Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Dilts’

Avoiding Conference Burnout

By Catherine Dilts

If you’ve just attended your first writers conference, you may still be walking on a cloud. You’re inspired and motivated. If you did things right, you’re also a little overwhelmed and exhausted, yet eager to attend again next year.

But if this was your tenth, or you’re attending several conferences a year, the whole experience may be turning a little sour for you.

I had attended PPWC off and on for nearly twenty years. Once I became published, other authors insisted participating in conferences was essential. You had to keep your name out there. Visibility, baby. Be seen.

So I signed up for another in-state conference, Colorado Gold. Because I write mystery, I went to Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and Killer Nashville. Each was different, drawing either hundreds or thousands of attendees, with emphasis on craft and business, or geared toward fans.

You’ve got to work that conference. Schmooze. Mingle. You know – those things introverts just love to do. Not. So I tried. I got on panels, as a participant or moderator. I signed books. I networked in my own feeble, socially awkward way. And I left conferences drained.

My problem was allowing other peoples’ goals to be my own. You can avoid burn out with advanced planning. Before registering, consider what you hope to gain from the experience.

Goals that may disappoint:

  • Land a contract with a dream agent or publishing house. Sure, it has been done. You should definitely try. None of my “send it” conquests came to fruition, although they did motivate me to continue writing. Pinning the entire point of attending on making a sale may cause you to miss out on learning experiences that will result in future publication.
  • Who wouldn’t want to be fawned over by a public who recognizes your genius? One PPWC, I saw a nearly empty table at dinner. I hurried over, glad to have snagged a seat near the podium. The lone occupant was one of the best-seller keynote speakers. A few other people joined us before the evening program began, but that was a good lesson that even big names can be overlooked at conferences. Another time, I repeated this tactic and sat next to a local author who had made a big sale to a major publisher, only to be virtually ignored by peers at the conference. This author was incredibly grateful I sat at that table, to spare the embarrassment of sitting alone.
  • Sell books. At conferences, everyone is pushing their books. The reality is that few people sell enough books to pay their bar tab, much less their conference attendance. At big conferences, publishers may be giving away books. Bags of free books may cause attendees to question shelling out bucks for your books.

Running yourself ragged promoting yourself can suck the enjoyment right out of a conference. Yes, conferences are a business opportunity. But I can guarantee you’ll get a case of burn out if you don’t have some fun.

Increasingly post-conference, I felt my time would have been better spent actually working on a novel or short story. When I volunteered behind the scenes, appeared on panels, and moderated talks, I spent a ton of time in preparation. It felt too much like work.

Then COVID hit. Conferences abruptly cancelled due to the pandemic. I discovered something about myself during the lockdowns. I am an extreme introvert. While other folks were in a state of panic and depression being socially isolated, I was deliriously happy. For a while.

I still believe conferences are personally and professional beneficial. I plan to jump back in. Before I go, I want to know I won’t leave feeling I wasted my time. I’ll have specific goals.

Goals to avoid conference burn-out:

  • Know your purpose. Why are you attending this particular conference? Proximity to home? Workshops on topics of interest? Is it specific to your genre? Your writing buddies are going? It’s okay if your main purpose is social. Writing is a solitary endeavor. A weekend surrounded by creative people can be invigorating.
  • Set achievable professional goals. Everyone wants to be the next amazing conference success story. Hopefully that happens for you. Until that golden moment though, how about achieving a “send me” from an agent? Learn something about the art and craft of writing that breaks your writer’s block? Receive news about the current state of publishing from actual publishers?
  • Research people in advance. You might run into them in an elevator. Know who the keynote speakers are. Who is teaching the class you’re most interested in attending? Are there agents or editors you want to meet? Put this info in your pre-conference notes. Don’t reach the last hour of the last day in the realization that you failed to meet someone important to you.
  • One of the best ways to network is to help out behind the scenes. Shuttle speakers from the airport. Moderate a panel. Clerk in the conference bookstore. Attend pre-conference planning meetings. But don’t overcommit. Know your time and energy limits.
  • Make it matter. You spent your valuable time and money to attend. Post-conference, review your notes. Follow up on advice or new knowledge gained. Make those contacts, join that critique group, apply new wisdom to your work-in-progress.

