My #2 Pencil

Image courtesy of pixabay, 

By Linda Wilson  @LinWilsonauthor

Do you compose on paper? On your computer? Or somewhere in between? These days, I compose on paper, on my computer, and standing on my head. Any way the muse strikes me. But back when I started out, I brushed off my trusty #2 pencil and wrote everything intended for publication longhand. Back then, in addition to reading how-to books, I read up on authors' lives to learn how they got their ideas, what their trials and tribulations were, etc. In this post, I thought it might be fun to explore how famous writers did their composing. I've summarized a few.

Quirky, Yet Effective

Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens - 1835-1910), lived in many houses during his lifetime, but he owned only one special bed. It is large and decadent, made of carved oak; he and his wife Olivia bought it in 1878 in Venice, Italy. Today, Twain's bed can be viewed at his 19-room Victorian mansion in Hartford, Connecticut.

It is in Twain's beloved bed that he did much of his writing, including Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain was enthusiastic about this writing method, as quoted in the May 9, 2010 article, "Mark Twain Wrote (and Smoked!) in Bed," by Lisa Waller Rogers. "Just try it in bed sometime. I sit up with a pipe in my mouth and a board on my knees, and I scribble away. Thinking is easy work, and there isn't much labor in moving your fingers sufficiently to get the words down." 

Truman Capote said he wrote "horizontally," lying down in bed or on a couch. He would write the first two drafts in longhand, in pencil; and although draft three would be accomplished on a typewriter, it was done in bed.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968), author of The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men, works which earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature and a Pulitzer Prize, wrote his drafts in pencil. He kept exactly two dozen sharpened pencils (#2's?) on his desk, and used only certain brands of pencils that had to be pinpoint sharp.   

Twain said it best, as one of America's best loved authors was known to do: "I used to think there was only one place where I could write, and that was in Elmira, [New York] . . ." where Twain spent his summers. "But I've got over that notion now. I find that I can write anywhere."

Mind-Hand-Heart Combo

I remember in grade school when the pencils we carried in our plastic zipper bags had to be #2's. #1's simply wouldn't do (my #1's squeaked anyway, and my scribblings came out looking light and weak. And, for the record, mechanical pencils never worked for me.) Just for fun I did a five-minute online search and found many U.S. school systems still require #2's in 3rd-5th grade. Some school systems didn't specify. One required a #2 pencil with eraser, and a pencil or cigar box! The term "cigar box" was followed by "Plastice, small size with secure lid." Okay, so the term "cigar box" is used loosely here? Does anyone even have a cigar box these days?

Later, I got Bic'd. I was never the same. What a smooth ride my Bic pen was. That lasted a while. Much later, when I became a writer in earnest, I had to revert back to my pencil, mainly so I could erase all the mistakes. I had good company. After all, didn't Capote write his first drafts in pencil? Hey, the research backs us up (Capote and me, that is.) According to John Roger and Paul Kaye in their book, Living the Spiritual Principles of Health and Well-Being, there is an important connection between your brain and your hand. "The neural impulses from the fingers are sent back to the brain so that the writing actually releases and records the patterns of the unconscious. I call them 'beach balls,' those things we have suppressed for a long, long time and on which we have expended energy to keep under the surface. They can carry tremendous emotion. So at times you may end up writing very forcefully."

Trial by Fire

In this field of ours, no one gets to bypass the heart. I was no exception. One night in the beginning of my writing journey, I woke up in a cold sweat and actually sat up in bed. I had wanted to write freelance articles for our local newspaper but I had to ask myself, “Who am I to think I can put together an article anyone would want to read?” I was scared nobody would. But I couldn't ignore what my heart was telling me to do. I read a lot of how-to books and then went out and found a subject, a blind woman who was a storyteller. I interviewed her and took copious notes in ink. I also recorded every word she said. Then, somewhat like Capote, I laid down on my couch and transposed the interview. As you can imagine, this took hours and hours. All in ink. Even then, I understood the difference between ink and pencil. I couldn't use my pencil. I couldn't take the chance that my notes might smudge; every word had to be verbatim. When I finally got to writing the piece, I reverted back to pencil, wrote it all out in longhand, then typed it on my computer, printed it, and hand-delivered it to the editor who had told me he would read it "On spec." (you can tell this article was written in the late 1980s, can’t you?!) Happy days, he accepted it! Thus was born my very first published article. We won't mention that my husband took the photo for the article and made three times more than I did. The fact was, I had sold my first piece, and the big-city newspaper company (The Albuquerque Journal) paid its freelance writers!

I soon found that this method took far too long. I had to learn how to compose on my computer. Luckily, this turned out to be a natural transition, and I soon arrived at a comfortable compromise, which is how I have continued to compose today. It doesn't matter where I start--on paper or on the computer, though composing on the computer is faster. The important thing is I begin. I go as far as I can. Usually this first inkling of a story or article is rough. But of course, that's the nature of the beastly first draft. After the initial flow, I usually write the rest on the computer and print it. It sits for a while. The first edit takes place at a different place than my desk, on paper, with my pencil. Oh, how refreshing a change of scene can be! Back to the computer. This back-and-forth process continues until the piece is finished.

#2 Goes to Work

Recently, I took another look at a short story that needed revising. Over several years I have tried to make this story work. But the plot was weak. I've never given up on it, though, thanks to advice from one of my creative writing instructors. She encouraged our class to never give up on a story--just re-work it.

Since then, following her advice, I have sold several re-worked stories. So with this story, I tried an experiment. I changed my main character from an animal to a human (a boy). The transformation was stunning. Gone was the anthropomorphic world I had created, which I understand has few markets anyway. Enter a realistic story. True, I had to give up much of the original story's charm. Who knows, maybe that charm can work in another story. The important thing is I now have a new main character and a viable story.

