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.


What Good Writers Do

by Sara Marschand

Kindergartners learn what “good writers do,” but all writers can apply these universal lessons.

Kindergarteners practice tracing letters and numbers as the first steps to becoming literate.  Even at this early stage, they are taught the basics for a lifetime of writing. The sign on my daughter’s classroom wall reads simply “What Good Writer’s Do.” Only a handful of the recent preschoolers can read the sign at the beginning of the year. As they come to understand the words, the sign becomes a useful reference. It provides guidance on how to communicate clearly to readers.  From editing to formatting to effective storytelling, all writers benefit from mastering the basics.  They must to entice readers and agents. 

The rules for good writers found on a Kindergarten wall apply universally.

Good writers think about their topic

This is true on every level and at every stage of a writer’s career.  What do you want to write about? All fiction, boiled down to its simplest element, contains a character and a conflict. A kindergartener writes a sentence about their cat. For flash fiction, you might need a character, two points of conflict and a twist, but longer works require thinking in the form of outlines, scene cards or the Snowflake Method. Even a pantser percolates their story in their head before the words flow.

Good writers ask if it makes sense  

Every day. Every word. Are descriptions clear and vivid enough for the reader to see the story? Have you given your character a twenty-eight-hour day? Does your magic system work one way in chapter one and differently in chapter two?  Check the continuity of the elements in your story from one scene to the next.

Good writers write neatly

 For the kiddos, this specifically refers to handwriting. Many advanced writers still write by hand before entering on a keyboard, but this idea of ‘neat’ writing can be expanded further. Are your thoughts organized on the page? Are you following the scene and sequel method where something happens, your character reacts and then makes a decision? Do you have a purple prose problem where all your sentences are flowery, wordy and full of excessive adverbs and adjectives? All of this tidying doesn’t have to happen in a first draft, but self-editing gives everyone a chance to neaten the work. 

Good writers read it over and over  

Kindergartners check if their letters were formed correctly, but we experienced writers all know this step is about editing and finding the more insidious flaws in our work. Start with the overall plot and structure. Does this sequence of events tell the story you want? Are the character arcs complete?  Once it’s in order, tweak the sections for flow and readability. With each additional pass, the work is polished until the only the grammar remains to be wrestled with.

Good Writers use punctuation at the end

 The kindergartners have a tough job here. They have to learn when to use a period, a question mark or an exclamation point. Formatting work incorrectly for submission earns red marks from the teacher. Grown-up writers can get confused by the exclamation point, too. People use them to show excitement, but overuse of the exclamation point is a sign of weak writing to the gate-keepers of publishing. Use them, but know why.

Good writers use Capital Letter at the beginning

 For professional markets, an improper format can mean the difference between instant rejection or an agent or editor actually reading your work. No one wants to slog through pages of poorly formatted paragraphs.  Stick to standard formatting guidelines—Times New Roman, 12pt, double-spaced. Check with each individual recipient what their standard is, where they want your name and word count information or if they want it at all. To be respected as a professional, give the agents and editors what they want. Follow the rules.

Good writers use finger spaces 

Kindergartners are taught to use a finger width space between their words. Except for ensuring you type only one space after a period, this isn’t useful advice for the experienced writer. However, it acts as a reminder to keep up with changing standards. Two spaces after a period morphed into one due to changes in printing capabilities. Most agents, publishers, and editors prefer electronic submissions to printing and mailing from the pre-email era. Changing standards go beyond typography issues, though. Follow your genre and know what they are looking for (or not) in terms of story elements, types of characters and pacing.

Mastery of writing starts small.

We all began by learning letters. Then added grammar and punctuation. Advice for what makes good writing evolves as we grow as writers, but everyone started at the beginning. What basics do you still have trouble with?


Sara Marschand has been writing Urban Fantasy and Science fiction since she ended her full-time career in engineering. When not writing, she enjoys everything produced by Marvel Studios. Sara lives with her spouse, 2 noisy kids, a frog and a goldfish that spits rocks. Visit her blog here.

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 Goals and How to Reach Them

by Christine Hennebury

Writing goals can be useful ways of challenging ourselves and getting our work done.  However, words do not write themselves, you need a system.

