January Meeting Notes

What is your favorite book on writing?

We had a newcomer at today’s Saturday Writers Group. We always love seeing new faces.

New writers often ask, how do I learn how to write? How do I plan a novel and get that first draft written? These are big questions.

Luckily better writers than us have tackled them. Our discussion circled around several times to the same question, what is the best book on writing? We all had our favorites. Here are just a few we discussed.

On Writing

By Stephen King

Stephen King is definitely a master story teller and it’s no surprise that his book on writing is a favorite among several of our Saturday Writers.

Zen in the Art of Writing

By Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is another master story teller and his book on writing, Zen and the Art of Writing is another favorite of our members.

Heinlein’s Five Simple Business Rules for Writing

By Dean Wesley Smith

Science fiction author Robert Heinlein made his living writing genre science fiction by following five simple rules. Dean Wesley lays them out in this book.

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

By Randy Ingermanson

Wanting more practical advice? Try the Snowflake method.

The first two books on the list may help you with creative. Heinlein’s rules deal with the discipline of writing. The snowflake method deals with the bare bones of how to plot out a story, taking you from a single sentence to a fully drafted novel.

Those are our picks for best books on writing. What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments, or come next month and tell us in person.

Learning to Write My Own Way

It’s NaNoWriMo time again and I find myself facing a familiar decision – do I participate in NaNo this year?

I’ve been a part of NaNo several times and I’ve enjoyed it. The camaraderie and enthusiasm of tackling a novel along with thousands of other people is exhilarating.

By participating in NaNo, I discovered that I really can write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I discovered that I can write 600 words in 20 minutes if I set a timer and just keep typing.

I discovered that if I don’t have a good vision of a scene in my head, I end up with 600 random, repetitive talking-head words in that 20 minutes.

I discovered that while I can write fast, I don’t like writing that fast as it feels like I’m just throwing ill-thought-out junk on the page.

This year, I want it to be different.

I have a story that I am thoroughly in love with. I’m using Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course to plan it out and it is turning out to be incredible.

I want to take my time writing the scenes so that they turn out as well as I see them in my head. so that I capture the passion and the nuances of my characters.

Will I participate in NaNo this year? Yes, I think I will. But I’m going to take my time with my daily writing. I’m going to use a slower, deliberate pace so that I’m happier with my scenes when I’m done.

Learning how YOU write is a huge part of learning how TO write. Participating in NaNo is helping me learn how I write, what works for me and what doesn’t.

What helps you learn how to write?

In A Strange Roundabout Way

Long time no post…

Hey folks, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. No, I haven’t forgotten my faithful readers—the one or two of you who exist—it’s just been hectic. So many things going on outside the wonderful world of writing in the real world, from the day job to household chores and family events. One very exciting thing is my upcoming class on hair and skincare for Prairieland Herbs. Wait a minute, isn’t this a blog about writing? What’s that got to do with writing? In a strange roundabout way it has everything to do with writing, at least for me.

First off, I had to come up with a simple, yet enticing blurb for their site. Think of it as a short, to the point pitch to sell your novel, in this case to sell a class. Then an outline of what I will be covering, just like outlining your book. You have an idea and you need a map on how to get from point A to point B. True, I’m not big on outlines but I still need some sort of course of action to keep me on track, whether it is in writing or teaching this class.

Next, there’s the whole getting up in front of people and getting your point across. Akin to an oral explanation of your book or practice for book signings and other promotional events, maybe someday you’ll be sitting on one of those fancy panels at a convention.

Last, but certainly not least it gets me back in the game of cosmetology practice in the real world instead of just my alternate reality. As some of you know, I’ve centered my story around a stylist and her salon. It’s been a while since I stood behind the chair and had to impart some sort of information or service to someone other than friends or family. Sure, I remember doing these things but it’s a far cry from actually doing them. Hands on is some of the best research when possible and the gals at Prairieland have made it possible.

Life’s a bitch, get over it!

Yeah, I know…I haven’t blogged for a while. Life gets in the way sometimes and whether we like it or not doesn’t deliver itself just the way we hope it will.

