Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts

Six Reasons to Review Books

By Terry Whalin 

For many years, several times a week, publishers and authors send new books which arrive in my mailbox. To libraries, I’ve given away so many books that a church in Kentucky was able to gain accreditation for their school and it amounted to thousands of books. The mayor of the town even declared a Terry Whalin Day (a one-day event). I receive many more new books than I could possibly read—especially since I do it in my “free” time and write book reviews. Whether you are a new writer or experienced professional, in this article, I want to give six reasons to write book reviews.

As an editor, I often ask writers what they are reading. If they write fiction, I’m expecting they will tell me about novels they are reading. Years ago, I met an older man who had written a romance novel. He confessed that he did not read romance novels but only wrote them. This answer did not give me the right impression about this author. You don’t write a novel just because it is a large genre. Writers are readers and writing reviews documents your reading habits—and my first reason for writing reviews. 

Writing reviews helps you understand your market and audience. I encourage you to read and write about other books in your area of the market. As a writer, you can either be a competitor or cooperate and support your competition. I believe you are stronger if you support your competition with reviews.

Book reviews sell books and everyday people read reviews to make buying decisions. If your book on Amazon has less than 10 reviews and has been released for a year, that gives one message where if it has over 50 reviews (mostly four and five stars) then that sends a different message to the reader. As authors, we need to continually work at getting more reviews—even if your book has been out for a while.

When you write a five-star review for an author, reach out to that author and tell them about it. Reviews are an important means for you to support other authors and build relationships.

Books change lives and this reason is my fifth one about why to write book reviews. You can influence others to buy a book and read it from your review. I know firsthand books change lives because a key part of how I came to Christ years ago involved reading a book.I read a book called Jesus the Revolutionary and you can follow this link to read the magazine article that I wrote called Two Words That Changed My Life. Books can have powerful impact on our lives.

My final reason: Writing the short form is an important skill for every writer. For example, I do not review electronic books—only print books. If I read or listen to a book, then about 99% of the time, I will write a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Create a personal standard for your book review. Mine are not a single sentence but at least 100 words and often include a quote from the book to show that I’ve read it with a unique image.

Are you reviewing books or going to start reviewing books? Let me know in the comments below.


Do you write book reviews? This prolific writer and editor gives six reasons to write reviews. 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.

Where To Find Writing Ideas

By W. Terry Whalin

Often writers wonder, “Where do you find good ideas?”
The operative word in this sentence is “good.” Years ago, Guideposts contributing editor Elizabeth Sherrill told me, “Writers are swimming in a sea of ideas.” 

One of the best places to find good ideas is through focused reading. You can read magazine articles or books or the newspaper. Through the reading process, you can just absorb information and not come up with a single idea for your writing.

Or you can take a more focused approach and ask questions like:

—Where would you like for your writing to appear? 

—Who is the audience that reads that type of writing?

—Can I write what this audience is wanting to read?

With some answers to these questions, your reading can be more productive. I would encourage you to keep a notebook with your ideas.

As you read newspaper articles and think about what you want to write, cut out the clippings and tuck them into your notebook. It will only take a minute but these clippings can stir your writing.
Your writing can go in a million different directions. If you need some ideas in this area, check out the first chapter in my Jumpstart Your Publishing DreamsThe chapter is FREE so use this link.

Now that you have a list of ideas, what are you doing to take action on them? 

—Are you creating book ideas into a proposal format and properly pitching them to agents or editors? 

—Are you writing short query letters and getting them out to magazine editors and getting assignments?

—Are you writing full length magazine articles and sending them to editors on speculation that they will be a perfect fit for the magazine and get published?

These questions are not mutually exclusive. You can take the same idea and write a magazine article and a book pitch from it. There are several keys: focus on a particular market and audience. You need to understand the potential reader and write with that reader in mind. Then move on your ideas and pitch them to a specific professional.

Here's the wrong way to begin your pitch—and I recently received one of these pitches:

“To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing in regards to gaining information and feedback on my story. At this point, I am not an established writer, or even a writer for that matter. I simply have an amazing life story to tell.”