I used to think that just setting the goal was enough, that I would be magically pulled toward it.  If I decided that I was going to write 15,000 words in a month,  I didn’t do any of the other work involved, I really just hoped for the best.

It didn’t work, of course.

I had to learn to develop a good system for myself.   First, I had to break my big goal into manageable bits – a daily/weekly amount. Then, I had to actually schedule specific  times to do the work. Finally, I had to plan exactly what I was going to write at those times. (Note: That’s what *I* had to do, your plan might be different.)

It is easy to say ‘I’m going to write X number of words this month’ but saying it is not the same as doing it.

You need a solid plan to get your pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Otherwise, you will not reach your goals and you are likely to get discouraged.

Think About Systems, Not Just Goals

The key to reaching your goals is a solid, repeatable system.  A system could be something like:  ‘I am going to sit for 20 minutes each Friday and come up with ideas. Then, every day after breakfast, I will write for 10 minutes.’  That system will get you  far closer to your goals than than just saying… ‘I’m going to write 5000 words this week.’ A system includes a plan for action, not just a hope for a result.

Develop YOUR Writing System

The emphasis in that heading is on the word ‘your’.  You need a system that works for you, not for anyone else. Be honest with yourself about how much time you have. Keep your goals aligned with how much time you have. (If you only have 15 minutes a week, that’s fine. Just don’t put pressure on yourself to produce a novel in six months or anything!)

So, ask yourself: What’s a workable amount of time that you have regularly? Do you have 10 minutes a day? Do you have 60 minutes a week?  What time of the day or the week does that 10 minutes or 60 minutes occur? Schedule your writing time in your calendar.

Check Your Numbers

Once you establish how much time you have, you want to see how much you can accomplish in that time. Set your timer for your planned amount of time and write. Note how many words you were able to write.  

Then, take that word total, multiple it by your planned writing session and use that number as goal guideline.

In my experience, I have had more success with writing for set amounts of time than set amounts of words but you do what works best for you.

Adjust As Needed

Perhaps you wrote 250 words in your 10 minute timer test but what about when you find a topic that’s a bit trickier? Or when you aren’t sure what to write?

That first test was to set a baseline, not to create a final standard. It gave you somewhere to start  but you might need to adjust your goals as time goes on. Word goals need to be flexible because your writing speed will change depending on a lot of factors.

I used to find it very difficult to adjust goals once they had been set. I was very hard on myself about ‘failing’ to do something. Luckily, at some point,  I read someone’s suggestion to add the phrase ‘Or something better’ to every goal statement. Something about that phrasing made me remember that my goals are supposed to serve me, not the other way around. Now, I am quite flexible with my end point and you can be, too.

After all, you can decide what better means for you.  Perhaps, today, it means more words. Later it might mean measuring time spent on specific topics. Sometimes ‘better’ might not involve writing at all. Your ‘something better’ might  research time or time spent with friends. Don’t be hard on yourself while you figure it out.

Check In With Yourself

After you have had some practice with your system, have a good look at it.  Ask yourself questions like – Is this system meeting my needs? What has my experience so far told me about my writing habits? Do I need to tweak or adjust anything? Where do my difficulties arise? What other kind of supports do I need?

I have found, through experimentation, that if I don’t schedule my writing time, I will be struggling late at night to write. I can write late at that time of day but my focus isn’t good and I have trouble staying on topic. It takes me a lot longer to finish my work when I write late at night.

I have also found that I need to build in twice as much editing time as writing time. I am good with blasting out a first draft but the rethinking of the work takes a lot of time for me.

As you go along, you will figure out your own quirks and be able to adjust your system accordingly.

Keep That System Working for YOU

You don’t have to stick to a system just because you developed it. That system is supposed to serve you, not the other way around. Its whole purpose is to get you where you want to go.

If your system is not serving you, change it until it does.

Your goals work the same way. You don’t have to stick with a goal because it seemed like a good idea when you started. You can always adjust it until you end up with that ‘something better.’

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 Eight Things Future Best-Selling Authors Are Doing Right Now


Someday in the future, maybe five years, maybe ten years, maybe twenty years from now, the best-seller lists will name authors that no one has heard of now.

