Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Red Herrings

The topic of red herrings is a big one.  There are a million ways to distract or mislead a reader.


There’s really only one strategy to building a red herring: figure out the reader’s expectations and feed them information relating to that expectation, then sent the plot careening off in another direction.

Reader Expectations

The story you didn't write has to be as interesting as the one you actually wrote.

The real trick is discovering what readers expect.  Part of the reason that it’s so important to keep up with your reading (and watching TV/film, and playing video games…) is that expectations change.  The expectations of someone who watches forensics shows on TV are going to be different than those of a longtime Agatha Christie reader.

But once you’re in front of a blank page, how can you work red herrings into your story? (And do you have to plot it all out ahead of time in order to pull it off?)

Your main weapon, whether you plot as you go or plot ahead of time, is going to be something called Wilhelm’s Law, after science fiction and mystery author Kate Wilhelm:

Throw away your first three ideas.

Now, using Wilhelm’s Law while writing fiction is a good idea in most cases anyway; instead of writing predictable stories, you’ll usually end up with a story that reflects you personally as a writer.  But a side effect of taking in a lot of stories is that those first three ideas will pop out as being what most readers would expect.

Let’s say you’re writing a murder mystery and we want to test Wilhelm’s Law.  Who done it?

  • The butler.
  • The significant other.
  • Whoever profits by the crime.

Those first three ideas are something that anyone could come up with, right?

Those first three ideas might make really good red herrings.

Let’s say that the real killer was someone recently humiliated by the victim and “accidentally” didn’t save the victim when the victim fell into a lake while tangled in a rope.  Oops, can’t swim! 

Your job, as a writer, might be to make sure that your story has a butler character who might have done it, a significant other who might have done it, and a scuzzy niece who just happened to have been seen near the scene of the crime (and who is now blackmailing the real “killer” and will get murdered in the last 50 pages of the novel).

You can do this on the fly, editing to make sure that your red herrings actually fit the bill, or you can plan it out ahead of time: whatever suits.

However, you must keep up with your intake of stories!  Otherwise, you may not know that the red herrings and plot twist that you just planned out have already been discovered by other writers and done to death! 

Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice…

There are two ways to deceive the reader using Wilhelm’s Law.  One depends on deceiving the characters within the story, which means the reader will also be deceived (as in our example above). 

The other depends on deceiving the reader without necessarily deceiving the characters.

In the first type of red herring, the POV character might think the killer is one person, but it’s really another.  Characters might lie, leave out details, or shade the truth. The bad guy might not be the real bad guy, but someone else’s puppet.  You can set up red herrings within the plot in lots of ways. 

In the second type of red herring, the way the book itself is written is what deceives the readers.  One example is the misleading title.  One of my favorite books is called John Dies at the End.  Hint:  John does not die at the end!

You might also:

  • Start a story with a prologue featuring events that happen toward the end of the book, but do not happen in the way the reader might expect.
  • Start a story with a POV character who gets killed off right away, or in the middle of the book (George R.R. Martin does both in A Game of Thrones).
  • Set up a cliché, then overturn it (the bumbling housewife in The Long Kiss Goodnight is set up to be rescued by the world-savvy spy Samuel L. Jackson, which is not the case).
  • End a scene by hinting at some event, and starting the next scene with something that seems like that event but isn’t (The Princess Bride, when Buttercup has her nightmare of having already married Humperdink).

Each instance of deception is crafted in the same way: identify what the reader expects, give them a hint to confirm their expectations, and let them deceive themselves.  (Letting readers do most of the work to fool themselves is usually a pretty good strategy.)  But instead of using Wilhelm’s Law on the plot itself, you’re using it on the story structure and other elements.

As an example, let’s say you’re writing a domestic suspense novel.  Readers expect the titles of that kind of novel (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Wife Between Us, Lie to Me,etc.) should:

  • Have a pronoun in the title.
  • Have “girl,” “woman,” or “wife” in the title.
  • Have a one-syllable negative word, like “Lie” “Die” “Sharp” or “Last.”

Those are reader expectations.  If you wanted to play on those expectations, you might name your book “My Daughter’s Last Lie” and imply that she’s dead and the mom is searching for her killer, but instead have the daughter on the run because she told the truth about her (KGB sleeper agent) mother.

