Posts Tagged ‘writing from the peak’

Building Believable Characters

By: Donna Schlachter

As writers, we understand the importance of plot—the action of the story. Without it, nothing happens. With a bad plot, we’ll bore our readers, or confuse them, and they’ll do the unthinkable—toss our book aside and never buy another.

Along with plots go subplots, those extras to the main story that keep things rolling along when the main story is off the page. Important to have the exact right number—not one too many or too few. Keeps our characters busy with the other things going on in their lives, because face it—we all do more than one thing.

We might also spend a lot of time deciding on setting—real or fictional—as well as themes, foreshadowing, and more. Every genre has its expectations. For example, in a romance, the reader expects a reason why the love interests can’t or won’t get together. In a mystery, red herrings and suspects and motives are of interest. In fantasy, world-building is critical.

Develop Believable Characters

Sometimes we can be so focused on these other parts of the story structure that we neglect to develop believable characters, so when we start writing, we simply get going on the story.

But often what happens then is that our characters start to talk and act like stereotypes, which is not what we want. Sure, we don’t want them so weird that they’re unbelievable. Or so evil the reader can’t relate to them. Or so wishy-washy our audience hates them.

No, what we want are characters who are different, yet the same.

I know, that sounds contradictory. So let me give you an example.

In my first mystery series, penned under my alter ego of Leeann Betts, my main character was a forensic accountant. YAWN! Accountants. In fact, the first editor I approached with my series flat out told me “nobody wants to read about accountants. They’re boring.” Probably not her fault that I didn’t explain my story better.

My accountant is a woman. In her fifties. Always ten to fifteen pounds overweight, no matter how much she tries. Favorite outfit are sweatpants and a t-shirt. Dressing up involves jeans. Married for the second time. Step-kids she loves. Living in a small town for the first time in her life. For over ten years. Still feels like an outsider. Loves mysteries, and hates to leave one unsolved. In fact, the first one she ever got involved in, she was almost killed. Hence my prequel story, Roasted Bean Counter. As you can tell from the title, she tries not to take herself too seriously. She hates exercise and subscribes to the theory that each person is given a certain number of heartbeats to use before they die. Once they’re gone, you’re gone. So she’s not going to shorten her life by increasing her heart rate simply so she can sweat. She also jumps to conclusions, or so her husband says. Not to mention that she hates change. Her motto is: I can be as spontaneous as anybody if I’m given enough time. Oh, and she tries not to take anybody else too seriously, either. Her sassy mouth and quick comebacks have often gotten her into trouble.

Did you notice something about my description? Not once did I mention the color of her hair, her height, her eyes, if she has a dimple or a mole on her cheek. Nothing about her apart from her age and her slight weight problem. Yet I bet you saw her in your mind as I was describing her.

Avoid the Traps

One trap writers often fall into is describing their character as though they’re reading off their driver’s license. Sure, we might disguise it a little: Her blue eyes contrasted nicely with her dark, shoulder-length, wavy hair, and at five ten and a hundred and twenty pounds, she was svelte but not scrawny.

If her physical description isn’t important to the story, we don’t need to know. So, for example, if her blue eyes made her the only kid in her family that didn’t have brown eyes, and her parents are both brown-eyed, this might make her wonder if she was adopted. Or illegitimate.

Dichotomies in physical build from her siblings or others in her family might also cause her to question her lineage. Being tall and slender might allow her to hide in a narrow space, which could be helpful if she was being chased by the bad guy. But bring that out early in the story—don’t just spring it on the reader when she needs to hide.

What does your character know?

In my mystery series, my character’s understanding of accounting, banking, and the court system are often used to help her solve the crime. In addition, because she needs to hold an expert status in forensic accounting, she must always act with honesty and integrity. Poor credit rating and issues such as overdrawing her bank account will figure negatively in that regard. I use both the question of integrity and of fiscal responsibility in two of the books to create tension between her and the crime.

I mentioned she loves her step-kids, so you can expect her to respond like a Mama bear when her kids are threatened in any way. Several books in the series center around family and the need to clear them of suspicion in various crimes.

Once you create a character sketch for your story, you must strive to ensure that every decision either goes along with who that character is, or you’d better have a good reason for it not to be. Unbelievable characters are those who act contrary to the information you’ve already told the reader. While you can put your character in a position to be forced to choose between two bad outcomes, there must be something the reader already knows about the character so the choice isn’t unbelievable.

Next month, we’ll talk about creating a strong secondary character to complement and challenge your main character.


Donna Schlachter

A hybrid author, Donna Schlachter writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published 50+ times in books under her name and that of her alter ego, Leeann Betts; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both.

