The Prolific Parent

Sunday, March 31, 2013

My first parenting clip

Back in 2005, I noticed a local parenting magazine ran a monthly feature called "Parent to Parent." I wrote up a fun column called "How I Became a Domestic Goddess," submitted it to the editor and was surprised when a friend told me she had seen it in the magazine a few months later. The publication didn't pay for that particular column at that point, but I had my first parenting clip. I was ecstatic.

From there, I brainstormed other ideas from articles, taken directly from my own experiences, because that is what I felt most comfortable writing about. This inspired me to write one of my first published parenting articles, "Meal Solutions for New Parents," which has since been rewritten and reprinted for other publications.

Like many aspiring parent writers, I also sent off a few article ideas via snail mail to the big parenting publications like Babytalk, Parents and Parenting. For the most part, I never got any responses back. However, I took some of those same queries and sent them out to a few local regional parenting publications, and within a few months, had made several sales. Eventually, I took a job as an associate editor at the regional parenting publication that gave me my first break, where I made a startling discovery—there was a lot more opportunity for publication in regional parenting magazines than I originally thought.

Regional parenting publications may have a much lower pay scale than the nationals, but most writers have a better shot of getting published in these magazines, and if they market themselves properly, they can generate a steady reprint income. But when I mention this fact to some of the writers I know, they have no idea of the amount of publishing opportunities out there in regional parenting pubs. It is possible to publish an article in Atlanta Parent, even if you don't live in the area. You just have to know how to find sources in that area and relevant tie-ins. Some editors don't even ask for that, and evergreen articles suit them just fine. These days, I'm writing more about social media safety for tweens than how to pacify a whining toddler, but I still haven't run out of ideas for the parenting market, and neither should you.

Read more about this topic:
Tap Into Your Family: Parenting Publications

Personalize Your Parenting (Writing)

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who blogs at Renee’s Pages.
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A Long-Term Career in Publishing

Saturday, March 30, 2013
You love books. You want to be involved with the whole process in some way. There are many, many careers possible in publishing.

Literary agent
Fact checker
Photograph researcher
Graphic designer
Bookstore employee or owner
Writing teacher or coach
Book doctor
Book reviewer

Within each of these, there are so many sub-genres and specialties that it is impossible to list them all. You could take each genre—chick-lit, horror, mystery, literary nonfiction, cookbooks, etc.—and repeat the list because in this industry, people tend to specialize.

When you think about where you fit and where you want your career to go, remember that in America, most people change careers multiple times (Not just a job-change, but a career-change). You may be an editor at a well-respected publishing house, until the economy tanks and you find yourself on the street, in need of a new career. Many editors make the career switch to becoming a literary agent.

I find myself at a crossroad these days, with projects taking off in multiple directions: teaching, blogging, writing how-to books, publishing, children's picture books, and even graphic design. Yesterday, someone asked what I would charge per hour to work on a website. As opportunities shut down, others open up.

In some ways, this is hard: my real love is writing fiction. But selling manuscripts to a publishing house is a struggle for each and every manuscript. I want to write fiction! But as I look around the industry, I see so many other ways my writing skills could be put to use. And I've done many of those things, from writing nonfiction, editing, blogging, publicity/PR and more.

In some ways, the opportunities available make it easy: if selling fiction is hard, selling nonfiction right now seems easier. Obviously, I need to work on publishable stories and am moving more toward the nonfiction side. It's an easy leaning-in that makes sense. And dollars.

Does this represent a different career? I prefer to think of it this way: I am working in the publishing industry and my current focus is nonfiction. That attitude keeps me flexible for the next time the industry twists off into a different direction. Ebooks—in all their variety, blogging, small or large publications—the key for me is that my career will always be in writing and publishing. My specialty or my current focus must change to keep up with current opportunities, but I will only look at opportunities that involve words. I am in this for the long haul.


Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes and blogs about education at Follow Darcy on Pinterest.
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Friday Speak Out!: Why I Took on Racial Discrimination and Civil Rights in my Latest Book, Guest Post by Rosalie Turner

Friday, March 29, 2013

My mentor says that a writer is someone who can’t not write, and I’ve certainly found that to be true. While we must write, the question always arises, “What should I write about?” As a historical novelist, I love nothing more than to find some obscure person and expose them. My first novel was about Anna Kingsley of Kingsley Plantation in Florida. No one had really told her story and she was an amazing woman, a role model of strength and inner courage for all of us. Anna was born of royal blood in 1793 in Senegal. She was captured at the age of thirteen in a tribal raid, survived the horrific Middle Passage, and was brought as a slave to Spanish East Florida. I tell her story in Freedom Bound, which won an award from the Florida First Coast Writers Association.

After releasing two more historical novels–Sisters of Valor, which won a Military Writers Society of America Award, and Beyond the Dream, based loosely on my great-grandparents, I struggled with my next book subject.

For years, the story of the hundreds of black children who left school to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement had captured my attention. I knew that 2013 would be the 50th anniversary of their pivotal march, so I decided to write about it as a tribute to them.

As with most things, the more I delved into their stories, the more impressed I was with what they had accomplished. In the 1960s Birmingham, Alabama was considered the most racist place in the country. African-Americans were completely segregated from the white population. The schools were segregated, the churches, the clubs, the waiting rooms and water fountains–everything. Blacks could not use the downtown public library; to get food from the few restaurants they could use, they had to go in the back door to order, then take their food outside. Overseeing and enforcing all this was the ruthless “Bull” Connor, Commissioner of Public Safety.

When Dr. King entered the scene with his non-violent protest, the adults in the black community were not interested in marching with him. They had too much to lose–their jobs, their homes, maybe even their lives. But the children weren’t afraid.

On the appointed day (known to them by secret code words from the local dj) thousands– literally thousands– of children left school and flocked to the 16th Street Baptist Church to march with Dr. King. Some came from as far as eighteen miles away.

And, yes, they were arrested, some even as young as eight years old, and yes, on the second day they were hosed and had police dogs snarling at them. The pressure from those hoses could tear bark off trees, and yet the children came back and marched again and again.

How could I not write of their courage?

* * *
JC Penney Award recipient Rosalie Turner has been writing for almost 30 years. Her sixth book, March With Me, released this month marking the 50th anniversary of the Children’s March. Visit Rosalie 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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Increasing the Motivation to Write

Thursday, March 28, 2013
Lately I've been wanting to write, but I keep stacking my schedule against writing. And, for the first time, I can't blame a messy desk. (I usually claim that one...and then a cleaning frenzy follows, negating any desire to write creatively.)
For once, a messy desk isn't the scape goat.
I love this picture for its motivational
"Happy Day" card. Photo | Flickr: mrsdkrebs

Too many projects. Too many kids' school events. Too much life. As many of us do, I plan and plan, but then something "better" gets in the way.

Admittedly, my writing is in a rut.

For April, I am making a pact with myself to sit down, take the time, and write more. I'm testing what has worked in the past when my motivation seems lacking, such as starting on a creative endeavor means I buy a new notebook. Lately, that hasn't worked because most of my writing is done on the computer. So I guess I'll have to throw out the concept as a motivational technique.

This time I need more substantive motivation.

I have some ideas of how to accomplish it (see below), but I'd enjoy hearing from readers—what do you do to find more time to write? How do you shake up your routine to bring your writing to the forefront of your day?