Those future best-selling authors don’t spring up out of nowhere, they’re alive and breathing as we speak. They’re out there, right now, getting kids ready for school, driving to the day job or composing another blog post.

Future best-sellers also working on their craft. They’re hard at work, making the most of the time they have to create the art that someday will be acknowledged by the world.

Top Eight Things Future Best-Selling Authors Are Doing Right Now by Katharine Grubb

What exactly are they doing then?

They probably write every day. If they don’t, then at least they write regularly. They treat their art with respect and understand that it takes a lot of practice to be excellent. The most successful authors of the future aren’t afraid to put in the hours to achieve their dreams.

They take their social media seriously. The future best-sellers understand that engaging with others on social media is important. Social media connections aren’t as important as writing, but it is important to meet reader after reader, to learn the ins and outs of various media platforms, and to update it regularly. The publishing teams behind these authors will be more enthusiastic  about supporting these future successes because they’re active now.

They’re reading craft books. If they’re not reading craft books, future best-selling authors are reading craft blogs, or taking classes or looking for ways to improve their art. Future best-sellers understand that there’s always something to learn and they’re looking for as much wisdom from the world of writing as they can. This diligence will show up in their art. They’re counting on it.

They aren’t afraid of criticism. Tomorrow’s best selling authors are sitting in critique groups today asking for feedback. They are pondering word choice, point-of-view, how many adverbs are too many and which dialog tags to drop. Future best-sellers are willing to listen to other authors around them and make necessary changes. A  writer who can’t handle constructive criticism won’t go far in this industry, and certainly will have trouble becoming a future best-seller.

What else do they do?

They’re learning how to be organized. Future best-selling authors take care of business well. Even though this may not come naturally for them, they keep good records. Successful writers need to file taxes, track expenses and stay on top of invoices. If you are a writer and you aren’t willing to take care of the business end of things, you probably can’t hope to be nothing more than a hobbyist.

They don’t make excuses. The best-selling authors of the future make writing a high priority. They don’t wait for “inspiration to strike” or “the perfect two hours”.  These writers push themselves when they don’t feel like writing, when the words don’t come or when their confidence is shot. This willingness to override excuses gives them a perseverance that often separate the professional from the amateur.

They are accessible to their readers.  I’m not a prognosticator, but I’d guess that in five, ten or twenty years the book market will be even more saturated. That means that it will be all the harder for writers to stand out. One of the ways that they can is to engage with readers now. A wise author builds relationships with their readers and in the future, these readers may turn into raving fans.

They don’t dwell on failure. Every single one of us is going to fail, that’s a given. But the most successful of us will look at our failures as opportunities to learn and become stronger. Future bestsellers will have a history of ups and downs, piles of rejection letters, embarrassing anecdotes, and spelling mistakes. But the best of us will refuse to let those failures become our identity.

Future best-sellers are all unique and have their own figurative and literal stories to tell.

Some future best-sellers will have to write thirty books before their big national break. Others will break-out with the second or third book. Some will become commercial hits. Others will find notoriety in more critical circles.  But all of them worked hard, all of them overcame obstacles and all of them weren’t afraid to learn.

I may never be a world-wide best-seller, but even if I’m not, I’m going to do everything on this list. My goal isn’t fame nor fortune, it’s being the best writer I can be.

Are you a future best-seller? Do you know what it takes to get there?

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.

Details Make the Story-Genre Specific Research

The story’s magic is in the details, and details come from good research.

It may seem like common sense that a writer should and must do research for any story containing experiences or places the author has not experienced. However, it can be a step that is sometimes skipped in favor of just getting the story written. No matter what genre you are writing, this is a mistake.

When I first started writing, I was straight up romance all the time. In that vein, my shelves were lined with romance novels not only because I loved to read them, but also as research for what I was writing. The novels provided me what I needed for research. I learned which tropes I hated and vowed to avoid as well as those I loved and planned to use. I learned the beats of a romance that way.

When I switched genres from romance to horror and paranormal, I had to change my research methods and materials as well. While I still have shelves of romance novels, now I have a bookshelf dedicated to writing research and  lined with books on mythology, witchcraft, the history of murder, Irish folklore and so much more. These books are important to my craft and are lined with sticky notes and tabs, penciled in scribbles and the odd story nugget here and there.