Often, what works best is using both techniques at the same time.  There’s a lie within the plot, and you use elements of the story itself to reinforce the expectations related to that lie.              

Warning:  Beginning writers often write stories where the narrator withholds information from readers in a disappointing, cheesy, ill-considered manner.  This is not a proper red herring technique! 

Oh, so the evil invaders from outer space were really humans all along, were they?  Yawn.

Oh, so the first-person narrator dies at the end?  Never seen that before!  Yawn.

But being forewarned is forearmed, because now you know that plot twists and red herrings don’t come from completely reversing reader expectations, but knowing them so well that you can one-up them.

A good rule of thumb for red herring success: 

The story that you didn’t write has to be as interesting as the one you actually wrote.

I know, it sounds weird.  But think of any story with a letdown plot twist.  Personally, I hate the movie Bridge to Terabithia.*  It starts out as a pair of kids imagining a cool fantasy world.  Then (spoiler alert) it turns into a book about death.  The red herring story is much more interesting than the story about coping with death.  The red herring needs to be as interesting as the actual story, too.  You’re not fooling anyone with a stereotyped butler character! 

The thing about red herrings is that they play with reader expectations—but you can’t just overturn reader expectations with a sneer.  Readers need to know that you respect the stories that they love and not just being mean.  What readers love is when you surprise them—not when you show them contempt.

*It feels like the story punishes people who like fantasy over realism in their fiction.  Pooh, I say. 

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

With all the new developments here at Pikes Peak Writers I’m not sure if I can contain my excitement. PPW started as a writing conference and has grown to so much more. They continue to spread their wings and soar to new heights. Read on for more.


Did you receive the first PPW Newsletter? What a fantastic job Kim Olgren did to bring this to fruition. If you missed the debut issue go to the membership page to join PPW. It’s FREE, and so is the newsletter.

Can you say, ANTHOLOGY?

I am excited to announce another addition to the Pikes Peak Writers toolbox. Can you say, ANTHOLOGY? The planning is still in the early stages, but PPW is publishing an anthology! The editorial team is being assembled along with the theme and publication details. Watch the website, social media, and this blog for information to come.

This Month in Writing from the Peak

To kick off PPW’s anthology announcement, Jamie Ferguson has written two posts on writing for an anthology. If you are interested in submitting to PPW’s, or if you have your eye on one of the many wonderful publications out there, you need to read both articles. DeAnna Knippling throws a Red Herring your way, and Leilah Wright has Advice for the Beginning Writer. Get A K.I.S.S. of Comedy from Rebekka R.J. Rowley then wrap it with inspiration found in Gabrielle Brown’s bi-monthly Lit-Quotes.


It will be another amazing year at conference. Will you be there? This a great place to meet new people (It Takes a Tribe!), and the workshops will be phenomenal. Registration is open. Don’t miss this fantastic conference. You’ll find all the details here. Find your Tribe at #PPWC2019!

Spread Your Wings!

How are you spreading your wings this month? Are you starting a new project, or pruning the feathers on your WIP? Whatever you are working on, do it with purpose. Write with conviction. Make every word soar on the wind. Be the best you can be. WRITE!

KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.

Best Business Practices for the Writer

All the best this year for you word slingers out there. I hope your holiday season was full of joy and meaning. But now it’s time to get back on the horse and get going with that manuscript. I have decided that this is the year that I self-publish a couple of novellas and a couple of novels.

As I began to write down all of the details I would have to keep track of in order to publish,  I realized that what I was doing was project management. Managing an editor, formatter, learning about marketing and email lists, it all seemed super daunting. That’s when I noticed that my wife, the Fetching Mrs. Evans, did exactly the same thing as a business owner. That’s when the lightning struck: I was starting a business.

You must act like you're running a business and embrace these best practices.

Now, whether or not you plan to self-publish or get a traditional contract, is inconsequential. Whether you’ve got one book in you or a couple of book series, doesn’t matter, either. It is not enough to claim the mantle of artist while writing your book. You must act like you’re running a business and embrace these best business practices.

Be of service to the writing community.