You make plans to go out with friends, live it up a little, reward yourself with a special shopping expedition…in the middle of the winter – a blizzard hits and you spend the rest of the day digging yourself out and connecting with your friends on Facebook instead. Okay, if you live in the Midwest, you asked for it when you made plans without consulting Mother Nature first. Talk about your Queen of the Bitches. In case you didn’t know it, let me spell it out for you…Mother Nature likes nothing better than to piss you off!

Then there’s the movie premier you were looking forward to. Just as you are finishing up on that last load of laundry so you can go out, guess what? The washing machine decides to quit on you.  And to top things off, THAT was the load of underwear you needed. Your plans just changed, now you have to sit around and wait for the repairman. Worse case scenario, you need to go out shopping for a new washer. DING! another unplanned hit to your already overtaxed credit card!

What about that once-in-a-lifetime family reunion you were planning to go out of town to catch? Saturday morning, the plan was to fill up the car and hit the road, the anticipation Friday night is driving you crazy, you can barely sleep that night. When you do finally fall to sleep, it’s only to be awakened at midnight…your mother has fallen and broken her hip. You leap out of bed and head for the hospital. Your plans have just been changed. In this case, your plans have been changed for several weeks. Not that you complain, you’d do anything for family. I’m just saying…stay flexible.

Life expects it of you. Message from a beast named, Karma…suck it up!

Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you’ve heard of the latest craze.

Positive thinking.

Think positive and the Universe will deliver to you all your desires. The experts like to call it the Law of Attraction.

Are you freaking kidding me?

Yeah, okay, so I’m the biggest sucker in the world. I went out and bought all the books I could find on the subject (I even read them), attended the Metaphysical Fair in town, bought my magic crystals, burned that incense, and I even gave the whole abundance-journal thing a shot. I watched The Secret. I did my grateful-awareness exercises.

I give to charities. I like to think I’m a friendly sort of person, I have no problem approaching or helping a stranger when needed.

Am I rubbing the crystals counter-clockwise when they are supposed to be rubbed clockwise?

Did I read the books from left to right instead of right to left? Was there a hidden message in there if played backwards?

What am I doing wrong?

Yes, I do appreciate when I’ve been handed something nice in life. Unfortunately, it’s the bad things that sneak up on you, sucker punch you between the eyes and leave the lasting impression.

The nice things in life don’t leave mental bruises, bruises that keep coming back to haunt you with “ouch! that hurt and I don’t want that to happen again” moments!

Nice things make you smile, be happy for a few seconds, then leave you vulnerable for that sucker punch between the eyes.

Deep down, I’m a believer that things happen for a reason. Call it Fate. Call it Karma…whatever. I have experience, and in my experience bad things happen to make you appreciate the good things…when they happen.

Unfortunately, you have to survive the bad things.

A fact of life.

A nice twist in the scheme of things? Anytime something bad happens – and everybody has their own definition of what is “bad” – tell yourself something really good is about to happen. It gives you something to look forward to.

And if you really want to give yourself a pep talk in bad times, think of it this way: the more awful the “bad” stuff, the better the “good” stuff on its way!


Now…I have a load of laundry to go handwash and then I’m going to visit my mother in the hospital, that broken hip is healing nicely.

Think positive thoughts!

I Lost ‘It’

Somewhere along the line, I lost ‘it.’

My drive to see myself in print was still there. My passion for the story was there, obscured but still there. My inspiration was all around me, from the doll resembling the main character to the music I played. But none of that mattered, because I’d lost ‘it.’

In April, we went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra and talk about getting bitch slapped. I could see ‘it.’ I could feel ‘it.’ I could damn near taste ‘it.’ Tears welled, heart pounded, the hair on my arms stood with an electrical charge I hadn’t felt in quite a while. The high they exuded was so intense my mind reeled.

What I saw and felt was unrestrained bliss and fulfillment; they were doing what they wanted to be doing. They not only reveled in what they were doing but also shared it, showing me the error of my ways and what I’d lost. I didn’t know what I’d lost until that moment. ‘It’ was the unbridled joy of sitting at the keyboard, doing what I wanted to do, write.

Somehow, somewhere I’d lost the pure joy I felt when I sat at the keyboard. Writing had become work. Work?! No, I’m not channeling Maynard G. Krebs, but I do empathize with him. Yes, writing is work, but when you have that unadulterated love in the mix, it doesn’t feel like work.

