Tag Archives: tips for writers

Resurrecting Creativity

We officially passed the mid-point of the year (June 25) and my Year of Nurturing is still in progress… (what was your theme??)

So, I naturally gravitate to words like Zen, Spirit, Peace, Calm. I clicked on a link from Pinterest that had Zen and Writing in the title and landed in an article titled: Zen Power Writing” 15 Tips on How to Generate Ideas and Write with Ease. The blog post features tips mainly for article- and blog-writing, but I found this tip handy for my procrastination on my novel…

9. Leave end and beginning to the last. We can get stuck if we start at the beginning. The beginning is supposed to introduce the theme. But at the start of a writing project we may not know exactly what we’re going to say. So, it’s best to write the introduction later on. Once you have completed your first draft, it’s time to add an introduction and a conclusion. The intro can be short but it needs to say why your theme is important, or to outline the benefits that follow from reading your piece. The conclusion should tie it all together.

Do you procrastinate on any particular part of your writing? Beginnings? *raises hand* Middles? Ends? Editing? Querying? Maybe just sitting down with a vague and clichéd idea?

I’ve been struggling with resurrecting and developing my creativity since New Year’s Day, (2011 was filled with family and job drama, leaving me in an artist’s drought.)

I’ve made some false starts and some interesting, helpful discoveries. Wanna go on the ride with me? Come back tomorrow…

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Filed under Inspiration, procrastination, writers block, writing inspiration, Year of Nurturing

Writing Backstories – Guest Post & Book Giveaway!

Writing Backstories

By Karen Wojcik Berner

Thank you so much, Mary Jo, for inviting me to guest blog today. I am very excited to be here.

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

And you may find yourself in another part of the world

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife

You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

Talking Heads. “Once in a Lifetime.” Remain in Light. Sire Records, 1980. Vinyl.

This song pops into my head all the time. Not only were the Talking Heads one of my favorite bands back in the day, but it also helps put me into the proper writing mode to create a character’s backstory, which happens to be every time I begin writing a Bibliophiles novel.

Most series focus on the adventures of one main character. I decided to switch things up a bit. Each novel in my series spotlights one or two members of a classics book club and tells the story of their lives up to joining. The book club storyline is furthered throughout the series.

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For example, A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One) is about Sarah, an overwhelmed, stay-at-home mom, and Annie, a P.R. executive dealing with fertility issues. My next book, due out in spring 2012, follows Bibliophile Catherine Elbert as she bounces from coast to coast in search of her true self.

Backstories are a big part of all fiction, don’t you think?

I start with the standard journalism questions: who, what, why, where, when and how. I can’t help myself. I was a magazine editor for ten years and a newspaper freelancer before that.

Who is this person? How old? Where does he or she come from? What kind of family? House or apartment? Rural, city or suburb? What school? What does she look like? What kind of family life did he have growing up?

Relationships, or lack thereof, with siblings or parents. Goals and dreams. Clothes? Music? Cars? Drinks? Favorite food? All these things help create well-rounded characters. As you make your choices, be careful not to make your new character a stereotype. Mix in some seemingly conflicting traits to shake things up a bit.

The main question I think backstories should answer is how did this person get to this point? What are the ramifications of the past upon the present?

Also, don’t forget to include the things that just spill out while you are writing. Most of the time, these can be the best details, even though they might change your previously conceptualized notions about your character.

That’s okay. It’s your world. You can alter it however you please.

Don’t you wish life had that option? I know I do.

About the Author:

Karen Wojcik Berner lives a provincial life tucked away with her family in
the Chicago suburbs. If it was good enough for Jane Austen, right?
However, dear Miss Austen had the good fortune of being born amid the
glorious English countryside, something Karen unabashedly covets, so much
so that she majored in English and communications at Dominican University.

Like the magnificent Miss Austen, Karen could not help but write about the

Society that surrounds her.