She lives in Denver with her husband and two cats, finding mysteries wherever she travels. You can find her books on Amazon under both her name and that of her former pen name, Leeann Betts. Follow Donna on her website, blog, Goodreads, Bookbub, Twitter, and Facebook.

Writing Habits from the Best of Us

By Jenny Kate

As we embark on a new year, tons of folks are thinking about how to develop new habits.

  • Go to the gym.
  • Eat better.
  • Write more.

Habits and goals are important. They give us purpose. And purpose gives us longevity. I’ve been thinking a lot about Blue Zones. These are the locations in the world with the most people aged 100 or more. One is a place close to my heart. The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. We go for Christmas every few years. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet. Surfing. Jungle. Sun. I’m off the grid for two weeks. I read paper books. And I just get to be. As I was there this past year, I was thinking, why do these people live so long?

Writing Habits from Centenarians

Their longevity seems to boil down to four things: diet, exercise, community, and purpose.

Diet & Exercise – duh

We’ve all heard it a million times. Eat healthier and move. Honestly, I can’t help you with your diet. Although I can tell you most of the folks in Nicoya eat a crap ton of fruits and veggies and some fish. Lots of rice and beans and plantains too.

They also live in a place where being outside is part of the culture. Beach every morning to surf or swim or walk. Beach at sunset for obvious reasons. Walk everywhere.

During the pandemic, I got in the habit of a daily walk. Kurt Vonnegut did pushups and sit ups all the time. Nora Roberts works out every day. What can you do to get yourself moving? Feeling better keeps you motivated to keep writing.

Community

The importance of community can’t be overstated. Writing is a solitary business. But producing books is all about community. Beta readers, street teams, agents, editors, proofreaders, critique partners.

Whether it’s in person or virtual, you are not alone in this writing endeavor. And community can keep you motivated to stick to your daily writing habits. Your community can be whoever supports your writing: immediate family, friends, colleagues at work, or writing buds. It just has to be a group of people that provide a positive environment for you.

Purpose

Purpose is the one aspect of this I think we control the most and might be the hardest. What is our writing purpose? To create wonderful worlds for our readers? To entertain, excite, scare?

How do you maintain that purpose when things like imposter syndrome sneak in?

This is where daily writing habits can be helpful.

  • Specific amount of writing time
  • Specific number of words written
  • Specific chapters finished in a certain time period
  • Specific timeframe work is due to the editor

Daily writing habits can be helpful if you have your community to hold you accountable. Whether it’s pages to your critique partners or chapters to your proofreader, a deadline to a human being can be motivating.

If this doesn’t motivate you enough to create your writing habits, then maybe some of the famous among us can.

Writing Habits from Famous Authors

Several bestsellers repeat the same mantra: “It’s our job.” If a doctor said he didn’t feel like it today, a life could be lost. A bit dramatic, but the point is, it’s our job. We sit down and we write. We produce stories. No one’s habit or process will be the same. But having that habit or process is what puts books on the shelves.

Ernest Hemingway: “I write every morning.”

Jodi Picoult: “I don’t believe in writer’s block. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page.”

Khaled Hosseini: “You have to write whether you feel like it or not.”

Toni Morrison: “I am able to write regularly. I have a nine-to-five job. I write either in between those hours or spend a lot of the weekend and predawn time writing.”

Henry Miller: “Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema – all these come after.”

Nora Roberts: “I write every day. It’s my job. Routine is my life.” and “Stop whining and write.”

Joe Lansdale: “I write every morning at 9, and I’m done by noon.”

Maya Angelou: “I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.”  

Whether you take it from the Centenarians or the Famous Writers, find the writing habit that works for you. Stick with it for a month and see what happens.

Happy writing!


Jenny Kate

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, an online space dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebook, and  Instagram

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 Shannon Lawrence

By: Darby Karchut

Congratulations to Shannon Lawrence on the upcoming release of her non-fiction book, THE BUSINESS OF SHORT STORIES: Writing, Submitting, Publishing and Marketing (February 1, 2022 from Warrior Muse Press). After years of teaching workshops on the topic, Shannon Lawrence has compiled useful tips, instructions, and resources to help others write, edit, submit, publish, and market their short stories. From the dynamics of short stories to how to find publishers, options for traditional publication and self-publishing to building websites and social media presence, THE BUSINESS OF SHORT STORIES is an important resource for all writers.