Here are my top ideas:

  • Wake up fifteen minutes earlier (I'm fresher in the morning, but do others stay up later to get their writing done?)
  • Write in the bedroom, before I enter the family zone and kids make their daily demands
  • Schedule time with myself, maybe every Friday morning for an hour of solid writing
  • Pack a lunch and use a lunch hour to write in a different setting
  • Pack all my time into a mini-retreat, which I have found gets me moving forward on a story
  • Front-load my desk with books on craft or books that inspire me so that my desk screams "Write!" ... and I feel obligated to comply.
That's what I've tried before and what I plan to do start...uh, in April. (Maybe I should add "Stop procrastinating!" to my list?)

What is your plan for re-motivating your writing? What has worked for you? Or, are you someone who needs no help staying motivated? (If so, what is your secret?)

Elizabeth King Humphrey, MFA, edits and, when not motivationally challenged, writes. She is also looking for book recommendations for an upcoming vacation...but only to support her writing challenge. :) 

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Story Flaw Fixes

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
You write a book, you begin to market it to agents or publishers, and then, zero. Nada. Zilch. In other words, the story you poured your heart and soul into sits in the document file of your computer or is shoved to the back of a filing cabinet.

If you find this happening to a piece of your writing, take another look at what you've put on paper. More than likely, the story has a flaw that can be fixed, and in the long run, these edits will make it a stronger piece of writing.

  1. No action, no reaction. Without a catalyst for action, a story sits - and will more than likely never sell. It's a basic notion of physics, and in this case, literature: Something must happen that causes a reaction from characters. Now, the action doesn't have to be major, but a single event or non-event acts as a turning point for a story. 
  2. Whoa, Nellie! Have you ever started reading (or writing) a story that has too much exposition and by the time you reach what should be the beginning, you've lost interest? I find this a lot when I edit stories for a publishing company, and it always reminds me of lines from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. "Begin at the beginning." "The beginning?" asked my  mother. "The beginning of the story." Readers don't want to get bogged down with information that does not impact the storyline.
  3. Repetition. I'll plead guilty to this common flaw. I find I overuse certain words or phrases. They are everywhere! A few weeks ago, I was reviewing several poems I have written to submit to a contest. That's when it struck me: I have a pet phrase that showed up in all five poems. It's the same principle when you write fiction or non-fiction: tell us what you want to tell us. Readers don't need to be constantly reminded of something that happened.
 If you have a manuscript stuck in a drawer, give it a second perusal and see if you can apply any of these fixes.

Have you committed any of these story flaws?

by LuAnn Schindler

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Meet Flash Fiction 1st Place Winner, Jeanne Lyet Gassman!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jeanne Lyet Gassman lives with her husband and son in the desert west of Phoenix, Arizona, but she dreams often of snow-covered mountains with pine-scented breezes. She believes in the power and beauty of language and loves helping other writers. When she isn’t writing, she works as a freelance editor and teaches creative writing workshops to writers’ groups and individuals in the Phoenix metro area.

She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction, but her first love is fiction. Her work has appeared recently in Switchback, Barrelhouse, and LQQK, among others. An excerpt from her unpublished novel, The Blood of A Stone, is forthcoming in Assisi: An Online Journal of Literature and Arts. Her awards include fellowships from Ragdale and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She is currently working on a novel about a family of downwinders who were adversely affected by the radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada in the 1950s and 1960s.

To learn about opportunities for writers, including contests, grants, and calls for submission, please visit Jeanne’s blog, Jeanne’s Writing Desk. To get to know Jeanne and her work, please visit her website or connect with her on Twitter.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2012 writing contest! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Jeanne: I follow WOW! on Facebook and am a great fan of all that you offer for women writers. When I saw the announcement for the 2012 Fall Flash Fiction Contest, I had just finished a draft of "Haboob Season" and thought that it might be a good candidate for the competition, so I revised the story and entered the contest. I'm glad I did!

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "Haboob Season?" It’s a chilling story, despite all the heat.

Jeanne: The story has its origin in several truths: My husband did retire recently, and our children have just graduated from college. A close friend of mine also lost her husband last year. Although his death wasn't unexpected, she suddenly became a very young widow, which changed her lifestyle in dramatic ways. The summer of 2012 was one of the hottest summers in Phoenix on record with weeks of 100+ degree days and numerous large and small dust storms. The press began calling the big dust storms "haboobs." It's such a wonderful word, so much more evocative than "dust storm," and it made me think about what these massive storms could represent in one's personal life, how everything is so transient. Despite our best intentions, one swift change can sweep everything away, much in the same way a "haboob" sweeps through a metropolitan area, leaving devastation in its wake. The final stroke of inspiration came from a casual comment from a friend, who asked me how we coped with the dog days of summer in Phoenix. I put all of these elements--dust storms, sudden loss and change, the misery of summer in Phoenix--together, and "Haboob Season" was born.

For those of you who have never seen a haboob, I've enclosed a link to a video of one passing over Phoenix:

WOW: Fascinating video, thanks for sharing! Since you write in several different genres, including fiction, nonfiction and poetry, how do you decide what you’re going to work on at any given time? Do you find one type of writing more challenging than the others?

Jeanne: Well, fiction is my first love. If I have no pressing deadlines from editors or publishers, I spend my time working on my novels or a work of short fiction. I've written some creative nonfiction, which bears many similarities to fiction, but the straight nonfiction I write is usually solicited work. For several years, I wrote a column on the craft and business of writing, "Jeanne's Writing Desk," for an e-newsletter called Mike's Writing Newsletter. The column had fixed deadlines, so I had to write my nonfiction on a schedule. If someone contacts me and asks me to write a blog post or nonfiction piece, I discuss their needs and adjust my writing projects accordingly.

I'm currently finishing the edits on my first novel, The Blood of A Stone, for a publisher. Since I have a deadline to turn in the edits, that is my top priority at the moment. Once those edits are complete, I plan to return to the work on my second novel, The Double Sun, a more contemporary story about a family of downwinders, people who suffered adverse effects from radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada. I don't have a publisher for that book, but I do have an internal deadline/goal for the first draft. In general, I work well with deadlines, and if I don't have real ones, I like to create personal deadlines.

Poetry is definitely the most challenging genre for me. It requires not only precision of language but a strong sense of rhythm and motion. I adore good poetry and wish I were a better poet, but I would be the first to admit that writing poetry is not my strength.

WOW: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

Jeanne: I start every day by filling out my day planner. I use this time to prioritize my writing goals and organize my schedule. Then I walk the dog. Good writing takes place in the mind as much as it does on paper or the computer screen, and during our walks, I think about scenes, snippets of dialogue, resolve plot issues, etc. Once we return home, I sit down at my desk and begin work on my writing project of the day.

As I mentioned earlier, I tend to be very goal and project oriented. Rather than focus on a minimum daily word count or a minimum number of hours at the keyboard, I find I'm most productive when I concentrate on reaching specific milestones by specific dates. For example, if I'm working on my novel, I may set a goal on Monday to complete the next two chapters by Friday. This allows me to break my daily goals into smaller units, writing sections of those two chapters every day. If I'm planning to enter a writing contest or have a deadline for submitting a story to a literary magazine, I set a deadline for the first draft and a deadline for the revisions of that draft. Of course, if an editor has asked me to write a nonfiction piece, I usually have a fixed deadline and have to work toward that. I write five to six days a week for approximately 3-4 hours a day. This may not seem like a lot, but the steady effort makes it possible to accumulate a fair amount of material over time.

