Monday, August 31, 2009

Lateral Thinking

I was chatting with Tanja Cilia about other ways she gets her muse jump started. One of the ideas she uses is "lateral thinking." (See Wikipedia According to Tanja "It was invented by a Maltese person. . . There are things like CAF (Consider all Factors) PMI (Plus Minus Interesting), Six Hats, and so on..."

On the Wikipedia site, they talk about:

1. "Random Entry Idea Generating Tool" With this tool, you randomly choose an object or noun and associate that with what you're thinking about. As a writer, you may be considering a book about witches. If you think of the word "witch," follow through with other words associated with witches such as broomsticks, cauldrons, black cats, etc.

2. "Provocation Idea Generating Tool." With this method you choose to use techniques such as wishful thinking or exaggeration. Then you create a list of motivations and use the most outrageous ones to find new ideas. For example, you may have your main character living in a three-story, cold water, walk-up flat, but she dreams of marrying a prince.

3. "Challenge Idea Generating Tool." This tool is designed to ask the question "Why?" The goal is to be able to question everything, not just problems. This is a good tool for generating ideas for non-fiction articles. Ask the questions, "Why do Chinese restaurants serve fortune cookies?" or "Why do parents prefer to home school their children?"

4. "Concept Fan Idea Generating Tool." With this tool, you would generate one idea, then "fan" out into other areas, much like brainstorming an issue. Go back to our idea of witches. You have a general idea for a story about a witch, but if you fan out your ideas, you realize there are lots of different types of witches, from wise women who helped deliver babies and grew herbs to cure illnesses, to black witches who are willing to sacrifice a life to gain power.

With these lateral thinking tools, you can get your writing started even if you have no ideas at hand.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Using Contests as Prompts

Are you sometimes stumped for an idea? Tanja Cilia from Malta uses contests as a way to jump start her muse. Tanja told me "when I enter a contest I never know whether there are prizes or what they are. All I care is that I am eligible. I use these things as writing prompts because I must write, I feel I have to write, I mean, so I might as well.... and sometimes, to be honest, they are an escape from what I OUGHT to be writing.... such as columns and features, but they give me a kick to do them, like the forbidden fruit, you know?"

When I asked Tanja if she only submitted to free contests, she replied "Not specifically to free contests, (or) whether or not they have prizes - just to those for which I am eligible, because as you know I am from Malta and sometimes we are precluded... Sometimes, the prizes are things, not money.. in fact, I have just won a set of Mission Impossible Series 5, a couple of books, a Zune... BUT I am especially proud of the fact that my work was put first in a couple of sites (no prizes, but to me that was worth the effort!).

There are a lot of places where you can look for contests: Writer's Market lists a large number of contests and awards arranged by subject. New contests are announced in a variety of writer's publications. Hope Clark's Funds for Writers, a free publication, ( generally lists four or five new contests a month. For a paid subscription, Kathy Ptacek's Gila Queen ( listing also has a regular section on contests. On The Premises, an online magazine, routinely posts contests on their web page ( Do a web search for other writing contests.

When you decide to enter a contest, be sure to check the guidelines carefully; the same as you would for a submission to a magazine. Some contests are not for all writers. Many are regional, or age specific, or are restricted to unpublished writers. Contests can be a way to try out a new genre or research a new area for your writing. Sometimes, you are given a few words of a starting sentence, sometimes you are given a theme. Whatever you are given, be sure to follow the rules or your entry will be disqualified.

Be like Tanja and use those contests as ideas to start writing. Submit your entries and you too will be a winner. Even if you don't win a prize, you will have written a story, article, or poem.

Good luck hunting out the right contest for you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Giving Up Your Rights

Recently, I was doing an "ego" search and found that Amazon was selling a craft article which I had sold years ago to Child Life. It was listed at $5.95! As I was only paid $25 for the original article, I was at first amazed. Then, I was angry. Who gave them the right to do this?

