Category Archives: Observation

You should Write What You Know, or should you?

Write What You Know

Write What You Know – debunked (by this author)

by Sheri Williams

As a writer you hear so many rules and regulations, then there are the suggestions and the idioms. And of all of these, my absolute least favorite is “Write what you know!

The thing about this particular “rule?” It’s pointless. (Most writing rules are) Writing what you know would leave the world full of the most boring books ever. Let me ask you this?

Does Stephen King have intimate knowledge of sentient, murderous cars? Or killer dogs? Or killer clowns? 

Does J.K. Rowling really have such an in depth knowledge of magic and the magical world?

Did J.R.R. Tolkien have elves and orcs in his life to help him write the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings?

No. No. And yeah you guessed it, No.

What do multi-published authors do?

What all three of those very famous authors did have was knowledge of humans. And themselves. And the things in their lives that fueled their desire to write in the first place. Then, they, you guessed it, made stuff up. Cause that’s what authors do. We. Make. Stuff. Up.

Yes we all add bits of pieces of our lives and people we know and things we’ve encountered into our stories, but that’s just the flavoring to the main dish. You know?  My favorite instance of this is J.K. Rowling, the master herself. Those dementors that scared us all to shivering piles of fear? That was how she related her depression. And holy smokes did it work. It comes across as a soul sucking entity which depression is, but she made up these dark evil creatures to get across that one aspect of her life. That’s what we authors do. This is the only way “write what you know” works. If you take what you know and morph it, mold it, squish it into something else.

But I don’t think what she did in the Dementor’s case, or what I do when I write serial killers who still love their moms, is the same thing as “write what you know” I think it’s just using life experience to enhance your imagination. When I hear “write what you know” I hear; write about growing up in Connecticut and then moving to the south. Write about being a white woman who has never left the country and is married with two kids. And while I quite enjoy my life, reading about it might possibly (no, absolutely!) be boring for someone else.  

So why the rule?

For me this particular “rule” (I use quotes here cause I don’t really see it as a rule but more of a suggestion that the publishing world seems to be stuck on) is just one more way to keep people in their particular lane.  And I’m not a huge fan of that, in any aspect of life. And now we’ve come full circle to one of my previous blogs for 10 Minute Novelists. Research. I routinely write about the 1800’s and yet I live here and now, so what do I do? I research. The same goes for everything else I write about that has no real basis in my life. Serial Killers. Elves. Trolls. Aliens. All things I’ve never seen in real life (gasp!) but I write them. I write them all. (I like to think of myself as a rebel)

And this same method works for if you are a fully able bodied person who wants to write about a disabled character or a person of color who wants to write about a white character (research and write with respect, this is a rule I live by). There’s room at the table for all writers, who want to write all the things, whether or not it’s something you know first hand, or just something you want to explore, or something that just turns on your writerly brain.

So, how do you feel about “write what you know”? Is it a hard and fast rule for you? Or is it something that like me, you look at askance and wonder who ever came up with it in the first place?



Bring Them With You: Writing Vivid Descriptions

by Christine Hennebury

Readers come to fiction to immerse themselves in the world of the characters. If you want your readers to really connect with your writing, with your characters, you need to master vivid descriptions.

When you put in the work to make your book’s world as real as possible, you reward both your readers and yourself.

Creating a detailed world doesn’t mean that you need to overload your text with adjectives. Instead, it means that you need to be precise in your language and selective in the details you share. It means that you connect your readers with your characters through their senses.

Vivid description lets you fully inhabit your world, your characters, and your setting, and that makes your work more fun.


Sidenote: When I’m telling stories aloud, I know exactly what each room I describe contains but I don’t share all of those details. Instead, I pick specific items to describe that will connect with my audience. That practice can be useful for your readers, as well. Even if you know every last detail in a room, you can just share the most vital ones.

Creating precise descriptions  is probably not something that will happen in a first draft. You may need to go back and layer in some extra details in your scenes to make them richer.  If you want to ensure that your writing is rich in detail but not a blast of sensory information, perhaps you could consider the following approaches:

Choose a Perspective

Last year, I took a workshop with a local writer who is well known for her engaging descriptions. She had lots of great advice to share but my most important take-away was that every description is from someone’s perspective.

It’s obvious, really, but I hadn’t thought about it before.

Every scene in your book is through someone’s eyes – even if that person is you! So, you have to emphasize details that would be important to them. You have to show their knowledge or their ignorance. And, you will want to add emotional content to details so your readers know what your character thinks about their surroundings.

Descriptions from their point of view can be part of ‘showing’ instead of ‘telling.’ There is a big difference between the person who describes the moon as looking like the bald head of a baby and the person who describes it as looking like a dinner plate.


Find a Similar Place

Go to a place similar to the setting in your story and pay close attention. (If your story is set in a fantasy realm, you will have to wing it a bit.)  Look around – we tend to think of visual descriptions first so that’s a good place to start.  What can you see? Do those items have specific meaning in that context? Which items say the MOST about the location?

Next, close your eyes and listen. What noises can you hear? Can you describe them without referring to what’s making them? This is a good chance to use some onomatopoeia!

How about smells? Textures? Tastes? What kinds of other sensory details are available in your chosen setting?

Take some notes so when you get back to your writing you can infuse your events with specific and relevant detail.