Now I’m off to sit in paradise and work…I mean do what I want to be doing.


I’ve been asking my fellow Saturday Writer friends to challenge me. They have taken up that challenge…to challenge. Me.

The idea was for each of us, once a month, to come up with a prompt – anything, a picture, a sentence, song, smell – and write a short story based on that prompt.

The first prompt was a picture of a little girl in a red dress sitting in a field of ivy. I studied it, tried to read the face of the girl and see what she was thinking – you know, deep profound writerly stuff – and came up dry. I decided to dream up my story by some other means. Keep in mind that anything I dream up is going to turn out a little twisted. That’s just how my brain works. The girl in the picture was sweet, angelic and innocent. My story was not.

The second prompt was a sentence, a quote. Alone, it didn’t seem significant, just an idle quote about relationships. Hmm. Again, twisted brain goes into action…out pops a story about a “black widow” woman collecting the bodies of her ex boyfriends in a web in her basement.

Third prompt was the theme song from Dark Shadows. Not everybody is familiar with the classic vampire soapie from many, many, many….many, many years ago but those who are can hear the song in their heads right about now. I didn’t want to do anything vampirish. That would be too cliche, but I couldn’t get the image of a creepy gothic mansion out of my head. The story ended up being about the mansion as the main character…a living, breathing character. That was fun to write.

So, at this month’s meeting I told my fellow writers to really challenge me this time. I’m beginning to think they don’t love me anymore. What they gave me this time is going to be hard. They had that evil gleam in their eyes when they gave it to me…yep, they want me to fail this time. I can’t let that happen. They will not beat me!

What is the prompt this time?

It’s two-fold.

Porcupine quills and a lilac bush.


What the heck am I going to do with that?

Oh, wait a minute…I think I’ve got something. Hmm, can you kill somebody with a porcupine quill? And if you buried their body under a lilac bush, will it hide the smell of decaying flesh?

Naw, I’ll keep thinking. I’ll come up with something.

Lilac bush…porcupine…do the two even live in the same region of the country together?

Who’s idea was this? I definitely think they don’t love me anymore.

Write, rewrite, revise and repeat

Write, rewrite, revise and repeat. Such is the life of a wanna be writer, or at least this one.

Finished the writing part, the story has a beginning, a middle and even an ending. Next, the major rewrite, some of that beginning, middle and end tossed aside. Painful as it was those parts served no purpose in ‘this’ story.

I’m in the home stretch of going through and either accepting or ignoring my critique partner’s suggestions. Once I’ve finished this part I need to go back to the beginning and read it as a reader instead of a writer. There are things I know need expounding. Some are questions raised by my C.P. others are things I ‘know’ need to be added.

What do I do next? Pass it on to a couple of trusted Beta Readers. Collect their thoughts and questions and start the process all over again.

If you were living under the impression that writing is easy, you’d better wakeup. Writing is far from ‘easy,’ it’s hard work. If you’re not willing to put the time or energy into producing your best work you better find another vocation.

Maybe I’m too picky. With all the talented people out there, I need to do my ‘best’ work if I want a chance of seeing it in print. On that note, I need to get back to work.

Yes, I know I’ve shortchanged you. A teeny tiny post this month and none last, but it’s all about priorities. I’m sacrificing the posts to the gods of writing that I might have a saleable book. Keep your fingers crossed.

Just write

I’m not a published author…yet.

I’m doing everything in my power to change that situation. I’ve belonged to writer’s groups to network and hang out with fellow writers – it’s good to know others who share my affliction. I belong to National organizations. I do the Facebook thing, love the Facebook thing. Groups are good. Networking is good.

I read all the how-to-write books I can get my hands on: how to write fiction, how to write description, how to sell your book, how to write winning query letters, how to find an agent, how to…how to…how to. These – I’m thinking – may not be so good. Sure, they give you information and if you’re a reasonably intelligent individual you find a way to weed through that information-overload for stuff you can actually use. Keep in mind that there are a LOT of so-called experts out there eager to tell you the right way to do everything imaginable. Maybe it worked for them. Might not work for you.

