May 17, 2016

Tips for Starting a New Novel

7b033ab7cd4f0b30d178fdfd27205bdcI recently started a new novel. I began with a germ of an idea and it has grown and emerged since. Because we all write in different ways, I thought I’d share some of my tips for starting a new novel and ask my writer friends to add a few of theirs. Working on a completed novel is a lot easier than starting from that first blank page. Yet the challenge and excitement of seeing a new creation come to life cannot be measured. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Here are some tips on how to start a new novel.

Allow the idea to grow and mature. If your idea were a seed, you’d plant it, water it, tend to it, but you wouldn’t push it or drown it. Give it time and space to grow.

I know when I get to a point in my writing where I feel bored or not sure where to go next, usually a new character jumps up. The fun about new characters is they bring a whole new perspective on the goings on. Allow those new characters to emerge and grow like the seed you planted.

Open it up, read what you wrote the day before and plow forward. If you think, well, I’ll skip today and do something else, like surf Facebook. That kind of thinking will leave the new project to die in your computer. Just a little attention every day will nurture your new project.

Just writing the bare bones–plot does not create the world where your characters exist. Granted things have to happen, but they don’t happen in a vacuum. Mood, weather, place are almost as important as character.

In other words, make a note to yourself and then do the research later. Come back the next day and fill in what you’ve learned. If you stop and research the name of a place or the date something happened, you’ll lose your hold on your creative mind.

Don’t get wedded to anything you’ve written. Something else may emerge making what you wrote the day before irrelevant. Let go of the meaningless as new developments spring forth.

Once you start writing, you have something to build on. Go for it!

These are a few of my tips for starting to write a new novel. What are some of yours?

Check out the book trailer for The Clock Strikes Midnight, a book that won the Royal Palm Literary Award, first place in mainstream/literary fiction for 2015.


Tips on How Not to Let Others Squelch Your Creativity

Recently I heard someone say, “I tried to write a novel, but when my wife read it, she said…”

Quicker than my foot will squelch a bug. As artists, whether literary artists or visual artists, we must avoid allowing others to squelch our creativity. If we don’t, imagine how much would be lost. Imagine if someone had said to Steve Jobs, “Oh, you can’t have a phone without an on-off switch.” Imagine!

One real example happened when I was the squelcher. Years ago my husband considered trying his hand at art. He’d made some sketches on a pad. I looked at them and said, “Those are great trees.” He grimaced and replied, “Those aren’t trees. They are people.” He never picked up his artist pen again. Ugh!

Here are some tips to keep those squelchers away from you:

Do not show the early stages of a project to anyone else, even your spouse. You might say, but what if what I’m doing is totally crap and a waste of time. Who cares? Keep going. If you don’t want to keep going, then stop and do something else. But, if you do want to push ahead, keep your work to yourself until it’s finished.

If you’ve created something that’s never been created before, it’s no wonder people don’t get it. Here’s another example. Someone told me they were reading their mystery manuscript to their partner. When they got to Chapter 5, the partner said, “But you killed that character in Chapter 2.” Under normal circumstances the writer wouldn’t bring back a character they had killed off, but maybe this wasn’t a normal circumstance. Maybe this writer was creating a paranormal mystery or even a story where what we thought happened in Chapter 2 didn’t really happen.

Maybe you began by writing a romance, but something happens in the writing, something that changes the entire character of your book. Do you fight that or let it flow? I say let it flow. You’ll be amazed at what happens.

All artists struggle with not allowing others to squelch their creativity.  Visual artists never show the portrait to the person sitting for them until it’s finished. All that person would have to say is, “That doesn’t look anything like me.” Then, it’s all over. Keep your work to yourself until you are done and allow that creative self of yours to flourish!

Here’s my latest creative endeavor. Take a look at this book trail that showcases the e-Murderer

Why Writers Keep Writing

3d1c5469c19bde22993e8a2d68b4e6c2I’ve often wondered what keeps writers writing. As a reader, I’m grateful that people out there in the world persist in this rather unrewarding activity. I say unrewarding only in the sense of traditional rewards, e.g., money, fame. Most of what writers get instead is criticism or armchair hindsight. So why do writer’s write?

I will share some of the reasons I write and some of the reasons I’ve heard other writers say they write.