The relevant part is key. After all, there may  not much point in mentioning the crimson curtains if no one goes near the window!

However, as I warned above, you don’t want to overload your readers. So, it may be useful to consider which details from the environment stand out. Or, which ones contain the most powerful information. You can convey a very dirty room with a quick description of a rat on a counter eating a piece of what must have once been bread, you don’t need to describe every single dirty thing.

Sidenote: If you cannot go to a similar place, you may want to put the power of Facebook or Twitter to use for your writing. Trade scenes with another writer who can find a similar location and you can do one for them – both of your scenes will be richer for it!


Feel It More Than You See It

Standard writing advice tells you to write what you know.  However, when you delve too far into specific language, you can end up with a highly  technical, jargon-filled description. Or in an effort to make your scene clear, you can write one that is too heavily slanted to a single sense. That’s when you should consider how your character is feeling.

For example, it would be easy for me to get mired in details when I’m writing about Taekwondo. I could spend paragraph after paragraph describing certain strikes and blocks and call them by name, telling the reader specific angles and details. It would be technically correct but it wouldn’t draw the reader in.

It would be much better for me to describe how each blow feels. Then, by layering that with details like being out of breath, having sweat running into my eyes, being able to hear my own heart, and being afraid of an opponent’s power, I can immerse my reader in the battle. 

You can do the same in the fact-based sections of your writing –  help them to *feel* what’s happening instead of baffling them with details.


Bring Them With You


Your reader is accepting an invitation into your imagination so you want their experience to be a rich one. You want them to be right THERE with your characters.

Layering details of sensory information within your characters’ actions and observations will make your world REAL for your readers, it lets you bring them with you on your characters’ adventure.  And, making them FEEL what’s going on will keep them coming back to your stories.  Isn’t that what we’re all hoping for?

Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  or visit her on Facebook .

Top 10 Great Things That Happened When I Stopped Complaining

by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Sometimes, the world really is insufficient, faulty or stupid. But sometimes it’s just better not to notice. 

A few years ago, after a particularly difficult time in my life, I challenged myself to watch what I said and to stop complaining. I thought that by stopping the bad attitude was just a generally a good step in the direction of restraint. I had no idea that this would change nearly everything about my life. 

Now, this blog has the main purpose of encouraging time-crunched writers in their dreams, but sometimes, I want to write for everyone. I firmly believe that the world would change dramatically if we stopped complaining.

TOP 10 Things That Happened When I Stopped Complaining

1. I saw the world for what it was. The glass really is half full! How delightful to discover little surprises in my day that I only discovered because I decided to live in light, not darkness.

2. I had more friends. I can’t believe it took me over 40 years to find out that people are attracted to happy people, not angry ones. Who knew? I had always thought that there was virtue in honesty. Now I’m seeing that negative thoughts, kept to ones self, can open doors in a way that negative words spoken will only shut.

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”
Maya Angelou

3. I became more trustworthy. This is another Who Knew moment! The people that was spending time with — those who were attracted to me for my optimism — were more willing to trust me with their real selves. This strengthened my friendships. And I suppose if I gave up the fact that they were trying to hurt me, then my vulnerability made me a better friend too.

4. I worried less. I really believe that all my negativity was rooted in fear. If I chose to be less negative and chose to dwell on the positive, then all those bad things that I thought were going to happen never happened.  Now, after practicing thinking rainbows and sunshine I’ve gotten to where if I ever feel afraid, then I know it’s because I’m thinking the wrong things.

5. I had more ideas. A fearless, brave, positive person will most definitely take more chances than a fearful, angry, worried person. By releasing my negativity, I was far more willing to move forward on my ideas, try new things and forget failure. This also added a lot to my happiness.

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
Abraham Lincoln

6. I had more energy. Negativity does something to me. It makes me tired and restless. It drives me to eat too much or sleep too late. By thinking happy thoughts, not only was I confident that I could tackle my to-do list, but I also make exercise a priority, which made me more energetic. This was surprising and very encouraging.

7. I had fun. Another surprise. It is more fun to be happy than to be sad. Funny: when you choose to be happy, you’re taking responsibility for your own happiness and fun rather than having it come to you. I didn’t know this before even though it makes perfect sense. It also makes me regret wasting all that time being negative.

8. Doors opened up to me. If I’m more attractive to others and I’m taking more risks, then more opportunities will come to me too. All the things that I want out of life are on the other side of fear and negativity. Hmm. If that isn’t motivation to put a smile on my face, I don’t know what is! 

“Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.”
Lily Tomlin

9. I set a good example. We all face things that we don’t like on a daily basis, but whining and complaining to the leadership rarely helps. I am a leader in my family — I am the mother. And when my children complain, I listen to legitimate concerns, but I also want to teach them that their attitudes make my job easier. Let’s all choose to be happy, even when circumstances aren’t great and we’ll probably grow stronger for it.

10. I stray clear of other complainers. For the first time in my life, I can see how toxic complaining can be. I can see how unattractive it is in others. I see how sometimes it’s destructive and divisive. I see how it can bring everything down. I don’t need complaining people in my life, so now I stay away from them and I don’t feel guilty about it.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t completely given it up.

I catch myself sometimes creating a long mental list of everything that is wrong with my life. But the difference is now I see it and I stop it as soon as I can. I have friends around me who I can be honest with about this. I can keep myself from picking up more negativity like a lint brush and making things worse.

