On the writerly resolution

I'm not really a resolution type girl. I prefer goals. SMART goals - that is, specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Goals can be worked towards - they aren't necessarily met or not met. Instead we use them as roadmaps and progress towards their achievement. If you have a goal to write 12 chapters and only write 6, you haven't failed, you've written 6 chapters. So, as we are now in January 2014, I thought it might be right to define a few writerly goals rather than resolutions that we can all work towards in our writing practice.  There is no non-achievement here.  Every step along the way is to be congratulated.  Here are my five goals for 2014. Maybe they'll resonate with you too.

  • Write every day - no matter where; no matter what.  I don't like to confine myself to word counts - sometimes I have to stop and research. Sometimes I have to minister to the many people in my life that I love and who need me.  But if I touch base with my writing each day it moves forward and stays present in my head. I can then also do a lot of the work in my subconcious, through attention, and application in ways that don't happen if you let a day, or several days, go by without writing. 
  • Write without restraint. Allow yourself to delve deep - sometimes to dark places where there is pain and desire. No one will read what you've written until you let them, so forget about your readers for a bit and go where you must to find your own truth (bet you don't hear that often...).
  • Turn off the lizardy, self-critical voice in your head (she can come back later) when you write. The goal is not to write a masterpiece. That's too daunting and probably not SMART. The goal is just to front up and do the writing. The polishing comes later. So don't criticise yourself. Now is not the time.
  • Look, listen, pay attention. The world is full of characters and material. The more you write, the more you'll notice and find stuff to write about.  Everything (and everyone) is interesting if you pay close enough attention, listen, look, use your five senses, and really take it in.
  • Aim for completion. It doesn't have to be the whole project. Chunking a project into, for example, chapters, or poems, or pieces of finished work is not only more satisfying than endlessly working on something, but it gives you something you can submit somewhere, which really helps keep the writing juices flowing (a few accolades/publications/or positive critiques don't hurt either).
How about you?  Will you be setting secific goals for 2014?  Whatever you'll be spending 2014 doing, have a very happy new year!  

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 www.magdalenaball.com.

Goal Setting for the New Year

I long ago stopped making “New Year’s Resolutions,” because as we all know they only last about a week, right? Go on a diet, exercise more, write more, be happier, etc.

I wonder, why does that happen? Perhaps it’s because these resolutions are just too broad, too sweeping—“write more”—what does that mean? It could mean writing one page more than you wrote last year. Or perhaps you set goals that you can't possibly give yourself, that aren't within your control. Goals like, “I’m going to become a published author this year,” or “I’m going to win a writing contest this year.” These goals are beyond your control and you are setting yourself up for failure.

Be specific. There’s a difference between your dreams (being published, winning awards) and your achievable goals. For example, as a goal, you may write down “I will write for ten minutes a day” or “I will write 500 words a day.” Those are specific and they are attainable. (Not: write for 12 hours a day or write 10,000 words a day. Unrealistic.)

A goal that can help you on your path to publication may be “I will submit one short story (or article) per month (or every 3 months, or whatever achievable time frame you set).” Or “I will make a list of ten agents (or publishers)” and “I will submit one query per month (or whatever time frame).”

A goal to put you closer to winning a contest may be similar: “I will submit an entry to one contest every month (or other time frame).”

Others might be: “I will join a critique group.”
“I will take a class in memoir (fiction, creative non-fiction).”
“I will finish the first draft of my book by July 1.”
“I will complete the second rewrite of my book by December 1.”

Divide your larger goals into mini goals you can work on each day.
“I'll write three pages before I go to bed today.”
“I'll finish that outline today.”
“I'll research that information I need today.”

My immediate goal is to put the final polish on a non-fiction book by my deadline of January 31. My next goal is to begin the rewrite on what will become the fourth novel in my series. Perhaps I want to give myself a deadline to finish that novel and submit it to my publisher by November 1. To help me along with that, I plan to revive the critique group I got started last fall. If I want to refine that, I could say that I will have five (or ten) pages per week ready for my critique partners.

How do you set goals and what are some of yours?


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of the Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and her next book Dare to Dream Will be published next May.

Add Props to Die For as Symbols in Your Story

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Stapler Copyright © 2012-2014 Joan Y. Edwards
Money Bag - Copyright © 2012-2014 Joan Y. Edwards
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Ornament Copyright © 2012-2014 Joan Y. Edwards

"Add Props to Die For as Symbols in Your Story" by Joan Y. Edwards

Add a prop to inspire you in your writing. A prop can add depth, dimension, and meaning. It also gives you practice in describing a tangible object. A prop can be symbolic of the theme of your story and/or the dreams or fears of your main character. A prop can also be a symbol of a flaw for one of your characters. You want it to be simple, understandable. You definitely want the prop you use to be believable, not contrived. 