The thing about genre specific research is it varies. And while those variations are sometimes microscopic, they also can be huge. The scope of your research will vary. No matter how much research you do, the important thing is for you to be as accurate and in depth as you can. For me this means not relying solely on one medium.

Yes, the internet is a great thing. Google and Wikipedia are your friends, but not the only ones. Let us not forget the library. A true friend to a writer. And a writer owned library (if possible) is even better.  While many veteran writers may suggest that you start your writing library with craft books, I strongly believe research books are an important buy for a writer as well.

You can’t believe everything you read…

Though the internet is convenient, we all know we can’t believe everything we read on it. Wikipedia is super helpful, but since it is curated by the public, it is not always 100% accurate. So when doing research, whether it’s as wide a topic as clothing worn in the 1800s to something more specific such as the most well recognizable supplier of chloroform in 1875, just be sure to double check. Triple check even.

As writers, we share our work with readers. As a whole, the general public is a smart entity that wants to know that before you wrote those words, you did the leg work. This is when the library or the bookstore can come in handy. Finding multiple books on the subject you are researching will help to ensure that you have the proper information you need to write true to your subject matter.

Now I’m not bashing the internet at all. It is convenient, and I use it often. If a library is not accessible, but the internet is, there are other options aside from Wikipedia.  Here are some of my favorite.

Other Online Resources:

The Library of Congresswebsite

The “ask a librarian” feature is fantastic here and can help if you are stuck on a particular research topic.

Smithsonian Institutionwebsite

They have a lot of information about animals and foliage local to whatever area you are writing about. Also, the Smithsonian Libraries and Galaxy of Knowledge is a fantastic feature on this site.

The British Library website

If you are writing about England at all, this site has a lot of resources. It goes back a fair way and has a wide array of information.

Whichever genre you write in will most likely dictate how you do your genre specific research. If you are writing romance then romance novels are a good way to go. Though there are books on writing romance and the beats you need and the arcs you should follow, these are more craft than story. If you are writing about serial killers in 1800’s London, then researching the time period is the way to go. And this is where the library, the bookstore and the internet are your friend. A mixture of all three will give you your best shot at writing your best, most historically accurate story.

As a writer, it is our job to transport our readers into our stories, proper genre specific research is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. Please take the time and do your research, it really does matter.

Sheri Williams is an author who laughs in the face of genre. She always knew she would be a romance author one day, until she found the macabre that lives in her heart and her brain. Equally as comfortable in her own imagination as she is in the real world, she finds inspiration everywhere. Her stories range from light to dark, then very dark, but always with a touch of romance.

Sheri is a wife and a mom, which bring her great joy. She is also a geek and an avid Netflix binger, which also brings great joy. She always has multiple projects on her plate and if you want to stay up to date, be sure to sign up for the newsletter on her website. You can also follow her author page on fb, on twitter, pinterest and Google+

Foreign Phrases in Your Novel

by Joanna Maciejewska

Sometimes a foreign character wanders onto our pages, and they simply insist on speaking a phrase or two in their native language. But even if you’re lucky to know several languages, they might not be the ones you need for your current work-in-progress. With the limited time in any writer’s life, it’s impossible to start learning foreign language for the sole purpose of inserting a few flavor lines. At the same time, giving up on making the character more real is not an option. What to do then?

Should you use Google Translate for your foreign phrases?

I’ll be completely honest with you. I love Google Translate for the easy access to content in languages I don’t understand. It’s great when I have an article in French, and I want to have an idea what it is about. But if you ever used it this way, you surely noticed how choppy and somewhat chaotic the translation is. Now imagine, that your perfect phrases in English get translated the same way! If you haven’t come across it yet, go ahead and give it a try! Paste a paragraph in a language you don’t know and press “translate!”

Google Translate has limited context and not all the languages behave the same way. If you’ve ever a bit of Spanish, you know adjectives got after the noun, not before it. This is a rather simple example that Google Translate could handle, but there are many more complex issues that you might not be aware of. Proverbs, slang, lack of context, and so on.

Also, some foreign phrases might be translated correctly, but they aren’t used in common speech. If you character speaks this way, they’ll sound unnatural.