            I like to say we need to practice literary citizenship. By this I mean we should be of service to one another. I have beta-read stories from half a dozen authors. I have blogged on other author’s sights. I have mentored new writers. I do this because, like a responsible business, I feel I have a responsibility to the community. The results? Every single story I’ve had published was because someone told me about an opportunity.

Surround yourself with talented people and treat them well.

            If you self-publish you will need an editor, beta-readers, and a cover artist. Depending on your subject, you might need a formatter and sensitivity readers, too. Find these people, treat them well and don’t mess around with their money. Show them your appreciation with kind words and respecting their work. Publishing a book is not a solo endeavor. It takes a village, people.

Use Contracts

            It can be scary signing a contract. A contract though, is simply stating the expectations of both parties when it comes to work, compensation and time frame. In the long run, a good contract will protect both you and the person you’re working with.

            You don’t have to sign your name on a contract you don’t like. Negotiate for what you want. If you’re uncomfortable with a contract you’ve signed, talk to the person and see if you can renegotiate. If you can’t, at least you have a document that clarifies what you’re paying for the the agreed upon expectations.

Be wise with your expenses and keep track of everything

            While there are those people out there that can throw bags of cash at their writing hobby, most of us should be on a budget. We should be tracking our expenses, as well as our sells for a couple of reasons. Chiefly so we know if we’re spending money wisely. Why pour hard earned money down a hole? But you also want to know when you’ve spent money wisely, too. For example, let’s say you’ve spent money on Facebook adds for your book. Unless you’re tracking when the ads appeared and any sales spikes, you’ll never know if those ads worked.

            In reality though, you’ll want to keep track of your spending because the government will give you a tax break on your book if you treat it like a business. Even if you sell just one copy, you now qualify for a Schedule C return to list all your expenses.

Manage your brand

            This is a broad category that includes everything from creating a publishing logo to keeping your reputation spotless. Will you need to incorporate to self-publish a book? Absolutely not. But having someone design a logo for your book to be published under can help a lot. (Amazon readers associate quality and professionalism with publishing houses – any publishing house.)

            Essentially, you want readers and other writers to associate your name and your novel with quality. That means taking your work seriously and putting your best foot forward. It also means cultivating a reputation for yourself and your business that it above reproach. In other words, don’t be a jerk.

I have seen writers become persona non grata within the Denver writing community because they gained a reputation for stabbing people in the back or drinking too heavily at conventions. I have also seen a person’s reputation grow as more and more praise was heaped on them for being open and hospitable with their time.

Life is funny. In 2004 I moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. I dedicated myself to public education and realized my heart was not in it. So I moved on. At the same time I stumbled into a creative world of art and literature I now call home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile. You can catch up with Jason Evans on his Facebook Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.

How to Self-Publish and Keep Your Sanity

Traditional publishing has been inundated with submissions for years, and way back when, your only recourse was to make your manuscript stand out. You had to find that one idea, that one story that was different from anything else to get published.

Not to fear! Self-publishing has made it possible for authors who have a story to tell to get their work published. It’s not that self-published books are bad. Far from it! I’ve read many books that were self- published and have won awards.

If you want your work to stand out among the others, make it the best it can be.

How does one go about doing this self-publishing thing?

An author must wear many hats when they self-publish their book. First, make sure your manuscript is ready. Has it been critiqued? Given to a beta reader? Edited? All those things are a must before you even think about submitting it. If you want your work to stand out among the others, make it the best it can be. Sure, there are some who just want to put their book out there and say they’ve published a book. But if it’s riddled with errors, no one will buy it.

Correct Formatting

You’ll want to make sure that your manuscript is formatted correctly. If you have the budget, you can send your ms. to a formatter. They will take care of the following steps for you, or if you’re handy with the computer, you can do it yourself. If not, KDP and other self-publishing venues have templates for most trim sizes. Be aware that you’ll have to adjust them if you have more than ten chapters, but they have instructions for you to do that.

If your book will be a trim size of 6 x 9 (or whatever size you choose), you will need to format your ms. to that size. Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to go through the ms. again, to make sure you don’t have any “widows or orphans” (single words or lines on a page by themselves, or at the beginning of a page or end of a paragraph).

Also, justify both right and left margins to get rid of the “ragged” look of the right edge, giving the page a cleaner look. That seems to be the industry standard.

