Posts Tagged ‘writing from the peak’

Resist the Urge to Explain

By: Terry Odell

When I began writing, my crit partners would often return my pages with passages labeled R.U.E: Resist the Urge to Explain. I think it’s a common “beginner’s” mistake and I thought it might be worth a mention.

Anyone who’s undertaken writing has heard “Show, Don’t Tell”—probably more times than they’ve wanted. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, because often telling is more efficient than showing, and done well, gets the point across. But too much telling, especially when it comes across as author intrusion can put the brakes on the pace of your story, and can do exactly the opposite of what the author intended.

For example, “Mary laughed so hard, she was afraid she’d pulled a stomach muscle. Susie had just told the funniest joke Mary had ever heard.” The second sentence isn’t needed; it’s explaining something the reader would be able to figure out in context.

The goal of any fiction writer is to get readers to care about the characters. We want there to be an emotional connection, so we often tell our readers exactly what the character is feeling. However, saying “Mary was depressed” doesn’t pull the reader in as effectively as showing Mary’s actions. Did she stay in bed until noon? Eat a box of chocolates? Not eat anything at all? How did being depressed affect Mary’s actions? That’s what you need to show.

Another pitfall—telling something, then going on to show it. Let’s say you’re beginning to understand the “show don’t tell” and you do put the action on the page. For the sake of example, a simplistic passage might be written as follows:

After Bill canceled their date, claiming his aunt was sick, Mary was depressed. She took one bite of chocolate cake, then pushed the plate away.

The second sentence shows what the first tells. If you find this in your writing, use your delete key on that first sentence. A better approach:

Mary had been looking forward to her date with Bill for weeks, and he’d cancelled, giving some excuse about a sick aunt. She moved the chocolate cake around the plate with her fork, then pushed it away.

The reader gets the information, and can see that Mary’s depressed without having to be told. You can use the same to show other emotions. Maybe Mary was angry, not depressed, after Bill canceled. Maybe she throws the whole cake against the wall.

What about this?

Mary’s feet felt like lead. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape the man chasing behind her.

Cut the first sentence. You don’t need both. What about: Mary ran, but her feet refused to move fast enough to escape the man chasing her. Or, Mary’s feet moved as though encased in lead shoes.

Sometimes, we tell the reader too much.

Mary twirled up two strands of spaghetti and waited for the excess sauce to drip onto her plate. Leaning forward, she manipulated the fork into her mouth, then wiped her mouth with her napkin. She was a very careful eater because she hated getting stains on her clothes.

Don’t insult your reader with the last sentence. No need to explain. We can see for ourselves Mary is a meticulous eater.

Another common place writers need to Resist the Urge to Explain is in dialogue. Too often, we tack on tags or beats that tell the reader what the dialogue has already shown. Are you adding adverbs to your dialogue tags?

“I’m sorry,” Tom said apologetically.

Those adverbs are usually signals that you’re telling something the dialogue should be showing. They’re propping up your dialogue, and if it needs propping, it wasn’t strong enough to begin with. All that ‘scaffolding’ merely calls attention to the weak structure beneath.

Will your reader notice these differences? Probably not, but they might not enjoy the read even if they can’t explain why. However, agents and editors are tuned into them, and if you’re submitting, you don’t want to send up any red flags.

Check your manuscript for ‘emotion’ words, especially if they’re preceded by “was” or “felt.” Are you describing your character’s feelings? Don’t tell us how your character feels. Show us.

Check your dialogue tags and beats. Are they consistent with the words being spoken? If so, you don’t need them. If not, your readers will be confused, trying to reconcile dialogue with the action.

Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.

How to Keep a Writer’s Journal

By: DeAnna Knippling

Learning changes your brain, and it can, at times, feel exhausting. Don’t give up when things look their worst—because you might be giving up at just the moment when you learned something new.

A writer’s journal is a way that writers (and other creative types) can use the nature of how the brain learns to help make small, incremental changes, generally without too much stress.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Get a cheap journal of standard letter size.
  • Every morning write three pages longhand in your journal (try to remember to date them).
  • Once a week (or when the journal is full), review your journal by rereading the entries.
  • Keep the journals.

This is a lot of work; however, it is less work than trying to learn how to write without a journal, for many people. 

If you have a different way of connecting your conscious and subconscious minds, use it! But those of us who struggle to stop overthinking may find this useful.

What should you write in your journal?

Whatever crosses your mind.

Your goal, when journaling, is literally to write the first thing that comes to mind. If you find your thoughts outpacing your writing, write what you’re thinking now. Don’t bother to finish your current sentence, but catch up to your current thoughts as soon as possible. Doodle if you need to. Draw arrows, circle, underline, cross things out. Put notes at the top of the page for things that need to be done later.

If you find yourself staring into space, thinking about some tangent, stop writing about your current topic and write about your new one.

