Monday, February 28, 2011

Building A Room Of One's Own
Though I have never read A Room Of One's Own, something in the very words strikes me as deeply profound. In order for creativity to thrive, there must be time and space for it to grow. Many enter "creative" professions--writers, designers, and illustrators, for instance--with the expectation that their creativity will grow and flourish in others' rooms. It's not so.

Writers and designers in the communications and advertising industries--where I work--expend enormous amounts of creativity every day. And we should. We are paid to be creative. The hitch is, we are creating to serve someone else's dream--we are writing in someone else's room, so to speak, and they get to set the house rules. Often, those rules don't make a lot of sense to outsiders. Successful writers (and designers) have to learn how to offer up their best work and most informed opinions--and then smile and make the client's often less-informed--and even ill-advised--revisions. It can be hard.

The solution? Keep a room of your own. Make time and space to pursue your own writing, design, and artistic dreams independent of your client work. Think you don't have the time? You don't have the time not to. Having projects that allow your creativity the opportunity to experiment, explore, and learn will allow you to keep offering your best work to your clients--and smiling pleasantly and implementing their revisions, even when you don't agree with them. If you have your own projects, it's possible to remember when it's not your own project, let go, and honor your client's vision--no matter what you may think of it privately. After all, it's not your piece, right?

Without that "room of your own," that space where you are free to exercise your creativity in the ways that seem best to you, chances are good that you'll burn out, or turn into a hack, cranking out the same old tired designs time after time after time. The creative work you do on your own will fuel and inspire the creativity you offer your clients. My college writing professor once likened editing to "having your baby's legs cut off to make it fit into the cradle." Having your own writing and art makes it possible to say, "Hey, I don't like it, but it's not my baby," and make the revisions, send the bill, and cash the check.

We owe our clients our best efforts, our creativity, our marketing knowledge--if it applies--and our courtesy. We do not owe them our souls. Keep yours safe by building it a room of its own.
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Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Writer’s “Defining Moment” Book

What is a “defining moment” book? Well, for me, it is a book that made me think, made me move, made me change something in how I wrote. Most of the stories and books I wrote pre-defining moment book were relationship based, delving on the lives and loves of my characters. If I had to pick a genre, I would say it was women’s fiction with a heavy romantic element.

That all changed for me when I read Mary Higgins Clark’s All Around the Town.

I was taking a novel writing class as an elective and for the class, we had to select a book we would read and analyze. While we did that, we would write the first three chapters of our own novel in the same genre as the book we selected. I had always loved mystery, thriller, and suspense fiction, but never thought I would or could write it. There’s so much to think about when writing a mystery and making sure the puzzle(s) fit just seemed too daunting. So, as a challenge, I picked AATT, one of the few books from Clark that I hadn’t read.

I loved it. Still do. Once I year, I still read it.

There were many things I gleaned from the book. I think the thing I liked so much about All Around the Town is that as a reader you had sympathy for the main character and for those characters close to her, but Clark did not write in this syrupy,I'm going to make you feel sympathy by laying the sympathy on thick way. Her writing in that story, at times, is pretty straight forward. I was just rereading it a few weeks ago, and I thought, Man, this could be considered emotionless writing if I didn't know better, because in that book, it's not how much sympathy a writer can create in words but how the actions (or inactions) of the character evoke the emotions and the sympathy. And Clark's also quite good at being pretty concise, getting in where she needs to, and moving out the scene. She doesn't linger around, adding words for fluff, and she doesn't add that one more adjective that makes the reader cringe and go, "Yeah, overkill." She's also good at layering. The story, in the big sense, is about a young girl who is kidnapped and suffered unimaginable abuse for years and is finally returned one day. We see this girl, older, trying to live as stable of life as she can, despite the fact that the kidnappers still exist, and one of them still loves/wants the girl, and with the girl starting to talk about her past, the kidnappers want her silenced indefinitely. With that storyline, we have many layers, from the girl's (main character) story to her parents' story after she's kidnapped and when she comes home, to her older sister's story of trying to be protector now that she's back, to the kidnappers' stories, to the doctors that try to help/save the girl. And none of it is confusing, and all of it comes together to tell one great story. And as a mystery/suspense novel, that layering is also key in how well Clark embeds intrigants throughout the story that payoff for the reader the more he or she delves into the story. With each page turned, the breath of the reader catches as he/she waits, knowing something is going to happen and being enthralled that Clark is making them hold out—just a little bit longer.

After that novel writing class, I had a renewed love and respect for the mystery/suspense field, and I had the first three chapters of what would end up being—many, many years later—my debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell. I just finished the second book in the series, Into the Web, and feel like this is a genre I can make a home in for a while.

Has there been a “defining moment” book in your life as a writer?
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is now available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The First Line Hook

I love to pick up a book and read the first line. Sometimes they really are a “hook,” set to reel me into the story. Writing gurus tell us we need to do that, especially when submitting to agents and publishers, because if they’re not compelled to read beyond the first line, your manuscript will find its way into the rejection file rather quickly.

Sometimes they stay with me…for weeks, months, even years. My all-time favorite is “The last camel collapsed at noon” from Ken Follett’s Key to Rebecca. Our writing group once did an exercise using that sentence as their opening line. The results were fascinating. Every story was different.

Another one I especially like is “The man with ten minutes to live was laughing.” (Frederick Forsyth) That’s a line that makes you wonder, why is he laughing when he’s about to die? I want to know!

And then there is “I stopped shooting people two weeks after I won the Pulitzer Prize” from Dead Sleep, by Greg Iles. Again, makes you think.

