Posts Tagged ‘writers’

What’s At the Top of Your Writing Worry List?

How do I know if my writing is good enough to get published? How much time should I spend writing? Do I have to pick a specific genre for my writing? What is a genre? What if I share my work and someone steals my idea? What’s the best way to handle negative feedback? Should I self-edit or hire an editor before I pitch it to an agent? How do I find an agent?

These are but a few of the many questions I frequently hear or read from writers who know how stressful it can be to turn out a satisfying piece of work and get it submitted for publication. I’d like to receive comments from my readers about their writing stresses and any questions you might have about the writing/publishing process.

In return for your feedback, I’ll post articles that deal with the topics you turn up.


Using The Track Changes and Comments Feature In Microsoft Word

I’ve used Microsoft Word for years, but when I started editing emailed manuscripts, I discovered a hidden gem I hadn’t used before– the Track Changes and Comments feature.

It allows you to revise your own work or someone else’s without changing the original document. You can also include comments or questions. The recipient of the file can then review the changes and comments, and then accept or reject the changes.

You can access it through “Tools” on the menu bar, or by opening a Word document and right-clicking on “TRK” that appears at the bottom of the page- this will add the “Reviewing ” toolbar to the top of your document screen.

Here’s a link to a document that explains the basics of how to use it, and also provides a link to Microsoft’s more in-depth documentation at the Microsoft Office Online.

It’s not a difficult tool to use, but I recommend trying it on a practice or backed-up document first-until you feel comfortable using it.

If you are a Word user and have not used this function, I suggest you consider its value in your writing and editing endeavors.

Online Writer’s Groups- Are They For You?

As someone who has joined various local writers’ groups only to be disappointed time and time again, online groups may be an attractive alternative. That is not to say that all local groups are worthless- I’m sure there are some fine ones out there. The problem is that they can be difficult to find, and the best ones limit the number of people (and sometimes genre) for practical purposes, so they may not be available when you’re ready to join.

Online groups have the advantage of convenience; log in whenever and wherever you want, and spend as much or as little time as you want. They also hold an appeal to writers who want to receive a critique of their work but don’t want to actually face their critics. There is the added advantage of not having to critique pieces in which you have no interest (although generally, the more you critique, the more feedback you will receive in return). And for some, it’s easier to give an honest written critique than to face someone and try to tell them what isn’t working.

It’s never a good idea to tell a writer how great their piece is just to spare their feelings… or your own. Strive to give thoughtful, helpful feedback and be prepared to receive the same. Writers groups are not intended for people who only want to hear how wonderful they are, and if you find a group where that is the general practice, run! That kind of interaction might feed your ego, but it’s not going to help you grow as either a writer or critic.

There are many groups who welcome writers of all levels and interests. One I found just by doing a simple Google search is called Critique Circle ( You can join for free, or upgrade to their premium service for $24/year . The web site is loaded with FAQ’s on how their site works and how to critique- there are even critique templates available to use. It’s worth a look if you think a group might be right for you.


Comics for Writers


courtesy of Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

“The Lost Saranac Interviews” by Joe David Bellamy & Connie Bellamy (Writer’s Digest Books/ Oct.2007)

From 1976-1980, the Saranac Writers Conference was held at Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, hosted by Fiction International and St. Lawrence University. A number of major writers were among the participants at the Saranac Writers Conference, including Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Gail Godwin, Anne Beattie, Jayne Anne Phillips, Annie Dillard, E.L. Doctorow, and Carolyn Forche. The Lost Saranac Interviews consists of the photographs and interviews that are left from that time. Still relevant today, the issues discussed by writers at Saranac are still very much the same issues writers discuss today. Anyone who writes or enjoys literature will love this beautifully bound hardcover book.


Interview with Aaron Paul Lazar, author of “Tremolo”

This is one of the last stops on the Tremolo virtual book tour, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to interview a wonderful author, Aaron Paul Lazar.


Tremolo, set in the summer of 1964, is the prequel to Lazar’s Double Forte’ from the LeGarde mystery series.

Eleven-year-old Gus LeGarde, the protagonist in the LeGarde book series, is in Maine for the summer with his parents and best friends, Elsbeth and Siegfried, and their parents. The youths idyllic vacation at the lake is violently interrupted by a sudden brush with death, and in the same evening, an encounter with a terrified young girl running wildly through the woods– pursued by an apparently drunken man. She disappears before Gus can get her to safety, and he remains haunted by her image as he vows to find her. His quest uncovers many peculiarities along the way that indicate there may be much more going on in this quiet little town.


The interview with Aaron Lazar:

Q: E.B.White once said, “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar”. Do you agree?

