyone. Polish up your elevator pitch. You may not meet many agents to pitch, but every time you meet someone new, you have a chance to fine-tune that pitch, and that’s incredibly beneficial. Because if you’re having difficulty figuring out what your novel is really about, explaining it to strangers, and getting their reactions, can be very illuminating.

Don’t forget to ask people what they’re writing. Writers may not always be the most social creatures, but I've never met one who didn't like talking about the work. And don’t be surprised if you meet a couple true kindred spirits.

Once, I overheard a writer discussing zombies. As it happens, zombies are one of my favorite topics. So we had a lively chat (Yes, I know. That was bad.). She’s a gifted novelist, and a generous writing friend—and I've bought several of her books since that conference.

The thing is, you may meet a couple editors or agents at a conference, and that’s swell. Maybe you’ll meet up in social media, and maybe some day, somehow, that connection will pay off. Meanwhile, the struggling writers you meet, the folks who live in your area and who are on that same publishing journey as you, might become your new best friends. Friends who’ll support you along the way, just like you’ll support them.

It all starts with that moment when you decide to take a risk—and say hello.

~Cathy C. Hall

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Friday Speak Out!: The Accidental Author, guest post by Brandi Schmidt

Friday, February 22, 2013
I never thought I would be an author. I hear lavish tales from other authors about where they began their literary journey, like at age four writing plays and short stories. That was not me. I wasn’t a great student in high school, scraping by to get that diploma. I took a few years off after graduation, found myself, and gained perspective. I did return to college and actually worked my tail off to get the hardest degree I could find. I majored in biomedical engineering science at Washington University in St. Louis. After college graduation, I took a nice position with a local pharmaceutical company and continue to work there full time. I was the ”slacker” turned ”nerd” and loved it.

One day I took my son to see Twilight—he loved vampires and I was an avid Buffy fan. Wait, don’t stop reading! We all have strong feelings about the Twilight saga, and I am not debating them in this post. Seeing that movie changed my life, I know what you are thinking…really? But yes, it did.

I bought the book that night. That was the first time in my life I actually read for pleasure. I had read thousands of books, mainly text books and medical journals, but Twilight was different. I devoured the entire series in a week. Stayed up all night to read, was a zombie at work, ignored my husband. Like a junkie, I was hooked.

I finished the series, and I can’t believe I am going to admit this, but I actually hugged the books. I was so moved by words on a page. I thought, I want to do that. Not marry a vampire and have a half vamp/half human child, but write a book that moves people.

The big question was what would I write about? Did I have a story in me to tell? Two weeks went by. One day driving home, I was given the story. I knew the characters, the story arcs, and all the funny drama that would ensue. Maybe I was given THE KINDLING by accident? Maybe God meant to give it to the car in front of me and miscalculated his idea trajectory. But I got it, and I am forever grateful.

I believe we all have great ideas, and it’s the action or non-action that can change our destiny. I took action that day. I went home and wrote the first three chapters of THE KINDLING. By the way – they were terrible, like I said I wasn’t a writer.

Fast forward four years—yes, four years! I studied, learned, went to conferences, followed agent blogs, met other aspiring authors, got my own blog, and it was hard. I queried way too soon (that’s another funny story!). I made many mistakes along the way, but I learned from them and never gave up. And now my first novel, a paranormal romance titled THE KINDLING is releasing in March 2013 published by MuseItUp Publishing. I hope you find the time to read my accident; it’s a good one.

* * *
Brandi Schmidt lives outside St. Louis with her husband, three beautiful children, and one loveable Golden Retriever. She is in love with love and admittedly cries at anything sappy. You can follow her at or Facebook at www.facebook/authorbrandischmidt. Her twitter handle is @BrandiSchmidt . You can purchase THE KINDLING at or any other ebook suppliers.
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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Make the Reader Weep or Laugh

Thursday, February 21, 2013
One of the goals of a recent revision was to deepen the emotions. I used multiple strategies or tools to work on making the reader weep or laugh.

Look for clichés—and kill them.
Suck in a breath in horror.
Did a double-take in surprise.
Let go a big belly-laugh.

Please. Those are awful, aren’t they? You must look for new, fresh ways to express emotion.

Look for adverbs—and kill them.
The problem here is using an adverb, instead of a stronger verb.

NOT: He laughed excitedly.
INSTEAD: He guffawed.

NOT: She sighed quietly.
INSTEAD: Her breath seeped out.

List emotions in margins. I like to read through a chapter and write the emotions evoked in the manuscript’s margins. Then, I read through the emotions to see if there is some sort of progression across the chapter. Maybe the character starts out confident and winds up in despair.

I try to avoid hitting just one emotional note throughout the story. Instead, I am looking for emotional variety. Often a writer will explain that a character has to feel a certain way. His mother just died, they will say, so the boy will be sad. Yes, of course. But if a character is sad—and sad—and further more, he’s sad, it’s a boring story. We need emotional variety. At a funeral, people laugh and cry and argue and sleep. A full range of emotions are possible, in fact, the emotions are much deeper because of the situation.

