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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Heading into a New Year: 3 Ways to Make 2018 Your Best Writing Year Yet

As we come to the end of another year, ask yourself two questions. Are you and your writing where you want to be? And is this where you want to be in another year?

Don’t give flippant answers. Really think about them without getting defensive.

You may not have finished your novel, which you wanted to do, but it isn’t your fault. You had to help your mother move. Your oldest went away to college. You’ve suffered from an illness or injury. Believe me, we’ve all been there. Life is a very distracting part of the writing experience and it can suck the energy right out of you.

Even if you are more or less happy with where you are really think about the second question. I finished several new books this year and several have also come into print. Hidden Human Computers is up for an award. I’m proud of these books but are they all I want to do? If yes, that’s okay and I can proceed as usual. But if I’d like to do more, than I need to make a change. 

Here are three things you can do to end 2018 in a better-for-you writing place. 

Set a specific goal. Maybe you want to draft that novel or find an agent. Set specific goals. That means that you can’t get by with I’m looking for an agent or I’m going to draft my novel. You have to decide something specific. I will research 3 new agents a month and approach those that are a good match. Or maybe you're writing around moving or helping someone else move. Make your goal do-able. I’m going to write 5 minutes a day. Make your goals do-able and specific. 

Energize. The first thing that you need to do is find the energy required to make these things happen because writing and change both require energy. Where can you find more? Many of us spend a lot of time toiling away indoors. We work at our computers. We do laundry. We help our kids with their homework, and we do it all inside. Spend 15 minutes a day outside. Walk around the block. Sit on the porch with your morning coffee. Toss your yoga mat out on the deck. Did you know that a new type of therapy involves prescribing time outdoors? Write yourself a prescription to spend time outside.

Get rid of energy sucks. We all have them. Research shows that reading news online can be one of these drains on your energy? You aren’t watching the news for 30 minutes or reading the paper. It has no end. So set a timer. Or your energy suck could be your e-mail. If your inbox has 200 e-mails you haven’t dealt with, get rid of 10 a day. Get it down to 30 and keep it there. Or maybe your work space is so cluttered that it doesn’t feel like a safe space. Spend 5 minutes a day cleaning it out until you’re done. 

Set small attainable goals and you’ll soon see the progress. Add energy and get rid of energy sucks to help you meet those goals. Make 2018 a top notch writing year.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins January 8th, 2018.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Rack-Up of the Year

Another year is almost gone. If you're old like me (pushing 60), time passes in a series of eye-blinks. Every time you blink, a couple of seasons pass. If you're still in your 20s or 30s, time goes by a bit more slowly and you can savor it instead of rubbernecking as it flies by.

Many writers keep track of their progress during the year. They tally up their acceptances and their rejections. Or, they look back on the goals they made at the beginning of the year and examine how successful they were at meeting those goals. Most of them have Excel spreadsheets or even a cat calendar where they keep track.

Not Sioux. Sioux is more fast and loose, less organized, more loosey-goosey than that. Even though I love writing, I teach full-time. Writing is--unfortunately--only a part-time thing for me. In the evening when I hit the threshold of my home, the bra is coming off and the sweatpants are coming on. I'm too exhausted to spend too much time beating myself up over the goals I'm not meeting (which might explain why I don't have a book out there or why my work only appears in a couple of publications).

So my year-end rack-up is going to look vastly different than successful most writers. Maybe after you read this, you can suggest some goals even I can meet...

  • I finally rowed to the shore after months and months and months of sailing down the river denial. I had a manuscript that I was hopeful about. Optimism A writer's love of their own work A severe head injury sustained by beating my head against my desk repeatedly Being too close to the forest to see that the trees had all been burned down, deep down, I wondered if it was the most fabulous thing that had ever been written. A little closer to the surface, I wondered if it stunk. I gave it to a couple of writing friends. They said, "Suckola" in a very kind way. I sent it to blogging friend Shay who also said, "Suckola, big time," but also in a constructive and kindhearted manner.
         I now have a doorstop I spent a couple of years on. However, as I wrote it, I got some free 
         therapy and got to heal over a family issue I'd been grappling with for several years. Put a 
         tally mark under the "win" and a tally mark under the "loss" column for that one.
  • I've meant to foray out and submit to other markets. Literary magazines. Publications put out by AAA and AARP. I've even been to workshops about how to crack various markets. However, I haven't done diddly-squat about it yet, so that's another tally mark under "loss."
  • After a concentrated effort, I've started using ellipsis less frequently in my writing. In the past and in some of my stories, I've relied on that bit of punctuation seven or eighteen times in each paragraph. Recently, I've gotten so conscientious about it, some of my pieces have not even one set of ellipsis.
         Oh, who am I kidding? I haven't given up those dot-dot-dots nor have I slowed down on 
         them. But I have thought about it, so I'm gonna put a little tally mark under "win" for that 
         one since it's the thought that counts, right?
  •  I have a NaNoWriMo from 2016 that I'm now revising. That's one for the "win" column. However, I keep saying I'm going to actively hunt down an elderly person to get some help on some of the details. (The story takes place in 1921.) Just like I've done nothing to break into a different market, I've done nothing to find a historical consultant, so I'm going to have to make a mark under "loss" as well.
  • In 2017 I got a story called "My Ferguson" published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America. It had been a while since I'd gotten anything accepted by them, so that's a "win" and it was a story I'd tried to get published for quite a while, so by the way I count, that's another "win." (See how my creative math makes this a more positive process?) Some stories matter to us more than others, and this particular tale was quite important to me. Before President Trump was elected, he said that "Ferguson is one of the most dangerous cities in the world." I worked in Ferguson, and knew this was not true. In my story, I was able to share what the real Ferguson is like...
  • I got to show off my funny. Years ago, I was part of one of the St. Louis Listen to Your Mother shows. My piece was a heartbreaking story about my search for my birth mother. In 2017 I was part of the show again, but this time I got to tell a humorous story about my tatted-up son. Getting people to laugh is quite satisfying, I must say. Since I was one of only two writers who's been in the show twice, I'm going to put two tally marks under the "win" column.
        So, as I tabulate the tally marks, I see three under the "loss" column and 116 under the "win" column. (What can I tell you? Math was my worst subject, followed closely by science. But sometimes, ineptitude can be a good thing.)

       Which means I need your help. What goals do you think I should set for 2018? I really would like to do better--writing-wise--this next year... but I need your assistance.