Bind It

Once all that is done, you’ll have a better idea of your page count for the next step. You have to have an allowance for the binding of the book. In your margin settings, set your inside margins to what is specified with the publisher (it’s a different setting with different page counts, so that is why you need a fairly exact number for that), then mirror the margins, so that the left and right pages will have the correct inside margins once the book is bound.

Do you have a cover for it? Most self-publishing sites have a cover generator that you can play with to make your cover for free. Templates can help to make your vision a reality. You can upload a photo you have (make sure it’s high quality) to their templates, pick your font, and then it will go through a cover review to make sure it follows their rules.

If you’ve got some kind of budget for your cover, hiring someone with Photoshop or computer skills can make your cover a one-of-a-kind creation that will stand out. There are several groups on Facebook that are dedicated just to covers, and you can also find some on Fiverr.

If you’re willing to learn, there are tutorials on YouTube that can show you how to create your own cover. You’ll save some money and you’ll have created something that you can be proud of.

At this point you’ll want to upload your manuscript to the publisher. There are quite a few out there to choose from, but make sure you are not sending your baby to a vanity press. What’s a vanity press? A vanity press is a self-publishing company that will publish your manuscript for a fee, usually into the thousands of dollars. What do you get for that money? Not much. They will design a cover for you that anyone could have put together. It’s usually three colors, and it probably won’t catch the essence of your work. Not to mention if you haven’t edited your work, they won’t, either.

Get It Out There

There are so many reputable ways to get your book out there now, but you’ll need to do your homework and check them all out. Create Space has merged with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which seems to be the more popular company. IngramSpark will do it for a set-up fee, and they have a wider distribution that just Amazon, including bookstores.

Once you have uploaded your ms. to the publisher, they will have to review it for errors. That usually takes about 24 hours for the review. If you haven’t done your cover, now is a good time to work on it.

You’ll be notified by email when your ms. has finished the review process. If you don’t have any errors, hurray! You did everything right! If you have errors, look at the notes and go through the online reviewer to fix them. Once that’s done, off to the reviewer again. This is the time consuming process.

While it’s being reviewed, you can pick which markets you want your book distributed in. U.S.? Absolutely. UK? Why not? After you pick where it’s distributed, you can set your price. KDP will give you a minimum price you must be at or above to sell your book for, and you can pick which royalties you prefer. You can always go back and change your price and royalties later if you wish.

You get the email and you’ve finally passed the review stage.  Now what? Is it ready to go? Maybe not quite. I would recommend ordering a proof copy if your book will be in print. That way you can make sure the cover colors are how they should be (I had a book that printed darker than what the computer was showing me, and had to have the cover re-done—thanks, KL Cooper!). Reviewing a physical copy is also a good way to spot any other errors that may have been skimmed over on the online reviewer.

Push Publish

You get your actual print copy of your book and things look good. You can now start to hyperventilate as you hit “Publish.” It will feel good and stress you out at the same time. In roughly 3-5 days, your book will be listed on Amazon. Order your author copies to sell or give away, and crack open the champagne. You’re a published author now!

photo of margin holmesMargena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

The Thriving Writers Toolkit: Insights and Inspiration

January’s Write Brain with Michelle Major and Lana Williams

As a good friend of mine once said, “Sometimes life is one big flea.” Halfway through January, rather than sailing along on a wave of resolute intention, I was struggling to keep my balance. A few weeks before, a loved one’s health crisis combined with the general holiday chaos shattered my plan of finishing the first draft of my current novel by New Year’s Eve. My cherished writing schedule, variables refined over months of trial and error — Earl Grey tea, cool jazz on Pandora, laundry break halfway through — evaporated just like that.

January’s Write Brain helped provide a sorely needed reset for my careworn psyche. Co-presenters Michelle Major and Lana Williams provided a wide variety of strategies to stay focused and in the mindset to produce. More importantly, the two accomplished writers stressed the idea that committing to your dream is an ongoing process. Learning how to enhance your creativity and stay sane along the way is vital to this endeavor.

As Lana and Michelle suggested, try telling yourself that you “get” to write, rather than you “have to write.” Doing so helped me to remember how fortunate I am to have the luxury to indulge in this messy, frustrating, and ultimately joyous creative pursuit at all.

