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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 .

Never Give Up (Or Why New Writers Feel A Little Nuts)

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.

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.

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. Please 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.

Writers can feel this same way. They may feel that because the market is huge and saturated, they don’t have a chance. Or they may feel that because writers around them are more successful that there’s no room for another voice. They may be so busy looking at the circumstances around them that they forget to plow through.

Instead? Do this:

1. Write every day.  Even ten minutes will keep you going in the right direction. If you can’t write every day, write as often as you can.

2. Remember everyone was a beginner sometimes. If you have to, research your favorite authors and study their early years. Go back to this list of famous rejections. Make it a game to collect your own

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.

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. Now, you can always take a break. You will always have drier seasons, but that doesn’t mean you should quit altogether.

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.


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Panning for Gold-Finding Your Best Ideas

Ideas are a dime a dozen for us creative types. Often they come in the most inopportune moments or lead us on bunny trails mid-scene. And yet, when we go to decide what happens in the next scene, we often find our brains zone in on the obvious or worse go blank.
Finding Your Best Ideas

Finding our best ideas for a scene is like panning for gold. We have to sift out the 90% that is just dirt and then analyze the last 10% to determine what is fool’s gold and what is real gold.

Being time crunched writers, we need to learn to do this as efficiently as possible. So here are some steps to help you through the process.

Decide what the purpose of the scene is.

You have to dip into the muck of the story problem. Does your main character needs to encounter the antagonist? Do they need to have their wound poked? Do they need to have a mirror moment where they look into their own soul?

Break up the dirt clods.

You have a purpose now you need to figure out what kind of situation the protagonist can be in to encounter that situation. This is usually the hardest part. Sometimes there is a logical next step in the story, other times anything can happen.

If you have a man who has just committed a crime and is on the run from the police where would he go? How would he get there? Would he steal a car and drive until he ran out of gas? Would he run to a friend’s house? Would he take off on foot and find some place to hole up?

If you know the purpose of the scene it makes it easier to break up all the potential ideas

Filter out the obvious idea stuff.

Sometimes you have a scene idea in your head because that’s the logical thing that must happen next. If your character is on a road trip and they need to encounter another character they are obviously going to have to stop somewhere and get out of the car. Most writers would have them stop at a motel, fast-food restaurant, or gas station, or maybe break down on the side of the road.

But that’s so obvious. That’s what the reader expects. So what is the NOT-so-obvious way for the protagonist to encounter the antagonist for the first time? Could they get a phone call? Pick up a hitchhiker? Hear the person on the radio? See them on a billboard on the side of the road?

Come up with 5-10 alternatives for your next scene.

You got some good ideas that could be potential gold.

At this point you should spend about 10 minutes just brainstorming the top ideas. What kind of billboard would the antagonist be on? What kind of radio song/program/commercial? If they’re a hitchhiker what would they look like? What would their story be? Why would your MC stop for them?

After you work out the ideas, pick the three most interesting.

Finding the gold.

In the end, you have to choose the best idea. You have to separate the fool’s gold from the real gold.  How?  Run it by a writing partner or another published author you know to get feedback on the uniqueness and quality. If you don’t have a supportive group of writers now is the time to find one. You don’t have to share your ideas with the world, but 2-3 trusted sound boards are essential.  Try and find people in your genre who have more experience than you do.

If you are still not ready to share the idea, then pick the most unique one. James Scott Bell says that often the last idea you came up with is the one that has the most potential.  Go with your gut. Which one really fulfills the purpose of the scene? Which one can carry some symbolism or foreshadows future events?

When you find your gold. Write a quick and dirty scene. The worst that can happen is you find fool’s gold.  Toss it and go back to your top three list and choose another.  The key is not to play it safe and predictable.  Real gold isn’t easy to find.

Any other advice you would give to someone looking for the golden ideas for a scene?

Jessica is a prayer warrior who loves to encourage and teach others how to create safe spaces for the hurting and lost. In 2014, she graduated from Western Governor’s University with a B.A. in Educational Studies and published her first book, Surviving the Stillness. She has written for several blogs and online magazines and is an admin and contributor for 10 Minute Novelists. She also created and manages their annual 365 Writing Challenge, which encourages writers to develop the habit of writing daily. You can learn more about her at her website, or on Facebook.


Theme, or What are you REALLY saying?

Theme, Symbol and Motif – Taking your writing deeper
A three part series on creating depth and cohesion in your story

Part 1: Theme, or What are you REALLY saying?

by JGM Daw

Ask three writers about Theme, and you’ll get four answers. At least that’s how it feels sometimes. Theme is one of those mysterious subjects that I have always had a problem with, mostly because it always conjured up images of rooms with animal print furniture and abstract art. Theme is hard, but it is considered ‘central’ to a story. Getting it right is important.

Theme - What are you REALLY saying

You, the author, need to communicate clearly and, more importantly, effectively with your reader. Theme answers the question, What are you really saying?

There are three main takes on theme that you will come across in the literature, but to me they are like different facets of a gem: theme as topic, theme as conflict, and theme as perspective. All of them are interesting, but none of them feel complete.

One of the most pervasive pieces of advice when it comes to theme is ‘just write, and the theme will emerge.’ As we will see, this is both beneficial and dangerous.

Theme as topic

The first, knee-jerk reaction to the question of theme revolves around theme as a topic. This isn’t to be confused with subject, which describes what the story is about, “i.e, boy meets girl.” Topic describes the general emotional environment in which the story takes place: alienation, ambition, deception, justice, security, etc. These topics can help to set the mood, the attitude, even the rationalization of the choices of the characters at
work in the story. The challenge is that focusing solely on theme as topic leaves a very wide and vague playing field. While your reader may know and even identify with the emotional tone of the story, theme as topic doesn’t take them anywhere.

Theme as conflict

Also known as the basic plots, narrative conflicts, and story types, these statements tend to be grouped into a finite and controllable list (usually seven in number, but that also varies.) The lists almost always include a comparison between two competitive extremes. Man  against man, man against nature, etc. are sprung from the classic list of Quiller-Couch’s seven basic stories. An updated list has buried some of the conflict, but it’s still there. Booker’s Seven Basic Plots couches the conflict in other terms, with labels such as Comedy, which is really is one side of a person struggles with events (and triumphs), and Tragedy, which is the other side, or person struggles with events (and succumbs).

The key to notice here is that there is a comparison, a conflict, a choice between opposing forces. Phillips and Huntley’s Dramatica: A New Theory of Story is explicit about this conflict, pitting one of 64 possible elements in complex relationships with at least three other options. Again, though, this puts the reader in the midst of the action without offering a way out.

