Words of Warning …. by Kay Bergstrom

Kay BergstromThere are no bad words...only bad writers.

Some words, however, set off warning alarms, signaling that the writer is venturing toward a danger zone and should back away slowly. Before you use these words (if you must) be aware of what you’re doing.

Here are a few examples:

Suddenly: The word is okay to use in children’s books because children’s books are limited in word length. The author doesn’t have time for motivation, transition and goal. “Suddenly, I came upon a dragon” is perfectly fine. In fiction targeted at grown-ups, “suddenly” might indicate that the writer hasn’t made a transition. Where did the dragon come from? How did you find it? Or “suddenly” could show a lack of motivation. What does it mean to find a dragon?

Almost: Catalogued with almost are: nearly, kind of, sort of, a little bit, and so on. Check these qualifiers. You’ll almost always (sorry, it got by me) find a stronger way to say what you want. “A little bit of scotch” becomes “two fingers of scotch.” “Almost afraid” becomes “afraid.” “Kind of greenish-blue” becomes “jade and teal.” Almost isn’t accurate, i.e., almost pregnant.

Very: Consider the same warning as almost but in the opposite direction. A “very large kitchen” becomes “a kitchen as big as a basketball court.” There are times when “very” is accurate. As any mother who has been even a few days overdue will tell you that there is a state of “very pregnant.”

Laugh: The phrase “we laughed” doesn’t make the reader want to laugh. We laughed so hard that we all fell down and peed our pants is worse. Pointing out humor doesn’t make it funny. As writers, we have accept the fact that much of our cleverness and wit will go unnoticed by the reader.

Smile: Imagine the variety of emotions Meryl Streep can convey with a smile. She could be sad or loving or menacing or nervous or angry, etcetera. And the observer would understand because he could see her face and hear her tone of voice. Alas, as writers we don’t have a Streep to illustrate what kind of smile is being given. There are many words to describe facial expression. Pick one that more clearly indicates what the character is feeling.

Walk: While we’re on the topic of finding the best word to suit the action, “walk” is a warning word. Whenever I use “walk,” I visit Ms. Thesaurus to look for something better: sashay, stride, shuffle, dance, leap, bound, skip. Each of those words conveys an image that plain old “walk” doesn’t show.

Exclaimed: It’s hard to think of a situation when “exclaimed” isn’t redundant. Use an exclamation point! I have two digressions here. 1) There’s nothing wrong with exclamation points as long as they aren’t popping up on every page. 2) In dialogue tags, using “said” doesn’t become redundant. Similar to a script where each piece of dialogue is labeled, “said” disappears.

Phat and other cute slang: Slang that’s current now is dated in a couple of years. I’ve never thought of my books as something that would be read years from now, and so I have been known to indulge in slang. At times, I threw around “dude” like Wayne’s World. The joke is on me. My first book was pubbed in 1984 and is available as an e-book.

“Ah jist knows dat’s de bestest.” Dialect should be used very gently. Consider whether you want the reader to stumble.

F-Bombs and all their x-rated friends: I love the f-bomb and use it frequently in first drafts to convey down and dirty rage. In final draft, the profanity usually comes out. There are too many readers that get pulled out of the story by cursing.

Not a car: If you’re writing anything set in Colorado, your character will probably be in a vehicle. Be careful not to identify the character as the car. “I made a U-turn” isn’t accurate. The car turned, you didn’t. Nit-picking, but why not?

Feel: As a writer of romance and suspense, my characters are feeling all the time. They’re scared, sexy, courageous, seductive, outraged and hurt. Whenever I use “feel” (guilty admission: yes, I use it), I stop and think about another way to say how the character feels. Better yet, I need a better way to show how they feel. Is it worth a scene to show? Where did the feeling come from? Do I need a flashback?

It: Not the Stephen King novel. Each and every time you use “it,” you’re missing a chance to say something more descriptive. Unfortunately, “it” is one of those necessary words that can’t be totally avoided. “It” is always there, like Pennywise the Evil Clown. When you see “it” on the page, let it be a warning to you. There might be a better way.


Kay Bergstrom (aka Cassie Miles) is the author of 79 novels of romance and suspense, has been on the USA TODAY Best-seller list and has twice been RMFW’s Writer of the Year. Her next book, Colorado Wildfire, will be available in January 2016.

Kay is starting a developmental editing service. Contact her at: kaybergstrom (at) hotmail (dot) com

Friends Writers Need and When to Shut Them Out … by Margaret Mizushima

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” ~Picasso

Margaret MizushimaWhen I was a kid growing up on a cattle ranch in the panhandle of Texas, I had a tumbleweed for a friend. Seriously. Miles from the nearest neighbors and school, our home was surrounded by thousands of acres of natural buffalo grass, cattle, and yes—weeds. To keep my tumbleweed from blowing away in the never-ending wind that swept the plains, I tied it to our back porch with a piece of yarn.

My mother negotiated a deal with the public librarian in our closest town: we could check out all the books we wanted as long as we brought them back each month when we made the trek into town for groceries. So, while friends were sparse during those days, my inner life became rich and fanciful. (How else could a child enjoy the companionship of a tumbleweed?) My parents and teachers often called me to task for daydreaming. Little did they know that I was a young writer in training.