Sioux Roslawski is an unorganized freelance writer who sometimes does more thinking than doing. She'd appreciate a nudge or a push or a jab with an electric cattle prod from you, so please leave what goals she should set in the comments section, and if you'd like to read more of her stuff, you can check out her blog.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

The "Perfect Timing" Trap

Today is my oldest son’s birthday, and if you’re one of those people who have a holiday birthday, then you know how challenging it can be to find the perfect time to celebrate a birthday. Especially when a kid is at that age when he wants a party and all his friends around and a big whoop-de-doo time.

The holiday break is no good because half the friends are gone. Before Christmas, it’s way too hectic for a mother to plan a birthday party. Or maybe that was just this mother. Anyway, we’d wait a week or two, figuring that would be the perfect time. But school was back in full gear and so we’d wait another week, for things to settle down. That would be the perfect time, surely. But then we’d be into February and it would be way too cold for anything fun and outdoors and so we’d wait a few more weeks. The perfect time was right around the corner in March.

You see where this is going, right? My oldest son had two—TWO!--whoop-de-doo parties when he was young. We were caught in that “Perfect Timing” trap. Waiting for the perfect time, we’d never quite get around to celebrating much at all.

Writers—including this writer—often get caught in the “Perfect Timing” trap. We’ll write when the baby takes a nap. Or when the kids are at school and we finish making beds, washing clothes, painting that bookshelf. Or when we start working part-time. Or when we retire. Or when our kid who’s moved back home ever moves out.

Yep, we have a million reasons why the timing is not right to write.

And I’ll bet you can see where this is going, too. There is no such thing as the perfect time for writing. There will always be something or someone coming along to give us a perfectly good reason not to write. And before you know it, it’s been weeks, months, years, since you’ve written much at all.

Now, there surely are times when events or situations in our lives legitimately prevent us from writing. And there are times when the people in our lives truly need us, and those are times when writing must wait. But following these times away from writing, it’s very easy to wait for the perfect writing time to come again.

It’s not going to come.

So before 2018 begins, let’s take a few moments to go over all the reasons we put off writing in 2017. Because honestly, Oldest Junior Hall spent years whining about how his mother neglected his birthday and his mother might’ve spent years feeling just a wee bit guilty about it.

Join me and break free from the “Perfect Timing” trap in 2018 (and live a more guilt-free writing life)!

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer and she vows that there will be no more waiting for the perfect time to write in 2018. She might even get around to having another birthday party for her oldest son. But honestly, she's not making any promises about that one. You can see what Cathy did manage to get done in 2017 at her blog, and keep up with her in the new year, 'cause it's going to be busy! Probably!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Making Magic

I just spent six glorious days at Walt Disney World with my husband and children.  It was my first time there and while I knew we’d have fun, I didn’t know how wonderful it would be.  Disney World is truly magical. 

In fact, it got me thinking.  What is it that made my experience so magical?  What about my trip made me want to come back?  How could I add that same magic to my writing? 

On the flight home, I thought about what Disney World does well, and came to the conclusion that their methods easily translate to the writing profession.

New Experiences
Ever been on Disney World’s Avatar Flight of Passage ride?  If so, you’re probably nodding enthusiastically, and you know what I mean by new experiences.  The ride delighted all my senses.  It took virtual reality to a whole new level.   The ride was like nothing I’ve ever encountered before, and I was prepared to wait in a four-hour line to ride it again.  That’s the same reaction we what from our readers, but to successfully do this, we need to give them that once in a lifetime moment which makes them run back for more.  I know it’s hard to find an original idea these days, but you can always take an old idea and give it a fresh, new spin.  Dazzle the reader – give them something they can’t do without.  Delight their senses and make them say "wow."  

Attention to Detail
Did you know that every Disney hotel is decorated with a theme in mind?  I was there just before Christmas and every tree, every wreath and every ornament was given a great deal of time and attention.  The music changes in every area of the theme parks and in the line for every ride.  The employees for each ride are called cast members, and they stick with their role no matter what.  It’s this attention to detail that makes the park even more magical.  They stick with their theme – with the Disney “story” – and it keeps everyone involved and engaged.   By giving time and attention to the details in our writing, we can keep our readers equally engaged.  We immerse them in our worlds through their senses and the story’s atmosphere or through characters who never break.  We pay attention to all the small details.  This might mean a few extra editing sessions, but it's worth the extra effort.

Give Them What They Want
A little customer service goes a long way, and Disney World has it down to a science.  They are polite, consistent, and accommodating.  All the employees go out of their way to make your experience a delightful one.  As authors, we can do the same thing.  Perhaps poll some of your friends or fans on what they’d like to read in your next book.  Find out the kind of characters they are interested in.  Be willing to send out free swag to lucky readers.  Respond to their online inquiries.  And of course, do it with a smile.

Something for Everyone
Last, but certainly not least, remember that the best way to please people is to have variety.  Think about Disney World.  They have four parks, rides for all ages, shows, fireworks, character experiences, swimming and food from around the world.  They don’t have one target audience.  Everyone is the target audience.  If we only write for one group, we are limiting ourselves.  Include a variety of characters and themes.  Include humor and sorrow.  Happiness and fear.  Make each book different from the last to draw in more readers.  

Disney gets it.  They know how to draw in a crowd and keep them coming back for more.  By considering what they do best, we can learn a few things to improve our writing and readership.  And of course, we make our stories a bit more magical.  

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Meet Michelle Hsu, 2nd Place Winner in the Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest

Originally from the sleepy suburb of Downers Grove, Illinois, Michelle spent her childhood writing stories to keep herself entertained. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2016 with a double major in Environmental Science and Film, she packed her belongings into a small car and made the time-honored trek to LA to pursue a career in entertainment; she is currently working at NBC.

As a queer POC female writer, Michelle likes to think that she’s the true triple threat Hollywood is scared of. Michelle is particularly interested in writing strong, female characters in the genres of drama, grounded sci-fi, and magical realism. As a child, her role model was Mulan—today, Michelle writes female-oriented stories in the hopes that she will create empowering characters for younger generations to look up to.

Connect with Michelle through her website or Twitter.

Read Michelle's haunting story, Venus, From the Sea, and then check out our comprehensive interview with the author.

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Congratulations on your 2nd place win, Michelle! I loved your story and wanted to read more when I was finished. Is "Venus from the Sea" part of a larger body of work you are writing? We'd love to hear more about that.

Yes, it is! It started as a feature script. At the time, I was working with a program that takes writers and their scripts out for pitches with different management companies for representation. I completed the first draft in two and a half months--I was writing on a deadline, doing 15+ pages per week so I could have material to show managers.

