Category Archives: Writers Groups

Why is the time all gone?


Summer is nearly half over… I’m trying to let that sink in. In fact, since I leave for Andros on August 7, get back the 17th, then leave for Uganda September 12, I think we can say it’s more than halfway done. That’s depressing, because I love summer! And I had big plans… *sigh*

This weekend, I’m holing up with two friends for a girls writing weekend (and author photo shoot!). I need it! I’ve written some on Darian’s War, but not nearly what I’d hoped by this time. It’s not so much that I’ve been procrastinating, it’s just that there are other priorities. My husband and I spent five days away, ALONE. What???? Yep, five days, no kids, no pets. So yeah, I wrote. But not so much. The August trip is for a youth camp with 50 kids, so that’s taking some time to organize. I’ve got to get visas for the Uganda trip, and (of course) I lost the passport photos I had, so we had to go do them again. I’m setting up an online store that has a bit of a time-dependent deadline. I am desperately trying to get back to exercise.

So all the time is leaking away, and I’m not where I wanted to be by July 9, 2013. And looking at the next month, I’m wondering if I’ll even get close. My hidden type-A is starting to panic a bit, while my outer type -B is passing it a beer. “Chill!” type-B says. “It’s summer!”

I love writing. I love talking about writing. I worked my fanny off over the last year and a half, and wouldn’t change a thing. But sometimes I think I forget how to breathe. The economy isn’t great and maybe I’m a bit panicked, and there’s this thing called momentum that I’m supposed to be riding. “Write the next book!” is great advice, and I followed it. I wrote and published six books in a year and a half. I have the final IXEOS started, a new Quinn planned for NaNo, and a couple of other ideas for early 2014.

And yet… It’s summer. Life is supposed to be slow. I don’t want things to pass by so fast that I don’t appreciate them. My daughter just got married – I want to take time with them while we all still live in the same city. My son is leaving for six weeks to Uganda in a month. I won’t see him for almost four weeks (until I get to Uganda myself), and he just gave his notice at his job so he can have some time off before he leaves. I want to enjoy his company while I have it. My husband will be doing some speaking events starting in August and September, so he’s going to be traveling. Well, we both will, but we seem to be filling all the calendar days with being gone, just not at the same time. So I want to spend as much time with him as I can before then.

The good thing about being an indie is that you’re the boss. You can decide when you’re going to write and when you’re going to work, not just what and how you write. The bad thing about being an indie (or self-employed in any way) is that you end up working all the time, or feeling guilty when you’re not. Time is spreading out behind me, and I can’t get it back. I’m making the conscious decision to grab it for the rest of the summer. Yes, I’ll get Darian’s War finished. Yes, I’ll keep up with the blog and the guest posts I’m doing for tours. But I’m going to breathe. I’m going to live. I’m going to work on my tan, feel the summer breeze in my hair, and spend as much time around saltwater as I can.

Summer 2013 is well under way, and we’ll never see her again. Let’s seize the moment!



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Writers Workshop Blog Tour Starts Today!

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Today is the start of the Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour! I’ll have a guest post on Wednesday, May 8th. Meanwhile, enjoy this excerpt from the book:

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“Nothing fills a page faster than dialogue,” the writer said.

There it is, the blank page or screen, the intimidating and recurring challenge every writer must face. The temptation is to fill that page as quickly as possible, to advance the narrative however you can. Often the easiest way to do that, even for writers who are not masters of dialogue, is to get the characters talking. A few A few writers are even bold enough to begin novels or stories with a line of dialogue, something I don’t recommend unless you possess the skills of the early Robert A Heinlein, who began his story “Blowups Happen” with the suspenseful line: “Put down that wrench!” Orson Scott Card also opened his popular novel Ender’s Game with a piece of dialogue that immediately rouses the reader’s curiosity: “‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.” Writing good and convincing dialogue is usually enough of a challenge without relying on it to hook a reader right at the beginning of one’s story. Writing dialogue, whatever the difficulties, is generally easier than, for example, crafting descriptive passages, offering insights into a character’s psychology, creating vigorous and absorbing action scenes, or presenting necessary exposition in a graceful way.