ABOUT THE BOOK 

Whether you’re looking to add short stories to your repertoire as a solo pursuit or in addition to novel writing, The Business of Short Stories covers every aspect from writing to marketing. Learn the dynamics of short story writing, where to focus your editing efforts, how and where to submit, how to handle acceptances and rejections, what to do with reprints, and how to market yourself and your stories online and in person. The information in The Business of Short Stories has been distilled from over a decade of short story publishing experience so you don’t have to learn the hard way. You’ll find information on submission formatting, cover letters, querying a collection, sending proposals to writing events, how to create a website, SEO, social media, and so much more. There’s never been a better time to get into short stories! Purchase a copy through Amazon.

Shannon Lawrence

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shannon Lawrence is a fan of all things fantastical and frightening, she writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in over forty anthologies and magazines, and her three solo horror short story collections and her nonfiction title. You can also find her as a co-host of the podcast Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there’s always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Visit Shannon at www.thewarriormuse.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, BookBub, and Goodreads


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.

Writing from an Animal Character’s Point of View

By: G.G. Hall

About a dozen years ago, I embarked on a journey to write a children’s tale about a rabbit who was a pet, living in a home, and having some big adventures. The novel was to be told from a rabbit’s point of view, including the use of the first person singular. Having worked for 8 years with pet rabbits and various rescued Easter bunnies, I figured it would be a snap to just assume my favorite pet’s character and the words would flow.

I was quite wrong.

It was soon very obvious that in order to think, act, eat and see like a rabbit, you had to really become a rabbit. Since this was obviously impossible unless I found some witch in a castle somewhere who would feed me a potion made of things no one wants to hear about, I would have to come up with a plan B.

My father worked for 30 years as a police officer who investigated crimes- mostly homicides but often armed robberies as well.  In many cases, the culprit was not known and the evidence was limited, so my father devised a method that resulted in solving 30 homicides out of 32. He once simply stated, “Get into the mind of the criminal. Think like he thinks. Sit where he would have sat.” And so, I decided to use his proven method to “get into” the mind of a pet rabbit.

Get into Character

Starting out with many questions, I played the role of “Hershey” and his pals. What does the living room really look like from his perspective? I laid down on the floor and looked around at the couch, coffee table, and the paintings on the wall. The world above is probably very initimidating to a “ground creature” such as a rabbit. Writing down my observations from the “floor perspective,” the story suddenly became easier. Crawl under the couch and find dust balls that were thick and abundant. This would probably make me or any other creature sneeze- so why not write it into the story? But then again, would the rabbit even know what these objects were? What would a large chair or coffee table look like to a small creature? Would he understand paintings of the sky were, in fact, paintings or would he assume they were openings to the real thing?

What’s for Lunch?

Once the surroundings were established, a second task was upon me. Food. I knew very well what my rabbits loved to eat- green stuff, herbs of all kinds and, of course carrots and apples. But how in the world do you describe the taste of their main staple- hay? Obviously it would taste different to a human than a rabbit. So I used my sense of smell to guide my writing. No, I did not eat hay. But I did try cilantro, parsley and dill in order to experience the tastes. Bitter? Sweet? Decadent? Herby? To many rescued rabbits, like my character, these tastes are new when they go to an adoptive home. What emotions would I have in tasting these for the first time?

The Adventure Begins

My third task was the plot, which was to be a series of adventures. What would a rabbit get into? And how would he be able to do these things? I recalled that little bunnies in exercise pens had one great gift. The ability to push off their hind legs and clear the fence. Or, even easier, the same little rabbit could just jump up onto a cardboard box in his pen and take it from there. But my rabbits had another advantage. One of their friends was the pet parrot in the house. So what if the parrot helped them out of the pen by unfastening the clips that held the pen together? Excellent! Escape was much easier and now a team effort. This gave the plot another dimension and added a character that could help the protagonist in many ways.

As the adventures unfolded, again I sat on my floor and studied things such as stairs, Christmas trees, and yes, the refrigerator. In each case, I had to figure out how a mischievous rabbit or two would explore, climb up or open these objects. And what fun it would be to knock over the Christmas tree!

Getting Around

One last obstacle in writing about an animal was locomotion. How did they move? Sometimes they ran and other times they were content to hop. But a very excited happy rabbit would often leap into the air and make a little twist. This hilarious movement was called a “binky” by rabbit people. How would it feel to actually do these things?

 As writers, many of us often have an animal or several as characters. Whether they are the pet of a main character or the main character themselves certainly means that we must do our best and our research to make them as real as possible. Will they talk? Will they only talk to each other? Will they wear clothing, fall in love, cry? What will they do? Who and what are they afraid of?

