Finding Writing Time and Setting Your Story in the Here and Now

Finding More Writing Time

Finding More Writing Time

I hope you’re enjoying a taste of spring wherever you are. We’ve actually had some temperatures on the plus side of 0 Celsius for a few days. Cardinals and juncos are returning, the crows are making a lot of noise, and some of the snow is melting. All good.

I found a couple of blog posts that I thought I’d pass along. The first one, How to Eke Out 2 Hours of Writing Per Day, has great tips for finding extra time to write, but I also think it can help you find some extra time for whatever personal or work project you need to work on. The second, How to Build a Rich Setting for a Contemporary Story, offers excellent strategies for writers of all ages who are writing about the here and now and who want to make their setting tangible to their readers.

How to Eke Out 2 Hours of Writing Per Day

am institute (author marketing) February 12, 2015

“It’s easy to get into a productivity rut. When life gets jam-packed with work and family obligations, 10-minute tasks can easily turn into half-hour endeavors. This problem is universal, but most people never squeeze out the necessary time to fit in creative work. You have to strive for better to be a writer. Here are five ways to carve out two hours of writing per day:”

How to Build a Rich Setting for a Contemporary Story

This blog was written by Stephanie Morrill who writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Check the archive on this site for other great tips for teen writers.

“… can you imagine Gilmore Girls with no Stars Hollow? Veronica Mars with no Neptune? Gossip Girl would be wildly different without it’s NYC backdrop, as would The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.

“I think the first question to ask yourself when figuring out your contemporary novel is if  you should use a real place or make one up. This depends on the type of story you’re telling ….”

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Writing Prompts for March 2015

A little spring for a snowy March day.March is coming in like a lamb here—a very cold lamb, but a lamb. And I’m grateful. After a February of very cold temperatures, way too much snow, a broken circuit breaker, a leaking pipe, and a furnace replacement, I’m ready for a change. Here’s my personal public service announcement: Please install a carbon monoxide monitor if you haven’t already. If ours hadn’t gone off when it did at about 8 o’clock in the evening, and we’d gone to bed without knowing about the leak, we might not have woken up the next morning. A chilling thought.

I’ve tried to keep snow and wintery thoughts out of the writing prompts for March. Hope you enjoy them and have a creative month ahead.

1. Use one, some, or all of the following words in a story or poem:

  • Key, glass, red, petal, end, call
  • Paper, control, gold, drop, glow

2. Here are some opening sentences for you to try:

  • Low battery. Exactly the two words I didn’t want to see right now.
  • After sitting at the same desk for three years, I figured I was beyond seeing anything new. I was wrong.
  • Henry died two years ago, but I saw him for the first time today.
  • “What do you mean, you’re out of lemons?”
  • Unlike Disneyland, my hometown was not the happiest place on earth.
  • A day at the mall. I’d agreed to spend a day at the mall. An hour was my usual limit.
  • The voice on the phone was warm and convincing.
  • The flames had nearly reached the stables.

3. Here are some possible story or poem titles:

Turning the Corner, The Blue Stone, Wind and Weather, Death at the Races, Framed, Table for Three, How to Stop a Killer, Spring and Violet, Street Corner

4. See if you can write a scene for these lines of dialogue:

  •  I just heard from Henry.
  • And?
  • He’s not coming.
  • Why?
  • He said you’d know.


  • I can’t believe how hot it is.
  • You chose this place for our vacation.
  • Yeah, when I thought they’d have air conditioning.


  • Have you seen Henry?
  • No. Why?
  • He should be here by now.


  • Your secret is safe here, my lord.
  • And why should I believe you?
  • Because you are still alive.


5. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you finally choose that career or are you still secretly wishing for that childhood dream to be real? Why or why nor? Answer the same questions for your characters.

6. What was your favourite piece of clothing when you were a child? A special sweater make by grandma, a t-shirt with a favourite TV or movie character, a shirt from you favourite team? Describe the garment and how you felt wearing it. Do the same for your characters.

Self-Publishing Tips, Resources, and Looking Back.

My Books--Only one is not self-published

My Books–Only one is not self-published

I wrote the post below in January 2014, but lately I have seen increased interest in the subject  from writers I’m meeting online. Many are new to the process, so that’s the reason for the reprint. The blog offers some resources and cautions that newcomers need to know about.