Interrupt yourself. Whine. Complain about hangovers, family members, jobs. Write about the noises you hear, the grayness of the day, the latest pop song. Anything.

When you first start writing, you may have to suffer through a lot of statements like, “Journaling is stupid.” I’ve been journaling for years, and I still start about a third of my entries with some sort of complaint about having to journal. Don’t worry about what you sound like; petty complaints are pretty normal.

Reread Your Entries

At the end of the week (or at least when you reach the end of the journal), reread your entries. They’re handwritten, so this will might take longer than you expect. You will notice some patterns.

Anything that you write in your journal on more than three separate days is something that is currently defining you, either something you believe about yourself (fairly or unfairly), an obstacle you currently face, or an opportunity that you’re playing with.

Pay Attention

That’s it, really. A lot of us haven’t paid attention to our inner selves for years. When you pay attention to yourself on a regular basis, then you teach your subconscious mind that it’s safe to speak to your conscious mind, to be creative. You also teach your conscious mind that it’s safe to listen to your subconscious mind, that the world won’t end if you listen.

It’s easy to tune out your subconscious mind when it’s constantly saying that something in your life needs to change. Your subconscious is a rebel; it’s always threatening some small part of the status quo.

Journaling, like meditation, won’t force you to make radical, sudden changes. But it will slowly help you investigate alternatives, one after the other, until you find one that works for you.

What journaling can do:

  • Open you up to your own inner thoughts and voice—making it easier to write.
  • Allow you to set aside your inner editor for a while—making it easier to write clean prose the first time (because you’re not overthinking it).
  • Negotiate a peace settlement between your subconscious and conscious selves—making it easier for you to write what you want to write and get away with it.

Writing a journal out by hand seems to be particularly helpful in changing one’s mental state; writing out anything by hand seems to make the information more likely to be stored in your long-term memory. But it’s better to journal, period, than not to journal because you have difficulty writing journals by hand.

Other techniques that might be useful:

  • Working on other types of creative work, like music, painting, or crafts.
  • Following a wide variety of disciplined spiritual practices.
  • Practicing meditation or yoga.
  • Talking to yourself (and listening).
  • Taking long walks, particularly with dogs.
  • Doing any sort of routine tasks that requires both creativity and strict attention (like cooking something from scratch).

I have seen all of the above help integrate people’s conscious and subconscious minds and help make writing fiction smoother and less stressful.

But writing in a journal also teaches you how to put thoughts down on a page; it teaches you that no page is so blank that it can’t be filled up with a mental discussion about your favorite type of pen, or how much you hate going in for checkups, or where your neighbor needs to stick that nose of hers—not in your business, at any rate.

Journaling makes words easy.

In addition, the more you listen to your subconscious, the more available it is to solve problems for you.

Complaining that “I’m tired of being stuck on this story…” on the page has often led me to a solution that has gotten me unstuck. “I don’t know what to write next.” “I don’t know where I want to go with my career.” “Why am I not famous yet?” “Why did so-and-so get that award, and not me?” and so on.

The act of asking our subconscious—if we’re in the habit of listening to the actual answer, and not just talking over our subconscious selves—can help work out all sorts of problems.

You may not get an answer to the big questions right away. But every time you ask, another small piece of the puzzle will fall into place.

On a side note, if you want to be particularly good to yourself, when you read through your previous week’s entries, write a note in the margin saying “good job!” whenever you accomplished or realized something; write “better luck next time!” whenever you had to suffer through something that was less than successful.

Of such small moments of compassion, a sense of self-worth is made.


Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted, with permission, from DeAnna Knippling. It originally appeared in her Writing Craft: Lessons in Fiction for the Working Fiction Writer on Patreon.

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,, and her website is

Improv Writing for Better Writing

Or – How to love not knowing what the hell you’re doing.

By: Bowen Gillings

I am a huge fan of Pikes Peak Writers’s Write Drunk, Edit Sober improvisational writing events that occur on the second Wednesday of each month. Deb Courtney provides a grounding lesson at the outset that sets the theme, if you will, for the evening. Then a series of writing prompts are given out, each designed to be the opening line that drives you the writer forward for the next ten minute span to let you brain steer the train down whatever track opens up first.

When the timer goes off, that train hits the station whether you’re ready for it or not and then you’re off again, chugging down the tracks with a new thread to pull on led by a new prompt and, if you’re brave enough, allowed to take the wheel of you’re creative self all on its own until the clock dings and time is up. Then the whole crazy excursion starts again. Only the boundary of the clock following the final prompt halts your cross-brain zephyr. Then it’s upstairs for a final cocktail and a bit of sharing with your fellow writers.

What is Improv Writing?

Improvisational writing, that is writing based on the directive of a third party and limited by time to force creativity, is a wonderful, powerful, and inspirational tool all writers should make use of. Improv writing is fun, invigorating, and eye-opening. It is from one night at Write Drunk, Edit Sober where I wrote about four paragraphs that I then expanded into a short story which was published in Allegory. That short story provided the opening chapter for my first completed novel manuscript which won at the Zebulon Writing Contest and became a finalist at the Colorado Gold Rush Literary Awards. Without improv writing, I would not be able to call myself a published, award-winning author. Did I mention I love improv writing?