My daughter said I should also mention that my home office has a residential cat who contributes his editing advice. Our cat eats on the corner of my desk, sleeps in a special chair behind me, and reminds me that petting a kitty is the best solution to writer's block.

WOW: We talk a lot here on the blog about walking as a great tool for writing inspiration. I like how you focus on specific milestones by specific dates too. That seems like a great strategy! You mentioned that you’re currently working on a novel. How is that project going?

Jeanne: Actually, I'm working on two novels right now. I'm editing my first novel, The Blood of A Stone, a historical story set in first century A.D. Palestine, and I'm finishing the first draft of my second novel, The Double Sun, the story about a family of downwinders. Both projects are coming along nicely. I will be turning in my final edits to the publisher for the first book at the end of March and hope to be able to announce a publication date shortly thereafter. I have 4-5 chapters left to write before I have a complete draft of the second book. My goal (that word again!) for the second book is to have the first draft completed by the end of this summer.

One tool I've found particularly useful for writing novels is the story board. In fact, I have a story board for the second book, since it's still a work in process, and a revision board for the book I'm currently editing. I use a large bulletin board, but some people pin notes to a wall or even write on the wall. I've enclosed a picture of my story board for The Double Sun to give people a visual representation of how this works. This photo was taken earlier in the process of writing the book, so I now have more scene cards than what you see here. Since The Double Sun spans over 30 years, you will notice there are dates for each section. Beneath those dates are chapter titles. Under each chapter title I've posted an index card with a one-sentence description of each major scene in that chapter. On the right-hand side of the bulletin board I've posted photos of locations, events, and inspiring articles. This story board, or inspiration board as I like to think of it, provides me with a wonderful big-picture view of the novel-in-progress. By studying this board, I can easily see where I may need an additional scene, where there are too many similar scenes, where I need to cut the flab, etc. Interestingly enough, I've been writing the chapters in this book out of order, drafting specific chapters as they come to me rather than plodding along from the beginning to the end. The story board makes that possible.

WOW: Thanks for sharing a visual of your storyboard process, and for chatting with us today, Jeanne! Before you go, do you have any advice for beginning flash fiction writers?

Jeanne: I'm flattered that you'd like my advice on writing flash, as I consider myself a novice in this genre! However, the best advice I can give is to read flash fiction--lots of it. Study why the author leaves something out, how the author uses dialogue, how description moves the story forward, etc. I like to think of flash fiction as building a doll-size version of a real house on a small patch of real estate. Just like a full-size house, you have all the necessities: bathrooms, living space, bedrooms, etc., but they're smaller and limited in scope. Every single word must count. There's no room in flash for meandering or tangents. This means that the words you select carry a lot of weight; they need to develop character, set the scene, move the plot forward, or do several of these things at the same time. It also helps to have a destination in mind. If you know where you want your story to end, you can push toward that ending. My final piece of advice is to target your markets and submit your work. You'll never get your writing published if you don't send it out.

Thank you so much for inviting me to share my thoughts on the writing life. It has been such a pleasure to work with WOW!


The Spring 2013 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN!
Find out more:

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Catch Blog Readers With a Title and Hook

Monday, March 25, 2013
You know how you can make one of those ridiculous professional mistakes, and you’re all set to kick yourself in the pants, but then you figure out something terribly important from the mistake? Yeah, that happened to me the other day.

It all started a year ago, when I’d accidentally disabled the publicizing feature on my personal blog.

But then last week, I realized the mistake and got to work, getting all my promotional tools up and running again. That’s when the terribly-important figuring out began. (I mean, besides the terribly important thing I figured out about checking the status of your publicizing tools on various social media.)

First, I noticed my blog post titles. When I double-checked my blog feed on the afore-mentioned various social media, and saw my blog title pop up, I had this moment where I thought, “Would I stop to read this blog post based on that boring title?”

Well. It was a humbling moment, friends. I’m a creative writer, for crying out loud. I should be coming up with extra-oomph-y titles, right? But I’d been taking the lazy route, falling back on same-old, same-old title patterns.

To be honest, I suspect my faithful blog readers would probably read my posts no matter what I titled them. And yours probably will, too. But do you really want to get in the bad habit of penning ho-hum titles? That’s a writing skill you need to hone whether you write fiction, non-fiction, poetry or blog posts.

And for bloggers like me, there’s another reason strong titles are important. I’m in the business of bringing new readers to my blog. Maybe you’d like to build your subscribers, too. But how can we expect to pull in new readers with ordinary titles? After all, we’re competing with a ton of information (not to mention a ton of cute cats) out there amongst the social media. We’re going to need a title that will grab a reader’s attention—and fast!

Then there’s the first line of the post, the line that also comes up in the blog post feed. I was not too impressed with my first sentence hook. If I were actually fishing with that hook, I’d starve to death.

In the end, I realized that if one is going to go to all the trouble to publicize one's blog posts, it’s terribly important to put one's best foot forward. A strong title can get the casual reader to stop scrolling. A first line with a hook can get that reader to a blog. And if the rest of the post offers something of value to that reader, one is very likely to land a subscriber.

Which is way better than getting a kick in the pants.

~Cathy C. Hall

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Four Things You Need to Understand about Character Emotion

Sunday, March 24, 2013
One of the things that I look for when rewriting any piece of fiction is character emotion. That said, my understanding of character emotion and what I look for when I rewrite has changed over time.

As a new writer, I learned that I had to provide a varied emotional experience for my reader. My stories couldn’t be all plot even if that was the part that I most enjoyed writing. My character had to change and grow and part of taking the reader along on that trip was communicating emotion. One emotional note expressed over and over again would bore anyone to tears.

Number 1. Vary emotion throughout the story. Check.

After I mastered that, I learned to make sure that each character experienced multiple emotions. This kept me from creating cardboard characters with no emotional depth. Sure, my story as a whole had a full range of emotions but I still had a perky, upbeat side kick, a brooding hero and a very angry villain. Ho hum. Boring.

Number 2. Vary emotions for each character. Got it.

Then I had to learn to express this emotion in a variety of ways. I knew better than to tell everyone time and time again that my hero was worried. I had to show them. But to do this well still required variety. My character couldn’t simply chew on his lip and sigh throughout the entire story. He could but it would still be boring. I had to learn a variety of ways to express each emotion. Fortunately, I stumbled across the Emotion Thesaurus with its many lists. Now I could show worry 35 different ways.

Number 3. Vary ways of expressing emotion. Done.

My latest lesson? Emotional intensity. Some types of stories require pulse pounding emotions. Others are quiet, more sedate and measured. In most works of fiction you need to vary the intensity of the character emotions you serve up to your reader. If your characters experience only mild emotions, you risk boring your reader with the monotony. If your characters experience only extreme emotion, you may exhaust your reader. For a truly satisfying experience, the emotions need to cover the full range, peaking when things get really bad (or really good) but also having calmer, moderate moments.

Number 4. Vary the emotional intensity. Roger.