Michelle Major is a best-selling, RITA award-winning author of over twenty sexy and sweet contemporary romances. Visit her website at http://www.michellemajor.com/ for life, love, and happy endings. Lana Williams is a USA Today Bestselling and Amazon All-Star author. Her books are intriguingly described as “Historical romance filled with adventure, mystery and a pinch of paranormal.” Learn more at https://lanawilliams.net/

Robin LabordeThis recap from Write Brain is presented by Robin Laborde, Contributing Editor. Robin is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. She worked as a technical writer for over ten years and has had nonfiction articles published in newspapers and magazines. While she is currently writing a speculative fiction novel set in the near future, she dreams of flying to the moon in a spaceship made from butterfly wings.

Gloria Naylor – Get it Just Right

One should be able to return to the first sentence of a novel and find the resonances of the entire work.

Gloria Naylor (5 Jan 1950 – 28 Sep 2016) saw her debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, (1982) win critical acclaim and become an Emmy-nominated miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey. Gloria’s work includes several more novels and inclusion in anthologies. She taught at Cornell, George Washington University, and Boston University.

How long does it take you to get that first sentence just right?

Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogGabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak, writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Every writer seems to want to shut up the little voice that says, “That thing you’re writing? It’s no good.” Just like we want the magic secret to writing a good story, we want to know the secret switch that turns off every negative thing we ever think about our work.

Like a lot of things in writing, the solution is pretty simple…but not easy.

First, let’s define what’s not a problem. If your inner critic doesn’t keep you from writing what you want to write, it’s not a problem.
Louder, for those in the back: Your inner critic isn’t the problem. Not writing is the problem.

Your inner critic is still part of you, a part that sounds like the parent who never believed in you or the English teacher who hated your writing. That awful voice that’s tearing your work to pieces…

…it’s just you.

To be a good writer, you have to pour yourself into your writing, including the parts you don’t like. Where does a good villain come from? Do happy-go-lucky people write good dark nights of the soul?

A good long-term strategy for writing books embraces your inner critic. You can push yourself through a few books while ignoring that voice. (People push through a lot of things.) But you can’t push yourself through a career.

So how do you get your inner critic to work with you, rather than against you?

Thinking FictionGive your inner critic permission to be heard.

You can’t think your way through fiction. Thinking is part of writing fiction, true, but it isn’t the essence.

Fiction is a simulation, either of this world or of a world of your own creation. You establish the world, characters, and initial problem, and set some guidelines on how the story works.

You know what else is like that? A game.

You can’t play a game by deciding that you already won…and how. We say, “And in the end, this happens and that happens and this is how the reader will feel, and now I will write my book.”

But you have to play the game by playing it: set up the board, the rules, and all the pieces, and…see who wins.

Some writers play that part of the game by outlining first, then writing; others write first, then step back and make sure they didn’t cheat too badly. You can nudge the board a little, but not too much—readers notice.

Set up your story and then trust yourself to work it out. It won’t be easy. But it’s a lot easier than saying, “Everything I write is stupid.”
Different people will find different techniques. It won’t always feel safe—your best techniques might feel almost physically uncomfortable.
But they’ll be the ones that put the words on the page.

Studying Fiction

You can’t both improve as a writer and already be so good that you never need to improve.

Part of your inner critic is right: You’re not as good as you want to be.

But, like all criticism on writing, take it with a grain of salt: your inner critic may not know what is actually wrong. Like a bad critique group, it can start jumping to conclusions.


The rules of fiction don’t matter, if they don’t work for you. What you need to learn is what works for you. And your inner critic can actually help with that.

Study other writers’ works. Chew their gristle in your teeth. Your inner critic may say, “I love that!” and start stealing techniques. It may also say, “I hate that!” and come up with creative ways to avoid whatever “that” is. And if you let your inner critic tear up other writers’ works, it won’t spend so much time on yours.

Don’t just read books about writing, though: the chewing has already been done for you.

Feeling Fiction

At some point, life gets to be too much and you can’t get the words done. It happens. Let’s talk about the gray area where you might or might not get words done, and how to get more words done.

You can do that by allowing your deepest feelings move into your fiction.