In sharing all of this, I encourage my fellow writers to explore the possibilities of their animal characters. And when in doubt, well, just lay on the floor. Just don’t eat the hay or the dog biscuits!


Georgiana Hall (“G.G. Hall”) is the author of the novel Hershey- A Tale of a Curious House Rabbit and the sequel, Trouble in the Attic. A retired physics and astronomy professor, she has written numerous editorials which have appeared in USA Today, the Miami Herald and others. She and her rabbit novels were featured in an article by pet columnist Sharon Peters in a USA Today article in January 2011.

She and husband Oren , also a retired professor, share their Colorado springs home with 2 cats, a rabbit and 3 birds. Currently, G.G. is  working on a third Hershey novel as well as several other young adult novels.

Crafting a Novella in 10 Easy Steps

By: Donna Schlachter

I used to think writing shorter would make the process easier. I started out penning greeting cards, devotionals, poetry, and take-home articles. Magazine articles. Children’s books. You name it. If it was less than two thousand words, I’ve probably done it.

Not surprisingly, I learned that writing short wasn’t easier than writing longer. In fact, it wasn’t simple at all. I think it was Mark Twain who wrote, in a letter to a friend, “I’d have written a shorter letter if I had more time.”

To be honest, the first time I was offered the opportunity to write a novella, I felt like I was cheating the reader in some way. At less than half the size of a regular novel, surely the story would be shallow. Unsatisfying. Unfulfilling. And how could I possibly get the main plot, three subplots, and eight primary characters into 30,000 words?

Well, I couldn’t. That’s the beauty of a novella. The main plot, one subplot, hero, heroine, bad person. A reader could pick up the book and read it in three hours or less. The perfect summer beach read or plane trip story. Or train. Or car. Or bedtime reading.

Ten Quick and Easy Steps:

Learning how to write a novella required me to change my mind set about the format. Not only was the number of words an issue, but even the number of chapters, characters, and subplots.

For those interested in learning how to pen a successful novella, here are the steps:

  1. Come up with a story that has two interesting people who find themselves in a sticky situation. Many novellas are romance based for this reason.
  2. Decide on a sub-plot that will be resolved in this book, or soon if this book is in a series. Nothing too complicated. But choose a sub-plot that relates in some way to the main plot.
  3. Limit your cast of characters. Hero, heroine, a bad person if needed. For other characters, consider combining them to keep the number required down. For example, if you need a next-door neighbor and a firefighter, make the neighbor a firefighter.
  4. Figure out your story arc. Just because it’s shorter doesn’t mean you can make it any less satisfying. Show your characters in their usual world, yank them out of it, force them into deciding.
  5. Limit the situations to two Black Moments or Crisis Points. You simply don’t have enough room in a novella to do more than that. The second Black Moment should be more difficult than the first, forcing your character to make a tougher decision.
  6. Offer your character alternatives to choosing the hard road, just as in a full-length novel.
  7. Force your character to making decisions that will be in direct contrast to their worldview. This will increase tension for the characters and the reader.
  8. Every book has a message or a theme, but readers don’t want it hitting them in the face. Instead, weave what you want your reader to take away throughout the dialogue, the internal thoughts, the choices the characters are forced to make, and foreshadowing.
  9. Consider your audience as you create your story. For example, if this is a sweet romance or a cozy mystery, readers won’t expect to see sex, cursing, or extreme violence on the page. If, however, you’re penning a steamy romance, gritty police procedural, or hard-boiled detective story, readers are more accustomed to these elements. Always write to your reader’s expectations.
  10. The best stories show the hero and/or heroine in a different frame of mind by the end of the story. They should have recognized their weaknesses and made choices to overcome them. They should have grown in the right direction, unless, of course, you’re writing a literary book. Relationships don’t have to be perfect, but if that’s the theme of the story, they should be moving ahead.

Publishing Opportunities

Novellas seem to work best in romantic genres, including contemporary and historical fiction. Cozy mysteries are popular venues for novellas, as is romantic suspense. Some publishers have developed a niche market for novellas by bundling them into collections of four to nine (or more) authors, with the stories having a common link. Sometimes the connection lies in the heroine’s name or occupation. Sometimes the characters live in the same town, or maybe they are friends out for an adventure. Whatever the link, readers like these collections, as sales testify, because they are able to sample multiple authors in the same collection. If they don’t prefer one story, they’re bound to find several that they do.

For independent authors who self-publish, novellas are a quick and easy way to keep readers satisfied until their next full-length novel releases.

Indie publishing sites, such as Amazon, encourages these shorter books through their algorithms because indie authors often are able to release more books in a year.