Four Benefits of Improv Writing

Allow me to share with you four benefits of improvisational writing and I think a) if you have never tried it, you will want to, or b) if you’ve dabble in it as a fun release, you’ll grasp it’s true potential to release the great writer in you.

  1. Improv Writing Kills Your Internal Editor

By having a hard time limit, you are forced to drive the story forward. You can’t afford to go back and make your effort pretty, to select a better adjective, to tweak a phrase so that it rolls better of the tongue of the mind. You have to move the story along and that is key to getting through the first draft of any work. Improv writing allows you to ignore the blemishes of what is already on the page and just get the story that is swirling in your mind onto the paper or screen in front of you.

2. You Will Discover Your Voice

Voice is something each of us has. It is what makes us different from the next schmuck with an idea for a novel. Voice is the you in your writing. It is that special something that makes the story yours versus someone else’s tale of a non-binary werewolf looking for love while touring the Dutch tulip fields in 1973. Improv writing brings your voice forward like no other tool I know.

For the longest time, I was convinced that my writing destiny lay in epic fantasy. I loved, lived, and breathed that genre. I set out to write a trilogy set in my own magical world. Yet I struggled to move it forward. I started and fought and sputtered and started again. Then I dove into improv writing and found that, when pressed by the constraints of the medium, my brain never went to fantasy. I wrote contemporary stories dripping with wry humor, offbeat characters, and odd scenarios. My voice emerged of its own accord and it was not in any way the voice I saw as mine until it popped out and said, “Yo, douchebag. What took you so long?”

3. You Can Try Things Out

Let’s say you have a work in progress. You have a character you love or a scene you want to expand. Improv writing is an opportunity to flesh out that character, reimagine that scene, play around with the structured narrative of your current project. Maybe in your story your protagonist would never attack an innocent. But, in the freeing realm of improv, a writing prompt may just let you experience what your character would do or how they would react to doing just that, or sitting by while that happened, or maybe they shoplifted a Snickers. I don’t know, but you get the point. Improv lets you play with aspects of characters and events that you won’t reveal in your story, but will add to your understanding of that character’s depth, that scene’s importance, and what the consequences would be to your fictional world if you changed just a tiny aspect of your work.

4. Exposition Go Bye-Bye

Okay, we have all read or been guilty of writing the hated info dump opening. These are the “here’s how my world works” first five pages that agents and editors stop reading after paragraph one. Improv writing forces you to ditch exposition. There’s no time for backstory and world building on the page when you only have ten minutes to vomit out an opening narrative. This is a good thing! You quickly realize that, no matter the genre, readers don’t need or want a lengthy setup of the world in which the story takes place or the traumatic history of the main character. That info can come later, at the time and place the reader and the character need that knowledge revealed. Your story features complicated social norms? Improv writing forces you to show them to us through interactions with your characters, not by telling the reader how things work before starting us along the path of the story.

Improv writing is like a trip to the gym for your creative muscles. It hits your weak spots. It lets you flex your strengths. It leaves you tired but energized and eager for more. I challenge you to tackle an improv writing event at you earliest opportunity and experience how your writing will metamorphose. Pikes Peak Writers offers improvisational writing every second Wednesday. Check out Write Drunk, Edit Sober on for details.

Bowen Gillings

Bowen Gillings is an award-winning author writing to appease the story demons in his head. A former president of Pikes Peak Writers, he currently hosts Open Critique and Writing with a View each month (both on COVID-induced hiatus). He has been featured in Allegory e-zine, Voices and Views and Rocky Mountain Writers podcasts, Ghosts of Downtown, Writing is Art, and the Writing from the Peak blog. He holds a Master of Education in Adult Education and is a travel enthusiast, nature lover, and closeted RPG nerd. He enjoys cooking big meals for family and friends, hiking wooded mountain trails, and seeking Zen through mixed martial arts. Born in Wisconsin, he grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, matriculated in Minnesota, and then bounced around Europe with the Army. He’s lived on both coasts, danced on the Great Wall of China, and driven a Volvo from Alaska to Louisiana before settling in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Check out his website and look for his latest work in the anthology from Pikes Peak Writers due out in 2021.

Wishing You the Best!

It is finally happening! The day we have all (at least most of us) have been looking forward to – the end of 2020. Even though it has been a tumultuous year in many ways, it has also been a year to celebrate. Faced with the challenge of not being able to meet readers face to face, many, many authors launched books, held readings, and virtually held launch parties throughout 2020. If you are curious to see all of Pikes Peak Writers’ successes, head over to Sweet Success on our website.