Yes, I've actually quoted this email—but what followed was pages and pages of cathartic rambling writing—not for any target—just a cry for help. I don't know how many of these emails this author fired into her email (maybe a few or maybe many of them). I expect most people hit the button to throw it into the trash without giving it a second thought. Many of my editor and agent friends receive hundreds of these pitches each day. 

I could have ignored this email too—but I did not. I wrote the author and asked who was the target audience and was it a magazine article or a book pitch or what—and encouraged the author with several free resources that I've created to help answer those questions. The email in my view was a cry for help. Unfortunately many people are floundering in this situation.

This writer claims not to be a writer. If that is the case, this person needs to reach out into the marketplace and find someone to help her. Maybe go to a writer's forum (there are hundreds of them) and ask for help. There is not one path but many different paths (and this is confusing to many people. Each path involves taking specific action.

Many people feel overwhelmed with publishing and like they have few opportunities—yet if you look closely at what they are doing, they are not taking action and trying different possibilities. 

What steps are you taking today to make your reading more focused and targeted? How are you capturing your ideas and taking specific steps to move forward and get those ideas into the marketplace? Let me know in the comments below. 


Ideas are everywhere. How to you find good ones? Get help here. (Click to Tweet)

W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His work contact information is on the bottom of the second page (follow this link).  One of his books for writers is Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, Insider Secrets to Skyrocket Your Success.  He lives in Colorado and has over 205,000 twitter followers.

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How To Increase Your Reading of Books

By W. Terry Whalin

There is an old saying in the writing community: Writers are readers. As I child in the summers, I hung out in my local library and read stacks of biographies. That early experience shaped my continuing love of reading biographies. 

While I love to read, as an acquisitions editor, I have a lot of material coming my direction. I often say that being an acquisitions editor is like trying to drink water from a fire hose. The volume of information coming my direction is staggering.

As a part of being an editor, I'm always looking to see if the writer is reading the type of material that they are pitching to me. For example, if you are a novelist and writing romance (the largest genre), I'm probably going to ask if you read romances. And if you don't that tells me something about your knowledge (or lack of knowledge) about the genre that you want to publish.

In recent months, I've greatly increased the amount of books that I'm reading through audio books. In particular, I'm using Overdrive on my smartphone. Overdrive is a free app that I downloaded on my phone and it is tied to your local library. You can check out the audio book from your library for 21 days then download the entire book on your phone. Now that I have the complete book on my phone, I can use it anywhere. I listen to the book while I walk on the treadmill. Because of Bluetooth, I listen to the same book in my car—even when I drive a short distance. Recently I've been traveling and I've listened to these audio books in the airport or on the airplane. Almost always I have my phone and have access to the audio book. 

You can have different library cards on Overdrive. Each library has purchased different books so you can access a different selection. Currently I have three library cards and recently drove into Denver to get a Denver Public Library Card because they have a larger selection of books on Overdrive. Like any library, Overdrive has a wide variety of books—fiction and nonfiction.

I listen to a great deal of nonfiction—business books, biography, memoir and how-to books. You can see many of these books just checking this location on Goodreads. After I listen to the audio book, I will write a short review and post it on Goodreads and Amazon. This regular practice doesn't take much time but increases the number of reviews I write because of the increased number of books I've been consuming. 

Are you using audio books to increase the number of books that you “read?” Tell me about your experiences in the comments below.


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W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 books for traditional publishers and his work has appeared in more than 50 print publications. As a frustrated acquisitions editor, Terry wrote Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success, which has over 130 Five Star Amazon reviews. Get the book exclusively at this link. He has over 180,000 twitter followers and blogs about The Writing Life.

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The Joy of Reading: is it really such a hard sell?