For the moment, that’s where I stand in my understanding of character emotion and reader appeal. I suspect that sooner or later a new understanding will sneak up on me and work its way into my writing. My readers will, I’m sure, be grateful.


Read more of SueBE's writing at her blog.
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Rewards and Struggles of Writing Stories for the Young

Saturday, March 23, 2013
If you write for young children, as in the preschool to first grade range, you know that this is often more difficult than writing for adults. Writers who have never attempted this can't believe it when I say how hard it is. "How can that be? There are hardly any words. The stories are so simple."

I challenge anyone to try it, and you will see. The reason why it looks so easy is because the authors who write for our favorite little people are just good at it. They have it down to a science and can find creative, new ways to introduce the big, wide world to three-year-olds while not boring them or talking over their heads. Trust me, it's not easy to do.

Besides picture books, which are also very difficult (and I'm not even going to get into how a writer can work on a picture book manuscript for a year or more!), what markets exist for 3 to 6 year olds? Ladybug is a popular one and Highlights for Children also has some stories geared toward this younger audience. Besides these two well-known magazines, you can also get your fiction (and possibly nonfiction) for the young child published in  Turtle, Humpty Dumpty, Appleseeds, Knowonder, and Guardian Angel Kids to name a few These are all paying markets with clear guidelines on what the editors want to see and don't want to see.

If you want to write for this audience, where do you start? I always recommend finding back issues at the library or online archives and reading as many stories as you can from that magazine. This is the best way to take the ideas you have and craft them into a format that works for the magazine--today. Most of us remember Highlights for Children from our pediatrician and dentist's waiting rooms, but it's different today--kids are different today, and so make sure to check out recent issues and stories. Study the stories: how long are they? What are the topics? Are they written in first person or third? How many characters? How much dialogue compared to narration? It's my experience that once you are familiar with the market, it will be easier for you to write your idea for this audience.

Next, go online and READ THE GUIDELINES. Some editors and publications go to great extremes to write down what they want and what they don't. Don't ignore these. For example, Knowonder wants stories in third-person limited, so you don't send them the first person story you just wrote last night. Either change the point of view or write a new story for this market.

Stories for this age group are usually under 1000-words and tend to average about 500 words. You don't have a long time to establish a setting, characters, problem, and solution. This is why writing for this age group is so hard. It's like poetry and picture books--every single word counts--you don't have any space to waste on "pretty writing."

Have you ever seen a preschooler enjoy a story or book? Their smile lights up their whole face. They will read it again and again and ask to have it read to them a million times. They carry it around, read it to their dog or cat, and fall asleep with the book or magazine in bed. This is why people write for this age of child. It's an important job, and don't let anyone tell you it's easy--because we know it's not.

Margo is teaching a short fiction class for children's and YA writers online, starting on April 11. To view the syllabus and sign up, please go to this link:
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Friday Speak Out!: Always Recycle, Guest Post by Judith Newton

Friday, March 22, 2013
The best piece of writing advice I ever got came from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It had to do with accepting the idea of “shitty first drafts.” The second best piece of advice came from a professor whose teaching assistant I had been in English graduate school in the 1960s. He had struck me, when we first met, as incredibly brash, an effect that he was deliberately seeking to achieve. He’d barge into the classroom, send the blinds crashing up or down, and lie on the desk with a cigar between his teeth. “I’m Smith,” he’d say to a wide-eyed class. He went on to become a rock star of literary criticism, publishing countless books, writing regularly for the New York Times, becoming an internationally famous intellectual. He even appeared as a character in a well known novel.

His advice? “Always recycle.”

“First,” he said, “I write a talk. Then I give it in several times. I turn the talk into an essay and publish it. Maybe it becomes part of an anthology edited by someone else. Then I use it as a chapter of a book or include it in a collection of my essays.” I remember him chewing on a cigar when he told me this. But I may be making up the cigar.

I feel comfortable with Lamott’s advice. I am perfectly capable of producing “a shitty first draft” and of feeling, as she does, that I’d just as soon not die while it is lying on my desk, lest someone read it and assume my death was suicide. But following the guidance of my brash professor was another matter. Who me? I thought. I’m allergic to cigars. But, in the end, I tried his system. As an academic I wrote talks, wrote them into essays that I published, saw them anthologized, and gathered them into a book. I did not become an academic rock star or take up smoking, but the method served me well. I published, and at each stage became a better writer.

When I retired and began taking classes in creative writing, I fell into the system out of habit. I wrote pieces for my writing classes. I turned the pieces into blogs. I posted them on a collective site. Then I posted them on my own. Eventually, I did guest posts with the same materials. After four years, several posts have been anthologized and most of them are chapters in my memoir. Others are beginning to look a lot like a collection of essays on food and place. Good job, I told myself, thinking this would be the end, but then I hired a publicist who told me “No.” Now I had to link my book to larger issues. So, in preparation for the memoir’s launch, I began to write some essays that made those links. One is to be published but, even better, I have begun to see more clearly what the book is all about, and I have a new set of ideas to explore. So recycling? I’m a fan and I’m passing on my famous professor’s advice to you. Because once you’re past the stage of “shitty first draft,” it’s not just about recycling. It’s about revisioning and writing better as well.

* * *
Judith Newton is Professor Emerita in Women and Gender Studies at U.C. Davis. Her latest release is Tasting Home: Coming of Age in the Kitchen, a culinary memoir.

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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Winning Writing Contests: Surprising Benefits

Thursday, March 21, 2013
Do you enter contests? Five years ago, I would have said that I never enter a contest. In the writing culture I was part of, it was unheard of to enter contests because an entry fee was frowned upon. I was told, "Never enter a contest that requires an entry fee because it's not worth it."

Since I have recently won a couple writing contests, let me tell you the benefits of entering a contest.

First, there is a deadline which means you must get a piece of writing done by a certain time. If nothing else comes from a contest--and certainly, you won't win every writing contest you enter--this is valuable. You have a finished piece of work to market other places besides the contest. And, if it never sells anywhere else, it was a valuable practice piece.

Second, winning a contest can bring unexpected benefits. When the movie, THE HELP, was just coming out, they ran a children's story contest--and I won. It was a piece that I had tried to market and there was no interest anywhere. But the story fit the theme of talking about people who make a difference in your life. It's the story of a young girl whose father is stationed overseas for a year with the military. She decides that while her father is away, it is NOT a family photo album and she won't let any of the family photos turn out right until he comes home. The prize for winning "The Help Children's Story Contest" was professional illustrations.

While I had been indie publishing how-to-write books for while, I had never ventured into fiction--would never venture into it, because it was too risky. But--I had these great professional illustrations of my story. And really, what good are illustrations, if you don't use them? I learned how to prepare digital files for printing a full-cover picture book, and the result is 11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph. No, the book hasn't sold tons of copies, but it was a very, very low-risk entry into the children's picture book market for me. I also learned how to turn a children's color picture book into a Kindle version.

Once you know how to do something, well, it's easier to do it a second time, right?

With my illustrator friend, Kitty Harvill, I decided to do a picture book about Wisdom, the Midway Albatross, the oldest known wild bird in the world and how she survived the Japanese tsunami in 2011. With Kitty's amazing nature illustrations, the picture book came together quickly.