A: Hmmm. Good question, Nancy. An act of faith? I’m not so sure if that works in my case. To me writing is more like the proverbial itch that needs scratching, a fundamental thirst so strong it must be quenched before life can go on. I feel cheated if I don’t get my writing “fix” each day.

Of course, I do trust my readers – in an intimate act of faith – to process my words without turning on me, which is unfortunately part of writer’s angst. I guess that really is an act of faith! And naturally, I don’t expect them to read stuff fraught with grammatical errors. That said, grammar is not the essence of writing, just a necessary cousin to words poured from the heart.

Q: Do you think there are inherent differences between writers and non-writers?

A: Another excellent question, one I haven’t pondered before. I guess if we define “non-writers” as those who don’t currently write and who don’t have the skills/talent/drive to write, then I’d be able to analyze it properly. Some folks are “writers,” but don’t know it yet. But they share many inherent mechanisms with established writers. Let’s lump these “potential/future” writers into the “writer” category and compare them with the folks who have no desire to put pen to paper, ever!

I’ve noticed some commonalities that propagate across writers.

– Writers soak up every little detail in the world around them and are consumed with the need to record it for all time. This is much like an artist or photographer in many regards.

– Fiction writers have stories that pummel them from the inside, begging to be let out. They dance with delight when given an opportunity to spin a story from an original idea. For example, my critique partner, Patricia Fowler, just sent me a scene that popped into her head. No story line was attached to it, but the characters captivated me and the setting was glorious. I wanted more. I suggested a few twists that could happen to these lovely characters, she countered with a few spicy ideas, and I added some fanciful notions to that – and we were both in Heaven, delighting in the possible permutations of this book-to-be.

– Fiction writers pay special attention to dialogue and dialects. They often have a talent for mimicking accents with the written word, and can masterfully recreate life-like conversations.

– Writers often read voraciously. A frequent complaint is that they can’t find enough time to do both – read and write. But by reading, they are taught by some of the best. That’s how I learned to write – by reading and absorbing the literary nuances of my favorite authors.

What about non-writers? I think these folks – whether readers or not – are equally absorbed by their own passions, whether they be medical researchers, astronauts, or armchair quarterbacks. Being true to one’s soul is the key here. It doesn’t matter if you write or don’t – as long as you pay attention to your calling and love your family.

Q: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

A: My favorite part is that mind-dumping whooshing that happens when a story flows out of me for the first time. It’s immensely satisfying – like an amusement park ride. The scenes tumble out – sometimes planned, sometimes popping out of nowhere. The characters deepen. The action gets my blood pumping. And I can’t wait to get back to the computer each day to dash down the next chapter.

Q: What makes a character interesting?

A: I can only answer this from my own point of view as a reader. I am drawn to characters who live and breathe, to whom I can relate, and who I distinctly visualize. I usually am drawn to “real people” characters who exhibit heroic efforts in their own lives and who sometimes have a twist of the exotic. But occasionally I’m taken by an “evil” character, such as the character Jenner, in SW Vaughn’s series that starts with “Broken Angel.” (coming soon from Lachesis Publishing)

Q: How well do you feel you know your characters?

A: I know them inside and out. I have to – since I’m a series writer! But sometimes I forget a stray element when I move from one series to the other. Thus, I keep a list of “reminders” about their history, etc. on hand to keep me honest.

Q: Gus LeGarde seems to be a virtuous and admirable husband, father, and friend. Will we see a darker side of Gus in future books?

A: There is no darker side of Gus. What you see is what you get! LOL.

Of course, Gus will always be faced with failings or flaws that keep him humble. I believe there is enough “darkness” portrayed by commercial vehicles today and purposefully created a character of great inner strength and tenderness, one who young people would strive to be like and from whom all folks could learn.

Q: Are there any types of scenes you find particularly difficult to write?

A: Fortunately, I have a rather vivid imagination. If I can “picture” the scene, like a moving playing in my head, I can write about it. For scenes based in areas where I have little or no experience, I’ve got movies and other books to help me create it.

Perhaps, though, I do avoid such material. I don’t have any scenes where a surgeon is operating on a patient, or a smart-as-a-whip lawyer is cross-examining a criminal. Since I don’t have a lot of experience in those arenas, I guess that’s why I don’t write about them!

Q: Is it difficult is it to stop tinkering once you’ve completed a story?

A: God, yes. It’s impossible. If I pick up something I wrote a few years ago, I cringe. It’s never good enough. If I didn’t have deadlines, I’d never be done. Of course that absurd desire to perfect the book is balanced by my all-consuming need to start the next novel. So it works out in the end.

Q: Have you ever trashed a story before it’s completion? I remember reading how Stephen King threw out his initial work on Carrie, and only after his wife Tabitha retrieved it from the garbage and encouraged him to continue with the story did he decide to complete it. Of course, we all know how that turned out!

