Posts Tagged ‘writing from the peak’

Writing Under Deadlines

By; Donna Schlachter (previously published in Writing Nuggets of Gold)

There are two kinds of deadlines.

In the writing world, there are two kinds of deadlines: the ones imposed by others; and the ones imposed by you. The deadlines that others set for you in your writing might include a contest entry date; a critique group submission due date; a time frame for the submission of a proposal and first three chapters to an editor or agent following a contact at a writing conference such as the ACFW National Conference; a request for a full manuscript; the acceptance and signing of a contract; first draft approval; intermediate revisions; and final revisions prior to publication. Each one of these deadlines is critical to writing, of keeping everything flowing, and of ultimately achieving the goal, whether that be winning a contest, being a productive member of a critique group, acquiring an agent, or publication.

And there are the self-imposed deadlines, the ones you set for yourself. And whether or not you realize it, you set deadlines every day, some that are related to writing and some that are not. For example, you get up at a certain time of the day. You have set the deadline on how long you’re going to spend sleeping. If you have children, you get them off to school. Each deadline, while not specifically adding words or pages to your work in process, is a practice at meeting a deadline.

How do you set a self-imposed deadline?

So how do you set self-imposed writing deadlines when there is no agent, no editor, no promise of an advance or a royalty looming over your head?

Treat your writing seriously, or you won’t set goals. Look at the book you’re working on, look at your schedule–because face it, we all have a life outside of writing–and determine how much time you can spend on writing, and how much you can reasonably expect to get done in that time. For example, I was working on a novella. When I started the book, I was excited about the story, excited about where the characters were going. I figured this book would just leap out of my mind, through my fingers, and into the computer.

That didn’t happen. I was so convinced I could have this done in no time, that’s exactly what I spent writing–no time. Suddenly the story was boring, and the laundry looked more interesting.

So, around the middle of the third month of not writing, I decided enough was enough. I set a goal for the end of the month to have the story finished. I was about 20,000 words from the end. Still didn’t happen. Seemed I had all the time in the world. For other things. I buckled down and started writing seriously three days before the end of the month. I wrote 2,500 words the first day, 1,500 words the second, and 4,500 words the last day. I didn’t quite make my goal because I hadn’t quite finished the story. But I was on a roll. Spending every day in the story made the story more real to me. And setting a deadline made me feel like a proper writer.

Did I set a bad deadline? No. I wasn’t serious enough about the work required.

Should I simply dump the story and move on? No. Writing every day kept me in the story and opened new plot points and backstory points, and that’s exciting for me.

How do I learn from this experience? I won’t take the next deadline for granted. I will treat the deadline as if a contract, an advance, or publication depend on it.

Takeaway:
I will act like I am a writer under a deadline imposed by someone else.

Exercises:

1. What work in process would you like to finish?
2. Take out the story, read through it to ground yourself again, and set a deadline.
3. Write every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, to keep yourself grounded in the story.


Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests. www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

Roving Body Parts

By: Terry Odell

I recently read a blog with a firm stance on how to deal with body parts. I don’t entirely agree. I don’t have trouble with figures of speech, and if I’m reading that a character ‘flew down the block to John’s house’ I don’t see her mid-air. If someone writes “a lump of ice settled in her belly” I’m not seeing actual ice.

How do you react when you read things like this?

Their eyes met from across the room.

His eyes raked her body from head to toe.

There seem to be two schools of thought on this one. I’m on the side that doesn’t mind. I understand that ‘eye’ can be used as a noun or a verb. “He eyed her” is acceptable. “He gave her the eye” is an idiom I have no trouble with. I don’t see him extracting an eyeball and handing it to her. So if a characters eyes move, I don’t get visions of eyeballs floating free. Others would substitute the word “gaze.” I’ll use either.

Which side are you on? Would the following pull you out of the story?

Her blue eyes, enlarged by her wire-rimmed glasses, rambled from Colleen’s head to her toes.

“What’s wrong with my face?” Her fingers flew to her cheeks.

Yet there are those for whom those would be book-tossing offenses. Me, I see the eye movement in the first example, but the eyes remain firmly set in their sockets. In the second, my brain assumes the fingers are still attached to the hand, and I don’t think about body parts floating in space.