The writing gurus also tell us we need to introduce our character, set up our story problem, give the reader an idea where the story is taking place and include conflict. (So, how many words are we allowed in one sentence?)

We get the impression that the bigger hook, the more extreme, the better. But if you have a dynamite first line and the rest of the page doesn’t live up to it, you’ve defeated your purpose. It could be misleading. I loved the opening line I came up with for my first novel: “Nettie Brady should’ve been born a boy.” But I received several critiques wondering if my character had gender-identity issues. I knew Nettie was a girl who loved riding her horse more than anything in the world, but that first sentence didn’t get the idea across as well as I’d hoped. So I scrapped it.

The February 2011 issue of Writers Digest Magazine has an excellent article by Jacob M. Appelt, “Better Starts for Better Stories.” Appelt outlines several ways to begin, including start late (don’t set up the scene, begin with the action), use minimal dialogue if any, try several different options, and revisit the beginning when you reach the end. Sometimes the story has changed so much that you’ll want an entirely different opening line.

Appelt lists his favorite opening as “My mother had me sort the eyes” from Elizabeth Graver’s short story “The Body Shop.” Now that’s a grabber!

What is your favorite hook?


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Same Word, Different Word

Please welcome our guest, Peggy Herring and have some fun with words.

English is rife with words that can easily be confused with other words. For example:

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number.
Upon seeing the tear in the painting, I shed a tear.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.

Our melting pot language keeps growing, and readers must become more and more sophisticated to glean meaning from context. Many words have multiple definitions and even pronunciations. We communicate more and more by impersonal means like texting and email, which don’t allow for helpful cues like facial expression, oral pronunciation, or gesture (hence the spread of emoticons). Sentences like the ones above make us pause, figuring out the proper meaning to ascribe to the homophones.

Another oddity of English is developmental eccentricities like “flammable” and “inflammable”, which sound like opposites but mean the same thing: able to be set on fire. Both come from the same Latin root. The dictionary tells us that “inflammable” was first used in the 1500s. In the 1800s, people started using “flammable”, which apparently made more sense, since “in-” usually means “not” (incorrect, inexcusable, etc.). Another example is “ravel” and “unravel”. Lady Macbeth says that sleep “knits up the ravel’d sleeve of care”, but we also say that a hem is “unraveling”. Same process, opposite-sounding words.

Apparently we are going that way with “thaw” and “unthaw”. Many people these days use them interchangeably, saying things like, “I have to wait for the burger to unthaw before I can start supper.” Another one is regardless and irregardless. In each case the latter word is fictional, but try to tell the general population that. I’m not sayin’ it’s right; I’m just sayin’.

Then there are words that are not the same but are often used as if they were: nauseated/nauseous; effect/ affect; farther/further; might/may; bust/burst; all ready/already; and even than/then. Sometimes this is due to their sound. Many cannot hear the difference between “then” and “than”. Other times the words are simply too close in meaning, and people see no point in making the differentiation (“further” = hypothetical distance while “farther” = actual distance).

The best way to deal with word confusion is experience: the more a person reads, the easier it becomes to sort out meaning. When a word might be one thing, might be something else, experienced readers let the brain’s prescribed practice from repetition over time provide the proper meaning. After all, if you are a competent wright of words, you will be right in whatever rite you choose.


Peg Herring writes historical and contemporary mysteries. She loves everything about publishing, even editing (most days). Her latest release is  The Dead Detective Agency, the first book  in The Dead Detective Mysteries, paranormal mystery.Peg’s historical series, The Simon and Elizabeth Mysteries, debuted in 2010 to great reviews. The second in the series will be available in November from Five Star. Find out more about Peg's books on her Web site

Posted by Maryann Miller, who can't wait to find out how a dead detective solves a crime. The detectives in her mystery, Open Season, are very much alive.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Does Your Book Need an Index?

While it may seem that the author of a book would be best at preparing the index, since he or she knows the work most intimately, too often they lack the objectivity of the reader. The role of the indexer is to match the author’s content with the reader’s specific information needs. The indexer visualizes potential readers and anticipates their needs when searching the book.

An index is successful only if it is usable. Usable indexes improve the written work and builds reader confidence in the author. The purpose of the index is to save the reader time and energy in their search for relevant information. Rapid information retrieval is critical to the success of a book, manual, database or website.

That is not to say the author can never be the indexer. If the author can view their book from the perspective of the reader and understands how to use cross-references to guide the reader through their work, then they may be able to index their own book.

An index is not a concordance. A well thought out index will use cross-references and alternate terms to lead readers and users to information. That is why human intervention is still needed for index preparation. A person can distinguish between a singer (bass) and a fish (bass); an embedded word finder does not have that nuance.

Specific formatting principles must be followed. The publisher will provide the requirements in their style sheet. This will include if the index should be indented or run-in style, how it should be alphabetized (word by word or letter by letter, the locator range, punctuation and capitalization of headings).

Cross-references must be anticipated. For example, will the reader expect the term Native American instead of Indian?

Utilization of formatting software is a definite benefit to ensure meeting all the style requirements. However, it can be a costly investment if the author is planning on preparing only one index.

Remember, the index cannot be prepared until the book is in final layout from the publisher or printer. It requires final pagination to be prepared correctly. An index without correct page locators is worthless. Most publishers will require the index be prepared on a short lead-time, often no more than a week.

