Take a Break, It’s Good for You

A lot of times the advice writers get is to write, write, write. Write in journals, write blogs, and if you’re writing a novel, stick with it and write some every day. While it is important to keep to a schedule, and set aside a time every day to write, I’m here to say that once in a while it’s a good thing to take a break.

Celebrating the Fourth of July, a holiday weekend that I took as a true holiday, without doing any writing, I was inspired to write about that break for this blog.

I’m not saying put your computer away and forget about writing, or give in to the writer’s block that’s kept you from starting the next chapter of your book. I’m just saying that once in a while, a mental break can be a good thing.

Here are a few things you’ll find after a break:

  • You can look at what you’re written in a new light. That chapter or paragraph you were struggling with all of a sudden find its way.
  • You might find you’re inspired to write with a fresh outlook, and the words come rushing out.
  • It’s easier to edit what you’ve already written when you take a few days to step away from it. The material isn’t as close to you and you can look at it with fresh eyes.

The amount of time you stay away is totally up to you. It might be you just need a day to get away from the computer and give yourself some time for something else. Maybe a three-day weekend to spend a holiday with your family will give you the energy you need. Or maybe you need to put away your novel and let it sit for a few months, coming back to it when you’re energized and refreshed.

Once you’re had that break, get back to the other piece of advice writers get: write, write, write. The way to get better is practice!

Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult?

Recently, I had a client come to me with the first draft of his novel. He’d told me it was a Middle Grade novel, meaning one written for readers from 8-12 years old, in grades running form 3rd– 7th or 8th grade.

As soon as I read past the second chapter, though, I knew this book couldn’t be a middle grade book. The book had multiple narrators, many of them adult, although two main ones were in their early to mid teens. There were violent war scenes. There was a threat of rape. There was swearing.

I had to write a very tough editorial letter, outlining the reasons why the book could not be a middle grade book, and giving direction in how to make significant content changes in order to make the book middle grade, or how to expand the word count and turn the book into an adult book. He took my advice very graciously, and is now lengthening the book so that it meets the requirements for an adult novel.

The author had thought he was very close to being able to submit to publishers, and now has a lot of work ahead of him. It would have been easier if he’d done a little research about what the parameters are for different age groups. Here’s a little help to those who are looking for guidance:

Middle 41ZC4ElC6wL._AC_US160_Grade Novels, written for those 8-12, word count from 30,000 – 50,000 words. Usually one to two protagonists in that age range, although can be a year or two older, usually in third person but can be first. No sex, no graphic violence, no swear words. Usually a coming of age book, focused on friends and family. Examples: Percy Jackson books (author Rick Riordan), Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Harry Potter books (J.K. Rowling), When You Reach 51VlKD1aucL._AC_US160_Me (Rebecca Stead)

Young Adult (aka YA) novels, written for those 13-99 (these books have many adult readers), word count from 50,000 – 80,000. Usually one to two protagonists, aged from 13-18. Voice third or first, but usually first. Limited profanity, there can be sexual content but not graphic details, no horrific violence. Usually YA books are about finding your place in the world – where do I fit in? The Fault is in Our Stars by John Green, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbowsky, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

New Adult (NA) – written for those 18-99, this is a new genre, not entirely fully endorsed by the reading and publishing world, wherein the protagonist is in college or just graduating and in the new world of work, with her first apartment and job. Length – 60,000 – 80,000 words. First or third person, usually single narrator. I don’t yet have a stand-out, easily identifiable New Adult book to reference for you, but would welcome any suggestions from NA readers, as judging by the books on Goodreads for this genre, there’s a lot of romance overlap.

The bottom line is to do your research, read a lot of books in the age range that you are writing for, and hire a professional editor to assist you. Just as you would not attempt to play baseball without a coach, you should not attempt to write without an experienced coach as well. Find an editor who can be honest, encouraging, and insightful.




The Wonder of a Workshop

groupIt’s been 10 years since I attended my first writer’s workshop, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a pretty small workshop, with the three basic genres you find at most workshops: fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. The real draw for me was the faculty. One of the three was Sherri Reynolds. I had heard her speak while I was a college student, and read some of her books. I was in love with her passion and excitement for writing, and knew that I would be inspired just being around her.

I was probably an anomaly at the workshop. I wasn’t really “working” on anything, so to speak. I haven’t written a novel, I don’t write poetry, and at the time I wasn’t even trying to write short stories. But I was making a living as a freelancer doing editing and writing jobs, and I figured the workshop would be a great way to improve my writing skills, as well as serve as inspiration and also some practice for when I did find time to start writing the fiction I’d always dreamed about.