Which brings me to my point: The changes couldn't have been accomplished without a mind-hand-heart connection--on paper--and written with a pencil. I have learned from experience that the very first idea may not be the best. However, it's a first attempt, so I write it down. I see if the new idea fits with the story (such as changing the main character). If it doesn't, I erase it and put in another new idea. I keep going until I start to feel excited. That's another indicator I have learned. That your feelings will tell you whether the story works or not. For me, my enthusiasm about a story can go from ho-hum to visceral excitement. I rant and pace and get out of breath, I love it so! Thanks to my pencil, I suppose composing in this way offers flexibility. I had to learn, though, that many story fixes don't work. I had to learn that often, better ideas have to evolve. It is the rare story or article that falls in place with very little editing. Although happily, those do occur. With re-worked stories and articles, once the necessary elements are covered--once the piece works--the process of editing by going back and forth between paper and computer can begin. Until finally, the story is ready for market.

For more information, please visit the websites listed below:

"Mark Twain Wrote (and Smoked!) in Bed," by lisa waller rogers, 

"Learn from the Greats: 7 Writing Habits of Amazing Writers," by Leo Babauta,"

The Weird Habits of These Famous Writers Will Surprise You, by Arianna Rebolini,

Linda Wilson is the author of the Abi Wunder Mystery series and other books for children. Her two new releases are Waddles the Duck: Hey, Wait for Me! (2022) and Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere (2023). You’ll find Linda on her Amazon author page, on her website at, and on Facebook.

Click the links for free coloring pages and a puppet show starring Thistletoe Q. Packrat. While you’re there, get all the latest news by signing up for Linda’s newsletter.  Connect                                                  with  Linda: FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram


In the Spotlight: An Interview with Children's Author Sherry Dunn

 by Suzanne Lieurance

Children's Author Sherry Dunn

Sherry Dunn is a new children's book author. 

Her first picture book, Maddie & Jasmine, was released this past June and is already an international best-seller. 

Sherry is also a speaker and an animal rescue advocate.  

Recently, I interviewed Sherry to learn more about the secrets to her success.

Suzanne Lieurance: Tell us a little bit about yourself as a writer and children’s book author. How did you get started? What kinds of things do you write?

Sherry Dunn: My journey as a writer started from a place of deep passion and love for animals, especially those in need of rescue. Growing up, I was always surrounded by books and stories, both real and fiction. I also grew up with pets around the house, several of them rescue animals. At an early age, I started forming unbreakable bonds with animals, not yet realizing I was forming a desire to advocate for the voiceless. When I decided to jump into the world of writing, it felt only natural to merge my love for storytelling with my advocacy for animal rescue. My aim was, and still is, to write stories that not only entertain and delight young readers but also communicate the values of compassion, empathy, and responsibility. 

My first children’s picture book, Maddie and Jasmine, is a prime example of this blend, illustrating the beautiful bond between children and animals while highlighting the importance of rescue and care. I predominantly write children's books and stories that revolve around these themes. I believe stories have an incredible power to shape young minds, and if I can inspire even one child to grow up caring deeply for animals, then I've achieved my goal. On my website,, I write weekly blog posts that resonate with animal lovers and avid readers. My monthly content includes an animal shelter spotlight, a children’s picture book review, furry friend stories, and pet care insights.

Each month, I highlight a commendable, no-kill animal shelter, discussing their invaluable contributions, sharing success stories, and discussing the impact they've made in the community.  It's my way of applauding their relentless efforts. I dedicate one post to reviewing a children's picture book that centers on the themes of animal rescue and adoption. I love to explore and to share these stories that foster empathy and awareness in young minds. In a special segment, I invite guest bloggers to recount their personal journeys about their adopted pets. These heartfelt stories never fail to tug at my heartstrings. As a gesture of gratitude and support, I donate $100 to the guest blogger's animal shelter of choice provided it is a no-kill shelter. Lastly, I share informative pieces on pet care, offering readers valuable tips, best practices, and insights to ensure their furry companions lead healthy and happy lives.

SL: How do you usually get the ideas for your books? Please explain.

SD: My ideas come from the real world. I work closely with several animal rescue/sanctuaries and have had the privilege to witness several heartwarming, and sometimes heart-wrenching stories of animals and the people who connect with them. These true stories are a collection of inspiration, filled with genuine emotion, challenges, triumphs, and the raw beauty of human-animal bonds. Sometimes, my idea might start with a story or article I see about a puppy or an older dog finding its forever home after a tough beginning. 

Other times, it's simply observing the sweet interactions between children and cats and dogs at a shelter. I try to keep my inner child alive and always active. When I think of a concept, I ask myself, as a child, would I like this story? Children have this natural sense of wonder and curiosity, and by channeling my own childhood emotions and experiences, I want to create stories that resonate with young readers. So, in essence, my stories are a blend of real-life inspiration from the world of animal rescue and my vivid imagination of adding a child to the human-animal bond.

SL: What is your favorite part of the writing process? 

SD: The writing process has its ups and downs, but my absolute favorite part is the creation phase. It's that magical moment when the characters, often inspired by real children and animals I've met or heard about, start to take shape in my mind.

I wrote a children’s story based on my own situation as an adult. I fell off my bicycle and broke my wrist. I was upset because I had just started taking piano lessons. I wrote a story about a little girl who was in the same situation. I had to introduce a rescue animal in the story. Ideas started to form, and I added a three-legged dog I saw at a shelter to my story. The characters grew, developed personalities, hopes, and fears and a story was born.