If a character eyes the room as he enters, what’s he doing? Eye is a verb as well as a noun, after all. And as a verb, my Synonym Finder (great reference book, by the way) lists view, see, behold, catch sight of, look at. And what about all those expressions using ‘eye’? In a pig’s eye. Do we put things into the eye of that pig? Or, keep an eye out for. Do we take an eyeball out and hold it until someone comes for it?

If we took everything we read literally, a lot of the richness of the language would be lost. If his eyes are pools of molten chocolate, do we really think that he’s got Godiva eyeballs? Or just deep brown eyes?

(That’s a metaphor, I think – if his eyes look like pools of molten chocolate, that would be a simile, right?) I’ve never been good at remembering terminology. Metaphors, similes, idioms, hyperbole—they’re things I use, but I don’t worry about what they’re called when I’m writing them.


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows.
Catch up with Terry on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreads, or Amazon.

Never Enough Time to Write — or is there?

By Donna Schlachter

It seems there is never enough time to do all the things I want to do. With seven days in a week, twenty-four hours in a day, seems like I should have lots of spare time. I don’t suppose anyone else finds the same problem? No, I didn’t think so.

My idea of a perfect week would begin with Sunday. Some awesome praise and worship, a soul-stirring message, and a couple of hours of fellowship. Not more than that. I’m an introvert, and more than two hours and I’d be exhausted. For you extroverts, party on until midnight!

On Monday, I’d like to get all those administrative things like paperwork and laundry done by 10:00 so I’d have the rest of the day to write. Doesn’t happen. Could if I got up earlier.

On Tuesday, Write. That’s the day I go to a write out from 10:00 to noon at a coffee shop with friends. No write out in your area? Start one. I did. I went to the write out for a year before anyone else joined me. No shame in that. I got a lot of writing done.

On Wednesday, carry on the flow from Tuesday and write. Sometimes that happens. Often it doesn’t. Lots of times the writing from Tuesday raised questions and I spend a lot of time researching. Or planning research trips because I discovered I didn’t know as much about something as I need so I can write about it.

On Thursday, that’s my “work” day, the day I do my “other job”. Usually a full day of listening to other people’s mistakes and problems (I proofread legal transcripts). Honestly, so many sad stories that I don’t want to think about writing.

On Fridays, that’s the day we give to our local food bank. Lots of people — so exhausting for this introvert.

Saturdays are my “free” day. I usually use Saturdays to catch up on tasks I let slip during the week. Sometimes I write, the next week I might do something around the house, like canning, or cleaning, or ironing. Remember the laundry I did Monday? Mending and ironing to be done.

My week is full. And I’m sure your weeks are full, too. But if we want to be writers, we need to make time to write. We won’t find time, but we can compress certain activities to expand our available time. We can drop some tasks from our schedule completely, or we can delay some things to allow us time to write.

Every day for the next month, I challenge you to make an extra hour a day to write. Not to think about writing, not to plot, not to research, but to write. Call me crazy, but once a year I take a leave of absence from television and spend that time writing. You can choose to go a little easier on yourself: no television until you write for at least an hour. Don’t watch television? Think of other ways to put together an extra 60 minutes a day. Like doing one less load of laundry. Or have one of the kids do the folding. Instead of reading before you go to bed, write.

Takeaway: We can live on never enough time, or we can decide to make the time to do the things that are important to us.

Exercises:

1. Go through your calendar and find those pockets of time you can divert to writing.

2. Be honest about the ways you spend your time: Pinterest, email, Facebook. Limit those activities to one time a day.

3. Be ready with a story outline and character sketches so when you sit to write, you really do write.


Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests. www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

Proofing the Proof

There is more to proofing a book than just reading the story.

By: Darby Karchut

At some point in every writer’s career, you’ll be asked to proof a final version of your work.
Sure, you’ll have various editors doing this, but you’ll need to be a part of it, too. After all, it’s YOUR name on the cover and you want it to be as perfect as possible.

Even at the manuscript stage, submitting a well-polished story will help your work stand out. It shows agents and editors that you are industry-savvy.

There is more to proofing a book, however, than just reading the story (aka body matter). It means examining literally every centimeter of the product. During this process, I get down to some serious detailing, checking for any and all mistakes, and taking copious notes—old school style.

Over the years, I’ve developed a checklist to make sure I don’t miss anything. I break the task into sections, moving from easy to more difficult; mostly to warm up and to feel like I’ve accomplished something. Remember, for each item on this list, we’re looking for spelling, grammar, punctuation, correct vocabulary, correct numbering and sequence, etc. Read stuff aloud—it helps like nothing else to catch mistakes.