It's a good thing that I didn't send off a hasty, "what the hell do you think your doing?" letter. When I pulled out my old records, I realized when I sold the article in 1994, I had sold "all" rights. At the time, I was a "newbie" writer and I still recall being absolutely thrilled that I had sold something to what I thought was a good market. I believed in the magazines that Children's Better Health Institute published. In fact, I purchased some for my own children. It never dawned on me that I should be quibbling about what rights to sell them. Fortunately, as my writing skills and reputation have grown, I no longer sell all rights when I sell a piece to a magazine. I try to sell only first rights, or one-time rights if its a regional publication.

With the Child Life article, unfortunately, the damage had already been done. I have no idea how many of these articles Amazon has sold or how much additional money the publisher has earned. I do know that I haven't seen any of that money, nor will I ever see it.

Don't short change yourself. If you believe in your work, fight to retain most of your rights. If the editor likes the article or story, she will either accept your terms or counter-offer. At any rate, once you make the effort, you can then decide whether you are willing to give up all your rights. Oftentimes when we are just starting on our writing careers, we are willing to give away our work. If this is what you want to do, it is your personal choice. However, keep accurate records so at some later date if you see your piece being sold on Amazon, or elsewhere, you won't be tempted, as I was, to rant and rave about being ripped off.

Happy writing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Writing Don'ts

A couple of days ago, I directed you to the blog of Vivian Zabel who posted several items writers should "do."

Now, I'd like you to go on back to visit with Vivian again. Following her original post is her list of what writers shouldn't do.

Once again, Vivian has given a clear list of things writers should avoid. She gives concrete examples which make it easy to understand what she's saying. With her teaching background, Vivian knows how to get her point across to her students.

Please take a moment to stop by, read, take notes, and absorb what she has to say. Her blog, Brain Cells and Bubble Wrap, is available at

Good luck with your writing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Blogger, Vivian Zabel

Today, I want to cheat. Instead of writing some tips for you, I'd like to send you to another blog. The blog I'm sending you to, Brain Cells and Bubble Wrap, is written by Vivian Zabel. She is a former English teacher. She is also a writer, publisher and editor. Today, she's writing about "What To Do" with your writing. She's included a very long list of excellent suggestions including a lot of good concrete examples.

Please head on over to You won't be sorry.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


What motivates you as a writer? Do you do it because you love to write? Are you doing it for a living? Do you enjoy getting an occasional check in the mail? Do you love to see your byline? What makes you sit down at the computer, or pick up a pen and notebook?

For me, it's a combination of things. I've always felt more comfortable with the written word than the spoken word. I find it difficult to speak in public. In classes, I prefer reading the material to hearing a lecture. It seemed natural to me to gravitate toward writing as an outlet.

Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy getting a check. In fact, I rarely submit my work to non-paying markets. I will submit when I feel the market is well done and professional, such as Stories for Children Magazine. I like their philosophy of trying to make stories available for free to children everywhere who can read English, so I submit to them.

When I first started writing, I was more excited about seeing my name under the title of a story or article. Back then, I would submit to anyone whether they paid me or not. I loved being able to tell people I had a story or non-fiction piece published. I still get excited when something is accepted, but there's a lot more to get excited about when there's a paycheck.

Still, the motivation of getting paid or seeing my name in print isn't always enough to get me working. For me, the motivation comes more often in the form of an idea. An article I might have read will get me to thinking of what else could have happened. A newspaper story might lead me to an interview with an expert whose story needs to be told. Unfortunately, these ideas don't come to me every day, but I try not to feel guilty.

Awhile back I sent off an article with quotes from successful authors about how they organize their time and what they hoped to accomplish. The editor of the magazine rejected it because it made her feel guilty that she didn't do as much as these other writers. She was afraid her readers would feel the same way. For me, what others accomplish sometimes acts as a motivator. If they can do this (oftentimes while raising young children or working full-time away from home), then surely I can find an hour or two a day. Still, as I said above, I don't feel guilty when life gets in the way.

Find your own motivators, but don't wallow in guilt. Find what sparks your interest and write when you can. Enjoy your craft, don't let it become depressing because you feel you don't write as much as you should.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Congratualtions, Geraldine

My very dear friend, Geraldine Goldberg, was one of the thousands of young people who attended Woodstock in 1969. Forty years after the event, many people are remembering that weekend with memorial books, films, gatherings, etc.