I see now that my complaining is like illness-causing bacteria.

Complaining can cause rifts and divisions, bring down a mood, make others miserable and spread like conjunctivitis in a kindergarten class. If I choose a good attitude then I’m doing what I can to fight the infectious negativity around me. 

What about you? What do you do to combat negativity in your life? I want to know!

Top 10 Ways To Equip Myself To Be An Expert Starer by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Oh, how I love Flannery O’Connor for about ten gazillion reasons.

When one of my literary heroes says it’s okay to stare, you better believe I’m going to do what she says.

But in my staring,  I need to be equipped. I need to have the right tools. I need to know what I’m doing. I need to know why observing people makes me a better writer.

Today I’d like to present Top 10 Ways To Equip Myself To Be An Expert Starer

Top 10 Ways To Equip Yourself To Be An Expert Starer by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

1. I should have something with me at all times on which to take notes. If not the Evernote app on my smart phone, then a real life notebook and paper. Evernote is good for documenting and putting things in the correct file AND I can sync my phone notes with my iPad and my laptop. But then the kinesthetic experience of writing with an actual pen is therapeutic and calming and feels a little more artistic.

2. I should use my camera on my phone (at least if I’m discreet). Once when I was in Chicago O’Hare’s airport, I saw a woman who looked exactly like Michael Jackson. Everything in me wanted to take a photo and put it on Facebook, (oh, you pesky ethics!!!)  but instead I just wrote down detailed notes about her black suit, pointy boots, ghostly pale complexion, blunt black bangs and vibrant lipstick. This took place in 2013 and I can still picture her!

3.  I should have a regular observation time. Part of the mom’s job description is to wait on kids. Since I know I have to be at soccer practice at a certain time every week, I should devote some of that waiting time to observing the people around me. You’ve got waiting time too. Use it to stare!

4. I should tune into my senses. The five senses should be my first step in observation of anything. What do I see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel? I should go into as much detail as possible in my notes and if I go off on a tangent, all the better!

5. I should speculate on the story of people based on their appearance. I was dying to know what the Michael Jackson look-alike was up to. In your observation notes, play junior Sherlock Holmes and deduce a little. That scar? Was that a childhood injury or the battering from a spouse? Those shoes? Are they worn because the wearer only has two pair? What story could be told by the lack of a wedding ring? The weight problem? The limp? If I make the most of my staring, I use my speculation to fuel my imagination and even if I never make it into a story, this mental exercise is still a win!

6. I should throw in some metaphor and simile to describe what I see. He was as big as an ox. It’s okay to start with the expected, but I should stretch my mind and compare the people I’m watching to other things or ideas. She was as creepy as a mysteriously androgynous dead pop star. 

7. I should exaggerate. Maybe there was a logical reason why this woman looked so much like MJ. But maybe she suffered from a mental illness and was obsessed with the King of Pop and this flight out of Chicago was the first leg of her journey to Neverland where she would try to reunite with Michael’s chimpanzee and have dinner with Tito. That’s the making of a story! I should totally write any ridiculous ideas down when I stare!

8. I should be honest with myself about what caused me to stare. Sometimes I catch myself being so wrapped up in the voyeur aspect of people watching, that I reduce these people to objects. That’s not cool. I need to treat them with dignity (which is why I never took a photo) and even if I find something in this moment that is story worthy, I need to always remember that the half -naked redneck at Wal-Mart probably has feelings too. It’s one thing to use others as inspiration. It’s quite another to mock them.

9. I should not whisper. If I’m with someone else, then I need to restrain from talking about the weird people around me. Even if they don’t overhear me, it doesn’t help my reputation if I’m known to be critical of others. I should save these observations for the privacy of my own creative time.

10. I should combine my notes with other things. Once I leave the setting and I’ve kept my notes safe, I should go back to my files at home. I should tuck these notes away safely or thumb through other ideas and see if this today’s observation will enhance anything.

Good observers are good writers. With practice, your observation skills can enhance your prose and make your characters and your stories richer.

So go ahead, stare!

Top 10 Reasons You May Hate Marketing And What You Can Do About It by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

If I weren’t a writer and mother of five, I’d go into psychology or social work and listen to people.

Oh, I know it’s not all fun and games, like what I saw on The Bob Newhart show in the ’70’s, and from what I understand there’s a whole lotta of schoolin’ to go to, but I like thinking about what people are thinking about. It just could be fun!

psychology writing fear marketing sales ebooks self-publishing
This totally dates me. But I used to watch The Bob Newhart show on Saturday nights in the 1970s. It was the same night as Mary Tyler Moore and The Carol Burnett Show. Among other things, Bob Newhart played straight comedy against his kooky patients. I’d totally do that job if that’s all I had to do.

(And if you really love good situation comedy, click here to watch the pilot episode of The Bob Newhart Show.) 

Until I decide to take the plunge and become a shrink, I’ll satisfy myself with addressing the problem that some writers have:

The Reasons They Hate Marketing.

You poor, poor writers. You pour your heart and soul into your books. You create these magical worlds, these vibrant, three dimensional characters, these intricate plots, these thrilling stories that culminate in an figurative or literal explosion of action and dialogue that leaves your readers breathless, weepy and ready to plunk down more dough for the next installment.