Let me give you an example. I speak Polish, so let’s assume that you want a simple phrase, “thank you” translated into Polish. Google Translate will promptly give “Dziękuję Ci” as an equivalent, and even though it’s not incorrect, it’s not used in common speech. We simply use “dziękuję” (it still means “thank you”, not “thanks” which would be “dzięki”). Saying “Dziękuję Ci” would make the character sound… artificial or even passive-aggressive. On top of that, “Ci” is only capitalized in letters, emails, and direct messages, when it’s directly addressing recipient. In fiction, it’s not.

Is your head spinning already? And I’ve only taken a very simple phrase! Imagine the pitfalls of the whole sentence translated by the machine!

What can you do instead?

The Internet gives you a lot of options that are much easier and cheaper, than hiring a translator.

First, you can search for “common phrases in…” and you might find websites that already list what you need. They’ll be the equivalent of the tourist phrasebooks you can pick up at stores. Those might be an option too, but depending on which language you need, it might not be easy to find one in your local bookstore.

If you belong to any writers’ groups, especially the online ones which usually gather writers from across the world, you can ask for help there. If it’s just several foreign phrases, someone will likely volunteer to help you. If you can, search for the native speakers, because they’ll be aware of various slang expressions, commonly used phrases, or even if something has a double meaning you’d prefer to avoid.

Twitter is another good place to ask. Even if you don’t have anyone among your followers who could translate the foreign phrases you need, they might know someone who does. Or they might retweet your message, because some of their followers might now. This way, you can reach out to people you wouldn’t have found on your own. Once, I had three followers of mine tag me in a thread by some author I’ve never met who needed help with some expressions in Polish, so I can attest it works!

Foreign Phrases in Your Novel

What if your foreign phrases are in a language that doesn’t exist?

This gets a bit more tricky, and it actually is a topic for a separate post, but let’s cover some basics.

I mentioned above that languages (especially languages that aren’t from the same family), don’t behave the same way. Which means that replacing English words with made up words won’t do, and applying the same grammar rules will make the made-up language feel unbelievable.

Once, I was beta-reading a story where there was an alien word for orphan. Let’s say it was “dadala”. The author promptly created “orphanage” and “dadalage” which suggested that aliens from across the aliens from across the galaxy used English grammar. And even if you look at the Earth languages, the word creation differs. In Polish, an orphan is “sierota”, but there’s no “sierotage”: there is “sierociniec” for orphanage.

I could point out more examples how different languages can be. In Polish, all verbs are conjugated to point out gender, so pronouns aren’t often used. Which means that Polish “went to the store” will tell you whether it was I, we, he, or she who went to the store. Meanwhile in Japanese, when you want to do something, for example go to the store, you’d attach the suffix -tai to the conjugated verb. So in a literal translation it would be something like “I to the store go-want”. (Yes, they have a different word order too!)

So, unfortunately, you need to study languages a bit. Mix and match different grammar rules, and keep track of what rules you’ve applied so far to keep consistent with any future foreign phrases. It might seem tedious, but at the same time, it can be very rewarding if you get into it.

Is inserting foreign phrases worth it?

When done in moderation, interesting sayings or foreign phrases can add a lot of flavor to the character, but at the same time it might feel like it isn’t worth the effort. After all, you don’t want to overwhelm your readers, so you won’t be using too many of them. Every writer can decide for themselves how much time they’re willing to devote to them, but with the easy connection the Internet offers, it seems like a good opportunity to get the foreign phrases right. Not to mention of possibly making some new friends along the way.

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science-fiction writer who was born in Poland, spent a little under a decade in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona. She had stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris), and she also writes in English (“Fiction Vortex”, “Phantaxis”). You can find out more about her and her stories at or follow her on FacebookTwitter, 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 .

Prompts Are Everywhere: Using Writing Prompts to Spark Creativity

Have you ever needed that spark to write? Try writing prompts.

A blank page glares back at you, taunting you to write something. Anything. A minute passes. Then another. Three cups of coffee later, you find yourself on social media watching cats riding Roombas and the page remains woefully blank. Ideas are everywhere, but sometimes we need a kick in the brain to notice them. Writing prompts provide something the bottom of your caffeinated beverage cannot: a fresh idea. Prompts can help you out of a rut and trigger new creativity.