Most authors have invested a lot of time in researching and rewriting to prepare a book they are proud of and willing to share with readers. The index should be a reflection of that dedication and care.
Mindy Reed, Guest Blogger
For over sixteen years, Mindy Reed has been assisting writers prepare their manuscripts for publication as owner of The Authors' Assistant. Mindy holds a MLIS degree from the University of Texas, an MA from SMU and a BA in English from Kansas State University. She is a librarian for Austin Public Library and an instructor for Austin Community College. You can contact Mindy at The Authors' Assistant, or at

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Changing times: Changing book design

I sent a book to print yesterday. I had to prepare six different files with three different sets of printers' specifications and three separate ISBNs and bar codes. Confusing? To say the least. Why?

Because the times, they are a-changing in the publishing world. Writers and publishers now have an array of options from which they can choose. The upside to this is that publishing a book is no longer dependent on having a book that can be expected to sell enough copies to justify several thousand dollars in printing and distribution fees. Print on demand services like Lulu and CreateSpace offer writers a cost-effective way of producing books for audiences right down to one person. Kindle, Nook, iPad, and similar technologies offer readers the option of downloading books at steeply discounted prices, and saving trees in the process.

If there's a downside to all this, it's that preparing books for print has become far more complex. The book I sent Friday is being produced as a Kindle book, a traditional paperback, and a print on demand paperback. The traditional book needed to be set up the way it's always been done--printers' marks, CMYK cover, spine measurement exact to four decimal places, bleeds on the cover, and page bleeds but NOT image bleeds inside. The print-on-demand book needed to be set up like the traditional print file, but without any printers' marks, and with enough dead area on all cover sections to allow for up to a 1/8" paper slippage. The Kindle book needed to be sent with the front cover only, no spine, no back, and the pdf set up to allow for text extraction and manipulation.

So what does this mean for self-publishers? If you don't plan carefully, it can mean substantial additional pre-press and design fees. It can also mean a great deal of stress if you choose a designer who isn't familiar with the production method you choose. Here's a quick little list that might help.

1. If you're planning on producing your book in multiple formats (and I really suggest you do) consider a press or print-on-demand service that can handle both your print on demand books and your Kindle book conversions. It'll save you in designer fees, it'll simplify your ISBN needs, and you'll end up with a more reliable Kindle book.

2. Unless you know what you're doing, don't try to do your Kindle conversions yourself. It looks simple. It's not. Believe me, I know. I did it, and I regret it so much, that I'm paying to get the book professionally converted. If you think it doesn't matter if it's not exactly right, check out what the most recent reviewer had to say about Good On Paper, my latest novel. She liked the story. She didn't like the facts that editing quality seemed to fall off on the last part of the book (and I paid for editing, too, darn it!) and that my Kindle conversion wasn't done right. So--two things to fix: the quality of my editing, and my Kindle conversions. And, since this is my business, you'd better believe I'm educating myself and exploring resources on both things.

3. Make your printing and marketing plan ahead of time. Then stick with it. Changes halfway through the process complicate things for everyone--and they can cost you big bucks. If, for instance, you start out planning to release your book as an audio book, and then halfway through decide you'd really like a "real" book, don't be surprised if your designer charges you more than double. She'll be starting over, purchasing more expensive artwork, and building new design and layout files. And then you'll need to proof everything again...

Plans are good. We like plans.

If you're not sure how you'd like to produce your book, tell your designer that you're planning for conventional print. The reason for this is simple: The image requirements for conventional print are the most stringent of any of the production methods. If you later decide that you're just going to go with a Kindle book, or an MP3 audio book, your designer can easily reduce the files. Remember: large to small, no trouble at all. Small to large, the bank's in charge.

4. Don't pay for what you don't need. Unless you're planning on selling "real" printed books, don't waste your money on book design. Kindle can't accept most of it, anyway. You're better off spending more money on editing, and producing a really clean text file. Likewise, if you're creating a workbook that requires users be able to write in it, don't pay for an e-book or Kindle conversion, because users won't be able to use your book to its maximum potential.

The key to all this is really just a renewed emphasis on good book production business: Make your plan before you start, choose the vendors who are best suited to handle your needs--and don't start switching things up halfway through the process.

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Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What guilty pleasure powers you through your writing?

Mark Twain is known for his cigar, but also loved biscuits and real butter, buckwheat cakes and thick Porterhouse steaks. Hemingway and Poe are associated with heavy drinking and drugs.

I’m sure most of us in this group don’t turn to those mind-altering substances, but how many of you NEED a hit of chocolate to get you through that next paragraph? I like dark chocolate and recently discovered Ghirardelli’s “Sea-Salt Soiree.” Oh my! With that sweet-salty taste combination, I’m fast becoming addicted and undoubtedly need to contact Chocoholics Anonymous.

Or maybe you like crunching while you’re creating: potato chips, pretzels, popcorn. In an attempt to eat healthier, I’ve also become addicted to dry-roasted almonds (with grapes. Mm-mm good!) And periodically I’ll go through a baby carrot phase.

I know it’s a bad idea to get in the habit of eating at my computer, but sometimes I eat lunch while working or trolling through e-mails. My keyboard doesn’t like that so much. Occasionally I find a breadcrumb or a sunflower seed stuck between two keys.

And of course there’s caffeine. Even though I’ve cut back on that guilty pleasure, (I was once known at a local restaurant as “the Caffeine Queen”) I’m not much good until I’ve had at least one cup of fully-leaded Joe and a couple cups of decaf.

What is your favorite comfort food or drink to help you with your writing process?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Emerging from the Imagination: Giving Your Characters a Life of their Own

It starts as young children. We have imaginary friends who we talk to and pretend are real. We go on imaginary adventures with them, we make up families for them, and we imagine where they go when they are not with us. This can be the birth of an author. We may not be aware of what we are doing at such a young age, but we are creating characters. Imaginary people who become real enough to us that we talk to them…and they talk to us. I recently posed a question to some authors asking them what was the funniest thing one of their characters had ever said to them was and the response was amazing! Our characters have minds of their own in our minds. They compliment, they insult, and they even refuse to do something we have written for them.

