Journaling and Other Things

IMG-20130709-00210I’m happy to say that advanced reader copies of Writing Fiction: A Guide for Pre-Teens are on their way to me by snail mail. If you would interested in a PDF version for review purposes, please let me know. I would be happy to have you review the book for your blog, your teachers/homeschoolers newsletter, and especially for Amazon when the book is finally online.

If you’ve been considering starting to journal as a way to enhance your writing or just to see where it leads you, I’ve included some great links below to get you started. I’ve used my journal a lot lately to brainstorm ideas for a short story, as well as, a Kindle book series. I’m developing the series while taking a course from Kristen Eckstein ( The information that I’ve been getting throughout the month-long series (Kindle in 30 Challenge) has been invaluable. Though I got the course at a discounted price during a promotion, the full price doesn’t come close to covering the amazing value of the content. Plus, she adds other free content and discounts to writers in the group. Drop by her site to see what I mean. There’s lots of free content available there, too.

1. Journal Through the Summer Part I by Kristi Holl

“Journaling is meant to be fun. Don’t put expectations on yourself during journaling time. Forget about your performance, and don’t critique yourself. Relax. Let go. Writers need a place to write where ‘enjoyment’ is the only requirement.”


2. Journal Through the Summer Part 2


3. Journal Prompts: You, Your Life, Your Dreams

“On this page, you’ll find journal prompts for writing about yourself and your unique perspective. At the bottom of this page are links to more journal writing prompts on different subjects.”


4. Mining Your Mind: Journal Techniques for Writers

By Ruth Folit

“Writers practice the advice of Sir Francis Bacon, even if they are not aware of his precise words: ‘A (wo)man would do well to carry a pencil in his pocket and write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought are commonly the most valuable and should be secured because they seldom return.’

“Most writers carry a notebook, scraps of paper, old envelopes, to jot down ‘thoughts of the moment.’ A journal is another medium in which a writer can keep a record, albeit a slightly more unified one.”

If you would like to know when Writing Fiction: A Guide for Pre-Teens comes out, please fill out the following form. I promise that you will not be bombarded with spam emails, just the odd thing that I come across that you might find useful, such as a sample chapter or a link to a great writing resource. Thanks!

New Year – New Edition

Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens Second EditionI’ve been in serious editing mode for a while now, and am finally nearing the launch of the second edition of Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens. I’ve added a few things, updated a few things, and included 50+ writing prompts.

What I’ve really enjoyed is doing all the work myself, rather than going through a vanity press, which is what I did last time. I’ve learned a lot more about the publishing industry since then, and hope to put some of those lessons to good use with the book’s sales, promotion, and distribution. To begin, this book will be priced lower than the original! I had fun creating the interior look of the book, too, using templates from Joel Friedlander. You can take a peek at what he offers here.

So, now I just have to wait until my review copy arrives, then one last batch of edits (mostly, I hope, for the inevitable typos that I never catch when I’m proofreading on the screen) and out it will go into the world.

The next project is already underway–more editing! I finished writing a sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl last year, so I’m now in editing and formatting mode for that one. Oh, and I have a cover story for a local magazine to work on and a series of short stories to edit, too. And, there’s still teaching on the agenda. A busy January 2014 is in progress.

Hope your new year is off to a great start, too!

More Writer’s First Aid–A Must-Own Book for Busy Writers

Kristi Holl’s More Writer’s First Aid: Getting the Writing Done is the perfect resource for writers who want to carve a writing career out of a life that seems already full of family, work, and just the “stuff” of living. I printed my PDF review copy, because I read better that way. I used sticky notes to highlight the parts that stood out and that I could mention in this review. I ran out of sticky notes. There were gems in almost every chapter.

This is a book that gives you permission to be human—to be confused, frightened, crazy-busy, in pain, and a first class procrastinator. Kristi offers accessible solutions to the challenges of a writer’s life without being trite or condescending. She writes with a voice that has “been there, done that” and has sought solutions in the work of other writers as well as from her own instincts. She shares her solutions and the struggles to find them and make them work, without a smidge of “holier than thou.” She speaks as a fellow traveller and survivor who has worn all of life’s hats, along with that of writer. Reading the book is like having a special writer friend give you a hug and a nod of complete understanding—just when you need it.