By the end of that month-long process I was completely drained and beginning to hate the script. I forced myself to put it away for three weeks. When I revisited it with fresh eyes, I fell in love with the characters all over again. The second draft was easier, but it still felt like something was missing. Screenwriting is such a different process than prose because characters' internal struggles have to be manifested visually on screen. It doesn't leave much room to explore the characters in a more personal and in depth way.

I took the first ten pages of my script and wrote it into a 1k prose piece in about a week--with some editing, this was the piece I ended up submitting to WOW! I enjoyed the process so much that I'm currently in the middle of drafting a novel for "Venus from the Sea." I hope that in a little under a year, I'll have something close to a first draft done!

WOW: I love how projects like yours can take a turn for the unexpected. Best of luck with thre rest of your draft! On your website, you have a few specs you've written for TV shows. Can you explain to our readers what a spec is and things to consider when writing one?

Michelle: "Spec" just means "speculative," so when people say they have a spec, they usually mean they have an original pilot or a spec of an existing show. The "spec of an existing show" is going a little out of style these days, and is mainly used for applying to screenwriting fellowships.

When you spec an existing show, you're basically writing an episode that you think can happen. For example, in "Supernatural" there are quite a few "time jumps" where several weeks have passed between episodes. You could write a spec episode based off what you think happened during those missing weeks between episodes. In the case of non-serialized shows or anthologies like "Law and Order" or "Black Mirror," you could write a standalone episode that doesn't have to fit into a chronology.

Spec scripts are mainly used to demonstrate that you can write different character voices, and that you have a good understanding of pacing and plot. There are only 45-60 minutes (25 min, for comedy) in an episode, so writing a great spec really shows that you know how TV show writing works. The biggest thing to consider when writing a spec is whether or not you've got your character voices nailed down. Once you have that, it's easy to come up with the rest.

WOW: You are living the dream so many young writers wish they had the courage to do. Was it hard moving from the midwest to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment?

Michelle: It was definitely tough. I moved out to LA two weeks after college--my friend and I took a four day road trip across the country with all of our possessions crammed into her sedan. I arrived in LA with no paying job, and only a handful of friends. My immigrant parents don't work in the entertainment industry, so career-wise, I was on my own.

I gave myself the ultimatum that if I didn't find a paying job in 'the biz' within the year, I would move back to Illinois and change career paths. I double majored in Environmental Science in college, so I would have gone into something related to that, probably working in water pollution control.

Because of the ultimatum I gave myself, I seized every moment and opportunity I had. I tutored high school kids in SAT while job hunting. I went on coffee meetings with people in the industry I admired. At the same time, I did an unpaid internship at a film production company, and made sure my performance was good enough that two months into it, they "promoted" me to assist the CFO, and were paying me. In October, four months after moving to LA, my friend gave me a referral, and I used that referral and my experience at the internship as a launching point to get into NBC.

I feel incredibly lucky that it all worked out the way it did. I recently passed my one year anniversary of being in LA. I can't believe how much I've grown, and how many talented and awesome friends I've made in the year that I've been here.

WOW: Such an inspirational story! We wish you all the continued success in your career. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, how do you hope to make an impact in the diversity of entertainment and the media with your work as a writer?

Michelle: Media is incredibly powerful and completely shapes the way we interact with the world. Growing up, I didn't have many strong Asian female role models to look up to in films. I didn't have any queer POC role models. My "coming out" was a slow process that is, honestly, still a process. Not everybody in my life knows how I identify.

I hope that my writing will be able to give more queer POC opportunities in media, until it stops being a "novel concept." Asian representation in western media is still very limited as well--it's frustrating to hear people use "diversity" as a buzzword, but not actually champion diversity in the content they create.

I consciously work on creating accurate portrayals of queer POC characters in my own stories, and hope that some day in the future I'll be able to bring them to life on screen. The dream is to normalize queer POC in media and society--we're making progress, slowly but surely.

WOW: What are some of your favorite TV shows right now and why?

Michelle: There is so much content now that I have a hard time keeping up with it all, even though I work in entertainment and it's my job to!

I tend to write dramatic sci fi and magical realism, so in my free time I'm drawn towards grounded comedy to give myself a break.

So, to give a quick list, I'm currently watching "Orange is the New Black," "The Office," "Bojack Horseman," "Fresh Off the Boat," and "Hell's Kitchen" (it's a guilty pleasure...). There are tons of shows I haven't watched yet that are on my list, including "Sense8," "Game of Thrones," and "Stranger Things" (I know, I'm very behind on the times...). Like everyone, I'm drawn to shows that have relatable and compelling characters. Shows that are a little funny, a little serious, and a little heartbreaking are always my favorite ones!

I'm also a huge movie buff and I'm so excited about the upcoming live action Mulan movie!!

Thank you so much to all of the wonderful people who work at WOW! This experience has been absolutely lovely, and I feel very lucky and honored that I placed second! And congratulations to all of the other winners and honorable mentions as well!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Surviving the Canyon Trail and What I Learned from It

Instead of my regular Christmas post where I write random inspirational thoughts, I’m sharing a story about something that happened to me recently, and how I’m applying it to the New Year.

(Yep. I've ran into rattlesnakes.)
December 13th was a Wednesday, but it felt more like a Friday on account of my bad luck. It’s the kind of luck that turns a glass half empty, makes you question what you did differently. By sunset, I would find myself alone, stranded in the wilderness, using all my strength to survive.

Okay, that sounds a bit dramatic. I’ll change that last part to: “using all my strength to survive the situation.” Yes, we’ll go with that because this is not a Rambo movie!

I was working on WOW that day. I had just finished the html page for Chelsey Clammer’s column, and it was 3:40pm. Normally, I’d take a break at 3pm to go trail running, but I’d gotten out of routine. It’d been almost two weeks since the Santa Ana winds started whipping through the canyons at 50mph, tirelessly stoking the California wildfires. It was a bad month for wind (and allergies). Every voice was a scream. I had less than an hour, but I knew I could finish the four-mile trail that snaked through the canyon and get back to my car before sunset.

I ran light: Brooks trail running shoes, capris with zipper pockets for keys, cell phone, Bluetooth headphones, Ray-bans, and one stick of gum for hydration. A downloaded Spotify playlist helped keep the pace. I knew where I should be on the trail when a song came on, and how many minutes were left in my run. By the time “Goodbye Horses” played, I slowed to watch three juvenile coyotes run across my path and into the bushes. One curious coyote stopped, and I swore we had a moment as we exchanged a long glance. I made up for that pause and ran faster until I hit the end of the lollipop trail and turned around.