The process of setting my characters in a world, facing challenges, and watching them evolve is satisfying. I often find myself emotionally invested, cheering for every rescued animal, and feeling the genuine warmth of every bond formed.

I also love the research phase, especially when it involves interacting with children and animals. 

Since I write a blog post every week, I frequently need to research true experiences and ensure that the stories I write are genuine emotions and scenarios. It's a reminder of the very real impact of the stories I'm creating and the change they can arouse in young minds.

SL: What do you find to be the most challenging part of writing and freelancing?

SD: The world of writing is as rewarding as it is challenging. For me, one of the most challenging aspects is finding the right balance between my vision and the expectations of readers. Writing from the heart is critical, but there's also a need to ensure that the stories resonate with my audience. My mission is to share the stories of shelter pets and help them find their forever homes. Not everyone has this mindset. In Maddie and Jasmine, I take the reader on a journey of self-discovery, overcoming life’s toughest critics, and learning to love everything that makes you different. It's a delicate balance between staying true to one's voice and adapting to market demands.

I don’t do a lot of freelancing. However, beyond my books, one of my most cherished projects is the bi-monthly children's story I write for a local animal shelter newsletter. This allows me to delve into individual tales of shelter pets, highlighting their journeys, and the hope that they will find a forever home. It's both a responsibility and a privilege. To gather content for these stories, I often visit a shelter, spend time with the pets, and sometimes even talk with the staff to glean insights and anecdotes that can inspire my next story. These visits are not just research; they're a constant reminder of why I do what I do.

Feedback, edits, and rejection are part of this writing journey. Every author, no matter how renowned, faces criticism and rejection. J.K. Rowling rewrote the first book in her Harry Potter series 15 times. I rewrote the first book in my Maddie and Jasmine series 15 times. I think it is essential to learn to discern constructive feedback from the rest and using it as a tool for growth. I also believe an author must maintain the confidence and belief in one's unique voice and vision. Love your writing and believe in it!

SL: What is a typical writing day like for you? 

SD: My typical writing day usually starts early. I’m a morning person. I often find my best ideas come to me in the shower just as the world is waking up. My morning routine includes meditation and writing in my gratitude journal. Then I settle down with a cup of green tea at my desk and start to write. The first thing I do is read what I wrote the previous day. This helps me transition back into my story and gives me a fresh perspective. I write until my personal development class starts. When class is over, I practice the piano. I start writing again in the afternoon. The target I set usually coincides with deadlines. This tangible goal helps keep me focused and motivated. By mid-afternoon, I usually sit down and do additional writing or do researching for my blog articles, networking, or managing the business side of things. I take regular breaks, which usually involve Tai Chi practice, or more piano practice. If I don’t take these breaks, I could sit and write for several hours. These moments of pause are essential. They often bring bursts of inspiration.

I believe in the importance of a balanced day, so I always ensure to set aside time for personal reading, which not only relaxes me but also exposes me to different writing styles and enriches my own craft. Evenings are typically reserved for relaxation with my rescue cat, Jasmine, but sometimes, if a story is particularly insistent, I might find myself jotting down ideas. Throughout the day, Jasmine keeps me company, acting as a sounding board, and a constant reminder of the mission behind my stories.

SL: What types of things do you look for in your own manuscripts when you’re are revising them?

SD: Revising is an integral part of the writing process, a phase where I get to refine and polish the raw material into a cohesive story. When I dive into revisions for my manuscripts, there are several key elements I look for. Given that my stories are centered around the bond between children and animals, it's very important that the emotions come through genuinely. I pay attention for those moments that may tug at the heartstrings, ensuring they feel authentic and not forced. Whenever I do a reading of Maddie and Jasmine at events, I always have to stop and take a deep breath at the last page of the story. To me, it is very emotional, and the emotion is authentic.

Children's books, especially, need to have a smooth narrative flow that's easy to follow. I pay close attention to transitions between scenes and check that the pacing feels right. Children connect deeply with characters. I ensure that my protagonists, both human and animal, are consistent in their actions and developments, making them believable and relatable. Being an advocate for animal rescue, it's essential that my core message is clear without being preachy. I always check to see that the themes of compassion, empathy, and responsibility are subtly woven throughout the narrative.

Writing for children means being mindful of the language. I make sure the vocabulary is age-appropriate, but I also love introducing a few challenging words here and there to stimulate curiosity and learning. I don’t dumb it down.

While I may not be the illustrator, I still visualize how certain scenes might translate into illustrations. I ensure there's a balance between descriptive text and what can be conveyed visually to create a seamless experience for readers.

Before diving into revisions, I share my manuscript with my writing coach. Her feedback is invaluable, and I make sure her constructive critiques are addressed, and usually incorporated into the draft. I take a step back and look at the story as a whole. Does it come full circle? Are there any loose ends? Does the climax feel satisfying and have a great twist?All of these things ensure my children’s books and stories are written according to industry standards. While revisions can be challenging, they're also incredibly rewarding. With each pass, I see the story evolve, getting closer to the version I imagine.

SL: What do you think is the most common mistake made by new children’s writers?