Fabio: "Reading is so stimulating!" Damsel: "I was totally thinking reading. Yes! Reading!"
Fabio: “Reading is so stimulating!” Damsel: “I was totally thinking reading. Yes! Reading!”

Sadly, if we are to have readers, we have to go find them, convince them that our stories are worth spending money on and do it in somewhat civilized way.

The truth? We’d rather not. We’d rather hide behind our computer screens and only have the kinds of relationships that require us to type words.

I’d like to think, (I’m qualified to do this because I pretend to be a TV psychologist) that there’s more to our nervousness about marketing that we don’t like it. 

I’d like to suggest that there are real fears and anxieties here. And if that is the case, it’s going to take some doing to overcome them.

Top 10 Reasons You May Hate Marketing And What You Can Do About It by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists


1. You’re not sure that you’re  good.

A lack of confidence is normal. Every author goes through that. How To Overcome: Hire a professional editor. Join a critique group through Scribofile.  Get a writing buddy on our Facebook group. Then, ask them for their honest feedback and then weigh what they say carefully. Improve where you need to but believe them when they say it’s good.

2. You have a creepy association with salesmen.

We all have creepy association with salesmen. Salesmen have a bad rap. They’re known for being slimy, smarmy and untrustworthy. How To Overcome: Just because others are bad sellers doesn’t mean you have to be. Remind yourself that your work is good, it’s worth buying and you have no ulterior motives. Be authentic with all your relationships and you’ll find selling to be easier.

3. You’ve seen the numbers and they’re not encouraging.

Millions and millions have books have been published in many different formats through many different types of publishers and platforms. It’s true that your little bitty book really isn’t much compared to them all. It’s enough to be very discouraged. How To Overcome: Have low expectations. Gain one reader at a time. Be content with small beginnings.

4. You’re  a little bit embarrassed that you are asking for money to do something you love.

How To Overcome: Change your thinking. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being paid for your hard work. You deserve something of value in exchange for the hard work you’ve put into it. You have talent, you’ve shared it with the world, now receive your compensation. The world operates like this and generosity will certainly open doors for you, you should never apologize for finishing the end of the transaction. This TED video explained to me so beautifully the art of asking. Amanda Palmer made me happy to give up my fear of asking.

asking Amanda Palmer marketing selling ebooks publlishing
Click the image to go right to the Ted link for this video.

5. You have haters.

We all have haters. That’s the beauty and the problem with art: what’s beautiful to some is repulsive to others. What to do: Thicken your skin a little and make your art the best it can possibly be. Then read all of these accounts of writers who were rejected and lambasted in reviews. Then, go back and read the good things your real fans have to say. There are more people in the world who would agree with them. Wouldn’t it be fun to find them?

6. You’ve failed before.

All of us have failed. We’ve failed from the first time we tried to walk, or read or even say coherent sentences. Our failure shouldn’t define us, it should just make us more human. What to do: Make a list of all the ways in which you are successful (if you need help, ask someone close to you). Practice saying positive things to yourself.  Try new strategies or approaches or take active steps to learn what you’re doing wrong that will make you more successful as you market.

7. You don’t want to be one of those pushy writers.

Some writers still haven’t got the message: hard sells get you nowhere. What to do: Don’t follow their example! Instead build relationships, ask questions, engage with people in an authentic way so that they want to buy what you’re selling. You never, ever have to be a slimy salesman.

selling books ebooks marketing hard sell

8. You’re not sure what you want.

What to do: Answer this: What does success look like to you? Is it thousands of books sold? Is it entertaining your friends and family? Think long and hard about what you want your sales goals to be and then take concrete steps to get there. Once you are on the path to your own desires, you may even find that marketing can be fun.

9. You’re not sure about the learning curve.

What to do: Have low expectations. Yup, it’s intimidating to think that once you write a book you still have to learn how to edit, publish, format, and design it. Then, once it’s available, you have to learn Pinterest, Twitter, WordPress, Canva, Tumblr, Periscope, Snapchat or whatever social media platform people are telling you that you need to sell your book. Instead of freaking out about all of it, outsource what you can and only concentrate on one or two social media platforms that you’re the most comfortable with. And go slowly. There’s no rush. If this is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

10. You just don’t like people.

What to do: Fake it till you make it. One of the reasons why you’re holed up in your office with your coffee, cigarettes, holey sweater and numerous cats is because the world that you create on your own terms is a lot nicer than reality. I get that. In our stories, the good guy wins, the homely girl finds love and everyone vacations in the Maldives. But honestly? The best marketing you’re going to do is going to come out of relationships and connections. You’re going to have to put on your big writer panties, go out into the world, either IRL or online, introduce yourself and be nice. Even if it’s not sincere. Even if all you know to talk about is coffee, cigarettes and cats. Do it. Everything about your life will be better with friends.

Or maybe your issues are deeper than Bob Newhart can handle in a 22 minute episode.

If they are, that’s okay.

But please know that lots of writers have to buck up their courage to market their books. This fear of putting yourself out there is pretty common. Consider joining a writing group (like all the sweet folks at 10 Minute Novelists) where you can find encouragement, tips and community. And they might just help you with your big issues.

And let me know if any of this helps.

I’ll make sure to send you a bill.

marketing sales books publishing fiction Twitter
It’s Mommy issues. Definitely.


50 Cheap And Easy Ways To Improve Your Writing This Summer

At the beginning of every summer, I post this little gem. If you need a way to improve in your craft, without breaking the bank, these this will surely help! 