It seems that illustrators often enter contests: Kitty recommended that we enter the Writer's Digest Self-Published Contest. And we won! That turned into more attention and publicity and we are exploring further distribution. For self-published books, it seems that a slow build of momentum works better than the traditionally published tactic of bursting out of the gates. And the momentum is coming from winning that contest.

Will I enter other contests? Certainly. But not every one. I will look at my writing and career goals and carefully pick and choose those that will enhance my other efforts.

Find information on WOW-Women on Writing's Flash Fiction Contests here.


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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Photo credit | Flickr: guy schmidt
In Who's (...oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? All the Grammar you Need to Succeed in Life, C. Edward Good wrote a chapter entitled "Word War III: Active vs. Passive."  Last week, I waged my own war against the passive voice. A client asked me to exorcise the passive voice from his manuscript.

If you've ever taken a writing course, you've heard that you need to always use the active voice, not passive voice. Is passive voice really so bad that we should strike it from all our writing?

No, not all, but the passive voice is, well, weaker (in many instances) than the active voice. Active certainly brings the reader into the story. But, in my experience, a writer can get into caught up in a scene and write in passive voice until the characters are no longer actively participating. Sure, we can all be lulled into a rhythm of using the passive voice and its hard to snap out of it.

That's where I entered this passive-voice manuscript, knowing that some passive voice is acceptable, but too much can wear down the reader. I was only being asked to tweak the author's use of passive voice. So, I tried a approach you may want to try. On a second reading, I used the "Find" function of Microsoft Word and went to work.I spent several hours massaging a manuscript to use a more active voice.

I searched for the trigger words you might look for when rooting out the passive voice. Those words include:
  • be
  • was
  • have
  • had, and so forth...

After I found the words that screamed PASSIVE VOICE, I read (and re-read) the sections. Then I started rewriting the sections. (Another common word in many passive sentences is "by." You may find that an easier word to search for.)

If you are wondering how much passive voice I cut, this may interest you. During a search of the manuscript, I found 1191 instances of "was" and after my second-pass edits, there were only 547 instances of the word. 

Are you a passive voice or active voice writer? Or both? How do you find and edit your passive voice?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor. She strives to be more active, but right now is feeling a bit passive.
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How to Subvert Clichés

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
By Jessica Bell

As a co-founder and editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, I have read my fair share of clichéd submissions. And I'm afraid to say, that most of the time, they make me wince.

As a writer, it is likely hard to comprehend how overwhelming these clichéd submissions can get. You are only one person after all, with one cliché in front of you, and it's logical to think, Oh, it'll be all right, surely there won't be any other subs like this. But you would be surprised. What you need to think is: Am I really going to be noticed amongst an inbox full of 300-400 other submissions if I'm writing about the sea breeze, and quiet dark nights?

Vine Leaves Literary Journal has been around for more than a year now. And the clichés (especially in poetry) that most frequently overwhelm us are:
  • gardens/plants (pretty red poppies, bees, roses and Eden)
  • sun/moon/stars (shining, glistening on sand or water)
  • beating hearts (oh I love you so much my heart is racing)
  • quiet nights (as I caress your cheek, as soft as a baby's bottom)
  • gentle breezes (I close my eyes and feel your presence)
  • oceans/beaches (my toes dig into the warm sand)
  • weather/seasons (birds chirping in spring, heat waves rising off the road)

However, if you are sure that you have written about these things in a unique way, we're totally open to reading about them. But trust me, we will be extra critical.

For an example of one unique way to write about gardens, take a look at The History of Dirt, by Allie Marini Batts, from Issue #03, page 37. This WOWED me.

So how can we twist the above clichéd topics into interesting reading?

For starters, use objects as metaphors for emotions or personality traits; plants in a non-garden context to attract attention and intrigue; give pretty things ugly qualities, and vice versa; compare love to a simple gesture that isn't saccharine; instead of talking about the quiet night, find a quiet detail to draw attention to, an elderly man kicking a newspaper in an abandoned street perhaps, and his echoing grunt. Think opposite, think unpredictable. Tweak a common feeling with a unique bent, experiment with poetic prose.

Sure, clichés exist because they come from real life, and you may argue that they are 'relatable.' But the way in which one experiences things isn't always the same. As writers, it's your duty to make your readers see through a unique pair of eyes. Tell me, which of the following excerpts is the most clichéd? And which is more interesting to read?

As I step foot onto the sand, I realize I'm ready to wipe the slate clean, to start again in a new town where I no longer feel the weight of regret on my shoulders, or the desire to runaway; a place where I can accept who I am.

As I step foot onto the sand, I realize I’m ready to wipe this regret from my skin; to immerse myself in a new ocean, where my desire for fleeing this emotional cage hides like a mermaid ambivalent about growing legs.

What other clichés can you think of that you persistently see in writing? Or better still, what have you read that uses a cliché in a unique way?

Need more help with your writing? Why don't you try Jessica's pocket guide, Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing?

About the Author:

If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Visit Jessica's blog, The Alliterative Allomorph, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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A Month for Literary Ladies

Monday, March 18, 2013
There are only two more weeks of National Women’s History Month. What have you done this year to celebrate women this month? Party? Parade? Pep rally? Nothing, not one little event to celebrate women’s contribution to the world? Well, don’t feel bad. You still have time to commemorate National Women’s History Month with a little help from an old friend of WOW, Nava Atlas.

WOW: The last time everyone at the Muffin heard from you, Nava, it was for your blog tour. For those who missed it the first time around could you tell us a little about your book?

NAVA: The wordy title reveals a lot about the book: The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life: Inspiration Advice and from Celebrated Women Authors who Paved the Way draws on the journals, letters, and other first-person writings by classic authors of the past. These personal narratives illuminate these writers' paths, from finding their voices and the discipline to write, to dealing with children, lack of money and insecurities; and finally, to enjoying some measure of success. In short, our literary foremothers, including Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and others all faced the very same challenges as any of us who write and aspire to an audience face in our journeys.

In my annotations, I discuss these parallels; I include other quotes and passages by other female authors, past and present (the twelve main Literary Ladies are deceased). And I wrap the whole thing up in a highly visual presentation, as, among the other hats I wear, I'm also a visual artist with a penchant for design.

WOW: And now to celebrate the anniversary of your book as well Women's History Month you're launching a complementary website. Tell us what we'll find at your new website and what made you decide to launch it.

NAVA: The first Literary Ladies site was mainly about the book. It's still there in its original form, at The new site is now at and is much expanded from the original site. There's a mini-biography of many significant female authors from the past, with the roster going far beyond who I covered in the book. Each mini-bio contains links to more information, including the authors' homes or archives, plus great quotes. There's also a filmography page—it was fun to collect and list some of the numerous films made from the books by classic women authors, plus, some films about the authors themselves. "Miss Potter" (about Beatrix Potter) and The Hours (part of which is about Virginia Woolf) are among my favorites!

Also central to the site are featured essays, some of which are by me and some by contributors. These reference at least one classic author and/or her work and are geared both to readers and writers, providing inspiration and insight. In fact, I'm looking for submissions in this category. See for examples of essays already on the site.

I made the site because in all my research I didn't find a comprehensive site about female authors of the past that was easy to navigate, organized, and thorough. So I hope that this site is off to a running start, and I hope to add more in the months and years to come. I need to add more of the great poets, for example.