Theme as perspective

You may also run across the idea of theme as a message or an opinion, where the author is taking a stand on a particular topic. Greed is evil, love triumphs over all, friendships don’t last forever, these are all value statements. The author, you, have thoughts and  experiences, either lived or explored hypothetically through your story. Whether you are conscious of it or not, the topics you write about mean something to you, and consciously or not, those opinions will come out in your story. They will present themselves to your reader through the dialog of your characters, the options they are offered, the fictional environment you place them in, and even the elements you don’t include in your story.

For example, if your perspective is that ‘love always triumphs,’ does creating a romance where every relationship resolves happily reflect a believable, enjoyable, engaging world for the reader? These are complex issues, and not easily resolved. Often, the author may not even be aware of their perspective, and without that awareness, may not successfully present a defensible argument for their perspective.

Theme as position

As you can see, theme is hard. It is kind of all over the map, but nailing it down will tighten your writing, and as a bonus it will let you know what your story is saying, and what it is missing. The truth of the matter is that theme is ALL of these things: topic, conflict and perspective, balanced together.

Theme is this:

The author presents the reader with a position on their perspectives regarding conflicting demands of the critical topics inherent in the human experience.

Theme as message

Position is more than simply perspective, which has a single point of view. Topics never present themselves in isolation in the human experience. Love, for example, does not stand alone, it is partnered with loneliness, apathyhate, and more. In our lives, these topics come into conflict, and we individually have to choose: to love, which may lead to joy, yet opens us up to heartbreak, or to isolate ourselves, which may create an emotional safety zone, yet deny us the chance to grow and flourish.

Theme is how you, the author, present your preference.  To continue the romance example  above, as an author you might choose to write a story that illustrates that you believe it is better to love, despite the risks, than to remain alone. You have an opinion on the conflict, a stand. In the story, you will illustrate the risks and benefits of both love and isolation, and present your verdict.

Theme as practice

So, finally, how does this help you as a writer?

An understanding of your theme is a bright light that shines on your assumptions, and challenges you to present the other side. The key is that you actually fully represent that other side, take THAT position for the reader as well and explore it as thoroughly as your preferred option. Thus your story becomes fully realized. And who knows? Maybe you will learn something about your theme in the process, and maybe even yourself.

Michael Hauge, in Writing Screenplays That Sell offers his own take on theme here:

“Theme is the prescription for living  that the writer wants to give the audience or the reader.”

So that is it. Say what you REALLY mean.

Michel Daw (aka JGM Daw) is a teacher, husband, father, son, uncle, brother and writer. He is an inveterate geek and SFF fan. His first full length novel, I Should Have Listened to My Cat, is undergoing final edits. He is also a teacher and published author on Stoic Philosophy, and maintains  a website (with his wife Pamela) at

Writing for Submission-Tailoring Your Story

If the step to publish your first book feels to big, start small with e-magazine submissions.

Many of us dream of writing a great novel, but when it comes to submitting our work to a publisher, the process can feel daunting. The idea of writing an entire book and then waiting weeks if not months to hear back about our submission can often lead to discouragement. But there are other ways to get our feet wet.

As the days get shorter and the nights colder, it’s tempting to curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea. That’s what I tend to do every winter. This year though, I’m doing something different. I’m finally going to use all the courage I have, which is not much to be honest, and submit some work to e-magazines.

For years now, I’ve been getting these emails with links to different e-magazines and websites where you can submit your work without having to have an agent or lots of published work behind you. Many of them even stipulate you can only have one or two publications before submitting. So far, I’ve mostly filed them away in a folder labeled “later”, which never comes.  So this year, I’m holding myself accountable by pledging to submit three projects. Setting the bar at a reasonable level, I know I can achieve the goal this year, and anything more will be a bonus.

Remember there are submission rules for e-magazines.

I will give you a few examples here with links so you get more flesh on your bones, and maybe even get inspired to submit yourself. Not everyone wants the same thing or offer the same deals. Some have submission fees, others don’t. Some offer big money for a publication, most offer lower pay. If the guidelines don’t mention any submission fee then it’s free, the fee usually goes to pay the person reading all entries.

The first example shows the very detailed requirements for Rappahannock Review:

We are currently open for submissions to Issue 5.1, which will be published in December 2017. Please note that we reserve the right to close submissions earlier than scheduled if volume or other circumstances necessitate this. 

When we are open for submissions, please follow the general guidelines below.

General Guidelines:

We do not accept previously published work, including work that has appeared online in blogs or other forums. Simultaneous submissions are fine, though if your work is accepted elsewhere, please email us immediately at

If you are submitting poetry or flash pieces compile your work into a single document and then upload your submission. Authors who submit more than one file per genre will have their work returned unread.

Current or former employees of the University of Mary Washington are not eligible to submit work to the Rappahannock Review. We will not consider work from current UMW students; however, we will read work from alumni who graduated three or more years ago. If you are a previous contributor, please wait a year from publication before resubmitting work.

While we strive to respond to all work as quickly as possible, careful attention does take time. Please wait at least six months from submission before querying. 


We accept poems ranging in any length and employing any aesthetic, including free verse, prose poems, and formal poetry. Authors may send up to five poems per submission. Poems may be part of a series. 


Authors of creative nonfiction may submit a single essay with a maximum length of 8,000 words or three shorter pieces each containing no more than 1,000 words. Submissions may range from flash nonfiction to extended memoir. Experimental form is encouraged. We would like to see essays with insightful perspective and attention to craft.


Rappahannock Review is looking for original, well-written fiction. Submissions may contain one piece of up to 8,000 words or three pieces of flash, each containing 1,000 words or fewer. Pieces experimenting with form are encouraged. 


The second one is for Blue River Review:

Blue River Review submissions now open. We are looking for the best poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by new or published authors. Submission is free, and for submission instructions please visit our website:

Blue River is a non-profit literary journal produced by Creighton University’s MFA program. Published bi-annually, we seek to celebrate contemporary creative writers in both the local area and beyond by publishing their fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. In that spirit, we also provide our own MFA students with experience in literary editing and production as a preparation for work in the publishing industry.

Have any of you sought to be published in an e-magazine or online publication? Share your experience in the comments below.

Sonja Fröjdendal is an author who can’t make up her mind on which genre to write in. Ever since she forced her mom to teach her to read, books by Astrid Lindgren was the ignition for her dream to be a writer.  Inspiration comes from everywhere and in any shapes or forms.

