Archive for the ‘author writing hints’ Category

Margaret Nevinski – An Interview about the Writing Life

I recently had the good fortune of interviewing middle grade author Margaret Nevinski about her recent publication of a short story, “The Eve of St. Agnes,” in the online literary journal, Hunger Mountain. Read her story here:

Margaret is an amazing teacher and presenter whom I have the great fortune of knowing as a Margaret Neviski The Eve of St. Agnesfellow Bainbridge Island author.  Her classes are highly sought by both young and not so young writers and creatives in the Pacific Northwest. Check out what she had to say about her writing life:

How did you get started as a writer?

MN: I started writing short stories for adults, which were published in small literary magazines. One day while I was jogging, I had a burst of adrenaline and an insight: my writing voice was most suited to young readers. That started my dream of writing for kids and teens.
I got lots of rejections, then personal notes from editors, then finally—a yes! I’ve written several children’s books for the school market, and now I’m working toward getting my
first middle-grade novel published.

I know that you often work with young authors. How young is too young to begin
learning about the craft of writing?

MN: I love teaching writing workshops for kids through the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Rec
District. I always learn something from young writers! Though I think creativity has no age
limit, I start working with young writers when they’re eight. By eight they’ve learned the
basics about writing and they’re ready to unleash their imaginations—a great combination.

Do you mostly write YA lit or do you ever branch out into other genres?

MN: My real love is middle-grade fiction for ages 9 to 12. I’m fascinated by the years when
you’re still firmly in childhood but on the cusp of becoming a teen.

What is your writing life like? Do you spend hours every day writing?

MN: I’m a morning person. I drink my coffee and read before breakfast, then settle down to my
quiet, morning writing time. I strive to have creative time each day. My motto is from The
War of Art by Steven Pressfield: “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing
else matters except sitting down each day and trying.”

What is your inspiration for your short story in Hunger Mountain Literary Magazine?

MN: I grew up Catholic and have always been fascinated by saints—their lives are filled with
quirky, odd details just waiting for fiction writers! When I discovered Keats’ poem, “The
Eve of St. Agnes,” I was intrigued. According to the myth about St. Agnes, a young woman
will dream of her future husband on the night of January 20th. I thought, how fun would it
be to give this story a contemporary, high school setting?

What is your favorite book you read as a young girl? Why?

MN: In grade school, a friend and I read a book called The Key House Mystery. The story details in my mind are vague, but the great thing about the book is that it inspired us to follow an elderly man in our neighborhood, spy notebooks in hand. One day his wife ordered us to
stop following him. For the first time, I realized that reading could have an impact on real
life. I’ve been searching for The Key House Mystery for years with no luck—if anyone finds
it, please let me know!

How do you deal with “passes” from publishers? Do you save the letters or do you toss

MN: Luckily my agent gets the rejections first, which she charmingly calls “passes,” so that
softens them a bit. Over the years, however, I’ve acquired a file full of “passes.” I’ve kept
every letter except one from an editor who said my writing was “competent.” Ouch! That

What book(s) are you currently reading or at least have on your nightstand waiting for

MN: I’m halfway through The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, which takes
place in Wisconsin where I grew up. I just finished Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other
Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail, a hilarious account of third grade. On my nightstand is a
wonderful collection of biographical essays that I dip into to get inspired: Joan Acocella’s
Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints. So you see, I never quite get away from saints!


Write A Book in a Weekend by Donna Kozik

Title: Write a Book in a Weekend

Author: Donna Kozik

Date: 2009

Write a Book in a Weekend is a bit of a misnomer. It could be better titled Write an Ebook or Booklet in a weekend or How to Outline a Book in a Weekend. While the premise is enticing, the reality of authoring a full length book in a weekend is a bit daunting. Kozik’s book is a terrific resource for getting started or getting motivated to get the initial draft of a book done. Highly motivational, this book is a great jumping off point for the business person seeking a non-threatening easy to implement system for starting their first draft of a work that they can then use to exhibit their business expertise.

What I found lacking was more in the detailed in-depth elements of writing a book. I am guessing that Kozik covers the more difficult but seminal elements of creating a book like: establishing a goal for your intended reader, consider how the reader benefits from your content, what problems does your book solve and how do you introduce that to readers, how do you make your ‘voice’ connect with your reader,  the role organization plays in making or breaking a book, and how to show and not tell in a book.

Kozik’s book is a good place to go to break the ice on writing a book and gather ideas and strategies for your book. Full of great quotes and strategies for organizing your thoughts to narrow down your topic, this book is a useful exploratory on if writing a career related non-fiction book is for you.If you are an experienced writer and serious about writing a full-length (50,000 words or more) than this book is not advanced enough for your purposes.