The power of imagination is an amazing thing to behold. Have you ever listened to a child have a conversation with someone who is not there? Not only does their voice change, but their whole demeanor can change as well…the way the hold their body, the tilt of their little head, the mannerisms they mimic…they become different people. These characters that live in our heads have lives of their own, take action on their own and provide us with dialog of their own. How many of you have had an argument with one of your characters? My guess would be just about all of you. In order for a character to be real to a reader, he or she needs to be real to the writer. Conversation must flow between character and writer like two old friends and when we stop writing for that character, for whatever reason, the character knocks on our minds and asks us what is wrong….why have we stopped writing for them? They become real to us and in our minds, can have their feelings hurt, can feel abandoned.

Sometimes, a character we never intended will walk into our story and take over. Someone we never intended to exist will hijack the story and run away with it. It isn’t planned, it’s not in our outline; what do we do then? Other times, a character will do something we do not expect. Again, it’s not in our plans, it’s not in our outline yet it happened. How can that happen? It is the author who is writing the story, right? Well, not really. We are so good at making up characters that they tend to write their own stories; the stories THEY want to tell. We are just along for the ride, recording their actions and words and putting our names on the cover.

So how do you know when a character is 3 dimensional enough to carry a story? They talk to us, they choose their own actions, they get into trouble on their own and expect us to get them out of it, they dig in their heels and refuse to do something we have written, they put words in our mouths so we can put words in theirs. They have a specific “voice” in our heads, they complain, they cajole, they weep, they argue, they whine, they suggest, they smack us over the head if we stop writing them. They take on a life of their own and become so real to us that we listen to them and write their story.
Guest blogger, Darlene Quinn is an author, speaker, fiction writer, media commentator, and retail expert. The first book in her Webs series, Webs of Power, won the 2009 Indie Excellence Book award – Fiction. Webs of Power, Twisted Webs and the prequel to Webs of Power, Webs of Fate (due out October 1, 2011) are available through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and directly from Emerald Book Company. She is currently working on the next installment of her Webs series, titled Unpredictable Webs. You can connect with Darlene on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In and view her blog at

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Care And Feeding of a Writer - Perseverance

Christine Fonseca first shared these tips on her blog and was kind enough to agree to visit us as a guest today.
Pulling Yourself Back From the Cliff

As writers, we’ve all been there – ready to throw in the towel and send our laptops flying. Maybe it’s the rejections inherent in any creative endeavor. Or maybe it’s the writer’s block that seems to have overtaken every writing moment. Whatever the reason, we have all found ourselves on the cliff ready to jump off.

So, what’s a writer to do?

Having faced my share of cliffs in my career, here are some of my tips for backing away from the edge:

•    Answer this question - Are You a Writer?
This is a critical first step. I not asking “Are you published?” or “Are you good enough?” I’m asking whether or not you’re a writer at all. Do you see the world as a series of scenes? Do you look at people in terms of their character traits? Do you remember good lines and think “I really need to use this in a story”? Is writing one of the top things on your  mind? And finally, do you still have something to say to the world?

If the answer is YES, than you are a writer!

•    Write.
If you answered yes to the first question, than what you really need to do now is write. Start small. Set little goals and focus purely on the act of writing – not whether or not you are writing the next BIG thing.

•    Set small, attainable goals.
Most writers I know set very lofty goals that are hard to achieve (I will finish this novel in 30 days). Or they set goals that take a very long time and involve things not in our control (I will find and agent and sell a book within xx years). These types of goals can backfire unless you also set small goals that you can achieve pretty quickly. It’s all about building momentum when you are carefully backing away from the cliff. Set goals that enable you to feel success quickly.

•    Redefine success.
This was another big one for me. If your definition of success only involves finding an agent and selling some books, you may find yourself frustrated often.  At least, this is true for me. Take the time to find other things by which you can gage your success. If you are querying, did your letter result in some requests? If you sent out partials, did any of them turn into fulls? Each step towards your dream is a HUGE accomplishment, so don’t downplay the journey.

•    Focus on the positives
There are plenty of things to get frustrated with in this business. The key, I think, is to find the POSITIVE things. Like the growth you’ve made as a writer. Or the connections you’ve made with other writers facing the same struggles.

•    Face your fears.
Writing is an interesting thing. It has the power to unlock some of your deepest darkest yuck that lurks inside - or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, pursuing your dreams in this business will require you to face some of your doubts and fears sooner or later. So, you need to be prepared. Personally, I think the only way to deal with the scary stuff is to walk straight through it. You have lots of supporters to help you on this path. Grab their hands, close your eyes, and move forward – no matter how hard it feels at times.

•    Take a break.
Yes, you want to cultivate the habit of writing. But, you need to temper that habit with living. If you are like me – an obsessive personality – this can be a daunting task. But, it is so very important to master! After all, if all you do is write, when will you live and find the ideas for your stories?

There you go, a few of the lessons I’ve learned facing the edge of some very high cliffs. What gets you through the hard parts of this business?

School psychologist by day, YA and nonfiction author by night, Christine Fonseca believes that writing is a great way to explore humanity. Her books include Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students  (2010) and 101 Success Secrets For Gifted Kids  (2011). In addition to books about giftedness, Christine writes contemporary and fantasy fiction for teens. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing around on Facebook and Twitter. Catch her daily thoughts about writing and life on her blog.