Writing is a lonely business, but that loneliness can be countered with the right friends. (And many of these friends should be people.) Find fans—or at least one—who love what you write; mine are my adult daughters. Fans don’t have to be writers, but it’s helpful if they love to read, and it’s best if they like to read in your genre. The fan role is to encourage you along the way, cheering you on when you want to give up. They read your work, tell you they love it, and then answer your specific questions about characters, plot, and scenes to tell you how they think it could be improved. After a fruitful visit with these friends, you need to return to the solitude of your writing space and revise.

Mizushima_Killing TrailThen take your work to another group of valuable friends: your critique group. This group of friends must be made up of writers. They will give honest feedback on the work; pick apart grammar, plot, and character development; scribble “show, don’t tell” in the margins; and sometimes leave you wondering why you ever attempted to write in the first place. But what’s most important is that these friends will help you improve your writing.

Showing your work to your friends requires that you have written something. It means we writers need to shut out our friends and abandon our tumbleweeds on the porch so we can enter the solitude we need to complete the serious work referred to by Picasso. Most of us don’t have the luxury of an office or studio to write in. We eke out a creative space in the back bedroom, den, or basement. Some people have an extraordinary power of concentration and can write in coffee shops or while sitting with family in front of the television. I once saw a seasoned writer sit in the hallway at a writing conference for hours, surrounded by people, tapping away at a keyboard. (No, I didn’t stay to watch him; I merely observed him every time I came out of a session.) I admire that type of focus, but I don’t have it. I write in the back bedroom at a desk surrounded by photos of friends and family, motivational greeting cards, and inspirational sculpture and posters. I light candles made by my daughter before beginning my writing sessions.

So it’s okay to embrace your tumbleweed, but beware the prickles. It can be fun—dare I say great fun—for writers to mingle with friends in coffee shops, in online chat rooms, or on social media talking about their characters and ideas for all the wonderful books they’re going to write. But at the end of the day—or better yet for me, at the beginning—we must write! We must be alone to create our masterpiece. Fight for your own space within the house; hang up that sign that reads, “Do not enter—murder and mayhem reign behind this door.” Balance friends and fun with the solitude of work, and do the work until you finish. You’ll be glad you did.

Who are your writing friends? Where is your creative space, and why is it perfect for you?


Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.

Guest Post by Piper Bayard: Little Darlings Anonymous

I’m Piper Bayard, and I’m a Little Darling Addict.

Hi, Piper. Welcome.

Thank you. It was hard to come here today, so I knew I needed this meeting.

I’m back at Step One. I am powerless over my imaginary friends, and my manuscript has become unmanageable.

My editor called and asked me for my draft. I told her, “It’s not ready.” The truth is that I’m not ready. I’m not ready to part with my Little Darlings.

We know what they are. They are 68 out of 75 main characters. They are detailed scenes designed to show off our expertise. They are the cool one liners we saw on Twitter and worked into our dialogue, even though our characters would never talk like that.

*sniff* *reaches for tissue*

And they are the entire scenes and sections of our manuscripts that we love most, but that serve nothing to move the plot . . . Our Little Darlings. Our babies.

While writing is an art, publishing is a business. We give birth to our babies, but most of us don’t try to sell them on Amazon. That’s reserved for the products of our business.

And so I come here to these rooms to stay honest. I know that I owe it to my readers and to myself to rise above my ego and let the editing begin.

Thank you for your support.


12 Steps of Little Darlings Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our imaginary friends, and that our Works In Progress had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that an Editor greater than ourselves could restore our prose to sanity.
  3. We made the decision to turn our will and our manuscripts over to our Editors, whoever we understand them to be.
  4. We made a searching and fearless critical inventory of all of our Little Darlings.
  5. We admitted to our Editors, to ourselves, and to our beta readers the exact nature of our self-indulgences.
  6. We became entirely ready to have our Editors remove all the Little Darlings from our Works In Progress.
  7. We humbly asked our Editors to mercilessly slaughter all of our Little Darlings when we had not the strength.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had subjected to our original manuscripts and became willing to make amends to all of them who had not hung themselves by page fifty.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would cause them to injure themselves or others at the mere memory of our manuscripts.
  10. We continued to undergo edits, and, when our Editors sniffed out Little Darlings, promptly submitted them for termination.
  11. We sought through study and daily word count to improve our conscious contact with our plots, as we understood them, seeking only the knowledge to distinguish between Little Darlings and actual elements of our stories.
  12. Having had a literary awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other Little Darling Addicts, and to practice these principles in all of our written endeavors.


The Writers Serenity Prayer

Grant me the 
serenity to accept that things have got to change;

The courage to 
change the things I can;

And a good Editor to help me know the difference.



41eqKpv+-kL._UY200_Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney with a college degree or two. She's also a belly dancer from way back and a former hospice volunteer. She is currently the managing editor of Social In Worldwide, Inc., and pens post-apocalyptic sci-fi and spy novels when she isn't shooting, baking cookies, or chauffeuring her children.


Many Hats: Making the Most of Your Author Platform … by Margo Christie

2015_MargoChristieWe all know the challenge of selling fiction to the reality-crazed techie generation. Time and again we’ve been told we need a “platform” – that area of specialization that enables us to sell books to people who aren’t necessarily shopping for them.