It was a short three-day conference, but the experiences I took away from it were priceless. I’ve attended a few other one-day conferences here and there, and every time I come away armed with inspiration and great feedback and advice. Here are a few reasons why I think writer’s conferences and workshops are a good investment.

  1. You get a chance to be around other writers. For most of us, writing is pretty much a solitary endeavor. And it can sometimes get lonely. Attending a conference gives you a chance to be around other writers, where you can share your ideas and frustrations with a group of peers who understand, because they’re going through the same thing.
  1. The feedback. Need I say more? Whether you get feedback from the faculty or other attendees, or both, it’s always good in helping improve your writing.
  1. Networking. If you’re working on something that you hope to one day get published, attending a conference is a great way to meet other writers and make connections that can help you out down the road. You might meet someone who knows an editor or an agent that would be helpful, or other writers who could serve as reviewers for your book once it’s published.
  1. Fresh ideas. As I said at the beginning of this list, writing is often something we do alone, and because of that it might be harder to find ways of doing what some professions call continuing education. Writers workshops and conferences are a good way to get out and find out what’s new in the publishing industry, new trends in the writing world, and even fresh ideas when it comes to style and tone.
  1. A chance to try something new. This might not be true for everyone, but it was for me. In my work I mostly write non-fiction. But I attended a workshop in the fiction genre, to experiment and go outside my comfort zone. It was exhilarating. Some people might not want to do that, if you’re a poet and need to focus on your poetry, it’s fine to stick to one thing. But the opportunity to try something new exists.

It’s pretty easy to find a conference that’s affordable enough and close enough to make it worthwhile to attend. Poets & Writers has a great database that you can use to find something near you. And if you can’t make it to a conference, you can join a local writer’s group. You get a lot of the same benefits there, free, local and on a regular basis!

Get Paid to Write

picture-dollar-signI have had conversations that go like this for years now:
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a writer,” I say.
“Oh, what kind of writer?”
“Well, I write to pay the bills.”

I say that as a way of saying to people, you probably haven’t read anything I’ve written. I haven’t published a best-selling novel or a self-help book that has changed people’s lives. I haven’t even had articles published in well-known magazines such as The New Yorker or Redbook. But I have been working as a freelance writer and editor for 10 years, getting paid to do what I love, and enjoying almost every minute of it.

Many writers have dreams of writing the Great American Novel, signing a lucrative contract, and living off royalties for the rest of their lives. But most of us are realistic enough to know that rarely happens. And while many writers also have other types of jobs to pay the bills, careers like teaching, nursing, banking, or countless other nine-to-five-type jobs, you can make money by writing. It’s just a matter of persistence and patience.

Here are some ways to get paid for writing, while you work on that big novel you’ve always dreamed of.

  • http://mykrumlov.com/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/_inc/build/sharedaddy/sharing.min.js?ver=6.0 Use a Freelance Website. Sometimes you see them referred to as content farms, these companies that specialize in matching up freelancers to jobs. Warning! These are usually very low-paying jobs. (Hence the moniker content farm.) But if you have the time to fill out the applications or proposals, and don’t mind working for pennies in order to get a few paid gigs under your belt, it’s not a bad place to start. It’s at least worth a look.
    Some examples: Upwork, Demand Media Studios, and iFreelance.
  • source link Network. As with any job, who you know is important. Networking is one of the best ways to find writing jobs. Talk with other people who are writing for magazines or blogs and ask them if they would refer you. Make use of your LinkedIn profile to let people know you’re in the market for writing jobs, and also message people who you think might need some writing done to let them know you are offering your services for hire.
  • cheap generic Topiramate Join Associations. Organizations like the Editorial Freelancers’ Association and the Non-Fiction Authors Association are a good way to network. Some post jobs or allow you to post a profile available for people looking for freelancers. They also offer classes and support for freelancers.
  • Query. The good old-fashioned cold call is still one way to get jobs. Invest in a recent copy of the Writer’s Market, it’s a great place to find editors and contact information all in one place. Then get your ideas together and start emailing. You never know when that emailed query will turn into an actual paid job. And sometimes a regular position as a contributing writer!

Learning from the Books We Read

My book group just finished reading and discussing A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. It was loved by everyone in the group. This is a feat not normally pulled off by most of the books we read; usually the split is 60/40 enjoyed the book to not. We laughed about Ove’s misadventures, and all but one of us cried for the last sixty pages of the book (a happy cry).