Cover

  • Front
  • Spine (place your book on its back. The words on the spine should read left to right)
  • Back (correct jacket copy, ISBN number, publisher’s contact info, etc.)

Front Matter

  • Praise Page
  • Title Page (called the recto side)
  • Copyright Page (called the verso side)
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements (unless this is at the end, then skip for now)
  • Table of Contents (if applicable)
  • Foreword (if applicable)
  • Preface or Introduction (if applicable)

End Matter

  • Acknowledgements (here’s where you want to triple check that you’ve spelled your publisher, agent, editors, publicists, and cover artist names correctly, as well as everyone else you want to thank)
  • Discussion Questions
  • Author Interview or Q & A
  • Author’s Bio (triple check that your contact info is correct)

Chapters and Pages

  • Check each chapter title for sequential numbering. Trust me on this.
  • Check each page for sequential numbering. Trust me more.
  • Orphans and Widows. Tedious, but it must be done.

Body Matter

  • Read your story aloud. This is single most productive use of your time at this stage. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll catch dropped words, repetitive vocabulary, and grammar mistakes like crazy.
  • Proper nouns (characters, locations, etc). Keep a cheat sheet nearby.
  • Foreign languages. Triple-check spelling and punctuation. Then, check them once more. Get this right.
  • Paragraphs. Make sure the breaks are correct.

This sounds so easy and straightforward, but you and I both know this is blood-letting time. Re-reading a manuscript you’ve labored over for months or years can be downright nauseating. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time cringing, too.

But.

But.

But, I often find myself enthralled with the story, and a bit in awe of some writing I didn’t remember producing. Which is pretty cool. It is really okay, you know, to feel pride and satisfaction in your creation. If we writers (or painters or musicians or dancers) do not cherish our work, then our readers or viewers won’t either. So, proof away and be prepared to fall in love again.


Darby Karchut

Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy wrangling words. Her latest book (lucky number thirteen), DEL TORO MOON, released October 2018 from Owl Hollow Press. Visit the author at her website.

Beware the “ING” Construction

Time Warps. Misplaced Modifiers.

By; Terry Odell

You don’t have to read science fiction to run into a time warp. At the very first writer’s conference I attended, an agent said she would reject a query with more than 1 sentence beginning with the “ing” construction. Her explanation—it’s too easy to make mistakes with that sentence structure.

But is it wrong? No. You have to be careful, and you have to pay attention. There are different reasons to avoid, or minimize use of those pesky “ing” words.

The Time Warp

First, I’ll talk about the inadvertent time warp, which I’ve been seeing a lot of in recent reads.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

“Running across the clearing, John rushed into the tent.”
“Opening the door, Mary tripped down the stairs.”

Using that kind of “ing” construction means the actions have to take place simultaneously. But is that possible in the above examples? No.

John can’t be getting into the tent while he’s running across the clearing. And Mary needs to open the door before she goes downstairs.

Don’t Dangle Your Modifier

Next, the dangling modifier. In my first critique group, I held the prize for creating an answering machine that gave neck massages. I’d written, “Rubbing her neck, the blinking red light on the answering machine caught Sarah’s eye.” Ooops. (But I would like a machine with that function!)

Make sure the noun or pronoun comes immediately after the descriptive phrase. Thus, the above example could be “Rubbing her neck, Sarah noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine.”

If your “ing” verb follows “was”, take another look. “John was running across the clearing” isn’t a strong as “John ran across the clearing.”  Of course, you’ll want to use stronger verbs, such as raced, sped, or barreled, but the idea is the same.

When you’re looking over your manuscript, you might want to flag words ending in “ing” and take another look to be sure you haven’t made any of these basic errors.

How to Spot them in Word

In your document, click the dropdown arrow by “Find” then select “Advanced Find.”
Click “More” and then check the “Use Wildcard” Box. Type ing into the find field, then click the “Special” Option, and “End of Word.” This will add a > character. You can use the Reading Highlight to see all of them, and the “Find Next” to deal with them one at a time. You’ll get more than just verbs ending in ing, but it’s still a quick way to spot them. The hard part is determining whether you’ve got a problem


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows.
Catch up with Terry on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreads, or Amazon.