(Where the coyotes like to hang out.)

I ran down the 1,500-foot peak, then slowed to a walk to take a second descent down a smaller hill of dirt and gravel. This is where my memory fails because it happened so fast. I don’t know if it was because of my sunglasses or the fact that I didn’t slow down enough or that I hadn’t cleaned my shoe’s treads in a while, but the next thing I knew I was tumbling down the hill like a cartoon character. When my body finally stopped, my head was still tumbling and I felt like puking. I took a deep breath and stood up, but the pain was too agonizing. My left ankle was the size of a softball. I tried to get up again but felt something dislodge and pop, and I couldn’t put pressure on my left foot. It was then that the realization set in. I was hurt, really hurt. I couldn’t walk. I was two miles from my car. The sun was abandoning me. I was alone. I reached for my cell phone and there was barely one bar. I called my husband.

(Not the hill I fell down,
but check out that terrain!)
“I’m on the 5-freeway an hour away, going to a meeting,” he said. “What happened?!”

I told him I possibly broke my ankle, maybe sprained it or twisted it. I wasn’t sure. That I was two miles from my car.

“Find a stick to walk with, and call my dad to pick you up. Or call 9-1-1—“

“And what? Have them airlift me out of here?”

Then I lost cell service.

It was getting dark and I debated using my phone’s flashlight, but needed to wait as long as possible because my battery was dying. I stood up and hopped on one leg down the hill. By the time I got to the bottom, I was drenched in sweat. The temperature was dropping quickly and I knew sweat would make me cold if I stayed still for too long. I called my husband again, but I still had no reception. So, I hopped. And hopped. And hopped. For a quarter of a mile.

I stopped before I reached the twelve-inch ledge that hung twenty feet over the stream below. Even with two legs, this part of the trail required attention. I knew I couldn’t cross it by hopping. To my right, tree branches broken by the harsh winds lay in a jumble. I found a curved stick, two inches in diameter, broke off its branches, and used it as a support. Honestly, it didn’t help much. Every step delivered a shot of pain and a clunky pop, but at least I could maintain balance. My thoughts turned dark as I hobbled into the thick forest, trees swallowing me like the mouth of a cave. I could barely see the rocks on the ground. I felt like I was going to lose it when I thought of how far I had to go. I stopped to catch my breath.

I heard a rustling behind me and then some panting. Could it be coyotes?

“Hey, what happened?” a man’s voice said. “I saw you run past me a while ago.”

I craned my neck around to see a stocky man with long blonde hair and a scraggly dog emerge from the darkness. I recognized him as a regular hiker on the trail, and told him what happened.

“I’ll walk with you,” he said.

His name was Richard, and his dog’s name was Betsy. We talked about the Trump administration of all things, our aging parents, the holidays, and pretty soon I was laughing and in good spirits.

As we walked over a small rocky hill, he grabbed my arm. “Dang, this thing is meaty! Do you work out?”

“Every day.”

And so it went. We made it back to my car pretty fast.

“Door service,” he said, opening my car door.

I thanked my new friend, chucked the walking stick to the side of the road, and drove home with my good foot. My father-in-law drove me to the hospital. Like I’d suspected, my ankle was broken. After seeing an orthopedic doctor who examined my x-rays—a “bad break” he said—I found out I would have to get surgery. Pins, plates, rods, and all that fun stuff. I would finally achieve my dream of turning into a cyborg. Just in time to ring in the New Year.

So why am I telling you this? I learned a couple valuable lessons from this experience that I’m applying to the upcoming New Year:

Choose Your Reaction to the Situation

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent how you react to it.” ~ Charles R. Swindoll

I started to slip into that bad space where I felt frustrated and alone, and could've had a meltdown, but I didn't. I pushed on and maintained a positive attitude.

Margo Dill wrote a recent post on her blog, Life is All About Your Reaction and Your Tribe, which inspired this post. In it, she talks about how a friend changed her perspective on a bad situation, and how it’s important to choose who you surround yourself with because they can help change your reaction.

I totally agree. When Richard appeared out of the darkness and walked with me, it changed my perspective. I didn’t include this in the story, but when I got back to my car, I called my husband. “Gee, you sound chipper,” he said. “I guess you didn’t break your ankle.” As you know, I did. But having someone positive to talk to during a bad situation helped pull me out of my headspace.

Margo improved the above quote to this:

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you, 40 percent how you react to it, and 50 percent who you choose to surround yourself with.” ~ Margo Dill

Pretty awesome.

I choose to surround myself with fine writers like all of you in the WOW community. I believe if we band together, we can make all of our writing goals happen.

Train Every Day

(Not a fashion statement.
I just can't wear pants!)
If I hadn’t trained for it, I never could’ve hopped on one leg for almost two miles. P90X is part of my regular workout routine; and believe it or not, one of the weekly exercises is hopping on one leg for a period of time. It’s my least favorite exercise, but it prepared me for this.

I’m not saying to go workout in case something goes wrong; I just mean if you love something, work on it every day.

I only have one goal for 2018: write every day.

Professional writers I know write every day, if only for an hour. I figure if I do that, the rest will fall into place. I will be prepared for anything that comes my way. I will find what I’ve been looking for by putting in the time and effort.

Oh yeah, and the last lesson I learned? Don't run down hills.

Merry Christmas, writers. Cheers to a productive New Year!


Angela Mackintosh is publisher of WOW! Women On Writing. She hopes to get back on the trails in six to eight weeks.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Be Gentle


Be gentle with yourself.

Be gentle with others.

This may be someone’s last day with someone they love.

This may be someone’s first day alone.

This may be someone’s last sunset.

This may be someone’s first sunrise.

Treat yourself and others with grace 
and be gentle with your words and expectations 
while being generous with your love and hugs.

I wrote the above sentiment on social media a few days ago and it seemed to resonate with so many. I was immediately asked, "Can I share this?" I'm not sure if it's the time of year, the state of affairs in the world, or exactly what it is, but we are so hard on ourselves. We all know people who wish they had what their friends have. When I was growing up we would say "he's trying to keep up with the Jones's," and I'm not sure if anyone says that anymore, but many of you know what I mean.

Back in the 70s and 80s "keeping up with the Jones's" didn't get much deeper than the car they drove or the house they lived in. We saw what was happening outside their homes. Sometimes we knew where they worked and maybe we envied their clothing. There weren't cell phones. There wasn't social media. I won't even tell you about the cassette tapes and hour of my time it took to load PacMan on to my Commodore, but back on topic...