Every book you read as an aspiring author should be teaching you something. If not, toss it aside and save it for when you’re truly taking a break from thinking too much. I did not know what lesson A Man Called Ove was going to teach me when I started out, but I happily found many. Ove has adorable chapter titles. Great original characters with background stories. Short chapters that keep the story moving. Chapters that alternate between past and present.

At the beginning of the book the author shows us a thoroughly unlikeable character, and it seemed that Backman’s goal was not only to have him change through inciting events, but also to have the reader realize that our first impressions of Ove were shallowly drawn. My goal as both a reader and writer was to figure out how the author accomplished his tasks, and to learn from him. For instance when I’m writing fiction, I have a tendency to rush my main character’s story out all at once, and Ove teaches that you can take the whole book to get to know a character’s backstory.

When I am stuck with a place in my novel, I do two things. 1) I highlight the area where I’m stuck to return to later and keep going with my writing so I don’t get stuck; 2) I pick up another book to help show me the way out of my problem. For instance, I think my weakest muscles as a writer are conveying the feelings of my protagonists as they work their way through their story, and I find descriptions incredibly hard to write. So when it’s my time off writing, I’ll head to my bookshelf to select a few books that I think might help. Flipping through the pages, I’ll see how the writer had her character react to something frightening, or sad, or loving. For descriptions, I’ll generally turn to some classics. Pre-television/movies, these authors had long passages of description to describe the landscape, a house, a person’s clothing. Although I don’t think we should be writing 19th century descriptions anymore, they are inspiring.

“The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write.”

—Ernest Gaines

Pick up A Man Called Ove and see if you aren’t inspired. (And set your tissues nearby.)


Nine Rules for Writing Dialogue

Writing dialogue can be tricky. Here are nine rules that can help you craft believable and natural-sounding dialogue that will propel your narrative forward:

  1. Use dialogue tags properly.speech bubbles

The first letter of the first word needs to be capitalized all of the time, and there must always be ending punctuation. If the dialogue tag is a lead-in, it must always have a comma such as: She said, “Yes.” Stick to “said” for at least 90% of your tags. You can also use “asked.” Avoid tags like “stated” and “replied” as they mean nothing more than “said.” “Said” eventually blends into the background and disappears (like “the” and “and”), but if you repeatedly pick alternate words, those stand out and pull attention away from the dialogue itself and to the dialogue tag instead. Words like “grinned” and “shrugged” are not verbs that indicate speaking. You can’t “grin” a sentence, so be sure you’re not using it as a dialogue tag.

  1. Mix action in so we know what the characters are doing while talking.

You need to add stage directions, to help your readers envision the scene. Think of it like a movie or play—tell readers what your character is physically doing, not just what she is saying and feeling.

  1. Don’t let your characters say each other’s names too often.

Real people don’t speak that way. In fact, they almost never say each other’s names unless they’re calling to someone in another room.

  1. Consistently format your interior dialogue.

It doesn’t matter if you use italics or quotation marks, but be consistent. If you do neither and just set interior dialogue off with commas, it can be confusing, particularly if the book is in third person and the thoughts are in first person.

  1. The dialogue should be particular to the characters.

Well-written dialogue cannot be exchanged between characters because it’s too unique to each character. Do your men sound like men and women like women and children like children? Do they use language appropriate to their generation? Their education? Their region?

  1. Absolutely do not tart up exposition as poor dialogue.

This is the kiss of death for most readers. You can never have two characters tell each other things they already know as a way to introduce backstory. You may have heard that introducing backstory through dialogue is preferable than through exposition, but if it’s done badly, it’s worse. Effective ways to do it are for two characters to argue about what happened, to ask each other if they remember a particular thing, and to acknowledge that the other character probably already knows this. But…. you still want to keep this to a minimum.

  1. Don’t bury the lede.

People don’t wait to tell each other something important or exciting. They lead off with that. If they are waiting for some reason (for when the time is right, to mentally prepare, for one person to leave the room), tell readers that reason.

  1. No long lectures.

Break up (and shorten) really large lectures. That’s not how actual conversations work—especially between women who give a lot of feedback to each other—instead, have characters ask questions and say things like “Yeah,” “I hear you,” and “That sucks.”

  1. Be careful if you’re using dialect or an accent.

Accents can be confusing, they are very difficult to keep consistent, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of sounding like a caricature or like you’re making fun of people from a particular region.