If per chance the props I placed here wouldn't fit in your story, don't use them. Substitute a meaningful prop. A prop that your character would "die" to keep, or "die" to get, or "die" to get rid of it.

Write freely. Write what you think about. Write for 10 or 20 minutes. Use what is relevant and meaningful. Insert it into your current work-in-progress or save it in a writing exercise folder. You might want to use it as food for thought at a later time.

There are many books and movies that utilize a prop to symbolize the theme. 
The Notebook
Diary of Anne Frank
The Scarlet Letter
Daddy Day Care
Gas Food Lodging
Maid in Manhattan
Queen of Hearts  
You've Got Mail 
Dark Moon Rising          

There are many who use props as symbols:
Toy Story - Woody - symbol of toys that know they are just toys- symbol of people who know who they are.
Wizard of Oz - The ruby red slippers - symbol of everything magical and symbol of power
The Graduate - the stockings of Mrs. Robinson - symbol of seduction

When it storms (with lightning and thunder) rains in a film, it symbolizes bad things are going to happen.

My purpose is to get you to think outside the box. I want you to get your creative juices going. Try it out. See what you think.

Story Starters:
  1. Sam was devastated.  At the end of the storm, all that was left was...choose one or all three props. Meanings of devastate: destroy, ruin, wreck, lay waste, ravage, demolish, raze (to the ground), level, flatten. Show us emotions that emerge with in your character from loss: sadness, defeat, depressed, overwhelmed, shocked, grief, anger.
  2. Jasmine was forgetful. This made her angry. Use these props to show her forgetfulness and her anger. Try not to use the word angry, yet help us know it by her actions and reactions that she is definitely filled with anger.
  3. Timothy was a banker. His job was chief organizer. He managed money well, but he never got his life organized. His Christmas decorations were still up from 2010. 

Thanks for reading this post. I'd love for you to share your passages. Please share your thoughts on how you choose items to symbolize your theme or characters. I smile when I hear from you.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

My Books:
Flip Flap Floodle, even mean ole Mr. Fox can't stop this little duck
Paperback, Kindle and Nook
Joan’s Elder Care Guide, Release date June 2014 by 4RV Publishing

Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards

SEO Writer eCourse Cover Poll

Today's post is a poll of a few covers I designed for a new course I have that will launch soon.

Here are the 5 covers I'm debating over:






6. Just added a 6th to the mix - it's a bit less cluttered:

Please know that these are just test covers, so there may be errors or the spacing may be off a bit, as in #6. There will be extra black space on top and at the bottom.

Please let me know what you think, which you like the best. It's difficult to see something you created in a fresh manner.


It you'd leave the number of the image and a brief explanation of why you like it, it'd be super helpful.



Borrowing from the Superheroes

My husband—sweetie that he is—brought me a copy of The Smithsonian from his dermatologist's office. So thanks to Lance and Dr. Mantel, I am now a diehard fan of the magazine.

One of the articles was inspired by the new movie, Man of Steel. They take up how "superhero origin stories inspire us to cope with adversity."

The elements that make superheroes so popular can work with characters in any kind of fiction you may write (or read). Here are the ones that Smithsonian writer Robin Rosenberg found in several of the most popular superhero tales. Check your stories and novels to see how these themes (or "life-altering experiences") might be capitalized on to further pique the interest of your readers.

~Destiny—is your character "chosen" in some way?
~Trauma—has your character suffered trauma that increased his strengths or weaknesses?
~Sheer chance—Sheer chance is usually not as compelling as an action that has been caused or motivated, but sometimes a writer just has to resort to it. If an author makes that choice, he or she should put more emphasis on how the character deals with it.
~Choosing "altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power."
My own takeaway from Rosenberg’s piece is that literary criticism of the last decade has relegated backstory in novels as pretty undesirable, something that should be minimized at all costs. In my gut, I've always disagreed. Of course, we can't let backstory get in the way of momentum, but backstory is often part of your hero’s path to character building so they very well may deserve more attention.  I’m also reading Wally Lamb’s new novel and I’m pretty sure from the evidence that he agrees with me—at least in regard to literary fiction.

Backstory helps your readers relate and find meaning in loss, and it provides models for coping. If you are a write of nonfiction, you may find ways to use superheroes' themes anecdotally in your work.