“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.” - B.F. Skinner

In the Chronicle of Higher Education Alan Jacobs raises the old "nature versus nuture" chestnut by stating that it's impossible to teach children to love reading.  Taken at face value, Jacobs may have a point.  After all, by the time a student reaches university, they've already decided what kind of person they are and attempting to "inculcate the practices of deeply attentive reading" or instill a 'love' is no easy task for a teacher, and may be outside the scope of a class built around a specific text or era.  But I have to say that I strongly disagree that genetics are the only indicator of a love of reading and that one either has the reading gene or they don't. Surely if a sense of humour is a learned trait, influenced by family and cultural environment, then a love of reading must also, at least partly, be learned. 

Deep love comes, not only with a natural inclination and innate capability for sustained attention to story, but also with positive experiences, ideally those that happen early.  I doubt that even the most dedicated genetic ("nature") proponent would argue against the notion that parents can influence a child's feelings towards reading.  Reading outloud, early, and with enthusiasm has got to have an impact on how children feel about reading.  Living in a household filled with books, enriched with off the cuff quotations, and where the pre-bedtime read-outloud moments are among the most enjoyable times in the day would have to make a huge difference over one where books are considered solely the province of academia - to be used for learning and not entertainment.  Once children make that all-important connection between 'story' - the magic of narrative and discovery, and texts, then the move to reading becomes a natural one.   

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives ForeverOf course reading will be easier for some children than others, and that may well be genetically determined.  As Mem Fox argues beautifully in her book Reading Magic, it is incumbant on parents first, and then teachers, to share their own passions and help children and students make the link between those moments of joy when you immerse into story, and the 'book'.  Teaching of literacy has to be infused with love - love for the children and love for the books.  Inbue your teaching with meaning, reality, vitality and passion as Fox puts it and children will get it.

I personally started school with an innate great love of reading that was encourage and strengthened by my parents and their early praise of my reading and their own joy of the written text (and I still get that little frisson of pleasure when I read a book like Little Bear, Where the Wild Things Are, or Ping -- books that my parents read to me often when I was very young), but a few great teachers who shared my joy in books strengthened that love considerably.  The opposite also might have happened if I had been thrown into classes with bored teachers who passed on their dislike for what they were teaching.  Fortunately that didn't happen. To suggest that teachers don't have a truly powerful potential impact on children's love of reading is to severely and incorrectly I think, downplay the value of our teachers.  When my sons, both great book lovers, come home from school and tell me that English is boring, it makes steam come out of my ears and a tendency to reach for the phone to call the school.  Sustained dullness in a lesson that should be filled with drama, enthusiam and moments of self-recognition, self-expression and greater understanding (and of course laughter) will dampen and put back many a child's love of reading.  

By the same token, a wonderful teacher can change the way a child (or student) looks at books - enabling a connection between other forms of entertainment (after all, films and television are often based on stories; popular music is often built on poetry), and awakening a desire for more.  So let's not overplay the limitations of genetics and underplay the value of teaching.  A good teacher can indeed teach students to love reading, not by having "reading loving lessons", but rather by sharing their own enthusiasm for books, encouraging children in their attempts, and finding existing loves and linking those to the written text.  

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

The Best Thing To Do with a Book Is Ruin It!

By WritersOntheMove member Carolyn Howard-Johnson

I always suggest that people mark up their books. I suggest it in The Frugal Book Promoter ( I even market with a photo of the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter that publisher Nancy Cleary sent me. The book is bristling with her Post-It notes and fat with turned-down pages. And pictures speak a thousand words.

When you make notes in the margins, your book becomes a much better resource than when you turn corners down. But either approach is better than a pristine copy stuck away on a bookshelf somewhere.

I once fully annotated to a paperback biography of Michelangelo when when I was staying in Florence for an extended period of time. I just wrote anything that popped into my head including that I had just walked down the street where M's museum marked his birthplace.

I eventually gave that book to my grandson who was big on literature! I think it was a much nicer gift than something new.