In other words, we are very verbal people. We express our thoughts, feelings and more through the written word. Some of us also do so through the spoken word, but most writers prefer the written word. Why? There’s little rebuttal. We can get all our thoughts and feelings on the page without controversy (until later, of course).

For some of us, that’s all we’re really good at. Writing is our thing. Our friends and colleagues come to us to help them construct their written idea. “You’re so good at writing, could you look at this letter for me?” or “You write so well, please help me with my proposal.”

Many writers will say they write for themselves, but most of us write for our readers. We want to please readers through our writing. We hear their pleasure through reviews and when they tell us face-to-face. That creates a warm feeling that keeps us at it.

If you want to be a writer, you need to recognize the realities when settling on this career.

Very few writers hit it big and in today’s market even those are not making the money they used to make. And, no, your first novel will probably not be made into a movie. Likely, it will sell a few copies and then disappear into oblivion. If you crave fame and fortune, I’d suggest another career, professional baseball, maybe?

You might think you’ve written the best piece of fiction ever and your Beta readers agree. “Wow, you’ve got something here.” But, you send it out and you learn many people do not like your work. When you put your work out there, you must take the criticism along with the praise. And actually the best work garners both.

In other words, you probably will never recoup the hours in money or recognition. Sometimes, you may never get what you’ve written published.

Thank goodness! Why do you keep writing. Share your reasons with us.

Editing or Writing That is the Question #writingtips #amwriting

BloggingI’m in the middle of several writing projects. I’m finishing the final edits on the e-Murderer. My publisher has it, now but I suspect I’ll be getting the final galleys any day now. In addition, I’m working on editing the second book in the Jenna Scali series. Once I finish it, I’ll send it to my publisher. Both those projects have me knee deep in editing. Lots of editing, revising, tweaking.

The fun of writing is not in the editing. At least not for me. Writing a new book from the  beginning requires different discipline.

It’s like getting into a writing trance that allows the characters and events to lead the writer from one sentence to the next. As a writer, I’m not thinking about commas or the most efficient way to say something. I’m only thinking about putting into words the thoughts coming from my head. They tumble out one after another.

Right now I’m in the middle of a new work-in-progress (WIP). This is a stand-alone book that has nothing to do with The Clock Strikes Midnight or with the Jenna Scali series. It’s a totally new project. Whether or not it reaches the final stages for an editor’s review remains to be seen at this point.

Nonetheless, I have learned that I have to stop the distraction of editing while I’m creating. For me it’s hard to go from an editing project to a creating project, back and forth. Some writers might be able to do this easily. Others may be like me and prefer to separate the two.

A Title That Says It all–#MeBeforeYou

love, happiness, valentines day, face expressions and people con

 The book captured me with it’s simplicity and depth. As a writer I learn the most from reading.

Indeed, we all learn from each other. My last post talked about some of my insights having read #GirlontheTrain. This time I want to begin by looking at that amazing title: #MeBeforeYou.

I’d love to ask her. What did you think when you saw the title? My husband, who is a psychiatrist, said, “I was intrigued.” Of course, he sees everything with a bit more depth than I do. Me, I thought, What in the world does that mean?

Having read the book, I realize that the title, MeBeforeYou is not only appropriate, it is the only title for this book. It captures everything and everyone in the story.

As a writer, I find the title one of the most difficult tasks, even harder than writing the novel.

Here are the reasons I find titling my work so hard:

When I’m writing, I have no idea what the essence is. I’m busy creating characters and watching them react to situations. Often my working title never sees the light of day.

For mystery writers titles usually must have the words murder, blood, dead or kill in them somewhere. When mystery readers see the title, they know instantly if that book is for them.

Think about titles you’ve forgotten, Kat Atkinson wrote a wonderful book by the title… OMG, I forgot. Wait, I’ll look it up… I’m back. The title was “Behind the Scenes at the Museum.” Now, I have to tell you, I still don’t know how that title relates to the book. Goldfinch was a great title, not as poignant as Me Before You, but memorable.

So, why is Me Before You such a great title?

  • It describes all the characters’s relationships with one another.

    (until the end which I won’t give away.) Lou put herself before Will. Will put himself before Lou. Katrina put herself before her family and particularly before Lou. Lou’s mom put herself before her family (as a maryter). Patrick put himself before Lou. It goes on and on. Yes, clearly very few characters put the You first. Some may argue that Will’s dad and even his mom put the You first. As for the rest…

  • When thinking about big, tough questions, like assisted suicide, where does the You go? Where does the Me go? These are the questions the reader asks throughout this story.
  • I’m sure all the moms and dads out there say they put their children first. But, do they really? Most of us put Me before You all the time. Even in the throes of love, we do so. On rare and very special occasions when we are faced with unique decisions, life and death decisions, we change the role and put you first. Rarely, though and sometimes not even then.