A booklover since she could hold one in her chubby little toddler hands, Karen

wanted to announce to the world just how much she loves the written word.

She considered getting a bibliophile tattoo but instead decided to write about

the lives of the members of a suburban Classics Book Club. The series is called,

of course, The Bibliophiles.”) When she isn’t reading, writing, or spending her
time wishing she was Jane Austen, Karen spends her time can be found sipping

tea or wine, whichever is more appropriate that day, and watching Tim Burton

movies or “Chopped,” her favorite foodie TV show.

Just Thought You Should Know:   A Whisper to a Scream is Book One of a series called The Bibliophiles. The second book in the series will be released in February 2012. Stay tuned!

Author’s Websites:                                                  
Karen Berner’s website:  http://www.karenberner.com/index.html

Leave a comment or a question and Random.org may select You as a winner!


Filed under Advice, books, Fiction, Give Aways, writers

Writing Contests: Go for the Big Ones (plus a book giveaway!)

Twofer! A Great guest post by novelist, Kathy Handley, on the in’s and out’s of entering writing contests – PLUS! a chance to win her novel, Birds of Paradise. Just post a comment or question today and be entered in the random drawing! Check back Thursday for the winner…

Win this Book!

When it comes to Contests- Go for the Big Ones

I was once told to submit to well-known journals along with the lesser known ones. “You’ll get a fair reading,” my friend, Jamie Cat Callan said. That may be the same with contests.

A new writer is often hesitant to submit their work to contests. Early on I sent stories to the National League of American Pen Women, Soul-Making Contest, in the short story category. I placed several years in a row and was invited to join the team of judges later on. How cool is that? If I had never entered, I wouldn’t have the pleasure of meeting the great folks who judge and enter the contest that was started by Eileen Malone, the dynamo writer and do-it-all gal.

A good rule of thumb is to get your work out there and move quickly to the next project or submission. True, you’ll have rejections, but try to see them as paying your dues. I often said that I’d have to pay my dues by writing a million words–still working on this–just to learn and get better, but I have Indie-published two books this year.

It’s a good idea to submit in varying genres for the many contests there are out there.  You can access Poets and Writers for deadlines.  If you are writing a novel, take a chapter that will stand alone as a story and send it out. Try flash fiction and poetry and perhaps a short non-fiction piece that speaks to your passion.  Although we didn’t win the national contest for a boundless playground for my grandson’s town, the letters served to educate persons who were not aware of special needs. In this case, we wanted a playground accessible for all.

My big win involved the Nervous Breakdown site that sponsored a Page-To-Screen contest with a prize of a Kindle and the opportunity for entertainment folks to consider the story for a movie. With many entries judged by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants author, this win was a great thrill for me. You can do it too. Polish up that work and go for it.

I want to wish all of you writers out there good luck in the contests you enter. Send me an email when you place or need suggestions about venues for you work. Imagine your excitement when you are able to use your publishing and contest winning data in the front of your book.

Warmest Wishes,

 Kathy Handley



About the Author:

 Her grandfather entertained his family with stories and dancing, her father quoted Shakespeare and her mother was known as “Mary the Poet” so naturally Kathryn would become a writer…eventually!

Now a published novelist at age 71, Kathy’s short fiction has appeared in many literary
magazines. She recently won Word Hustler’s Page-to-Screen Contest (2011) and currently serves as Prose Poetry Judge for the National League of American Pen Women Soul-Making Contest. A collection of her work will soon be released under the title A World of Love and Envy (short fiction, flash-fiction, and poetry).

*Don’t forget to leave a comment or question for our visiting author and be entered in the book giveaway!!


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Tuesdays with…Christine Kane (on Peaceful Productivity)


Overcoming Overwhelm: 5 Secrets to Peaceful Productivity  

"inner peace"

by Christine Kane

Overwhelm is one of the toughest things my clients face.

No surprise, of course.