Usually teachers discourage marking books because it seems destructive. I think it's just the opposite. It makes a book your own. My new year's resolution is to mark up more of my books and it turns out that Antoine Wilson, author of Panorama City, plans on doing the same thing in 2013. He says, "For years I've been folding down page corners as a means of noting remarkable passages, but when I go back to these, they're baffling." He resolves to do more scribbling in books, too

And how do I know this? I read it in the LA Times. It's not too late to make a resolution of your own, is it? At least not too late for something this simple!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .

Making Use of Unexpected Free Time

March may have roared in like a lion, but it also came with a sprained ankle! Yes, on March 1, I fell and sprained my ankle. Since I was supposed to stay off my feet to recuperate (I needed a wife, but that’s another post for a different blog), I had time on my hands. What to do? Well I could still use my laptop so I got online and did some research and writing. I also decided to wade through some of those books that I haven't read.  

How much have I accomplished? Well, not as much as I would have liked. I read one book each week. I researched my family tree, (another ongoing project) as some of it could end up in a book or article or perhaps just inspire me. I didn't write anything prolific, but I did write.

Since cabin fever had set in, I attended the March meetings of my book club and my writers group, the following week. I had to hobble around with my cane, but I managed. In between the meetings, I did some research at the local public library. It was good to be out of the house for awhile, but the going was slow.

I’m glad I was able to do something constructive during my recovery this month, but hopefully April will be better!

What did you accomplish this month? (And I bet you didn't sprain your ankle!)

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 working on her first children’s book.

Reading Books

It has been one year since I started writing monthly posts for this blog! It’s been fun, rewarding and educational. A big thank you to my readers! I hope you continue reading my posts every month.

In December, I made a list of writing goals for 2013. One of those goals is to get through the stack of books I have sitting in my home office. (Anyone else have that problem? J) Recently, I saw something online concerning reading goals. I have decided to read one book per week for 52 weeks. Many of the books I own are about writing and occasionally I will be talking about some of them here. Hopefully, I will finally get through the backlog!

Some of the books I have were recommended by various writers and other people in the field. I look for recommendations in magazines and on websites, email lists, blogs, etc. Some of these books were published long ago and others are more recent. I continue to add to my collection, with both hard copy and eBooks.

What books about writing have you read, whether it was recently or years ago? Do you have any recommendations? What do you plan to read this year?

I attended a conference last year and a literary agent asked the attendees the following questions:

How many have an eReader?
How many read physical books?
How many go to libraries?
How many buy at book stores?
How many buy books online?

Many raised their hands in response to all the questions. I think this is a good thing. How about you?

May we all get through those stacks of books this year and continue to add to them!

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 working on her first children’s book.

Reading makes you a Better Writer

As Ray Bradbury said, “You’ve got to love libraries. You’ve got to love books. You’ve got to love poetry. You’ve got to love everything about literature. Then, you can pick the one thing you love most and write about it.”

This quote speaks volumes about what writers should make time for as part of their daily writing routine.

Another Bradbury quote that speaks volumes is, “You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” 

Many say write what you know, How about writing what you want to know? This is another opportunity to read diverse books and diverse subjects.

By reading various genres, writers might chose to add some literary techniques into their present project. Writers might also try opposite gender writing.

I had such an experience while taking an online writing course. I crafted a piece where two women thought a female wrote it. I’m not female.

I’ve heard from numerous sources that there is a touch of poetry in my prose. I’ve been an avid reader of all genres for over 50-years.

It is up to writers to read books from various authors, so they can become better writers.

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

What I Learned From the Movie "Young Adult"

I recently saw the movie "Young Adult" starring Charlize Theron. The premise: a writer of young adult novels returns to her small hometown to woo her high-school ex-boyfriend. Only problem? He's married with a newborn baby. Not exactly the recipe for a fairy-tale romance. But the screenwriter is Diablo Cody, who wrote the smart and quirky movie "Juno," so I went to see "Young Adult" with pretty high hopes.