Now, I can take a picture with my cell phone and the world knows how messy my kitchen is, the brand of coffee pot I use, how many dishes are (or are not) in my sink, and the list goes on and on. Instead of noticing that the neighbors are gone and wondering if they left town for a funeral, I can pop onto social media and see lovely photos from their expensive vacation in Cancun, the designer bikini, the obvious tummy tuck (or is that a boob job?), and the size of the new anniversary band. 

So there's that...and then there's people who don't want what other people have, but they feel what other people feel. You all know them (or maybe you are one of them) as Empaths. Someone experiences the death of a loved one and the heart of the Empath goes through all the pain and heartache of the loss. Some Empaths even feel the pain of strangers. Social media can be a weapon of self-destruction for the Empath in much the same way it is for the discontented person trying to keep up with the Jones's. An easy solution may be to avoid social media, but that's hardly realistic. It's 2017 after all.

Leaving social media means leaving the good and the bad (or as my Daddy would say "throwing the baby out with the bath water"). I've found the best solution, and that's to approach social media and life with gentility. Every person we meet is fighting a battle. It's hard to believe when that someone is carrying a hand bag that cost more than your mortgage. It's hard to believe when that someone is always smiling. It's hard to believe when that someone looks so healthy. Not every person fighting a battle wears their scars on the outside and this message of gentility and grace bears repeating, so as we experience the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, please remember this:

Be gentle with yourself.
Be gentle with others.
This may be someone’s last day with someone they love.
This may be someone’s first day alone.

This may be someone’s last sunset.
This may be someone’s first sunrise.

Treat yourself and others with grace
and be gentle with your words and expectations
while being generous with your love and hugs.


Crystal is a council secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, babywearing cloth diapering mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, five young children (Carmen 10, Andre 9, Breccan 4, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora, two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Out of sight, out of mind

Every January each member of my critique group makes a list of writing (and/or other) goals, seals them in an envelope, and opens them in December to measure her success. A few weeks ago we got our lists back and read them aloud to the group. When we reached the end of the list, we summarized our successes and failures.

This year I met fewer than half my goals. I had four items on my list and right now can't remember any of them. Overall, this practice of writing them down and putting them aside can work, but I wasn't following through.

Like every other question I have, I turned to the internet for goal-setting answers. What I found there were flow charts, pie charts, worksheets, time-limit suggestions, and one strategy that involved identifying 41 types of goals. That's too much pressure, and if I can't remember my four goals, I would never remember 41 types of goals.

I'm a visual learner, and I realized I needed to see my goals. At one of my earlier jobs in public relations, I wrote my assignments on a large monthly desk calendar. When I completed an assignment, I would place a large checkmark in front of it. If I did not complete it by the assigned day, I would draw a single line through it and rewrite it on a later date. I repeated this process until I succeeded.

These visual reminders helped me understand what I needed to do, what I had accomplished, and what I was ignoring. The system wasn't perfect, but I liked tracking my goals and progress every day.

My 2018 plan for success is to write down specific goals in January, and copy them on my phone, calendar or Post-It notes where I will see them. I'm hoping this process will increase my success rate. I'll let you know how it goes.

How are you setting your goals for 2018?

Happy Holidays!

Mary Horner's story Shirley and the Apricot Tree was recently published in Kansas City Voices. She has written for numerous publications and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges, and earned the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

When Photos Tell a Story

Michael George Roberson
Sept. 20, 1945-March 5, 2017

I feel like every year I buy my husband the same old gifts. Clothes, shoes (because he never, ever buys those things for himself!) something technology related, science-fiction DVDS, and fitness gadgets or accessories. This year, I happened to be at home alone one day when an image popped in my head. It was photo I had seen of my father-in-law that ran in a trade magazine a few years ago. In this photo, Mike has a grin on his face despite the oil staining his forearms and his t-shirt and jeans. Those jeans were well-worn but usually at least three sizes too big, because he never took the time to sit down and eat while he was working. Knowing my father-in-law, he was probably in the middle of singing one of his favorite country songs (or one he had written himself) and telling a story. The man loved to tell stories.

My father in law passed away this past March after a long battle with alcoholism. It was a tough time for all his family members, and especially his children and grandchildren. It had been many years since any of us had seen glimmers of the old Mike. The disease took a toll on his body, mind and relationships. But in the midst of that, he had starred in a video Levi Strauss made about denim, because he had worked for Cone Mills in Greensboro, N.C. his entire life, making sure the looms ran smoothly. His face and story appeared in several trade magazines and we couldn’t believe it when we saw the video, featuring him singing one of his own original songs.

You see, Mike loved to share his songs with people. He was a self-taught musician and favored the guitar. He always had dreams of selling a song to someone famous and making it “big.” But in reality, the music took a backseat as he married, raised a family, and provided for his kids. It never stopped of him from playing and dreaming, though. He loved the fact that I was a writer and bragged to everyone he knew about my accomplishments, probably because he understood the difficulty of trying to remain creative in today’s fast-paced world where there is never enough money to pay all the bills. A few months ago, the Cone Denim White Oak plant announced it would cease operations at the end of this year. While it is sad because it is the last selvedge denim mill standing in the United States, his family agrees that it doesn’t seem right for it to remain open without Mike.

So on that day at home, when the image came to me of him standing in front of that loom, I knew I had to get a hold of that print and get a copy of it to frame for my husband. I could hear his voice saying to me, “That’s right, girl. He will love that!” During my search, I also found another shot of him that was taken for a magazine. I am framing copies of both for my husband and mother-in-law, and thank Mike for giving me the idea.

Photos courtesy of Port Magazine

Mike was never in enough photos. He couldn’t sit still and could always be found in his garage, playing and recording his music. His music lives on, as do the memories. I’m thankful my kids inherited their musical talent from his side of the family.

Look through your own family photos. Do you have any pictures that could inspire an essay, short story or novel? Share your own memories in the comments section!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who lives in Davidson, N.C. Visit her website at

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Writing Exercise to Help You Raise the Stakes for Your Characters

Recently, I was critiquing a section of a WOW! student's romance novella, which is a very entertaining and well-written story, but something was lacking. After thinking about it for a while, I realized what it was--there was nothing really at stake. In genre novels, especially, the characters need to have something to lose, and the stakes have to be high, or your readers won't bother to get to the end--because they know how it will end--happily ever after. So the meat of the story needs to be the beginning and middle, where you introduce the characters and explore the stakes.