Contests and Awards

Most book awards now include novellas in their contests, and many have specific categories for these shorter novels. The writing world has come a long way in recent years. While novellas were once regarded by many as a second-best to full-length novels, savvy readers and judges now recognize that writing shorter can be more difficult.


Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical and contemporary mysteries, and has been published more than 50 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of several writing communities; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly; and judges in writing contests. She lives in Denver with her husband and two cats, finding mysteries wherever she travels. You can find her books on Amazon under both her name and that of her former pen name, Leeann Betts.

Forget the Resolutions…

Set Goals Instead!

By: Trista Herring Baughman

As 2021 comes to a close and 2022 approaches, for many, it’s once again time for making New Year’s Resolutions: get fit, quit bad habits, get organized, spend less time on social media, and more time with loved ones, etc. These are noble ambitions, but I am not one of the many. I stopped making resolutions long ago. 

Although well-meant, my resolutions tended to be feckless aspirations. I suppose resolutions are a good starting point, but they aren’t enough. What I needed were goals. 

What’s the difference? I can track my goals and see the progress I have made. I assign smaller milestones for each objective; each milestone is time-bound. 

I don’t do this solely at New Year’s but throughout the year. I often re-evaluate goals to ensure they are still the right goals. Here’s a checklist to help form and maintain your goals. 

 Goal Evaluation Checklist

  • Is my goal specific?  If your goal is too general, too vague, you’re likely to wander around aimlessly–especially if you’re a list-maker like me.
  • Is my goal realistic?  Can you accomplish it in the given time? 
  • Why is this my goal?  Your why is very important. If you don’t want this, you will not succeed. Motivation is key. 
  • What is the deadline? Not every goal will have a deadline. However, giving a deadline helps with motivation. If I have only a certain amount of time to complete a task, I’m more likely to get it done. 
  • What is the consequence if I do not reach said deadline? What’s the reward if I do?  Didn’t finish your 1000 word per day writing goal? NO cookies for you! 
  • In which category does this goal belong? (daily/weekly/long-term) It helps to prioritize your goals. You want to make sure your top priorities–your big rocks–come first. You will want to check these often to ensure you stay on task.
  • What steps should I take to meet this goal? Smaller objectives to reach long-term goals are often more attainable. Baby steps!
  • Is this goal still relevant; should I adjust it? It’s ok for goals to evolve or change completely. You don’t want to be too wishy-washy, though, or it will defeat the purpose. 

For me, goals are exceptionally vital for writing. Think about some things you want to accomplish with your writing: getting your work out there, marketing your book, finding a literary agent, becoming a freelance writer–whatever you’re hoping to do as a writer–to help form your goals. Also, think of things you want to stop: procrastination, being too hard on yourself, etc. Doing so will help you formulate plans and construct manageable steps to ensure their realization. 

Your assignment? Take out your writing notebook and take that first step. Make your list of goals. 

 Goals to get you started: 

  1. Write daily. It doesn’t matter what you write–just do it. You can write your story outlines, character sketches, journal, or work on your current project. Set a writing goal of words per day. 1000 to 1500 words is a good start. Find time the best time to write and be diligent. Commit to finishing your projects. Give yourself deadlines and stick to them. 
  2. Learn to say “no”. Is Facebook calling your name? Look away! Neighbors and friends dropping by in your designated writing time to chat? It’s ok to say no. If you don’t take your writing seriously no one else will.
  3. Learn to say “yes”. Enter contests. Submit your work to magazines and send query letters. Self-publish. Start a blog. You don’t have to do it all, but pick a few things and say yes. Share your talent with the world. 
  4.  Prioritize. There’s a Chinese Proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” Choose your goals wisely and pursue one at a time. Multitasking is not always your friend. 
  5. Read more. At least half of your job as a writer is to read. Reading fuels your imagination and feeds your writing soul.  
  6. Travel. Nothing boosts your creativity like going to new places and experiencing new things. 
  7. Update your website and social media pages. Let your readers know about your current projects. Reply to comments on your posts, that sort of thing. 
  8. Stay positive. You won’t reach every goal on time every time. Don’t give up. Find some inspirational quotes to cheer you on. Print them and hang them near your workspace. 
  9. Enlist an accountability partner. Having someone to swap reads and edits with is a fantastic motivational tool. 

You don’t have to do it all at once. Consider your other obligations and choose three or four goals to start. Once you have your list, be sure to implement it. Now is as good a time as any to begin good habits. You can do this! 