On a macro-level, chart the emotional arc of the main character and other important characters. Over the course of the story I chart the emotional arc of a character. Usually, this is in terms of one main character quality: a lair learns to tell the truth. What are the stages of learning that telling the truth is a valuable skill? You may understand it different, but my idea might go something like this:

Character lies and gets in trouble, vows to tell the truth, tells the truth and gets in trouble, lies again to get out of trouble, lies again to stay out of trouble, lies and gets in really major trouble, tells the truth and finds a way out of problems. Tells the truth, even though it appears foolish to do so and there are consequences, but Character gains respect for telling the truth.
In other words, the emotional arc has ups and downs, successes and failures. The emotional zig zag must be there, or the story is boring.

Spit it out. Just have the characters articulate the emotions.
If all else fails, let the characters just talk about their emotions in the dialogue. That’s what happens in sit-coms, in dramas or plays or on film, where you can’t know what the character is thinking. Only dialogue and action can indicate the emotions. In these cases, give your Character some words that evoke the emotions


Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes and blogs about education at Follow Darcy on Pinterest.
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Winning Battles for Writers: National Writers Union

Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Interview with National Writers Union Organizer Andrew Van Alstyne

by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

Being a freelance writer can be as lonely as a sailor adrift at sea. In this interview, Andrew Van Alstyne, an organizer with the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981), will share the importance of solidarity among freelance writers.

Andrew is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan. He currently lives in Arlington, Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.

WOW: Andrew, to start, could you tell us a little about what the National Writers Union is and what they do for writers?

Andrew: The National Writers Union (UAW local 1981) has been around since 1981. We’re the only labor union representing freelance writers. We work on everything from contracts and grievances to copyright issues and member education. Writing is often a solitary profession and the union is a much-needed source of solidarity and support for its members.

This solidarity and support can be crucial for freelance writers. We just won a significant settlement with the publishers of Heart & Soul magazine for unpaid wages for contract writers and staff editors. The magazine’s publisher will sign a confession of judgment and pay the writers in six installments. The first payment was just sent to a writer facing foreclosure. This victory wouldn’t have happened without the commitment of the affected writers, but it also shows the value of collective action and solidarity.

WOW: How did the Pay the Writer campaign begin and why is it important?

Andrew: In 2011, AOL bought the Huffington Post for $315 million. By now, the Huffington Post model is well known: there are a small number of staff employees and a seemingly endless supply of unpaid bloggers. When the sale went down, the unpaid bloggers expected to be rewarded for the value they’d help create. Instead, the site made it clear that bloggers wouldn’t see a dime. In response, Huffington Post bloggers independently called a boycott of the site. We joined the campaign and launched Pay the Writer to make clear that working writers deserve to be paid. This was incredibly important beyond the Huffington Post as a host of imitators emerged all looking to cash in on unpaid bloggers. It’s a successful scheme—Turner just spent $200 million on Bleacher Report.

We recently announced an end to the Pay the Writer campaign so we can focus our energy on building an online writers division within the union. We already have strong divisions for book authors, journalists, and academics and an online division makes sense.

WOW: How can freelance writers know which companies are safe to work for?

Andrew: When dealing with particularly egregious cases, we will issue advisories. For example, in the case of Heart & Soul I mentioned earlier, we issued a Writers Alert letting writers know about the problems at the magazine.

In this market, there are far too many publishers looking to make a quick buck by taking advantage of writers, so it’s important that if a writer encounters problems, she or he has an ally. That’s why contract advice and enforcement is such an important part of what we do.

WOW: What advice do you have for writers—young and old—who are trying to work in the “online” market?

Andrew: A quick scan of Craigslist reveals the challenges writers face, as companies feel no qualms offering negligible rates for professional quality work. There is absolutely no way a writer can make a living on a fraction of a cent per word, but those kinds of job posts are everywhere.

For a new writer or an established writer, my first piece of advice is not to go it alone. Connect with other writers—joining the National Writers Union would be an excellent start. Beyond that, my advice is to not undervalue yourself. Every offer is negotiable, whether it’s on pay or rights or something else. Again, we offer advice on these to members.

WOW: What should writers be looking for in the future from the National Writers Union?

Andrew: We’ll continue working for writers. As our recent Heart & Soul victory shows, there is power in solidarity. As we build our online division, we’re looking to create the infrastructure necessary to make the digital age writer-friendly. Please visit to sign up.

WOW: Thank you for taking time to share this information with us, today. I know there will be many members of WOW interested in what the National Writers Union has to offer freelance writers.