One way to keep readers interested in your story is to make sure that you have the stakes high enough. I've talked before about the "What if?" method of plotting a book, where you keep asking: What if? to create problems for your characters. For example: What if my character lost her dog? What if that dog was needed to win the big prize in the show? What if the prize money was the only way she would be able to pay her rent? and so on.

Asking what if and raising the stakes while you are answering the question each time will keep readers coming back to your book or maybe never putting it down.

Stakes don't always have to be dangerous either. It's not like you have to write the Hunger Games, where the stakes are literally Katniss's life or  the Harry Potter series, where all good will be destroyed by evil if Harry loses the battle with Voldemort. Look at the Wizard of Oz--if Dorothy doesn't defeat the witch, she can never go home. The stakes work in that story because most of us know: "There's no place like home." Therefore, we understand how important it is for Dorothy to get the broom and take it back to the Wizard, so she can get back to Auntie Em.

Look at your current manuscript and do this short exercise below, especially if you feel you have a muddy middle or something in your story is just not right. It will take you no time at all to answer these questions, but they are crucial:

1. What is the problem your character is trying to solve in this novel?
2. What are the obstacles in the way of your character solving this problem? (By the way, many times, one of the obstacles is the character himself and his flaw, as well as external obstacles.)
3. What is at risk if he does not solve the problem? What is at stake?

Having the answers to those questions and referring to them often will help you write a novel your readers will be talking about with all their friends after they read: "The End."

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. She teaches a novel course for WOW! each month, which includes 4 critiques of your work-in-progress. To check out more about her, go to To check out her next class starting January 5, go to the WOW! classroom. 

Wizard of Oz photo above by JoshBerglund19 on

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Interview with Elizabeth Jones Hanley: Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Elizabeth’s Bio:

Elizabeth Jones Hanley learned almost everything she knows about writing from her father, who was an English professor and poet. Together they started a quarterly poetry journal, The Mid-America Poetry Review, in 2000, and she was associate editor for ten years before the journal folded. She has two published chapbooks of poems: The Art of Making Tea and The Last Winter. Currently, she works in the children’s department of her local public library, writes fiction and poetry, and has successfully survived NaNoWriMo four times. Elizabeth enjoys science fiction, Hitchcock movies, 50’s doo-wop, knitting, and sailing, especially in the British Virgin Islands. Her son has also introduced her to some pretty cool anime. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, and two dogs, one of whom knows to the minute when it’s his dinner time and never fails to alert them each day at five o’clock.

If you haven’t done so already, check out Elizabeth’s award-winning story “Feeding the Witch” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write it?

Elizabeth: A few years ago there was that movie Season of the Witch with Nicholas Cage. My son and I were both intrigued by the previews, and though the movie fell pretty flat with both of us, something in the way the guards interacted with the witch in her cage struck me, and during the “pelting her with food” scene I just wondered, what if they’re really doing that so she’ll have something to eat? It was a case of paying attention to the writer inside who is always watching and listening and flashing up those little “aha” moments. The idea hung out in my head with nothing to anchor it to until this past summer when I realized it would fit nicely in a flash piece.

WOW: Thank you. I love to hear where writers find inspiration. At least something great came out of that movie! What do you enjoy the most and/or least about writing?

Elizabeth: I actually enjoy the rough draft process of discovery when there are no sensors and you just throw in everything you can think of, and I like the wordsmithing, nitty-gritty aspect of the editing process (there's that lovely quote: “I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon taking it out.” Totally me!). I dread, though, the read-through of that crappy first draft and trying to wrestle with the unwieldy mess. It can be discouraging to realize the disconnect between your draft and that shining, brilliant vision you suspect you’re just not capable of.

WOW: Yes, I agree. The first read of a first draft can be very daunting. But then I suppose it’s all that wordsmithing that gets a writer to the “brilliant vision.” What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Elizabeth: I just grabbed up Artemis by Andy Weir; Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, which I am enjoying immensely (I recognize myself on many pages!); and James Bell’s How to Write Pulp Fiction, for an inspiring kick in the pants. I’m also prowling through Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magic put together by the British Library; and I’ve just discovered Paul Anthony Jones’ The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities.

WOW: Nice! Quite the array of literature all at once. I read in your bio that you worked on a poetry journal with your father. What did you learn about writing from your father and/or from working on the poetry journal together? Do you think he learned anything about writing from you, too?

Elizabeth: I think the biggest, most helpful thing was witnessing his ability to hone a poem down to the essential words. He was brilliant for focusing on the nugget of a piece. He also instilled a sense of joy in playing with words, with language. His mantra when we were working on the journal was “have fun with it, because if you’re not having fun it’s not worth doing.” He also had an inquisitive mind and read widely and voraciously from everywhere: Fiction, poetry, history, biography, science, philosophy. I’m not sure there was anything he wasn’t interested in on some level.

WOW: I love that advice, to “have fun with it.” If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Elizabeth: Flippantly: apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and keep banging out the words. Seriously, though, and I have tell myself this too: don’t worry about getting it right, worry about getting it down. Getting it right comes later. You can’t fix what’s not on the page to begin with.

WOW: Wise words! Thank you. Anything else you’d like to add?

Elizabeth: Try not to procrastinate too much. It’s easy to do all sorts of other things in your day instead of writing, but even just 500 words today, no matter how lousy, is 500 words further you’ll be tomorrow. I have to give myself this advice a lot too!

WOW: Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses! Happy Writing!

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

Monday, December 18, 2017

Deadline? What Deadline? Sometimes You Need a Break

I got a message from my editor. “I’ll have everything together by the end of the week. Just wanted to give you a heads up so you can clear your schedule for the rewrite.” Then I waited. And I waited some more. Finally the rewrite landed in my inbox at midnight last Saturday.

This means that I have a book due today, one week before Christmas. Do I need to explain to all of you writing women that I really had other plans for the days spent on this rewrite? Probably not. I’m guessing that at least a few of you still have Christmas cards to send out and gifts yet to purchase.

For four days I dove into the rewrite. Monday through Thursday. I got about half of it done but I was frustrated and things were not looking good for the weekend. So what did I do?

I took time off. We decorated the tree and got the rest of the decorations up. I read over my editor’s notes and rewrote a chapter.

Next I finished crocheting a gift for someone. Then I came back and roughed out the new chapter.

Then I wrapped the gift books that my husband wanted to take to the post office. Gotta get those books into the hands of young readers. Then I came back and rewrote the new chapter and took it to grade level.