The people I work with – whether they’re in my Platinum Mastermind, or my Uplevel Your Business Program, or at one of my retreats – tend to have one thing in common:

They’re creative types with lots of great ideas and a deep desire to be of service in the world. (If you’re reading this, you’re probably that kind of person, too.)

Creative types are often challenged by the practical day-to-day stuff of life. To-do’s, organization, finances, getting things done. NONE of this comes easy! Overwhelm becomes a way of life.

Only problem is this:

Overwhelm leaves you emotionally drained, constantly feeling like you’ll never quite catch up.

As a creative person, you might have to accept that you’ll be overwhelmed on a regular basis, but you can also take a few practical steps to overcome overwhelm. Here are five secrets I’ve learned along the way that have helped me get back on purpose in my daily life.

1 – Get out of the weeds

If you’ve ever waitressed, then you know what it means to be “in the weeds.” So much is happening so fast that you can’t even pause to regroup.

Many of us live our whole lives like this! We wake up and just start reacting.

If this is you, then it’s time to get out of the weeds and into the habit of something I call Self-Summits.

A Self-Summit is a weekly 30-minute practice – Sunday’s are perfect! – during which you connect with your intentions, remind yourself of your goals, and get clear on your priorities. You look at the week ahead and:

  • List your top three priorities (not your 57 to-do’s!) for the week.
  • Get clear on upcoming appointments.
  • Schedule your work-out time, your writing time, your downtime, etc.

This one practice does wonders for keeping you on track. Even if your week doesn’t work out exactly as planned, this is better than not having any plan at all!

2 – Project vs. Task

Is this your to-do list? –>

“Re-paint house. Create website. Write book. Eat healthy.”

If so, then it’s time to discern between a project and a task. A project is something big…like a website. It looms like a monolith on your to-do list, with its own foreboding theme song that plays every time you glance at it.

A task, on the other hand, is something you can actually complete. Like, “Write bio.” Or “Call Photographer.”

Learn to break down your projects into tasks during your Self-Summits, and you’ll reduce your overwhelm by at least 75%!

3 – Experience Completion

I often make my clients set their weekly goals so small that they laugh at me. I do this because most of the creatives I work with have never allowed themselves the bold luxury of simply experiencing completion.

When you experience completion, then you can maintain your motivation. When you are always running to keep up with your 73-item to-do list, then you are prone to overwhelm and burn out. Make your goals and your to-do list small so that you can revel in getting complete!

Think of completion as an essential vitamin that makes you immune to overwhelm!

4 – Set the Timer

This will sound so simple and stupid that you’ll think, “Yea, yea yea. Got it. A timer. Duh.”

But hear me out!

Let’s say you’ve scheduled 2 hours to write Chapter 4 of your book. Set the timer for 55 minutes, and write. Don’t go one minute over or under. Take a five-minute break. Then set your timer for another 55 minutes.

When the clock is running, you won’t be as tempted to go downstairs to put the clothes in the dryer, or see if the mail has arrived. It’s an effective mind game that keeps your butt in the chair and your focus on the task. Even my most skeptical clients have become believers in the timer.

5 – Eliminate All-Or-Nothing Thinking

Many creatives see only two options:

Either be fun-loving, chaotic, creative and spontaneous…


Be a totally boring robot who never experiences love or joy.

This is called All-or-Nothing Thinking. It is also a “Limiting Belief.” It is downright untrue and even destructive, and it will keep you playing catch-up forever!

The trick to overcoming overwhelm is to play with these new habits. Tweak them so they work for YOU. Many people use all-or-nothing thinking as an excuse for not even trying. They give up on themselves way too quickly.

Don’t expect to be perfect when you first start digging out of overwhelm. But DO expect yourself to keep practicing these habits.

Christine Kane is the Mentor to Women Who are Changing the World. She helps women uplevel their lives, their businesses and their success. Her weekly LiveCreative eZine goes out to over 20,000 subscribers. If you are ready to take your life and your world to the next level, you can sign up for a F.R.E.E. subscription at http://christinekane.com.