Whether you’re smashing plates at midnight, watching the ball (or Moon Pie) drop, kissing your sweetheart, or something else, take time to reflect and to soak in the traditions. I wish you a very happy, productive, and blessed New Year on behalf of Pikes Peak Writers and myself.


Trista Herring Baughman

 Trista Herring Baughman is a proud military wife and a homeschool mama.  She isthe author of The Magic Telescope. Her second book, Zombiesaurs, will be available soon at Barnes & Noble Press. You can find out more about her books on her website, or catch up to Trista on Facebook.

Join PPW’s Writing Community!

Wow. Another year has gone by in a flash. So many things have happened this year here at PPW: our first anthology, Fresh Starts was published, Sweet Success recognized over 50 newly published authors, we had an incredible virtual conference, and so much more! Are you looking to be more involved with this amazing writing community? Well, there are some opportunities you won’t want to miss!

As you may already know, Pikes Peak Writers is an all-volunteer organization passionate about helping writers be all they can be. PPW depends on the amazing volunteers who are passionate about writing and the communities that support writers. You too can be a part of the exciting community here at PPW. Most volunteer positions do not require very much time or experience. Read on to learn about what is available.

We are looking for volunteers to fill the following positions:

Pikes Peak Writer Conference Volunteers Needed!

We need volunteers to fill the following conference positions:

  • Query Coordinator
  • Social Media Manager
  • Moderators
  • General volunteers.

Please contact 2022director@pikespeakwriters.com for more information.

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Non-Conference Events Needs You!

Do you like hosting and putting on events? Do you like schmoozing with other authors and helping them succeed? Are you unafraid to talk to anyone? Do you like sharing news about people and an organization you’re passionate about? We need you! We’re looking to fill these roles that will be under the supervision of the non-conference events director.

  • Write Brain Coordinator:
    The Write Brain coordinator is in charge of putting on one, free event per month. You will be responsible for each event from the very start to the very end including finding and working with speakers, getting all their info, forwarding advertising info to NCE Public Relations, the PPW newsletter, and the PPW blog, securing a location for the event (in the past we’ve used the event room at library 21c or a comparable library facility, but we’ve been online since the COVID pandemic began and remain so at the moment), and hosting the event. Time commitment 10-20 hours per month on average.
  • Special Events Coordinator:
    The special events coordinator will be responsible for putting on four, four-hour workshops or events per year. You will be responsible for each event from the very start to the very end including finding and working with speakers, getting all their info, and forwarding advertising info to NCE Public Relations, the PPW newsletter, and the PPW blog, securing a location for the event (in the past we’ve used the event room at library 21c or a comparable library facility, but we’ve been online since the COVID pandemic began and remain so at the moment), and hosting the event. time commitment 10-20 hours per month on average.
  • Non-Conference Public Relations (NCE PR) Coordinator:
    The NCE PR coordinator will be responsible for getting the word out about non-conference events via social media (possibly working with the social media coordinator), and local media outlets such as Peak Radar, the Gazette, and The Independent. Some experience with Canva is helpful. Time commitment 2-5 hours per month on average.
  • Writers’ Night Host:
    Writers’ Night is where aspiring writers can come to have their questions answered, and experienced authors can rub shoulders with their peers and lend their expertise. Join us for two hours of fun, camaraderie, and laughter, the one event where the attendees set the agenda, and the host is there simply to keep it organized. This event is currently being held in person. Time commitment is only a few hours a month.

Please contact Kim, at nce@pikespeakwriters.com for more information on these NCE positions.

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Here are a couple of other exciting reasons to volunteer with PPW!

  • Social Media Coordinator:
    Are you a social butterfly with a bunch of followers? Adept at all the platforms, Facebook, Twitter, IG, Pintrest? Can you make your own quality graphics using free versions of programs like Canva? Do you know how to set up events on social media? Can you run a compelling social media campaign? Can you be counted on to do all of the above under minimal supervision? We need you! 10-20 hours per month on average. Please contact volunteer@pikespeakwriters.com for more information on this position.
  • Blog Post Writers:
    Do you want to write for Pikes Peak Writers? Writing from the Peak, PPW’s amazing blog, is looking for a few great writers. If you would like to write for this fantastic blog, please contact Kathie at: editor@pikespeakwriters.com.

2022 is going to be a great year here at Pikes Peak Writers and we would love for you to join us and make it even better!


KJ Scrim, Profile Image

Kathie Scrimgeour, writes under the pseudonym KJ Scrim. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors with PPW, she is also the Managing Editor of Writing from the Peak (PPW’s blog) and the Project Manager of PPW’s anthologies, Fresh Starts and Dream (coming Spring of 2022). Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. You can follow her on her website, KJScrim.com and on Facebook. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Arizona biking, hiking, or finding Zen through Pilates.