Interview by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas for WOW. Linda is no stranger to WOW. She has taught classes, written articles, participated in contests and joined blog tours. She is an educator/writer/poet, living in Western Massachusetts with her husband and cat. Linda is also a member of the National Writers Union, Local 1981. You can read more about her on her blog, Words from the Heart.
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Interview with Johnna Stein, runner-up in WOW’s Summer 2012 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
What happens when a fortune teller delivers bad news—does it change the course of one’s life? Johnna Stein offers up one scenario in her flash fiction entry, The Winter Will Ask. We invite you to enjoy her story here and return for a short interview with the author.

Like so many, Johnna longed to be a published writer. About five years ago, after returning to the USA after a ten-year stint in The Netherlands with her Dutch hubby and two teenagers, she decided it was time. Various articles and short stories have found their way into print and she’s very proud of her children’s story, “The Wooden Apple” recently published in the November 2012 issue of Cricket Magazine. Johnna recently returned from a five-day Highlights novel in verse workshop where she hopes she found the secret to publishing her YA novel in verse.

WOW: Welcome Johnna! What was the inspiration for The Winter Will Ask?

Johnna: I woke up one morning thinking, “What if a wife went to a fortune teller and was lied to and was told her husband would die, when in fact it was the wife who would die?”

WOW: (Smile). Writers wake up with the oddest thoughts…
Tell us a little about your writer’s journey; what was your first big sale and what did you learn from it?

Johnna: My first non-fiction piece was returned with an editor’s request for me to shorten it by half, with no promises to publish. I considered this a victory since it wasn’t a flat-out rejection. I edited away, sent it back, and I sold “Heart in Africa” to GUIDE magazine. I’ve since sold three more to them. My favorite sale was “The Wooden Apple” which appeared in Cricket this past November.

WOW: In what ways does flash-fiction challenge your writing skills?

Johnna: I must search for the absolute best word and sentence structure to convey the meaning. It teaches me to write tight and bright.

WOW: In what ways has expat living influenced your writing?

Johnna: It’s taught me to see with different and new eyes. When I returned to the States after living in Holland for almost ten years, I had to learn to be American again.

WOW: I hear the potential for a memoir in there; have you ever considered writing about your experience?

Johnna: I prefer fictionalizing my experiences. I've had a few non-fiction pieces published about my life, but I haven't really considered writing a memoir. I think I've found my sweet spot in YA.

WOW: What author has most inspired you and how?

Johnna: John Greene has been the most recent inspiration. I love his voice and the way he’s able to recreate the teen aura.

WOW: Regarding your YA novel in progress—how does writing in verse benefit the story? What points should a writer consider before choosing this route?

Johnna: My novel is about a very sensitive subject, sex trafficking. The poetry acts as a buffer between the reader and difficult subject matter. I believe you should only choose this form if you see it as the best way the story can be told and you have practiced writing poetry.

WOW: Do you have a website where readers can connect with you?

Johnna: Not yet! Hopefully, I’ll be blogging soon, though!

WOW: We hope to see you back here soon--perhaps to celebrate your YA novel!

Interview by Robyn Chausse
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How to Find a Critique Group

Monday, February 18, 2013
Some groups provide lots of written comments!
It’s one thing to know that you should probably belong to a critique group.  It’s another thing to find one. Start out by looking wherever you find other writers.

Writers’ organizations.  If you belong to a writers guild or other writers’ organization, they may have ongoing critique groups or a system in place to help writers create new groups.  I belong to such a group sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Missouri Region.  It was my first face-to-face critique group.

Meetings or Conferences.  People don’t always talk up their own groups at events like these, but they are great opportunities to meet other writers that you can invite to start a group.  This is how I connected with my second group, the Ladies of the Gordian Knot.

Online.  Many of us “meet” our fellow writers online in discussion groups, on blogs, or on Facebook.  Interact with your fellow writers then approach them about creating a group.  A group doesn’t have to meet face to face; as a grad student, my only critique group was via e-mail.

As you try out various groups or work to create your own, here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Look at what people write. Picture books are different novels.  If you are the only novelist, you might not get the help you need from a group of picture book writers.
  • Ask why they write. People who write to publish often have different goals than people who write just for the fun of creating a story.
  • Look at their publishing choices. If your focus is traditional publishing, a group focused on self-publishing may not meet your needs.  Variety can be good, but if you are the only one providing that variety, you might need to look elsewhere.
  • Learn the ropes.  Every group works differently.  Some read their work aloud.  Others pass it out ahead of time and return it with comments but also discuss it.
  • Be ready to give.  A critique group is different from a critique service.  If you only want feedback but don’t want to critique for others, find a freelance editor.  This attitude isn’t fair to the other writers.

Not every group will be right for you.  You may even like everyone in a group, but still not get what you need.  It’s a lot like dating that way.  Sometimes you have chemistry and sometimes you don’t. If the first or second group you try lacks this chemistry, don’t give up.  A good critique group is worth the wait and the effort.