By then my son was out with friends. My husband and I went to the grocery and got what we needed for dinner. I worked while dinner was in the oven and we ate and watched a movie. Then I read over more notes from my editor and wrapped up the last chapter.

Yes, I had a lot of work to get done this weekend. But the funny thing about freelancing is that you can let it fill your day, your week and your weekend. Yet, strangely enough, there is always something more to do.

You have to take time off to do other things. When you do, you’ll be re energized and ready to go. Things will come together much more quickly. I rewrote as much Friday and Saturday as I did Monday through Thursday and I did it in a lot less time.

To be a successful freelancer, you do need to devote time to your work. But you also need to recognize when something isn’t coming together because you’ve been at your desk for too long. A break will help you find the distance that you need to really evaluate what you’ve written. That’s when things will come together much more quickly.

Sunday night? I could have spent the time reading through my changes. But I just wasn’t sure I had achieved the necessary distance from my work. So I went to a family screening of Polar Express, sang the hot chocolate song with preschoolers, and munched on popcorn.

I’ve been told I’m really productive. But Polar Express and popcorn? A women writer has to keep her priorities straight.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins January 8th, 2017.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Who's Impacted You?

Chris Rosati died on October 18. He was 46 and chose the day he died. He'd been battling ALS since 2010, and when a trach tube took away his ability to talk, he decided on getting the tube removed. He died hours later.

Chris dreamed of stealing a Krispy Kreme truck and dropping off doughnuts at schools and nursing homes. He figured if he got arrested, with his ALS, what would they do to him? Thankfully, Krispy Kreme gave him a truckload of doughnuts, so he didn't have to resort to a life of crime.

What he did resort to, however, was making a difference. He's responsible for inspiring children to begin BIGG projects--Big Ideas for the Greater Good. Rosati said, "If I can't impact people, then this whole thing is a waste."

That got me thinking. Who has impacted my life? Specifically (since this is a site devoted to writing), who's impacted my writing life?

  • My family--Going back to my middle school and high school years, my parents and grandparents saved all the articles I wrote for the school newspaper. Their pride gave me encouragement when I was just starting out. I still remember one year, I was 13 and sick (barfing and feverish sick) but I begged my dad to drive me to a local journalism competition so I could enter the contest. He did, and waited for me there. As soon as I finished writing, he drove me home. (I got an honorable mention.)
  • A few English teachers (Mr. Miya. Mr. Gates and Mrs. Wright)--One of them let me do "independent study" for a year (reading and journal-writing) and one taught me self-discipline when it comes to research and organizing.  One taught me to write without parameters. One taught me to not skimp when doing the necessary grunt work.They were high school teachers. Before them, there was Mr. Miya in 7th grade. He made me fall in love with poetry (via CSN & Y and Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell and Carole King and Don McClean lyrics). He also inspired the tattoo that now encircles my wrist:
                                                        Legalize freedom.
  • My writing critique group--These ladies have told me (in nice ways) when my writing sucks, along with when my ending's abrupt, when my beginning has no hook, when I start to ramble. They provide invaluable assistance. They're also generous with praise (when my writing warrants it) and resources.
  • Local and Out-of-Town Blogging Friends--Being able to get nudged by writing friends keeps me honest. Recently I had lunch with some writers, and over lunch, each of us shared what we were currently working on. There was no hiding behind excuses and made-up stuff. What was I truly working on? What was I procrastinating about?
  • My friends and family (or at least some of my family members)--My daughter has a row of Chicken Soup for the Soul books on her bookshelf (because she's proud of the stories I've gotten published). My son says, "That's great," when I get something accepted, and I get an embrace from the best hugger I know. (CS books are not even close to his thing.) I have a few friends who are not writers; one summer, the teachers I taught threw me a "book signing" party, complete with a photo session. I felt like I was Margaret Atwood. My husband is even less interested in my stories than my son. All he does is check where my story falls in the anthology. (In his addled mind, the stories in the front are the better pieces.)

      Who has impacted your writing the most? 

       Last weekend, writing this post made me look up Mr. Gates. Through, I found a Greg Gates the right age, in St. Charles. I drove over, knocked on the door, and told his wife I was looking for Greg Gates who used to teach at Hazelwood West. She called back into the house, "Greg, there's a former student to see you." In an instant, over forty years were cast aside.

      How about it? How about writing a letter or telling someone in person how they've impacted your writing? It might just make their day (and yours).

Sioux is a now a teacher because of Mr. Miya, Mr. Gates and Mrs. Wright. She is also a dog rescuer for Love a Golden, and is a freelance writer. You can read more of her musings by checking out her blog.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Your High School Science Teacher was Wrong (and your creative writing instructor was, too)

by Gila Green

Writers must think about description. A lot.

We're told to paint in words, and to use vivid prose. But there's one piece of description-writing advice we hear most: Five Senses.

What many writing instructors really mean by this is to drop the visual emphasis and dip into sound, smell, taste and touch. Mostly, we're diligent about it. On paper every meal becomes a sensual, olfactory, mouth watering experience, or the opposite: even hot Turkish coffee cannot perk our wilted heroines.

Turns out this old-school advice needs a reboot and this is great news for your writing. There may be as many as seven or twenty-one human senses. There are whole worlds of senses to integrate into our descriptions, and no reason to recycle the same old five page after page.

What about incorporating equilibrioception (our sense of balance) into a character? Magnetoception anyone? This is the ability to detect magnetic fields, which is truly handy when you're trying to get somewhere. There are a myriad of ways these senses can be applied to fantasy, sci-fi, magical, horror or realism.

Is your character oblivious to time? The ability to perceive long vs. short periods of time passing may come from two different parts of our brain, but either way, it's a great sense to manipulate in your writing. Who doesn't have it? What are the stakes? One class participant based a story around it. It was about a couple who longed to move to Mexico because they couldn't fit into their time-conscious American society. Ouch! That brings me to pain receptors that are entirely separate from our overall sense of touch. How about a character with a very high or very low pain tolerance?

Proprioception is yet another sense you may not have heard of. It's the ability to distinguish your body from the rest of the world and move it (i.e., we can scratch our feet without looking because we know where they are). What about a character that lacks proprioception? She can't scratch her back without help. She can't find it.

So, should we ditch the five senses? No. But do add to your writer's toolkit when it comes to description. Even the ones we know can sport a new look. Take smell. Many of us learned humans have a weak olfactory system (compared to dogs or elephants, for example). That's a myth. We can sniff over one trillion scents.