Sonja lives in Sweden, her first publication was a self-published poetry book on Amazon back in 2013. Since then she’s had three novels published in three anthologies and is currently working on the fourth, none in the same genre. She can be found on her author page on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkdIn, Google+, Twitter, or Instagram.

A Better Toolkit: The Value of Practice Writing

by Christine Hennebury

Note: I know that a lot of people don’t like to do writing exercises, or in fact,do any writing that isn’t their WIP. If that’s the case for you and things are going well, carry on! However, if you are finding it hard to get your writing done, you might want to consider the benefits of practice.

Writing is like any other skill, it improves with practice. You can get practice by regularly producing stories and articles, but there is also value in deliberate practice for practice’s sake.

I’d like to see more writers carve out a little time to write for the sake of practicing, without a ‘product’ in mind. Writing for practice sharpens our skills, hones our ability to write on demand, and improves our regular writing habits.

Practice gives us better tools. When we use those quality tools in our stories and our articles, we will be far more effective as writers.

If the idea of writing for practice seems odd to you, consider how practice works in another context. In Taekwondo, for example, I spend a lot of time practicing.  For patterns,  I break them down  into smaller ‘fundamental’ movements and do them over and over again. Then,  I slowly go over the whole thing, figuring out how the different sections fit together. For kicks and punches, I end up doing each one hundreds of times and I work on specific parts of the motion.

In the last few years, I have come to accept the value of doing the same thing with my writing. When I joined the 10 Minute Novelists 365 writing club, I got into the habit of writing every day which felt great. Despite feeling great, I still had some frustration because I felt that I wasn’t doing anything with my writing. It was just sitting there.

That’s when I realized that ‘doing something’ with the writing was not where the value of daily writing was for me. it was about establishing a pattern, it was about practicing. It was about learning how to get my brain into writing mode.

Ever since that first year with the group, I can now ‘force’ myself to write. I can choose to bring my focus to the page – a skill I developed in the 365 group – and just start writing. No matter what the topic,  the skills I developed though practice always see me through to a finished product.

That’s just one benefit of writing practice.

Practicing All The Pieces

Being able to choose to get down to work is not the only way that practice is helpful. When I write for writing’s sake, I practice things like character development, opening sentences, descriptions, and transition lines.  It’s just like when I break down my TKD patterns into chunks – that kind of practice is not intended to be visible to others. I never write a story by saying ‘Here is my opening sentence, here is my transition, now I will add my character.’ I don’t need to consciously choose each of those story aspects because my practice has made me confident about them.

It’s much like when I do my patterns for a competition, I don’t name each move in my head. I just let my body take over and pull the practiced pieces together. When I’m writing, my practice with the bits and pieces means I have lots of skills to apply quickly to a story or article.

“Writing is like a sport – you only get better if you practice.” – Rick Riordan


Good Use of Writing Time

I know that a lot of us are strapped for time. When you are short on time, it might seem counterproductive to use some of it practicing. However, any time that we spend practicing makes us better at our craft. That, in turn, means that, we will be able to write more quickly and be more effective  in writing our WIP. We will have a sort of ‘muscle memory’ for better writing.


Ways To Get Some Practice In

  1. Substitute – Pick one of your short writing sessions each week to dedicate to practice instead of your WIP.
  2. Warm up – Start each writing session with a few minutes of practice.
  3. Pick a Time – Choose a specific time each week/month/quarter to practice your writing. Choose exercises ahead of time and dive in.
  4. Find the cracks– Keep a ‘specific practice notebook in your bag or in your car.  Do practice exercises in little crevices of time in your day.
  5. Talk it out – Try describing things aloud as you drive. Dream up good opening lines and say them to yourself while you make supper. You are still practicing, even if it’s not written down.


Writing for practice is a very different thing than writing for a specific purpose. Practice writing may not produce publishable material but it will make you a sharper writer.

When you get lots of practice, you will find it easier to get down to work, and you will have a very effective set of writing tools at your disposal.

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 writing & coaching at  or visit her on Facebook .


Persistence, Perspective, and Fun: Working Through Writing Challenges

by Christine Hennebury

Writing can be a lot of fun but it also involves a lot of hard work. If you find ways to add fun while sticking to your project, you’ll be a lot more satisfied with your progress.  

When we first imagine ourselves as writers, we envision fun things like best-selling books, talk show circuits, and piles of cash. Or, at least, we imagine ourselves triumphantly writing the perfect scene.  We don’t envision the days that we sit in front of the computer struggling with a single sentence.  

When we do consider those days, the ones where writing is hard but we have to do it anyway, writing becomes a job instead of a hobby.  That can be helpful for taking ourselves seriously but it can take away some of the fun.

When our fun levels drop, we start to avoid writing.


Since the world needs our words,  we need to find ways to add more fun and to increase our persistence. Here are a few tips that can help:


1) Add Something Fun

When you reach a part of your writing process that doesn’t thrill you, see what you can do to make it more fun. For example, you may not enjoy editing but there may be ways to make it more fun.  Perhaps you could print your manuscript  in your favorite color, or by using a colored pen. Or  you could play special music,  or have a specific snack (or drink) while you do certain tasks.  You could even try doing  those tasks in a different place – my hammock makes an excellent revision spot.

Some writers even find it useful to have one specific spot for writing and another one for revising. And they have both decorated to match the ‘mood’ of the task.

The key here is to add a layer of enjoyment that helps bring you back to a challenge task. It doesn’t matter how weird that layer is, as long as you enjoy it!

2) Change Your Perspective

I’m not going to suggest that everything will become magically fun as long as you have the right attitude. However, if you consider certain aspects of writing to be dreadful, and you dwell on it, you will keep dreading them. So, you have to find a way to change your approach and make things easier on yourself.

When I need a change, I often find it useful to ‘reframe and rename’ my frustrating tasks. For example:  I like to think of reviewing my first drafts as part of my ‘montage’ – you know, the series of quick scenes in movies between the ‘before’ and ‘after’- it helps me keep that part of the work in perspective.

If you think of revising as ‘cutting through the jungle’ or editing as ‘polishing your brilliance’, it gives you a new way to look at it. If you call your plotting process ‘my evil plan’ or ‘drawing a treasure map’, it can help you have a bit more fun.


3)  Plan Lots of Rewards

When my coaching clients are struggling, I tell them to reverse their reward ratio.  So, instead of earning a 10 minute break after an hour of writing, they give themselves an hour off after 10 minutes of writing.  It seems counterproductive at first but it keeps you moving forward until you reach a part that you enjoy.  Just make sure to pack that hour full of things that make you happy.