I’ve talked it over with my old conference running buddies. We are all in for a return visit to PPWC 2023. You’ll probably find us at the lounge, reminiscing about conferences past.

Conferences mentioned in article:

Multi-genre Conferences- 

Mystery Writers Conferences-


 

Catherine Dilts headshotCATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the new Annie’s Museum of Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine January/February 2022 issue.

https://www.catherinedilts.com/

 

Conference Benefits

By: Catherine Dilts

When I began my writing journey, I listened closely to advice. One universal bit of guidance was to attend writers’ conferences. The Pikes Peak Writers Conference didn’t exist when I became serious about writing fiction. I didn’t have a clue about conferences, or their benefits.

Three Bits of Universal Writing Advice:

  1. Attend a writing conference
  2. Join (or create) a critique group
  3. Write

I began #3 with consistency when I took a creative writing course at UCCS. I learned about goals and deadlines in class. The instructor suggested students form critique groups when class ended. A few of us did, and I ticked off #2 from the advice list. One member became a lifelong friend. That group faded, but I learned the value of exchanging writing evaluations with other serious writers.

After that class, I felt adrift. I craved more professional guidance. A local chapter of Romance Writers of America was the only game in town. Many folks who didn’t write romance joined. It was a lively group of serious published and aspiring authors. The learning experience was valuable, even though it wasn’t my genre.

PPWC2022 logoThen the Pikes Peak Writers Conference began in 1993. I’m foggy on precisely which year was my first, but I was definitely there in 1995. I placed second in the writing contest. I was fortunate that one of the best conferences in the nation took place in my backyard. When I attended my first conference, it knocked my socks off. And checked #1 off the advice list.

I had not yet begun my professional career, and money was tight. The scholarship was a blessing. The welcoming atmosphere helped me believe I belonged. I hung out with my critique group. We fancied ourselves up-and-coming authors. We pursued agents and editors with our amazing stories. It was emotionally awesome.

I was certain I was on my way. I eagerly drank from the firehose of information, wisdom, and encouragement. Over twenty-five years ago, my world was small. The PPW Conference kicked in doors and opened windows I hadn’t even known existed.

Three Benefits of Attending a Conference:

  1. Education
  2. Encouragement
  3. Networking with professionals

Seventeen years later, I finally achieved my goal. I became a published author. I now have nine traditionally published novels, and a dozen published short stories. There are many reasons it took me that long to “arrive.” (Among them are the long stories behind my multiple name changes.) But the fact that I arrived at all, even after that length of time, owes a lot to my early dedication to PPWC.

If you have never attended a writers’ conference, I encourage you to consider PPWC. I wish for you the excitement I felt. Believing that all things are possible. Finding acceptance no matter where you are in your writing development. To make connections with people who understand your brand of crazy. To learn more than you ever thought possible.

Best Things I Got from Conferences:

  1. Friends – Julie was standing in the hallway at her first PPWC. My critique partner Joyce suggested we talk to her. So we did. Later Beth and Sharon attended PPWC with us. And we’ve all been friends ever since.
  2. Finding my tribe – realizing I belonged as a writer.
  3. Professionalism – learning to treat writing as a career, not a hobby.

At your first conference, you might feel like you’re drinking from a firehose. Some things may not apply to your journey. Others may not make sense the first time around. But I’m guessing you’ll feel the same exhilaration combined with exhaustion that I did. Conference might be the spark that gets you going, or keeps you going, to eventual publication.

My journey had a lot of detours and dead ends. I finally arrived, and I owe much of my determination to those early conferences. PPWC was a life-changing experience for me.


Catherine Dilts headshotCATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the new Annie’s Museum of Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine January/February 2022 issue. Visit her website here.

