What It Really Takes to Improve as a Writer

What It Really Takes to Improve as a Writer 

Guest Post by Andrea Shay

According to the 10,000 hour rule, it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become an expert or a master of something. This equates to roughly 10 years of practice at 3 hours per day. If you want to master the art of writing - or even if you simply want to go from "okay" to "great" – you're going to need to put in some serious hours. One of the major components of improving any skill is putting in the time and effort to practice regularly.

In addition, creating any form of art requires the ability to think both creatively and linearly. Practicing other creative hobbies like visual arts, music and even cooking can help you improve your writing. Trying new things both in your writing and in your real life can also open up new worlds and give you new skills.

Also, it never hurts to take a few lessons from the masters. Learn about rhetorical devices and stylistic tricks you can use to make your prose as evocative as possible.

Practice A LOT and Learn New Techniques
Many aspiring writers make the mistake of doing only one of these two things rather than both of them. Writing a significant amount each day is important for improving your skill level, but you also must learn new skills and techniques and try them out in your writing as well. Writing alone isn't enough, and simply learning new techniques without practicing them won't help you improve.

Study and imitate your favorite authors and learn rhetorical and stylistic devices to create effect. Set aside a specific time to write, and do just that. Keep those fingers moving regardless of whether or not you write something profound or incoherent. You can always go back and edit later.

Put Your Whole Brain to Work, Not Just Half of It

For several decades people have promoted the mistaken belief that "artistic" or "creative" activities use only one side of the brain – the left side. Along with that idea went the notion that logical activities use only the right side of the brain. New evidence has emerged in the last few years that suggest that the two halves of the brainwork together during activities we tend to label as either "creative" or "logical."

To improve your writing, examine how you write.

Do you work more creatively with minimal structure?

Or do you work more logically, structuring everything down to the last detail?

Whichever you do, try to incorporate more of what you do least. If you're a structure freak, spend more time just letting your writing flow and see what happens. If you tend to sit down and write whatever comes into your mind with very little structure, try working in the opposite fashion and spend more effort structuring your characters or the events in your stories to see how that impacts your work.

Try New Things

Try new things, both in your writing and in your real life. Try a new technique just to see how it works out. If you've never tried a flashback, write a scene with a flashback. If you tend to conceive of the end of a story first, try starting in the middle and working your way out, or try starting at the beginning. And if the converse is true and you always start at the beginning, start somewhere else first.

If you always plot out your characters' personalities, try writing a few chapters before you fully understand your characters and let them become revealed to you. Additionally, practice other creative arts as well as logical tasks like math or organization. The more you can create flexibility between the two halves of your brain, the more flexibility you'll have as a writer as well.

Andrea Shay is an editor and writer, living in Sarasota, Florida. She holds a B. A. degree in English from U.W.-Oshkosh. She also works as an alternative healing practitioner and teaches the art of energetic healing.

Moody Blues - Letting the Creativity Flow

Confession: some of my best creative writing comes when I am feeling blue. This is the time when I write allegories with ease. It just flows.

I realize there are some serious mood disorders and I am not minimizing this. Yet, our strengths can be our weaknesses if we choose to see it that way. Whether you have the normal sad days we all have from time to time (hormones ladies?), or you have a more serious condition, think about how you can use it to express yourself. Life isn’t perfect. Behind every cloudy day the sun is still shining! And the satisfaction I’ve experienced through allowing the richness of my deep feelings and thoughts to be written has often made me think, “Wow. I wrote that?”

Haven’t we seen some amazing people who have overcome physical disabilities? So inspiring! It’s all in how you view your struggle, weakness, or disability and how you will overcome it through making it a strength and using it to your advantage.

It is incredible to read about people who have overcome their weaknesses or disabilities and the contributions they've made to the world.  Helen Keller, Stevie Wonder, Monet ... and depressed writers include authors such as Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Dickens, and John Keats. You have something wonderful inside of you to share with the world, too. 

What is the silver lining on your cloud? 