Well, suffice to say it didn't live up to my expectations. After the movie ended, a woman sitting in front of me turned around and addressed the theater: "What did y'all think? I was not impressed." Still, I believe there is something to learn from every experience, so here are some writing take-aways I got from "Young Adult" that might be helpful to your own writing, too:
  • Write anywhere and everywhere. In the movie, we see Charlize Theron's character working on her young-adult novel in coffeeshops, restaurants, in her bed and at her desk. When she checks into a hotel, the first thing she does is plug in her laptop. That said, I was annoyed by the portrayal of her getting incredibly drunk every night and waking up hungover, yet still magically being able to finish her book. I think the drunken artist/writer is one of my least favorite cliches. I also didn't agree with the way the movie depicted the YA genre as shallow, uncomplicated, and easy to write. If classic books like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, they would be considered YA.
  • Be mindful of your details. Charlize Theron's character constantly eats junk food throughout the movie, and a lot of it -- a family-sized meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken, pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, liters of Diet Coke. Yet she remains supermodel-thin and looks down on other characters from her hometown for being "fat." There is no way she could eat that way and look the way she does!
  • Avoid stereotypes. Charlize Theron's character returns to her small town, and her stereotypes about "small-town people" are reinforced. The comic-book lover is a "boring loser" who paints model action figures and lives with his sister. The women her age all got married at twenty and never left town. They wear tacky sweaters and have no idea who Marc Jacobs is. It would be one thing if this was just how Charlize Theron's character saw these people -- that would fit well with her character -- but that is not the sense we are given from the film. Case in point: a scene towards the very end, when one of the young women who lives in this small town asserts the stereotypes to be true: "People here are all fat and dumb." As someone who now lives in a small Midwest town, I personally know this is not only completely untrue, it is also offensive and, in terms of writing, sloppy. Push past stereotypes! Deepen your characters!
  • Have your characters grow. This is perhaps the biggest problem I had with the movie "Young Adult" -- Charlize Theron's character doesn't grow or change from beginning to end. She is immature, narcissistic, and self-centered when we meet her, and she is the same way when the credits roll. It's fine if you choose to write an unlikeable character, but even unlikeable characters should have likeable sides to them. The best characters, in my opinion, are nuanced people. What makes me care about and root for a character is seeing them grow and change, hopefully for the better. Charlize Theron's character certainly had plenty of room to grow, yet she didn't take any steps forward, not even baby steps. I left the theater thinking, What was the point of that?
Have any movies -- good or bad -- taught you something about writing? I'd love to hear your comments!

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three years in a row and her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of national publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Youth Publishing Company and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and serves as Assistant Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review.

Get Organized For Less Stress!

 One of my writing friends likes to say, "The dirty dishes never seem so important as when I am struggling to write." I know what she means -- when facing the blank page or empty Word document, or when I'm 200 words into my writing for the day and already feeling as empty as my car's gasoline tank, it seems like anything else would be more appealing than staying there in front of my computer screen typing or pressing my pen again and again to the notebook page. When that time comes, and the dirty dishes call, it is best to ignore them. Stay put. Butt-in-chair. Keep writing. In the writing manual Ron Carlson Writes a Story, he urges that this is when the magic happens -- when you push through the distractions and stay there in the story.

But, after my writing time is over for the day, I'm going to attack those dirty dishes. When I get home, instead of collapsing immediately on the couch, I'm going to take ten seconds to hang up my jacket, put away all the groceries, place my keys in that little dish by the door so I can find them the next day. This year, I am going to get -- and stay -- organized. That is the gift I am giving myself to cut back on stress, to make an already busy semester less hectic than it needs to be.

When my surroundings are neat and free of clutter, my mind feels less cluttered, too. I feel calmer. And the funny thing is, once you get organized, it is easier to stay organized -- it just takes a few minutes every day to keep that way. And really, how much harder is it for me to file that important paper away in my file cabinet than to set it on the kitchen table, where it will continue to take up my mental space before getting lost or buried underneath other stuff, alluding me when I am frantically looking for it weeks later? Answer: actually a heck of a lot easier to just file it away from the get-go.