This past year also brought you over 50 articles from fellow PPW members covering subjects ranging from marketing and social media, to inspiration and every other aspect of writing. Writing from the Peak is chock-full of everything you need to write and stay inspired.

Most important of all?


Thank you for your support throughout 2020. Everyone here at Writing from the Peak wish you and your families, friends, and loved ones, the best of this holiday season, and may 2021 be the brightest year for all of you.

Keep on writing!!

Finding the Perfect Gift for the Writer in Your Life

The holidays are coming up quick and gift giving is at the heart of the holidays. Have you thought about what to give that writer in your life? Here are just a few ideas that any writer I think would love (I know I would!).

Never Enough Notebooks

As a writer, I’m always jotting down ideas whenever something strikes me, so how about some nice notebooks in different sizes? I know in this age of smart phones, notebooks are very low-tech, but I know of some writers who prefer to write their story ideas—or even first drafts—down on paper. Small notebooks can fit into a purse or back pocket, and bigger ones are nice to write out your scenes.

Writing Instruments

They will need something to write with in their notebook, so why not some nice pens? You can find out which pen your writer prefers and buy a few packs of them. Especially if they do book signings, having a pen they like will make life easy for them knowing they have several pens on hand.


How about a subscription to a writers magazine? There are so many to choose from—Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, The Writer, and Writer’s Forum are just a few magazines geared toward the craft of writing. Each has their own format they follow, whether it’s articles on the craft, where to submit your work, or info on conferences and competitions. Most of these are available online or on Kindle as well as a printed copy, so find out what your writer prefers.

Refreshments for the Soul

Coffee or tea, and a cute mug to go with it. We writers need to keep our brains awake and the creative juices flowing, so we need that caffeine. Again, find out their caffeinated beverage of choice and buy a box or three for them. Or if they just have to have their Starbucks coffee, buy them a gift card so they can get their venti Pike Place with cream and nine sugars.

Send them to a Writing Conference

Maybe you could pay part of their way to a writers conference. A little pricier than the other suggestions, but the writer in your life will love you for it if you can manage it. They are a great way for a writer to learn about many aspects of the business, from writing to editing to marketing.

Craft Books

Have they ever mentioned any books on the craft of writing? There are MANY.  Stephen King’s On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!, Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, and Become A Successful Indie Author by, Craig Martelle, have helped many writers with their work. All you need to do is search on-line for writing craft books if your writer doesn’t have a preference.

Buying a gift for the writer in your life doesn’t have to be difficult. Most of us are happy with anything, but having a little thought put into the gift-buying will bring a smile to their face. Happy shopping!

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:

How Can Flash Fiction Improve Your Writing?

By: Tammila Wright

Flash fiction fascinates me. Some think of these micro-stories as sloppy attempts at writing. But I am consistently blown away by these condensed pieces of art, precious Picasso’s earning their rightful places in the Louvre Museum. Flash fiction authors can take an entire essence of a story and reduce it to one breath. One “breath” that the reader can consume in seconds or minutes rather than hours. Talent with the ability to clarify what most of us would require many pages. How?  By adopting their Voodoo of clarity to reduce extra words can enhance all genres of writing. Their unique ability instantly captures the reader’s attention with the subtilty of a jackhammer. The reader is encouraged to ask questions, and their imagination is left unhinged. Can’t we all benefit from such genius?

What is this “gold mine” called flash fiction?

Flash fiction goes by other names such as microstories, micro fiction, sudden fiction, or short-short fiction with a word count of somewhere between six and 1000 words. The stories are tight and clear, sucking the reader in quickly, with each sentence moving the plot forward. It contains a complete plot, the beginning, middle, and conclusion involving only one or two characters.

The beginning of the flash fiction contains the hook, the main moral dilemma, and the character’s needs, as in a traditional full-length story. The middle speeds toward the obstacles, moral or physical,  which the character is experiencing. And the end shows the character’s goal completion but with a surprise or a twist which sets it apart from a prose poem or vignette. The overarching theme is complete.

An unknown author created one of the most famous micro-fiction stories:

 “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

Ernest Hemingway may have comprised the micro-story, but historians disagree. Regardless, it is a simple example of flash fiction containing a beginning, middle, and an end.

In Alex Keegan’s short-short fiction, Bones, he gives us a great example of leaving the reader wanting more:

“He had twenty-three minutes, a third of an hour and then a twentieth, thirty-three-and-a third percent of an hour plus five-per-cent. Find the bones, they said…”

Where I believe we get bogged down is character descriptions. Show not tell is our mantra. Does your audience need to know what your character’s first dog’s name was? Yes, you are cool for creating the deep back story, but all of that takes precious word space. Micro-fiction can push us to summarize feelings or emotions tied to an event instead of needless backstory. How can you go wrong with creating instant physical descriptions so the reader can immediately envision the characters and move on to the juicy bits?