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 2.52.49 PM

How Can I Be A Better Writer?

Can’t afford to take a summer writing class? Never fear! All you really need is a library, internet access, Instagram, Netflix, Facebook and Twitter! YOU can improve your writing skills by doing these 50 things. I admit, some of these aren’t exactly writing activities, but if you do them, and you practice observing with all five senses and spend at least ten minute writing about the experience, you will improve. YOU WILL!

My kids say that there are 104 days of summer vacation, so that gives you something to do, every other day, with four days off for good behavior.

  1. Read Victoria Mixon’s blog — all the back entries. (My all-time favorite writing blog!)
  2. Get Instagram and write haikus for all of the photos in your feed.
  3. Challenge yourself to write a comment for ten of your friends daily on Facebook. Don’t overthink it. Just do it!
  4. Watch a movie with the sound off. Write as much dialogue as you can while you watch.
  5. Tweet this: Every new follower I get today will receive a personalized haiku. Then be prepared to write them.
  6. Buy this game and play it often: Story Cubes.  
  7. Go to Storybird. Choose artwork. Make yourself write an 8 page story in a half hour.
  8. Set a timer for ten minutes and describe all of the sounds that you hear.
  9. Set a timer for ten minutes and answer this question: I write because I  . . ..
  10. Read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. 
  11. Watch your favorite TV show, then spend 20 minutes thinking what conflicts your favorite character should get into. For example:  Peggy Olson’s mother should get seriously ill and need Peggy to take care of her. Peggy’s boyfriend, Abe, reconnects with an old girlfriend, a Jewish one, and Peggy is threatened. The priest from Season Two shows up at Peggy’s door because he’s left the priesthood and now he’s homeless.
  12. Go on Pinterest and pick a craft — you don’t even have to like it — in which you have all the stuff on hand. Make the craft. The act of making it will spurn your creativity elsewhere. And observe with all five of your senses! 
  13. The seven deadly sins are: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Write for ten minutes about how your character(s) or even someone you just made up, is guilty of each of these. Be specific.
  14. Give all your characters this narcissism quiz.
  15. Go to Bartlett’s book of quotations and open it to a random quote. Write for 10 minutes on how this truth affects the life of your character.
  16. Read Stephen King’s On Writing.
  17. Go to your local library and check out the 15th work of fiction from the first five rows of books. Don’t even look at the titles. Go home and read the first hundred pages of each one. Do it again for the second five rows.
  18. Write a limerick about the things that happened to you today.
  19. Set a timer for ten minutes and decribe everything that you see right now.
  20. Read Rachelle Gardner’s blog.
  21. Read Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.
  22. Play Mad Libs. (There’s an app for that!)
  23. Rewrite a local news story but make it about vampires.
  24. Take a walk in your neighborhood and create stories about the people you see.
  25. That guy/girl that gave you so much trouble in high school? Look them up on Facebook (if you can) and spend ten minutes writing about the life they’ve had since you saw them last.
  26. Go to and do a search on your favorite (or even least favorite genre). Read the 40th book’s description. Then, set a timer for 20 minutes and write your version of what should happen in the story. Do not publish this. It is only for practice.
  27. Let’s say the characters of The Simpsons were stuck into Pride and Prejudice. Homer is Darcy. Marge is Lizzie. Patty and Selma are Kitty and Lydia and Mr. Burns is Lady Catherine Deburg. Write for 10 minutes about what they could do or say.Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 9.19.12 AM
  28. Make an entire meal from scratch. The creativity and mental energy you use will stimulate your writing. If you have guests over to eat it, the conversation will help too. If not, oh well. You had to eat anyway.
  29. Read K M Weiland’s blog.
  30. Follow the Twitter hashtag #amwriting. Follow ten new writers. Introduce yourself. Ask them about their writing. Click their links. Share the love.
  31. Read all of these bad opening lines. Set your timer for ten minutes and write the succeeding sentences for at least five of them.
  32. Reheat those leftovers from #29. Spend ten minutes describing what everything tasted like.
  33. Read STORY by Robert McKee. 
  34. Watch 1st season episodes of 30 Rock  or How I Met Your Mother  or Parks and Recreation  and when your done, spend ten minutes writing about each of the main characters. What do they look like? What are their greatest desires? What would they say?
  35. Pretend your childhood hero contacts you because he/she has read your work and loves it. You decide to meet for lunch. Spend ten minutes writing about what you would say to them.
  36. Read Writing The Breakout Novel  by Donald Maass.
  37. Read the archives from Etiquette Hell for a half hour. Then, spend ten minutes rewriting one of these anecdotes in your favorite genre. (And if you get stuck, add a zombie.)
  38. Write for 10 minutes where you think a pair of working boots, a football, a black dress shirt and a crock pot disappeared to. These are real life items from my household that we’ve lost. We need a clue.
  39. Play Apples To Apples. Draw three red cards (for example, mountains, cheesecake, Bill Cosby) and three green cards (for example, crunchy, peaceful and uninteresting) and spend ten minutes writing a story about them all.
  40. Read On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
  41. Read The New Yorker magazine. (Your local library probably has a copy.)
  42. Read anthologies of your favorite comic strips from your childhood, such as Peanuts, Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes  or The Far Side. Look at them not just as comic, but as stories with rich characters and complex plots. And don’t drink and read at the same time.
  43. Have you ever served on a jury? Do you know someone who has? Write for ten minutes about what actually happened at the crime scene.
  44. Read the personals on Craigs List. Spend ten minutes writing a story behind the drama.
  45. Let’s pretend the Disney Princesses are all in their mid-40’s and have opened  accounts on Facebook. Write for ten minutes about their interests, education, employment and their latest status updates.
  46. That embarrassing moment you had in high school? Rewrite the account of it, only make it worse. You have ten minutes. Go.
  47. Rewrite your favorite fairy tale in an altogether different style. Say, in King James English or as a gossip columnist.
  48. Take a very familiar mystery and rewrite the ending so that someone else was guilty. Then, instead of being caught, have them kidnap the sleuth. Write for ten minutes about what happens next.
  49. Ask you local librarian what they have read and liked. Then check it out and read the first hundred pages.
  50. And finally, leave a lengthy comment sharing what you’ve learned, what you’ve liked, what you’ve disliked and any other suggestions.

 Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A DayWant to conquer Twitter, but you don’t have the time?

This downloadable workbook will show you how to create a long-term Twitter presence, approaching your Twitter activity in three parts: your set-up, your strategy, and your system. This book is not a guarantee of success, but what it will provide for you is an orderly, thoughtful process in your brand, your biography, your target market, and your future tweets. Throughout the sections, exercises are provided to help you think about yourself, your brand, your books, and your goals on Twitter. This book was originally intended for authors who want to use Twitter to build their tribe of readers, but the principles of it are universal. Anyone with an interest in using Twitter as a marketing tool would find this book useful. Download. 29 pages.


Becoming A 10 Minute Poet: A Guest Post by Sherry Howard

Greetings 10MinuteNovelists!      It’s time to become a 10MinutePoet.

All writers are poets.

When we write our prose, we search for just the right word, often searching days for the right form of a verb, or the perfect iteration of a concept.

I realized that I already had poetry in me a year ago when I first explored The University of Iowa’s MOOC on poetry for the first time. I’d enjoyed their fiction writing class so much that I decided to jump into the poetry as well. (Archives have a post on the fiction writing class.) The very skills that serve us so well as fiction writers enhance our skills as poets, and the reverse of that holds true. Our chops as writers are like a braid, when well-woven they create a more solid piece of work.

Becoming A 10 Minute Poet by Sherry Howard

I’ve just begun the 2015 How Writers Write Poetry class and it’s not too late for you to join. More about that in a minute though.

For each class session, there is a video. The videos feature outstanding representatives of whatever concept the class features. The introductory video included the famous poet Robert Haas. This is the information Iowa provides about him:  Awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, twice the National Book Critics’ Circle Award (in 1984 and 1997), the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1973, and the 2014 Wallace Stevens Award, Robert Hass is a professor of English at UC Berkeley. His most recent collection of is The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems.

Everybody loved his presentation—it felt like a conversation with your dad, brother, or favorite uncle, if only they wrote poetry. Robert’s challenge was to look around your setting at that moment in time and write one line about it, then two, then three, and finally four.

Hmmm. It was the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep, so I’d watched the video, and loved it. So, taking his directions quite literally, I looked over and saw my granddaughter, with Bahamian braids, just back from a cruise. This is what I wrote.

Overnight at Nan’s

Sleep denied but not missed

Forbidden popcorn in the bed

Movies, wiggles and pink toes

Impossible to deny tiny braids and bright eyes

Now, if I hadn’t just watched Robert speak I’d not have thought in those lovely terms about the spilled popcorn in my bed that night. And I wouldn’t have attempted to convey a feeling with such economy of words. I’m already getting feedback from readers about how much they love this poem, how gorgeous it is. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying that we fiction writers already have an edge. And one guy said, drop “impossible to deny” and he’s right!

So, take a few minutes right now and look around you. You know the drill: write one line, then two, then three, then four. Please leave your poem in the comments sections so we can enjoy it with you.

Writing Poetry

The other two presenters talked about something all writers I know do– keeping all of those inspirational notes. The emphasis was on collecting them everywhere and often, and then keeping them in a way that helps you be creative. 

If you can’t participate in these classes, it is worth enrolling just to watch the awesome videos. I promise you will find inspiration in many of them. I’m a little disappointed to tell you that the platform for presenting the classes changed this year and it is a much steeper learning curve to navigate the classes. They are being presented via Canvas and Piazza if anyone is familiar with those. Also, new this year, you may get a certificate of completion if you meet certain criteria. That’s been added because, for some people, that was important. The class is free, the certificate is $50 if you meet the standards to earn it.

Click here for the course overview as offered by the University of Iowa.

Sherry Howard is a writer and budding poet and blogs at

The Extraordinary Ordinary A Guest Post by TLC Nielsen


We all know someone with the gift of gab.

In my family, my mother can start a conversation with strangers and have their life story in under 5 minutes. When we visited Downtown Disney a few years back, I watched my mother in action as she talked with a store clerk, asking how she ended up working there. I took notes, knowing that as an introverted writer, I needed to cultivate this verbal gift. As I relaunched my blog this year, trying to capture the extraordinary ordinary lives of folks around me, I’ve found my mother’s people techniques to be solid.