SD: From my experience and observations, new children's writers are incredibly passionate, which is a fantastic trait. One of the most prevalent mistakes I've noticed is self-doubt, and it's a significant barrier that many new children's book authors, or any author, face. This lack of belief in their own writing can manifest in several ways and can severely hinder their progress and success. Writing is an intimate act. It's a piece of the author's soul translated onto paper. This vulnerability can make new writers hyper-aware and self-critical, causing them to second-guess their work continually. I think it's essential to remember that every author started somewhere, and each voice is unique. Also, the fear of rejection looms large for many new authors. This fear can be paralyzing, leading some to avoid submitting their work altogether. Lack of belief in their writing often convinces them that rejection is inevitable, even before they've begun. Believing in oneself is easier said than done, but it's crucial. I have noticed that self-doubt is a common challenge for new children's book authors. It's essential to recognize it is just a challenge, not an insurmountable barrier. In their quest for perfection, many new writers believe that their work must be flawless before it sees the light of day. This pursuit of the "perfect manuscript" can lead to endless revisions, rewrites, and eventually, stagnation. The beauty of children's literature often lies in its simplicity, where a single, focused narrative can resonate deeply with the reader.

SL: Your picture book Maddie & Jasmine was released in June. What has the marketing process for this book been like? Give details, please. 

SD: Marketing Maddie and Jasmine has been a truly enriching journey. Given the book's theme, it was essential to tailor my marketing approach to emphasize both the joy of children's literature and the significance of animal rescue. Emphasis was made on the fact that a percentage of proceeds from the book will be donated to animal rescue initiatives. The marketing process has been immensely rewarding. Not only has it amplified the book's reach but also shed light on the crucial issue of animal rescue. It's a testament to the power of literature in making a real-world impact. 

My marketing process began before I had a book cover design and before the book was published. When the book cover was complete, I had something tangible to give to people. I had bookmarks made with a picture of my book, my website, and my contact information. I handed out bookmarks to everyone, including bookstores. I introduced merchandise such as posters, wrist bands stamped with paw prints and “Adoption. A great option.”, and temporary Jasmine “catoos” for children. Plush toy cats based on the Jasmine character from the story are currently being developed. I had a very proactive approach of telling everyone I could about my upcoming book, Maddie and Jasmine. Word-of-mouth is always a good start, especially from an enthusiastic author. I loved my book, and I was enthusiastic! I told my friends, my neighbors, the produce manager at my Publix Supermarket, a table waiter at my favorite restaurant, and the CEO and President of the local performing arts Lyric Theatre. That same CEO later asked me to do a book signing event at the Lyric. 

Sherry Signing Books at the Lyric Theater in Stuart, Florida

I visited animal shelters and businesses in my area and received their support. I built a platform for my book by starting a website and blog dedicated to my writing and my passions, rescue animals and children’s literacy. My platform,, allowed me to share regular blog content about animal rescue which was perfect for marketing my book.

I frequently reminded my followers on Facebook about my book and my book launch. I had a virtual book launch the day my book was released to the public. I’m proud to say that by noon, on the day of my book launch, I had earned International Best Seller status. I feel having a wonderful book along with early and constant marketing made it happen. I still market enthusiastically and continually. 

Even though Maddie and Jasmine has been released to the public, my marketing job is not done. I had two successful book signings and have three more in the process of scheduling. I still hand out bookmarks. Maddie and Jasmine was featured on several animal shelter social media pages and websites. I also sent copies to influential children's book reviewers. I work closely with libraries, donating copies to each library in two counties of my state. I will work with those libraries to organize regular reading sessions, paired with talks about the importance of animal compassion and care. I am currently setting up a schedule of school and library visits. I am collaborating with local animal shelters for marketing opportunities.

My advice is to continue to write. The best marketing for your book can often be your next book. I plan on my readership growing with each publication. I am now working on my marketing plans for the second book, Maddie and Jasmine Go Shopping, in the Maddie and Jasmine series. (Do you see what I did here? I promoted my next book.) Marketing is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It's essential to understand where your audience spends their time, what their interests are, and how best to reach and engage with them. Persistence is the key.

SL: How do you stay focused on writing on a regular basis? 

SD: Staying focused on writing, especially with the myriad of distractions in today's world, can indeed be a challenge. However, given my passion for both storytelling and advocating for animal rescue, I've developed a few strategies to keep myself consistently engaged. I set a daily writing routine. I have dedicated hours where I commit to writing. This disciplined approach ensures that I'm consistently making progress, even on days when inspiration might not strike. My frequent visits to animal shelters and interactions with children provide a constant source of stories and emotions. These experiences rekindle my drive to write and share these narratives. I set clear goals. Whether it's a word count, or finishing a draft, I always have a tangible goal in mind. I reduce distractions. I have a designated place in my home where I write. My office is set up specifically for writing. It is my writing sanctuary where I can create.

I am a life learner and continual learn about writing children’s books. I attend workshops, webinars, and read books on writing. I read children’s books and have a library of children’s books for reference. This continuous learning process not only hones my craft but reignites my passion for storytelling. The key lies in recognizing the profound impact stories can have, especially on young minds. Every time I think about a child resonating with my stories or being inspired to care for an animal, it's all the motivation I need to stay focused and keep writing.

SL: What is your best tip for writers? This can either be a writing tip or a marketing tip.

SD: My best tip, LOVE YOUR BOOK! 

Especially for those writing with a mission or message at heart, is to write authentically from a place of passion. Authenticity resonates deeply with readers. Children, in particular, have an uncanny ability to sense genuineness, and they engage more profoundly with stories that come from the heart. When it comes to writing, delve deep into what truly moves you. For me, it's the bond between children and animals and the incredible stories of rescue and compassion. This genuine passion shines through in the narrative, making it relatable and impactful. 

Know and connect with your audience. Today, it's easier than ever to interact with readers.

Listen to their feedback, understand what resonates with them, and involve them in your journey. Whether it's through social media, book readings, or school visits, that direct connection can offer invaluable insights and foster a loyal readership. 

Your enthusiasm for your book is contagious. By showing your excitement, you make the event more enjoyable and engaging for your audience, and you pique their interest in reading your book.