Photo courtesy:

Kathleen Moulton has a passion to bring hope to hurting people of all ages who are facing disappointment, discouragement, and loss. You are invited to read When It Hurts - http://kathleenmoulton.com

Luminol: Fact or Fiction

Luminol is not just a fictitious creation of the entertainment world. It is a real investigative tool used by crime scene investigators. It was created based on the precedence that nothing totally disappears. Tiny particles of blood, for instance, will cling to most surfaces for many years, unable to be detected by the human eye. However, the idea is to reveal these tiny particles with a light-producing chemical reaction between several chemicals and hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein in blood.

Investigators spray an area with luminol. Then they turn out the lights, black out the windows, and look for a bluish-green light. If there are any traces of blood in that area, they will glow.

When hemoglobin and the luminol mixture come in contact with each other, the iron in the hemoglobin accelerates the reaction between the hydrogen peroxide, which is in the liquid with which the luminol powder is mixed. This creates a reaction call an “oxidation reaction,” and this reaction creates an energized state. Because the iron in the hemoglobin accelerates the process, the light is bright enough to see in a dark room. This is as simplified as I can get in explaining this process, but it all boils down to a chemical reaction with the end result of lighting up the blood particles in the dark.

When an investigator finds evidence of blood traces with the luminol, he/she will photograph or videotape the crime scene. As a general rule, luminol only shows that there might be blood in an area. There are other substances, such as household bleach, which can light up luminol; however, experienced investigators can reliably make an identification based on how quickly the reaction occurs and further tests can be done to determine whether or not it really is blood.

Luminol is a great investigative tool. It can help determinate the point of attack and what type of weapon was used. This is because a bullet makes blood splatter differently than a knife does. It can also reveal faint bloody shoe prints, giving the investigator information about what the killer/attacker did after the attack.
The one problem with luminol is that it can destroy other evidence in the crime scene. For this reason, crime scene investigators use other tools first and explore the crime scene before spraying luminol.

Though a great investigative tool, using luminol does have its drawback and is not used as frequently as we may think. On the other hand, a writer can do some interesting things to his/her story by bringing this tool into the investigation.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of: To Tell the Truth
                  Sarah’s Secret
Member of: Sisters in Crime
                    Writers on the Move

It's that time of year again . . .

As I write this, Thanksgiving is only a few days away and I have not had time to write a proper blog post!

For those of you who celebrate this American holiday:

What are you thankful for this year? How are you going to spend your holiday weekend? Will you do any writing? Perhaps you will get some ideas while traveling, cooking, eating, shopping, decorating, watching Christmas movies, attending special events, and spending time with family and friends.

And if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, you might get more writing accomplished this week than the rest of us. J

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a safe and fun holiday weekend.

Debbie A. Byrne has a B.S. in Mass Communication with a minor in History. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is currently working on her first children’s book.

A Thanksgiving Tradition--Embracing Gratitude

Each evening in November, when my children were little, we would all share three things we were thankful for that day. It was our way of embracing the spirit of the season. One year, when both my children were in college, I called them in the beginning of November and asked them to revisit this tradition via email. (They have always been tolerant of their mother’s unusual requests.)  Everyone emailed three things each day to each other.  It gave us a window into each other’s lives that we didn't usually get to see.  I went to the computer each morning excited to see what would be revealed. 

 Here’s a small sample of some of our thanks.

1.    Dad putting me in dance
2.    The Rockies
3.    Being with Freckles during her last season.
4.    Putting on the winter scarf
5.    A mother who wants to keep a family scattered across the country together via email
6.    My new roller-blades that I got for five dollars at the thrift store
7.    Playing hockey tonight
8.    Blackhawks on TV
9.    The smell of fall in the air
10.  70 degrees in November
11.  The kids on the block
12.  Billy’s stint selling Cutco – without it I would never have owned Cutco knives!
13.  I actually like my classes
14.  Potato leek soup in about an hour and the new potato peeler
15.  Hot cider
16.  Visits and scrabble with Granny

Unfortunately, family traditions can sometimes have a way of slipping through the cracks of everyday life. Thanksgiving is a day away and somehow I forgot to start the ball rolling on our three things.   