In writing my debut novel, THESE DAYS, I was partly motivated by the resurgent interest in the Depression-era art of burlesque. THESE DAYS takes place on an historic burlesque strip, The Block in Baltimore, which also happens to be where I came of age in the late 1970s.

In 2007 when I sat down to write, “New” Burlesque was in its formative years. I was 45 – well past “formative” but still agile enough to compete as a performer. And I had that special something that appealed to aficionados of the art: I’m a “baby legend”: a performer who was around at the tail end of old burlesque. As one who bridges the gap between the old and the new, I knew my tale of coming-of-age on a notorious burlesque strip would appeal to the newbies of the craft.
With the aid of social media, I connected with the Denver burlesque scene and began performing. Author/Burlesque Performer: I wore two “hats.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t make me an instant success. I’ve sold books at burlesque shows and discussed burlesque, old and new, with bookstore audiences. I’ve given readings in towns where I’ve performed, thus tying the two together. Still, selling books in areas where I’m unknown is a challenge. I have little trouble getting events in Baltimore, where THESE DAYS takes place, or in Denver, my home for 16 years. Other cities have presented more of a challenge, however. While performing in Laramie, I gave a reading to a bookstore audience of four, one of whom was my husband and two of whom were employees – I’ll let you do the math.

This past winter, while on my third Baltimore book tour, I reached out to a bookstore in Philadelphia, ever-hopeful but expecting the usual spiel regarding the need for a local following. That came, but with a twist: “Can you teach a writing workshop?”

I hadn’t taught a workshop, but I’d talked with many in the burlesque and literary areas of my life about the process of creating. I sat down with literary and burlesque friends to brainstorm. The concept that came up most often was that of dressing up.

Writing fiction and performing burlesque both involve dressing up. In burlesque, performers spend countless, unpaid hours fashioning elaborate costumes. To entertain and amuse, we create characters that are sub- and super-human; over-the-top, even. In fiction we want our characters to be relatable; down-to-earth, yet we still strive to give them that extra “umph” that will make them walk, talk or dance their way into readers’ hearts.

We also strip them bare, manipulating them in and out of tricky situations to show what they’re made of. We do the same in burlesque, but with flair and tease – There’s nothing like expectation to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. We can make a tight-fitting gown without spending our extra dollars on sequins and rhinestones. It will suffice for peeling out of at just the right moment, but will it pop off the stage, shining at its biggest and brightest best?

No. Nor will our fictional characters be their best without details, details, details. Their backstories, motivations and predicaments are what make them shine. For better or worse, details are their “sequins.”

At Philadelphia’s Big Blue Marble Bookstore, I filled a room with aspiring writers and a few curious passers-by. I sold a dozen or so books and gained a bit of a following in previously uncharted territory. Thus I discovered “hat” number three: Workshop Presenter.

On November 7, I will present “Dressing Up and Baring All: A Workshop for Fiction Writers” at the Standley Lake Library in Arvada (Denver). Bring a sample of your writing and be prepared to “dress it up.”


Event Details
Dressing Up and Baring All: A Fiction Writer’s Workshop

Burlesque Performer and Prize-Winning Author, Margo Christie will present a workshop on dressing up your fictional characters to make them larger than life and stripping them down to keep them real. Through her experience on the burlesque stage and examples from her own and other novels, she will talk about “adding the sequins” to otherwise everyday characters then “baring it all” to keep readers emotionally-hooked. She will also demonstrate ways to supercharge your public readings by adding some G-rated burlesque pizzazz.

No matter your style or genre, Margo's exercises will help you bring your characters to life.

November 7, 2015
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Mountain time
Standley Lake Branch Library - Jefferson County
8485 Kipling St.
Arvada, CO 80005

No RSVP Required

Learn more about Margo and her work at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Guest Post by Samantha Ross: Four Things to Do

I remember when I first started out writing, I'd stumble, slam into a wall, some days I would realize I was clueless, other days it was pointed out. Again and again I heard “Just keep writing.”

I agree with it.

Up to a point.

I will never be a better writer if all I do is write. It means I repeat my weak areas over and over again. Yes, I write, but I have found I need four other things also.

I need to read. Not just my genre, but read craft books. Instead of fumbling around, I read a book on whatever it is I am struggling with. I visit webpages and blogs on writing. If I really want to grow as a writer, I need to educate myself. Honing my writing is a life long lesson.

Classes, events and conferences. These get budgeted in my calendar, and hopefully into my finances. There is incredible information to be had at these. RMFW gives some of the best, usually for free with their monthly events hosting big name authors and agents. I am amazed at the things I have learned, the contacts and friends I have made by going to these. I ask questions, get answers. I surprise myself sometimes that I didn't need to ask anything, I have conquered that specific weakness. I went to my first conference in Crested Butte, Colorado where I ran into an old friend who pointed me to RMFW. I wouldn't be writing this blog otherwise.