 Writers who harbor dreams of scriptwriting may be especially prone to fill pages with dialogue, but others also succumb, partly because dialogue is a shortcut and a very useful one. Sometimes a few well-chosen words of conversation can accomplish as much in a story as pages of description and exposition. There are also a fair number of readers who are more absorbed by stretches of repartee than by beautifully and poetically rendered descriptions. (Writers meet these people all the time; they’re the ones who tell you they skip all the dull parts, often meaning those carefully wrought passages that cost you so much effort.) Better just to cut to the chase, or in this case, drop in on the conversation.


The strength of dialogue—namely that it can be a useful shortcut—is also its weakness. Writers who rely too much on dialogue risk leaving too much out. The writer may hear the characters clearly and easily envision the scene, but that doesn’t mean that the reader will. (In a review of a novel some years back, Joanna Russ wrote that passages in that book seemed to be largely about names drinking cups of coffee, noticing the designs of ashtrays, or riffing on the furnishings in a room, the characters were so indistinguishable.) The beginning writer is likely to produce dialogue in which the reader will find it hard to tell one character from another. The useful shortcut can produce a story that is sketchy, in which too much has been left out

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NaNoWriMo – the Survivor and Thriver’s Guide

Ah… October. As a Florida girl, I do love summer. But when it’s over, when I can’t go to the beach anymore, then Fall needs to just move on up. And, since last year, there’s another reason besides cowboy boots and cool days – NaNoWriMo! (I’ve written a lot about NaNo here, and about it’s detractors and why I think they’re wrong, so feel free to explore the blog for those!)

For those who are new to it, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Their slogan is “30 days and nights of literary madness.” The goal is to write 50,000 words towards a new novel during the month of November (to save you the math, that’s 1667 words a day). You can do other things: Fan fiction, a short story collection, a screenplay, a memoire. But then you’re called a rebel. No one turns you away – but the real point is to do what everyone at some point in their life thinks or says: WRITE A NOVEL.

Of course, many follow that up with, “How hard can it be?” Most of those never write one, so they never find out. Many others spend years, even decades, trying to do it. It’s a serious endeavor, right? It needs time. It needs planning. It needs pondering. It needs careful crafting and a thesaurus and agonizing over every word.

Except when it doesn’t. Chris Baty, the founder of NaNo, had this crazy idea over a decade ago – to write a novel in a month. Not necessarily a good novel, mind you. He was not against throwing in aliens and zombies, a deaf person that required lots of repeated dialogue, or anything else that, in the middle two weeks when you’ve run out of ideas, you can throw in. He readily admitted — celebrated, in fact — that most of the novels thus produced would be crap. His point was that that was okay. You have to give yourself permission to write crap, or you won’t ever write anything.

If you’re doing NaNo, I definitely encourage you to get his book No Plot, No Problem. A few things have changed since he wrote it. You used to not be allowed to even plan until the week before the event, for instance. Now some people start planning on December 1st (not me, I think those people are crazy… But some people!). I’ve done 4 NaNo events since last November 1, so I’m coming up to my 5th. I’ve learned a few things, which I thought I’d share. I’d love to hear your survivor/thriver’s tips, too!

Join the activity on the forums. As I write this, there are 9,039 people on the NaNo forums (there’s a number at the bottom of the page, I didn’t just make that up or do some complicated hacking). During November, there will be 175,000+ on at any given time, from all around the world. While the forums can be used as a brilliant procrastination tool, they really are encouraging. Everyone is pushing hard for the same goal; everyone is punchy and grouchy and ecstatic and exhausted, just like you. There are forums for every conceivable age group, genre, and topic. You can make friends that will carry on well past November 30, plus get over that hump you can’t seem to climb on your own.

Join your region. I actually belong to 3 regions: North Carolina: Raleigh-Durham; North Carolina: Elsewhere; and Africa: Elsewhere. The reason for that is that we have a little house on the coast, and there are people there doing NaNo (that’s the “NC: Elsewhere), and I travel frequently to Africa (and write about it sometimes). So I want to see what people are doing. But your own region, where you live, can be quite active. Ours in RDU is, and there are a ton of parties, write-ins, workshops and other activities that go on before, during and after November. Each region also has a chat room, which is great for encouragement and silliness, and, one of my favorite things, word wars. One of the people I met in my region and I started a local writers group after NaNo, so you never know who you’ll find in your community.