If time off doesn’t motivate you, pick another reward that will draw you through the work process. Again, it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it serves you well.


4) Alternate (Or Take A Day Off)

While there is a sort of virtue to be found in slogging through the hard stuff, you don’t have to do all the hard stuff at once. You can alternate between challenging work and the more enjoyable pieces on any given day. Or, you can just take a day off from whatever tasks you struggle with and only do the fun parts of your writing project that day.

Feel free to add unnecessary fun bits when you can, too. If you enjoy imagining what your characters would do in a restaurant, or, at a party, feel free to write that. Even if it doesn’t make it into your final manuscript, it still gives you information about your characters and moves you forward. Anything that keeps you writing is a good thing.


5) Accept That There Are Hard Parts (I Know, I Hate That, Too)

Good writing is work. There are lots of fun parts and there is victory at the end, but it is work. Even once you made it more fun, you still might not want to work on some parts. That’s when acceptance can come in.

This is the point where you say ‘This is boring and I am doing it anyway.’

Usually, once you get started, you will find it is not as awful as it seemed. I find the *idea* of some aspects of writing far harder than the actual task. Once I actually start working, the task is far less intimidating.

Another aspect of acceptance is to remember that this frustration just might be part of *your* writing process. To use an example from another context: I like to travel but all the preparatory work. Ensuring that I have all the details in place is stressful, no matter how fun the trip will be. There is a point in every travel plan in which I decide that it would be easier not to go at all.

I used to think that the feeling was a sign that I shouldn’t go but now I know –  it’s part of my preparation process. This is a feeling that surfaces for me when I am trying to work on something that has a lot of detailed parts. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not a sign, it’s just part of the process. That means that when it arises, I can recognize it, take a deep breath (or seven) and keep working until it passes.

You can do the same thing with your reluctance to do certain types of writing work. If you don’t give the feeling any extra meaning, you can accept it and keep writing.

We all have parts of the writing process that are challenging for us. It’s completely normal. Once we make those challenging parts easier on ourselves, we will be able to get through them more quickly.

The next time you are staring down your writing nemesis, try some of the tips in this post and they should help you keep working, and, turn your nemesis into one of  your allies.

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 writing & coaching at  or visit her on Facebook .

Ditching Self-Doubt – Change Your Focus and Get Your Writing Done

                                                                                                                       by Christine Hennebury

Self-doubt is one thing that all good writers have in common and it’s what causes us to get stuck. Even though many of us interpret getting stuck as a sign that we aren’t ‘real’ writers, it’s actually a sign that our writing practice is focused in the wrong direction.

Luckily, by figuring out where our self-doubt is springing up, we can change our focus and get back to our writing.

A lot of the time, we don’t even realize that self-doubt is the problem. We struggle to get started, we find it hard to keep writing, or we hate what we have written, but we don’t realize that these feelings spring from doubt.  Instead, we decide that we aren’t good enough or that we lack discipline.

However, if we can turn our attention to our writing practice, give ourselves a little freedom, and, be kind to ourselves in the process, we will be able to see self-doubt for what it is.

Here are three ways you can identify self-doubt and start to change your focus:

1) Think Process, Not Results

We measure our writing in words, in chapters, in articles, and in books.  We get an endpoint in mind, and we make it our entire focus.

But when we focus on the results instead of on writing, we make things harder on ourselves. We start thinking about who is going to read it and whether they will like it. We start comparing our rough drafts to other people’s published work. There is no good result from this. Either you will get intimidated and stop writing, or you will hate what you have written, or you will try to get the whole project done at once and end up baffled and confused.

You can’t finish writing projects that way. You must write them word by word.  It’s your job to develop a writing practice that enables that process.

So, instead of focusing on your endpoint,  work on developing behaviors that will lead to where you want to go.  Sure, it  can be fun to envision yourself as a best-selling author, but if you don’t have a process that gets your words on the page, you won’t sell a thing.

2) Give Yourself Freedom to Mess Up

Help yourself to keep writing by allowing yourself more freedom to do things wrong. Recognize when you are in draft mode and that you need to make mistakes to go forward. So, go ahead and put in a placeholder word or too. Put in a sentence that says ‘Add science-y stuff’. Call your character ‘Waserface’ until you figure out what her name should be. If you keep the story moving, all of the pieces will fall into place.

In addition to those kinds of mistakes, feel free to decide what success means for you for each writing session. Decide what will be ‘enough’ writing. Decide what methods you will use to get to ‘enough’. Your job is to get your words on paper, it doesn’t matter how messy things are in the meantime.

Finally, feel free to be terrible. Terrible writing is part of the writing process. After all, you can’t revise a blank page – you have to start somewhere. Go ahead and write something awful right now, you are just trapping ideas. Polished writing will be in your future.

One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.

                                     ~ Lawrence Block

3) Go Easy On Yourself

Most of us think that the only way to be self-disciplined is to be very tough on ourselves. We put ourselves down and judge ourselves harshly because we think it will make us get down to work.  Somehow, we think that being gentle with ourselves will result in sloppy habits and messy work.

Yet, if being hard on ourselves produced results, we’d all be best-selling authors by now. Clearly, we need a different approach.

I recommend finding ways to be kind to ourselves. Ideally, we would could find ways to make our writing process as interesting and fun as possible and to forgive ourselves when we get off track. And, when we come to the challenge parts, we could take them in small doses and give ourselves rewards for our efforts instead of just for our accomplishments.

This doesn’t mean that we give up when things get hard or that we only do fun writing, it means that we are kind to ourselves when things go wrong. Treating ourselves with kindness will help us find ways to stick to our practices and get those words out into the world where they belong.

Ditch the Self-Doubt

The first step to solving any problem is correctly identifying it. When you struggle to get your words out, take a gentle look at how you are approaching your writing practice. Perhaps, self-doubt is getting in your way and it’s time to change your focus and get back to writing.

No matter what your specific writing issue involves, taking a moment to focus on the practice of writing, giving yourself some freedom, and going easy on yourself will help you to feel better about writing. Any words that come as a result will be a bonus.

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 storyfying at  or visit her on Facebook .

Why You Need A Writers Community Like You Need Cake

How do you know if you are a rich writer?

If we are rich writers, we use words like Paula Deen uses butter and cream. We liberally pour out our ideas and our vision into our paragraphs and prose. Maybe we add in sweetness and flavor and texture who we are and what we care about in every book. We sculpt our words together like sugary icing roses along a cake and we present our final, finished projects as grand feasts for the world, allowing our readers to savor each morsel and each portion.  If we are rich writers, the solitary act of creating is a full and satisfying one.