Those Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer

By Leeann Betts (excerpt from Nuggets of Writing Gold)

I keep promising myself that one of these years, I’m going to enjoy summer. Instead of spending the months of June, July, and August cooped up indoors writing and revising and researching, I’m going to spend the time in a mountain retreat, on the front veranda, surrounded by trees and a babbling brook. Writing and revising and researching.

So I guess the truth is, it isn’t the work that I resent as much as the being indoors. Seems such a waste of great weather not to be outside enjoying it. I don’t have any problems staying indoors in the winter. I am not a fan of cold and snow. But summer….

And then I heard those words from my agent, Terrie Wolf, that every writer longs to hear. “Take some time off. You’ve been working hard lately. You deserve a rest.”

My mind raced. Which mountain did I want to go to? Which tree would I sit beneath? Which babbling brook would sing to me, inspire me as my fingers flew across the keyboard?

Nothing came to mind.

Okay, maybe I don’t need a mountain. Maybe I need a cruise. Sitting on the deck, the sun warming me from the outside, my story plot heating up inside. Perfect.

Except I’m prone to seasickness.

Okay, how about a quaint bed and breakfast retreat in a sleepy little town. Where do I want to set my next book? Let’s go there.

I’m drawing a blank.

And then I realize my problem. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas of what to write next. I do. Dozens of ideas. It isn’t that I can’t choose a mountain or a town or a cruise — my problem is I like to write in my office in the basement. I have a peaceful moss green paint on the walls along with peaceful pictures of the outdoors.

I have a great desk and a comfy chair. I can have music on in the background, or not. I can stop and pop in a load of laundry or stir dinner in the crock pot. Or not.

And so, despite my agent’s advice, I’m going to stay home. And write. And outline. And research.

Sure, I’ll go out once in a while and see what I’m missing. Sunshine. Flowers. Heat.

I’ll take pictures and keep writing.

Maybe I’ll write a summer story. That way, I don’t miss anything.

Takeaway:
It’s not about where you write, but that you do write.

Exercises:

1. Make a writing date for yourself. In ink. On your calendar or schedule or whatever you use to keep track of things. Be reasonable. If you aren’t already in the habit of writing every day, schedule in every other day. If you work a full-time job, don’t commit to writing for three hours in the evening or all day Saturday. Instead, commit to spending twenty minutes at your computer with the email turned off.

2. If you struggle with finding time, make time. Get up twenty minutes earlier. Go to bed twenty minutes later. Don’t watch any television in the evening until you’ve spent your twenty minutes at the computer.

3. Pretend you have a deadline. Maybe not for a full book. Try setting a deadline for a chapter. Call a writing friend and tell him you commit to having a chapter written by _________. Tell your friend to hold you accountable. Then sit down and write.


Leeann Betts

Leeann Betts writes contemporary romantic suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical romantic suspense. Together she and Donna have published more than 30 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Christian Authors Network, Pikes Peak Writers, and Sisters in Crime. Leeann travels extensively to research her stories, and is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary LLC. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and her blog.

Who Wants to be the Indented Author?

By: John B. Roberts, II

Surf camp in Costa Rica is a funny place to realize you need a co-author. I was unsuccessfully trying to learn to stand up on a surfboard when my wife called to say an acquiring editor wanted to see an old book proposal. After passing on it years before, he’d changed jobs and thought it was right for his new publisher. But there was a catch. Two, actually. The original proposal covered the twenty years after the Dalai Lama’s exile from Tibet and a secret CIA program to support the Tibetan resistance against China. The editor wanted to dramatically enlarge the scope of the book and publish it to coincide with the fifty-year anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile. There was no way to meet this deadline without a co-author.

What to Look for in a Co-Author

A failed collaboration that ended with a $12 million lawsuit taught me what I didn’t want in a co-author. A judge dismissed that suit, but only after substantial legal fees. The project involved a principal author, his co-author, and me as a ghostwriter. Divisions of labor were ill-defined, the book bogged down, and the publisher cancelled the contract. To complete the Tibet book required a co-author with strong research and interviewing skills, the ability to conform his or her writing style to a common standard, and a track record of meeting deadlines.

My wife, Elizabeth, was the perfect candidate. We’d met working at The McLaughlin Group, a nationally-broadcast political show whose host was a demanding perfectionist. She later wrote for an authoritative publication, The Cook Political Report.  We’d already collaborated successfully on Best Bets, a Washington, D.C. visitor guide.