WOW: I remember you were nervous when I initially met you because The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life was quite a genre jump for you. Although you were well-known for your cookbooks this type of nonfiction was definitely something new for you. Was it as difficult as you anticipated developing a new audience for a new type of writing?

NAVA: Yes, it really has been a challenge. Building a site on the subject, starting a Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages, connecting with the writing and literature community—are all things I should have been doing while writing the book, if not much sooner, not two years after its publication! It's simply a reality of the publishing world these days—once your book hits the shelves, your audience should already know about it and be anticipating it. Scrambling to find a market from scratch once pub date hits, or just hoping someone happens upon your book in a bookstore, are old-school strategies.

WOW: So are you still genre jumping? Cookbook author? Nonfiction author? Both?

NAVA: I’ve already had two new vegan cookbooks published since Literary Ladies came out in March of 2011. Vegan Holiday Kitchen was published in November of 2011, and Wild About Greens in June of 2012. Both are well into their third printings, so that audience at least, remains intact, and growing. There's so much interest in plant-based diets these days, and I've been building that platform for, shall we say, decades ...

I've been trying to write and design a visual dual biography, and I have another idea for a nonfiction book on women's issues, but the lessons I've learned from my experience with Literary Ladies is fresh on my mind. As tricky as it has been, it hasn't discouraged me from genre-jumping. I really enjoy producing the vegan cookbooks and they do make me a nice living. But I just don't want to be confined to one subject area!

I'm working on a new food-related project for Harper One (the SF division of HarperCollins). They came to me with a fully formed idea that I thought was a good one, so I said yes. That's actually the first time that has happened, so it's kind of a nice change of pace from having to sell an idea to a publisher.

WOW: Do you have any advice for writers who are considering genre jumping?

NAVA: Don't do it!! Just kidding. Seriously, if it's in your heart, you've got to express yourself however you wish. If you do want a book's to succeed, at least modestly, you need to pre-build your audience.

Some of the authors in the book jumped literary forms all the time, and some jumped genres. Edna Ferber wrote novels, screenplays, Broadway shows, and memoirs. Madeleine L'Engle wrote novels for adults and children, as well as memoirs about her spiritual life and her writing life. Louisa May Alcott was the biggest genre-jumper of all—she wrote gothics and thrillers under assumed names, memoir (Hospital Sketches), her well-known "girls' fiction" that she thought so little of at first, and much more.

So us genre-jumpera, just can't help ourselves, nor should we, even if we do so at our own peril!

WOW: What do you hope readers will take a away from a visit to your new website?

NAVA: I'm actually not a big part of the picture in the new website. It's really about the authors, their legacies, as well as what they teach us about the writing life that I wish to showcase. It's wonderful and amazing how relevant their words and ideas have remained. Some of them are still very much in the forefront—the world never seems to get enough of Jane Austen, for instance—while others have become more obscure, for example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She was saying things 100 years ago that Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook is saying in her new book, Lean In.

WOW: Is there anything the readers of the Muffin can do to help ensure the success of your new website?

NAVA: How very nice of you to ask! I would appreciate inbound links, of course. And contributions of repurposed content, posts that make reference to classic authors and their works. Maybe even pieces on how certain fictional heroines or classic works resonate with you or inspire you. Who doesn't love Jo March, Elizabeth Bennett, and Anne Shirley (of Green Gables)? And please join the fledgling Facebook page for daily inspiration from the greats:

WOW: Well, you heard her writers! Do you have a favorite literary lady? Has she inspired you? Taught you? Helped you set goals?
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Dream Your Way to a Better Story

Sunday, March 17, 2013

by Crystal J. Otto

I’ve enjoyed sleeping for as long as I can remember. My mom may tell a different story about childhood naps and early bedtimes, but as far as I am concerned, sleep is a very necessary and enjoyable activity. I sleep, therefore I dream, and in recent years I’ve incorporated my dreams into my journal. Journaling my dreams has provided me with fabulous material for short stories and blog posts and has also given me ideas on how to enhance my writing to make it more vivid and exciting for the reader.

I’ve suggested dream journaling to those who have diagnosed themselves with ‘writers block.’ I personally have found that dream journaling is a great way to stop those recurring dreams or those that end too soon. Recurring dreams and those that end in the middle seem to have one thing in common—something needs attention or closure. I’ve found that by writing down what I remember about the dream and then adding the unfinished details I can find the closure my sleeping self was looking for. This may not come naturally at first, but the more you journal the easier it gets.

My most recent example was a dream where I was visiting the doctor and he was about to give me some important news, and my alarm starting blaring and I woke up. I had that unsettled feeling, and I grabbed my journal later in the day and wrote a happy ending in which the doctor explained that I was expecting a child. I went on to write about a textbook pregnancy, quick delivery, and gorgeous baby girl with blue eyes and blonde hair. Those unsettled feelings were quickly replaced with joy, pride, and excitement!

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Revisiting the YA Books of My Past

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Recently, I’ve taken to browsing through the book sections of my favorite thrift and consignment stores. Quite often, I find copies of bestsellers in both paperback and hardcover that I wouldn’t mind purchasing for my home library, but those aren’t exactly what I’m looking for. In the past year, I’ve revisited a love of writing and reading children’s literature, and part of that rediscovery includes searching for copies of the books I read and loved as a teenager.

My journey started when my daughter started reading more advanced middle-grade books, and it hit me that I could probably write one of my own with a little research. I began scanning the juvenile fiction shelves at the library, where I picked up the vaguely familiar Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. After spending a tear-filled afternoon reading it, I was hooked. I whooped with joy when I found a used copy of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? by Judy Blume at the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. (I hid that one away for now, as my 9-year-old daughter is not quite ready for the subject matter yet!) It even had the same cover I remember from reading it as a child. I posted a photo of my find on Facebook and it sparked many comments from girlfriends, who all had a personal connection with the book. The first e-book I bought on my new Kindle a few weeks ago was Daughters of Eve, written by one of my all-time favorite authors, Lois Duncan. Daughters of Eve was one of the only books of Duncan’s I had never read, and I was surprised to find out that it had been updated to have a more modern feel, as have many books in her catalogue of titles.

When I was a teenager, I had stacks of paperback books by both Duncan and Christopher Pike, my two favorite suspense YA authors, along with a weathered complete collection of the Trixie Belden mystery series that my grandmother discovered in storage and gave to me. I carried them all with me for years, but somewhere along my many moves they were lost. It makes me sad to think that I probably donated them, not knowing how much I would want them back one day as I pursued my dream to become a published novelist.

I’m not sure why I’ve been feeling such a sense of nostalgia regarding these lost books lately. It might be because I first dreamed of becoming a writer while reading those treasured books, and after their loss, I spent many years thinking that becoming published wasn’t in the cards for me. Now that I’m finding success as a writer, the memory of all those stories continues to provide me with hope and inspiration, so I’ll keep looking for my old favorites in secondhand bookstores every chance I get.

Who were some of your favorite young adult authors?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who blogs at Renee's Pages.

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Friday Speak Out!: My Shampoo Muse, Guest Post by Terry Cobb

Friday, March 15, 2013
I’ve heard writers speak of a muse who whispers inspiration in their ears and opens the floodgates of creativity allowing beautiful prose to flow onto their tablets as they write at their desks. Not me. My muse lives in a shampoo bottle and she waits until my hair is fully lathered before she pops out and lands in my soap dish. She may be a genie, but she’s no Barbara Eden. Think Roseanne Barr wrapped in a ratty towel and her head adorned with a terry cloth turban. Smacking bubble gum, she dispenses writing advice in addition to soap.