Find out more about Sue's writing on her blog, One Writer's Journey
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Celebrating Freelance Writer's Appreciation Week

Saturday, February 16, 2013

“It’s Freelance Writer’s Appreciation Week, and I just want you to know you and your writing are appreciated,” a relative wrote.
Ah, the glamorous life of a freelance journalist! I smiled, but at the same time, I could see the expressions of other family members when they ask, “So are you still doing that writing thing?” Like it’s some kind of phase I’m going through. Like they don’t think I actually earn a living putting words on paper. (I do, trust me.)
The convo reminded me of the “What People Think I Do” meme that shows six viewpoints of the journalistic/writing life.
Frame one shows ‘What my friends think I do’ with a photo of a person writing at the neighborhood coffee shop. Sure, if I lived in Lincoln, I might be at The Mill, pouring my heart onto a Word document. But let’s be realistic. I live on a farm, I teach three hours a day, and my drive time totals at least two hours. Starbucks isn’t an option.
Frame two explains ‘What my Mom thinks I do’ and shares a picture of Diane Sawyer at the ABC news desk. My mom and dad know better. They’ve accompanied me on photo shoots and story assignments. They’ve watched me cover an event, review notes, and send an article to a publication within 15 minutes of the end of the event. They wouldn’t want me to be Diane, anyway. They’d prefer I emulate Meredith Vieira or Ann Curry.
Frame three elucidates society’s vision of the writing life: a blur of camera flashes as I chase down a subject. Yup, happens all the time, especially when I have to photograph a herd of cows or the newest wine bottled by a Nebraska winery.
Frame four illustrates ‘What editors and clients think.’ A girl holds a sign stating she will work for free. Ha! Maybe I’m lucky, maybe it’s because I am – and primarily work with - Midwestern publications and we are known for our strong sense of values, but I’ve never had that problem.
Frame five justifies ‘What I think I do.’ Sure I’d love to get wrapped up in some investigative piece, ala Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in “All The President’s Men.”  Wouldn’t it be challenging to delve into some scandal and report the facts and tell the truth?  This leads to frame six…
  ‘What I really do.’ I spend a lot of time writing about people and events in this area. I read a lot and see what correlations I can make in our region and then seek potential story candidates. These are the stories that interest me and are important to share with others. Every person has a story to tell, and I enjoy being able to relate those significant, heartbreaking, heartwarming, offbeat stories because ultimately, they are the fabric of what unites us, what creates empathy with others.
Some writers make you think; others make you wonder. As a writer, I appreciate capturing a reader’s imagination, letting the story unfold.
It’s what I hope I do.  

by LuAnn Schindler
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Friday Speak Out!: So, You Call Yourself a Writer?, Guest Post by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Friday, February 15, 2013
So, you call yourself a writer? Good. If you don’t, who else will? A writer is someone who writes, period. No one is stopping you.

When my son started preschool, I claimed those hours for myself. I only had two and a half hours, twice a week, but I wrote a book that year. Never during those hours did I wash dishes, fold laundry, check email, or go grocery shopping. I was able to accomplish what I did because that was the year I decided to call myself a writer and do something about it.

The more you reinforce your identity as a writer to yourself and to those around you, the more you will begin to feel like a writer, and the more you’ll write. The more you write, the closer you are to getting published. Once you feel more like a writer, you’ll begin to reach out to other writers, and you’ll learn about events in the writing community. You’ll subscribe to writing blogs; you’ll make contacts that inspire you. You’ll read more. All these are important steps toward reaching your goals.

The more you call yourself a writer, the less self-conscious you will feel saying it. The less guilt you will feel carving out time to write. The more your husband and children will begin to see you as a writer, and respect you for it.

Writers write, and attend conferences, and take workshops. So, what’s stopping you? Are you a writer, or what? Go ahead. Say it.

* * *
  Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is a writer in Tempe, Arizona. Her work has appeared in Literary Mama, SLAB Literary Magazine, Hospital Drive, Phoenix New Times, and the Arizona Republic, and is forthcoming in Babble and WOW! Women on Writing. For links to Elizabeth’s fiction and creative nonfiction, check out her website 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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Do We LOVE Writing? Reflections on Cupid's Holiday

Thursday, February 14, 2013
Cupid's Arrow in South Beach by Nan Palmero
Cupid is a symbol of Valentine's Day that we all recognize. According to Roman mythology (and the version you happen to read), Cupid, the Roman god of Love, can shoot his arrow through your heart and cause you to fall hopelessly in love with another person. Sometimes, this can work out great--if the other person loves and adores you in return. If not, you're basically cursed and walking through your life like a zombie, looking for some relief from your broken heart.

And then there's this LOVE we all say we have for writing. . .

When you're with a group of writers or on a writing blog, you will often see statements such as, "I fell in love with writing at a young age and haven't been able to stop." or "Writing is my greatest passion." or "If I can't write, I don't want to live." or simply, "I love to write." But is this relationship that we have with writing love? Is it good--this overwhelming desire that we have to put words on a page? This desire that causes us to feed our children lunchmeat for dinner or tell our husbands to get the cereal box out of the pantry if he's hungry? How about our house--super dust bunnies, anyone? How long has it been since you took a shower? Come on, you can be honest with us. We understand.