Looking back, I can see that I’m even more committed to the model than I was a year ago. Last summer I took an online course with Kristen Eckstein, a 30-day boot camp for creating a non-fiction series–the results of which I hope to see published by June. It was an inspiring experience, and provided further reasons for me to stick with the self-publishing model. And, in all honesty, I must admit that I’m having fun with it.

Marketing is the biggest challenge, but I’ve drawn up a plan that I hope will help me connect more effectively with my audience, and that, you’ll be glad to hear, doesn’t involve hourly, computer-generated, buy-my-book updates on Twitter. I’m a patient person and willing to let the process take the time it needs to show results. Wish me luck!

Here’s the repost of the 2014 blog. I hope some of the information in it is useful as you negotiate this exciting and challenging publishing option.


I have fumbled my way through self-publishing over the past few years. Trying things, making mistakes, seeing how things turn out. Thought I’d share a bit of that experience.

I’ve used a couple of publishers since I started self-publishing. Right now I’m using CreateSpace and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)  After I finish setting up my book in CreateSpace, I can choose for it to be sent to Amazon KDP (they are the same company.) CreateSpace will also send it to other epub distributors, too. Both services are free, though CreateSpace offers services like custom cover designs, copyediting, and marketing for a fee, if you want to take advantage of them.

I’m using CreateSpace for my second edition of Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens, and I’m fine with having them distribute it to Amazon and other sellers, such as Kobo. For my sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl, I’m going to go with CreateSpace and KDP only. There are some promotion options with KDP that are only available if it is the exclusive distributor for a set period of time. I’d like to try those promotions, so I’m going to give that option a try for my fiction. For 201 Writing Starters, I went to Smashwords . They had a very easy-to-use product and also provide a free service. If I do another edition of the book, I will probably go through CreateSpace, though, because it offers free cover design options that I prefer to use rather than coming up with my own.

The first edition of Writing Fiction was published through iUniverse, a vanity press. I wouldn’t choose that route now for a couple of reasons. First, I want to earn more money per sale, and royalties are much better on my own. Second, I am more confident about being able to format a book that would look professional, and third, I know a lot more about the industry. I was lucky in that I took advantage of a sale offer at iUniverse and didn’t spend money on extras, and I can say that I have earned my money back. A few writers I know who took the vanity press route have realized they will never earn their money back.

I got the templates for the interiors of the dragon books and Writing Fiction – Second Edition from Joel Friedlander at a very reasonable cost. You can see inside the book here to see what one of his formats looks like:

If you’re thinking of the self-publishing route, be aware of the new trend among traditional publishers to have their own vanity press. They make it look like you’re working with Simon & Schuster for instance, but you’re really paying to have your book published with a vanity press that is part of a large company with a very poor reputation. Read this blog from Writer Beware®: The Blog to get the details: To make sure that you are working with a reputable company always check Preditors & Editors, an excellent site that has a listing of publishers/agents along with recommendations and cautions.

To end on a more positive note, here’s a link to a great blog post from Jane Friedman with a lot of helpful links to help you make some decisions about your publishing future.

Good luck!

Writing Prompts for February 2015

I heard this fellow yesterday, but I haven’t seen him yet.

The view from my window is in shades of white and brown today. White, newly fallen snow seen through the brown branches of the columnar maples that mark the edge of our yard. This duochromatic (is that a word?) view is surprisingly restful this morning. I thrive on bright colours, but today it’s okay to just enjoy my white and brown world.

Earlier, I spent an hour plowing through files of teaching material that I’m culling for my next writing project–lots of white paper in brown file folders. Clearly my theme for my morning. Light and dark will be the theme for tomorrow, too, as we wait for several groundhogs in Canada and the US to tell us, by the lack–or not–of their shadow, how much winter we have left. Wiarton Willie is the prognosticator that lives closest to us. The town of Wiarton has built an entire festival around this famous albino groundhog. To find out more about the festivities click here.

Whether spring will be early or not, the writing still needs to be done. I hope these prompts add some colour to your February.

1. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story or poem:

  • fire, red, cracker, edge, cover, case
  • hat, snow, candle, black, run, wind

2. Try one of these opening lines to start a story:

  • It’s amazing what you can do when your life is in danger.
  • Falling on ice hurts a lot more when you’re no longer six or wearing a snow suit.
  • I have done as you asked, my lord.
  • Henry leaned on the railing, his back to the sea.
  • The photo album in the antique shop was from the turn of the last century, so why did the woman in the photographs look like me?
  • I should have mentioned that I was afraid of heights.

3. Here are some titles that might suggest a story to go with them: Lost Hearts, Danger Island, Driven, Snow Men, The Gamble, Hunter, Ice Cap, King’s Ransom

4. What scene can you create from these lines of dialogue?

  • Remind me why I have to be nice to her.
  • Don’t ask. I’m finding it hard to think of a reason right now.
  • That’s what I thought.


  • I’m sure I heard something.
  • So what.
  • If the noise is what I think it is, it means we’re not alone.
  • Oh.


  • Wolves are like two-year-olds.
  • Why?
  • When you can’t heat them you know you’re in trouble.


  • Why did she have to come with us?
  • Funny, she asked the same thing about you.


  • I think I’ve found something.
  • Where?
  • Over here.
  • Oh. I think you’ve found more than something.

5. In the past week, I’ve managed to find the direction I’ve been looking for in my writing since the beginning of January. Brainstorm around any variations on the words direct or direction, and see where your imagination takes you–director of a company or a play, direct vs alternating current, the compass rose on a map, your own plans/goals for the future (or just the next week)–you get the idea. If an idea for a story or poem comes from your brainstorming, consider writing down your first rush of thoughts with the computer screen turned off (or prop a piece of paper over your laptop screen.) When you can’t see what you’re writing, it’s easier to eliminate  your editor from the process. You’re more free to play when the red and green lines and squiggles aren’t telling you that you made a typo or haven’t written a complete sentence. Worry about those later, just enjoy the story.



Delaying Tactics

My Books

My Books

Fortunately, it’s only gloomy outside–a grey, foggy, damp, cold January day. Inside, it’s cozy and I’m having fun looking at photos for possible book covers, and playing with the collage function in Adobe Photoshop to create a new cover photo for my Facebook author page (see photo to the right). And yes, I know I should be writing.

Two weeks ago norovirus came to visit, so a lot of writing did not get done. Drinking gingerale, eating crackers, sleeping–yes.  Writing–no. And this week, I caught up on a project that got behind while I was sick. Could I have done more of my joywriting? Of course, but I’m an expert at delaying tactics, and it’s amazing how the days can fly by.

And this is not something new. I thought I’d look for a blog to share about procrastination for any fellow sufferers out there, and went to my favourite writing blogger, Kristi Holl, for inspiration. Well, this is embarrassing. Here’s the link to Kristi Holl’s blog on procrastination, where you will see me bemoaning this same problem last April, and for the same reason: I finally have more time to write. On the plus side, I did actually write three books last summer: two non-fiction for self-publishing and another for a contract. And I finished editing five short stories, and, with a friend, produced a short story anthology for boys, with the layout and publishing side being all my responsibility. But I clearly did my share of moaning before the production of all these words got underway.

So, I declare this year’s moaning period is over. New start today. Onward!

Hope you have a great writerly week ahead!


Teacher’s Guide – Work-in-Progress

My first project for 2015 is to complete my book: A Quick Guide to Teaching Teens to Write Fiction. I’m well on my way, developing material and finding resources for use in high school or home school classes and adding accompanying templates and rubrics to help both students and teachers. The book could also be used if you are running an after-school writing club.

So far the book’s plan covers the basics of story writing skills, from brainstorming and planning, through writing great beginnings, plotting (with templates), writing dialogue, developing characters, writing description, and writing conclusions, to editing–and there are still a few more things I’d like to add. If there’s anything you’d like to see included, please let me know. I’m happy to find the resources you need. Also, if you can think of a better title, please let me know! Creating titles is just not my happy place.

I’ve added new writing prompts, too, so drop by the writing prompts tab and see what ‘s new.

To get updates from me about new books for teachers, home schoolers and young writers, please sign up for my mailing list using the sign up box on the right. I promise not to bother you with spam, just the occasional update on new books, resources, or link to blogs that I think might interest you.