We approached the Tibet book like two professionals, creating a chapter-by-chapter outline, delineating assignments, determining who would be the lead (or sole) author for each chapter, setting deadlines, and holding frequent accountability sessions to assess our progress. Because foreign and domestic travel was involved to complete the interviews, we divided responsibilities and budgeted expenses. Photo research and permissions was another major task. Before we began writing we had a mutually-agreed plan of what we were each going to do and how we would get it done. We also set clear boundaries between our personal and writing lives.

Compatibility is Key

You and your co-author don’t have to think alike. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Different perspectives challenge us and help sharpen the final product. Your experiences, tastes, and personalities can be highly divergent, but the key is compatibility working together.

If one writer is always productive and meets deadlines while the other is habitually late or blocked it’s a red flag. If one author is highly confident and the other insecure or prone to second-guessing it could become problematic, just as two highly-dominant personalities likely spell conflict. Take time to get to know the individual you are going to be working with as co-authors. No matter how brilliant their writing, make sure that your working styles and core personalities mesh well. Above all, if you respect one another, it will help a mutual writing project flourish. There will be hard choices and tough times in team-writing, and respect is what will get you through the contentious moments.

Put Your Agreement in Writing

Once you and your co-author decide to collaborate, make a contract. Whether you use Legal Zoom, share a lawyer, or each get your own, cover the key issues likely to arise. How will advances and royalties be divided? What will happen to ancillary rights, including story rights for film or television? In the event one co-author predeceases another, what happens to his or her rights? What about speaking fees? Does each author keep his or her own, or will the revenues be shared? What happens if the publisher rejects your work and demands repayment of any advances? How will you handle litigation if someone sues you over the book? If you have a falling out over the project, will you handle it through mediation or litigation?

Elizabeth and I didn’t have to worry about many of these issues because we have a straightforward marriage in which we share everything. But if you want to work with your spouse and keep your finances separate, you might want to consider these points and reach an agreement even if you don’t create a formal contract. Whoever you choose as a co-author, establish boundaries. If you work best at night and like to sleep late, let your co-author know you don’t want phone calls or texts before noon. If weekends are private or family time, make sure your co-author respects that.  

Rolling with the Punches

I value flexibility in a co-author. Just as a battle plan never survives the first contact with the enemy, in my experience no book gets published without lots of changes. With non-fiction, there’s the added complexity of how accessible and cooperative sources are and how easy it is to search archives. Highly-classified information was involved, complicating our task.

You get it. We made many adjustments to our initial plan for writing the book, some easy and others not so pain-free. It helped that we’d both worked in the highly-collaborative, pressure-filled world of writing for television. We knew how to press our individual point, but also how to concede. We’d learned not to reject an idea out of hand just because it was totally alien from our own viewpoint and truly disruptive. And we both embraced the mantra of our late agent, Mike Hamilburg, that “writing is re-writing.”

The low point came when our editor wanted us to cut 30,000 words from the final draft and add chapter sub-heads throughout the book. We spent a day venting about this to each other and relishing how surprised he’d be when we refused and took our masterpiece to another publisher. The next day, slightly calmer, we started to see where cuts might be made. Over the next few days we created a new, tighter structure for the book that actually looked like an improvement. With a more volatile co-author, it might have been the end of the book.

Today people still ask how we managed to write a book together and stay married. The same conflict-resolution skills that work in a marriage make co-authoring possible. We agreed to shelve some disagreements or unresolved problems until a better time to deal with it, but then set a date to handle it and stuck to it. We listened respectfully to each other’s views even when we didn’t initially agree. We applied the kind of rules used in writers’ workshops when it came to critiquing each other’s work. Professional courtesy is a good formula for working with any co-author.

There was only issue we couldn’t resolve. Although we shared equal credit on the book jacket, the Library of Congress catalogues co-authors alphabetically. Because E comes before J that made me the indented author! We still get a laugh out of that today.     


John B. Roberts II is a writer, television producer and artist living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was senior producer of the top-rated, Emmy-nominated weekly political television talk shows hosted by John McLaughlin, “The McLaughlin Group” and “John McLaughlin’s One on One.” He has written and produced thousands of television broadcasts.