In either case, understanding the psychological underpinnings of why we are so affected may benefit us all by "tapping into our capacity for empathy, one of the greatest [super?] powers of all."

There’s one more that Rosenberg missed. I think we're all searching for connection—human to human. If that happens to be human-to-alien or human-to-superhero, so be it. It's part of what we all need as readers.

Note: Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist, has written several books about the psychology of superheroes. Search for her on Google.
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 TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, 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 .

Trust your Readers--Part 2

Subtlety is important in good writing, and requires you to trust your readers to catch on to things.  In the first part of this series, we saw examples of problem #1:  showing and then telling.  Now we'll look at a bigger-picture problem.

Problem #2:  Beating Your Reader Over the Head with Big Themes

When you write, you need to make sure your readers understand—and remember—major elements in your story:  plot points, secondary characters, your hero's strengths and weaknesses, motivations, and what's at stake.  You will probably also be weaving in overall themes, questions, or messages.   

As with anything important, the temptation is to overemphasize these elements.  The result?  Beating your readers over the head. 

One common area this occurs is with character traits.  If, for example, you character is afraid of getting emotionally involved with other people, establish it well when you first reveal it, preferably through showing instead of telling, then give your readers credit for remembering.  Reinforce it with your character's actions now and then, as natural to the plot, but if you keep hammering it in, especially in narration, your reader will get annoyed.

Overall themes and messages can drown in repetition too.  If your character is a sickly, selfish, unhappy thing, and through the course of the book she starts helping and thus caring about other people, and slowly becomes healthier and happier, your reader will understand the connection.  You can reinforce it through specific things she does for others, and how she feels afterwards, but refrain from statements like "the selfish, unhappy, sickly woman had discovered that helping other people made her happy.  Her health had returned and her life had meaning."  Not only does this bang a frying pan on your reader's head; it ventures into the realm of preachiness.

If your aim is to influence readers, preaching is one of the least effective way to do so.  Nobody likes a lecture, but people do like good stories where characters make positive changes in their lives or suffer through mistakes that the readers might do well to avoid.  When readers sympathize with characters different from themselves, or learn about situations they knew nothing about, perspectives can change.  All this will only have a real effect, however, if the reader is left alone to make the connections.

There's often a fine line between overexplanation and underexplanation.  In trying to be subtle and cut out repetition, you can stray into underexplanation, something just as deadly.  You, as the writer, might not be the best judge of how much reminding is enough, since you know your ideas and characters so well.  This is where beta readers and critiquers come in so handy.

Solution to Beating your Reader Over the Head

Find several people who can read your entire manuscript carefully and give constructive feedback.  This may be a local critique group, fellow writers or avid readers you met online, or friends and family who will be honest yet kind and whose critiques won't ruin your relationship.  Ask them specifically to look for areas of repetition, and make careful note of them.

Add to their lists any other story elements you believe you may have hit home too hard.  Then sit down and read the whole book, cover to cover, within a few days.   Mark the page numbers where you touch on these ideas.  Then go back and trim, trim, trim.  

After you're all done, find a few people who have never read you book.  If it still makes sense to them, and communicates what you want it to, you've done your job well.    

Subtlety takes work, but it's vital for good writing.  As the famous saying goes, "If I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."  Take the time to write that shorter, tighter, more subtle story, and you'll be rewarded. 

Next time: 

Last time: 

Melinda Brasher writes in many genres.  This month's issue of Spark Anthology (Volume IV) will include one of her science fiction short stories, about an ill-fated colonization project.  To get a 35% discount, use the code BRASHER-FRIENDS.  Offer expires January 31.  She is also the author of Far-Knowing, a YA fantasy novel, and Leaving Home, a collection of short stories, travel essays, and flash fiction.  Visit her blog for all the latest:  http://www.melindabrasher.com

New Year Wishes

We wish you and your family a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!

With the new year comes new possibilities, renewed hope, and the ability to start fresh. Let go of 'bad' habits you may have and embrace making small but consistent changes to better health, better relationships, more happiness, and more productive work efforts, including your writing and book marketing efforts.

You Deserve It and. . .

In line with  improving aspects of your life, I have a powerful goal setting and achieving ebook for you. It's free and you can (and should) share it. It absolutely worth reading. Here's the link:


Reach More Readers: Go Bilingual

Soon my picture book, Tall Boots , will be available in English and Spanish By Linda Wilson  @LinWilsonauthor While presenting programs abou...