I wish you all the best in 2015!!

Writing Prompts for January 2015

IMG-20130709-00210Along with the prompts for January, I’ve found some excellent blog reading to start your new year.

I love Kristi Holl’s writing advice. I own three of her books and check her blog regularly. She’s on a break now until after the New Year, but she has a great archive of thoughtful blogs to help launch your 2015.

If your New Year’s resolutions’ list looks like you are heading into a year of giving up everything that’s fun, check out Kristi’s blog to find out how to add some joy and renewal time to your resolutions that will help you reach your goals.

When I think of accomplishing any goals, the words “motivation” and “will power” come to mind right away. For me, however, neither is terribly reliable, and both are tough to sustain over the long haul. Kristi passes along a simple system that just might make both obsolete and help you reach your goals in a way you never thought of before. And yes, this system will be a part of my New Year’s plans.

Happy New Year! I wish you all the best for 2015!

January 2015 Writing Prompts

  1. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem:
  • Cut, water, moon, silver, nail
  • Handle, clock, door, blue, box, bell
  1. See if these opening sentences inspire a story:
  • I could barely see the house in the fog.
  • Yesterday was a mess. Today didn’t look too promising either.
  • I liked visiting Henry. He always did everything he could to make me feel welcome. His dog, on the other hand, didn’t copy his master.
  • I’m sorry. I dropped it.
  • It can’t be that late already.
  • The box slid to the ground and fell open.
  • Even dragons get the blues
  • Everyone believed she’d run away—everyone except me.
  1. Maybe one of these titles will suggest a story or poem:

A Quarter Past Midnight, Death by Text, Runaway, Dare, A Reason to Care, Road to Fear, Wish Me Luck, Summer Camp Disaster, The Coin

  1. What scene can you write around these lines of dialogue?
  • It would be nice if you’d listen to me.
  • I was listening.
  • Then, what time did I say we were leaving?


  • Why did you come back?
  • I wanted to see you.
  • Okay, you’ve seen me. Now go.


  • Do you have the key?
  • Yes.
  • What’s the matter?
  • I’m not sure we should use it.


  • That was a mean thing to do.
  • I didn’t mean it.
  • You did, too.
  • Okay, I did. So what?


  • What’s that in your hand?
  • Nothing
  • You’re sure?
  • Yes
  1. What does the start of a new year mean to you? With what feelings do you look back upon the year that has passed? Think of the good things that happened in 2014 and take a few moments to write them down so that you can remember them. If other people were helpful in creating your positive memories, consider sending them a note to say thank-you. Think of the character in you story. How does he or she feel about the start of a new year?

Looking Ahead to 2015

treadmill deskAre you looking ahead to 2015? Are you thinking of all the changes you want to make? Projects you want to start? Time you want to find for more writing—and more exercise? Me, too. And I don’t think we’re alone.

For the first time in a long time, I’m not teaching during the winter semester. And, yes, I have lots of things that I plan to do instead of school work starting January 5th. But I’m also realizing that I can’t rush into all of them at once or I won’t achieve anything.

Making lists is my first step. I have freelance contracts to honour, my own writing and marketing to do, a family to care for, a house to manage, and I want to get a dog, and get in better physical shape, oh, and I want to declutter the house before I bring a dog into it, and—okay, just writing all that down is making my head spin.

So I’ve made a decision to work on my list in instalments. I can’t go chasing all of those goals starting January 5th or I’d be giving up on them all by the 6th. I need to look further ahead. What would be a reasonable date by which to get the house decluttered? Probably the end of January.

What about the writing and the freelancing? Well, I’ve started to help myself there by not going on the internet until after 9 a.m. I’m an early bird, and I can get some writing done on my own projects before I open my inbox to see what my freelancing life is going to come up with that day. If there’s nothing there that I have to worry about, I can go back to the writing and check in later.

I have one freelance contract that I know of starting in the new year. It’s a project that will take a few months to complete. Once again, there’s no need for me to start work on it before 9 a.m. by which time I’ve made progress on my own projects before starting to focus on the billable hours.

I’ve learned (slowly) that putting off my own work until I’ve finished the school work or the freelance work for the day, means that my own work just doesn’t get done. By the time I’ve worked on the other things, I haven’t run out of time (because there are hours ahead before I turn in for the night,) but I’ve run out of the creative energy necessary to make good use of those hours.

