Get Out of the House

Sometimes the same old writing space just isn’t stimulating your creativity any longer. If you’re staring at your walls waiting for inspiration, try shaking things up by getting out of the house and trying a new writing spot.


Here are 10 places you might try (plus a bonus):

  • The Library – yes, it’s still everybody’s go-to spot for out-of-the-house working. There’s usually free Wi-fi and the librarians will be happy to help you with any research questions. No eating or drinking, but if you just want a few hours of quiet time, you can’t beat this spot.
  • A coffee shop – this is a writer’s classic choice for several reasons. Caffeine is great for stimulating the brain, and there are snacks and sometimes even meals available. They usually have free Wi-fi as well. Just be mindful of the business end: if they’re really busy, don’t monopolize a table for more than an hour, and if you do stay longer on a quiet day, do order frequently and tip well.
  • A Museum – sitting in front of an inspiring painting or sculpture can be stimulating, so consider an annual membership to your local museum. Or, if you’re not planning to visit that often, see if they have discount tickets or free days.
  • An Aquarium – sitting in front of a relaxing underwater scene can be equally stimulating. Look into that annual membership, or ask about discounts.
  • The Zoo – similar to an aquarium, only you’ll probably be outside. See if they have a reasonable annual membership or discounts.
  • The Mall – just as many people head to the mall for exercise, writers can find a quiet spot to work – or head to the food court for a table. Many malls offer free Wi-fi.
  • A Station – bus, train, subway … the idea is to plant yourself in a corner and get some work done while you people-watch. Just don’t get too distracted.
  • A train – you know I can testify to this one! Even a short trip can result in a great deal of work, and the “roomettes” offer privacy and electrical outlets.
  • Parks – if you’re lucky, your town or city has at least one decent public park or garden where you feel creatively stimulated. You can get some sun while you work, too.
  • Your Local College – campuses offer literally hundreds of nooks for studying or working. Investigate your local university to locate an under-utilized spot or to borrow their library.
  • Rent an RV – if you’ve got some spare cash, think about renting a camper and doing a mini-retreat somewhere nearby. Just park, sit at the table (or outside), and get some work done.

What’s your go-to writing spot?

Handling Rejection

My story didn’t make the cut for the Malice Domestic anthology, which sort of bums me out … but at least they were polite enough to email me and let me know, which is refreshing.

Writing (6 of 30)

In response, I’ve decided to do a short piece on handling rejection. Here are some good tips:

  • DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY – note the capitals. This is the Number One rule of rejection, and one that almost every new writer falls prey to. It’s not about you, but about your story not being right (for whatever reason). Stories can be improved or submitted elsewhere. You, as an author, need to learn to see rejection as a tool for improvement rather than a rejection of yourself.
  • Learn from it – If you can, find out why your story was rejected. If there are issues you can correct or improve, then do so, especially if you get similar rejections from more than one editor or publisher. Again, this is another tool to help you learn to be a better writer.
  • Change your thinking – If you believe that you “deserve” fame and fortune, or that you’re somehow owed a spot in the limelight, you need to think again. Rejection is the norm, not fame. Most manuscripts are just not suitable for publication – and wouldn’t you rather know (and work on improving) than be treated like a “special snowflake” that deserves to be promoted just for showing up? I’d much rather feel I actually deserved something than to just have it handed out to everybody.
  • Talk about it – Rejection hurts. Sure, every author experiences it, but that doesn’t mean you should suck it up and pretend nothing happened. Commiserate with friends and fellow writers. Announce it on your social media platforms. Get the hurt out of the way so you can move on to the improvement part.
  • Celebrate your courage – It takes guts to put something you’ve created out there for people to reject. Celebrate that courage and pat yourself on the back for trying. If you never fail, you’re not pushing the envelope. Keep putting yourself out there and keep pushing.
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”
                                                ~ Barbara Kingsolver

The End

Book Two is finished … well, the first draft is done


This is only the beginning, though.

  • I’ve got the first edit to do – go through reading for continuity and flow.
  • Rewrite as needed from that edit
  • Then I’ll do a dialogue edit to make sure all the dialogue sounds good and matches the characters
  • More rewriting as needed
  • Then there’s the (possibly first) professional edit to see what I need to fix
  • Then there may be yet another rewrite … maybe even several

Then, and only then, will I send it to my agent to see what she thinks. It’s not a short process.

How many edits do you go through before you publish?

Good News!