Today, in between working on my novel, going to the gym, and preparing my lesson plans for the week, I am going to take half an hour to clean out my backpack and purse. I am going to sort through the papers scattered on my desk and kitchen table. I am going to make a list for the grocery store instead of winging it and forgetting something I need.

I am going to get organized, and stay that way! Will you join me?

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize three years in a row and her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of national publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Youth Publishing Company and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and serves as Assistant Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review.

Goal-setting in the New Year

For me, January is always a time to reflect on the old year and prepare for the new one. I love this quote from Jim Rohn: "Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment." That is so true, and great motivation when striving after your goals day by day.

Another thing to keep in mind when setting goals is to be cognizant of all areas of your life. As Coach Wooden said, "The two most important words in the English language are love and balance." With that in mind, I like to break up my goals into different sections: goals for my writing, goals for my nonprofit organization Write On! For Literacy, and general goals for a healthy, balanced life. Here are some examples in each category:

Writing Goals
  • Write 400 words every day.
  • Complete new novel manuscript.
  • Submit to a literary magazine every other week.
  • Write a three-act play.
  • Read at least half an hour every day.
Write On! Goals
  • Send out a newsletter every month.
  • Be a guest speaker at 8 schools/organizations.
  • Create a Write On! DVD.
  • Start a Holiday Book Drive at Purdue.
Healthy Life Goals
  • Exercise three days a week.
  • Learn to cook 10 new healthy recipes.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Do at least one act of kindness every day.
  • Count my blessings every night.
I've heard that the best goals are both measurable and attainable. Instead of saying, "In 2012 I want to write more" set a plan of action of how you will do this. The word "more" is so vague -- how much do you want to write every day? Do you want to measure your writing by time, i.e. one hour every day? Or would you be more motivated by a page or word count? Make sure the goal is attainable -- you don't want to feel defeated or overwhelmed -- but once your goal is set, try to be firm with yourself. Stick to it! Here is a website that I find really helpful and motivating in tracking my progress on my goals: Even after a long day, I'll put in the work to get that little green check-mark! :)

Something I am trying for the first time this year is breaking down my year-long goals into month-by-month goals. It helps me get a handle on more daunting projects by planning out how I want to move forward month by month. For example, one of my writing goals is to finish the current novel manuscript I am working on. I have a goal of writing a certain number of pages every month.

I am also a believer in daily to-do lists -- it feels so good to cross things off my list! -- but I think month-by-month goals are more flexible for those inevitable times when life gets crazy. For example, maybe I won't be able to write much for a few days during midterms, but then I can make up for it the next week and still be on track for my monthly writing goal.

What are your goals for 2012? How will you make them happen?

I'll close with another of my favorite quotes from Coach Wooden: "The journey is better than the inn." Here's wishing you a masterpiece of a journey in 2012!

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize three years in a row and her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of national publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Youth Publishing Company and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and serves as Assistant Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review.

Give the Gift of Reading This Holiday Season!

Toys are broken and clothes are outgrown ... 
but the impact of books lasts a lifetime.

The volunteer organization “Write On! For Literacy” is holding its Tenth Annual Holiday Book Drive to benefit underprivileged children! Last year we collected nearly 1,000 books (bringing our grand total to more than 12,000 books!) that were distributed to various schools and charities including the Boys & Girls Club, Casa Pacifica, and Project Understanding. Please do your part to help children have a better holiday season. Help beat illiteracy and give the gift that lasts forever: the gift of reading!

Want to get involved?
  • Mail book donations to the Write On! chapter headquarters: 400 Roosevelt Court, Ventura, CA, 93003
  • You can also mail monetary donations that will be used to purchase books to the above address. (Checks made out to Dallas Woodburn.)
  • Start a chapter in your area! Donate books to a local charity -- Boys & Girls Clubs are usually very grateful for donations -- and then e-mail me the total number of books donated which will be added to our grand-total. 

Many thanks to our recent generous contributors!

* Barry Kibrick, host of the Emmy-award-winning PBS television show "Between the Lines," annually donates 400-500 books to charity.