But I’d like to suggest that more satisfaction that comes when we are connected to writer friends who are making their own sweet compositions.


You are, indeed, rich, if you have written books by the dozens, won awards, and sold many copies.

But you are richer still if you have close friends who coached you along the way.

Every success, every victory, every instance of #AuthorHappiness is just one tiny blip on this long writing journey, that is, quite honestly, a lonely one, but is magnified when it is shared. And the sad, dark times are so much easier with their comfort.

The rejection letters will come. Let those around us buy us a drink. 

The 1 star reviews will trickle in. Let those around us say, “They just don’t get your brilliance.”

The doors will close. The publishing house will go under. The disappointments are a given if we choose writer as our identity.

Within a group of writers, you have mentors and proteges, you have advice and warnings, you celebrations and sorrows. You can squeeze each others’ hands and say, “it is scary,” but you can do it. Or, “you are good, hang in there” or “this happened to me once!”


Writers, as tempting as it is to wrap yourself up in a solitary, lonely world with just your characters and your computer as your companions, please don’t neglect the importance of community. Reach out to other writers. We need you too.

1. Get a Mentor.

In Online Writing Groups, such as Facebook’s 10 Minute Novelists, you can meet people who are little further ahead of you in your writing journey. Ask them questions. Get them to read your stuff. Receive their feedback graciously.

2. Join A Group.

By hanging around writers who have the same goals as you, you will learn a lot about craftsmanship, character development, plot, and setting. Also? Hanging out with other writers is just fun. They rejoice with you when you succeed and buy you drinks when you don’t.

3. Take a Class.

Check out your local library, community college or adult education center for writing classes. Some are even online! By working with an instructor, you will be able to get important feedback and grasp concepts you might not through just educating yourself.  This link has a list of free and not-so-free writing courses!

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4. Be humble and teachable.

No matter how much you’ve written or how many books you’ve sold, there’s always room to improve. And even if you were Pulitzer worthy, you’d still need to know about publishing, marketing, and social media. Be open to learning all you can. Arrogance doesn’t go far in this field.

How do you find other writers?  There are tons of ways! But the easiest is to join my group 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook.

Your writing life will be all the richer for it.


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

How to Use Showing vs. Telling Effectively

by Rachelle M. N. Shaw

There are tons of writing blogs and articles out there that offer advice on showing vs. telling. But why is that?

Why is showing so important that it automatically trumps telling? Is it ever okay to use telling? The secret is actually in the combination of the two. When you know how you can use showing in conjunction with telling, you can strengthen your writing and sharpen the structure of your pieces.

What Is Showing?

Showing can be described as an action that is happening at the moment. Even if you are writing in past tense, that definition still applies. Think in terms of watching a movie. Chances are, given the choice, you’d probably opt to watch a movie rather than have a friend recount its events to you. Reading a book is much the same way. Most readers pick up a book wanting to get lost in its story and feel things right alongside the characters. You can achieve that most effectively through the art of showing or describing the events as they unfold. This way, the readers discover things as the characters do.

Why Is Showing Often More Powerful?

The main reason is that we’re already experts at body language at birth. Don’t believe me? The art of showing is ingrained into our minds, even during development in the womb, and it blossoms from there. We’re born knowing the basics of how to show our emotions through body language and how to read others’ body language. It’s not just a means of communication—it’s key to our survival. When a baby cries, its mother is programmed to respond to it by watching for certain cues, like feeding a baby who roots or rocking a baby to sleep when they yawn and rub their eyes. Knowing both how to convey our emotions and how to decipher them is what makes us so good at connecting with people on a deeper, more emotional level. Writers can tap into that ability to create characters that are vivid and realistic, crafting stories that stick with the reader long after they’ve read it.

When Showing Works

Showing typically is best suited for the main narrative of the story, especially during intense scenes and ones where turning points in the plot happen. However, two key places to make sure you’re showing rather than telling are the opening scene and ending scene. While telling sections do serve a purpose and are occasionally the better choice, the majority of readers will connect better with vivid scenes that incorporate frequent imagery, dialogue, and most importantly, emotion.

All that is fine and dandy when you can spot a line that is telling rather than showing, but a lot of us struggle with finding them.

So here are a few tips for identifying and incorporating lines that show:

  1. Think of the scene playing out as a movie, as something happening in the moment. Cameras can’t convey emotion—only actors can. So you’ll have to rely on tone, body language, and interaction with the environment to convey those emotions to your reader in the strongest way possible. Sure, you could just tell them, but which book would you rather read: one that flat-out states the main character is angry or one that shows the main character throwing a chair across the room while veins pop out from his neck?
  2. Eliminate filter words and passive sentences whenever possible. By doing so, your sentences will automatically become more active and draw readers into the scene. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any of these, however. It just means you should use them sparingly and treat them as you would adverbs—too many, and you’re left with fluff. Sometimes you’ll need to use personification to achieve this. For example, instead of saying, “There was a door at the end of the hall,” you can go with, “A door stood at the end of the dimly lit hallway, beckoning him,” for stronger, more active wording.
  3. Strong verbs give your active lines additional spunk! A common problem I run into when editing others’ manuscripts is weak verbs. What do I mean by that? Well, verbs such as walk, run, set, and others that serve their function but don’t incorporate any emotion into the action can be classified as weak. There’s a huge difference between ambling and strutting, just as there is between dropping and slamming. So the next time you find yourself using a weak verb, do a quick search for synonyms and find one that fits the tone and pace of the scene your writing. Just remember that there’s no need to use a bunch of fancy words when a simple one will do. While synonyms can aid you when your mind blanks, they can also become a crutch. Variation in wording isn’t about using challenging terms but rather ones that infuse emotion into the scene.
  4. Sensory details are almost guaranteed to boost the action in your story. Details that clue us into the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and textures of a scene entice our imaginations and fill them with vivid images that stay with us. They paint such a clear picture of what’s happening in the moment that readers are automatically drawn into the story and connect better with the characters.
  5. Rework any lines with directly stated emotions, teasing them out to use body language that shows them instead. Identify telling lines doesn’t have to be daunting. Apart from the items above, you can hunt for words that are emotions themselves. Generally, tweaking lines with directly stated emotions and replacing them with body language will result in stronger, more compelling imagery. And if you combine that with the above tips, it’ll ensure your scenes and characters burst to life on the page.