Posted by Maryann Miller who loves to find great articles to share with the readers of The Blood Red Pencil. Maybe I won't ever have to write my own post here again. :) That will give me more time to finish the second book in the Seasons Mystery series. Open Season is the first book. It just came out in December and is already on it's third printing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Survive Your Writing or Editing Career

As a full-time freelance manuscript editor, I do all of my editing on-screen and online, using Microsoft Word Track Changes, so I’m sitting at the computer all day, editing and sending and receiving documents, with comments, by email. I have a PC, a laptop, and, for the past year, a smaller Netbook. I like to travel, so use the laptop or Netbook when I’m away.

For the last year, I’ve been taking my Netbook for plane trips, as it’s light and compact for my carry-on, and small enough to fit on the airplane’s flip-down tray, with room for my cordless mouse and a cup of coffee or tea. But I notice when I’ve been using this smaller notebook-type computer for hours that my shoulders, back and arms become tense from hunching over, my fingers ache from the small keyboard, and my eyes get sore from squinting at the small screen.

Retail $39.99
When I’m at home, I stay away from my laptop or Netbook and stick with my large-screen monitor, my curved ergonomic keyboard with padding at the front to support the heels of my hands and my wrists, my ergonomic mouse pad with a cushion rest for my wrist, and my padded chair with its armrests and lower-back support. That way I can type for hours without pain in my hands, wrists, shoulders or back, and my eyes aren’t strained.

Retail $9.99

For aching fingers, hands and wrists, I use several things. If my wrists get sore, I’ll use a wrist brace at night. You slip your thumb through a hole, then close the rest quickly and attach it with Velcro. I also have heat mitts with heat pads that you put inside them, and a pair of those special thermoskin arthritic gloves that Shon Bacon mentioned on Feb. 14.

For typing during the day in the winter, I also bought some thin cotton gloves from the drugstore and cut the ends of the fingers out of them. They don’t hamper my movements at all, so I can type easily with them on.

Also, I now exercise regularly, especially rotating my shoulders, doing arm movements, raising my hands in the air, and doing leg, knee, and hip movements. That has helped a lot. I really notice it when I neglect my morning (and sometimes afternoon) exercise routine.

And lastly, I find the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements to be very helpful for arthritis and joint pain.
Guest blogger Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, romance, YA, and historical fiction. Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to light final copy editing and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques. Check out Jodie’s website at and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I've Got My Eye on You

Staring at that screen? Do you remember the last time you looked away? How about the last time you blinked? Screen work is now one of the leading causes of dry eyes, which can lead to other eye-health problems such as eye inflammation and blurred vision, and leaving your eyes more susceptible to infection. It can also train your eyes to optimise for short distance viewing, which can compromise your distance vision.

Time Out for Some Eye Exercises

Turn away from the monitor. Focus on something in the middle distance. With your head still, move your eyes up and down and side to side, making sure that you move your eye as far as you can comfortably go towards the periphery of your eye socket without actually closing your eyes.

Now do this exercise diagonally: look to the top left and slide your eyes down to the bottom right and back to the top left, and then look across to the top right and slide your eyes down to the bottom left and back to the top right.

Now draw a slow large circle with your eyes, clockwise and anticlockwise, and, again, keep your head still and look as far out at each point on the circle as you comfortably can. Do this for a few minutes, closing and resting your eyes if you feel any aching or if they start watering.

Note: See your optometrist for a check up if these eye exercises hurt when you do them, or if you have a headache developing either when you are working or when you stop and try to focus on a more distant object.

Elsa NealElsa Neal has been staring at a screen for twenty years (with breaks). She's been doing yoga for nearly ten years. Find more Exercises for Writers and Other Desk Slaves at

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Giving Love to Writers' Hands

As part of the new Blood-Red Pencil feature, The Care and Feeding of the Writer, I wanted to celebrate Valentine's Day by giving love to the busy little worker bees in the writer's arsenal: the hands. As a writer, I spend ungodly amounts of time on my computer and needless to say, my tendinitis is none too happy with me for it. Even if you don't have tendinitis or Carpel Tunnel, from time to time, all writers will get the cramping in their hands or pains that keep them from writing.

Because our hands work so tirelessly for us, we ought to dedicate part of our VDay to saying thank you and letting them know just how much they are loved.

Below are a few things you can pick up to help in easing hand pain. Of course, if the pain is persistent, then you should contact a doctor and be examined; however, even then, these products can only help alleviate the pain.

Now, you can go somewhere and have a full body massage and tell them to pay extra attention on the worker bees, or you can have that special someone do it for you. You can also do it yourself, but just the feeling of having someone attend to your needs can often be enough to make you feel better. Massages are not only good for hands and helping to lessen swelling in wrists and fingers, but they are also good for other parts of the body as there are pressure points in the hands that connect to other parts of the body, from brain to pinky toe. [Image from Santa Barbara Massage blog]

When my doctor told me I had tendinitis, one of the things he suggested I buy was a stress ball. They have them in various sizes and in various levels of squishiness, and the stretching, flexing, squeezing of fingers around that ball can not only help you to relieve some stress, but it can also help you to relieve pain in your hands.

Above is the Handstands Cyber Gel Squeeze Ball.

Before writing this short piece, I knew nothing about therapy gloves, so I did some searching. The above image is of the Thermoskin Arthritic Gloves. These gloves, and others like them, help to relieve pain in the fingers and hand. They can help to reduce soreness and swelling, and these gloves specifically can capture your body's heat and provide compression that also brings relief to hands. You definitely want to check around to make sure you find gloves that not only fit well on your hands but are also not a nuisance to have on for any extended period of time.