Awhile ago, I spotted a market listing for an anthology of 50 stories, Woodstock Revisited. Since I didn't make it to the event, and I knew Geraldine had, I forwarded the information to her. Keep in mind, Geraldine has only been published in school papers and a blurb or two in the local paper. She's also tried her hand at playwriting. She was hesitant, but I told her it was good experience. After all, it wouldn't hurt to try, and she had as good a chance as anyone else to succeed. She's a very bright woman, who returned to school to get her masters degree when she was in her 40's.

She agreed to take on the challenge and asked me if I would mind taking a look at the manuscript when she finished it. I readily agreed, offered a few suggestions and sent it back to her. She sent off her article and was overjoyed when she learned that her story had been accepted for inclusion. I'm very proud of her and glad to have been a mentor in this project. She proved that it isn't always about having a well known name to be published. It isn't always about having a long record of acceptances and publications. It isn't always about being dedicated to the craft of writing. Sometimes, it's just about being in the right place, at the right time, with the right story.

So, Geraldine, congratulations on your entry into the world of published writing. In furtherance of this accomplishment, another friend of Geraldine's, Wallace Baine, included her in his article for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Wallace Baine, Baine Street: August 1969: The moment of truth for the hippie movement"

What about you? Are you ready to take the plunge? Keep your options open for new markets that suit you. Look for magazines, anthologies, and contests that are seeking writers with your background and interest. If you don't submit, you won't be published. When you're not sure, remember Geraldine. She did it, so can you.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Writing Every Day

On August 9, 2009, Hope Clark wrote an editorial in her newsletter, Funds for Writers, ( In her editorial, Hope talked about not writing for five days because she had company, was busy, etc. She writes for a living and five days without writing was, for her, a bad thing. I've heard this sentiment from a lot of other writers who write for a living. Writing is their job, and so they write, five days a week, sometimes seven. They will write four, eight, ten hours a day. They do this because they have to pay their bills. They also do it because they love to write.

I love to write too, however, I've never been able to sit down and write every day. Somehow life always got in the way. I'm one of those writers who doesn't write for a living. Instead of making myself write every day, I've often set monthly goals for myself as to how may queries or articles I'll submit every month. This method works better for me.

Devon Ellington is another very successful writer who considers writing her job. She devotes time every day to her craft, writing, marketing, networking, blogging, submitting. She once wrote to me "I don't have the luxury of writer's block. I just sit down and do it."

When my children were younger, I tried to be more devoted to my craft. I can recall telling my daughter I would play with her "later." When later came, she'd be busy doing something else. I regret it now that she's grown. Since I was writing because I enjoyed it, not because I was making my living doing it, I could have written "later" and played with her "now."

Now, I'm retired, I believed I would have a lot of time for writing. Unfortunately, life still gets in the way. It's a good thing I'm happy with writing whenever I have the time and not feeling stressed if I don't get to it on a daily basis.

I used to have a hard time telling people I was a writer, even though I had been published in numerous magazines and on-line. Now, however, I do tell people I'm a writer. What about you? Can you call yourself a writer even if you don't write every day? This is something each of us needs to decide for himself or herself.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hollyhocks and Writing

I was taking a break from the computer earlier today and cutting back my hollyhocks. Hollyhocks are a stately perennial here in Oregon. They grow incredibly long stalks covered with delicate flowers. Mine are in shades of purple, pink and yellow. As I was cleaning up the debris left by dying flowers and clipping back dead stalks, I though how like writing these hollyhocks can be.

When they are too crowded, they develop rust, a rather nasty disease which causes the leaves to turn yellow and die prematurely. If my writing is too densely written with excess adverbs, too many descriptions, and long, boring sentences, the story, too, will die prematurely. When the hollyhocks have plenty of sunlight and room to breathe, they are more likely to be healthy. This is true of my prose as well when I allow myself to write concisely and keep my words focused.