He is the author of “Rating the First Ladies: The Women Who Influenced the Presidency,” (Citadel 2003) and co-author along with Elizabeth Roberts of “Freeing Tibet: 50 Years of Struggle, Resilience and Hope,” (AMACOM 2009). His most recent book is “Reagan’s Cowboys: Inside the 1984 Reelection Campaign’s Secret Operation Against Geraldine Ferraro” (McFarland 2020.) Story rights to “Reagan’s Cowboys” have been optioned by HBO. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Washington Times, Colorado Springs Gazette, and Colorado Springs Independent as well as George Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and The American Spectator, among others. He is a member of the Pikes Peak Writers, the Authors Guild, and Mystery Writers of America. https://www.jbrobertsauthor.com

Coffee Shop Inspiration for Writers

By: Leeann Betts
Originally published in Nuggets of Writing Gold

Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, I’d sit in a coffee shop trying to figure out what to write. All around me were people sipping java or tea, munching bagels, meeting friends, talking on phones—and it hit me.

I was looking in at the goldfish bowl.

I really missed that over the past fifteen months or so. My goal is to get back to that coffee shop every Monday morning from ten until noon. Maybe have a friend or three drop in and chat. No masks. No social distancing. Let the ideas flow.

This would be a typical morning from pre-March 2020:

It’s only five past ten. I have my coffee, my asiago cheese bagel, and my laptop fired up. Already I eavesdropped on three friends who meet every two months to discuss a book, like a mini book club. While I couldn’t see the title of the one they are reading, it seemed to be full of witticisms, observations, and helpful insights. For example, one was about Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. He married 1,000 women, which were his downfall. So if a man doesn’t marry 1,000 women, he’ll already be smarter than the wisest man who ever lived.

Later there was a table of older women gathering tables from near and far, even settling for round tables, to get enough seating for their group of about 20 women. Along comes one woman with a little girl, maybe about 4 or so. And I got to wondering if this older woman was the grandmother—or the mother. And plot ideas sprang forth immediately.

Today

A few days ago, at a table nearby, sat a middle eastern man and two women. Sometimes they spoke in English, sometimes in another language that sounded Arabic. Sometimes they mixed their sentences together, using English words in the middle of a sentence with this other language. For example, I heard the word ‘embassy’ and ‘must be careful’ in the midst of other words I couldn’t understand. Got me thinking about a suspense plot.

Every Monday when I am here, there is a woman sitting nearby who is a counselor of some kind. I’ve heard her talking to a client on the phone about an issue the client was going through. Not details, but I saw this counselor’s demeanor change from the way she looked when she was typing on her laptop—doing right-brain work—to the way her face softened and her posture relaxed as she talked to her client—left-brain work. She’d make a good character where I could show both sides of her at work.

Right now, there is a couple sitting next to me who are speaking Chinese, perhaps. I don’t understand a word they are saying, but they’ve been very animated at times, voices raised, hand gestures, smiles. Are they planning a business move? To buy a house? Get a cat? Have another child in contravention of China’s one-child law? What if one of the couple wants to return to China, but the other doesn’t? Will that impact their decision?

Sitting in a coffee shop may sound like a waste of time. Usually, I come here just to get away from the laundry or to meet fellow writers. But perhaps I need this unique stimulation to get the old grey cells, as Hercule Poirot would say, working.

Takeaway

Sometimes changing our surroundings gets us looking at characters differently.

Exercises

  1. Go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop on conversations around you. Can you use some of what you hear?
  2. Hang around a central bus depot or train station. Watch the people; make notes of what they do.
  3. Go to the airport and hang around the main concourse. Make up stories about the people you see.

Leeann Betts

Leeann Betts writes contemporary romantic suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical romantic suspense. Together she and Donna have published more than 30 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Christian Authors Network, Pikes Peak Writers, and Sisters in Crime. Leeann travels extensively to research her stories, and is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary LLC. You can follow her on her blogFacebook, and Twitter. Her books are available everywhere including Amazon and Smashwords.

Why Writers Need Newsletters

By Christina Lorenzen

Most writers spend hours every day on social media, whether Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Spending so much time, one would think social media platforms are the best way to keep in touch with readers. However, with the good there is always the bad and social media is no exception.

It seems like there’s always something happening on Facebook (#deleteFacebook as I write this) or Twitter that should have you consider what would happen if they all went away. How will you stay in touch with those readers you spent so much time building a relationship with? Newsletters. If Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram fell by the wayside, there are several reasons why a newsletter is invaluable to you as a writer.

Staying in Touch

While Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are hopping, you may also remember that some are now in the heap pile (MySpace, and Friendster come to mind). While people from those now defunct spaces may have moved to the three most popular platforms today, it’s a reminder that another means of staying in touch is vital for writers.