Writing in the Midst of Life

By: Donna Schlachter

Sometimes it seems as though we are inundated with writing help, encouragement to write, conferences to attend, deadlines to meet. And all of those are good. They keep us focused, energized, equipped, and reminded of what’s important.

But what happens when life gets in the way?

No amount of cajoling, criticism (from ourselves or someone else), or chafing will keep our backside in the chair and our fingers on the keys when something else comes between us and our story.

True, sometimes the stuff that distracts us is simply that: stuff. We could choose to ignore it, like the laundry that piles up and multiplies like bunnies in the dark recesses of our laundry room. We could choose to delegate it, like asking our spouse to make dinner tonight while we finish this chapter. We could choose to turn off the email buzzer or silence our phones for an afternoon or ask a neighbor kid to walk the dog this week.

That stuff will always be there, and we can make arrangements for that.

But what about the big stuff? The life-changing things that happen? Those events that cannot be rescheduled, must not be ignored, should not be delayed.

We all have those.

When life gets in the way of our best laid plans, here are some suggestions as to how to get through them without losing your sanity and without feeling you are abandoning your writing:

● Stop and seek counsel. Whether you are a person of faith or a person with some great friends, share what’s going on and seek answers. Perhaps there is a change you need to make. 

● Stop and breathe. Think about the situation for a moment. Perhaps whatever has come up isn’t as much of an emergency as you first thought. Can someone else take it on? Can you call a friend and ask them for help?

● Release the situation. If you know in your heart that this is something you must do yourself, unclench your hands from your writing and get it done. This is a time when having some margin in your schedule will relieve a lot of stress. 

● Do what you need to do. Sometimes we’re faced with a sudden death, or an illness, or the birth of a child, or the loss of a job. All of these are life-changing events that will need your attention for a period of time. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer. You aren’t putting your writing aside because you don’t have what it takes. It just means you need to do what my husband calls “a priority interrupt”. In most cases, these situations will not permanently stop you from writing.

● Call in some support. Whether you’re under a contract deadline, a critique group commitment, or you need to cancel your next writer’s meeting, ask a friend to help communicate the situation. Ask for help.

● Keep the story in your head. No matter how stressful or hectic our lives become, there are still a few times during each day where we can focus on something other than the situation at hand. Keep a notebook with you to jot down ideas when you get a spare moment. A small digital recorder works great. Most phones and iPads come with a voice recorder. Save these thoughts wherever and whenever you can to put into place later on.

● Come back to the project with a joyful heart. Regardless of whether the interruption lasted an hour or a year, return to the project knowing that you are a writer, even when life gets in the way.

Takeaway: There is no shame in pausing in your writing because life throws you a curve ball.

Exercises:

1. Have you hit a roadblock in your writing because of something that’s happened, or are you afraid of something? Look back over the time you haven’t been writing until you get to when you stopped, and honestly assess the situation.

2. If life has gotten in the way, is it a legitimate reason not to write or an excuse?

3. If it’s an excuse, resolve the problem today.

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(This article was previously published in Nuggets of Writing Gold)


Donna Schlachter

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

What Just Happened?

An Incomplete Journey of a NaNoWriMo Newbie – Part 2

By: Benjamin X. Wretlind

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 1: And So It Begins…

The alarm went off at 4 AM with a note: “NaNoWriMo Wake Up.” Right. I said I was going to do that. After coffee, a look at the news, a moment of meditation to rid myself of the stink of the news, and another cup of coffee, I managed to whip out 1,747 words in the morning. I added another 1,052 words around lunch and more in the afternoon. This does put me on pace of >= 1,667/day.

Oddly (or perhaps expectedly), I spent the previous night wondering if I picked the right story. It was just the day before that I considered the possibility of writing something completely different.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 2: I Need Stinking Badges

NaNoWriMo is built with gamification in mind, meaning as I complete various milestones, I am awarded a badge. I like badges, even if they’re only for me. The psychology behind this thinking is well-known and has been around for a while. I was able to punch out another 1,316 words before having to jump on work calls at 6:30 AM. I now have 6 badges. (Update: another 1,075 words in the afternoon.)

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 3: Work Sucks

I am glad I plotted this out. I don’t think I would be able to keep this pace if I had to think about what came next. It does not help that this week my workday starts at 6:30 AM every morning except Monday.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 4: Why Didn’t I Try This Before?

