Three Things to Try When Your Voice Feels Forced

Voice.  Agents and editors want it but it can be a tricky thing to develop.  I’m fairly confident in my voice when I’m writing nonfiction but when I write fiction?  Everything will be going well and then . . . what?  Why don’t I sound like ME anymore?  When this happens, try these three things to sound like yourself.

  1.  Watch your reading.  I don’t have to be careful when I’m writing nonfiction or a picture book, but fantasy?  I’m not sure what the issue is but when I am writing fantasy, I can’t read fantasy.  I suspect this may be part of my mystery writing problem as well.  A top-notch author is like a magnet pulling me off course.  So when I’m working on these types of projects, I don’t read in the same genre.
  2. Listen to your words.  Sometimes I have the Word extension Speak read my writing aloud.  It may be a tinny, robot voice but it is a tinny, robot voice that helps poor word choices stand out.  I don’t understand why it works but it does.  When I can stop laughing at some of the pronunciations.  Yeah, at heart I’m a bratty 12 year-old.
  3. Speak your story.  When all else fails, don’t type your story out, speak it.  If you have a word to text program or app, use it.  If not, you can record yourself and then type it out although this is MUCH slower.  Not that word to text is a one step process.  You are going to have to go back and reread it making corrections.

Voice is all about sounding like you.  There are a lot of things that go into your voice – your age, where you grew up, your vocation, your education and more.  If you feel like you are still struggling to develop your voice, head on over to the Muffin and check out my column for today, 5 Tips to Help Develop Your Author Voice.


Tropes: Using them to their best advantage

During a recent snowday, my family took our positions in the family room and watched Anna.  For those of you who don’t know the movie, she is a beautiful girl who is also a brilliant Russian assassin.  “How many times are they going to make the same movie?” asked my son. “We saw the same thing with Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow.”

The next day, I read Margo Dill’s blog post on tropes.  For those of you who may not know the term, a trope is a common story line or story element in a particular genre.  Spy/assassin movies?  Someone is going to be a double or triple agent.  Romance?  The couple end up together?

The problem is that when you don’t know the tropes, you don’t know what readers or viewers expect.  Romance?  They are going to end up together.  Adventure?  They are going to find the treasure or make the escape depending on the adventure.

I could only think of one cozy trope – the amateur detective will solve the mystery.  So I wondered what other mystery tropes I might need to know about.  Poking around I found several lists.  They included:

  • The butler did it.
  • The murder victim is a jerk so there is no shortage of suspects.
  • There are no clues.
  • The closed circle where everyone is stuck in a limited area.  Maybe they are snowed in, on a train or traveling through space.
  • The victim is found in a locked room.
  • The detective chats up the murderer who gives himself away by revealing a clue that has not been made public.
  • Red herrings.
  • The old dark house as a location.
  • The suicide that is murder.
  • The fake weapon that wasn’t fake.
  • Dying onstage.

At this point, I’m only making use of the amateur detective and the jerky victim.  Oh, and red herrings.  I’m seriously not sure how you would do a mystery without red herrings.  But this list has definitely given me something to think about as I continue to write.


We Have a Winner

Star, Bronze, Winner, Award, Metal, Success, MetallicPeriodically I mention a post that I’ve written for The Muffin. That’s the blog over at WOW! Women on Writing.  There are a team of us who blog there and we just got some great news.  We won placement in the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites award again for 2016!   Woo-hoo!  

Check it out and you’ll find a wide variety of posts on writing.

Margo Dill recently wrote about her path to becoming a children’s writer (here).

Guest blogger Karen Cioffi blogged about the tiny steps we can all take to promote our platforms.

Renee Roberson shared 4 Tips on using Instagram as a writer.

And we have a full range of writers.  Some of us write novels.  Some of us write nonfiction.  We publish traditionally and self-publish.  We write for children and adults.  Because of this, we have a wide ranging audience.

Between the list of regular bloggers and guest bloggers, you’ll find a new post every day.  The great things about blogging as part of a group is that the pressure isn’t all on one person to create a consistently amazing blog.  And if you have an emergency, someone on the crew can step forward and post on your day so that you have the break you need to deal with whatever happened.

If you don’t want to maintain your own blog, look for a group blog.  Find out how they select their writers.  You could also team up with a friend or two and create a new group blog.  Writing is such a solitary experience that it is especially rewarding when you find a group of like minded souls.



Idea generation

What else can I do with my Ancient Maya research?
What else can I do with my Ancient Maya research?

Last week I read a great post on idea generation by my fellow Muffin blogger, Luann Schindler.  Each week Luann picks a topic such as an upcoming holiday or a seasonal happening and then brainstorms ideas based on the following list — woman’s issue, man’s issue, kid’s/teen issue, a twist, outlandish idea, and an evergreen idea.