Paraffin Bath
One of the best gifts I ever received for Christmas was a paraffin bath from my mother. The idea of sticking one's hand into melted wax might not seem like a joyous time, but once you let your worker bees be comforted by the warmth of the wax and then wrap them into gloves for a few minutes, those hands will thank you for their softness and for the pain that is alleviated. And you can buy the wax in various scents, so it becomes a soothing experience for the senses, too. The above paraffin bath is the Revlon Moisturestay Quick Heat Paraffin Bath. And yes, fellas, they come in other colors, too. I've seen paraffin baths range in price from $29 to $170, so there is definitely a variety for you to choose from.

While you're out today, running around, picking up those last-minute cards and boxes of chocolates, why not pick up something that can truly benefit you and your writer's hands beyond Valentine's Day?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment. Shon has her own sexy little story, Saying No to the Big O, that was published last year: check it out!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's All in the Wrists

I recently had writer’s block for the first time in decades. It was perpetrated by sore hands and wrists, so bad that I was waking up in tears during the night.  Just the idea of writing left me staring at a blank page.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatism runs in my family, so this experience had me more than a little concerned, especially since I already follow a healthy diet and exercise lifestyle.  How would I find even more healthy options, and especially relief from the pain? Painkillers will be my last choice of remedy. I also don’t want to step away from the computer too often, as Helen suggested in her recent post, though that is a good way to get back into typing shape. But weeks at a time can be tough on the pocketbook.

I quickly found the fastest and easiest relief came from heat, especially hot water soaks. My husband was really quite thrilled that I’d taken over doing all the dishes last month! Epsom salt soaks and soothing capcaisin cream (red pepper) also aided tremendously. This kept me going during a blog book tour, because face it, you can’t promote online if you can’t use your keyboard.

I also remember from my jewelry-making days that copper is considered a holistic remedy for arthritis pain. The research on this is mixed. I believe it’s less about the benefits of absorbing the metal, than the fact that copper is a “heat sink”. That means it absorbs and holds heat very rapidly. I have copper wrist cuffs and that is exactly my experience.

However, I don’t find hard metal on my wrists to be very comfortable to wear all day long. I much prefer wool pulse warmers or mitts like these, which I wear daily especially when the weather is cold. They give me more pain relief over the long run than anything else. Wool and silk are the best for holding heat, and nothing beats the softness of alpaca or cashmere. I’ve even taken to collecting different patterns. One of my favorites is this Susie’s Reading Mitts pattern.

What about you? Do you experience hand and wrist pain associated with writing? How do you handle it? Do you have any special techniques to 1. avoid stress and 2. deal with it when it occurs? We’ll share more, including exercise and diet tips, in our ongoing Care and Feed of the Writer series. Shon Bacon is next on Monday with her suggestions for coping.
Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. She writes, edits, critiques, blogs, and is Special Projects Coordinator for Little Pickle Press, the coolest environmentally-conscious children's book publisher ever. New and intriguing projects are always of interest to her.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Deep Point of View or How to Avoid Head-Hopping

I’ve been editing fiction for years, and the most difficult concept for many of my author clients is to portray their story world mainly through the point of view of the main character(s), rather than hovering above them, and to stick to one point of view per scene or chapter instead of jumping back and forth from one character’s viewpoint to another’s (head-hopping).

Point of view (or POV) simply refers to the character through whose perspective the story events are told. We see, hear, smell, feel, and experience events as that character would – with no additional information provided “from above” by the author. This helps your readers identify with the viewpoint character and get immersed in their world.

A hundred years ago, novels were often told from a distant authorial point of view, hovering over everything. That omniscient point of view is no longer popular today, and for good reason. Readers want to experience the events of the story vicariously through the viewpoint character, to immerse themselves in her world, and they can only do that if they’re “inside her skin,” so to speak. They know her inner thoughts, aspirations, desires, and fears; so they become emotionally invested and care what happens to her.

As Jack M. Bickham says, “You’ll never have problems with the technique of viewpoint again if you simply follow this advice: Figure out whose story it is. Get inside that character – and stay there.” Of course, you don’t have to remain in your protagonist’s point of view all the time, but most of the story should be from the main character’s POV so the reader knows his thoughts and feelings and can emotionally connect to him.

I strongly recommend writing your first chapter, and most of the book, in your protagonist’s point of view. This gives the reader a chance to figure out whose story this is and get to know him and start bonding with him and rooting for him.

If you’re writing a romance and you’re in the heroine’s point of view (which you should be most of the time, as it’s her story), you’re not going to mention her blue eyes or long blond hair unless she’s looking at herself in a mirror – and that one’s been overdone. You can have someone else comment on them, like her sister, BFF, or the hero.

To show your hero’s reactions in a scene that’s in your heroine’s POV, show us what she sees and hears: his words, tone of voice, facial expressions, movements, attitude, and body language.

As Bickham explains, “I’m sure you realize why fiction is told from a viewpoint, a character inside the story. It’s because each of us lives our real life from a single viewpoint – our own – and none other, ever.” Successful fiction writers want their story to be as convincing and lifelike as possible, so they write it like we each experience real life: from one viewpoint (at a time) inside the action.

If your fiction is to be effective and your lead character is to come alive and matter to the reader, you’ll need to show most of the action from inside the head and heart – the thoughts, senses, and emotions – of the person you have chosen as the viewpoint character.

In a sequel to this post, I’ll discuss concrete ways to tell the story mainly from your protagonist’s point of view, and how to avoid “head-hopping.”

Main resource for today’s post: The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham.

Guest blogger Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, romance, YA, and historical fiction. Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to light final copy editing and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques. Check out Jodie’s website at and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Step Away from the Computer

This February here on The Blood-Red Pencil we’re celebrating a month of The Care and Feeding of the Writer. Okay, actually it’s supposed to be the second half of the month, but since I only post in the first half I thought I’d get in my two cents.