Let’s say you been “adulting” all day and your brain is full of kids, bills, and work. Maybe your muse took a nap because you’ve been agonizing over where to put commas as you edit. Or you woke up extra groggy this morning and that third cup is a joke because you know you need the whole pot. A prompt is a great way to start a writing session when your brain is in the wrong mode. Take 10 minutes and sit down to write. Find a prompt that triggers at least one spark for you, set pen to paper (or whatever your preferred method) and write. Don’t stop until the timer dings. Let the ideas flow and give your brain permission to play. It wants to play, so let it. There is no right or wrong way to use a prompt. It’s whatever strikes you in the moment.

The most basic prompt is a short list of words.

A good list will have at least three words that don’t fit together at first glance. Random prompt generators typically give a character, place, and object. Some include additional elements like time and weather. Your creative job is to connect the ideas. When you find the right prompt, your brain will begin building a story around them without asking you permission. First, connect two items, then add in the next. Ask questions, be curious and, most importantly, find a way to the chocolate.

The words hat, rose, and chocolate might be connected first by a hat with a rose on it. Expand upon the idea by asking the ‘W’ questions— who, what, where, why. Who is wearing the hat? A woman. When did it come from? A store, maybe not important. Where is the hat? On the bench next to the woman. What is that hat doing there? Well, this is where it gets really good…remember that guy she met in line for hot chocolate? The words don’t have to be used verbatim. If chocolate gets you thinking about Mayan conquerors and the quest for gold, go with it. It’s a prompt, not a law. The best prompt is the one that takes you in an interesting direction and won’t let you NOT write it.

Writing prompts come in many shapes and sizes beyond three-word combinations. All provide an entry point to a story.

  1. First lines
  2. Dialogue
  3. Character based
  4. Setting based
  5. Photo
  6. Ripped from the headlines

Writing prompts are everywhere.

A Google search yields dozens of writing prompt sites. The 10 Minute Novelists’ Pinterest page has a curated list. If that’s not enough, the app store for your phone contains several dedicated prompt apps. Canned prompts are great, but you can also make your own. One photo prompt can be worth a thousand words or more. This style of prompt is also readily available when you search on the term, but consider following photographers on social media or using stock photos.

An adjustment to your viewpoint or a narrowing of focus results in a different way of seeing the mundane.  For example, a storm passed through knocking down chairs and tables at an outdoor cafe. In panoramic view, the closed cafe sat at the end of a row of shops abutted to a huge parking lot. Like any old downtown. By narrowing the focus to see only the knocked over chairs and tables and asking questions, the scene is transformed. Who caused all this damage? There was a struggle. They were waiting for her. Was anyone hurt? He got there too late, so he didn’t know what happened to her. Why would anyone take his one and only love? Oh, right the gambling debts.

Searching for an even more exotic source for prompts? Try news headlines. Science news covers everything from medical testing to planetary discoveries to the amount of wine we should all drink. Headlines from foreign countries bring you concepts that are just that— foreign. Controlling the kangaroo population, mobile hospitals, red ants floating in pools. What if you built a world where the constraints of the headline were the rule? Everyone must drink a glass of wine a day for longevity, but otherwise, they wither away. And maybe it isn’t wine, but some other government supplied an elixir of doom. Two steps from the headline becomes a conspiracy laden dystopia. Add a character who can’t get his elixir and you will probably need more than the prescribed ten minutes.

Allow writing from prompts to be sloppy.

The sentences don’t have to make sense but do let the ideas flow. Where you start may not be where you end and it’s ok. Stories have a character in a setting with conflict and prompt may give you only one of these elements of story telling. All writing is progress and you never know when you can use the ideas from a simple prompt. Do you have a favorite style of prompt? Has one led you to a larger work? Leave a comment if you’ve benefitted from prompts.

Sara Marschand has been writing Urban Fantasy and Science fiction since she ended her full time career in engineering. When not writing, she enjoys everything produced by Marvel studios. Sara lives with her spouse, 2 noisy kids, a frog and a goldfish that spits rocks. Visit her blog here.

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 .