Pantser Versus Plotter

By: Catherine Dilts

Pantsers and Plotters often view each other with disdain. In the Plotter’s view, Pantsers are disorganized, chasing after the spark of an idea at the sacrifice of crafting a coherent story.  Pantsers see the Plotter’s methods as excessively neat and controlling, at the sacrifice of releasing genuine creativity.

First, the definitions.

Pantser – A writer who has a seat-of-the-pants approach, also referred to as “organic writing.” Applied to fiction writing, this means beginning a project without an outline, perhaps with no plan at all. Starting with a blank page, you plunge in. You may have an idea of where you want to end up, but planning would ruin the journey from original inspiration to finished project.

Pitfalls of Pantsing – Writing yourself into a dead end, realizing after thousands of words that the story just isn’t going to work. Author J. S. Ellis says, “I wrote the rest of the pile of manuscripts that are gathering dust by pantsing.” 

Plotter – A writer who creates an outline before beginning a fiction project. One famous plotter is thriller author Jeffery Deaver. At a talk, he described spending eight months creating an outline. A Plotter’s outline may vary from a single page to a chapter-by-chapter, or even a scene-by-scene outline.

Pitfalls of Plotting – The original spark goes stale in the process of creating structure. Sticking relentlessly to your outline might crush new ideas that could make your story better.

What is the solution to the battle between Pantsers and Plotters?

Be flexible. Some stories may benefit from the free-wheeling creative process of Pantsing. Others are better suited to Plotting. Author Janalyn Voigt applies both to her writing, using a hybrid approach. She states some projects lend themselves more to one technique or the other, and sometimes combining the two is the best solution.

An article at Jackal Editing explodes the plotting versus pantsing debate. After presenting the pros and cons of each writing method, the article ends with a sensible conclusion. “Neither process is better than the other. Instead of trying to define the perfect writing process, why don’t we just accept that everyone’s different and what works for you might not work for the person next to you?” 

How do you learn which technique works best for you?

Experimentation.

Author Henry Miller said “You have to write a million words before you find your voice as a writer.” This applies to finding your method of writing, too.

I began my writing life firmly committed to being a Pantser. Today I’m a published cozy mystery author. The opportunity came up to write for multi-author series. A detailed outline is a requirement. I found outlining grueling unhappy work at first. Now I plot heavily for all my projects. Trust me, it gets easier with practice.

Plotting is vital to creating a mystery story, in my opinion. That plot outline has to be flexible, though. In the writing process, a great plot twist may present itself. An additional red herring or suspect. You can’t surprise the reader unless you’re surprised. Don’t become trapped by your outline. Be open to revision.

Maybe instead of falling into one camp or the other, writers exist at varying points along a spectrum. Rare few people are strictly Pantsers or Plotters. You’re probably already using a combination of the two techniques. The main thing is to keep going. Write your million words.


CATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the new Annie’s Museum of Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine January/February 2022 issue. Visit her website.

 

Sweet Success for Catherine Dilts

By: Darby Karchut

Congratulations to Catherine Dilts! Her short story, “HazMat Holiday,” will be featured in the January/February 2022 Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. The magazine is one of the oldest and most influential magazines of short mystery and crime fiction in the world.

ABOUT THE STORY:

The story features Dilts’ recurring short story characters: Charles, a dignified gentleman who loves his career as a chemist, and Tony, a college student / laboratory intern. Charles insists on completing a vitally important lab test and report, causing him and Tony to be stranded at the factory during a blizzard. Employees quickly become dangerously competitive for the leftover holiday meal. Pick up a copy of the magazine at https://www.alfredhitchcockmysterymagazine.com/store/

Catherine Dilts

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She writes for Annie’s Publishing, which include installments in the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library, a Mistletoe Mystery, and the upcoming Museum Mysteries. Working in the world of hazardous substances regulation, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. Visit the author at https://www.catherinedilts.com/ and follow her on Instagram.