To improve my screenwriting, I found a treasure trove in flash fiction.  In screenwriting, an entire scene must be four-line paragraphs, including character descriptions. James Cameron is many things, but you might not know that he is a master of character description in his scripts. For example, perusing the first pages of Titanic, Cameron’s description of the centurion, Rose Calvert:

“The old woman’s name is ROSE CALVERT. Her face is a wrinkled mass, her body shapeless and shrunken under a one-piece African-print dress. But her eyes are just as bright and alive as those of a young girl.”

For other characters, Cameron uses actions such as “sings softly in Russian.” We instantly understand the submersible’s pilot is Russian without looking at his name. What about the character, Brock Lovett’s description?

“…a salvage superstar who is part historian, part adventurer, and part vacuum cleaner salesman.”

The full Titanic screenplay is available online for free, and I encourage you to review it even if you know the ending.

How can flash fiction help in other areas of writing?

How about during the editing phase? By reading and writing flash fiction, we can develop a knack for identifying unnecessary words. Stephen King says he writes his first draft for himself and edits his second draft for his readers. He understands the need for unrestrained creativity but reels it in for the second draft. Also, by developing a “flash fiction mindset” during editing, you may discover information that we commonly repeat. Get rid of it.  

As an exercise, take a random sentence from something you have written. Reduce it to ten words. Now five words. Three? Hand it to someone to read. Ask them if they are confused or want to read more? Can you reduce it to two or one? You might have found your title. Consider these examples, Jaws, Brave, Elf, Rocky, It, The Godfather, Gone With the Wind (yes, that is four, but the novel is HUGE). Flash fiction titles are a study all of its own. The authors make stunning use of every word that delivers a punch. For example, Joyce Carol Oates’s, Widow’s First Year,  is about surviving grief and, Damon Stewart, Déjà vu You Too, Champ, the main theme surrounds reincarnation.

By training us to whittle down our character description, their actions and intentions become clear and concise, improving our reader’s experience. Hopefully, the story will prompt the reader to think deeply about the story’s true meaning instead of drowning in a sea of useless descriptions dragging down the pace. Decongesting the story creates room for the addition of a twist at the conclusion. A twist that might change their understanding of what the story meant instead of confusing them. A twist that answers the central question by surprising the reader rather than frustrating them. Please make sure to include the character’s reaction to the resolution, so you fulfill the reader. 

Tammila K. Wright

Tammila K. Wright is a fifth-generation Colorado Native and self-proclaimed history geek. She writes, talks, and even acts out her love of history. She is a commissioner for the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Commission, contributing articles for the Pikes Peak Bulletin Newspaper. Her past production projects allowed her to work for The History Channel, Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS, and Animal Planet. Her screenwriting has paved the way for two exciting projects in 2021, soon to be announced.  She is a staff blog writer and member of Pikes Peak Writers.

Tammila resides in Manitou Springs with her husband of 32 years, an astonishing daughter, and operates The Feather W Bird Sanctuary. Catch up with Tammila on her website.

Top Ten SEO Tips for Writers, Part 2

By: DeAnna Knippling

This is a two-part post. Part 1 covered how to pick article subjects for SEO. This week’s post covers a series of small tasks to take to optimize your website and post for SEO.

Now that you have your article written, let’s dive into the world of optimization.

SEO can get hugely complex. But, honestly, if you’ve written a good article (as in the first part of this post), then you’re good! If it comes down to a choice between trying to get everything perfect and posting, just post it! SEO is a long-term strategy. It’s better to follow these optimization tips, but don’t get wound up about them!

6. Website tweaking. 

Here are the things you should make sure your website does before you do anything else (or have your web guru do for you):

  • Check that the links for your individual posts have words in them (based on your article title), and not dates, numbers, or other short codes. This is often a blog setting.
  • Find out whether you can automatically create custom snippets or “rich” snippets. If not, you may need a plugin that does that (I use RankMath.)
  • If you’re a guru, make sure your blog posts/articles can be crawled. If you don’t know what that means, ask your web guru to make sure. If you don’t have a web guru, you should be fine, because this is the default setting.

7. Post tweaking.

Here are the things to tweak before you post:

  • Pick a main keyword (word or phrase) to use on the post, like “gothic horror fiction.”
  • Put that keyword in the title of the post somehow.
  • Put that keyword in the text of your post 2-3 times, preferably with one near the beginning.
  • If you are set up for snippets, write a custom snippet that sums up your article and includes your keyword.
  • Check that your title delivers what it says it does.
  • Consider whether someone searching for your keyword would be pleased to read that post, or go, “That wasn’t what I was looking for!” and hit the back button. If the latter, redo your title.

8. Set up metrics (OPTIONAL!).

Here’s a link on how to set up Google Analytics, via Hootsuite:

(Please note that the title clearly shows the title of the article!)