In some of us, this will result in darker fiction; in others, paradoxically, it will result in lighter fiction. It varies from story to story. When we open the door between fiction and reality, the results can be unpredictable.

These are the stories that allow us as writers to move forward with our lives, to grieve, to heal, to apologize, to regret, to celebrate, to embrace. Stories are how humans make life make sense. Writing a story can be how you make sense of right here, right now.

But how?

Stop and listen to your inner critic.

“This is stupid” might mean “I can’t pretend anymore that I’m not hurting.”

“I don’t know what to write next” might mean “I don’t know what to do next, either.”

“My character doesn’t want to do what the outline says” might mean “I can’t make myself fit into my own plans either.”

And then respond to how you really feel in your characters’ actions. Just acknowledging what you’re trying to tell yourself can open a magical door that makes everything you write richer.

It comes down to…

What this all comes down to is giving your inner critic permission to be heard. You don’t have to listen uncritically. But please do listen. Your inner critic isn’t there to hurt you, but to warn you that you’re not on the right path. It may not always be accurate, especially if you’ve been ignoring it or if you haven’t done a lot of studying. Your inner critic might be too mad to be fair…and it might be too ignorant to be right.

It can take a while to lower the alarm levels on your inner critic to useful levels. But once you do, your writing will probably feel less like work you have to push through, and more like the enjoyable—and exciting!—game that it really is.


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Sweet Success for DeAnna Knippling

Congratulations to DeAnna Knippling and the release of the multi-authored Dawn of the Monsters. Other featured authors are: Dean Wesley Smith, Ron Collins, P. D. Cacek, Mark Leslie, Steve Vernon , Annie Reed, Sèphera Girón, Rebecca M. Senese, Marcelle Dubé, and Jamie Ferguson.

DeAnna Knippling, Dawn of MonstersThis volume, DAWN OF THE MONSTERS, features trolls, goblins, creeps, mad scientists, vampires, aliens, Frankenstein, a very nasty ex-girlfriend, a mysterious egg, a bargain you can’t refuse, something dark and mysterious that lives underground, and a disgusting, evil beast straight out of the swamp!

We can’t promise that these tales won’t make you think…but they’ll grab you by your sense of adventure and take you for a ride!

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.


Do you have a Sweet Success you would like to share? Click here to get started, or send an email to: SweetSuccess@pikespeakwriters.com

Sweet Success is coordinated by Managing Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim.

The Benefits of a Crash and Burn

Perhaps you participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with great success. If so, congratulations to you and stop reading. This article is for the broken, the wounded, the sick at heart who crashed and burned miserably in the month of November, despite every good intention to write that novel.

New Beginnings

Now we’re facing the time of new beginnings as we enter the new year. If you are still smarting from a November NaNoWriMo fail, setting 2019 writing goals may be the last thing you want to tackle right now.

I thought I could succeed at NaNoWriMo this year. Fifty thousand words in a month? Piece of cake. I’d done it before. I knew my calendar was tightly scheduled, but if I made a commitment, I would follow through. I’m one of Those People. If I say I’m going to do something, by golly I will walk through fire and flood to ensure I meet my obligation.

Halfway through November, I still had delusions I could make it happen. Three quarters of the way through, I had a decision to make. I threw in the towel. Surrendered. And felt horribly guilty that I had failed myself.

Get out of your ditch

There are dozens of quotes, memes, and greeting card messages about failure making you stronger. That doesn’t help much when you’re crumpled in the ditch after a spectacular crash and burn.

So now that we’ve whined a bit, what are we going to do about it? Quitting is always an option. If you can quit writing, then maybe you weren’t cut out for this brutal profession. My tough-love message is: if ordinary obstacles will prevent you from striving for your dreams, maybe your dreams weren’t so important after all. To be fair, sometimes we face extraordinary stress in life. Family, health, or simply overestimating our own stamina place an insurmountable obstacle in our path to writing success.

Turn it into SUCCESS Turn Goal-Setting Failures into Success

Here are my suggestions for turning writing failure into success.