Say goodbye to "my character can only pick up on overpowering smells like coffee and baked bread" and explore this sense without worrying that it's unrealistic or reserved for super powers.

As for taste, sweet, sour, salty and bitter are so yesterday. We have savory (cheese, meat) and maybe even fat and calcium. Scientists are split on that, but we're not. Go ahead. Make your heroine bite into that sandwich and be disgusted or charmed by the fatty sharp calcium taste. It will make your story that much more fresh and delicious to read.


Want to make your story come alive for the reader? Join Gila's latest WOW! Women on Writing class: Writing Fiction: Setting and Description, a four week course starting on Monday, January 8, 2018.
Early registration is recommended!

Gila Green's  young adult novel No Way Home is forthcoming from Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Her first novel, King of the Class was released by NON Publishing (Vancouver, 2013). Her short stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines in the US, Canada, Australia, Israel, and Hong Kong. Her collection, White Zion, is a finalist for the Doris Bakwin Award (Carolina Wren Press), and her work has been short-listed for WordSmitten’s TenTen Fiction Contest, the Walrus Literary Award, the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award, and the Ha’aretz Short Fiction Award. Her short stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines including Fiction Magazine, Akashic Books, Many Mountains Moving, The Saranac Review, Jewish Fiction, Pilot Pocket Books, The Dalhousie Review and Noir Nation. Please visit:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Seeing Your Work in a Different Light
Yesterday I received an e-mail about an upcoming writing contest. After taking a break from submitting to contests for a while, I have begun dusting off some of my work and taking a chance. This contest caught my eye because it is a Cinematic Short Story Contest—meaning, you submit short fiction that may have cinematic appeal.

I sat back and thought about this. Some of the doubt I have about my own writing ability revolves around me sometimes making things a little too bland—I think my pacing and character development are okay, but there are times I feel a piece may seem more like it’s written for a TV series, or even a play. It lacks the beautiful prose and literary devices I admire in other writers. I thought that perhaps this sort of contest could is a place where some of my writing projects would have a better fit? The fact that the judges are from film and TV production company and two magazines (one mainstream and one literary) also provides a good breadth of professionals examining the work. Two of my projects (one a flash fiction piece and the other a short story around 2,000 words) popped into my mind, and writers can submit anything up to 20,000-word novellas for this competition. I think sometimes you have take a step back and consider possibilities for your writing that you’ve never thought of before—see things in a different light. Contests can really help with this.

When interviewing one of the winners of WOW’s Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest I came across this topic (the interview will run on Dec. 26, so don’t miss it)! The author told me her entry was originally part of a feature script that she was working on in order to use it in representation pitches. In trying to complete the script in a month she grew burned out on the project and frustrated. She put it away for a few weeks and when she revisited it, she decided to try it as a much shorter prose piece, which ended up winning second place in our contest. If she hadn’t decided to take a different direction, that story/feature script could still be sitting on her hard drive.

The first novel I ever wrote was part of the “Book in a Month” Challenge (similar to NaNoWriMo). It couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be. It was third person, part in the present, part in the past, during a time period I was in high school. There were multiple characters and backstories woven together that weren’t really necessary. So a few years later I decided to pare it down and tell it from the POV of one teenage character and have it be a young adult novel. I think it worked a lot better (it still needs help to this day) but I had to put it away for a time before finding it a much different home.

Do you have any projects that took a detour from your original plan? Or do you have something sitting on your hard drive that may need a fresh approach? I’d love to hear about it!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also works as a marketing and development director at a nonprofit theatre company. Visit her website at

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Case for Powerful Flashbacks

There seems to be a trend lately--with storytelling in movies, television shows, and books--to use flashbacks to deepen the plot. It's not a new literary device--that's for sure. But I remember going to conferences, when I first started seriously writing about 18 years ago, and speakers talked about using flashbacks at a minimum and only when absolutely necessary.

Now look at the popularity of the television show, This Is Us, and all the critical acclaim those writers are receiving--and it's well-deserved. The show is half flashbacks, at least. I am also reading a book, What Alice Forgot, about a woman who bumps her head and forgets 10 years of her life. But throughout the book, the author, Liane Moriarty, uses flashbacks, which are even earlier than the 10 years she forgot, to reveal what Alice's life was like as child and as a young adult. Trends come and go--multiple viewpoints were popular for a while as well as using present tense to tell a story--and I'm sure you can think of many more. I mean, that's a trend--it comes and goes, but I love this flashback one!

My writing group members recently had a discussion about revealing crucial information to the "present-day" plot in a flashback. During this discussion, I thought about this novel draft I had been writing and having trouble with--I had felt stuck and like it was the most terrible manuscript I had ever written--and then I thought, WAIT! I could start in the "present" and flashback, instead of trying to tell a linear story.

Would This Is Us be as popular if it wasn't for the elaborate and clever flashbacks?  No. Would I be out of my writing funk with this novel if it wasn't for the possibility of using a flashback? No. But here's the funny thing. When I googled some information about flashbacks for this post, I came upon this post on author Jennifer Scolluar's website , and one of the first lines is exactly what I was mentioning above. Her writing mentor, Sydney Smith, writes, "A fellow writer told me recently there is a hard and fast rule that prohibits writers from using flashbacks. That was news to me!" Apparently, Sydney hadn't been at the same writing conferences as me back in the early 2000s, but at least I had confirmation that I didn't make that up about authors who shun flashbacks.

Sydney goes on to say, "Think of Wuthering Heights – Nellie Dean tells Mr Lawrence the history of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. Through her diary, Catherine tells Mr Lawrence more about her relationship with Heathcliff and why he went away. So much of the novel is told in flashbacks of one sort or another that if you take them out, almost nothing would be left." Right? The same is true for This is Us.

So all this thinking about and enjoying flashbacks made me draw a couple conclusions:

1. If you are going to use a flashback, you need a good reason--it is the best way to tell this story, to reveal character traits, to work in the crucial backstory.

2. The anti-flashback movement is similar to the anti-prologue movement or the anti-anthropomorphic advice for picture book writers. Somehow, a few people decided these were no good and got others to jump on the bandwagon. But if your story needs these literary devices and you can write them well, then go for it.

What about you use flashbacks in your fiction? Do you enjoy stories with flashbacks? 

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. She teaches a novel course for WOW! each month, which includes 4 critiques of your work-in-progress. To check out more about her, go to To check out her next class starting January 5, go to the WOW! classroom. 

typewriter photo above by alexkerhead on