Just Stop, Drop & Roll With Good Conversations
Just Stop, Drop & Roll With Good Conversations

Here’s what I’ve learned from watching her:


My mother, a well-known botanist in the states, would stop what she was doing and just chat.

Her attention to detail made her pause and wonder about the person in front of her. Was this person happy or sad? What job did he or she have before this one at the store (or restaurant or gas station)? She paused and then asked him or her how things were going. She always received an honest answer right away because she shared how things were going with her. Mom knows everyone has a unique story to share if asked!


My mother the scientist watches and listens intently.

When out in the field, she drops to her knees to look at the plant she spotted, noting all the details she can.  With people, she drops everything and focuses in on the person before her. In chatting with the Disney clerk of retiree age, Mom asked her how she landed the dream job at Disney? The humor in the question sparked a three-minute honest answer. Mom just asked the intuitive question and then listened, interspersing a follow up question or two. The gift of gab is just as much about listening as talking, I learned.


Linda “Loot” Curtis finds a way to connect with each person’s story.

When we eat out together at local restaurants, Mom manages to get updates on the waitress, cook and owner before we leave and, in turn, they receive her and Dad’s update. By sharing pieces of her story, she reciprocates in the conversation. She finds out their dreams, whether it may be the waitress’ schooling, the retiree’s family or the gas attendant’s interests, and encourages each one in their journey.

As I’ve taken the time to meet new folks for coffee, asked a significant question of the bus driver or clerk helping me, or offered to bring a meal to a family in rough times, I’ve modeled my mother’s modus operandi. And it’s amazing how simple it is to stop and listen to the stories of ordinary folks like you and me. By jumping into their stories and sharing small pieces of her own, my mom manages to admire whatever is shared with her. And the power of validation is a gift in itself.

5 Minutes to Spare

As a 10-minute Novelist, I need to master this five-minute meet and greet. My mother recognizes the extraordinary ordinary and, as writers, so must we. Every person has a story to share and we can’t miss the chance to hear it. It may very well be our only opportunity! It’s when we stop, drop everything and roll with it that we can learn about the beauty of the ordinary in true life. Only then can we add into our characters the ordinary details of life that will forge a connection with our readers. Just as we need to take time to stop for the people who come into our lives, listening and validating each other along our journey, so do our characters.

TLC Nielsen has been following God since 1985, having way too many adventures in the process. Stepping up from parenting to grandparenthood while working on the next 30 years of marriage, TLC continues to play trombone in two big bands and enjoys working with kids at the local library. A Trinity International University alumni, former teacher and avid fantasy reader, Nielsen enjoys writing poetry, parenting books and children’s stories while working her way through her first fantasy novel, By Land or Sea. TLC posts true Extraordinary Ordinary stories on her blog the last day of each month, For more information on the fascinating botanist Linda W. Curtis, check out her website at 

Five Questions To Ask Yourself When You Get All Contemplative This Time of Year

Asking writers to analyze themselves is like asking a cat to be aloof, shed fur and practice a condescension while sleeping on your face. It’s just what we do. This time of year is often a time when everyone is reflecting, summarizing or evaluating what has happened in the last year. It’s not a bad practice if we truly learn from the past. I’m not convinced that society as a whole does, but writers can and should. 5 Questions To Ask Yourself This Time Of Year

Here are a few questions to ask yourself at this time of year, when you’re reflecting on how 2014 treated you as a writer and how you treated yourself.

1. Did I become more confident over the last twelve months? If not, why not?

2. Did I prevent rejections or setbacks from discouraging me?

3. Did I allow time regularly to write?

4. Did I mute voices from my past and wrote anyway?

5. Did I connect with other writers for support and encouragement?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are better writer than you were last year. If you said no, then you can see where you can improve. Changes in confidence, attitudes, time management and even community are all good and achievable goals for 2015.

Perhaps these dark, contemplative days are a good for us. They give us the opportunity to learn and grow. But if we all we do is examine our navels then we haven’t accomplished everything. Tomorrow is a new day. 2015 is a new year and can be the best one yet.

Also? Start it by joining our Facebook group: 10 Minute Novelists. We’re a bunch of time-crunched writers of all kinds who are pursuing our goals just like you.


How Being An Armchair Analyst Can Make You A Better Writer (And Football Fan!)

My 10 year old son knows a lot about football.

He takes it very seriously. Can't you tell?
He takes it very seriously. Can’t you tell?

He knows the most obscure penalty calls.  He knows who the third string quarterback is for the Raiders, what college he went to and why he’d probably be taken by Miami next year.  He knows who won every Super Bowl, who coached the winning teams and crazy stats like how many championship victories were earned by teams who came from behind. Along with every Patriots fan in New England, he wants to tell Coach Bellichik exactly what went wrong in last week’s game. My son doesn’t restrict his knowledge to the Patriots; he knows about the Broncos, the Jets (oh! How we hate the Jets!) the Giants (hate the Giants too!) and other threats in the season. If he were myopic about the world of football he would miss out on a lot of great games. (Don’t even get me started on how he feels about college ball!)

For all this knowledge, my son can’t put his knowledge into practice very well.

He’s got his Wii football games. He plays pick up ball in the neighborhood. He loves Madden, but he’s just not going to be able to apply his knowledge within the limitations of his life. He doesn’t play in an organized team. He probably won’t see high school play so college play is probably out of the question. And if he has a future in the NFL,  it won’t be one with shoulder pads on his body and numbers on his shirt. He is for now, just an armchair sportsman, devoted in his passion, hungry for more knowledge and ravenous for more opportunities. 