This is not a how-to-write guide. There are no tricks for writing great dialogue or creating a compelling story arc. Chapters are grouped under these headings:  ENJOYING THE WRITING LIFE—EVERY DAY!, WRITING HABITS THAT HELP YOU, A WRITER’S EMOTIONS, FAMILY MATTERS. She deals with the hard stuff. How to work after a loss, while working the day job and juggling family, when serious illness hits you or a family member. And the practical: how to stop procrastinating, the realities of finding writing time—and equally essential—thinking time, in a life full of demands on your time and attention.

I’ve read a lot of books about writing over the years. (I even wrote one!) Only three have made my annual reread list. Now there are four!

Blogger KRISTI HOLL is the author of 39 books, including MORE WRITER’S FIRST AID.


On Reading William Zinsser – Part 2

“Trust your material if it’s taking you into terrain you didn’t intend to enter but where the vibrations are good. Adjust your style accordingly and proceed to whatever destination you reach. Don’t become the prisoner of a preconceived plan. Writing is no respecter of blueprints.”  On Writing Well, p. 52

 Zinsser writes these words in Chapter 8 encouraging journalists and non-fiction writers to let their material lead them in an “unexpected direction” and not to “fight such a current if it feels right.” But, I think the words apply equally as well to novelists and short story writers.

 Even in my not-particularly-vast experience, I know that what I have planned for my characters isn’t always what happens to them. I learn something new about them as they and the story grow, and that “something new” takes them and the story in a new direction. In one WIP, I changed the voice part way through. I had started in third person limited, but my character was so strong that he got tired of being a “he” and decided to become an “I.” Free to talk in his own voice directly to the reader, he blossomed into an even more lively, funny and spunky character.  I would have missed all the fun if I hadn’t let him take over.

 The intimidating part was going back to the beginning of the book to see if it would work with the material I’d already written. I had polished those first pages so many times I practically had them memorized. Now, I was going to throw all those finely tuned words and take a risk with a new voice. A scary experiment, but it worked. The opening is faster, cleaner, funnier and tells a better story.

 Have you ever amended, erased, thrown out your blueprint? What happened? How did you feel about the result?


On Reading William Zinsser

Photo by Jamie Anderson published under Creative Commons License

I’m not doing any joywriting at all at the moment– and I’ll spare you the whine about that situation—so instead I’ll share with you what I’m reading.

On the weekend I began the 30th anniversary edition of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. I generally fly through reading material, but this book requires a different speed. Like good chocolate, its contents are rich and meant to be savoured.

Twenty years ago I read an earlier edition of this book, when Zinsser still referred to typewriters and the personal pronoun of choice was always “he.”  I’m a considerably older and more experienced writer and teacher now, and I’m sorry I stayed away so long. I’m only 36 pages in and already I’m underlining sentences and marking pages with sticky notes. I’m also doing a lot of head nodding and muttering things like “soooo right!” and “sooooo true!” and “exactly!” and enjoying every reading moment.

On page 9, Zinsser writes, “Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

I nodded my head at that one, too. He just nailed one reason (and yeah, there are others) why I haven’t done any joywriting lately. I’m quitting before I start. After writing three novels and another few halves, I know how hard the work really is, and there’s a part of me that I can actually hear groan at the thought of going down that road again. Yup. I’m a wuss. But at least I know I’m a wuss.

My sister-in-law’s favourite expression at these moments is: “Suck it up, buttercup!” Well, I’m no buttercup, but I like to call myself a writer, so I’m giving myself two weeks to get my act in gear, carve out some writing time and earn the name “writer.” In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted on my reading of On Writing Well–and hope that, in the meantime, you too are “writing well.”

Photo “Buttercups along the old CN tracks in Kitsilano” from: published under a Creative Commons license

Numbers Do Count

Yes, sometimes number do count, and yesterday was one of those times. I checked my ranking and my book, that had fallen off the chart for a couple of weeks, was ranked #1 and #2 in its two categories.

If my royalty statements are anything to go by, and if you consider the size of the categories, my meteoric rise probably represented the sale of one book. But, oh how good that sale felt!

I also got my first royalty cheque yesterday, and though the numbers on it are small, they represent my book landing the hands of teenagers who love to write or teachers who love to teach them. I’m tickled pink to think that there are people turning the pages, filling in the worksheets, and writing stories or helping others write them.

My book is for sale online in the US, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. How neat to think that someone thousands of miles–and multiple time zones–away could be reading my book.

If this is what it means to be an author, I’m so glad that I took the risk and sent my words out there. As my ranking begins its traditional downward slide today, I’ll think of that one book, and that one reader, and be very happy. Numbers count, but no more than that one.