Questions to Ask For Developing Characters

Developing characters in important and tricky. Here are some questions to ask yourself while you’re fleshing out your story, to be sure you’re creating good, believable characters that readers will identify with.characters

  • Main character—is he/she three dimensional? Believable?
    • When did you start to care about him/her?
    • Was his/her problem important-seeming?
    • Are his/her details (looks, age, jobs) introduced early and in a natural way?
      • Do his/her details make sense? Does the job make sense given the personality? Do the personality traits go together?
    • Is his/her backstory integrated well? If revealed in dialogue, does it sound natural? Is too much backstory given?
    • Do his/her behaviors match the described personality?
      • If a character is described as outspoken or strong or brave, yet doesn’t speak up, lets other characters run roughshod over him, and doesn’t stand up for himself, that’s a major incongruity. Readers will believe the actions over the description, but just make sure they match in the first place.
    • Is the main character as strong as he/she needs to be to overcome the obstacles?
    • Does he/she have a goal?
  • Secondary characters—are they three dimensional? Believable? Distinguishable?
  • Tertiary characters—are there too many?
  • Do the characters have appropriate motivation to act on the conflict?
  • If there is an antagonist, is he/she cartoonishly evil or realistically bad?
    • Even bad guys have some good traits—does yours?
    • Why is your bad guy bad? What is his/her backstory?
  • Are there any characters that appear in just one scene? Could their dialogue/action be given to a different character?
  • Do you have any major characters introduced late in the book (past the first quarter)?
  • Do any major characters disappear before the end of the book?
    • Should they really be as major a character in their part of the book, if they’re not important enough to be in the full story?
    • If they really are major and important characters, shouldn’t they appear throughout?
  • Are any of the characters stereotypes? Could they be fleshed out with some shades of gray to make them more believable?
  • Do you have female characters who aren’t wives, girlfriends, or secretaries?
  • Are the names varied enough in syllables and first letters? Are any names conveniently typical (such as “Matt Stoner” for a hippie)?

8 Tips to Win a Fiction Writing Contest

winning-trophyIf you’re a writer, chances are you’ve wondered whether or not you should enter a writing contest. There are lots of good reasons you should: the confidence boost if you place, the practice of submitting your work, and the awards and/or publication information you can add to your writing résumé, which boosts your credibility with potential readers, agents, and publishers.


For the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of being an early reader for the Women’s National Book Association’s annual fiction writing contest. While many of the entries are good, there are some that stand out. What makes these entries different? I’ve compiled a list of things the best fiction entries have in common.

  1. The writers follow the submission guidelines. If the contest has a word limit, stick to it. If there’s a theme, include it in your story. And be sure your story fits the criteria—don’t send your science fiction piece to a historical fiction contest.
  2. The copy is clean. Most entries are going to have a typo or two. That’s understandable. But the more errors I see, the more likely I am to stop reading.
  3. What’s in a name? Winning entries have intriguing titles. Every word counts in a short story, including your title. Good titles make me want to read immediately. Reading a title like “Excerpt from ________,” on the other hand, sounds like a snoozefest. Even if the entry is an excerpt, give it a standalone title.
  4. The beginning is strong. I know you hear that your lead must grab the reader’s attention right away. And you’re probably sick of hearing this tidbit, but it’s true. A short story follows a traditional story arc, but everything’s compressed. You’ve got to pull the reader in immediately.
  5. There’s an ending, not a cliffhanger. This is a biggie for me. Endings are tough, I know. Ocliffften short stories leave readers with an open-ended interpretation. The writer wants the reader to ponder what happened. But open-ended conclusions are not the same thing as cliffhangers. A cliffhanger is a great way to end a chapter, not a short piece of fiction. Readers want closure.
  6. The main character is vivid. By vivid, I don’t mean that the writers spend many words describing what the character looks like. I mean this character is hit with conflict and responds. Everything about him is believable from his dialogue to his actions.
  7. There’s something unique about the plot. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that a third of the entries I read for this last contest centered on someone having an affair. Another third focused on death. If you’re going to write about such a common theme, you better tackle it in a new way. To prove that this is possible, my favorite entry (the one I hope wins the whole shebang) fell into the affair category. But by golly, the author put a spin on it like I’ve never seen.
  8. The story made me feel something. The best entries made me laugh out loud, filled me with disdain, or left me sniffling. If you can make a reader connect emotionally, you’ve got something worth pursuing.