Like my son, good writers should be just as excited about their game.

How Being An Armchair Analysts Can Make You A Better Writer (And Football Fan!)  #write #writing #amwriting

If we are reading constantly, then we can get, like my son, a spectator’s view of strategy and drama. We can put in our own opinion of what other writers are doing wrong, learn from them and go back to our literary heroes and know their “stats” too.

We need to know our game inside and out.

How can we be armchair analysts?

Read as obsessively as my son watches. A writer who isn’t in the middle of reading a good book can’t call themselves a writer. Don’t know what to read? Join Goodreads, ask your friends, read some of the books from the writers in our Facebook group, go to your local library, find a local book club.

Pay attention to what we’re reading. Look at structure, character development, word choices and imagery. You absolutely can’t be a good writer if you aren’t a reader. Surround yourself with quality books and examine everything from sentence structure to plot. You will get better by learning from the experts.

 Get vocal about the flaws in the books you read. As long as you aren’t mean-spirited, you can explain the trouble spots in your reviews.  Don’t want to leave a review? Keep private notes. Every writer makes mistakes, either out of sloppiness or laziness or lack of skill. Point these out, at least to yourself, and think about what you would do differently.

 Know the league, not just your team.  If you read outside of your genre, the you can still learn much about story, character development and style.  Don’t sell yourselves short in learning from great writers because you were too devoted to the home team.

Why should I get help in my writing?
Sooner Born and Sooner Bred and When I Die I’ll b Sooner Dead! (Sorry, I said home team and I got a little carried away!)

Work in the off season. Guess what my son talked about all spring? THE DRAFT! It’s not football season, but he’s thinking about what’s next! So should you. You don’t have a book out yet, but you should still learn about marketing. There is so much to learn, take advantage of opportunities, like our 10 Minute Novelists weekly chats. 

Expect surprises.  Bellichik and Brady do the best they can, but nobody really knows what the final score will be. (Let’s try to avoid that disastrous game against Kansas City!) That’s the way with the writing/publishing/marketing world. You give it all you’ve got, but you don’t really know what the result will be.

Expect disappointment. The truth is, the writing world is saturated with wannabe novelists and instant ebooks. Tapping into this market and being successful is about as hard as a 10 year old trying to be Brady’s wide receiver in 2024. Keep going. Your dream is worth it.

When we are armchair analysts, we think about the game more completely.

Because my son saturates himself with all things football, he can apply it to his game when the opportunity arises. When I saturate myself with good writing and think critically about what I’m reading, then I’m a better writer too.

What have you learned about your game from other writers? Who do you root for in football season?

Small Beginnings, New England Foliage & Why Comparison Is So Stupid

It’s FALL here in beautiful New England!

The trees are showing off their magnificent colors. October is magical. It’s breathtaking and awe-inspiring. It’s glorious and crisp. October is the best time of year.

Why is it so difficult to be a writer?
What mighty oaks from little acorns grow!

Unless you’re an acorn.

I am not an acorn, but I would imagine that if I were, and if I were sentient and anthropomorphic, it would be very difficult for me not to feel sorry for myself in October.

Where would acorns like me go? If not eaten by a squirrel, then I and my friends could be buried in a hole somewhere, forgotten under the brutal snow that New England’s prize for loving autumn too much.

Poor me. All alone in the darkness. Decomposing. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll germinate in the spring. If we ever have spring.

Why do we write?
Do I look like I want to build a snowman?

Ah, but this is where I get to sermonizing, so I need to get back to October.

If you are a beginning writer, you are much like a wee acorn.

Small, seemingly insignificant, a bit nutty, occasionally accosted by squirrels. If you are a beginning writer, you may look at those towering, more experienced, more successful writers (a tree in our analogy if you haven’t got it already) and think that you should just give it up and become squirrel fodder.


Don’t believe for a minute that you are less because you are just beginning. Don’t believe that your future is bleak because it’s dark in your squirrel hole. Don’t believe that their strength should be compared to your weakness.

Why is everyone better than me?
If you didn’t know, the nut this quote is referring to is you. Hold your ground, you nut!

Instead? Do this: 

1. Write every day.  Even ten minutes will keep you going in the right direction. 

Original poetry about New England Autumn
Photo by Katharine Grubb

2. Remember everyone was a beginner sometime. If you have to, research your favorite authors and study their early years.

why is it so hard to write?
Photo by Katharine Grubb

3. Worry only about you, and no one else. Writing isn’t a game for the insecure. It’s a quest for those of us who look straight ahead and stick to our convictions and our determination.

Poetry about New England Fall
Photo by Katharine Grubb

4. Hang on to the dream. George R.R. Martin said, “I don’t like writing, but I like having written.” How did he get to his level of fame and success? One word at a time.

Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts  Photo by Katharine Grubb
Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts
Photo by Katharine Grubb

5. Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, compare yourself to another writer. Either you will compare your strengths to their weaknesses and come out looking like a smug know-it-all (and no one buys books from smug know-it-alls) or you will compare your weakness to their strength and give up entirely.

It’s autumn in New England. There’s beauty everywhere. In the grand and in the small.

Keep writing. You will have the glory someday.