She says things like, “Hey, sis, chapter five is a real snoozer. You need to juice it up with some action, like a fight in the pub, or kill off that wallflower, Mary. She’s not adding anything anyway. And while you’re at it, kill off those adverbs. Geez.”

So it goes until the water turns chilly and my skin becomes pruney. But when I shut off the shower, she flies back into the bottle and takes her advice with her. No matter how fast I towel off, I can’t get to a notepad or keyboard fast enough to capture all of her ideas. Did she say I needed a fight in a pub…or was it a tub?

When the monthly water bill arrives, my husband shakes his head. He’s heard the shampoo genie/muse explanation before. He sighs and asks how close I am to finishing my novel. I smile and shrug. I don’t have the heart to tell him my muse thinks it should be a series.

* * *
Terry Cobb resides with her husband on a farm in north central Missouri, where she writes, gardens, and photographs whatever catches her eye. You can visit with her on her blog, .
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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Publisher Controversy: Random House in the Hot Seat

Thursday, March 14, 2013
Random House in the Hot Seat (iBrotha

I'm not sure if you've been following the controversy over Random House's new digital-only lines: Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt. Writers have been up in arms because no advance was being offered on these books, like with Random House print authors, and also because copies and other miscellaneous expenses were going to be taken out of the author's royalties. When I first heard about it, I was reading a discussion on the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) listserve I belong to, and the argument was mostly with Hydra and whether or not a book published with this imprint would qualify a writer to belong to the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America). It turns out the way the Hydra contract was originally written an author was not eligible for SFWA membership.

The good news is that Random House has buckled under the pressure from the writers (YAY!), and they have revised the contract. They didn't give in 100 percent, but they now offer two different models of payment, and one of these offers an advance.

Authors and others in the publishing world who were up in arms seem to be happy with Random House's changes and have said so on blogs and Twitter. To read fully everything that has been going on, you should visit Writer Beware.

What I was hoping to discuss with Muffin readers today is this whole notion of having to get an advance in order to be considered "professional" enough to belong to a writing association. And in some of the blogs I read about this issue, they said that authors weren't taking themselves seriously if they didn't demand an advance. John Scalzi, an author with a popular blog, even said that we should question publishers that can't offer advances and wonder if we will ever get paid our royalties.

So, I'm sitting at my computer in St. Louis, thinking, Well, golly gee, I have three books under contract and am not going to get advances on any of them. I was super excited to get royalties and someone wanting to publish them. I think it helps me with my writing goals of doing school visits, teacher workshops, and teaching online classes. Plus, I like small and regional publishers, and I think they often don't offer advances to an author the first time they work with her or him. And I take myself and my work seriously.

What do you all think about this? If you have a book, did you get an advance? Was it hard to meet your advance? Did you feel pressure? If you aren't published yet, will take a contract without an advance? Would love to hear from you on this issue! 

Margo Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg (White Mane Kids, 2012) and writes a blog at  She teaches online classes for WOW! See her classes here.
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How Well Do You Know Your Characters?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
My swimmer will see the world
differently than your detective.
But how?
Last fall, I attended a revision workshop led by The Muffin’s very own Darcy Pattison. One of the things that Darcy emphasized was that we not only include plenty of details in our writing, but that we include the right details in our writing.

As I picked through my manuscript, something hit me. Yes, I had enough detail for the reader to experience the setting, but I hadn’t chosen the details that my character would most likely notice. I’m a very visual person with an acute sense of smell and am easily distracted by sound, thus I had sight, smell and sound covered.

What was missing were the kinesthetic details, details that focus on movement and how things feel to the touch. My character is a swimmer who is always being told by his teachers to be still. Clearly, I needed to work motion details into my story, because these are the kinds of things that my character would notice.

As I started working attention to motion into my story, I realized that my character may not see the world in black and white, but he would definitely see it in terms of constricting stillness vs glorious motion. That’s just how he’s wired.

Another character that I’ve been working with is a flashy girl who lives in a circus. She does everything with a certain flash and pizzazz so that is how she divides things – allowed to use her pizzazz vs not allowed to use her pizzazz.

A character who can speak to wolves notices more to do with scent and sound than do her fellow humans.

The character who is an incarnation of Persephone is still giving me fits. Obviously, she’s going to be tuned into plants and the natural cycle, but I’m not sure how it will color her perceptions of those around her.

Do you know your characters well enough to know how they see the world? What details would they notice that you would overlook? What is their good vs their bad? Remember, you are answering this for your character. If her answers too closely resemble your own, you might have a bit more work to do.


Read more of SueBE's writing at her blog.
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The Importance of Writing Your Best Words

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
I received an email the other day that began, “Dear Cathy, Prior to 2007, you submitted a story…”

Wait. What? I read the first line again, just to make sure. I mean, 2007? But yes, six years ago, I sent a story out into the world and it landed on this editor’s desk. She’d liked it then, but the anthology that it was planned for hadn't materialized. Now, she was contacting me to include this same story in another anthology. Was I interested?

I was indeed interested. I’m always happy to have an opportunity at publication. But more than publication, I thought about the words we send out into the world and how important it is to always send out your best.

Of course, we know (or we should know by now) that when it comes to our words, they have a very long shelf life, thanks to modern technology. Whether it’s a comment on a blog post or a submission gathering electronic dust in a virtual file, it’s important to think about what we’re writing and how we write it.

Take a query, for example. It’s just a query, you say. Agents don’t even read those, you think. And that may be true. A polite, professional query may be quickly read and deleted, while a rushed, badly penned query blasted across the agent universe may get you noticed—as the example of what not to do—on an agent’s blog.

And then there are the articles, the stories, and the manuscripts, the words you've toiled over for days, months, and oftentimes, years. Resist the temptation to send out something that’s not quite ready. You know the kind of temptation I’m talking about. The midnight deadline for a themed anthology or contest where you’re working right up to the last minute. Or the deadline on a conference submission opportunity where you’re down to the last possible day. Your words are so close and you think, “It’s good enough.” And you want to click on SEND because you've worked so very hard. But sometimes, the hard part is sitting on writing that’s not good enough—yet.

It will be good enough, some day. Keep working, and make your words the best you can write before you send them out into the world. And success, even if it’s six years later, is sure to follow!

P.S. The anthology where you might see my story included is one of Publishing Syndicate’s Not Your Mother’s Books. They have a ton of titles still open for submissions, and they’re keen on getting as many writers as possible published. Send your best words and see what happens!

~Cathy C. Hall

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Why Do Writers Trash Their Efforts?

Monday, March 11, 2013
I'm not talking about tossing the latest page into the trash can in your office or on your desktop. I'm talking about trashing our own efforts to make it as a writer.

Stop it! Stop with the self-defeatist attitude. If you believe you're going to fail, more than likely you'll achieve that goal. If you believe you can and will succeed, then your self-fulfilling prophecy may come to fruition.

Nobody said freelancing was going to be easy. (Well, nobody said it to me.) But, how many times have you caught yourself in one of the following situations? And more importantly, what can you do to stop finding yourself in this type of predicament?