It’s a brave move to enter a writing contest. Make sure you’re competitive. Good luck!



5 Tips for Improving Your Interviews

phoneIf I’ve learned anything from my years of writing, it’s that producing good work comes from first having good content to work with. Sometimes, if you’re writing poetry or short stories, or some types of fiction, most of your material comes from your imagination. But for some fiction, and almost all types of non-fiction, there is quite a bit of research involved, and many times that research includes conducting an interview or two. Or more.

If you’re ghostwriting a book, writing a memoir, producing an article for a magazine or doing a little journalism for the local paper, you’ll be interviewing people to get information. And if you’re interviewing, you want to make the most of your time. Here are a few tips to be prepared to get the most out of the time you have, and get the information you need to make your writing project worthwhile.


  1. Do your research. Before you make the first call or write out your questions, take time to research the topic you’re writing about so you can sound knowledgeable about the subject matter. Or if you’re conducting a personal interview, find out what you can about that person beforehand.


  1. Prepare your questions. It can be hard to know exactly what route an interview will take, but it helps you stay on topic if you have prepared a list of questions ahead of time. Make sure there are plenty of open-ended questions to spark conversation. Asking things like: “Do you like tea?” will get you a yes or no, but “What types of tea do you like?” will at least get you a list, and you can follow up with a why for even more information.


  1. Set the tone with a friendly attitude. It’s always nice to start an interview with a little small talk or a non-invasive personal question. And be sure to share a little information about yourself as well. It helps get both of you more comfortable, and helps foster the feeling that you know each other, even if you’re just talking for a few minutes one day and will never talk to that person again. When the person being interviewed feels comfortable with you they are more likely to provide information.


  1. Be prepared to redirect. Sometimes a person will get involved in telling a story and start to get off the main topic. It is up to you to guide the interview, and gently redirect that person back to the topic at hand.


  1. Be prepared for the interview to take a new direction. There are times when getting off topic can be a good thing. You might have done research and prepared your questions with a specific direction in mind, but once you talk to the person you find out the information they share leads your story down a whole new path. When this happens, you often ask follow-up questions on the fly, but it’s rewarding to find out new and exciting information.


Most importantly, approach interviews with a positive attitude. It can be hard to pick up the phone and call someone you’ve never met. But in my experience, most people are excited to talk with a writer, and you can end up learning lots of information and getting to hear some great stories along the way.


Passive Voice: Why It’s the Worst

Writers should avoid passive voice whenever reasonably possible, mostly because many agents and editors consider it a pet peeve. In case you don’t know, in brief, passive voice is when you use any version of the verb “to be” including are, am, being, was, is, be, become, etc. with a past participle.

passive: The sentences in the paper were all passive.

active: Kate rewrote her paper in an active voice.

active voiceSometimes passive construction is the only real option, but that’s the case a tiny fraction of the time. Generally writers need to be aware of it and get rid of it whenever possible. It’s boring and, well, passive.

  • It slows action down and you want action in your book. Sometimes it can even cause confusion such as: “Dave was slung back against the wall in a hard thud.” It sounds like this happened by magic—like the way Darth Vader can choke someone from across a room. The writer ought to have a person sling him, hence getting rid of the passive voice: “The intruder slung Dave back against the wall.”
  • In certain situations, such as in business when trying to explain to a customer that they did something wrong without placing blame, you’d use the passive voice: “The orders were transmitted with errors” instead of “You sent orders with errors.”

How to Fix It:

  • The easiest solution is to reverse the sentence. Instead of saying “The company was sued by John,” you’d say “John sued the company.” This happens a lot when the acted upon becomes the subject and the actor is the object. If the actor is the subject, then you’ll always have an active situation.
  • Change your verb tense. There’s no good reason to say, “Erin was standing,” when you can say, “Erin stood.”
  • Try to get rid of as many “That was” and “It was” phrasings as possible. (Often in this construction there is a second “that” which also needs deleting for the sentence to make sense.)

passive: That was the solution that presented itself.

active: The solution presented itself.

  • Even when it doesn’t feel like adding action to you—changing “is” to “seems” for example—it still unconsciously registers with readers as less passive. Go through and see how many passive voice constructions you have in your writing. The exercise will make you think more carefully about word choice.

But passive construction is also okay. It’s a part of life. I’ve used passive verbs fifteen times in this article, not including examples. You don’t want to use them when they’re not necessary, particularly if there are good alternatives. But don’t do acrobatics and make your sentence structures convoluted just to avoid them.