I just learned that I placed first in my group for a flash fiction challenge. We’re starting with around 60 groups and weeding down to one winner in December.   Each group is given a random genre, location and prop to include in their story. A round begins at midnight Friday and ends at midnight Sunday.


My assignment: Ghost Story/Tuxedo Rental Store/Wrench

Early Morning Jazz

“Where’d I put that strap wrench?” Jazz didn’t take her head from beneath the sink.

“Sorry, I was sitting on it.”

Jazz gave the man the eye. She let her gaze linger on the wedge of hairy chest showing at his shirt collar. Damn, he was a looker.

She collected her wrench and got back to work. Mr. Hotness was paying her to fix his leaky sink, after all. She checked the time. 7:52. She’d only been twenty minutes on the job. Not going to pull in a huge paycheck, not even with the after-hours bonus. “Looks like you got a good clog under here. Just take a few more minutes to clear it.”

“I appreciate you coming out. Don’t want to close the washroom during business hours.”

She shot him a look. “Lot of men needing tuxedos lately?”

He grinned wryly. “Just don’t like putting up a ‘closed’ sign. Gives the customers the wrong idea.”

“Well, you got about ten years worth of coffee grounds in this trap.”

“Bob always puts too much in the filter.”

“Tell them to wipe out the grounds before they rinse the pot, then. Surprised you haven’t had to call before now.”

“You know how it is. Just a drip at first. Shove a bucket under it and make do.”

She knew. Nobody wanted to pay the plumber. “Then you’re ankle deep in water when the pipe breaks.”

He laughed again. “Didn’t figure I should wait quite that long. And I liked your ad.”

“Designed it myself.”

“I like the way you shopped that old Billy Holiday video. Looks like she’s really saying the line.” He put a hand on his hip, mimicking the singer’s pose. “‘Plumbing giving you the blues? You need Jazz.’ I’ll bet you could write for an advertisement company.”

“There’s an idea if the work slacks off.” She held up the pipe. “You can’t just dump everything down the sink without rinsing. Let the water run for two or three minutes.”

He crossed his arms across that brawny chest, eyed her up and down. “You really like doing this? Must be a filthy job sometimes.”

She fought the heat that gaze left behind. They always asked. “I like figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it. Can’t do that behind a desk in some office.”

She returned his look. “You like renting tuxedos?”

“It’s a business. I like finding the right suit for a man, seeing him look his best. And most men don’t really need a tux more than once or twice.”

“Proms and weddings.”

“Mostly. But folks aren’t going to quit having either one any time soon. You had both yet?”

She cut a glance at him. Was that a convoluted way of asking if she was available? He wasn’t wearing a ring either, though he had a pale strip on the right-hand finger, like he’d worn something recently. “Went to the prom. You?”

“Same.” He leaned toward her. “You about finished?”

She banged the pipe against the side of the bucket. The coffee grounds glopped into the bottom — and something clinked.

“Is this a college ring?” She fished it out, wiped the grounds away with her rag. “Somebody’s going to be happy to see this.”

His face lit up, a dimple seamed his cheek. “I never knew what happened to it.”

She set the ring on the counter. “You got time for coffee before you open up? I’ll be done in under five minutes.”

He stared at the ring without picking it up. “I’d really like that. I’m not sure I –”

“Tell you what: I’ll finish up, walk over to Starbucks and get my latte. If you show, great. If not, I’m a big girl. I can deal.”

“It’s not that. I –”

A key turned in the front door. The lights in the main room buzzed, then lit up. Jazz finished the job and rose. Mr. Hotness was nowhere to be seen. Who knew beefcake could move that silently?

A balding fellow shuffled along the hallway, a glass coffeepot in one hand. He took one look at Jazz and screamed. Literally. Like the proverbial girl. He dropped the pot, screamed again when it shattered on the tile floor.

Jazz hefted her tool bag. “I guess you didn’t know the boss called a plumber.”

His jaw dropped. “Somebody called you?”

Jazz put a hand on her hip. “No, I used my ouija board.”

The man stumbled backwards, caught himself on the edge of the washroom door. “That is in poor taste, young woman. You never met Mr. Kersting.”

“I most certainly did. And if you’re Bob, he’s got a few things to say about your coffee.”

His face paled. “You couldn’t know about the coffee. And how did you get in here?”

“I told you. Your boss let me in. And now we’re going out for Starbucks.”

She stepped gingerly around the broken glass, halted at the trembling hand that plucked her sleeve.

“Mr. Kersting,” the man said. “He died last year.”