Darby Karchut

Sweet Success is coordinated by Darby Karchut who is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms.
Click here to submit your Sweet Success Story.

NaNoWriMo – Not Just for Aspiring Authors

By: Catherine Dilts

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – is primarily touted as an exercise to drive aspiring authors to write 50,000 words. Hitting that goal may mean completion of a novel draft for the very first time. At the very least, NaNoWriMo inspires confidence that hitting The End is possible.

Image provided by NaNoWriMo

But what about the published author? Is there any value in leaping into the month-long torment for those who have achieved not only novel completion, but publication?

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time ten years ago. The experience was mind-blowing for the following reasons:

  1. Gravitas: People leave you alone when you tell them you’re part of an impressive international event.
  2. Competition: Applying butt to chair and fingers to keyboard is easier when you’re in friendly competition with yourself and others.
  3. Discipline: You learn the discipline required to finish a novel when pushing toward a goal that can only be achieved with consistent writing sessions as you strive to hit a daily or weekly word count.
  4. Realistic expectations: A first draft should be just that – a draft. The rougher, the better. NaNoWriMo pushes you to get the words down. Editing and refining take place later.
  5. Support and inspiration: Pep talks, local write-ins, on-line forums.
  6. FREE! 

2020 found many authors in the COVID doldrums. Fear was palpable. Lockdowns isolated us. Depression was rampant across all age groups. While some of us took solace in writing, for others focusing on fiction was impossible. Authors conquered the strange new world of on-line meetings, but let’s face it, a lot is lost in living a virtual life.

One definition of virtual by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition, is “Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network.”

Enter 2021, with the promise of a return to normal that did not materialize. Still, some social activity opened up. If authors didn’t return to critique and writing groups in person, at least they were now comfortable with virtual meetings. Some of us flew out the door at the first opportunity to be around other humans, to go to restaurants, museums, and elderly care facilities to visit family members.

The past two years, I remained productive. I’m one of those people who throw themselves into work when times are tough. Then this summer, something happened. I gave myself permission to enjoy the nice weather. To attend sporting events in which my grandchildren participated. To take my elderly mother to lunch. Friends and family dropped in for weekend visits. We enjoyed evenings at outdoor concerts. Suddenly, the spreadsheet I use to track my writing hours looked very thin.

I need to get my head back into my writing routine. While some of my work is published through a small press with less time pressure, my other publisher has strict deadlines. Besides work under contract, there are four novels I’m itching to complete. I feel out of control. I miss structure.

Since my first foray into the crazy world of NaNo-ing, I created eight projects. Only three made the finish line. Eventually, three were published, but only one was a NaNo winner. With this abysmal NaNoWriMo track record, why am I considering participating this year?

Mind-blowing reason number one: People leave you alone when you tell them you’re part of an impressive international event.

Let’s break this down.

It’s easier to say no to time-sucking people and activities when you’re involved in a global project. Sacrifices must be made if you’re going to succeed. Meeting the brisk and brutal word count of NaNoWriMo requires trimming down on entertainment and social activities for the short space of one month.

At this point, I know I can reach The End of a novel. My goal for NaNoWriMo 2021 is to slam out a draft of one of my projects currently in a state of stagnation. In the process, I hope to jump-start my enthusiasm and motivation to stick to a productive writing routine.

You can find me on NaNoWriMo as Granny_queequeg


Catherine Dilts, Headshot

CATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the soon-to-be released Annie’s Museum Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday will appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the January/February 2022 issue, which goes on sale 12/14/21.

https://www.catherinedilts.com/

Juggling Multiple Projects

By Catherine Dilts

Eight years ago I received a helpful bit of writing advice. A multi-published author recommended having a minimum of three projects going at a time.

If you’re struggling to complete a story, this may sound like bad advice. Juggling multiple stories can become an avoidance technique.

Writing the beginning of a story involves one type of brainstorming. Endings are a different game altogether. If you’ve never completed a short story or novel, push everything else aside until you get a rough draft finished. Only then will you have an ingrained roadmap required for simultaneous creative trips.