For more author interviews, visit While you're there, don't forget to get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge and have writing tips and other resources delivered to your emailbox every weekday morning.

Suzanne Lieurance is the author of over 40 published books, a writing coach, and speaker.


Do You Have a Side Hustle?

By Terry Whalin 

Do you have a side hustle? Almost every writer has one but maybe you aren’t calling it a side hustle. I’m talking about something you do on the side apart from your main writing. Last month I encouraged every author to have a safety net. In this article, I want to give some ideas about various paths to diversity your income stream and begin a side hustle. Sometimes the side hustle will take over your main task.

Here’s why you need to read my advice and get ideas for your own life: I have not had a full-time job with a regular salary for decades. Within the publishing community I have fulfilled various roles: acquisitions editor, writer, author, co-author/ collaborator/ ghostwriter, internet marketer, teacher at conferences, and many others. Whichever role I’m taking at a particular time interacting with you, the bottom-line is I am an independent contractor with diverse ways of making income. It is nothing steady and a lot like the up and downs of riding a rollercoaster. Yet I also compare it to a monthly walk of faith. 

Decades ago, for 17 years I was a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators. During this period, I raised my own financial support through monthly donations from individuals and a few churches. Through the years, I saw many times the Lord provided in unusual ways—and this process continues during my life as a writer. Admittedly there are some tests of my faith experiences, but I can tell you God has been faithful to provide through my work and writing.

The Role of Non-paying Writing

You may read my writing here, or on my blog, The Writing Life (subscribe to it via email here), book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, my social media posts and other writing. The bulk of this writing earns zero income. Why do it? For the exposure, the marketing and other reasons. Podcasts, radio interviews, etc. are all about exposure to my free information and lead magnets where readers sign up for my email list. The statistics have proven that someone has to hear about your book at least seven times before they buy it.  These nonpaying markets are about exposure which sometimes leads to other writing opportunities.

Ideas for Multiple Income Streams

In the information below, I’m going to give a number of different possible ideas and resources. Whatever you write, look at these opportunities as side ventures that you can do in addition to your main writing task. At times these side hustles will become your predominate task for a day or several days. From my experience, the more diversity you can add into this mixture, the better. The first chapter of Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams (which I originally self-published) includes a detailed list of different types of writing. Here’s the link (a 29-page PDF) for you to look at the variety of writing tasks and try some of these for your writing. 

Here’s nine different ways to get you started (Please copy and paste URLs that are not hyperlinked into your browser.):

1. Write and sell your own books. In this teleseminar, I give about a dozen different ways to make money with your books. 

2. Edit books for others. Some people have made a consistent career editing books for others. 

3. Earn Affiliate Income. I give the details and a free ebook about how to make money with affiliate income ( 

4. Create Online courses. Creating book proposals is one of my areas of expertise and I created an online course:

5. Speak at events online and in person To get these opportunities, you have to pitch directors and other leaders.

6. Write Work-Made-For-Hire Projects (Learn more at Many writers resist such projects but they are great for cash flow and consistent work.

7. Ghostwriting/ Collaboration. Many writers only want to write their own books but there are an infinite number of stories to write for others. 

8. What do you teach? I have an inexpensive program to teach you the details. Also, a free teleseminar on how to get more mileage from your content. 

9. Magazine writing to high paying markets. Some writers have stopped writing articles because the Christian market doesn’t pay much for them. In the general market many publications pay $1 per word or more—and you can write for them.

Find Your Side Hustle

Throughout this article, I’ve included website links to audios and other resources. First, save this article, then follow each link and explore it for your writing. Then take consistent action on the side hustles that make sense to you and get started. If you write fiction, consider writing nonfiction. If you write nonfiction, consider adding fiction to your mixture. The possibilities and opportunities are endless, but you have to open the door and get started. 


Do you have a side hustle? This prolific writer and editor recommends you create diverse income streams. Learn the details here. (ClickToTweet)

W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in California. A former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Billy Graham. Get Terry’s recent book, 10 Publishing Myths for only $10, free shipping and bonuses worth over $200. To help writers catch the attention of editors and agents, Terry wrote his bestselling Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Check out his free Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author. His website is located at: Connect with Terry on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

A Search for the Best Writing App



Contributed by Margot Conor

I started looking for alternative platforms for my creative writing process. Moving all my projects is a daunting thought. I’ve written everything in MS Word since I first got a computer. I have many unfinished manuscripts and short stories. This also means they have been written in various renditions of Word.

I’ve recently realized that it is not easy to move Word documents into other programs. Word has hidden coding that gets messed up when transferring. Both personal data and field codes. Which is a pain in the neck to deal with if you want to format your book for publication in a different program.

If you use Word and want to share pages of your manuscript or short stories written in Microsoft Word with colleagues, agents, or publishers it's a good idea to review the document for this hidden data or personal information and remove it. Copying content from Word and pasting it into other programs often does not convert, and shows up as garbled text.
MS Word 365 is also expensive. It will cost you $159.99 to install (at the time of this article). No doubt that the price will increase. You can only install it on one machine. Files written in new versions don’t play well with older versions.

Microsoft Word files are considerably larger than text files. Some people have complained that the interface is too challenging to learn and there are too many options: Most people only use 50% of the offered tools because of the complexity of the system. I can attest to that.
Finally, a big downside for authors, that it’s not compatible with EPub or Mobi.

I was surprised to learn there are open-source alternatives to Word. For those of you who are familiar with all the ins and outs of Word but want something more affordable, I found two Open-Source options that are like MS Word. They are available in other languages too. Both are free and can basically do everything Word can do.