See Christine’s blog at ChristineKane.com/blog.

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Filed under Advice, Inspiration, Organization, Perseverance

Guest Post: How to Revise your First Draft

Please welcome guest author, Sally Whitney, today as she shares her tips for revising a completed story. (Hint-hint: you’ll need this after NaNo!)

Not only is Sally giving away her tips, but a copy of the Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010 to one lucky winner! (Leave a comment or question to be entered)

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You’ve Got a First Draft. What Do You Do Now?

Guest post by: Sally Whitney


The thought of revising short stories or novels used to terrify me. I could read the first draft a thousand times, but beyond rearranging some sentences or changing a few words, I was at a loss. And that could be a death blow to the piece at hand. The heart of the story is often found in revision. Although I thought I knew what my story was about when I started it, I didn’t. I didn’t know until I questioned every aspect of it and made myself answer those questions. To do that, I needed concrete strategies. Over the years, I’ve found three that work for me.


1. Kick out the loafers. The first thing I do with a new story is look at each character and ask myself, why is this character here? What does he (or she) do and do I really need him? Can somebody else in the story do the same thing? If the character doesn’t serve any real purpose or if somebody else can do what he does, that character gets the axe.


2.  Shape up the scenes. Once I have my cast whittled down to the essential few, I look at how they do what they do. For this, I examine every scene. I ask myself, what does this scene do now and what does it need to do? I make a chart of the scenes, and when one doesn’t do what it needs to do, I make notes about ways to fix it. This is the step in revision that really gets my brain rolling and starts me digging beneath the surface. For a short story with only a few scenes, it can take a few days, but for a novel, it can take months. Believe me, it’s worth it. And when I’ve done it the first time and made the changes I need to make, I start at the beginning and do it again. And again, if I think I need to. Along the way, a lot of scenes get tossed because they don’t do anything to advance the plot or develop character or add to the energy of the story. Some scenes get rearranged or scaled down. Some get new dialogue or description. And somewhere in this process I begin to have an inkling of what the story is about. I see my characters more clearly, and I understand—or question—why they do what they do. And that process leads me to the next step—recognizing scenes that need to be there, but aren’t.


3. Fill in the gaps. I read once that the main difference between a published novel and an unpublished novel is the scene that’s left out. It’s the scene that’s in the author’s head, but isn’t on the page. I think the same is true for short stories. In “Shelby Jean,” my story that appears in The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010, the final two scenes weren’t in the first drafts. I thought the story was about the decision the main character makes near the end, but it isn’t. It’s about what she learns from that decision, and I needed the final scenes to show that. In the novel I’m working on, I’ve discovered several scenes that were in my head, but not on the page, and I suspect there are others.


Granted, these are only three steps of revision and there are lots more, but these three push me in the right direction. What’s the first thing you do when you finish a draft and have to plunge in again?

Sally Whitney’s short stories have appeared in literary and commercial magazines, including Buffalo Spree, Catalyst, Common Ground, Innisfree, Potpourri, Kansas City Voices and Pearl, and anthologies, including New Lines from the Old Line State, published by the Maryland Writers’ Association, and Grow Old Along With Me—The Best Is Yet to Be, published by Papier-Mache Press. The recorded version of Grow Old Along With Me was a Grammy Award finalist in the Spoken Word or Nonmusical Album category. Sally lives in Millersville, Maryland, with her husband and calico cat. She is currently working on a novel about a woman whose struggles with isolation and loss of identity in 1972 lead to an obsession that threatens her family’s stability and security.


that is all. thank you.


Filed under Advice, books, characters, Fiction, Give Aways

Stay Focused on Your Dreams

Stay Focused on Your Dreams

by Jack Canfield

“When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember

that your initial objective was to drain the swamp!”

I just spent a day conducting my Success Principles Workshop for 200 unemployed men and women sponsored by the Workforce Institute in San Jose, California.