Why should you try working multiple projects?

The Simmering Pot stage:

Let’s presume you have finished a short story or novel. It may be a very rough first draft, or you may plan to submit it soon to a magazine or agent.

  1. Set that story aside for a week. Even a month. When you come back to it, you will see it in a more objective light. Everything from typos to plot holes will jump out at you.
  2. While that completed draft is resting, begin a new project. Those creative juices tend to stagnate if not kept flowing.
  3. You start working, and an idea occurs about the first project. Like a pot on the stove, you set it aside to simmer, but find yourself returning to stir frequently. Resist the urge to do major editing. Instead, jot down your thoughts on a sticky note, in the margins of your manuscript, or in red in the electronic file.
  4. Return to the second project, slamming out a hasty draft. When that’s roughed out, step things up by jotting notes for a third story. Only then do you return to polish the first story.

The Shifting Priorities stage:

When you have three stories going at once, you can allocate attention to the project that best suits your mood or time constraints. You do not work on all three stories every day, or even every month. You can focus on one story at a time. The point is, if you get stuck creatively or time-wise, you have something else waiting for your attention.

  1. Marathons – You may require stretches of uninterrupted time to plot. Maybe you get bogged down in character development or research. Final edits may be when you most need several continuous hours to work. Save your longer writing sessions to do this work.
  2. Sprints – Work or family obligations make it impossible to get in a good brainstorming session. When you have three stories going at once, one may be at a stage where you can effectively work in fits and starts. There are points in my short story process where it makes sense to carry a manuscript around, jotting notes as they occur to me.
  3. Passion – One story jumps to life, consuming you. Focus on that tale until the fire wanes. Remember though, writing isn’t all about the Muse inspiring you with intense creative bursts. Be ready to put in the plodding along hours, too.
  4. You get a nibble. A request to send chapters to an editor. You can drop the other two projects to work on the one most likely to get a contract.

The main reasons I like having multiple projects going:

  1. Your pace of production will increase when you juggle multiple writing projects. Once a project is completed, and pushed out of your creative queue, start another to take its place.
  2. You won’t experience blank page syndrome, that empty feeling when a story is finally really finished. Instead, you’ll pick up a work-in-progress and hit the ground running.
  3. When a story is with an editor or agent, you won’t be as anxious waiting for a response if you’re working on other projects.
  4. When an agent asks “what else have you got,” you have an answer.

You may have experienced writer’s block. Sometimes, setting a story aside can get you “unstuck.” The danger is that you’ll never get back to that story, or writing in general. You don’t want that to happen.

Nor do you want to skitter from unfinished story to story like a frog hopping across a pond. Or like that aunt with a sewing room jammed with piles of fabrics in various states of un-done-ness,  jutting pins and fraying edges a testament to procrastination. Finish your projects – unless one proves to be totally unworkable. I have several completed novels and short stories that will never see the light of day, but finishing them taught me valuable lessons.

The friend who gave me the three project rule is a short story author. I write both short fiction and novels. This technique works juggling a mix of long and short fiction. A short story may cycle through the queue faster, while a novel may work slowly through the process, but it still keeps my production high.

Give it a try. You may find yourself turning out more stories, and at a faster pace.


Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She takes a turn in the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library with two novels, Ink Or Swim and A Thorny Plot. Working in the world of hazardous substances regulation, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. The two worlds collide in the humorous mystery novel Survive Or Die. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction at http://www.catherinedilts.com/

Advice for Aspiring Authors – Insights for Interested Readers

by: Catherine Dilts

Today I offer a peek behind the curtain to the struggles and triumphs of writing. Here is my advice to aspiring authors, while readers may find it interesting to learn what goes into the creation of their favorite fiction.

Pantser or Plotter?

Remember the joy of writing, and why you started on this crazy journey.