Eden Mills and Me

Last Sunday, with some trepidation, I set up my table at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival  and waited for the day to unfold. The weather cooperated, and the sun and warmth brought out thousands of visitors to hear wonderful authors read from their new works.  And all of them walked down Publishers’ Way at least once and past my table.(

I overcame the awkwardness (for me) of striking up conversations with total strangers and talking about the merits of my book. I met parents of teens who love to write, teens who love to write, teachers, and therapists who use writing in their work with teens. I got reacquainted with people I had worked with years ago and former students, and I met and chatted with fellow CANSCAIP member, Janet Wilson ( and Jon Fear and Louisa D’Amato from our local newspaper The Record.  And I sold a few books, too.

My son helped me set up and went to hear some of the YA author readings. He kept me company (did his geography homework), and bought food. At the end of the day, he introduced author, Shane Peacock, at the YA authors’ event and was “paid” with all four books in Shane’s fantastic boy Sherlock Holmes series (, which he duly got signed by the author and is now happily reading.

I was totally out of my element that Sunday and survived. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but energized, too, by the support of strangers for my book and its purpose. And that is what will stay with me for a very long time.

My Favourite Books About Writing

Some wonderful books have been written by writers about writing and here are a few standbys that I wouldn’t be without.

If you don’t already have it, make sure you own a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. This little book is a concise guide to clear, uncluttered prose. According to Stephen King, “Strunk and White offer the best tools (and the best rules) you could hope for, describing them simply and clearly.”

 And that leads me to Stephen King. His book, On Writing: A memoir of the craft is a funny, moving, and unromantic look at his childhood, early struggles to get published, decline into and recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, and surviving a nearly-deadly collision with a van. Aside from King’s colourful insights into writing and his writing life, it is hard to find a more succinct description of the necessary techniques of the writer’s craft than in the section of this book titled “Toolbox.” You have to love a writer who declares, “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

Another favourite of mine is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Combining autobiography with writing advice, this book reaches the reader with a brilliant combination of serious advice, laugh-out-loud humour, and inspiration. One of Lamott’s writing tools is always at my desk—the one-inch picture frame. Lamott says, “It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.” When a project of mine becomes overwhelming (and sometimes this can be daily), that picture frame gives me the freedom to write just a little bit. I can deal with that. I know I will write another bit and another–and finish the project. Ask Lamott why writing matters and she will reply, “Because of the spirit. . . .Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.” Anne Lamott’s book will feed your writer’s soul.

 Both the Lamott and the King books are sprinkled with some fairly ‘colourful’ language and, if you will find that uncomfortable reading, then here is one more great inspiration. Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a book you will want to read with a highlighter in your hand because it is so rich in ‘just right’ statements about writing. Here’s a sample: “Writing…is ninety percent listening. You listen so deeply to the space around you that it fills you and when you write it pours out of you. If you can capture that reality around you, your writing needs nothing else.” Wow.

Of course reading about writing has its place, but the most important thing is the writing. Here are some writing starters from another favourite book of mine, The Pocket Muse: ideas and inspirations for writing by Monica Wood. Full of photographs, quotes, writing tips and ideas, it’s a book I like to open when I need a creative push. Here are a few of her writing starters:

  • “Fill in the blank and then keep going: Until _______________, nothing notable had happened in the town of Madison since the year of its founding.”
  • “Write about a person who wins something she doesn’t want.”
  • “Today’s Horoscope: Somebody close to you will tell your secret.”
  • “Write about trouble resulting from a good deed.”
  • “Write a scene in which the dramatic tension revolves around a misspelling: a road sign, the name on a birthday cake, the directions to a doctor’s office, a word in a spelling bee.”

Sometimes it’s hard to face the empty page or blank screen. Wood has this advice for people reluctant to start a writing project: “Nobody has to see that first draft but you. You can eat it when you’re done.  You can make it into origami animals and decorate a table. You can dunk it in hot water, stir it up, mash it back into pulp. You can build a fire, line a birdcage, stuff a pillow. You can’t do any of this, however, until you write the thing.”  For me, that says it all.

I have one other favourite book, No Plot? No Problem!: A High-velocity, Low-stress Way to Write a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty. I’ll write more about that closer to NaNoWriMo time.

Do you have a favourite book that you turn to time and again? I’d love to know what it is and why it is so special to you. Please add a comment and share it with me and my readers.  


Monica Wood –

Natalie Goldberg –

Stephen King –

Anne Lamott –

Elements of Style

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