I joined writing groups. I need to talk shop with someone. I did more than just sign up though, I participate, attend meetings, and volunteer. I need others who understands the lingo of plot, character arc, and deus ex machine. Writing groups come in all shapes and sizes. Online and in person, some offer support, some critique, others get together and set writing goals. I found a combination that works for me. I was astounded when after years of looking for a writing group, the local library started one and writers came out of the woodwork. I thought there were only a handful of writers in my area. Now, there are a few formal and informal groups I go to every month. I found my first critique group by going to an event at RMFW. Never underestimate the benefits of joining a group.

I don’t know it all. I will never know it all. No one knows it all. I need a mentor, a "Been there, done that" person. I have found several people who fit this to varying degrees on numerous levels. I love my mentors. And yes, I have more than one. Mentors can come and go, others are for life. I change, they change, goals change. People want to help other people, share knowledge, advice, encouragement, cheer on success. I am a firm believer in mentors, whether they be one on one, through their writing, or their teachings. I am thankful for my mentors and for the other writers who look to me as one of their mentors.

It does not matter where you are in your writing life, do the following:

Join a group, you are not an island.

Read, read, read. Read. Read. Read. Read some more.

Take a class, don't be stagnant.

Be inspired. Find someone you admire. Pass it on.

And keep writing.


Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.




After the Glow of Conference Fades … by Sharon Mignerey

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well.” ~Zig Zigler

Sharon MignereyIt’s been weeks since the Colorado Gold Conference. You know how it is immediately after conference … you’re enthused, recharged, ready to move on with The Plan and move toward success (or possibly, continued success). Or … you’re comparing yourself to John or Jane Writer, who has achieved the latest accolades, who writes the most compelling characters and the best plot twists ever, who has a starred review in PW, not to mention a six-figure contract. Ahhh. To be the current darling of publishing and the Awards circuits. Wouldn’t that be something?

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has felt this way a month or so after conference. When the job that pays bills sucks up all my time and energy, my motivation begins to slip. That vow to write six pages a day slips to six pages a week … or a month. Those solutions that were so clear for how to solve a plot or character problem when I was with my writer friends (translation – MY herd of other little sea horses [thank you, Susan Spann!]) begins to fade. Instead of remembering that an editor asked to see a full manuscript, I’m focused on the nit-picky and negative things that other person in my reading workshop said about my work … and I’m tempted by chocolate instead of writing. What is a writer to do?

The short answer is this: build a system of accountability and tribe building that works for you. In short, find your herd of sea horses and the part of the reef that best suits your particular style of writing.

  • Get together with a small group of writers on some regular schedule. Thanks to the internet, you can have contact even if it’s not a face-to-face critique group. You can use plain old email, not to mention Skype or Face Time. Granted, it may not be quite the same as being in the same room, but it’s close … and you can do it in PJs! In short, you don’t have to be in Denver to find your herd of like-minded writers.
  • If critique works for you, find critique partners. If your need is to set aside a certain time every day or week and write with others, then find partners who are willing to do that with you. If being accountable to someone that you’ve met your writing goals this week, find partners for that.
  • If an editor or agent has asked to see your work, send it! An editor once told me that fewer than 20% of the writers she asked material from sent it. Can you imagine that? Are you one of the 20% or the 80%? To my way of thinking, the odds of the editor liking my project just went up.

If work needs to be done on the project before you can send it, set a date for when you’re doing to send it, then parse the tasks between now and that date into manageable pieces, and get to work. I think setting a date is similar to giving a sick sea horse a name—there’s power in the commitment represented. The date … and the name … make things real. If you’re married, you made the commitment, set a date, and went to work to make it happen. The same thing applies here.

I grew up with the mantra instilled in me that “anything work doing is worth doing well.” What is easy to forget is this: before doing something well, I’m probably going to do it badly. This is where having a support system for my writer’s life becomes even more important—my herd of other writers who hang around in the part of the reef that I call home. Who are there to applaud my successes (growth in skills, finaling in contests, making a sale), chase away the predators (worry and rejection), and help me see where the best food can be found (story craft and submission markets).

RMFW has a wonderful discussion group (if you don’t belong, send a request (rmfw-subscribe@yahoogroups.com) and ask to join), where you can put out the call to find others of like mind … or respond to others who have put out a call that appeals to you. I promise, a big reef though RMFW may be, your part of the reef is also home to a group of writers who want to be part of your herd.

Happy writing, everyone!

… Sharon Mignerey

p.s. If you’re wondering about the references to sea horses, order the CD for Susan Spann’s wonderful Writer-of-the-Year talk by calling Joyco Multimedia at 720-541-7905.


Sharon Mignerey has been a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers since 1984 and says her successes would not have come without the support of her friends and fellow writers in the group. She’s the author of eleven books, and she’s currently polishing two submissions that have been requested by editors she met at the most recent Colorado Gold Conference.

NaNoPlanno: Get Ready for NaNoWriMo … by Chris Mandeville

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month: a frenzy of writing with the goal of producing a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November.

NaNoWriMo Logo

NaNo is a fantastic opportunity to push yourself as a writer. It’s all about quantity of words, not quality. It’s vomit writing, spilling your guts, taking an idea and running with it, sans editing, revision, and second-guessing. It goes to the core of the creative process of writing: putting words on the page.