I looked at this topic from two viewpoints. The first is from the writer’s POV. We tend to sit our behinds in a chair and work. And work and work. We type furiously, sometimes literally. Sometimes we only have twenty minutes or maybe an hour or two. Some of us may have all day. Doesn’t matter. We sit and we type, getting up only to fix lunch, which we bring it to our desk and eat in-between typing. We breathe stale air (there is no time to go outside) and hear only the coded ring that alerts us a child is calling (husbands know better). As one writer to another, I beseech you:

Step Away from the Computer.

Sit down at the table or outside on the porch to have lunch. Spend five minutes relaxing on the couch, lost in thoughts not related to the book. Pet the cat. Walk the dog. Call your grandmother. Remember, you’re more than a stressed writer.

But wait. I also look at this from the editor’s POV. I’ve sent manuscripts back to writers whom I know open the document and either scream or collapse in their chairs. Sometimes there are so many marks, comments and highlights, they run together and bleed over onto the next page. Oftentimes, it’s the first page that this happens on. Why the first page? Because this is probably the most important page. It’s the first one seen by an agent, a possible publisher, the reader. It cannot have 52 uses of the word “was.” Rather than just saying that, I highlight each one, point it out to the author, suggest alternatives, page after page after page. Yes, I know I’m causing you stress. But you can work on the problems. You can send it back to me for another read. You rarely get to do that with an agent, a publisher or a reader. So, my Editor advice is:

Step Away from the Computer.

Go get something to drink (I suggest something non-alcoholic, even though alcohol will be tempting). Don’t fire off a curse-filled email to your editor - and, yes, that is probably even more tempting. Go for a walk - I suggest not with the dog since your blood pressure may not be able to handle his attempts to run into the high weeds as he chases a skunk. You might want to wait until the next day to reopen the document and, this time, read the comments and suggestions calmly.

As The Writer, you are responsible for your Care and Feeding. And that, oftentimes, involves Stepping Away from the Computer -- at least until you can breathe without screaming.
 Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its thirteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn – or catch her April 30, 2011 at Books 'n Authors 'n All That Jazz in Weatherford, Texas, where she and Sylvia Dickey Smith will be talking about “Jazzing Up Your Characters.”

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

10 Tips to Ensure a Productive Writing Day

Are you ready? Really ready? Here's a checklist to help your writing day go swimmingly.

10. Disconnect your computer from the internet.
NO! Not now! Wait until you've finished reading this post! And maybe a few other blogs...and checked your email...and...

9. Know the location of the sugary snacks.
Check to make sure they're still there. Knowledge is power.

8. Have a vague idea of what you're going to write.
This is no guarantee that you will write what you expect.

7. Wander around the room flexing your fingers and muttering encouragement.
The yelp you just heard was caused by, in your daze of self-glorification, your treading upon your pet's tail. Crouch down, apologise and try to ignore the thump of pet-guilt that just wrapped its legs around your shoulders.

6. Go get a sugary snack.
Wash your hands afterwards. Chocolate fingerprints tend to make seeing the letters on your keyboard a challenge.

5. Ignore the baleful stare emanating from your pet.
Really try. It's harder than you'd think. Try not to feel the laser beams penetrating the back of your neck.

4. If you're working on a first draft do not go back and reread everything you've written before you start today's writing.
This is a no-win scenario. You like it and you've lost an hour to imagining which yummy movie stars are going to be clamouring to play your characters and starting to compose your acceptance speeches for both the Booker and the Oscar. You don't like it and the temptation to just stop writing and pursue that career as a welder may become overwhelming.

3. Is there a dragon or other cuddly monster in your manuscript?
Your main character noticing a poster with one on it as he/she is walking past a bookstore counts.

2. Add one scene where someone smells the worst smell they've ever experienced.
This situation can end in horror or humour. You decide.

1. Realize your trod-upon pet is now devouring the sugary treats.
You can't write now - you have to go to the store.

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Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine "Elias". Her blog, "It's A Mystery," explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Please Leave A Tip On The Blood Red Pencil

Are you a Tuesday morning quarterback? Could you have executed some great Super Bowl plays, if only you'd had the chance?

You may not have been able to share your expertise there in the football arena, but you're more than welcome to do so here.

I invite you today to Leave A Tip On The Blood Red Pencil. It can be any helpful tidbit you've picked up about writing. Even if you're a beginner, but have learned something useful, please feel free to share.

Also, if you absolutely love a tip someone else has already mentioned here, by all means feel free to agree. A tip's popularity is usually a good indication of its effectiveness.

Here's my two-part tip:
Use shorter sentences to pick up the pace.
Use longer sentences to slow it down.

Your turn. Our comment section is open. Be sure to leave your name, along with your website or blog link. Also, if you wish to do so, please tell us where you've heard of us.


Morgan Mandel
Killer Career - 99 cents on
Kindle and Smashwords

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Monday, February 7, 2011


I have never written a book that I didn’t get bored with somewhere in the middle. I think this happens to many writers. The excitement of a new project has worn off, the end is a long way away, and you have read, re-read, thought, and re-thought so much about it that if you weren’t bored there would be something wrong with you.

In the past, when this happened as I was writing my own “stuff”, I would often take a break. (To be honest, sometimes I still do.) I’d put whatever I was bored with away, and start something else – something shiny, exciting, and new. The downside to this is that I might never come back to it, or come back years later, when the momentum had to be built up all over again – and guess what, another spate of boredom would ensue in the middle, so I had really gained nothing. Yet another downside is that I always had a niggling in the back of my mind that a story wasn’t being told, that should be.