I've come to learn that we don’t need to do everything the way we once did to find value in our traditions.  Traditions are about connections.  They can morph a little, but returning to our traditions brings us closer together.  My youngest son goes to school in Denver and isn't going to make it home to Chicago this Thanksgiving.  So...maybe on Thanksgiving day we’ll all Skype and share three things about Thanksgivings from the past.  I know the Thanksgiving memory at the top of my list—my youngest son was born on Thanksgiving 22 years ago.
Happy thanksgiving! I'm grateful for this writing community.

Character Relationships

Although my publications are all non-fiction, I have written six novels, five of them for NaNoWriMo. I've never got around to publishing them, and with the exception of the first one, I haven't even edited them.

Although I do a lot of background preparation, and have a plan where the story is going, once I write, I let my characters take the story and run with it. I love the way they become real and often change my ideas of what was to happen next.

However, before starting to write, I work through a series of character exercises so that I know them pretty well. I adapted these from one I learned years ago from a writer called Phil. I think his surname was Rockwell but I can't find him on Google.
  1. Draw up a graph (I use Excel) with all your character names down the side, one per row.
  2. Repeat all the characters in the same order, across the top, as column headings. 
  3. Fill in every space with just a very few words, summing up the person on the left's attitude towards the one in the column.
Here is an example using four of my characters from my first novel.
  • Marcia Douglas, the protagonist, is a minister's wife.   
  • Owen is her husband.
  • Mrs C (Cartwright) is the old lady who lives across the road.
  • Holly is the Douglas's teenage daughter.
You can learn more about them by reading the chart.

Notice that you also fill in the characters' feelings about themselves. I initially battled with this, but then realised how important it was. It helps you figure out how the person actually sees themselves in light of the story.

So you see that Marcia is unsure of herself, fears her husband's rejection, resents Mrs C across the road for her interfering, and is exasperated and worried by her out-of-control teenage daughter.

After doing this, I draw up a Word page for each character, with three main columns. I put the name of the character all the way down the left side of the page, and the names of all the other characters down the right. I then repeat the list but with the characters on opposite sides of the page. The centre column is an expansion of what I had in the first exercise.

So here is what it looks like, using four of my characters from the same novel. (I've added a new character to the mix and dropped Holly.)

Got the idea?

Once I have done all this, I write a short history for each character, so that I have a better idea of why they are like they are. As I write, I often find they reveal bits of their lives that I didn't know about. (After all, I'm only the author.)

Give it a try - and have fun!

OVER TO YOU: Having read about some of the characters of this novel, working title, Hidden Agenda, do you think this would be a story worth reading? Which character introduced so far most grabs your attention?

SHIRLEY CORDER lives a short walk from the seaside in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer. Shirley is also contributing author to ten other books and has published hundreds of devotions and articles internationally. 

Visit Shirley on her website to inspire and encourage writers, or on Rise and Soar, her website for encouraging those on the cancer journey. Follow her on Twitter or "like" her Author's page on Facebook. 

Where is Publishing Headed

With Amazon removing buy buttons from the Big Six publishers, where does the author go to have their manuscript published?

Amazon has also removed numerous reviews because of the hint of purchased reviews, which authors have admitted to so they could rank higher and sell more books.

With thousands of books written per year, and Amazon flexing its muscle, are authors suspected to publish according to whatever terms Amazon dictates, or find company to create the book and let the author sell and market their book themselves?

Traditional publishers currently ask authors about followers and request a marketing plan. Authors have two options:
  1. Hire a publicist to market their book
  2. Learn how to publicize and market their book on their own
As authors, forced into marketing mode, when are they going to find time to write their next book? Will there be fewer books written? Will there be fewer people wanting to write or even have a desire to be creative?