Do at least some planning. A lot of people on NaNo are known as “pantsers,” meaning they go into November 1 with absolutely no idea what they’re going to write about. Others are “plotters” and have extensive outlines, scene sketches, character portfolios and the like all ready to go by midnight October 31. I haven’t seen any official survey by OLL (the Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit that runs NaNo) about who wins and who doesn’t, but from reading forums, I think more plotters than pantsers cross the 50k mark. However, I’m not a plotter. I’m also not a pantser. I go into NaNo knowing the following: my main characters; most of the locations they’ll go to; the storyline, in general, from start to finish. That’s pretty much it. I make up my secondary characters and scenes as I go, keeping in mind where the book is headed.

Here’s what that looked like for my November 2011 story. I knew I was going to write a treasure hunt adventure, and I had determined the places where the clues and treasure would be. There were 7 in all. Because my goal was to finish the novel, I decided that each location would average 15,000 words (ish), which would make the finished book 105,000 words (ish). I had 2 storylines, one in the 1680s to establish the clues and treasure, and one in modern day to find them. I knew the main characters for both. That’s what I knew on November 1. Thankfully, Google Earth and Wikipedia and Bing Images and other internet sites let me do more extensive research as I went along. (Thankfully too, Homeland Security apparently wasn’t monitoring my searches!) The rest I let flow, with the knowledge that they always had to get from point A to point B to point C, etc. Especially for your first attempt, having at least a vague map can be really helpful after the adrenaline of week 1 has passed and you’re in the doldrums of weeks 2 and 3.

Don’t edit. Most people agree with this, some disagree, but I will tell you that the single biggest hindrance to getting 50,000 words written is your inner editor. We all have one — the shrillness of its voice depends on our level of perfectionism. The point of NaNo is just to write. You’re writing a first draft, not War and Peace. First drafts can and will suck. Get over it. The best way to get over it is not to read it. Ever. Until after November 30. When I’m mid-NaNo, I read the last couple of paragraphs at most, just to see where I left off. If, like happened with my August Camp NaNo project, I have to take several days off, I might read the last section, just to make sure I remember what’s going on. That’s it. And I don’t edit it at that point at all.

If you are a serious perfectionist, there are some tricks. Make your font white, so you can’t see what you’re writing. If you write a paragraph that you immediately hate, make only that paragraph white. Do not delete! You are going for 50k words. No one at NaNo is going to read it – the validator is just going to count the words in about 10 seconds and that’s it. Don’t get rid of precious words until after they’ve been counted! Even if you get 5,000 words into it, decide you hate the story, and start another, just start the new one. Never, ever delete in November! Never. Ever. Delete.

Also, never, ever insert. If you realize that you need a scene way back on page 57 to set up your main character (MC) as a psycopath, don’t go way back to page 57. Just write it where you are, in a different color. Make a note on the pad where you’ve scribbled all your research and character sketches and the name of the guy in Chapter Two that you’ll never remember when he comes back in Chapter 10. Fix it later. Why? Because if you go back to insert it, you’ll have to read to figure out where exactly to put it. When you start to read, you will start to edit. And the whole point of this tip is what? Do. Not. Edit.

Figure out your schedule. November is a great month for NaNo except for one eensy weensy little problem. Thanksgiving. If you’re not responsible for Thanksgiving in any way, and merely show up at someone’s house, it still will take most of a day. If, like me, you’re the mom who cooks the whole thing, plus cleans the house, plus sets the fancy table, plus does the shopping… Don’t even think about writing on Thanksgiving.

I have learned that I need some days off during a month of writing, especially since my goal is always to finish the novel, not stop at 50,000 words (I just do better that way – here’s why). If I don’t, I get mentally and physically exhausted. If I take a day here or there off, I can recharge and write more the other days. I’ve written a blog post on how I do this, but here’s the bottom line: If you’re going to take Thanksgiving off, have a wedding to go to, and want a mental-health day, that leaves you 27 writing days. So instead of 1667 words a day, you need 1852. Every day, write at least 1852 words, and you have those 3 days off, guilt free. Don’t plan for them, and you might be panicking by the end.

Realize that the middle 2 weeks will suck. They will. Deal with it. Slog through anyway. During week 1 you’ve got excitement, adrenaline, panic… You’re off and running. Maybe you write 23,000 words that week, and you’re halfway, and you think, “What is wrong with these people? This is a piece of cake!” Well, hold on to your hat, because it’s about to take a nose dive. Those middle two weeks – which, not coincidentally coincide with the middle of the novel, are tough. You’re tired. The beginning and end of books are always more exciting than the middle, so maybe you’re bored, or you just don’t know how to take the story to the end, or the characters aren’t doing what you thought they would and you don’t know where to go from here. Your family’s a bit cranky because you’re spending so much time writing, mumbling, taking notes on napkins, and not sleeping. You don’t talk about anything but your book. You’re obsessed, but writing feels like trying to walk through quicksand.