In fact, I can’t think of many upsides to taking a break, except the short term one of regaining needed energy – and this is only an upside if you use that energy to jump back into the project soon.

I discovered another way of handling this awful boredom when I began ghostwriting, when breaks were not an option. I couldn’t tell my client that I was bored with his or her book and was “taking a break” – not if I wanted to keep my clients, that is. So instead I slogged through the boring middle piece, sure in my soul that I was writing the dullest prose known to human kind. But an amazing thing happened: the enthusiasm came back, the prose wasn’t so dull after all, and the final third of the book slid off my fingers as if it were greased.

Slogging through boredom takes courage, faith, and trust. I’ll probably never love this segment of book-writing, but I now know that it is just part of the process, sort of a test to see how dedicated I really am. Why should the universe take me seriously if a little boredom can make me quit?

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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Friday, February 4, 2011

Busted! Anna Quindlen caught with no inciting incident

As a developmental editor beginning a new manuscript, I am always on the lookout for the inciting incident. This is the story event that tips the protagonist out of the everyday world and into the specific arc of the story.

Among other things, an inciting incident can:
  • Establish genre (murder mysteries and romance stories, for example, kick off quite differently)
  • Suggest what kind of story this will be (tragic, comic, inspirational, etc.)
  • Apply dramatic imperative (the character better undertake the story, or else…)
  • Create crucible of story (a time element that ratchets up tension)
  • Define the protagonist’s goal (the desire that will compel the character to undertake the journey)
  • Perhaps define the antagonist’s goal
  • Raise a story question strong enough to keep the reader turning pages

With all that potency, the inciting incident is the cornerstone of story structure. Experienced storytellers build from it; rookie authors trip over it and send their stories in any number of unwarranted directions. So I was surprised, when reading Anna Quindlen’s latest novel, Every Last One, that I couldn’t identify her story's inciting incident.

For more than 150 pages Quindlen laid out pieces of her story of modern day family life. Plenty of surface tension kept me turning pages as protagonist Mary Beth Latham introduces us to a family life full of love and everyday worry: a recovering anorexic daughter who wants to break up with her longtime boyfriend and become a poet; her twin sons, one an athletic charmer and the other a morose loner; and her comfortable husband who now fails to ignite her passion. Mary Beth takes on her newest life reinvention as a landscaper while leaning on her girlfriends and then—

BAM!—a shocking act of violence changes everything.

This event is not the inciting incident; it is the centerpiece of the book, placed halfway through.

Like Mary Beth, the reader must sort through the rubble of backstory to see what the heck set this disastrous chain of events in motion. Was it any one thing, or a tragic confluence? Individual opinions would make great fodder for a book club discussion.

Quindlan's omission of a clear inciting incident may be the whole point of the book. In an NPR interview with Diane Rehm, Quindlen traced the inception of her book to an unrelated, real-life story: the seemingly random collection of choices that decided life or death on 9/11/01. If you have ever been through an event that rocked your world, as I have, you’ll relate to how difficult it is to pin down cause and effect (I write about healing from my first husband’s suicide at my blog, and am currently writing a memoir about it. The first chapter was published at Mason's Road).

Craft disclaimer: Beginning writers should not emulate this aspect of Quindlen's work! I’m not so sure a rookie novel would earn publication without the girding of classic storytelling structure, especially in this market. But Quindlen is a bestselling author of five fine novels and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She has earned her publisher’s—and this reader's—forbearance, yet she does not rely upon it.

Quindlen anchors her reader within the deep point of view of her protagonist. She pushes the reader toward multiple questions that Mary Beth holds aloft, evoking well the emotional acrobatics required of the modern family woman. And we modern family women reading inherently understand Mary Beth's goal—to keep her family safe. The fact that we keep reading those first 150 pages, then feel so deeply for Mary Beth when all goes wrong, indicates that Quindlen's structural choices supported well the story she wanted to tell.

Kathryn Craft specializes in developmental editing at, an independent manuscript evaluation and editing service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right."

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Got a Dash?

Working with a dash can be a little tricky. The dash is meant to be longer than the hyphen, but standard keyboards usually only provide the option for a hyphen. British and European publications have traditionally used hyphens with a space either side to signify a pair of bracketing or parenthetical dashes that indicate an aside comment (part sentence - interruption - continued sentence).

American publications sometimes use a double hyphen with a space before and after (part sentence -- interruption -- continued sentence), but double hyphens “typeset closed” (with no spaces) are also popular (part sentence--interruption--continued sentence). This closed style is used almost exclusively in Canadian publications. As with bracketing commas, the second dash falls away if the interruption ends the sentence.

The dash used in dialogue to indicate an abrupt interruption or stop to a character’s speech is also traditionally typeset closed and either a true em-dash or a double hyphen is required to avoid confusing the dash with a hyphen.

Then there are word processing programs that do the dash for you, whether you want one or not.

Another difficulty with the dash in dialogue is coaxing your word processing program to view the dash as part of the dialogue and serve up a closing quotation mark and not an opening mark. This is really only an issue if you’re creating printed or e-publications yourself; agents and publishers usually prefer straight quotation marks in manuscripts.

In Word, type Ctrl ‘ Ctrl Shift “ to force a closing double quotation mark or Ctrl ‘ Ctrl ‘ to force a closing single quotation mark.

Elsa NealIs Word annoying you while you're just trying to write? Then Word 4 Writers is for you. Save your time in front of the screen for writing not fighting. Elsa Neal has been strong-arming Word for 14 years and teaching others to do the same.

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