Adapting this list slightly since I primarilly write for kids/teens, I came up with:


  • girl interest (teen)
  • boy interest (teen)
  • younger reader (early elementary)
  • twist to surprise the reader
  • something way out there
  • evergreen topic


The question for me is how can I use this to get more Mayan sales?  What?  Didn’t I just write a book on the Maya?  Yes, I did.  But I can get more bang for my research buck if I come up with more pieces about the Maya that I can sell to a variety of markets.  Using the idea generation list above, I came up with:


Girl interest (teen):

  • How to print a t-shirt with a design that looks like a huipil (woman’s blouse)
  • Working woman’s survival show, Maya style — jobs held by women

Boy interest (teen)

  • Who would win the fight, a Maya warrior or a Roman centurian?  (Got this eavesdropping on a certain group of boys.)
  • The Mayan ball game as a blood sport.

Younger reader (early elementary)

  • Mayan math.  They didn’t use base 10.
  • Craft: Pectoral (large pendant like object of jade)

Twist to surprise the reader

  • Not all Mayan sacrifices were fatal.
  • There are still Maya living in Central America today.

Something way out there

  • What Would the Maya Pin
  • Mayan Halloween Costumes
  • What would have happened if the Pilgrims had landed in the Yucatan (I wouldn’t say these are good, but I can do wacky)

Evergreen topic

  • Mayan environmentalism (green topics)
  • Mayan school (first day of school)


I’m not going to say that these are all brilliant but I hope you can see the possibilities.  The next time you finish a major project, spend some time brainstorming what else you can do on that subject.  Get the most bang for your research buck.  Check out my piece on brainstorming ideas to compliment my Maya book and increase my income tomorrow at the Muffin.


Authorpreneur: How to boost your income as a writer

AuthorpreneurWhen I was asked to review Authorpreneur by Nina Amir (Pure Spirit Creations/Short Fuse Publishing) as part of the Muffin blog tour, I jumped at the chance. If there are multiple ways to make an income from my first book, I want to know about it.

First things first, Amir emphasizes that you need a plan.  Income isn’t going to happen by accident.  You, the author, have to make it happen.  Instead of going with the first idea or two that comes to mind, Amir encourages readers to brainstorm.

Not sure what to brainstorm about?   Amir has suggestions ranging from free ebooks to telesiminars and more.  Follow her steps to come up with your list.  Once you have a list, figure out when each item needs to be finished.  With that date in mind, you can figure out when you need to start this piece of the puzzle.

Individual chapters cover various possibilities for salable content including:

  • Short e-books.  Based on my Ancient Maya book, I could write short e-books on how to research an ancient culture, what 5 experts have to say about the Maya, and more.  Amir encourages readers to go beyond a simple e-book to include videos and transcriptions of videos and worksheets as additional content on your website.
  • Talks based on your book.  For nonfiction, Amir suggests that you look at each chapter and see if it could be the subject of a talk.  For fiction, use themes and topics as subjects or speak on the writing process.
  • Workshops and classes.  These can be built from the topics of your talks.

Do you see how Amir takes you from one idea to another?  Don’t take the time to develop 6 vaguely related items.  Instead, use your book to create e-books and lectures.  Take these lectures and turn them into classes and workshops.  Lecture or classes can be used to create videos. These become transcriptions.  One piece leads to the next.

Not that you have to create them all.  Amir knows that no single writer will be comfortable with the full range but she still shows you all of the possibilities.

In the first several chapters, I sometimes found myself wanting a bit more content.  How do I do this?  What steps should I take? What do you mean?  I should have been a bit more patient — this material was all in the book, in the later more detailed chapters.  Although Amir doesn’t take you step by step on how to create an e-book or a webinar, she does take you through the process of deciding what to cover, some of your options, and what tools you need to get the job done.

Amir is definitely the one to lead the way and she definitely practices what she preaches. She is author of How to Blog a Book, The Author Training Manual, and 10 Days and 10 Ways to Return to Your Best Self, transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, authorpreneurs and blogpreneurs as an Inspiration to Creation Coach. She moves her clients from ideas to finished books as well as to careers as authors by helping them combine their passion and purpose so they create products that positively and meaningfully impact the world. She writes four blogs, self-published 12 books and founded National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge.


If you’re as eager to try these techniques as I am, you’ll be glad to know that the Muffin is giving away a copy of Authorpreneur.  To enter hop on over to the Muffin and fill out the form at the bottom of the post.  Good luck!




Dealing with Rejection Letters

rejection lettersI know an author who keeps something of a black list.  Any agent or editor who is on this list will never see his work again. While we should all black list unscrupulous editors or agents, this particular list consists largely of people who have rejected his work.  That alone isn’t unreasonable, because if someone doesn’t care for your work then there is no point in sending it to them.

But this writer goes one step too far.  He gripes about these people publically.  By name.

Frankly, if I’m going to name drop, I’m not going to tell the world that the biggest names in the industry don’t like my work.  That just seems counterproductive.

I’ve also heard editors and agents speak about writers who call them on the phone and tell them off.  Others send back the torn up rejection letter, create nasty Facebook  posts and more.