When Telling Works

While there are plenty of instances where showing is best suited, there are also exceptions, places where telling will be the stronger option. Showing and telling very much work in unison to paint a clear yet concise picture that readers look for in a great story, but there are key places where telling fits in more naturally than showing.

Examples for when telling works best:

  • When you have backstory that needs to be shared in the context of the current scene without giving too much away
  • During scenes with intense emotions where you need direct information to balance out the drama
  • With high-action scenes to cut down the play-by-play recounting of what’s happening
  • To display thoughts, opinions, and the general viewpoint of the narrator—but only when it’s relevant to the current actions in the plot
  • With details that would be too complicated to show and would bog down the process of moving forward within the scene
  • For a summarization of what’s happened without retelling every event
  • When transitioning from one scene to the next (scene breaks) where detailed action isn’t needed
  • To glaze over necessary, but not crucial, details that are relevant to the current plot

It’s also best incorporated by mixing it with relevant action—and lots of it.

How to Balance the Two

Your primary goal should be to connect readers to the story being told. So if showing is stronger for that part, take advantage of it and bring to life the reader’s senses. If showing keeps the plot from moving forward and slows the reader to the point of boredom, then you’re probably better off telling. However, one thing to keep in mind is that not every scene, thought, or action will need to be included. If a scene doesn’t propel the plot or further develop a character in any way, the best approach is usually to cut it altogether.

Finding that sweet spot for blending both showing and telling takes years of practice, and many of us spend the better part of our writing careers perfecting it.

But with a little research, trial and error, and a good sense of intuition, you can use showing and telling in harmony to create writing that is both enchanting and succinct.

These two styles of writing are meant to complement one another, not compete.

Rachelle M. N. ShawAn avid reader with an incurable need to research everything she comes across, Rachelle is an author of paranormal, horror, and writing craft books as well as the occasional women’s fiction piece. Since scribbling down her first story at the age of eight, her love for language and books has blossomed into a full-time career. She currently works as an independent editor who is passionate about writing in layers and helping authors find their voice. When she’s not busy chasing her kids and two rather persnickety cats, you can catch her blogging, tweeting, or plotting her next series. Her current publications include the first two parts in the young adult paranormal series The Porcelain Souls.

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8 Ways to Balance Your Writing Life With Little Kids Around

Is it possible to be a productive writer with little kids in the house?

I started asking myself this question about three years ago when my perfectly organized and time structured writing life disintegrated with the (very welcome) arrival of my daughter.

It took me almost 2 years and a lot of trial and error to figure out the answer.


It is possible to find an organized balance between being a writer, running a household and being a parent with kids at home.

I admit, I sometimes still struggle to find a harmonious balance with work life and the ever changing demands of family life, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that has kept my life organized, let me keep writing, run a (mostly) functional household and stay (mostly) sane.

1. Claim a Sacred Writing Time

There is some point during the day, if it’s five minutes or an hour, that you can find to write.

It might mean going to bed a bit later so you can write after everyone else is asleep, or getting up a bit earlier so you can write before everyone wakes up. It might mean writing during your kid’s nap (if you still have that luxury in your house). It might mean giving up TV time in the evening.

Find a time. Claim it. Use it. Ensure everyone in your house knows this is your SACRED writing time, but make sure that you are especially aware that this is writing time so you’d damn well better make the most of it.

2. Write Every Day, Even Just A Bit

Connect with your work every day to keep that part of your brain activated. Just a few minutes will do. Just a few words.

It might seem pointless to just be adding a word or two but this continued connection really does help. It helps you feel like you’re still writing and making measurable progress and it helps to keep your mind in a state of readiness so that at the beginning of the next session, you’re up and ready to go without struggling to get back into the writing groove.

3. Measure Your Progress Against Your Goals

Find a goal within your project. A word count. A number of chapters. A blog posting schedule. Anything.

Every word you write and every sentence you edit takes you a step closer to that goal and there’s no better feeling than seeing those accomplishment points creep closer and closer.

4. Have a Couple of Different Projects Running Simultaneously

This doesn’t work for all writers, and I know a few writers who actively advise doing the opposite. For me, having different projects on the go simultaneously allows me to use different writing times to differing but still maximum effect. I focus best as soon as I wake up, so I’ve made a 5 am writing time for fiction (which is the most valuable thing for me to write).

I use any other sessions I can manage to write non-fiction or work on any edits, and I use any evening time I get to make notes, brainstorm, outline, and research—all of that writing work that requires a different kind of mental work without the structure and deep focus of the actual composition.

5. Don’t Work All the Time

If (when) your kids are preventing you from actually writing, it can be sometimes best to just let it happen.

Accept the gift of having a break from work and let yourself just be in the present activity. Children are masters at this.

You’re going to get back to your sacred writing time soon, so it might be just easier just to wait for that quality time rather than fighting against the reality of interruptions. Don’t beat yourself up for missing a writing session when it’s out of your control.

6. Let Your Kids Give You A Writing Lesson

Hanging out with a little kid is all about playing. Well, there’s typically a fair bit of cleaning and sometimes some crying and yelling in there too, but play time is a big chunk of the deal.

As you’re playing with your little person, look for ways to spark your own creativity. Draw pictures of scenes from your books or just random stuff. Act out plays with toys. Read storybooks and give yourself a lesson in writing for children. Make up rhymes and sing a nonsense verse. Make up your own stories to tell your children. Trust me, your kid isn’t going to notice you’re “working” during all of this super exciting play time.

7. Get Some Help

Not everyone has a support network in place to help look after the kids. If you are fortunate enough to have support, use it. Call in any willing family or friends, put partners or older children to work. If it’s an option, you might also consider a day care or hire a babysitter to give yourself a good quality writing session. Even a half day a week will do wonders for your productivity. The two days a week my kid is in Kindy, I’m an unstoppable word machine.

8. Write For You

Does writing make you happy? Does writing satisfy you in some unique way that nothing else does? Then you need to write.

It’s easy to feel guilty making time for yourself to pursue a goal or a passion and even a job outside the family circle. As if there wasn’t already enough guilt that comes with raising kids!

If writing scratches an itch for you like nothing else can, then it’s a simple necessity. You must write. Your family must let you write.

I always feel like writing makes me happier, it makes me who I am and therefore makes me a better mother, a better wife, a better me. Don’t feel guilty for writing. Ever.

Writing while raising small people is hard, but it’s far from impossible.