I'm not sure if you can call this relationship that we have with writing LOVE. My theory is that each one of us was once an unsuspecting, innocent, normal, clean person with regular hobbies and passions; and then all of a sudden, this little winged creature, Cupid, shot us with his arrow. And the scholars have gotten it totally wrong all these years--Cupid's arrows do not make you fall hopelessly in love with another person. No, they make you fall desperately "in love" with writing.

And it doesn't even seem to matter if writing has loved us back or not--as a matter of fact when we have some success: a contest win, a published book, a contract for a newspaper column--we become more and more obsessed with our computers, journals, and notebooks. My husband actually calls my computer my fourth child--there's my stepson, my daughter, my dog, and my computer.

So on this day when we celebrate LOVE, try to find some time away from the keyboard and pen and hug a human (or animal!) you love today. Maybe even bake him or her a cookie or remember to call the Chinese place to order some dinner. Then tomorrow, go back to writing--our passion, our obsession. After all, it's not our fault--it's Cupid's. That's what I plan to tell my family the next time I throw a loaf of bread on the table and a package of deli ham.

Margo L. Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg and teaches classes on children's writing in the WOW! classroom.
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The Book by Jessica Bell (Review and Giveaway)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
When the chance came to review another of Jessica Bell's books, I jumped at it. I loved her writing exercise and instruction book:  Show & Tell in a Nutshell! This novella, The Book, caught my attention immediately--mostly because of the different formats--journal entries, doctor/patient transcripts, and narrative in a child's voice. I know I've already caught your interest with just that list, so wait until you read on. . .

It doesn’t take a tome of 500 pages to tell a powerful, gripping and captivating story. Jessica has managed to do this in less than 150 pages in The Book. Jessica, also an author of poetry and nonfiction, takes on a unique voice for one of the narrators of her book—a five-year-old child, Bonnie; she truly captivates this voice, taking the reader through the story of the girl’s estranged parents and herself trying to figure out her young and confusing life full of adults always acting strangely.

The title comes from a book, which most would call a journal or diary, that Bonnie’s parents started writing in before she was even born. John, her father, has the idea to write special messages to his daughter and to give “The Book” to her when she is older. Penny, her mother, is the one who actually writes in it more, and eventually it becomes a diary for her mother, more than a message for the daughter.

The Book is divided into three parts: “Love is the Beginning,” “Love is a Weapon,” and “Love is Tangible.” In each part, Penny or John tell their side of the story and their feelings through their writings in “The Book”; Bonnie adds to the story through her narration for the reader; and transcripts of Bonnie speaking to a psychiatrist, Dr. Wright, are also included. All of these parts and various techniques work together to complete the story of Bonnie and her parents.

The reader learns that John and Penny don’t stay together after Bonnie’s born, and Penny starts a new relationship with Ted—who has a temper with a violent side. Bonnie explains to the reader what she sees going on in the lives of the adults around her, from her dad’s new family to her mom’s emotional side to “my Ted’s” outbursts.

Bonnie sees the biggest problem as “The Book.” She thinks it is what causes the difficulties in her life and the lives of her loved ones. She wants to destroy it and is just waiting for the chance to get it away from her mother and make everything better for everyone.

Jessica Bell
What Jessica does so well in this short novel is take on the different voices of the characters—readers will be able to hear the child trying to figure out her world in Bonnie’s narrative, while sympathizing with John and Penny who aren’t sure if they made the right choice to split apart. When Jessica writes as John in “The Book,” he has a distinct way of writing, which is different than Penny—this distinction and technique with voice are the marks of a talented writer.

The ending is shocking and can be somewhat disturbing, but it’s realistic, heartfelt, and certainly satisfying after spending several hours getting to know the characters in The Book.

Jessica is a native-Australian who lives in Athens, Greece. She is also a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. She makes a living as an editor and writer for English language teaching publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. She also runs the Homeric Writers' Retreat and Workshop in Ithaca, Greece, which is an annual week-long workshop for writers with instruction from experts in the field. Recently, she re-released her full-length novel, String Bridge, complete with a cover makeover, and is giving away the digital version of the accompanying soundtrack (which is amazing, by the way!) with every purchase.

The Book is a fast read, but one that you will want to read again. The characters are complex, which makes the story memorable, and a great one to discuss in a book club. If you haven’t checked out anything Jessica Bell has written yet, then why not start with The Book?

Margo L. Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, a middle-grade (ages 9 to 12) historical fiction novel.


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Interview with Renee Carter Hall, runner-up in WOW’s Summer 2012 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Today we welcome Renee Carter Hall, runner up in our Summer 2012 Flash Fiction Contest. Renee is a master of letting fun lead the way as evidenced by her prolific publishing credits, numerous anthromorphic characters, and whimsical artwork (I love the lounging dragon picture on her website). Her contest submission, Nativity, is a sweet story of a little girl who longs to belong to a flock—and gets her wish! Please take a moment to enjoy Nativity by Renee Carter Hall and then return here for a short interview.