While I get the emotion, they are rejecting your precious work, I don’t get this type of reaction.  Public whining and confrontation are a great way to get yourself blacklisted.  I’m not saying that editors and agents keep a list of people they won’t work with but they do know how to use Google.  You don’t want them search on your name and decide that working with you would be a big headache.

If you get a rejection letter that simply sets you free, blow off steam in private to a close friend or two.  Tear out a shrub (ahem).  Or find a way to laugh at it.  That’s what I did when I wrote today’s Muffin post.  Let’s just say that with some rejections it is pretty easy to find a humorous twist.


Dealing with the Unexpected…

plans2You know that saying about well-laid plans of mice and men?  Let’s just say that last week, I had that kind of week.

It was supposed to be the week that everyone went back to work and school.  I don’t generally want to get rid of them, but I’m taking part in ReviMo 2014, a picture book revision challenge, this week. There were other things I need to get done first.


Those of you who live in the St. Louis area know what I’m going to say.  On Saturday, January 4th, we got lots of snow.  We got enough snow that on Monday, they closed Graybar Electric where my husband works.  It was the first time that had happened in the 15 years he’s worked there.  My husband was home Monday.  My son was home all week.

Needless to say, this meant that I had to rearrange my schedule a bit, but it was do-able because I had very few deadlines.

Then on Wednesday, my editor contacted me.  Would I be willing to do some Valentine’s Day activities?  Of course, I said yes, which meant I had a pitch to write.  This meant re-prioritizing yet again.

The point is that being a freelance writer means being flexible. Sometimes you have to be flexible because of your family — like when they are home for an extra week.  Other times, you have to be flexible because you are a freelancer.  Work doesn’t always come in on a predictable schedule so when it comes, you may need to re-arrange things to fit.

Either way, it means having to reevaluate your goals.  Check out my post from yesterday on the Muffin to find out the four steps I used to meet my goals with everyone home.


How to Hook Your Readers with Character Emotion

Paint chipOn the wall, I spotted a teaching aid made out of tri-toned paint chips. Each paint chip was labeled with an emotion, for example “scared.” Then each color value was labeled with a more or less intense version of said emotion. This meant that the lightest tint on a green paint chip labeled “scared” might be labeled “worried,” the medium tone “afraid,” and the most saturated “terrified.”

There was a whole stack of these paint chips each for a different emotion. Sad. Angry. Happy. They had been made up to help children understand “shades of meaning,” or what to call it when you’re a little scared vs. really scared.

That’s when it hit me.  Writers need to have an equal awareness of emotional intensity.

If I write a piece with my character emotions in the “tints” the entire time, it is going to be very quiet.  That might be ok, but it might also mean that I need to intensify the emotion.

If, on the other hand, I write a piece in which the characters are always elated, terrified or furious, I’m going to wear my reader out.

To read more about my musings on character emotion, check out yesterday’s blog post at the Muffin.


Where Can I Find the Best Writing Prompts?

Until recently, I would not have had a valid answer to this question.  At least, it wouldn’t have been an answer as much as it would have been an amazing eye-roll.  Writing exercises and I are fairly often incompatible.  In fact, as much as I love writing conferences and workshops, I hate writing exercises of all kinds.  Even prompts.  Give me a prompt or an exercise, and my mind goes blank.

Whoa.  There’s absolutely nothing there.  That blank.

If its all the same to you, I’d rather get something  done on my work-in-progress, thank you.  Can you just give my writing prompt to someone else?  Someone who might appreciate it?

Somehow Martha Alderson knew that’s what I would say, so she wrote The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts.   

Yes, this is a book of prompts but it is a book of prompts designed for the prompt phobic.  The prompts are goof ball exercises designed to draw memories out of some great gobbledy gook.  They are designed to get you writing on your work in progress.

Yes, you heard me.  These prompts have one goal — to get you writing on your current novel.

To find out more about how this worked for me, check out my post today on the Muffin.

What writing prompts work best for you?


How Would You Describe Your Critique Group?

The MuffinWhat is the first thing that you think of when you think of your critique group?  Mine is a jumbled image of laughter, food, fun and story.  They are among my biggest supporters.  They are, quite simply, the best.

They always have my back which means that they not only point out where I need to grow as a writer but they also have no qualms about showing me what I’ve done right.  Nope.  They are not going to let me wallow in self-involved angst, at least not for very long.

When I talk to other writers who insist that their group is the best, I know that they have what I have.  A group that fits perfectly with what they need.

Unfortunately, finding just the right critique group is a lot like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans.  Sometimes there’s an uncomfortable pinch or altogether too much space.  You may think that you know what you want until you get it and realize that, no, that isn’t working either.   Expect that it is going to take several tries to find the right group.

That’s the topic of yesterday’s blog post on the Muffin.  If you don’t have a critique group, check it out for hints on how to find or create a group that will meet your needs as a writer.