Once it’s set up, check whether you’re getting more overall website traffic by finding the Behavior report section, then clicking Overview, and expanding the date by clicking on the date range and adding more dates, so you can see your numbers going up 🙂

There’s a lot more you can do with Google Analytics (and, sorry, they can only track the data after you installed Analytics on your site), but the big satisfaction and motivation comes from watching your overall numbers rise.

9. Keep your expectations reasonable.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Be patient. SEO builds slowly.
  • You don’t need to post SEO-optimized posts on a regular basis. Again, writers are so bad at this that any optimized posts are bound to be better than none. They do take extra work.
  • Type your keywords into a search engine and eyeball the top results. If you think you can write a better article, go for it!
  • Make sure the article you write benefits you. If you’re writing about the top ten best space operas of 2020 and you don’t mention your book in the article somewhere (“while I was researching for my new novel, Space Opera for the Tone-Deaf, released this year, I read a number of new space opera novels! Here are my top ten…”), why bother? You put in the work, you get to promote your stories!
  • If you want to go one step further on minimum work for maximum effort, use Google Keyword Planner: You don’t need to sign in or have an account. Click Go to Keyword Planner, then Discover New Keywords, and then type in your keyword (word or phrase) in the search field, then Get Results. You should get a bunch of keyword ideas. Pick the one with the highest Avg. monthly searches with a Competition rate of Low. Warning: the keyword tool isn’t intuitive. Save this for a day when you have some extra brain cells.

10. Links and sharing.

While SEO is a way of attracting readers without having to do active promotion, you can also promote your article, both to get people to read it, and to improve your SEO rankings. SEO doesn’t just depend on keyword use, but on how people treat your articles once they get there.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Share your work. Be amusing and reader-focused about it rather than whiny or pushy. But get in the habit of sharing your work!
  • The more people link to your article, the happier the search engine will be to send more people to your article.
  • The easier your article is to find from your main website, the happier the search engine will be to send more people to your article (if it takes more than three clicks to get there from your front page, that’s a no-no).
  • The more you link out from your page, the better (within reason), even if you’re linking to your competition.
  • Linking to somewhere else on your own website also reflects well on you, as in, “See my other articles on writing sales copy for writers for more detail: link, link, and link.”
  • If someone else who might be interested is listed in your article, contact them! Maybe Stephen King doesn’t want to know about your favorite Stephen King novel of all time, but maybe his publicist does. This falls into the “it couldn’t hurt to ask” category. I can guarantee that anyone you interview wants to know when your article goes live—and you can gently remind them to share the article.
  • Share other people’s posts. This is another area writers are horribly bad at. Share posts promoting your work, even if it’s a short story collection and you’ve already been paid. Share posts that promote work in your genre (unless you hate the specific author/work). Share posts related to your “where you get your ideas from” list. Share posts related to things your audience might like. Share things that interest you. While your biggest wins on SEO happen on your website (and not on social media), in-person networking happens mostly on social media. Yes, it’s hard to translate followers into blog readers. You can whine about it, or you can be nice and share links 🙂

As a writer, you’re probably doing most of this already, or you meant to do most of this already but have been tangled up in other issues, or are not sure what’s the most important thing to start with.

To strip SEO down to its bare minimum for those who aren’t already blogging:

  1. Set up a website.
  2. Figure out your genre.
  3. Write nerdy or fan blogs related to your genre.

The rest is tweaking. A little tweaking can have a long payoff, over time.

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert; you just have to be brave enough to keep writing down what you love.

And, as a writer, you do know how to do that!

Did you miss Part 1? Check it out here!

Deanna Knippling

DeAnna 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 snow blower, 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, Wonderland Press, also on Facebook and Twitter.

Top 10 SEO Tips for Writers

By: DeAnna Knippling

This is a two-part post; this week’s post covers how to pick article subjects for SEO. Next week’s post will cover a series of small tasks to optimize your website and post for SEO.

And the best of all SEO tips for fiction writers is…to blog.

Ironically, fiction writers can be scared to use their powers of wordsmithing for anything other than fiction writing. Query letters, synopses, book descriptions, ad text, log lines, bios, and other promotional material can all seem terrifying. I was no different, until I realized that learning good sales writing techniques could not only help me sell books, but write better fiction.

I’ll go into more depth about that another day.

Today, let’s talk about the easiest, most no-brainer sales writing for a fiction writer: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

In writer terms, SEO is:

  • Having a blog.
  • Figuring out what niche or sub-sub-subgenre you write in.
  • Brainstorming an accurate answer to the question, “Where do you get your ideas from?”
  • Writing a 1000-word article on one element of your inspirations that you have already researched for your story.
  • Tweaking a few things before you hit publish.

Using good SEO techniques won’t solve all your writing and publishing problems, and it won’t make you a superstar overnight. But it will bring in more eyeballs to your website, and it will train you to write reader optimized content, less focused on what you feel like writing that day, and more focused ono what your audience is interested in.