Renee Carter Hall works as a medical transcriptionist by day and as a writer, poet, and artist all the time, writing fantasy and science fiction for adults who never quite grew up. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications over the years, including Strange Horizons, Black Static, and the anthology Bewere the Night, and her first novel, By Sword and Star, was published earlier this year by Anthropomorphic Dreams Publishing. She lives in the mountains of West Virginia with her husband, their cat, and a ridiculous number of creative works-in-progress. Readers can find more about her and her work at her website,, and her short story sampler Six Impossible Things is available free at Smashwords and Amazon.

WOW: How do your stories develop—is there a method to your madness?

Renee: More madness than method, I think! Every story is slightly different, of course, but most of the time I just start with a situation or a character, jump in, and see what happens. Once I get characters talking, things usually start to develop pretty quickly. As you might guess from all that, I'm not much of an outliner, but longer works usually do need some minimal notes and brainstorming along the way to get to a finished draft.

WOW: What was your inspiration for Nativity?

Renee: "Nativity" was one of those stories where the concept and characters showed up all at once, so I don't really remember a particular spark other than the holiday season. Elements of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and memories of my own school days probably influenced it, though.

WOW: Some writers get their ideas in the shower, others while driving--when do you get most of your ideas?

Renee: Whenever and wherever, really. The one writing problem I've never had--probably the only writing problem I've never had--is a lack of story ideas.

WOW: That’s a great one not to have! I’ll bet you have some writing tips to share; what are your top three?

Renee: Keep writing, keep reading, and keep learning. Do those three things, and it's impossible not to improve.

WOW: What are your writing goals for 2013?

Renee: Finish the first draft of my second novel (working title The Second Life of Bartholomew T. Lion), and keep chasing the third pro-level short story sale that will qualify me for active SFWA membership (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America).

WOW: Great goals! Keep us posted on Bartholomew T. Lion (love that name).

Interview by Robyn Chausse

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Getting a Digital Autograph with Authorgraph

Monday, February 11, 2013
When e-readers came out, I put my nose in the air and told all my writer friends, “Not for me.”

But then my writer friends started getting books published, and I wanted to buy their books, and the digital book was often cheaper. And besides, everyone else had an e-reader. So I said, “Maybe I’ll try one.”

My husband gave me an e-reader, and then I downloaded tons of books, because I could carry SO many books with me in one handy, little device. But up popped a glitch. How to get a friend to sign a digital book?

Lucky for authors (and fans of authors), Evan Jacobs was one step ahead of me. He came up with Authorgraph, a fun way to get a digital autograph.

It’s a pretty simple idea, and it’s a free service, too. If you’re an author, all you need to do is sign up with Authorgraph, and then add your books to the site. You can check out the Author FAQ page for all the details, but basically, adding a book is as easy as finding the ASIN number on your book. And yes, Evan explains exactly how to find the number.

Oh! And your book doesn’t even have to be a digital one. It can be hardcover or a paperback as well as an e-book. Plus, you can choose to use the script provided for your signature, or sign your name in your own, unique way.

For readers, it’s just as simple. Go to the site and find an author’s book, then request an inscription. You can even ask for a personal inscription. It's a nice way to let an author know you like their work.

And I think it’s worth the few minutes for authors to sign up. This past week, a non-local writer friend of mine mentioned (via social media) that she had joined the site. I have her first book in a trilogy, a paperback, with a personal inscription. Now, I’ll ask her to sign her second book for me on Authorgraph. I haven’t purchased it yet, but I can still get it signed because the authorgraph is a separate document.

I know it’s not quite the same as getting a book signed. But it’s a fun application for readers, and it might even help authors sell more books.

Because I’ll surely add my writer friend’s newest book to my TBB (To Be Bought) pile, now that I have her authorgraph. And I’ll get the e-book. Because as I said just the other day to my critique group, “You know I’m all for e-readers.”

~Cathy C. Hall

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Fighting the Priorities Battle

Sunday, February 10, 2013
Once again, I am facing the Priorities Battle. Do we ever really get past that?

I fill many roles, from blogger to teacher, mother to wife, friend to cook. And each role demands time, attention to detail, a commitment. How do you find the right mix and right priorities?

For me, it's a matter of rhythms of life and of continual adjustments.

Rhythms of Life

The Bible says there is a season for everything: I find that there is a season to write, a season to read, a season to research, a season to teach, a season to rejoice and a season to rail at those lousy editors.  And the seasons, like the seasons of the year, seem to cycle around.

I try to pay attention to these larger rhythms, as well as the daily rhythms. I work well in the middle of the day, not early and certainly not late. I try to schedule social things in the evenings and reserve midday for heavy thinking and analyzing and writing. Editing and social media is early mornings.