The official NaNoWriMo was created by author Chris Baty in 1999 and is now run by the nonprofit National Novel Writing Month. Hundreds of thousands of writers have participated over the past sixteen years, writing billions of words.

Roughly 14% of those who sign up actually complete NaNo successfully.

That amounts to thousands of writers who wrote novels in just thirty days. So it can be done. But why would you want to?

The NaNo organizers say the aim of NaNoWriMo is to get people to start writing using the deadline as incentive. I say there’s even more to be gained. NaNo forces you to focus, put writing higher on your priority list, and say “no” to distractions – habits you may carry over into life-after-NaNo. It helps you build other good habits, like writing every single day and shutting up the “inner critic” so your story can flow out uncensored and uninhibited. It’s also a great way to try on a new idea without investing months or years to see if it will hold water. Overall it’s a short-term investment with a BIG payoff: one month of crazy-busy writing that results in a 50,000 word novel and the knowledge that you can do it.

I did it! Photo Credit: thephotographymuse via Creative Commons

Of course another reason to do NaNo is that you might be one of the lucky few whose NaNo book gets published. Some of the more recognizable titles to come out of NaNo are Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, both of which spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. This is a rarity, so it shouldn’t be your primary reason for trying NaNo. But heck, if you’re crazy enough to do NaNo, might as well reach for the stars.

The official NaNoWriMo is free! So if you’re inclined to sign up for NaNo’s 17th year or just want more info, visit www.nanowrimo.org.

If you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo 2015, there are things you can—and I argue should—do to prepare. I call this “NaNoPlanno.”

Schedule. Take a critical look at your schedule for November and move or eliminate everything possible. Re-schedule doctor appointments, put off coffee with friends, cancel your weekend ski-getaway. If your day-job allows, take some vacation or personal time, compress your schedule, or reduce your hours. Find writing time wherever you can. Be creative. Can you move your Thanksgiving celebration to December 1st? Or at least move it to your sister-in-law’s house? Can you forgo Black Friday shopping just this once? Can you limit yourself to watching only the last quarter of the football game? Once you’ve eliminated all non-essentials, take that nearly-empty calendar and block out time to write every single day. Only you know how many hours it will take you to write 50,000 words, and your output can vary from day to day. When in doubt, budget for more writing time than you think you’ll need.

To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you must write an average of 1,667 words per day (or about 2,000 words per day if you take one day off each week).

Support. Let the people in your life know about the monumental task you have planned, and enlist their support. There’s a lot of time—and peace of mind—to be gained when your loved ones buy in to your crazy November endeavor. Maybe it’s as simple as them agreeing not to tempt you with fun outings or ask for favors. Or maybe they’ll take on some of your non-writing duties so you have more time to write. Why not trade cooking with your roommate or spouse? They cook in November, and you cook all December. Or December and January. Don’t be above bribery. Offer your kids a big reward in December if they agree not to interrupt your writing time in November. And don’t overlook hiring help—someone else can walk the dogs, do carpool duty, grocery shop, etc. You may think you can do it all yourself, but in my experience, your odds of finishing NaNo are a whole lot better when you have help and support.

Space. Where will you write? If you don’t have a private writing space, now’s the time to get one. It doesn’t have to be big—a friend turned a closet into desk space when she didn’t have any other option. So find, make, or clear out a space. Do it now! Next, create a sign to let others know you’re busy writing. It can be anything from a literal “do not disturb” sign to a hat you wear. Just make sure it’s a clear signal that you’re not to be interrupted unless something is on fire. If you can’t write at home or prefer not to, scout alternate spaces. Libraries and coffee shops are great, but what about house-sitting or using the conference room at your day-job after hours? Figure out your physical writing space now so you don’t spend precious November moments looking for it. Likewise clear up your virtual space: make a plan for turning off your phone and email, and even hiding your Internet browser from yourself during writing time. The official NaNo site has lots of resources to help you, but these, too, can be a hindrance, so use with caution.

When your writing space is littered with opportunities to “connect,” you can lose a lot of productive writing time to interruptions, distractions, and temptations.

Story. The official NaNoWriMo rules say that you can’t “count” any writing you do prior to November 1. But prep is okay. So prep away! Create characters with vast backstory, clear goals, and driving motivation. Plan out a difficult journey for your protagonist, complete with insurmountable obstacles, impossible conflicts, and terror-inducing villains. Build your world, do research, think about theme and character arc and all that good stuff. There’s no limit to what you can plan during this time, so take advantage of it. Even if you don’t normally “plot out” your story, spend time daydreaming about your characters. If nothing else, give your story a destination: where is it going? If you don’t know the end yet, that’s okay. Simply pick a spot between here and there. A midpoint, a hurdle, a victory. This will give you something to write toward. Once you reach that destination, chances are you’ll know where to head next.

NaNo Planning Photo Credit: Life in the minds of children by Mehdinom via Wikimedia Commons

As for me, I’m already NaNoPlanning for another November as a “NaNo Pirate:” writing like mad but not exactly following the official NaNo rules. In the past I’ve used November—with all the great support and benefits that the official program provides—to revise a novel. This year I’ll be attempting to add 50,000 words to my work-in-progress. I’m such a rule breaker.