Enter good old fashioned email.  

A newsletter keeps you and your books in your reader’s mind. It’s ideal for sharing little bits about your life and writing. Readers love getting a behind the scene peek. One of my favorite authors loves chocolate as much as I do. Another shops at Target just like me. My favorite newsletters are ones with pictures of the author’s writing space. Oh, the envy!

There’s much you can include in a newsletter, but the most important reason for having a newsletter is the ability to stay in touch should a reader leave social media or a platform becomes obsolete. The newsletter is a priceless marketing tool. Take that relationship you’ve built through social media a step further by asking your readers to sign up for your newsletter. You can do this simply through your website’s contact page or right on the home page. However you decide to do it, you will need a way for readers to give consent to receiving emails from you. On my contact page I have a simple box for readers to check. I also have a privacy policy that assures them I will not share their email or use it for anything beyond my newsletter.

For information about privacy policies and collecting emails visit  https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business

Chat One on One with Readers

While social media is great for talking to readers, a newsletter is the place to chat one on one. This past year has shown us how human contact and staying in touch is so vital. Writers saw in-person writing events canceled, rescheduled, and canceled again. A newsletter is a great way to ‘meet up’ with readers when we can’t do so in person. With so many people spending more time at home, what better way to keep in contact?

Like social media, a newsletter is about building a relationship. Most writers tend to be introverts so a newsletter is an easy way to let readers get to know you. There are so many ways to do that.  You can share your favorite recipes, places to visit, movies. The difference is when a reader leaves Facebook or Twitter, you may lose touch. Building an email list for a newsletter becomes invaluable in this way. People check their email. Wouldn’t it be great for them to find something there from you?

They Keep You Writing

Every writer has been there. The slump. Maybe that short story isn’t gelling. Maybe the book proposal has been rejected. Again. You’re at what I call ‘the in-between’. No assignments, no deadlines, and you’re just free falling. Nothing kills creativity faster than not having anything to write. Writers write and while it may be a cliché, it’s true that writing begets more writing. For those times when you’re in between, a newsletter is a great way to hone your writing skills. It’s a creative resource and what you write is all up to you.  

Having a newsletter gets your BICHOK (butt in chair hands on keyboard) during those times when you may be tempted to blow it off and hit the couch. A newsletter deadline helps you keep writing and stay productive. Once you announce a newsletter is forthcoming you won’t want to let your readers down. They’re waiting. Get that newsletter out.

Get the Word Out But…

This is the fun part of a newsletter. While you might sometimes feel full of yourself constantly posting about your latest book, article, award, or contract on social media, your newsletter is the perfect place that stuff. Share about your new book. Your subscribers are your first line of buyers. Let them know you’re going to be a guest blogger. You might just see some of them in the comments. And if you’re holding a contest (a subscriber favorite), let them know how to enter and what they could win. Newsletters are also the best place to give your readers content only subscribers are privy to. In fact, promising subscriber only content is a sure fire way to get readers to sign up to begin with.

BUT… remember that your newsletter is for them. Signing up is easy. Keeping them subscribed is a whole other game. And you can do that by sharing what’s going in your writing life by making readers feel they’re a part of it. I’ve watched one of my favorite author’s children grow up through her blog. Her daughter is getting married soon and I’m almost as excited as she is. Let them know how grateful you are for their being such loyal subscribers. This is where an occasional contest comes in handy. Readers love winning prizes. It can be as simple as a signed copy of one of your books or a bookmark. Let them know that without them you wouldn’t be here. Because you wouldn’t. Without readers where would writers be?

Getting Started

When you’re getting started, finding a balance in how often you send your newsletter out can be tricky. You certainly don’t want to bombard them weekly. You may not have enough news to share monthly. I’ve found a quarterly newsletter is just the right fit for me.

As I mentioned, letting readers know they will be getting content not found anywhere else is a good way to start getting sign ups. You could start by holding a contest readers can enter after subscribing. Many authors offer a free short story upon subscribing to their newsletter. It takes time. You might be disappointed to find only a handful of subscribers in the beginning. Take heart. Like anything else, it takes time to build up an email list. Be sure to let readers and followers on social media know you have a newsletter. Keep sending your newsletters out and slowly you will see your list grow. In no time, you’ll find yourself in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of email boxes.