I work to find these daily habits or rhythms that leave me more productive. And there is constant adjustment. One day this week, I woke at 5:30 am with a headache. That usually means a long day of battling the headache, which means a day of poorer concentration. I recognized the symptoms early and made sure that I did nothing of enduring consequence that day. Today, I woke cheerful and energetic--I accomplished a lot. We need to recognize and honor the rhythms of our bodies.

Continual Adjustments

As with the headache day, there are other adjustments. Getting used to Daylight Savings Time, working to run faster, taking a day off to make a snowman--you must continually respond to that thing called Life. It means flexibility, Plan B, Plan C, or even Plan D.

Through it all, I keep Priorities: I am a writer, so I must write. My family needs me, I'm there. A friend asks for help, I try to accommodate.

So, it's a continual battle to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing. We can easily be distracted by the Tyranny of the Urgent, by the Good Instead of the Best. This week has been one of those times, when I have neglected blogging, neglected some minor responsibilities--because I had to write. And I refuse to apologize for it. I needed to write this week. And I did. Wahoo! I am celebrating tonight! Are you?


Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes and blogs about education at Follow Darcy on Pinterest.

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What Every Writer Needs

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Writers write.  It's what we do.  Unfortunately, we don’t always judge our own writing accurately even when its good. 

Does that surprise you?  We are used to being told that we need help identifying the weaknesses in our writing.  Sometimes we need just as much help identifying the strengths.

For about two months, I’ve been playing around with a rewrite.  I’ll work on it a bit and then set it aside because it hasn’t jelled. Every now and again, I figure out a problem and get some writing done, but after two months I have 10 pages.  Ten.  Can you say discouraged

Fortunately, I had a critique group meeting last weekend.  This was the perfect chance to trot out my problem manuscript.  These writing friends would be able to point out a few more problems for me to fix, but they would also commiserate.  Or so I thought.  

They refused.

That’s right.  Refused.  

They actually had the nerve to tell me that the voice was good.  And they love the premise.  They are even cool with the fact that my fantasy world is much like ours, but skewed just a bit.  And my all new antagonist?  They adore her, but in a bad way of course.  Not that it was all good news; they pointed out plenty of places that need repair and I expected that.  What I didn’t expect was the good news.  Apparently, I’d done something right even though I was too frustrated to see it.

Every writer needs a critique group. 

A critique group doesn’t just tell you what you’ve done wrong.  They also point out what you’ve done right.  They bring the perspective that you lack when you are too close to your work.  And they keep you going through the hard work.  I mean the actual writing part; my initial ideas have a tendency to be brilliant.  It's getting it down on paper that proves frustrating. 

I’d like to give you a nudge.  If you don’t have a critique group, now is a good time to find one.  I connected with the writers in my critique group at a variety of writers conferences and workshops.  I’ve also been in groups that were strictly online.  These worked well when I was a grad student and later when I was the mother of a toddler.  

Finding a compatible group can take some work, but it is well worth the effort. Not only will you have a group of writers to help you fix your mistakes, they’ll point out what you did right.  And that’s something you need in your writing life – fellow writers who will pat you on the back, hand you a good cup of coffee, and nudge you back toward your desk.  

Speaking of which, I had better get going.  I have a story to write. 


Find out more about Sue's writing on her blog, One Writer's Journey
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Friday Speak Out!: Defying Stereotypes, Guest Post by Beth Cato

Friday, February 08, 2013
When people find out I'm a writer, sometimes they ask straight out: "What do you write?" Other times, I get a response that makes me fight the urge to snarl and froth at the mouth.

"Oh, you write children's books?"

It's not that I have anything against children's books. I love them to pieces and have hundreds on shelves throughout my house. As I grew up, Stan and Jan Berenstain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and C. W. Anderson were demi-gods of literature. The thing that drives me bonkers is the assumption that because, 1) I'm a woman, and 2) I'm a mother, therefore I must write children's books.

There were several years there, when I first started writing, and I was afraid to tell anyone. If asked about my job, I said I was a stay-at-home mom. I always felt like a liar when I said that, though, because I wasn't happy with that role alone. Now, I'm honest.

I love being a mom, I love my kid, but I'm also more than that.

I may be home all day, but my brain is not confined to these walls. I'm on Wikipedia, looking up poisons and how to resuscitate people who fall into icy ponds. My mind travels to steampunk fantasy worlds, flits across the universe faster-than-light, and reads paranormal western novels before bed. I'm googling how to set up trip wire bombs and make meth labs, and probably flagged on more than one FBI watch list. I write dark stories about grandmothers who morph into cockroaches, or light tales about toilet gnomes who use magic to keep plumbing in good order; I also write feel-good Chicken Soup stories about beloved cats, or raising my autistic son.

I'm complicated, and proud of it.

When people assume I write for children, I politely correct them. "Oh, no. I write science fiction and fantasy, mostly, but I've also had stories in a number of Chicken Soup anthologies."