However, I don’t plan to use them because they are not compatible with EPub or Mobi. In some cases, there is a workaround by getting extensions. But I am not very tech-savvy to begin with and I’m not interested in complicating my process. 

These are two WordMS alternatives:

Apache Open Office:
Has an extension: Writer2ePub:

Libre Office:

Here is the point of realization, MS Word and alternative programs like it, were created for office use, and they are not the best tools for an author. My goal is to find the most advantageous place to create stories and novels. So, then, I asked myself… if MSWord and its alternatives are not the best platform for an author, where should I be creating?

This led me to my writer's groups to ask what programs they use. I will share my discoveries and my research here. There are now some very sophisticated alternatives designed specifically for writers, which I found encouraging.

Scrivener App:

- Cost: Scrivener offers a 30-day free trial to let you explore the features and find out if it’s right for you. 

The full version for Windows or Mac OS costs $59.99. There’s an educational license for students and academics for $50.99.

- Helps you organize long writing projects such as novels, nonfiction books, academic papers, and even scripts.

- Simplifies Editing is an essential part of any writing project. Scrivener has many tools to help you edit more efficiently whether it’s correcting simple errors or restructuring entire sections and chapters.

- Helps you clarify your ideas and plan your manuscript. Scrivener’s folders and subfolders help you arrange and rearrange the various parts of your writing project.

- Formatting for screenwriters. You easily format your screenplay so you can focus on the essential elements of character, dialogue, and action.

- Features for academic and nonfiction writers. It has features such as footnotes, references, and a bibliography correctly formatted. Scrivener provides templates for writing in styles such as APA and MLA so you can focus on your writing.

- Tools for exporting and publishing. Scrivener integrates with many formats so you can export to Microsoft Word, Open Office, RTF Final Draft (for screenplays), PDF, and more.

- For Editing it lets you track word frequency. Allows you to color code to label characters, POV topics, or any other specific category you need.

- It does bookmarking, tracks your progress, has a compile tool so you can take sections from different documents into one document.

- Formatting lets you quickly change fonts, headings, block text, and titles.

- Has a metadata feature to add dates, lists, and other data to track important issues.

- I can do a split screen for an easy view of two sections of your book.

- Compatible with EPub.


The monthly subscription is $30 and the annual is $297. A lifetime subscription is only offered occasionally.

I’ve praised AutoCrit in previous articles, so I am not going to go into too much detail here about how it works. What I can tell you is that the 2.0 version went from a simple editing platform to a full-on writers' community. You can now write your entire novel on your Writer’s Desk in the app. They have a header that looks a lot like MS Word but is easier to use.

- In addition, there is a whole system built-in to edit and restructure whatever you write. There are digital notes and note boards if you are a plotter or just want to keep track of some details. 

I have a lifetime pro membership which gives me access to clubs and other special features. They also have courses and other perks if you are a paid member. And it is affordable. I went from a monthly payment plan to yearly, and then jumped on the chance for a lifetime membership when they switched to 2.0.
- With the new version, they have a voice reader with eleven voice options. This is handy for catching mistakes in your text which you might otherwise overlook.

- They offer Zoom courses on the craft of writing and give their members a lot of personal attention. They will do first-chapter critiques and feedback on your pitch to agents. (These are for an additional fee, but it is reasonable.)

I have to say, however, that the free version is very limited. A budget-limited young writer I suggested it to showed me how all the great things I told her about were not accessible to her in the free option.

While I haven't felt like writing there, I do use it for editing, and love it. Honestly, I should have transitioned fully to AutoCrit for writing, considering I’ve already paid for it. I can’t explain my reluctance.

Pro Writing Aid: 

 Cost is $20 a month, $120 per year, or you can get their lifetime subscription for $399.
- The free version offers many features, but the word count is limited to only 500 words at a time.

- You can select your document type. Fiction writers can choose from various genres, such as fantasy, historical, or contemporary. You can also analyze your writing against other famous authors.

- They check your grammar, give you feedback on your style issues, pacing, cliches, overused words, sensory details, and more.

- A big plus is that you can download it to your desktop so you’re not limited to on-line use.

- It offers writing reports, such as diction, which looks for vague words, transitions, and alliteration.

- There are no writing clubs or classes or other services.

Story Planner:

- This is an extensive writer’s app designed to help you organize what you write from the synopsis to the structure of your story. It outlines the scenes, locations, and characters.

- There are synchronization issues that some authors have complained about, and it can also be slow to render. This is an app best suited to plotters who like to outline everything.

I was not impressed with their website, mainly because there was no breakdown of what they offer in each type of account. It only says that the premium starts at $15 for three months. But nothing about what comes after that, and you must commit without knowing. I personally do not like the lack of transparency.


A paid subscription is $14 a month or $140 yearly (with 2 free months).

The artist in me is attracted to this app. First of all, the design is just beautiful, and you can customize everything. 

- You can add photos or illustrations to your character bios, and make interactive maps. The layout is great, making it possible to reference your notes while you write. You can do collaborative projects too.

- With the free tier, you get access to all worldbuilding tools, collaboration, unlimited storage, and some tutorials. 

- You can export to EPub and other formats. 

- With a paid subscription you get unlimited elements and you can edit any element.

Hemingway Desktop App:

They took an interesting approach. They use different colored highlighting to point out where things need improving. Blue for adverbs, green for passive voice, pink highlights a phrase that could have a simpler alternative, yellow are sentences that are hard to read, and orange for very hard to read. There is a simple header with a few options.

This is a simple app that could be very useful to writers who are learning their craft.

It seems to only be available in a beta version, but there is a waitlist to use it.