Whether you join the official NaNoWriMo or engage in NaNo piracy, I encourage you to take November to push yourself as a writer. Do your own NaNo, whatever that may be. There’s a lot to be gained for a small investment of your time.

If you’ve tried NaNo, please share what you’ve gained in the comments. If you’re considering doing NaNo for the first time, post your questions and concerns so NaNo veterans can guide and support you. Then get to NaNoPlanning! November is coming up fast.


Photo Credit: Jared Hagan

Mandeville_SeedsMandeville_52waysChris Mandeville writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for writers. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block.

Learn more about Chris and her work at her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Is It Enough To Simply Tell An Entertaining Story? … by Glenn Rogers, Ph.D.

Glenn RogersIs it enough for a writer to simply tell a good story? No. In the process of telling an entertaining story, a good writer, even if only implicitly, deals with important ethical, social, relational, or personal concerns. A good writer helps readers think about important things while they are being entertained.

There is a long and proud tradition in the Arts and Literature, going all the way back to ancient Greece, that utilizes stories as a way not only to entertain, but to teach and to provoke consideration of and reflection on important issues and concerns. Being born in 1951, one of the cartoons I grew up with was Rocky and Bullwinkle. One of the regular segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle was Aesop’s Fables, a collection of morality tales designed to teach important concepts. Aesop was a Greek storyteller who probably lived between 620 and 560 BCE. His stories were meant to teach lessons about good character and proper behavior. They were designed to make people think. Why did the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle use these ancient stories in a cartoon program meant to entertain children? Could it have been that they believed that it was the responsibility of those who have the attention of people, even children (or maybe especially children), to say something meaningful, to provoke thoughtful consideration?

But even before Aesop and the ancient Greeks, tribal peoples utilized stories not only as a way to entertain but to teach. Anthropologists who work with tribal peoples know that this is still the case even today. Through storytelling, tribal peoples taught their children about their origin as a people, their religion, their culture, and wise and moral behavior. Storytelling has always been a way of teaching and provoking insightful reflection.

Good storytelling—in our Western tradition, good writing—has always involved more than just entertainment. A good story has to be entertaining. But it must also provoke insightful reflection. Consider Shakespeare’s work. He writes about moral corruption, social interaction, politics, love, and desire. He provides contrasts between virtue and appetite, sobriety and revelry, being trustworthy and untrustworthy. And in what may have been Shakespeare’s last work, The Tempest, at least one scholar believes him to have provided a theodicy, that is, a justification of God’s benevolence in a world filled with evil and suffering. Shakespeare did not simply write to entertain.

Later in the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek. One of the reasons the TV and movie franchise has remained viable may be due to the fact that Roddenberry’s approach to exciting and entertaining storytelling, an approach that has remained foundational to the franchise’s success, was the use of morality plays. Episode after episode of Star Trek, especially the original TV series, deals with important human issues or concerns.

Those who are considered great writers today have adopted that same approach. Consider a few examples:

Jane Austin, in Pride and Prejudice, deals with the status of women and the institution of marriage in eighteenth century England.

John Steinbeck, in Grapes of Wrath, addressed the economic challenges faced by the rural class during the depression.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, wrote about conspicuous consumption, the generation of wealth by questionable means, and a deplorable general lack of interest in the social concerns of his day.

Ernest Hemingway, in For Whom The Bell Tolls, wrote about the brutality of war.

Upton Sinclair, in The Jungle, wrote about the dangers and health risks of the food industry of his day.

Harper Lee, in To Kill A Mockingbird, wrote about the coexistence of good and evil and the moral nature of human beings.

George Orwell, in 1984, wrote about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Rogers_THE IMMORTAL AlabasterWhat made those writers great? Was it that they got the grammar right? Probably not—though getting the grammar right is important. Was it that they knew how to construct an intriguing story? That was probably part of it. But each of those authors has a distinct writing style and their books have a different feel. So what made those books great books produced by great writers? While there was likely not one single thing that made their work great, I suspect one of the things was that they wrote not just to entertain, but to provoke thoughtful reflection. The fiction of these well-known writers (all of it, not just the stories mentioned above) helped readers think about important issues. They (and other authors like them) didn’t just write. They wrote about something, about something important.

Could it be that too many writers today have lost sight of this important component of good writing? Is it enough to simply write an entertaining story? No, it is not. The good writer finds a way to touch on some important human issue or concern. The good writer not only entertains, but also provokes thoughtful reflection.

The important human issues or concerns don’t always need to be huge issues such as the status of women, the brutality of war, social equality, or health issues. Things that might be considered lesser concerns by some can still be important. Issues such as personal integrity, self-control, loyalty, friendship, kindness, discretion, moderation, courage, trustworthiness, and the like are important concerns for human life and interaction. Think about what J.K. Rowling did in her wildly popular and influential Harry Potter books. While she entertained us with a wonderful world of magic, she wrote about the struggle between good and evil. She wrote about courage, friendship, loyalty, determination and sacrifice. And while some critics might say that Rowling is not a great writer, maybe it is possible for a good writer to write a great book … or two or seven.

Writing that focuses attention on important aspects of human existence, even if only implicitly, is, I believe, better writing than that which simply entertains without provoking any kind of thoughtful consideration.