I get a lot of funny looks when I mention I write fantasy and science fiction. It confuses them. That's okay. I confuse myself sometimes.

Even if they shift awkwardly and change the subject after that, I know I have broken their concept of me, and broken the assumption they established for all writers who are also mothers. And most importantly, I've been honest with them and with myself.

Maybe, just maybe, I will write children's books someday, but I won't be confined by any genre or age group. I'm a mother and a writer, and my imagination is too big for any cage.


Beth Cato is an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, with stories in Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, and many other publications. She's originally from Hanford, California, but now resides in Buckeye, Arizona, with her husband and son. Despite how often her husband's co-workers beg, she will not quit writing to bake cookies all day long. Information regarding current projects can always be found at Sometimes those projects do include cookies. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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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Check Out Winning Writers: Contests and More

Thursday, February 07, 2013
I'm really excited to introduce you to Adam Cohen and his wife, Jendi Reiter, from the website, Winning Writers. Like WOW!, it has been voted by Writer's Digest as being one of the 101 most useful sites for writers. After reading the interview below with Adam and discovering all this site has to offer--from contests to free newsletters, from tips and contest insider information to an inexpensive subscription to a searchable database of over 1250 contests--you will be checking out Winning Writers today. This is one interview and website you won't want to miss! 

WOW: Welcome Adam, to The Muffin! We are happy to have you here today. Let's start by telling us a bit about your site, Winning Writers, and why you created it.

Adam: My wife, Jendi Reiter, and I started Winning Writers in 2001. Jendi has extensive knowledge about literary contests, which ones are good and how to win them. We wanted to make this information available to the public online at a reasonable price. We also wanted to warn people about certain contests to avoid. We call them "vanity contests." They tend to be unselective and most interested in selling products, like expensive anthologies.

WOW: That sounds like a terrific service for writers. So, when a writer goes to your site now, there are a lot of opportunities available to him or her. Let's start with the contests. What are a couple upcoming contests that you have going on?

Adam: All four contests hosted at Winning Writers are open now. We directly sponsor the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest (no fee) and the Sports Fiction & Essay Contest. We assist Tom Howard Books with their Tom Howard/John H. Reid Short Story Contest and their Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest.

WOW: After reading the guidelines for all of them, they sound like great opportunities for writers--especially the humor poetry category--no entry fee and $1000 top prize. In order to enter contests, what does a writer need to do?

Adam: All four contests accept entries online at The Tom Howard contests also accept entries by mail. Before entering, we encourage contestants to read previous winning entries published on our website. We have also made years of judges' comments available, so contestants can understand what makes an entry stand out.

WOW: That is a great idea to allow writers to read previous winners AND judges' comments! What is Literary Contest Insider? [new name]

Adam: Literary Contest Insider is our online database with 1,250-plus detailed profiles of poetry and prose contests. It represents years of distilled knowledge and research to help you find the best contests for your work--fast! Search and sort contests by prize, fee, type, and many other criteria. We suggest specific contests for beginning, intermediate, and well-established writers, and estimate the potential impact each contest might have on your career. A contest we highly recommend will probably have much more impact than a contest we're neutral about.

We love it when good writers not previously "plugged into the contest circuit" begin to get recognition because we guided them to the contests that are effective for them. Access to Literary Contest Insider is $9.95/quarter, with a 10-day free trial period at the start. You can start a trial at

WOW: This database sounds fantastic for writers interested in contests and at a very reasonable price! Besides contests, you also offer a free newsletter. What type of information is in the free newsletter and how do writers sign up?

Jendi and Adam
Adam: Our free e-mail newsletter is built around the best free literary contests--profiles of contests in our database that have no entry fees. Every month you get a heads-up on free poetry and prose contests whose deadlines are approaching. There are over 150 of these. Subscribing to our newsletter gets you instant free online access to The Best Free Literary Contests. We have over 40,000 newsletter subscribers. You can subscribe at

WOW: There's also a section of Winning Writers, titled "What's New?" What will writers find on this page?

Adam: This is where we announce useful resources for writers and news about new and changed contests. Entering new contests can be a good strategy--they are less likely to be swamped with entries than well-established ones.

WOW: That's a great tip! What about under the "useful resources" section?

Adam: Here we organize our directory of resources into categories like "Markets and Contests," "Resources and Contests for Students," "Literary Societies," and "Exotic Forms." We also provide a large library of poetry critiques--a place to learn about a wide range of techniques, plus suggestions on where to submit various styles of poems.

WOW: It sounds like you could spend hours on your site, finding useful tips, ideas, and contests for a writing career! Anything else you'd like to add about Winning Writers?

Adam: We have a rapidly growing Twitter feed with links to contest news and award-winning poems and stories. Follow us @winningwriters.

WOW: Thank you, Adam, for sharing all of this information with our readers today. You have a wonderful site, and I hope that many of WOW!'s fans and followers will become yours, too. 

WOW! readers, don't forget to check out Winning Writers by clicking here.  

Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill, author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg.

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