Writers will ask whether you are a pantser or plotter. A pantser writes by the seat of his or her pants. Page one, blank screen – GO! A plotter creates an outline of the story before beginning. Many writers fall somewhere in between, doing some outlining, but not hesitating to depart from the outline if the story veers in a new direction. Which are you? It may take years of writing to decide. You may also discover that being a pantser works better for one story, while careful plotting is required for another. Experiment. 

Don’t Hurry

There may be anecdotes about people writing a best seller or classic in a weekend, or a matter of mere weeks. Good luck with that. My best work has taken time. Due to deadlines, that time is often compressed, but the work will not be cheated of the hours.

On that same note, don’t rush to get your work before agents, or push it prematurely into self-publication. After you have written “the end,” set your story aside. Days, a week or two, even a month will allow you a fresh perspective. 

Don’t Quit the Day Job

When I first became published, I joked that I’d be able to earn my living from writing on the day I retired. Sadly, this is probably going to be the truth. The economic reality of writing is harsh. Short story author R. T. Lawton has quite a bit to say on this topic in his article, While We’re At It

I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the majority of folks I know who are writing full time are retired, or are supported by a spouse. Be cautious before you leave that paying gig. A steady paycheck, health insurance, pension, and paid vacation are non-existent for the self-employed writer.

Learn the Business

As budding authors, we crave learning the art and craft of writing, but the business end? Not so much. How can you learn, besides reading books or blogs? Join a writing group attended by successful authors. By joining the Mystery Writers of America, I was fortunate to meet published authors who freely shared their experiences at local chapter meetings. Libraries may offer writing workshops, or can direct you to local writers’ groups. If you attend a conference, include sessions on the business aspects of writing.

I’m not talking strictly about the financial side of business, although learning the best method to track your income and expenses is important at tax time. You will need to know how to write a synopsis. (Hint – you can’t do much better than Pam McCutcheon’s how-to book, Writing the Fiction Synopsis.) Where to find agents representing your style of fiction? What is the proper etiquette when pitching to an editor at a conference? If you want a career writing, treat it like any other business, and educate yourself.

Renew the Joy

Writers can burn out, just as in any profession. I have heard complaints from the entire spectrum of writers, whether unpublished or multi-published. At some point, it becomes a job. Maybe even drudgery. You begin to hate your story, dread sitting in front of the computer, and doubt your sanity for thinking you had the talent to write fiction. Before you throw in the towel, ask yourself some questions.

  • Who is stopping you? A negative person in your life? Someone who needs your attention, whether a child, a boss, or an elderly parent? Yourself? Can you turn the negativity into motivation? “I’ll show them – I am a writer!” Find a way to balance the needs of people in your life with your own goals. If you’re not happy and healthy, how can you be a good parent, spouse, employee, caretaker?
  • Why did you begin writing in the first place? A book inspired you? Did you escape pain through reading, and want to give someone else that gift? Do you have fond memories of being read to, or reading in a favorite comfy place? Revisit your earliest motivation to be a writer. 
  • What did you have to say that was so important, you were willing to sacrifice other aspects of your life in order to hammer out words for hours on end? Is that message still valid? Your message, or theme, doesn’t have to be lofty. Distracting readers from their worries and problems with an entertaining story can be more valuable than any deep literary tome. 
  • That moment will return when suddenly the words flow. The scenes click together. The characters jump off the page. You become lost in your own story. You remember the joy of writing, and why you started on this crazy journey. 

You Can Do This

Even if you have to write in snatches of stolen time. Even if you have to battle doubts, whether from people around you, or yourself. A good deal of success in writing is mere persistence. That is a trait we can all nurture.


Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She takes a turn in the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library. Working in the world of hazardous substances regulation, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. The two worlds collide in her murder mystery Survive Or Die, where Deliverance meets The Office. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction at http://www.catherinedilts.com/ Contact her at catdiltsauthor@gmail.com.

Sweet Success for Catherine Dilts

Congratulations to Catherine Dilts on the publication of her new amateur sleuth mystery, Survive or Die, from Encircle Publications, released February 28,2019 (ISBN: 978-1-948338-33-2, e-book, 390 pgs).