Cost is only $6.11 to download to your desktop.

Their premise is simplicity. They provide the ideal setting for you to concentrate and just focus on your writing. They take the minimalist approach to design, with only basic functions required for writing. Simple upload and download buttons.

- Other selections include typeface, backgrounds, and sound elements. It opens into full-screen mode so nothing disrupts your creative flow.

- The environments are meant to transport you to a natural setting with the sounds of nature. There are various music options and audio tracks.

- One cute thing they do is add keyboard sounds when you type, one is like an old fashion typewriter. I love everything about this app. It is just a beautiful design with a fresh take on what a writer needs.

I hope this gives you some ideas of what's out there and what you'd like in your writing program.


Margot Conor has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn't until the COVID lock-down that she had enough time to dedicate to the craft and bring something to completion. Having finished her first novel, she went through the grueling two-year process of editing. Now she has jumped into the author's world with both feet. She's preparing to debut her first novel, which means learning how to promote it. The last year has been spent attending many writing retreats, seminars, and writers' events. She also listened to presentations specifically on the topic of publishing and book marketing. She will be sharing what she learns with the reader.

 You can learn more about Margot and her writing at her Facebook page:

Creativity Goals

Creativity is a foundational element for any business. This is true for writers, marketers, entrepreneurs, consultants, and/or all of the above. To keep things fresh - your projects, your perspectives - it is extremely important to try different things. That's why you want to set set Creativity Goals.

On a recent GoalChatLive, cartoonist Chari Pere and creative producer Damion Taylor joined me for a conversation on creativity. Chari and Damion shared their backstories, what stops people from being creative, how to tap into and/or replenish your creative spirit, and so much more.

Tapping Into Your Creativity

  • Damion: Work on the things you can control and stop worrying about the things you can’t. You may come up with solutions when doing other things 
  • Chari: Get outside of your head. Try running, exercise, brainstorming 
  • Damion: Spend time alone, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes 
  • Chari: Give yourself permission to explore. Curiosity and collaboration are also super-helpful     

Creativity Goals 

  • Damion: Challenge yourself. Find 15 red things (or green things or blue things) and write down why are they connected. See how they tell a story about you 
  • Chari: Take 15 minutes to do what you want to do for yourself

Watch our conversation.

Final Thoughts 

  • Damion: It’s okay to give yourself permission to enjoy things. It's such an important part of the creativity process.
  • Chari: Just do it!
Even if you consider yourself creative by nature, there are always new mediums to try. Are you a creative writer? Paint a picture. Are you a fine artist? Take an improv class? Do you have lots of "creative" pursuits, try cooking, gardening, or a new sport.

Taking the time to develop your creative muscles, makes it a win-win for you and your audience/clientts.  

* * * 

For more inspiration and motivation, follow @TheDEBMethod on Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin! 

* * *

How do you explore your creativity? Please share in the comments. 

* * *
Debra Eckerling is the award-winning author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals and founder of the D*E*B METHOD, which is her system for goal-setting simplified. A goal-strategist, corporate consultant, and project catalyst, Debra offers personal and professional planning, event strategy, and team building for individuals, businesses, and teams. She is also the author of Write On Blogging and Purple Pencil Adventures; founder of Write On Online; host of  #GoalChatLive aka The DEB Show podcast and Taste Buds with Deb. She speaks on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

On Breaking Book Formatting and Adverb Rules

Sharing My Daring Departure for My Most Recent Book

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson


I am sharing an excerpt from the newest edition  of my The Frugal Editor not only to share the content with those who don’t want to read (or use as reference!) a full book on everything from grammar to style choices to front and backmatter possibilities, but also to share with you a departure I tried in that third edition of that book. My publisher and I titled them  “The Frugal Editor’s Extras” to set them apart from regular copy in the book. They include short pieces--everything from little memoir-like experiences that also serve as editing lessons to topics related to something I covered in the book (yes, like adverbs), but deserved a little...mmm...creative attention. Most of them are only one page long. This one is for authors who are adverse to trimming adverbs back as most experienced editors and academia’s MFA programs suggest. This one (the fifth in the book) tells how authors can make adverbs that might best be deleted work to an author’s advantage instead:


5. The Frugal Editor’s Extras



Remember the Reader’s Digest feature “Toward More Picturesque Speech?” [CJ1] Over the decades, this entertaining little piece of Americana caused many writers to fall in love with metaphors. Writers who want to liven up their copy can edit adverbs so they produce those much-loved figures of speech.

Metaphors and their kin, symbols and similes, are wonderful tools for helping writers with the often-heard “Show, don’t tell” mantra, but they can be tricky. I was speaking to the Small Publishers of North America (SPAN) in Atlanta when one of the writers in the audience asked if there was a site that would give him a list of good metaphors to improve  imagery in his writing. I told him that if there was, it would probably be a list of clichés or a list of what would fast become clichés once everyone started using them. That was before I knew this adverb trick which works better—much better—than any list ever could.

It’s a little trick that lets your search for adverbs make a sweet drink out of lemons. That is, they yield an opportunity for you come up with metaphors or similes. They prompt associations that allow you to find and insert flecks of solid gold into your copy. In the example we used earlier in this book, “She ran quickly,” you determine that the adverb is redundant. Running, by its nature, is quick. However, you still want more than quick. Ask yourself, quickly as what? You might come up with a comparison where you must use the words like or as to make the image come alive. If so, you’ve found a simile. But if you come up with a true metaphor—where the comparison of the image is evident without the like or as—you’ve found something better than gold. You’ve found a metaphor.