I’ve tucked my freelance work away for the holidays, but I’m already trying the no-internet-before-9 routine, and it’s working. My husband and son are both on holidays, too, but they’re not early risers, so my day actually starts with writing. I love going into a busy day knowing that I’ve already put words on the page.

I also have a treadmill downstairs with a makeshift platform attached for my laptop, but I don’t use it. Fortunately, my husband’s work laptop has been upgraded, so I’m going to hook up his old one down there permanently. I spend a good 45 minutes to an hour every morning checking email, Facebook, reading articles, and just noodling on the Internet. I’ve decided to do all that while on the treadmill. I don’t walk quickly, but at least I’ll be moving—or at least standing—and that’s got to be a good thing.

How are you planning to tackle your new year’s resolutions? I hope you reach all your goals and that you have a healthy, happy, and writerly year ahead.

Dude! Short Story Anthology for Boys On Sale at Amazon

Dude!_Cover_for_KindleFor a pre-Christmas promotion, Dude! is now on sale for $0.99 on Kindle until Sunday midnight, December 14th. The price is lowered at, too.  To find our more about Dude! and to read a couple of excerpts, please drop by here.

Links to purchase Dude! are below.

Thanks for your patience with this self-promotion. Back to my usual programming soon!


Writing Prompts for December 2014

Summer Memory

Summer Memory

I know that I’m a day late, but … well, November seems like such an innocuous month and then, kapow, there’s no time for anything–and I celebrated Thanksgiving in October! Anyhow, here’s hoping I can stay on track a little better now. I hope those of you south of my border had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and that you’ve all been able to squeeze in some good times with friends and family.

Once school is out at the end of next week, I will definitely be hunkering down in front of the fire with some much-needed journal time. I find that writing with pen or pencil on paper really helps my creativity, and I have a lot of projects waiting for my attention right now. I write for other people on my computer, and for me in my journal. Do you find that changing your writing tools makes a difference to your output?

Here are the last writing prompts for 2014. Have fun and I hope you can find some creative time in the busy holidays ahead.

1. Use one, some, or all of the following words in a story or poem

  • smart phone, cup, nail, sky, bend, yellow
  • envelope, bowl, mist, date, wind, light

2. See if one of the following titles suggests a story to you: The Black Castle, Blue Eyes,  Dream Keeper, Once Upon a Crime, On File, An Elf’s Life, Christmas Love, Holiday Harry, The Next Morning.

3. Here are some opening lines for you to try:

  • You can’t be late.
  • The screen went black.
  • Joe always wanted to know what his father looked like.
  • There are times when it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Sir, there are only enough supplies to last for three more days.
  • Explain to me again why it was a good idea to volunteer for this.
  • No one expected to hear a noise from underneath the stairs.

4. What scene can you imagine from these lines of dialogue?

  • This came in the mail for you.
  • Fine. Just leave it there.
  • Aren’t you going to open it?
  • Look at the return address.
  • Henry, did you hear what I said?
  • Sadly, yes.
  • So what are you going to do about it?
  • Absolutely nothing.
  • Hey, look at this!
  • What is it?
  • Dangerous.
  •  Mike, what are you doing here?
  • Thanks for making me feel so welcome.
  • I’m glad you didn’t think I was being too subtle.
  • You’re hiding something. Show me.
  • Here.
  • Oh.
  • Now what do we do?

5. Take some time this month to get to know your characters better. Chat with them over coffee (while no one is around of course) and find out what they’re thinking. Have you been giving them too much trouble, or not enough? What secret to they have that you didn’t know about. Ask your characters the ten Bernard Pivot questions that James Lipton asks his guests on the Actor’s Studio. Think about their answers. What have you learned about your characters that you didn’t know before? For fun, ask yourself the questions, too!

  • What is your favorite word?
  • What is your least favorite word?
  • What turns you on?
  • What turns you off?
  • What is your favorite curse word?
  • What sound or noise do you love?
  • What sound or noise do you hate?
  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  • What profession would you not like to do?
  • If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

If you’re looking for gifts for your teen or pre-teen, please check out my books page.