  1. Know Yourself. You may end up in a writing or critique group with people of differing ambitions and drive. Maybe you take a workshop or read a how-to book full of enthusiasm. We’re not all focused, driven personalities. Don’t adopt an attitude that is not your own if it doesn’t work for you. Are you a procrastinator, needing multiple mini-goals to keep you on track? Or do you readily stick to a schedule and easily meet goals? Do you operate best under pressure, or do deadlines cause you to freeze up? Are you an Emily Dickinson type of writer, not needing much reader affirmation, or are you more on the Andy Weir end of the scale, running your work past readers constantly? Which type of writer are you?
  2. Define Success. Do some soul-searching. Why are you writing? What are you trying to accomplish? Look at past goals that you failed to achieve. Were you too ambitious, considering other time commitments in your life? Or did you set the bar too low? Whether you’re new to writing or a multi-published author, goals need to be adjusted with time and experience. If not hitting goals causes you to lose enthusiasm, maybe you need to set achievable goals to get yourself on track. Other writers need to constantly fall short to drive them to work harder. This goes back to Know Yourself.
  3. Make Concrete Goals. Once you understand your uniquely personal ambition, document your steps to that goal. A vague declaration that you intend to write a novel this year will not help you. Create a spreadsheet, time card, or writing session reminder. Clock in to your writing sessions. Be honest in tracking your goals. For a new writer, your primary goal should be to finish a story or novel. Period. Guess what the primary goal is for a multi-published author? Write that next story or novel. Writing is a constant.

Get Specific

Let’s get specific. Your goal is to write a novel in 2019. The typical novel is 350 pages, or 87,500 words. That breaks down to less than a page a day. Exceedingly doable, you tell yourself. But if you diddle around for eight months, then remember you had a goal, I can almost guarantee you will fail.

Decide whether your goal is per day or per week.
Novel in a year goal:
Pages per day = 0.95 = 239 words
Pages per week = 6.73 = 1,683 words

Some Pitfalls

The pitfall: do not give up on days when you don’t have the time for a full writing session. Obviously there is room for adjustment. You have a long weekend with no obligations. You enjoy a productive writing marathon that results in 5,000 words. My experience is that more often I have multiple miserly 15 minute a day writing sessions. These drive me closer to my goal as effectively as the marathons. Take what you can get.

Another pitfall: writing sessions don’t need to be perfect islands of peace and solitude. Sometimes you snatch a few minutes in the midst of a holiday. Maybe you’re hopping in and out of writerly bliss to cook dinner. You have to wear blinders to block out seeing the chaotic mess your apartment has fallen into, or wear headphones to block out family members watching TV.

In spite of your best intentions and careful planning, you fail. What now? Not setting concrete, measurable goals leaves you will a hollow feeling. You suck, and you don’t even know how badly. If you set goals, and track them with dedication, you can measure exactly how badly you suck. And I can almost guarantee it won’t be as bad as you think.


You have a wonderful record of your efforts. Instead of saying “I failed to write a novel in a year,” you can say “I wrote half a novel this year.” That’s an amazing achievement worth celebrating.

I’m confident that you’ll reach the end of 2019 without that empty feeling. Goal setting will help you achieve your goals. At the very least, goals will take you a step closer to success.

Catherine Dilts Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, has written two novels for the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library, and her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes, while others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. Visit Catherine’s website to learn more.

Sweet Success for Dan Grant

Sweet Success is excited to announce the release of Dan Grant’s newest publication, The Singularity Witness by Mindscape Press.

Singularity Witness by Dan GrantThe Singularity Witness explores an intersection of science and medical research, and what happens when a radical technology ushers in an ominous future. A neurologist and an FBI agent unlock secrets that start with murder, abduction, and inhumane research. 

Dan GrantDan Grant is a licensed professional engineer with degrees from Northern Arizona University: a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and masters’ in college education and English with an emphasis in creative writing. In college he did theater, choir, and wrote teleplays for the university soap opera (One Semester to Live). He has also worked as a technical writer and multimedia content creator.

His engineering endeavors have provided unique opportunities to work with a variety medical and technological applications, and get behind the scenes at military facilities. Those experiences add threads to conspiracies and form a broader storytelling tapestry.

Dan loves intriguing tales, especially suspense and thrillers that weave science, medicine, technology, or history into the fabric of the drama. He is working on his next thriller, Thirteen Across. And Thomas Parker and Kate Morgan will be back in The Singularity Transfer.

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