Note: You can do something similar with clichés by reworking them. Before you jettison something like "He was just small potatoes" from your copy, try substituting words in the offending phrase with something similar. One critique group I lead came up with phrases for small potatoes. Some were better. Some were worse. Some imparted similar meanings and some different: Small fry, excess produce, misshapen fruit, genetically flawed apples, rejected produce, overripe avocadoes, bruised tomatoes. You can see the list could get longer and longer and one of the alternatives might be something that would work lots better than a cliché that might prompt a gatekeeper to wonder about your ability to author a book.

Now, as much as I love well conceived metaphors and similes, I need to add a word of caution. I once saw an advertisement in Writer’s Digest where presumably an editor had red-penciled a metaphor that appeared on an author’s manuscript. It said, “You may want to reconsider this metaphor.” The reason? The metaphor was a stretch. Metaphors should be so integrated into the flow of the copy that the reader hardly notices them (unless they are intentionally used for humor). They should add to your readers’ pleasure or understanding rather than distract them. When writers fall in love with their own image-making skills, they might undermine their number-one goal—that of writing clearly and keeping the reader involved.

One of the advantages of editing adverbs—indeed any kind of systematic editing—is that you’ll begin to write more concise first drafts. The beauty of adverbs is that they can help you do that, but only if you let each one be your mentor—even if it means whacking the ones that don’t work. When you do, the gremlins, evil little guys that make it their business to foil authors’ efforts to produce professional work, might identify you as a proficient writer and move to greener fields.




Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books for writers including USA Book News’ winner for The Frugal Book Promoter now in its third edition. An instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers Program for nearly a decade, she believes in entering (and shouting out!) contests and anthologies as an excellent way to separate our writing from the hundreds of thousands of books that get published each year. Two of her favorite awards are Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment given by members of the California Legislature and “Women Who Make Life Happen,” given by the Pasadena Weekly newspaper. She is also an award-winning poet and novelist and she loves passing along the tricks of the trade she learned from marketing those so-called hard-to-promote genres. Learn more on her website at Find all of the little “Editor’s Extras” by using the separate contents list in the front matter of her newest entry in her series, The Frugal Editor

Does Your Story Go Up and Down, And All Around?



By Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

I’ve noticed that people who want to write a story, but are new to the arena, don’t understand what’s involved in writing a good story.

I’ve seen lots of drafts that are cute, but they have no story arc or character arc. They’re a series of related events or incidents … they’re not a full story.

Another thing, sometimes along with these story ideas that don’t have a story arc, a lot of new authors don’t want to make their characters real, especially the protagonist.

A story and its characters should have ups and downs, ins and outs. It shouldn't be a steady ride or read. It should be like the horse on a carousel that doesn't move aside from going round and round.

First let’s touch on what makes a full story arc.

The very first thing is your protagonist needs a big problem. Something that needs to be overcome.

Here are a couple of examples of a problem that needs to be overcome:

•    Maybe Rafael is being bullied at school.
•    Maybe Sophia just got a new bike and was told not to leave it alone anywhere. She leaves it unattended at the park and it’s stolen.
•    Maybe Rick is the kid who no one chooses for their team and he’s getting very upset about it.
•    Maybe Lisa moved to a new neighborhood and has to start a new school. She’s anxious over all the changes.

After the problem has been established, the main character (MC) needs to try to figure out how to overcome the problem.

But as life isn’t smooth, the MC can’t overcome the problem in one attempt.

The protagonist needs to struggle to reach the goal. He needs to try a couple of things and fail and become deflated before he finally comes up with a plan that leads to success.
Along with the MC succeeding, there must be some kind of growth.

•    Maybe, he learns he’s not the person he thought he was, like with Wang in Walking Through Walls.
•    Maybe she learns compassion.
•    Maybe he learns that winning isn’t everything.
•    Maybe she learns how to make friends.

The story arc and character arc both have a beginning, middle and end. In children’s writing, the story arc, in a way, relies on the character arc. They go hand-in-hand.

When thinking of a story arc, think of a triangle.
1.    The exposition. At the bottom of the left side is the introduction. The MC and setting is introduced.

2.    The trigger. The problem appears (the inciting incident). It may be internal or external, but it needs to be addressed.

3.    The quest. The MC struggles to overcome the problem. The action is rising as is the conflict. The MC finds obstacles that must be overcome on her quest to find a solution.

4.    The climax. The MC has made a critical choice and is engaging in his final attempt. He’s chosen his path and it’s the beginning of his change. The action declines as everything unfolds.

5.    The resolution. The MC has overcome the problem. He’s successful. And he’s grown in some way as a result of the journey.

For #4, the climax, think of a kid who’s about to steal for the first time. Will his conscience kick in and stop him or will he go through with it?

So, you can see that having a series of related incidents does not lend itself to a true story, to a full story arc

Next up, you’ve got to write real characters, ones that are believable.

I hear it all the time, my clients, who are usually new authors, want a fun story, but they don’t want their MCs to have any bad traits.

In a children’s story, this means the young MC can’t yell. He can’t do anything bad. He doesn’t think bad thoughts.

What kid will be able to relate to a perfect MC.

Your characters need to be realistic, believable. Kids yell, kids can be mean, they can be selfish, they can be liars, and so on. They have good days and bad days.

If your MC isn’t believable, the reader won’t connect with him.

Characters need to have ups and downs, just like the story arc. 

This article was first published at:





Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter, editor, and coach with clients worldwide. If you need help with your children’s story, please visit: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.
In addition, she offers self-publishing help for children’s authors. To learn more, you can visit WRITERS ON THE MOVE PRESS.
Karen also offers HOW TO WRITE FOR CHILDREN, a self-guided ecourse and mentoring program.

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...