It was a very revealing day.

First, I was struck by the diversity of the people who have lost their jobs due to the cutbacks caused by the recession—computer programmers, salespeople, managers, artists, trainers, architects, landscapers, lawyers, actuaries, truck drivers, painters and teachers.

Secondly, I was struck by the mood of resignation and depression that was present in the room when we began in the morning.

The prevailing belief was that there were not any jobs available and that it wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon. People were preparing their resumes, going to job fairs, going to interviews, but with little or no results.

I was reminded of Spencer Johnson’s book Who Moved My Cheese, in which he reports how rats in a laboratory maze are trained to press a certain buzzer with their noses, and once they are reinforced with a reward of cheese, will keep going back to press the same buzzer even though they are no longer receiving cheese for pressing the buzzer. Their noses will become bloody and they will eventually die rather than press a different buzzer.

Human beings do the same thing. They will repeat a behavior that used to work over and over and over again, even though it is not producing the desired result, hoping that someday it will work again.

There is something to be said for perseverance in the face of an obstacle, but sometimes you have to come to grips with the fact that a particular opportunity may never exist again.

In my book The Success Principles I teach a formula called E + R = O. It stands for Events + Responses = Outcomes.

If a certain response (job search) in the face of a certain event (the current economic situation in your area) is not creating the outcome (income) you want, you may have to change your response.

You may have to try something different, which could include employing a more creative approach to presenting yourself, moving to a new location where the jobs are, changing fields (which might require retraining or re-education), becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business venture, joining a multi-level marketing company, partnering up with other people to start a service of some kind—all of which may require you to step outside of your comfort zone.

A good example of what I am talking about is a woman I read about in USA Today. After losing her job she noticed that all the homes that were being foreclosed in her neighborhood were left in shambles, just as the angry people who were forced out of them. She called the local banks and offered to clean them for a fee so that they would be presentable when the banks tried to rent or sell them. Her little venture was so successful that she had to hire several other people to help. She now has a successful house cleaning business.

I saw a story on CNN about another jobless woman who opened a store to help buy and sell used furniture from the people who were forced to downsize as they were being foreclosed upon or forced to move to smaller apartments. She sold some locally and some on the internet. These are all examples of finding a need and filling it, of getting creative instead of sitting passively by, doing the same old behaviors that are not working.

By the end of the day in San Jose there was a different mood in the air—one of excitement and enthusiasm about pursuing all of the possibilities that lay before them.

They had come in at the beginning of the day simply hoping to figure out how to find a job. By the end of the day they were leaving focused on how to create the life of their dreams.

They had transcended the limited goal of getting back to ground zero and replaced it with a goal of “thrival” rather than mere survival. 

No matter what is going on in the economy…

•         hold fast to your dreams,

•         visualize them with feeling twice a day,

•         keep your self-talk positive,

•         surround yourself with positive people,

•         read uplifting books,

•         trust your intuition,

•         take continuous action,

•         expect the best,

•         respond to feedback by making the necessary corrections,

•         and persevere until you get the result you want.

It’s a formula that always works.

After the workshop had concluded, one of the participants came up to me and said…

“You know, I used to set goals and do the things you were teaching us today when I was younger.  I guess I’ve just stopped doing the things that work.”  

Whatever you do, don’t stop doing the things that work. I promise you, if you work the principles, the principles always work.

© 2010 Jack Canfield

* * *

To learn more about the remaining three Success Principles Workshops I am conducting for the general public in Seattle and Boston, go to:


Jack Canfield, America’s #1 Success Coach, is founder of the billion-dollar book brand Chicken Soup for the Soul© and a leading authority on Peak Performance and Life Success. If you’re ready to jump-start your life, make more money, and have more fun and joy in all that you do, get your FREE success tips from Jack Canfield now at: www.FreeSuccessStrategies.com


Filed under Advice, Perseverance, writers block