Take heart! The other 250,000 people around the world doing what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, feel exactly the same way! That’s why planning your daily word count goal is important. Sometimes you just have to sit down and write, and it might be crap, and that’s okay. You’ll fix it later. Just write. Even when it sucks. Because the last week is just around the corner, and the excitement will mount again, and, if you’re still shy of 50k the adrenaline will kick in again, and one day soon you’ll cross that finish line, go to the Shoutout thread in the forums, and say, “I DID IT!”

Prepare your family in advance. When I did my first NaNo, I had no idea how long I’d be writing each day. I went into hyper-organization (not a state I can maintain for very long!), because I didn’t want my family to starve (or interrupt my writing with complaining). Our meals have never been better planned, and I never had such efficient grocery trips as I did during November 2011. I told my family (repeatedly) in October: “This is what I’m doing. I will do it and finish it. You all will have to fend for yourselves in areas you might not normally, and you’ll have to not complain (well, if you complain, I’ll ignore you), and you’ll have to get over it.” I explained what it was, that no there is no prize except a web badge and a certificate, there’s no contest, etc., but that it would take a lot of my time. For one month. They could spare me for one month. I repeated this until they (sort of) believed it. As it turned out, as long as they were fed, all was well… But I credit that to the advance notice. Put your foot down, be organized, stick to your word.

Just do it. Decide you’re going to, and do it. Don’t “hope” to do it. Don’t “try” to do it. Just do it. If it sucks, you never have to print it off or show it to anyone else, ever. But you will have proven you can. And that’s worth a lot.

If you’re already a WriMo, let me know your strategies; if this November is your first time at it, let me know how it goes. And look me up on NaNo. My screen name is jswwrites. I’ll be your buddy. :o)

(We’re now required to put in this disclaimer for anything containing ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘National Novel Writing Month’:  “This is not an official NaNoWriMo site, and the content has not been reviewed by National Novel Writing Month. For more information on National Novel Writing Month, visit”)


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And finally… part 3

The 3rd section of questions is about the print version of the book, the last thing they format. Obviously this wasn’t too tough. OK, I say that, but I haven’t finalized the back cover blurb yet. That’s disturbingly like a query letter, which I am apparently genetically incapable of producing.

For the print formatting, we’ll need the following:

–        Blurb for back cover
–        Trim size – the final size the book will be when printed. Here are the options:
o    5” x 8”
o    5.06” x 7.81”
o    5.25” x 8”
o    5.5” x 8.5” (commonly used size)
o    6” x 9” (commonly used size)
o    6.14” x 9.21”
o    6.69” x 9.61”
o    7” x 10”
o    7.44” x 9.69”
o    7.5” x 9.25”
o    8” x 10”
o    8.5” x 11”
–        Type of paper – cream or white. We recommend cream, as the words tend to vibrate on white paper, which can cause problems with some readers.

I chose 5.5″ x 8.5″ for the paperback; cream paper; and YES, I (we) are working on the blurb. BTW, have you ever noticed that a lot of back cover blurbs are apparently written by people who never read the book? Have you ever been reading a book and gone back to re-read that blurb, because what you were reading wasn’t what you thought you were buying? Another benefit of self-publishing – I, at least, know what the book is about!

I got my author website up… Drumroll please. OK, it was a 5 page free website on GoDaddy, and the template was already there, so I don’t take a lot of credit. BUT, it’s there, it’s accurate, it’s super duper highly incredibly informative (ha!), and it’s FREE!

Interesting side note, after going back and forth with an industry contact on publishing a non-fiction book – it needs to be out before November, and, of course, that’s nigh on impossible with the publishing industry – it looks like he will self-publish as well. We had a meeting on it yesterday (after many years in business together, we still find it helpful to schedule meetings on specific things!). So I will post some information on that as we go, since his is non-fiction vs my fiction, he will probably have illustrations (cartoon-type) where I have none (this changes the pricing and formatting stuff a bit), and he’s doing a trade paperback. Also, his is a timely current-events type thing, and so his marketing will have to be a blitz campaign.

Just came across this very interesting article posted by someone in my writers’ group. If you’re interested in self-publishing, it’s definitely worth a read!

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