Life. It gets in the way sometimes, as it did today. The dogs needed grooming and work took its revenge. All I could manage was 1,056 words in the morning and a meager 569 in the afternoon. Still, my running mean is 3,081 and I could conceivably finish by the 20th.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 5: Stats!

I love statistics. That’s not to say I loved the class and all the math. Rather, I love seeing patterns in the chaos that is around us, of taking something creative like writing and reducing it to means and histograms. The NaNoWriMo site gets me. There is a page of line graphs and means and more.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 6: The First Saturday

As hoped, Saturday lent itself to an increased word count. Over the course of the day, in spurts of 30-minute to 1 1/2-hour writing sessions, I managed to come up with 4,373 words. They aren’t the best words, but this month is about quantity not quality.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 7: One Benefit to Time Change

The fact that NaNoWriMo occurs during the month when you get an extra hour of sleep (or have an extra hour to write in the morning is noteworthy. For what it’s worth, I wrote a little more. I think the 5,002 words I typed up are close to a record and I am 49.6% done (with the competition, not the book).

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 8: A Thought

I’m over 50% done (55.4%, to be precise) and now have 10 badges. It dawned on me that the only way I could have written this fast was if I was motivated by a) the gamification of NaNoWriMo and b) the fact that the story was thoroughly outlined. But can I keep up this pace?

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Days 9 through 13: Not Always Easy

The middle part of any project is often one that languishes just a bit. There is an initial excitement to get going and a frantic rush to the finish line, but in the middle comes a doldrum. Even NaNoWriMo seems to acknowledge this as I received an email on the 12th day that said “We know the Week Two slump is all too real. The shiny newness of your novel can feel like it’s fading. Don’t be discouraged!”

It’s like they know me.

I managed to write each day, but occasionally the words didn’t flow. This might be the subject matter (more romance than adventure in the middle) or it might have several hours-long Zoom meetings. I did finish the week closer to the goal than I started, and that’s what matters.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 14: I Feel the End

The novel I’m working on is broken up into three Acts with a total of 17 chapters. For those who might be wondering why this is important, allow me to point you to the Wikipedia article about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I am now into Act 3, and that means I can feel the end.

Kind of like a journey, if you ask me.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 15: So Close…

Wow. If someone told me I would be able to write nearly 50,000 words (47,200 as of today) in just 15 days, I would have laughed. It would probably be a sad laugh full of regret, but a laugh nonetheless.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 16: Well…Hello, there!

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Days 17 through 18: Not. Quite. Done.

The elation of “winning” NaNoWriMo 2021 has not worn off, but I still have a few more chapters to go. Looks like this will end up being around 57k words, 7k of which I will probably cut before adding another 5k just because. Yes, it’s a short novel, but so was The Alchemist.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 19: A Novel I Have Written

It may not be the best novel in the world–certainly not anything I would let the world read at this point–but that’s a first draft for you. As of today, The Beans of Anafi is complete. It stands at roughly 54,506 words, which means it fits into the category of novel just as much as any other novel out there. Being used to scifi and fantasy, it is only a fraction of the length of those genres, but this is literary fiction.

Now to clean up the prose.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Days 20 through 24: A First Pass

The NaNoWriMo site keeps teasing me with a badge I haven’t earned yet (update progress every day). I am a completionist (to use their terms), and I must have that badge.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 25: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks, and I can do so with sincerity. I thank the NaNoWriMo people for putting together a program that helped me reach the finish line. I also managed to “carve out” a few words today.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Days 26 through 29: The Second through Sixth Pass

All subsequent revisions tend to remove words and sometimes whole sections. This is a good thing and helps me learn about all the ways I’ve artificially increased my word count in the past.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 30: Done

NaNoWriMo is only once a year (excluding the “camps” they hold in April and July). There is an app out there called 4thewords which appears to use the same gamification concept. I will try this out soon, as January approaches.

The Beans of Anafi now stands at 54,422 words, and after six passes, it is ready to be sent to some beta readers for comments.

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Read Part 1 HERE
If you would like to read Benjamin’s NaNo creation, you may contact him at author@bxwretlind.com.


Benjamin X. Wretlind

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes, paints, uses sharp woodworking tools and plays with glue. Sometimes he does these things at the same time. A retired Air Force veteran, Benjamin currently builds and facilitates leadership courses for staff at Yale. He has penned a few novels, deleted a few novels, edited a few novels and is, of course, writing a few novels. Owing his life’s viewpoint to Bob Ross, he has also painted a few things, thrown a few paintings away, and probably has a painting on an easel right now. You can find Benjamin on his WebsiteTwitter and Facebook.