Jazz glanced back at the washroom. The ring no longer sat on the counter. Didn’t it just figure? All the good ones were married or gay … or, it appeared, dead. She freed her arm from Bob’s grasp, patted his shoulder. “I don’t think you need to worry about it. He must have been looking for that ring.”

“His college ring? He never took it off, but we couldn’t find it anywhere.”

“He’s got it now.” She turned toward the front door. You never knew. Maybe a ghost could stop for a latte on the way back to the afterlife.

Writing Retreat, Part 2

You’ve probably figured out that I’ve finally scheduled a vacation. Yep, getting a bit burned out at the day job, so it’s time to recharge those creative batteries so I can get back to working 12-hour days and writing before bed. Sometimes even I wonder how I do it …

Beach Life - colorful towels drying on the porch

Beach Life – colorful towels drying on the porch

Of course, before you leave for any vacation, there are chores:

  • tidy up all the clutter that accumulates because I’d rather write than do housework
  • make sure all those last-minute items find their way into the bags and boxes
  • pack the rental van … it’s rather like a giant Tetris game

I’m nearly done with Book 2 … my goal for this vacation is to finish the first draft and start Edit 1

Where is your favorite recharging destination?

Planning a Writing Retreat

You can’t always afford a week-long writing conference, nor can everyone get away for an entire week at a time. Here’s how you can plan your very own writing retreat to match your time and budget!


  • Carve out the time – pick a period that suits your schedule. Try to make it at least a full weekend, if not longer. You might spend half the first day sleeping in and winding down from all the stress of your normal life. Schedule this time just as you would any vacation: put it on the calendar, tell your friends and family you’re going away, and let your boss know you’ll be incommunicado for that time.
  • Check your budget – if you can’t afford a week at the beach (or a 4 day railroad trip), look into a few days at a local hotel or B&B, or break out the camping gear and plan a solo trip somewhere. Try to get away from the house if you can, because those chores and family/friends will be too tempted to interrupt with their little “emergencies” if you’re just camping in the backyard.
  • Plan your project – have a definite goal in mind for your retreat, even if it’s just “write 1,500 words a day” or “edit three chapters a day.” If you treat this as a professional retreat, you’re far more likely to get the results you’re hoping for. You can even check out those writing books from the local library and schedule some “classroom” time in between writing sessions.
  • Stick to your guns – unless a true emergency arises, avoid the temptation to get a few chores done, chat with your brother, meet a friend for coffee, or finish that last report for work. Again, treat this as a professional retreat. This is work of a different sort, and it’s just as important as that load of laundry.

If you plan ahead, you can enjoy a mini-retreat almost any time. You can even schedule several in a year. The important thing is the word “retreat” – get away from normal life and live in your imagination for a few days. You’ll return refreshed and ready to get back to your routine.

Where Do They Come From?

People ask me where I get my characters. I think they’re either worried that they’ll show up in a book – or maybe hoping for that to occur.

Writing (12 of 30)

The truth is, I rarely base my characters on real people. Occasionally, I’ll have a contest or oblige a friend and have a “cameo,” but usually, the characters come straight out of my imagination. If you see yourself in any of my characters, that’s great, but it’s not because I know you and decided to toss you in there!

I do use traits from people I know, however. I’ve used a friend’s nervous fidgeting habit, pet phrases, a way of wearing their hair, and other snippets that, divorced from the entire personality, can’t really be traced back to any one person. I don’t like having recognizable people in my stories for several reasons.

First, you’re either going to love it or hate it, and I can’t really predict which most of the time, so why open up that can of worms? Second, this is going to be forever, so whatever I write about you, whether flattering or not, will stick around a lot longer than you want it to. And finally, if I include one real person, everybody’s going to want one – and I just don’t have that many background characters to pass around.

What about you? Where do your characters come from?

A Day in the Life

(The typical day of a writer with a day job)


People ask me, “What’s your day like?” I also get “How do you find time to write with a full-time job?” Here’s your answer.

Typical Work Day

6:15am – Social Media – 15-30 minutes of Facebook (depending on how many “shares” I find to post), 10-15 minutes posting writing prompts on other social media, 5-10 minutes checking email

8:00am-9:30pm – a slave to the system (that includes commute time and morning Starbucks run)

10:00pm-11:00pm – maybe some writing on the book if I’m not too tired, editing if I’m tired, chatting online with one of my writer buddies

Typical “Day Off”

8:00am – Social Media

9:00am-11:00am – editing, re-reading, finishing up whatever I was working on the day before

11:00am-1:00pm – lunch and possibly a rest at the coffee house

2:00pm-8:00pm – writing, possibly with a few breaks for cleaning, laundry, dinner, etc.