Sometimes sentences may need to sit unfinished for a day or two, but those half sentences are a zillion times better than the sentences never started. Those interrupted writing sessions are infinitely more valuable and productive than the writing session you never forced yourself to take. You can be a writer and a full-time parent at the same time. If you let yourself be. 

Kate Krake writes speculative fiction (as K.A. Krake) and non-fiction for writers. Kate is the author of the dark urban fantasy series, Guessing Tales. Kate also blogs about popular culture, health, wellness, and writing. Kate lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, daughter and two beagles.                                                            

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

When it comes to our writing careers, does luck have anything to do with our success?


Sometimes our mental images are filled with gold-filled pots accompanied by rainbows. Luck often references leprechauns and shamrocks. And this writer, whose birthday is on a lucky March 17, feels lucky when she doesn’t have to celebrate her spring-ish birthday by shoveling snow. (Who am I kidding? I never shovel snow. That’s why I had sons.)

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”

–Benjamin Franklin

There’s cartoon luck, and then there’s real life luck. How much does luck really play in our writing careers? I can say that I have had my share of luck. But in the same breath, I can say that I’ve worked my butt off and that all the good that happened to me came because of my own work. And I’m one of those creatures who believes that my Maker could have something to do with it too.

Is it luck or is it just cause and effect? Do I ever confuse luck with the unexpected? Do I give credit in the right place? Should I?

These are the “luckiest” things that happened to me since I became a writer:

  1. My first traditionally published book opportunity came from  a publisher that sought me out through my blog.
  2. Catholic Digest contacted me about promoting my romantic comedy Falling For Your Madness in December 2014.
  3. In April of 2016, Writer’s Digest named my website and Facebook group one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers.
  4. In September of 2016, Writing magazine bought thousands of copies of my book and included them with copies of their magazines to subscribers and in grocery stores across the UK.

There are probably more, but these are the most significant.

I honestly can’t say if any of these things were the direct result of my hard work or me just being in the right place at the right time. But I do know this: had I sat on my butt and done nothing, then that’s what I would have received.

How do you feel when others look at your success and say, “You’re so lucky!” Is it an insult to say, “they’ve gotten lucky” or, “lucky you?” They may see the fruit of your success and never witnessed your toil. Are they suggesting that all success if just luck? Do they shirk their own responsibility, because of luck? Does this mean that if you remove luck from the equation, and you aren’t successful, then you’d have to own up to the fact you haven’t done your part? Are those who believe only in luck afraid to suggest that they are the ones who should take responsibility for their failures?

Now there are times when “bad luck” appears and it has nothing to do with the hardworking stiff. There’s a drought and the crops fail, the investor runs off with all the money, the publishing house gets sold and the book goes out of print. These events, which are completely out of our control, are no bearing on our character nor our willingness to work hard. At the risk of oversimplifying tragedy, could it be that these are opportunities in disguise? Is there a possibility that sowing the ashes of this tragedy could reap bounty later?

Maybe that’s too much of a stretch for some people. Maybe they’d rather blame their circumstances. Maybe they’d rather look out the window to their bad luck than look in the mirror at what they could possibly fix.

In the arts, the sowing and reaping acts are so unclear.

We’re not sure what we’re supposed to be sowing: we could grow in our skill set — which often means being teachable and learning all we can. We could always say yes to opportunities within our vision. We could try new things and keep trying new things and keep trying new things until something sticks. We could make efforts to meet people and stop viewing connections as a place to sell books.

What is cause and effect for the writer in their career?

The cause is the good habits, the discipline, the plugging at your craft day after day. The effect could be, at the very least, the becoming of a better, stronger writer.

I’ve decided that there really isn’t any such thing as luck, despite my birthday.

The success that’s come to me because of my own hard work (and the grace of God) is satisfying. If it were all luck, I think it would feel emptier.

Make a point to work hard. Try new things. Grow in every way you can.

I’m betting you’ll be pleased with the results.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Dealing With Repetitive Strain Injuries As a Writer

By Dianna Gunn

When Katherine told me that she was looking for guest posts about productivity for writers, I knew right away what I wanted to talk about: repetitive strain injuries (RSIs).

This includes the infamous carpal tunnel, but it also encompasses a range of other injuries caused by uncomfortable and repetitive motions.

You can get an RSI in just about any part of your body, but today I’m going to talk about RSIs in the wrists.

These injuries are particularly common for writers, especially since many of us also work at a desk for our day jobs. They are also particularly dangerous for writers. Not only can RSIs ruin our productivity, they can also cause or exacerbate depression and anxiety.

My Story

My struggle with RSI began at the tender age of fifteen. I had bronchitis throughout the entire month of November, and a new laptop. This was the perfect recipe for an astronomically high Nanowrimo word count—303,000 and change. It was also the perfect recipe for disaster.

On November 29th I woke up in the middle of the night. My wrist had seized up completely and stabbing pains ran up and down my arm.

I didn’t think much of it. I took some painkillers, and when they kicked in I went back to sleep. My original plan had been to spend November 30th trying to push out another 7K (because 310,000 sounded like a prettier number), but I promised to rest for a few days.

Unfortunately, the pain didn’t go away. After a few weeks, I went to a walk-in clinic. They X-rayed my wrist, told me I hadn’t broken a bone, and sent me on my way.

This experience repeated itself several times. Looking back on it I know there were a couple big reasons why. One is that walk-in clinics don’t like referring people to specialists; they usually save that kind of thing for family doctors, and I didn’t have one. The other reason is that doctors tend to disbelieve young, healthy-looking women who complain about chronic pain.

Eventually, I got a doctor of my own and a referral to a specialist. They prodded my wrists for a couple hours, declared that I had tendonitis, and sent me on my way with a wrist brace.

The brace helped a little, but I didn’t really get better. So they decided I didn’t have tendonitis, and they had to run more tests. The final one involved tiny electric shocks to the nerves in my arm.

All they learned was that I didn’t have carpal tunnel. So I gave up on modern medicine and decided to find my own way.

My Recovery

I had already tried some things on my own here and there, but four years ago I decided to really buckle down. My initial strategy consisted of two primary tactics: daily yoga, wrist braces, and real breaks.

The Yoga

Before I start this section, I need to add the caveat that <b>some forms of yoga can actually cause or exacerbate repetitive strain injuries</b>. If you’re suffering from a repetitive strain injury, you should avoid or at least limit poses that put most of your body weight on your wrists.

But there are yoga moves and other stretches that can alleviate some of the pain and eventually rehabilitate your wrists. Many can even be done at your desk.