* Raeanne Alliapoulos donated 30 books to the Boys & Girls Club in Pomona, California.

* A. William Benitez and his company Positive Imaging, LLC, shipped out 20 copies of Lottie's Adventure, a marvelous and imaginative book for kids and middle-graders:

About Write On!

“Write On! For Literacy” is a volunteer-run organization founded by author Dallas Woodburn in 2001. The goal is to encourage kids to discover confidence, happiness, a means of self-expression, and connection to others through reading and writing. The Write On! website features writing contests, book reviews, author interviews, writing tips and ideas, and ways for everyone to get involved. 

The past nine years, Write On's Holiday Book Drive has donated 12,106 books to disadvantaged children across the nation.

Writers Read

Good writers read good books. There is no getting around it. Of course being a good reader doesn't necessarily equate to being a good writer, otherwise most publishers would be publishing their own bestselling books, however, as a writer it's critical to be able to understand what words are capable of, the limits, and how to stretch those limits.

The giants of English literature--Ulysses, The Sound and The Fury, Great Expectations, The Waves, all take words and torture them, stretch them, use them in new ways, expanding their possibilities to produce new meaning, greater understanding, deeper feeling, epiphany. They turn the cliché on its head, put paid to the caricatures of life we see on television, force their reader to reflect, think, grow, and live differently. Without these books, great modern works like History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, Oscar and Lucinda, The Moor's Last Sigh or Captain Corelli's Mandolin could not have been written. Each writer owes his craft to those who preceded them and changes the world for their readers and those writers who follow them. So reading well is part of the ongoing and permanent apprenticeship for those who wish to write in a way which is more than simply craft.

Writing which makes people cry, think, desire, anger, laugh and carry your characters around with them as part of their permanent memory bank; writing which is Art. If you are a Dr. Frankenstein, wanting to bring your characters and meaning to life, to join the really big authors in making meaning, then you simply have to read. It might be a long apprenticeship. Good books are not always easy. Nor do they generally give you that feeling that 'you can do this' which poor books might, in fact you might end up feeling a little awed.

However, the short term pain is more than offset by the deep pleasure of transportation into an original world, by the long term gains of vocabulary expansion, greater clarity of vision, and a heightened sense of what is possible with words.

So how do you find out about really good books? How do you choose wisely so that your investment of time is worthwhile? After all if you are reading, writing, doing something else to bring in money - since writing well is often not lucrative in the first instance unless you are very lucky - and possibly raising a family and dealing with the daily imperatives of keeping body fed and home clean, juggling time is always an issue. Well, I'm a compulsive. I read anything and everything from cereal boxes to historical tomes, but I also try to discriminate based on the genre I'm reading. If it is going to be a serious read, I'll pick writers who I know are good, based either on recommendations of like-minded readers or past experience, although some of my best finds have been serendipitous so I have to admit that I have on occasion judged a book by the blurb on its cover. I'm lucky though in that I've been reading so long that it is as natural to me as breathing (nearly) and I can start and stop and read in the most extenuating circumstances (in fact reading helps me deal with extenuating circumstances better). If this isn't the case for you, perhaps you need a guide.

Find a good reviewer whose work you trust and let them guide you. There are plenty to choose from on the internet and in print. Some of the more well known review sites are:
To name just a few. And of course there's my own site:

You could also go by the prize winners, for example The Booker Prize (including the nominees) is almost always a good guide to great fiction, although you would, of course, miss out on all the non-prize winning books that way. Of course there is always bookshop recommendations, from Amazon to the little guy with the great personalized service down the road who probably knows your reading tastes if you visit often enough. However you find great books, enjoy your apprenticeship.

If you love reading enough to do it under any circumstances, in whatever snatches of time you can afford, and write when you aren't reading, you are going to eventually produce something wonderful. A shining gem which will change your readers' perception of the world.

About the author: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust, and Quark Soup, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then, Imagining the Future, and Deeper Into the Pond. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks.  Find out more at

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