Personally, I felt like the hard part was figuring out my niche, which took me more than a few years. If you’re not sure about your niche, just make your best guess and jot it down for now; you can change your mind or refine from “mystery” to “house restoration witch cozy with dogs” later!

Here are the tips:

1. Set up a website with an “about” page and the ability to post articles—that is, a blog.

I also recommend setting up a sales page, but that might be a task for another day. Do make sure that you update your social media profile information with your website link right away, though! If you already have a website set up, check your social media profiles anyway, to make sure no links are missing or broken.

2. Figure out your niche.

More specifically, figure out who loves your fiction beyond all reason and what makes them do that. If you don’t know of anyone who loves your fiction that way yet, ask yourself what makes you write the stories that you do (other than “entertain people” or “make money”). Some soul-searching may be involved here.

What you are looking for:

  • The name of your sub-sub-subgenre or niche.
  • The type of person who loves your fiction, and any demographical patterns you see (for example, I have a fair number of readers who are high school teachers). If you’re not sure, then you are your #1 fan for now.
  • Why those people love your work beyond all reason.
  • Why you write the fiction that you write.
  • Ideally, why your fiction is unique for the people who love your work beyond all reason.

A good template for this might be:  “I write [niche] for [audience with these traits]. [Audience] wants [list of demands!]. I’m a [relevant background or personality, writing skills]. What makes my work unique is [unique trait among same types of work].”

One example (not mine!) might read something like, “I write LitRPG for Gen-X and Millennial video gamers who can’t connect with classic SF, dabble in manga and light novels, and want drama about hacking systems without the extreme darkness of an old-school cyberpunk novel. They want to be with characters who defeat systems using their own wits and knowledge, and they want it in incredible detail. I’m a long-time video gamer who knows how to make the nuances of stat choices clear and emotionally resonant, and I can tie those micro-choices to larger questions like dealing with mortality and grief and finding one’s purpose in life. What makes my work unique is that I have a great familiarity with classic SF works, and can come up with scenarios that out-game and out-twist what’s coming out of the video game industry currently.”

Like I said, this is the hard part. Just do your best! Once you know this stuff, you can sleepwalk through a lot of sales writing! In sales terms, you’re identifying your product, audience/persona, what audience needs it addresses, and your unique selling proposition (USP). On an SEO level, this is how you’ll pick keywords.

3. Brainstorm a list of keywords.

Keywords are a list of words or phrases that your readers might type into a search engine in order to find new books, like “new mysteries 2020” or “what to read after Hunger Games.”

This can get really nerdy and number-crunchy. My advice here is: don’t bother. You don’t need to perfect your techniques here! Most writers are so bad at SEO that any thought you put into this is going to improve the number of readers you receive.

Here are my minimum-effort, maximum-result suggestions:

  • Brainstorm a list of terms that’s related to your sub-sub-subgenre or niche.
  • Plug those terms into Google and see if the results on the first page are mostly related to books. (For example, if you type in “time travel,” you’ll get theories about time travel, not time travel books.)
  • The terms where mostly fiction shows up on the first page of results are your new keywords. Yay!

4. Brainstorm where you got your ideas from.

You can do this in general or by picking one particular story/series that you’ve written. KEEP THIS LIST!

What you are looking for:

  • You are an experienced reader/fan in your niche, either classic tales, recent releases, or both.
  • You have life experiences related to this niche, or that have given you a twist on this niche.
  • You have researched areas or have experience related to your particular story.
  • You got your ideas from a news event or nonfiction event.
  • You got your ideas from an event that happened to you personally.
  • You got your ideas from wondering about something specific.

The more of these you can come up with, the better!

5. Write your article!

Pick one of the topics from your “where you got your ideas from” list, and write about it.

Shoot for 1000+ words with bullet points and/or separate sections.

While you can always write what you want, when you want, and post it on your blog, writing articles with an eye for SEO means writing longish articles that you can break up somehow. There are a ton of techniques for this, but, again,  most writers are so bad at doing this, that anything that keeps your article from being a bunch of really long paragraphs is good.

You don’t need to worry about keywords yet! You can include a keyword if something suggests itself, like writing, “My Top 10 Motorcycle Club Romance Novels to Read After a Divorce” if you a) write motorcycle club romances and b) binge-read them while you were getting divorced.

Now that you have your article written, it’s time to make a few tweaks to optimize your website and content. We’ll cover that next week!

Deanna Knippling

DeAnna 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 snow blower, 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, Wonderland Press.

How to Write Female Characters

(if you’re a guy)

By: Jason Evans

When I read fiction written by men I sometimes am surprised by how bad the female characters are written in them. It doesn’t happen most of the time, so when it does, it’s glaring. Today I want to write specifically to men who write female characters on how to make them feel authentic to female readers. This should be paramount to any writer because 2/3rds of all books in the United States are purchased by women.  

So let’s get started.

Don’t confuse social expectation with biology.