I’ve decided to try a different tactic. I just need to write! I need to park my butt in my chair and write….gosh darn it! I am a high stress person and don’t deal well with aggravation and missed goals. I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading all those how-to books, meanwhile stalling in my actual writing. I tell myself, “I’ll just finish reading this book, it will help me be a better writer…” but you know what? I’m still not published!

You know what else? I have fried a few valuable brain cells – brain cells I can’t afford to be without – just trying to do everything the how-to experts have been telling me to do!

One book tells me I need to show not tell, use more similes and metaphors to get your descriptions across. Another book tells me to NEVER use similes or metaphors…it is forbidden.

One source tells me I need to go completely dialogue…the wave of the future! You can get all the description you need in good, fast, smooth dialogue. While another source tells me to keep the dialogue at a minimum. Tighten it up.

Then there’s that “hook” you hear so much about. Gotta have it. But there are rules there, too. Always get goal-conflict-and-motivation in that first paragraph. Always introduce Hero AND Heroine in that first scene. Never start a book with a dead body in the first sentence…never start with a mundane scene of the main character waking up in the morning…never start with dialogue…always start with dialogue…never, always, never, always! SHEESH!

To throw further confusion into the mix, I read. I have many favorite authors – some older, some newer – and when I see the “never’s” in their storywriting it nearly sends me over the edge!  What is an aspiring writer supposed to believe?

Now my favorite authors are writing how-to-write books of their own! Just about every successful, high paid, bestselling author has one on the shelves. 

Have I included enough exclamation points in this blog to express just how stressed I’ve become at the abundance of “expert” information out there!!!

What is a wanna-be-published writer to do?

My answer? First, read…a lot. Not just the how-to books. Read stories you really enjoy reading. Do they read anything like how you want to write? How old are they? Have they been published recently? That will tell you what is acceptable in the publishing business right now, not what things were like thirty years ago. Times change, keep up with those changes.

Second, write…a lot. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a story you want to get published. Just write. It could be blogs, letters, articles, journaling, or short stories you write for your kids. Maybe just long emails during the day to family and friends. Just write.

Third, remember that what works for some people doesn’t work for others.

I’m not trying to sound like an expert on the subject. I’m not. I just know what I need to do, maybe it will work for other people who are trying to be better writers and get published.

Now, I need to get back to a book I’ve been reading…”How to Stop Reading How-to Books and Start Writing” by Dr. I. Noe Itall.

Reading Is Fundamental

Time flies, even when you’re not having fun. Think I’m lying? Take a look at the clock; you just lost precious seconds reading this. What I want to know is where the hell it goes, especially my reading time.

Seriously, no matter how much I try I have less and less time to read. Not a good thing with my chosen profession of writing or the job I fell into at the library. Yeah, yeah, I know reading is fundamental for both.

Unfortunately, it’s not the same type of ‘fun’ it used to be. No longer the escape I took from reality, but my job. I can hear the sarcastic chorus of ‘Poor Amy, wish I had a job where I had to read.’ I can see the eye rolls and disgust that comes with my complaints. I also see the total lack of respect when I explain that I ‘have’ to read because of my jobs.

I understand for most reading is a luxury, a hobby, entertainment. Once upon a time, that’s what it was for me. My idea of a great night was a good book, munchies and something to sip. It still is, but now I look at that great book differently.

I rarely flip through the pages like a madwoman falling into the story, oblivious to the world around me. I take my time savoring every word, sometimes rereading passages to see how the author did what they did. Authors spend a lot of time doing the research, crafting the story, making sure it’s polished; their work deserves a little respect.

Not to say I ‘never’ devour a book anymore, there are a few authors who just suck me in and don’t let go until I hit the last page. Those usually end up in my keeper pile, reread after the initial glow is gone.

I also should factor in I don’t always read just one book at a time. At present, I’m reading three for learning purposes and pleasure, an urban fantasy, a science fiction and a paranormal romance. Then there’s the young adult for the library discussion group. Oh, almost forgot the two on writing–editing to be exact–and the pages my critique partner gave me.

Hmm, that’s a lot of reading. Maybe I should skip the housework and attack one of those books, after all it’s part of my job.