I started out with the daily routines listed on my daily yoga.  It took a few tries to actually make these part of my daily routine because I suck at routine in general, but eventually, I got the hang of it. After several months of consistent daily yoga, I only felt pain occasionally instead of every day.

Since then I’ve taken a couple random yoga classes and incorporated some of those moves into my daily routine. I’ll admit, I still suck at routine so some days I don’t do my leg stretches, but I do my wrist stretches every day. On particularly long work days I often do them twice.

The Wrist Braces

The brace (they only gave me one, I don’t know why) from the specialist had helped a little, so I decided to stick with it. I also got a wrist brace for my other arm. For about a year I wore them whenever I wasn’t working. I tried a few different kinds and found that the best ones use memory foam, which provides more comfort and also allows you a slightly wider range of movement.

A good pair of wrist braces can cost as much as $60, but let me tell you, they’re absolutely worth it if you’re struggling with repetitive strain injuries. The expensive ones can even be worn when you’re working.

Now I’m happy to report that I only wear my wrist braces when I’m sleeping, or on my now-rare bad pain days. I can even get away with sleeping without them for a few nights sometimes.

Real Breaks

Here’s a not-so-secret: I’m a bit of a workaholic, and a lot of that is driven by guilt. There is a strong voice in the back of my head that feels guilty whenever I am doing literally anything not directly related to my career.

Repetitive strain injury forced me to take breaks. And not only breaks in between tasks. I also had to take entire days off due to pain.

At first, the guilt was overwhelming. It ate away at my soul, pushing me deep into depression. I hated myself for not constantly producing. Every time I saw the advice to write every day, and I knew I couldn’t, I felt like a failure and a fraud.

Eventually, I realized that the guilt only prevented me from writing when I actually could. It weighed down every aspect of my life, and it had to go.

I haven’t eradicated the guilt monster, but I’ve become good at shutting it down. When it appears, I chase it away with a mantra: if I do not care for myself now, I will not be able to produce later. This is also an important mantra for avoiding mental burnout, one of the biggest things I see writers struggling with.

Gaining Strength

Of course, life without pain is only so useful if your wrists are still flimsy. I managed to reduce the pain, but I had suffered from RSI for so long that carrying a large bag of groceries home could cause a pain spike. To prevent this, I took frequent stops, even though the grocery store was only 15 minutes’ walk from my house. This made grocery shopping a terrible ordeal.

For a while, I just diverted these duties to my fiancé whenever possible, but that couldn’t work forever. And last year, I received the perfect gift to begin my next round of physical therapy—a small copper ball that weighs about two pounds.

I do 20 minutes of ball exercises with each wrist every single day, even if I’m taking the rest of the day off from writing/work/my regular routine. The exercises themselves are a little tough to explain, so let me show you:

This copper ball has completely changed my life. I’m more than just pain free now: I’m gaining strength. I have proper arm muscles for the first time in nine years. A couple weeks ago I realized that I’ll need bigger weights soon.

I have no idea where the copper ball was bought or where you can buy something similar, but I know many people have successfully used stress balls for the same things.

A Note About Dictation

Using dictation technology wasn’t an option for me at my worst because I grew up poor, but it’s become much more affordable in recent years. It’s also become a lot better, especially at things like recognizing accents. If you’re struggling with repetitive strain injury today, I suggest checking out Dragon

The Takeaways

Repetitive strain injury is a major obstacle but it doesn’t have to ruin your writing life. If you take the steps to treat it—whether on your own or with a doctor’s help—you will eventually be able to write to your heart’s content.

Dianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She blogs about creativity, books, and life at The Dabbler and is currently writing a book called Self Care for Creative People.

How To Develop Your Writing Voice

(Author’s Note: For June, July & August, this blog will be posting on Mondays & Thursdays only!)

A writer’s voice is a complex, hard-to-describe thing.

I think it could be compared to a rich cheese, a well-crafted symphony or a good wine.

The complexities of each of these come from a variety of sources —  Cheese, music, and wine are complicated. Voice is complicated too. 

How To Develop Your Writing Voice by Katharine Grubb

A writer’s voice can be influenced by many different things. 

Each of my children could re-tell me the story of The Three Pigs, but they would all do it differently. The differences between their interpretations will lot to do with their individuality. The distinction between the different presentations would be their voice.

So how does our voice develop? I’d like to suggest beginning novelists tinker with influences. Show me a writer with a rich voice, and I’ll show your someone who has read great books most of their life. A writer with strong voice studies voice either consciously or subconsciously, and this is reflected in the words they put down. You can also find some practical tips here. 

How do you find your writer’s voice?

 A writer with a strong voice will be one who writes often. He is at ease with a variety of words. He may understand the use of grammar rules and manipulates the rules to serve his purpose.

To find you voice, you must have three things: Exposure to beautiful words, regular writing practice, and time.  There is no short cut.

Exposure to beautiful words:  You need to read. Read as many books as you can. Read your genre, but don’t be snobby about other genres. Try reading the classics, and try to figure out why they are so great.  Read writing blogs but always be reading and thinking about what you’re reading so that the words settle into the climate of your subconscious just perfectly. Then when the atmospheric conditions are perfect, you have a storm of words that is wonderful and dramatic and maybe even scary.

Regular writing practice: Developing strong voice is much like developing muscles for great athletic accomplishment.  If you sit at the keyboard repeatedly and daily put your thoughts together in a coherent way, you get better at it. You may  be able to train yourself over and over to see grammatical errors, then you’ll get better and more efficient at spotting them. With practice, you can say things more clearly and precisely.  Make a daily word count goal and keep it. Or plan to write a half hour each day. Find the way that’s best for you and do it!

And then there’s time: It’s common to suggest that after 10,000 hours one has mastery of a skill. You may not be able to track that in this lifetime. Don’t worry about it. Instead, focus on what you can to in the next ten minutes. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Believe this: no time is ever wasted. What may look like a loss is really life experience. You can make up for lost time. YOU CAN.

A writer with a great voice will also know their strengths.

Are you funny? Encouraging? Are you really good at analyzing LOL cats? Put your energy into this! You’re probably passionate about it too. And people will notice that you are good at it and they will want to hear more from you. Become an expert. Read everything you can get your hands on about your favorite subjects.  Apply the principles in new and exciting ways.

It is voice, I would like to argue, that carries the most artistic weight of our storytelling.

The nuances, the experiences, and the complexities make us who we are. Thus, our stories will be unique to all of us. Look for ways to enjoy your life, read and write and you’ll be working on your voice.

You won’t be able to help it.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.