8:00pm-11:00pm – whatever

I don’t always write for the entire six hours on my days off, but I’m always working on something related to the book – either this website or doing research or something else involved in writing.

What’s your typical writing day like?

10 Awkward Writing Questions

We’ve all been there: someone discovers you’re a writer, fixes you with a curious eye, and blurts out That Question.

Where do you get your ideas?

I usually say “” and change the subject. Here are 10 more awkward questions you’ll hear – and how to respond.


  • How much money do you make? I don’t know why, but people just assume writers a) all make what Stephen King makes and b) don’t mind talking about their salary. The best response here is a vague “Enough” and a quick change of subject.
  • Will you read my novel? Or my friend’s or my relative’s or anybody else’s. The correct answer is “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time.” If they seem serious, explain how they can go about finding a professional copy editor (and mention that those folks get paid for their hard work).
  • Will you write a book with me/for me? Everybody has that One Great Idea … it’d make a fantastic book or movie. If only they had someone to help them write it, or to write it for them. If you’re truly interested in their idea, you can offer to help them (but don’t expect much out of someone who hasn’t actually sat down and tried to write on their own first). The better answer is “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time.” You could explain how they can find a ghost writer if they seem serious (and mention that those folks get paid for their hard work).
  • How do you get published? Here’s another would-be writer who’s never actually put any work or research into the craft. The polite answer is “You can find a ton of information on that subject on the internet and Writer’s Digest puts out a great book every year called ‘Writers’ Market’ to help you.”
  • How are your books doing? People think this is expressing polite interest, even though it smacks of our first awkward question. The best answer is “They’re doing fine – have you bought your copy yet?”
  • Is your book at the library? Most people have no idea how libraries (or bookstores) actually work. The best answer here is “I don’t know, but if you request a copy, they’ll get it for you.” You could also remind them to give you a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads once they’ve read it.
  • Is your book on the bestseller list? Unless it actually is, the answer would be “Not yet, but if you buy a copy and tell all your friends to buy one, it might get there.”
  • How do you find an agent? This one’s done a bit more work than the “How do you get published” questioner, but they’re still not applying themselves. The right answer is “Writer’s Digest puts out a great book every year called ‘Guide to Literary Agents.'”
  • Have you been on any talk shows? Sometimes people equate “author” with “celebrity.” If they’re genuinely confused, you can politely remind them that most authors don’t get invited to talk shows. A good answer is “Not yet – how about you?”
  • When will your book be made into a movie? Here’s another common misconception you might politely correct if you feel the need. The best answer is “I have no idea.”

And of course, you’re welcome to think up your own replies to “Where do you get your ideas?”

10 Steps to Writing a Travel Article

(And a Bonus Step to Boot!)

One of my Works in Progress is a travelogue for “I Must Be Off!”


Here are some of the tips I’ve learned about writing a travel article:

  • Write a snappy lead-in. Hook your reader’s interest early.
  • Have a clear storyline. Not everything on your journey will be interesting to your readers. It’s your job as a storyteller to decide what makes a good tale and leave out the rest.
  • Have a goal. Not every story has a definite goal like swimming the English Channel. Most are about the journey, the discovery. You’re meeting new people and learning their history and culture. Make it clear to your reader which type of story you’re telling early on.
  • Chose one moment. Instead of a chronological catalog of everything you did, pick one experience and expand that into a great story.
  • Show yourself. Let the reader see your unique voice in your writing.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Most travel articles are from 1,000 to 2,000 words, so you’ll have to pare the story to the bone. Drop anything not essential.
  • Add dialogue. It makes the story more vivid, more memorable.
  • Use vivid language. Avoid cliches and trite descriptive phrases. Try to portray how you felt as you experienced this journey.
  • Aim to entertain, not to impress. This isn’t the place to use big words and literary terms. Your goal is to tell the reader a great story.
  • Leave a signpost. Keep your reader with you by periodically reminding them where you are and where you’re going.
  • Ask yourself the 5 W’s: Where? Who? When? Why? and What?
    • Where? Quickly ground your reader so they know where they are and where you’re going.
    • Who? Introduce yourself to your readers as well, so they want to follow you on your adventures.
    • When? Make sure the reader knows when the story takes place.
    • Why? Explain why you took this journey and why it made an impression on you.
    • What? Include the facts: anecdotes, details, quotes and interesting tidbits of information. Involve as many senses as you can to create vivid impressions.