A: Not yet. But I’m considering it with my current WIP. LOL!

Q: Gus is portrayed in your books as an avid gardener and cook. Are you a good cook and do you have a specialty dish? Do you have any plans to write a cookbook and incorporate some of the recipes for dishes you’ve mentioned in your writing?

A: I guess I’m a pretty good cook. My family seems to think so, anyway. I love using fresh garden vegetables and making all kinds of soups. But I don’t have a specialty dish. Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to work on choosing one! But I do hope to publish a Gus LeGarde cookbook some day. All of the meals Gus prepares in his books are based on real meals I made. The only problem is I don’t measure anything. Ever. I just throw it together and it comes out tasty. So I guess when the cookbook comes out, I’ll have to back track through Gus’s meals and recreate them with photos and measurements.

Q: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that engineering is your “day job”; do you find engineering disciplines helpful in your writing career?

A: Indeed I do, because I work with a wealth of wonderful people whose lives I share in one respect or another. The stories that come out of real life are superb fodder for plot ideas and spin-offs. There is also a great commonality in the realm of solving mysteries in engineering. Whether you’re solving a complex problem in a digital printer or trying to design a new dry ink to meet tough industry standards, the methods required to solve such challenges can be similar to that of solving a murder mystery.

Q: Some people feel it requires selfishness (in addition to hard work and a lot of luck) to become a successful writer. Do you share that opinion?

A: I agree with the hard work and luck comment, but I don’t think one necessarily has to be to selfish to get one’s writing done. It’s possible to balance your writing with home life and still be a loving spouse/parent/friend to those around you. Note I said, “possible,” and not “easy!” It’s hard to balance both without making yourself into a martyr or becoming too self-involved.

Q: If you could write only one more book, what would it be about?

A: Oh, Nancy, you just made my heart stutter. Only one more book? I can hardly imagine it. But if I were diagnosed with a deadly illness and had to choose today – it would be one more book from Gus’s childhood, a literary romp through the sixties that would make readers swoon with nostalgia.

Thanks, Nancy, for the unique and insightful questions and for being a host on the Tremolo book tour.


Tremolo is the third book in the Gus LeGarde mystery series after Double Forte’ and Upstaged. Read excerpts from all three books (and much more) at Mazurka, the fourth book in the LeGarde series and Healey’s Cave, the first book in a new series, Moore Mysteries, ( will be released this summer from Twilight Times Books.

Who Really Is Good Enough To Write?

(Reposted from an earlier post on Gather).

I recently signed up for a free, six-week online fiction writing class. After a year of stalling (or was it two?), I needed yet another kick-in-the-pants to motivate myself to sit down and write.


Because even though an author friend encouraged me and believed in my writing, a part of me denied that I really could write. Maybe the meager bit of fluff I had managed to turn out was just a fluke. Or maybe it really wasn’t any good, and my friend was too nice to say so.

What if I couldn’t develop my characters adequately? What if they were boring, unbelievable, or unlikable? What if I ran out of ideas for the story? Maybe the story itself was boring. Maybe it was too long, too short, or too something else.

I started buying books on writing. I rationalized that if I read more about writing, I’d be better prepared to continue. (And they looked impressive in my bookcase). Some of the books suggested a regular diet of reading. But what could I read that would make me a better writer if those books didn’t do it? And if I spent my precious little free time reading, there would be no time to write anyway.

There was no space of my own in which to write. I toted my laptop around the house in frustration. I finally created a home office complete with a desk, large flat screen monitor, ergonomic chair, all-in-one printer/fax machine/scanner, a fish tank- and plenty of quiet. Too much quiet. It was impossible to get anything worthwhile written in a mausoleum!

There just was no way to make it work. It was simple; I didn’t write because I couldn’t write. And I couldn’t write because I was just not good enough. There was nothing left to do but accept my defeat, and move on.

Until I decided to take the free class. Four hundred eighty one people from around the world- all hoping to write something worthwhile. Not wanting to be embarrassed, I sat myself down with our first assignment, and wrote. When it was completed, I quickly posted it; surely no one would notice mine among the masses, so who cared if it was terrible?

Then something funny happened. Another student claiming it was a good piece of work posted a critique on my piece. They liked my character. There’s no accounting for taste, I told myself.

Another critique was posted, then another, both saying how easily the words flowed as they read, and again how much they liked my character. They even asked for more!

Suddenly it dawned on me. I was “good enough” to write. Total strangers had taken the time not only to read my work, but also to write and say they enjoyed it, and even wanted more. One student in India asked me to send him purchasing information when I finished the book!

And more importantly, I was good enough because I felt happy when I sat down with my laptop on the couch in my family room– my dog curled up on a blanket beside me, her small paw extended across my leg. I didn’t need a special place or book to help me write.

I just needed me.