Dr. Glenn Rogers is Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa. He is the author of twenty-six academic books on cultural studies, theology, and philosophy. Dr. Rogers is also a novelist, writing mysteries and thrillers. His fiction includes a frontier thriller trilogy: The Colemans The Reckoning, The Colemans The Journal, and The Colemans The Knife. He has a mystery series featuring a private investigator named Jake Badger: Family Secrets, Love and Lies, and Abducted; and another mystery series featuring an immortal detective named Aaron Archer: The Immortal Alabaster, The Immortal Betrayal, and The Immortal Carnage.

Glenn is a movie buff and a dog lover. His favorite author is Robert Parker. He especially enjoys Parker’s Spenser series.

Glenn’s fiction can be found on his website: booksbyglennrogers.net

Fear, Failure, and Respect by Terry Banker

“There are three types of hooks used to open a book: fear, lust, and curiosity.” This is what Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina, told me after we slammed our shot glasses onto the bar*. She added, “…and curiosity is never enough.” Ever since then, Dorothy’s words haunt me.

I have a confession. Like a good hook, my writing days are filled with fear.

As a novelist, the one thing I fear the most is not a book’s hook. I fear I will run out of time, money, energy, that I will lose my health, faith, or my luck, etc.—all before I can complete the book I’m working on. I worry that as my life changes, so will my writing, and that what I believed important in the beginning will be different by the time I finish.

To summarize: on the bad days, fear of failure leaves me paralyzed.

I have good reason. Out of every writer I’ve ever met, I am the slowest, the least intelligent, the pickiest, the weirdest, the worst speller, the most eccentric, the most regimented, and the least patient writer I’ve ever encountered. Sometimes, I forget what I’ve written, or worse, I’ve forgotten what I’ve edited out. Sometimes I call characters by the wrong names. Sometimes in the middle of a book, the object of importance magically transforms into something else—and I have to go back to the beginning to rework the entrance. After months of work, only Ariadne’s Thread can help me find my way to The End.

How could this be? I used to be smart—well, smart enough. When I was a “new” writer and had yet to write millions of words, writing came effortlessly.  I wasn’t bothered by making situations worse or by what technique to use to tell a story. Point of view and perspective came naturally. I didn’t worry about First versus Third (and never 2nd)—but since then, writing has become more complicated. Now, I think long and hard about using Henry James’ effaced narrative in the simplest of paragraphs.

Something happened to me.

After 10,000+ hours of writing, I became hyper-aware of the many different story elements to select from, and my day-to-day production began to slow. Had I lost my way? More importantly, was I the only writer on the planet who felt like this? The subject seemed taboo. Was it just me or did famous writers fear failure, too? I asked a few.

Dani Shapiro writes memoirs and fiction that Anne Lamott calls “rich in honesty and intelligence.” Dani told me fear of failure never leaves her side. She compares writing to leaping into a pool without water. Every day she stands on the diving board.

It gets worse.

Akhil Sharma wrote over 7000 pages that he edited into his 220-page, bestseller, A Family Life. He explained writing 7000 pages was the equivalent of writing 32 books. The New York Times named A Family Life one of the 10 Best Books of 2014. Akhil told me he feared death (or the haunted house in his head) would take him before he could finish his 12 ½ years of edits. His book was so big, he told me he regularly got lost in his personal history. Even after the book’s immense success, he remains afraid to approach a blank page. The lesson he shared? “Learn to abandon things quickly.”

Andre Dubus III told me to “Always respect fear.” Without facing his fear, he added, he would never have become an author. Andre’s father is the great poet and short story writer, Andre Dubus. Andre III almost couldn’t write a word out of fear of his father’s constant presence. Yet, he was a National Book Award finalist and Oprah beneficiary for his 1999 novel, House of Sand and Fog. Andre is tough. For every hour he works, he hopes for 20 good minutes of writing. Over beers he confessed: more often, he gets less.

And then there’s Richard Russo, who told me he was once lost in fear—despite his 2002 Pulitzer for Empire Falls. When he worked on his first book, Mohawk, he suffered from a “crushing sense of self-doubt and loathing” and was ready to “make a pact with the devil” to pull him through. (He too admitted to forgetting his characters’ names.) What he learned? “I, the author, don’t matter. Only the characters matter.” This fuels his writing to this day.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only writer afraid of failure. Oddly, this didn’t make me feel better. I polled my writer friends for suggestions. This is what we came up with:

  1. BIC – Butt in Chair. Without BIC, nothing gets done. You must be present to win.
  2. Guard your time. It’s all you have. You have the same amount of time as anyone else, from Aristotle to Russo to Zora Neale Hurston. (Get. Off. The. Internet.)
  3. Failure is imminent. Budget your emotional energy.
  4. Not getting what you want is often better than getting it.
  5. Failure at one (paragraph/page/book) is not failure of You—as a writer or a person. Experiment with your eyes, ears, and heart open.
  6. Know your strengths and make them stronger.
  7. Know your weaknesses and learn from them.
  8. Be a kind and generous person.
  9. Find a mentor. Be a mentor.

Most importantly,

  1. Be your own voice.

Easy to say and hard to do, right?

One final confession: sometimes I fake it.