For me I continue to think about the characters. I can’t get their dilemma out of my head. I discussed the book with nearly everyone I saw as I read it.

If JoJo should happen to see this post, please tell us. When did that perfect title hit you? Inquiring minds want to know.


Tips from the First Sentence in The Girl on the Train

english bulldog reading novel - dog obedience schoolAs a writer, I not only read books, all kinds of books, but I also learn from them.  At times I’m unaware of the learning, but some books are so full of beautiful writing, that I find I’m marking page after page (or highlighting, depending on your reading medium).

I found The Girl on the Train full of highlights for writers. 

First sentences are critical for any book. The Girl on the Train started with “There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks.” I have to say, I wondered about those cloths. The main character, Rachel, wondered about those clothes. You the reader will wonder about those clothes. But, in the end, they mean nothing. Well… maybe they mean more than we realize.

This first sentence made me as a reader want to find out more about those clothes. I asked the same questions Rachel asked. She agonized over the missing shoe and the feet that fitted into them. At times throughout the book she came back to those clothes.

This first sentence accomplished it’s task:

 I wanted to know more about those clothes. I wanted to know more about Rachel who spotted those clothes.

The clothes on the side of the tracks–tossed out as if rubbish, had several analogies. The first fit with how Rachel felt about herself. It doesn’t take long for the reader to realize that Rachel, herself, feels wasted and tossed out. Her husband left her for another woman. Her life shattered around her.

That first sentence then set up the theme for the book.

We learn as we continue into the book that Rachel is an unreliable narrator. We learn who she is from her point of view. That point of view is slurred by her abuse of alcohol. Furthermore, she can’t trust what she remembers and what might have been dreams or her imagination. If the character cannot trust themselves, how are the readers to trust what we learn from them? This character sets up all kinds of questions in the readers’s minds. What did Rachel see? What did Rachel experience? Did she even see the clothes? When did she see the clothes? 

The clothes turn out to have little significance in the story. They demonstrated, however, Rachel’s insecurities. Although they didn’t lead to the answers at the end of the book, they helped spark memories for Rachel. 

A first sentence that:

  • Hooks
  • Sets the stage for the story
  • Sets up the theme
  • Symbolizes aspects of the main character
  • Serves as a catalyst for the plot

That’s what Hawkins created. I’m not sure I can ever accomplish such a rich first sentence. As a reader, I’m delighted that Paula Hawkins can and did.

What are your thoughts about first sentences and about The Girl on the Train?

The Writer’s Mantra: Show Don’t Tell

Who Are YouIn the past writers had the luxury of telling their faithful readers whatever they wanted. The mantra of “show” don’t “tell” didn’t exist for Jane Austen or Faulkner. Many pages of backstory might fill a book along with much internal dialogue. Today’s readers have no patience for that kind of writing. Although writers learn from reading and from the masters (including Jane Austen and Faulkner and many more), we must adapt to our reading public.

Our readers want movement and action. Although we are writing novels and not screen plays, sometimes it feels as if we were describing a scene from a move or television show. Why? That’s what our reading public is accustomed to.

As writers we need to understand the backstory to create the front story. In other words, I can’t create a rich character with a lot of hidden secrets and a past if I know nothing about those secrets and that past. Sometimes the setting is the backstory. The writer must understand the place and how it affects the characters and their actions. To understand place and characters and to create motivations and action, writers strive to dig deeper by going backwards. Maybe we are a little like psychoanalysts? Here’s the rub, our readers do not have to know everything.

What is the right balance between action writing and backstory? We can’t leave all the past behind and hope the reader will fill in the blanks. We must share enough to make our characters believable. The challenge is to determine what to include as well as how to include the information in a manner that shows and rather than tells.