There are new indie publishers springing up almost daily. What do these indie publishers offer the author? Are they willing to help the author publicize, promote, and market books for authors, doubtful at best?

What this boils down to is the fact that authors are out in the cold even more than they were before. 

More than ever, authors had better learn about contracts, publicity, promotion, social media, scheduling book tours, book signings, media kits, designing a marketing plan, where to sell their books, or save for hiring a professional to do it for them.

Hiring professionals for publicity and promotion can be very expensive. Acquiring an agent is difficult and expensive; an agent is not the end all that authors believe it is.

Robert Medak
Freelance Writer/Blogger/Editor/Proofreader/Reviewer/Marketer

Writing, Business, Life.... All in the Connections

Like all of you, I have a regular day to day life, my writing life, my paying routine job, and my business life. If I don't stay on track, it easily gets out of hand. And if I do stay on track, I have more ideas than stars in the sky which can easily distract me and cause me to be less than accomplished.

The key for me is to keep the connections between all of the facets of my life working towards my three main goals for the year. So as the year winds down, it is time to really pare down my goals for 2013. My goals besides God and family include getting more written and published, working the writing into my love of fabrics and my fabric store, and of course making money with both. ( These are the general ideas, I need to fine tune the goals before January 1.)

A writer never stops thinking of ideas but we must also be thinking about how those ideas translate into a marketable product for our target audience. I am no expert but here is one example of how I am trying to make the connections between my passions, my writing, and my work and my business.

As a nurse I have a passion for children dealing with illness, hence I will soon have a children's book being released dealing with this subject. In the book the character talks about a comfy quilt and how she wants to make some quilts for others when she is well. I also have a passion for for fabric and quilts and am opening a small quilt shop in the unique town of Nashville Indiana, the heart of Brown County and a huge writer and artist community. Are you seeing a connection yet?

My children's book leads to designing a quilt pattern that others could make for friends which when published  leads to both book, pattern, and fabric all  being sold at the store front in the writer artist community leading to more sales. This is just one aspect I am working on to connect my nursing knowledge, my love of quilts, and my writing to making sales.

Before you sit down to make your three main goals for 2013 consider thinking outside the box when making the connection between your writing, your business, and your life. Make sure that the tasks you do each day outside of activities of daily living will advance your three main goals. If you do this, your writing goals will be met and publication, satisfaction, or monetary reward is sure to follow.

Visit www.terriforehand.webnode.com for more about the author or check her blog at http://terri-forehand.blogspot.com

Writing To Heal Your Ancestors

Joyce carol Oates, in a reading, once talked about her writing process and spoke about writing to heal one's ancestors.

What an interesting concept. When I read this it stuck. I, too, have written to "heal" my ancestors.

I am the product of stoic Norwegian immigrants, men and women who worked hard when they came to America to create a better life. They didn't complain, they didn't explain - they just kept moving forward. Their lives were filled with secrets, some of which were only found in archives when I started exploring my genealogy. My mother was the product of growing up in my grandmother's home. Did this in any way explain our relationship? One also filled with secrets that would only come to light upon her death?

As a writer I think it is natural that we are always looking for explanations for why people behave the way they do. This allows us to create well rounded and flawed characters. We search for the answers, and many times discover why those closest to us may have reacted or behaved the way they did too. Early in my writing career, I wrote several novels, as yet they are all unpublished, each story explored the relationship of sisters, daughters and mothers. I can see how I was working to heal my ancestors in these works - how I was working to heal myself and find the answers to questions never spoken.

Have you written to heal those who came before you? To heal yourself in some way? To explain how it all came to be?

In my more recent works, I seem to have left my ancestors behind, but do they really ever leave us? 


D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, Flight from the Water Planet, Book 1 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.  

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at www.djeanquarles.com

You can also follower her at www.djeanquarles.blogspot.com or on Facebook

Tips for Creating Subplots in Middle Grade Novels

by Suzanne Lieurance   If you’re writing a middle grade novel, you want to include at least one or two subplots. Subplots in fiction are sec...