To get by, I look at the many successful people around me—in the writing community and in my life—and I emulate their confidence. I pretend that every day in my office is a good day, and that every word I write takes a reader to a magical place. And when I fail, I pout—then I return to work and move on.

Writing is a solitary sport. This world doesn’t need another damn book, yet we continue to write more. Writing is who we are—and we are an obstinate bunch. Success comes when least expected. Remember J.K. Rowling’s final effort to publish a book about a young wizard? Recall a young Stephen King, whose wife pulled his first book, Carrie, from the trash to launch him into living-legend status?

“Don’t fake it until you make it; fake it until you become it.” (Attributed to many people.)

To summarize: on the good days, anything is possible.

No one ever said life is fair. Now get back to work.

Respect the Fear.




Terry Banker

Novelist, Ghostwriter, Creative Consultant

*Regarding Dorothy Allison: Okay, we were drinking coffee and didn’t slam our mugs, but what’s the drama in that?

Kay Bergstrom and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Kay BergstromI joined RMFW before it was for Fiction Writers. The original group was affiliated with national RWA (Romance Writers of America), there were a handful of members and the only published author was Maggie Osborne. Yada, yada, yada, I sold my first book, Tongue-Tied, to Harlequin Temptation and realized exactly how much help I needed.

Hence, the critique groups. Jasmine Cresswell had just moved to Denver and joined our little RWA group, and we started doing critique in people’s homes. I loooooove critique, especially in the RMFW style. The idea is to give a couple of nice strokes in the beginning (good kitty!), then the actual criticism (kitty sucks!) and a happy ending (still a good kitty!). I still remember the day when Jasmine said the writing was elegant...not my writing, but I was happy for the other person.

We moved critique to Capitol Hill Community Center. It grew. Many other genres of writers were appearing, which made it a little creepy to read sex scenes. I do, however, believe that it’s helpful to have men do critique on romance. (Really? You think about sex that often? Really?) And we decided that these thoughtful, gentle, fiction-writing men (and women) shouldn’t have to become members of the national Romance Writers of America. We disaffiliated and split into two groups.

Colorado Romance Writers and Heart of Denver Romance Writers are terrific resources for romance writers and others as well. I’ve found that romance writers are incredibly generous in sharing their time and expertise. Because RMFW came from the romance genre, I think the tone of the organization is unique. RMFW is more welcoming to all genres—from erotica to literary. Very seldom have I heard an RMFW member bad-mouth the romance genre. On those rare occasions when remarks are made about trash, pulp and/or smut, the snotty pseudo-intellectual who spewed such venom is generally corrected in such a way that they never denigrate the Big R again.

As for Colorado Gold? It’s the best opportunity to stick my head out of the rabbit hole and find out what’s going on in the world of publishing. Hell, yes, I was there. I love to meet new people.

My New Venture

Partly because I enjoy playing with plots and partly because it’s easier than robbing a bank, I’m getting ready to start a plotting and editing service. I’m still figuring out the important stuff, like how much to charge and how to do it.

I’m still figuring this out and would love any sort of feedback.

Right now, my thought is to offer three services: Developmental Editing: tangling my fingers in the plotting of your fiction manuscript when you’re getting started or when you have a synopsis or if you’ve started and gotten stuck. (This is the fun part I would really enjoy). Page Editing: reading with a wider scope, if needed suggesting major changes, cutting scenes, a more hands on approach. Copy Editing: sticking with the script and making mostly stylistic and choreography changes.

Still getting my act together (finishing a book under contract), but I have set up a new e-mail for this: kaybedits (at) goodle (dot) com and I’m hoping I’ll have my Facebook page operational very soon.

I am trying to think of what to call this endeavor. For now, it’s Plots&Edits, mostly because “plots” is a fun word to say. Plots, plots, you’re such a big, old plots.

Same Old, Same Old

In addition to the New Venture, I will continue writing (for as long as they’ll have me) for Harlequin Intrigue. Though I’ve written other types of romance and even did a couple of straight suspense books, I keep coming back to Intrigue. These books are just about everything I want: They’re fast-paced, not too long (55,000 words) and they pay real money.

I like writing Short and Fast (my nickname in high school) because I can pretty much keep the whole story in my head. I would need to do brain push-ups to do longer books.

My worst habit in writing is procrastination. Putting things off until the last minute isn’t cute, and I MUST stop doing it. In the spirit of “do as I say not as I do,” my advice to all writers is write every day and don’t fall behind.

My practical writing advice: Practice Deep Viewpoint.

I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I was going to be an actress. I studied the Stanislavski Method and read An Actor Prepares, which could easily be re-titled A Writer Prepares. The idea is to lose yourself entirely in your viewpoint character so that you can really tell their story. If it helps, surround yourself with objects they would have, eat the food they like, etc. Use caution in writing villain viewpoint, i.e., it’s not necessary to use real blood. The main idea: Take yourself (the author) out of the picture, and focus on the character.

Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art. –Constantin Stanislavski.


For those of you who don't know Kay, she writes the romance novels under the name of Cassie Miles. Her books can be found on the Harlequin Intrigue website as well as bookstores and online booksellers. Find her on Facebook and Goodreads.