You think you’re gonna Survive, but you’re gonna Die. Die. Die. The owner of a dysfunctional company arranges a mandatory team-building exercise at the Survive or Die survivalist camp, once the setting for a defunct reality TV show. When he receives a death threat, what surprises employees is not that someone wants their lecherous, hard-drinking boss dead. The surprise is that he’s not the first casualty. The unexpected demise of a coworker’s husband barely causes a ripple. The annoying photographer’s death is attributed to natural causes. The excitement comes when the boss announces the winner of the week-long game will receive a raise, and the loser will be fired. Most employees dig in with grim determination. A few have other agendas.


Catherine Dilts
Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She takes a turn in the multi-author sweet cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library with Ink or Swim. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. Visit Catherine at her website.

Her book is available through Encircle Publications.

The Benefits of a Crash and Burn

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

New Beginnings

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

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

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

Get out of your ditch

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

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

Turn it into SUCCESS Turn Goal-Setting Failures into Success

Here are my suggestions for turning writing failure into success.

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

Get Specific

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

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

Some Pitfalls

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

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

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

Celebrate!

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

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


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

NaNoWriMo – Is it Cheating?

My NaNoWriMo journey began in 2011, with the drafting of my novel Roadside Zoo. I participated four more years. I did not NaNo in 2016 or 2017, although I was writing more than ever. Let me explain why I began NaNoWriMo, and why I stopped after five years of passionate dedication to this amazing international happening.

Why NaNoWriMo?

When you announce you are dedicating the month of November to writing a novel, magical things happen.Understand your own writing process.

1) You make a public commitment to write 50,000 words in thirty days via the website. Stating concrete goals ensures success, or at least a stronger effort than those dreams you whisper to yourself in private.
2) People sigh with relief that you’re finally going to write that book you’ve been yammering about for the past six years, and hope you’ll shut up about it once the thing’s completed. They cut you slack when they see you are seriously pursuing your dream.
3) You push yourself harder because this is a time limited engagement. A lifetime? Intimidating! Thirty days? Eminently doable.
4) Working on an entire novel in a short space of time enables a mental continuity. You know your story inside and out, backwards and forwards, in ways you never grasp when writing a scene or chapter every month or so.
5) The website tracks your word count. You can’t lie to yourself. Unless you’re such a reprehensible cheat that you type “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over, which has already been done. So now you’re a cheater and a plagiarist.
6) You have a fantastic excuse to guzzle gallons of coffee.

With all these great reasons, why would I give up NaNoWriMo? Because with my last entry, I felt like a cheat. Instead of writing 50,000 words of a new work, I used the month to heavily revise an existing novel.

NaNoWriMo is about slamming down 50,000 fresh words, right? I voluntarily banned myself from NaNoWriMo for two years. Now I’m rethinking my attitude.

How to make NaNoWriMo work for you:

1) The point is to give you thirty days of laser sharp focus on your writing. Use the time in a way that makes sense for where you’re at in your writing journey.
2) If you have trouble finishing writing projects, the month of November gives you no excuses. Dust off that manuscript moldering away in your desk drawer or electronic file folder. If you truly dedicate yourself to the process, you’ll be at least 50,000 words closer to The End.
3) Begin at the beginning, begin with an outline, or begin with a flawed manuscript that needs thirty days of tender loving care and a brutal no-holds-barred rewrite. Dare to be different and draft several short stories.
4) Understand your own goals and writing process. Don’t try to follow a path doomed to failure.

I no longer care if I am playing by a strict set of rules. The point of NaNoWriMo is to encourage writers to write. I’m jumping back in with a detailed outline. That’s not cheating, is it?


Catherine DiltsWhen Catherine Dilts began the NaNoWriMo journey, she was unpublished. She is now the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. Her short story Do-Over appears in the 2018 anthology Blood and Gasoline. She takes a turn in the multi-author sweet cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library with Ink or Swim. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction on her website.