In the west, we expect women to express their emotions more frequently and publicly than men. This is not biological, this is culture. There are emotional men and quiet, stoic women. While culture is important – especially in world-building – ask yourself if the trait, habit, or reaction your female characters show is probably more about culture than biology.

If you remember this, you can write your female characters differently, allowing them to contrast with each other and making them unique. It will also allow a larger range of options for your female characters when they react to the events of your plot.

Sexy is not a personality trait and women don’t see themselves through men’s eyes.

It can be hard for men to understand this, so let me make this patently clear. Women don’t actively try to entice all men. Yes, many women will dress up, put on makeup, and do their hair to impress one man. Very few women, however, get up every morning and consider whether their blouse will support their plans for world domination. Guys, they aren’t concerned about you. In fact, many women have confided in me that they’re more inclined to dress to impress each other than they are to impress the men around them. (After all, we’re not that hard to impress.)

Therefore, sexy is not a character trait. This does not mean there aren’t women who dress provocatively on a daily basis. But this is usually because they find the provocativeness empowering. Sometimes it can be for deep-seeded reasons that, again, have very little to do with us men.  

Women have agency, too.

In older stories, it was common for the female character to be helpless in some way. This allowed the male protagonist to rescue her. While this can be a legitimate story on its own, we forget that women have agency. Your female characters should have full lives outside of your male protagonist. Things like careers, hobbies, families, and colleagues outside of the male protagonist.

Let them react to the story villain in unconventional ways. Better yet, have your female characters make their own contingency plans. I know many women who have created a network of friends and acquaintances that have skill sets and resources they don’t have. They are quick to call upon that network when emergencies occur.

Show your female characters accessing that network! Show the reader your female character turning in markers and horse-trading to get things done. Or, let her be the boss lady threatening underlings and dangling bonuses and promotions to solve a problem. Regardless of the route you take, remember your character is not a dead trout. She can react and solve problems just like men.

Femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive.

We’ve all consumed media with the tough tomboy stereotype. We’ve all seen the fussy, girly-girl who squeals whenever bugs or mud shows up. These are stereotypes. Just because a woman likes to wear make-up or get her hair done, does not make her vapid or weak. Women can like girly things, gentlemen, and still be strong and competent. (See the paragraphs on agency above.) Besides, having a strong supporting female character who wears Jimmy Choo shoes and loves pink lipstick makes the character interesting. Try it, fellas. You’ll see.

Speaking of femininity, there are some women who do get marriage or baby fever. But even in the midst of wedding planning or baby planning, female characters should still have full lives outside the baby bump and the bridal shower. If you have scenes where two or more females are talking alone, please have them talk about something other than babies, weddings, and the guys in their lives. Try passing the Bechtel Test. (Two or more female characters converse and don’t talk about a man.)

Pump the brakes on female suffering.

Your male protagonist burst in minutes or hours later to find out that the woman he loves has been violated and what is his reaction? Does he comfort her? Does he call for an ambulance or doctor? No. He grinds his teeth and clenches his fists and goes on a murdering spree of backwoods country justice. Can’t you just hear the banjos in this?

This is BAD writing! It is a cliché for a male protagonist to have a dead wife or mother. It is an even bigger cliché for that male protagonist to have a wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter who is the victim of sexual violence and it needs to stop. First of all, some statistics say 2/5 males and 2/3 females in the U.S. have been sexually assaulted. So when you write your big reveal scene with your helpless female victim, your fans are probably putting the book down. How many will ever pick it up again? 

But the other reason this is BAD writing is that it reduces your female character into a plot device and personal motivation for your male protagonist. (Remember the agency conversation above?) She has no other purpose than as a McGuffin. If your female characters exist only to be eye candy, damsels to be saved, or plot devices to get through Act Two, then you need to re-think your approach to your female characters. Your female characters should have as much depth as your male characters. They should be interesting in their own right, and not because of their physique.

So, how do you get there?

Find women to read your manuscript. If you have a choice, work with a female editor, too. (I know mine improved my novel immensely.) But get women outside your immediate family to read your story. Old women, young women, women of color, straight women, lesbians, and trans-women, too. They will tell you when your female character is off. LISTEN to what they say.

If we can get out of our own heads and write better women characters, we will evolve into better writers. That alone makes the journey worthwhile.  

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


By: Kathie Scrimgeour

It’s that time of year when writers around the world go a little crazy by attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month. Will you be one of them this year?

In the past, Writing from the Peak has posted a number of articles to help you through this month and the list below will hook you up with some of my favorites. First, and most importantly, hop over to the official NaNoWriMo website where you will find a plethora of information on everything NaNoWriMo.

Links to get you through the month

Hopefully, by now, you are ready to write starting on Sunday, November 1, 2020. As for me? This year will be dedicated to editing, but I’ll be cheering all of you crazy writers to reach whatever goal you have set for yourself.

Best of luck to all of you!!

KJ Scrim, head shot

Managing 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. You will find her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter: @kjscrim.