Over the years I’ve collected some reminders for myself to help me show vs. tell:

Many writers confuse what active and passive voice mean. Some think the “to-be” verb is passive voice. It may not be the best descriptor of action, but it’s not technically passive voice. Passive voice simply means when the subject of the sentence is not the person or thing taking action. Here’s an example of passive voice.  “The results were delivered to the committee by the chairman.” Notice the subject of the sentence is “results.” The action of the sentence was done (btw, that’s passive) by the chairman. To re-write this sentence in active voice, we’d say: “The chairman delivered the results to the committee.” Usually a construction using passive voice has the to-be verb with the past participle attached–“were delivered, were seen, are taken, is addressed….”

Examples of passive words: 1) heard 2) saw 3) knew 4) felt. Let’s look at another example. “Robert heard the door open.” Or, more actively: “The door opened.” We know Robert heard it because apparently he’s on the scene. Another example, “Mary knew if she escaped she’d be killed.” That sentence has two passive problems–a) “knew” b) “be killed” passive voice. Here’s a way to re-write that sentence more actively: “They would kill Mary if she escaped.” If you’re in Mary’s point-of-view, then clearly she “knows” it. Another method to re-write that sentence: “Mary shivered at the thought of escape. The killer’s knife flashed in her mind. Impossible.” The second example is longer, but it creates more suspense.

Even though dialogue is a great way to slip in some backstory, we must be careful not to dump it. People do not tell each other large chunks of their past. In real life, we open ourselves to each other in small portions. That’s what we strive to do as writers. One character might tell another, “My father drank a lot while we were growing up.” But, I doubt that character would go on to share much more in that scene. The character might share more later.

As we writers struggle to find the right balance between show and tell, we improve our writing. It’s easy to write long paragraphs of backstory. It’s much harder to sneak in
just the right amounts through dialogue or through actions. I suggest replacing the mantra “show” vs. “tell” with “action first, explain later.”

In what ways do you remind yourself to show and not tell? What tips might you share?



6 Tips for Writers on How Not to Multitask

busy woman working at her desk. view from overhead of messy deskI know you’ve been advised to turn off the internet. But do you do it? Are you still getting your email notifications and Facebook notifications and your Twitter stream as you work? Please tell me you are not. My answer to the oft asked  question can writers multitask is no. Maybe you can, and I’m just limited in that regard. If so, let’s hear from you.

As for me, here are some tips that help me to stop multitasking as a writer:

Establish strict rules. Most writers write at home. Few have a nice cozy office away from children, pets and/or retired husbands. If you are one of those few, forget about reading this post! The rest of us need to lay down some rules to our families. DO NOT DISTURB while I’m writing.

Whether you are writing a short story, a novel or your blog post, set a goal. While writing a novel or story, I set a goal of 500 words a day. For blogging, the goal is simple, finish today’s post. Once you finish that goal, you can turn on the notifications and you can open the door to your family.

Put it on your calendar. Writing from 10-noon on Monday. Writing from 1-4 on Tuesday. Plan your writing schedule and hold yourself to it. You can do the grocery shopping and dinner preparations after you finish.

 For example, if you have a proposal that is due for some upcoming event, do that first. Get it off your plate. I suggest to clients that they use the A, B, C method to prioritize their work. A items are the things that have to be done, otherwise gloom and doom will happen. B items are the things that would be nice to get done and you’d feel great for doing it, but no gloom and doom. And C items are the things that it really doesn’t matter if they get done or not. Unfortunately for most of us writers, writing often falls in B or C category. When your publisher is breathing down your neck, then the project moves to A. So, do your A projects so you can get to your B projects.

Again, most of us write in our “spare” time. If you say “yes” to everyone, there will not be any spare time left.

Candy, banana, power bars, healthy snacks. Just make sure you don’t get up and wander into the kitchen.

So, those are my tips for how not to multitask while writing. What tips might you add?


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Fortunately I did a few of these things and I completed my first novel. The Facebook Launch party is tomorrow. Join us for a chance to win a boatload of prizes!

Video Tip: When do I use a plot outline to write my books?

In this video I admit to being a Pantser in writing fiction and an Outliner in nonfiction. What about you? Do you write differently depending on your genre?

Join me on 11/25 for our Facebook Launch and with prizes and giveaways every 15 minutes.


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Tips for Finding Time to Write

To complete an entire books takes time and discipline.

They do this to avoid interruptions. Once you get a story going and your mind is in the creative move, even a slight interruption can destroy your momentum. That makes find the time to write critical to most writers.

So, how do you find the time to write?

Here’s a short video in which I talk about how I carve out my writing time and set daily writing goals.