  • Prioritize. If you don't make writing a daily priority, how will you succeed as a writer? I know, some days I feel like I don't write anything. I'm too busy reading press releases or developing story ideas and leads, but let's be honest: not every day can fall into that pattern. If you're going to write, write. Even 15 minutes worth of writing can keep you focused and turn into a worthy project.
  • Plan. If you're serious about freelancing, you have to treat it like a business and know how this business operates. Not only do you need to understand the intricacies of the publishing world, you also need to understand the basics of running a business operation. Consider tax preparation, contemplate important purchases, and confer with fellow writers. 
  • Procrastinate. Whoa! No, I'm not encouraging you to put off until tomorrow. It's a bad habit (and unfortunately, I mastered in it while working on a master's). You have to look at the root of the problem. Not submitting queries? Why? Not able to schedule writing time? Why? Stop waiting for success to knock on the door. YOU have to make it happen.
  • Promise. If you accept an assignment or promise to submit three pages to your critique group or set dedicated office hours, then keep the promise! It's so important to follow through, whether with an editor, an agent, a trusted writing pal, and yes, yourself.
Why do we writers trash our efforts? We're human, yes, but until we learn that the journey requires hard work and dedication, we will continue to sabotage our efforts.

Do you trash your writing efforts? How do you overcome this problem?

by LuAnn Schindler 

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Writer, Storyteller, Author?

Sunday, March 10, 2013
Recently, my daughter who teaches high school math asked for my help in writing a grant for an iPad for her class. Of course, I told her to start with a story. And she had a good one. She uses clickers, things that look like a TV remote control, to answer questions. Each student is assigned a certain clicker number and when they click on an answer, the computer program registers each student's answers. And they love it.

In fact, students love the clicker so much, they ask for more math problems.
"Miss, do you have any more problems we can do?"
"Miss, I need a couple more problems, so I can score better than Jay."

Gee, what math teacher wouldn't want THAT problem.
And that story worked magic: her iPad was crowd-sourced and she's setting it up now to work with her clickers.

Storytelling won the day.

Are you a writer, a storyteller, or an author?
Are they the same thing, do the nuances between these words mean little to you?

For me, they are different.
A writer is someone who writes. It can be good or bad, fiction or nonfiction, for private use or for commercial use, for blogs or for magazines. The reason for putting words on a page can vary widely. The key point is that words are being put down.

A storyteller is someone who touches a reader emotionally with a powerful tale. For our purposes, it is a storyteller who writes, rather than tells stories orally or with images.

An author is someone whose written words are published.

Writers and storytellers don't necessarily become authors. Writers don't necessarily share their work with anyone else while they are alive. A storyteller is one type of writer. What type of writer do you want to be? Are you a generic writer, or do you want to be a storyteller? Within the category of storytelling, do you want to specialize in mysteries or historical fiction?

And do any of these distinctions make any difference?

For me, they matter very little. Which probably makes me a writer. I am happy to write nonfiction--such as this blog post--or fiction or any other type of writing. But my favorite type of writing is storytelling. Skills cross the range of writing, but it's the passion that makes a difference. When I am working to tell a story, I work harder and I am more passionate about everything. I care more about putting events into a narrative arc that builds to some emotional climax. I like writing fiction.

Stories are my passion. And they work whether it's on the page or in a math class.

It helps to figure out where your passions lie because then you can focus on what is most important to you.

What kind of writer are you? Are you a storyteller? An Author? a scientist writer? a historian writer, A mystery writer? Where do your passions lie?


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

Saturday, March 09, 2013
Our cluttered refrigerator door.
Photo | Elizabeth K Humphrey
Clutter. Many of us have it. One area of clutter in my house is the refrigerator door. (Yes, to the left.)

Clutter can also appear in our writing.

This week, while editing a couple pieces of writing, I ran across clutter in sentences that made me think of my kids' refrigerator art. The work is all on display and we keep adding to it--proud of all the work and believing that it all needs to be displayed.

One sentence I ran across was something like this:

She walked quickly to a closet full of clothes and pulled a T-shirt from a shelf and a skirt from a wire hanger and dressed slowly then sat in the middle of the couch, laughing.


If I'm in the middle of a story, I want to see action. Isn't this action? There is movement--she's getting dressed, right? Isn't that enough? Well, I don't know about you, but I don't want to wade through all that action to get to the important action of the character's laughter.

Why do we need to work through a long sentence of walking, pulling, dressing, sitting, and laughing?

Often writers sense that the reader needs to "see" all the actions. Just like a parent needs to see all the art on the refrigerator. But when you try to show everything, you cover or avoid other elements that might be important.

Here are some tips to attack the clutter in your work:

  • Trim excess in your sentences: If you are in love with some of the work, tuck it away for later.
  • Determine what actions are essential to the plot: Is the action moving the story forward or is it treading water and not moving?
  • Read your work aloud: When you hear your story out loud, it helps you catch clutter in your sentences. You hear what is working and what's not.
  • Review how you tell a story to a friend: Which details do you include, which ones do you exclude? (Is the wire hanger really an essential element in the story?)

I'm spending the weekend clearing out some clutter. How about you?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. She plans some spring cleaning this weekend, at her keyboard and not in her closet or, ahem, her refrigerator door.

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Friday Speak Out!: Why Cooking is Like Writing, Only Better!, Guest Post by Karen Guccione-Englert

Friday, March 08, 2013
With my recent down time, I’ve been doing some thinking since I am not doing too much else. I’m thinking writing is a lot like cooking. Now for those of you who know me well, this may seem like a strange comparison considering that I dislike cooking and am rather fond of writing. Allow me to explain.

My husband and I have a blended family of six. Our mixture of his and hers children creates a unique schedule for many meal times. Some nights it’s just the two of us and other nights, we are feeding six. Over the years, meal time caused a certain level of angst for me. Trying to make sure I created meals that were healthy, that pleased everyone, and that were within budget were a challenge. I have never enjoyed cooking but trying to tackle this task made it more daunting. I fretted over meal planning, shopping, preparation, all of it.

As time as passed, I have started to worry less about covering all these bases. I began to focus on creating meals that were a little more fun and different and thought less about trying to please the masses.

And this is why I think cooking is like writing. So often, we are encouraged to write in a genre or style that we are not passionate about or simply have no interest in. As writers, we are sometimes pushed to try a new category because it is what’s “new” and “popular” but when it comes down to it, we may not care a bit about it.

I love writing children’s stories and short stories. I am also working on my memoir about my battle with heart disease. My focus is narrow and I am okay with that. I could try to write paranormal or horror but I promise, it would not worth anyone’s time. I think it is better to stick with what makes you happy. In my case, I write because I enjoy it rather than it being my job. Since I have that luxury, I can be picky. And as for the cooking, I fortunately married a fantastic chef!

* * * * *
Karen Guccione-Englert fell in love with words at an early age and now shares her love of reading with students at Orchard Farm Elementary. Outside of the classroom, she primarily writes children’s stories and short stories. Karen enjoys entering a variety of writing competitions to practice and refine her craft. In addition, she is an active member of Go Red for Women with the St. Louis chapter of the American Heart Association. Karen resides in St. Peters, Missouri with her husband, four children, and loveable pug.

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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