Check out PPW’s newsletter for some great content that might spark some ideas for your own newsletter. You only need to be a member to subscribe and if you’re a member who hasn’t received the newsletter contact the newsletter editor at: newsletter@pikespeakwriters.com


Christina started writing as a young teen, jotting stories in wire ring composition notebooks. Her first typewriter made it faster to get all those stories out of her head and down on paper. Her love of writing has sustained her through a myriad of jobs that included hairdresser, legal secretary, waitress and door-­to-‑door saleswoman.

Luckily for her, writing proved to be successful and a lot less walking than going door to door. She’s the author of ten romance books and is now exploring the fun world of cozy mystery writing. When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found walking her dog, talking to her herd of cats and spending time with her family. Her books are available on Amazon.

Making Your Presence Known on Social Media

By: Margena Holmes

As an author, it’s not enough to just have a website for your books. To make your name and work known, you need to have a social media presence, too. But how does one do that? And with so many different ones, where do you start? Here are some ideas to help you with your social media presence.

Facebook

I would recommend getting an author page. I have a personal page and an author page, to keep things nice and tidy and separate. On my personal page I post about family, work, and other daily life events. These are things that I don’t want to be public (I have my personal page set to private). I have my author page for posting everything about my writing—updates, word counts, events I’ll be attending, and release dates.

Thursdays are throwback days, so I’ll post something from the past related (no matter how loosely) to my writing. I’ve got photos from high school and college, jobs that I’ve had, anything that I’ve done on my writing journey. Hashtags are important to help people find these posts, so remember to use the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday. On Fridays I’ll post something funny either writing related or just to make people laugh, using the hashtag #FridayFunny. I’ve just added in #MotivationMonday where I post something to inspire others, either in writing or daily life.

If this seems overwhelming, start small. I started posting on Throwback Thursdays for the first month or so as I got used to posting more, then I added my Friday Funny. My plan is to have five days of these kind of posts.  You don’t even have to take time out of each day to do it. You can schedule your posts from your author page with Facebook’s business suite.

Twitter

Twitter is a little different than FB. Anyone can see your posts, so make sure it’s something you don’t mind your readers seeing (and that’s the point—you want your readers to see YOU!). Using hashtags here is important since the posts are easily lost in the shuffle (and Jenny Kate wrote an awesome blog on using hashtags), but you can use the same posts from FB on Twitter. It’s also easy to retweet a lot of Tweets from other authors.

LinkedIn

If you were to think of Facebook as the kids’ table for holidays, LinkedIn is the adults’ table. Political posts and cat videos are pretty much non-existent here. What you’ll find are helpful job related memes and posts, motivational posts, and articles. Here it’s a little more intimidating after being on Facebook for so long. This is the place to post about your release dates, maybe write an article on your writing process, or share an inspiring picture, meme, or story, so you’ll want to make content specifically for LI and not reuse your posts from FB or Twitter. Hashtags abound here, too.

What To Post

If you don’t know what to post, there are plenty of ways to get content. Angie Gensler has a variety of packages to purchase that takes the guesswork out of posting. I bought year of social media post ideas in 2019 and I just keep reusing the ideas each year. There are also free websites for ideas. Hootsuite has a list of ideas for you to engage your audience. Visit your favorite author’s social media and see what they do on social media and follow their lead. I would also recommend following Gary Vaynerchuk on Linked In. He’s written a lot of articles on how to create content for social media.

Buy My Book Posts

One goal of writers is to sell their books, but don’t inundate your news feed with “buy my book” posts. It gets annoying after a while and you’ll end up losing followers. That’s not to say you can’t post those on your social media. Try to keep it to 80-20—80% generic writing/book posts, 20% buy my book posts. You can even make a graphic showing the cover of your book with a quote from it without it being a “buy my book” post. It’s important to post regularly to keep that engagement with your readers.

Final Thoughts

Start slow and be engaging with your posts. Get to know your fan base and see what types of things they like to talk about. Make it about them as well as yourself, but most of all, be creative and have fun!


photo of margin holmes

Margena Adams Holmes has been writing ever since she can remember, writing her first poem in 1st grade. At her day job, when she’s not kicking young kids out of R-rated movies, she’s sweeping up spilled popcorn from the hallways and aisles (she’s not your mother, though, so please take your trash out). Her days off consist of writing science fiction, short stories, and more movie theater shenanigans. Reading is a close second to writing, and she normally has her nose buried in a book. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.