Call Donna and explore her weekend class if you want to actually make your “book” happen. Her contact information is in the book and on her website. She does a great job motivating and inspiring the most reluctant author. Really.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Title: The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Author: Jack M. Bickham

Publisher: FW Publications

Price: 12.99

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them is a solid writing reference book to have if you are serious about your craft. Beckham’s to the point style is easy to follow and highly motivational for both the beginner and the seasoned professional. Filled with positive affirmation and butt kicking motivation, Beckham navigates authors through the minefields of fiction and takes you successfully through to the other side to best writing practices.

Sample chapters include:

  • Don’t have things happen for no reason
  • Don’t forget stimulus and response
  • Don’t lecture your reader
  • Don’t mangle characters’ speech
  • Don’t be afraid to say “said”

Inexperienced authors often fall into one of these patterns and Beckham has the guidance to help them rework their material and free it from such structural catastrophes. Whether you are a windbag or a minimalist, Beckham’s professional insights to fiction writing are useful and highly relevant to the professional seeking publication and even more important a reading audience. This book is a great buy at full price!

The Power of Point of View – Make Your Story Come to Life by Alicia Rasley

Title: The Power of Point of View-Make Your Story Come to Life

Author: Alicia Rasley

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books

Date: 2008

Price: $16.99

Every character has a voice. That is one of the foundational elements of story telling. When you write the character’s voice should be as clear to you as your own, if not you run the real risk of losing your reader. This is perhaps the most critical element of story telling that authors struggle with most. The Power of Point of View is an excellent writing reference for anyone who struggles with POV and character development.

From specific instruction in character, plot, and POV to  freewriting exercises Alicia Rasley has crafted an excellent guide that will take any writer and guide them through POV development and take their work to the next level. As readers become more character aware and plot savvy and more discerning in their choice of books makes it imperative that authors truly hone their writing craft. To make your story come to life, The Power of Point of View is a solid investment for your writing reference shelf.

Editing Part 2

The nit-noid editing for spacing, capitalization, and usage is just a matter of training your eye to seek out the errors. Reading a paragraph word by word backwards will often identify all kinds of typos to the casual editor. Spacing can be corrected using word processing tools like “replace.” A few of the other annoying parts to examine are:

  • Font and type size
  • Margins
  • Headers and Footers if required
  • Table of Contents and Header Consistency
  • Spell check
  • Content for missing paragraphs, sections, etc

With patience and plodding thoroughness you can make your way through the document with confidence. A little more work on the front end of the project will get your work into your audience’s hands faster.

Story telling is a good way to keep the reader hooked on the material so they will continue reading; however, make sure your stories have a point. For every story make a point and for every point have an illustrative story. When looking at your work with an editor’s eye look for the way the words and the story work together. Learn everything you need to know about how to write to be read.

Writing to be read means thinking like the reader. Speak to the reader in a way that is appealing and engaging and appeals to them on an emotional level. Use varied sentence lengths but avoid constructs that are really complex to follow. Make your point quickly to keep the content moving. Avoid excessive use of adverbs, passive voice, and other empty words that add nothing to the overall content.

You may craft some really cool sentences that you have to part with in the interest of good fast moving content. Good editing makes the work more effective and more likely to make you look like the content genius you are!

Editing … Scmediting

Good writing, even the best writing requires editing. Whether you are writing ad copy, a book, or a white paper for your business editing is critical to the success of your work. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to properly edit your own work – isn’t that why we hire a professional to do it? There are few things you can do to self-edit and help cut down the cost of your editing budget for your next project.

The most common writing mistakes authors make are:

  • Repetition
  • Poor content organization
  • Repetition
  • Extra spacing
  • Repetition

The most common mistake is repeating the same event or fact over and over and over… throughout the manuscript. Essentially the author is beating a dead horse! Nothing turns off a potential client more than taxidermy projects in the lobby. Editing what goes before your client base or your potential customers is a critical step in the process.

Lack of organization and repetition usually happens when the author concentrates on grammar and fails to examine the document for cohesiveness as a whole. Have you ever had to sit down and listen to your dad go on and on with his old army stories and felt that he would never get to the point before you lost your sanity? A paper with content that is redundant or disorganized is like following one of dear old dad’s rambling narrations.

Repetition as a technique has its place in writing when done effectively. The key is making sure the flow is not disrupted for the entire work and that the repetition has a point. The trick is writing the entire piece so that it moves at a reasonable pace and making the reader stay engaged.

Writing for Today’s Non-Fiction Reader

Modern readers are spoiled. They want short compact sessions for their reading. That is why all the successful books published in non-fiction in the last 15 years have had short succinct chapters. The books may be long but the chapters are not. If you envision 25 page chapters, you may exceed the staying power of the majority of the reading audience.  Create each chapter so it can stand alone and GET TO THE POINT FAST!

Target your chapters to provide profiles (rich and famous, up and coming, unsung heroes, etc) and to tell a good story. Develop a lead in to each chapter with the aim to get your reader’s attention and to keep it. Use powerhouse leads that literally punch your reader in the nose from the first paragraph. You have to hook the reader from the start.