As the hollyhock stalks grow, large flower buds sprout along the length of the stalk. When my writing is good, beautiful prose will emerge. As the flowers die back, they drop off, falling to the ground where they compost. So, too, my prose will wilt and die if it isn't tended properly, edited and sent off to a publication. If I let it sit in a drawer or on the computer, it will lose its color and excitement.

If the flowers are carefully tended, pruned as needed, watered and given the right amount of sunlight, they are gorgeous to behold. So, too, my writing will flourish if I write carefully, follow grammatical rules, prune unnecessary words, and get constructive help when needed.

Just as my hollyhocks need tending every day, my writing thrives and grows healthy by practicing good writing techniques. As you tend to your own writing, keep the stately hollyhock in mind and allow your talents to grow and blossom.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Virtual Book Tour

A few months ago, I decided to try marketing my book using a virtual book tour. While my book isn't new, it's still available. When it was first published, I didn't know much about marketing, and I certainly didn't know about online book tours. I did the usual local book store signing and press release in the local paper, but not much else other than email to close friends.

Now with more marketing information available to me, I thought it would be a good idea to try the online tour. After two months of being a guest, answering interview questions, and receiving glowing reviews from a number of blog sites, I'm disappointed that sales of my book have not increased. In fact, the most recent royalty report showed no activity whatsoever. This was especially disappointing in view of the fact that several people commented that they were looking forward to reading the book. I also had a few people contact me directly to say they were purchasing the book. Does this mean my publisher didn't report the royalties correctly? Or, more likely, does it mean that folks who indicated they were buying my book didn't?

I'm curious how other writers have handled their book tours and what type of success rates they experienced. Did I do something wrong? My book is a middle grade paranormal novel. I tried to target book reviewers who either specialized in children's books or were themselves children's authors. I announced the dates and web sites where I would appear both on my Facebook page (where I have almost 900 "friends"), my Twitter account (over 200 followers), and a writers' forum.

I am now working on a sequel to my book, and I wonder if I will be any more successful at promoting it than I was with the first. I thought I had come onto something worthwhile with the virtual book tour, but my experiment clearly was unsuccessful.

If you've had the experience of doing a virtual book tour, please share your thoughts with me. I'd love to have some other ideas about what to do differently.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Vacation or Staycation

My company has left, and the house seems empty. Fortunately, my visitors were my family who pitched in and helped out with everything from cooking to gardening chores. Unfortunately, my "to-do" list is so backed up, I feel like tossing the whole thing and starting over.

Still, the past two weeks have been fun and interesting. We spent a lot of time "junking" our way through various second hand stores and visiting farmers' and crafters' markets. It may seem like this was wasted time, but it's time that could be put to use, when you know what to do. As a writer, you will find that everything you do has value.

Whether you're like me and had a "staycation" this year or you've gone on an actual vacation, take your notebook or note cards with you. If you find a fabulous shop, a great restaurant, or a fun activity, make note of it. Be sure to include hours of operation, street address, complete name and anything to spark your memory of what you found. Pick up brochures, business cards, take out menus and other free information from all the places you visit. If you travel away from home, check out motels and hotels in the area. Make a note of prices, special deals, whether they allow pets, have kitchen facilities or a fireplace. Is there a pool, workout room, sauna, or other amenities? Do they offer a free breakfast?

Wherever you go, whatever you do, you can collect information which will be useful to you whether you write fiction or non-fiction. You may be thinking travel articles, but what if your main character loves to junk shop and finds a mirror that transports her to another world? Maybe your main character runs a hotel, and there's a ghost on the 13th floor. Taking accurate notes and making detailed observations of places, people, and activities should be a top priority for every writer.

Be sure to label your notes. A lot of writers use note cards rather than a notebook so the cards can be filed under appropriate headings. Notebooks, unless they are tabbed, can end up being a dumping ground for miscellaneous information that never gets used. Note cards, on the other hand, can be organized, pulled out as needed and refiled under the appropriate section with a notation as to when and how the information was used. If you do use a notebook because it's easier to keep when traveling, transfer your notes to cards when you get home.

Have fun in your travels this summer whether you visit the restaurant around the corner or 3,000 miles away. Just be sure to bring your notebook and keep those memories fresh for use at a later date.