Category Archive: *Writer’s Life

Guest Post: How to Use Scapple

Hannah Givens is always a favorite guest blogger at WriteOnSisters, and we’re thrilled she’s back. If you haven’t already done so, follow her wonderful book blog, power packed with great ideas for reading diverse books and authors. And now, take it away Hannah…

I love sticky notes, and I’ve used them to organize my thoughts for years, but that method has some problems: notes fly off the paper, or you have to rewrite the same things several times as you move your notes around. Plus there’s the space issue. Where can you stick enough notes to outline an entire novel, and how can you back that up reliably? Scapple to the rescue!

The Scrivener writing program from Literature and Latte has achieved a certain level of recognition in the writing community, but L&L’s other program, Scapple, has flown under the radar. I can’t imagine why, because it’s equally well-designed and may be even more useful depending on how you like to work. It’s something like mind-mapping software, but with more flexibility — L&L calls it a “freeform text editor” and that seems the most accurate description. You type, and then you can copy/paste or format your text however you like, but you can also stick each piece of text anywhere on your infinitely-large page and connect them with lines or arrows any way you want.

Scapple is really fantastic, but possibly also daunting if you’re not sure how to use it. So today I’ll be sharing three ways I use the program for writing: mind-maps, character sheets, and outlines. (Disclaimer: I’m not sponsored in any way, nor is anyone at WriteOnSisters, we just happen to adore the program!)

1) Mind-mapping:

Again, Scapple isn’t exactly mind-map software, but for me that’s an advantage. I don’t have to force my mind to be mapped according to someone else’s system. I don’t have to know what I’m doing right away, decide which idea is “central,” or anything like that. I can just start and figure it out as I go along. The main way I use Scapple is actually to create character charts, and it’s a huge step up from either mind-mapping or family tree software… I need a chart that can show relationships, but not just familial ones, and also show the passage of time to some extent.

Here’s a sample:

Note how I can have a mindmap with two connected centers, plus a list on the side, and then some special charts underneath (I use the system outlined in My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter). Some of the character relationships are romantic, some are parental, some are adversarial or professional, and a few don’t show up until halfway through the book, but I don’t need a way to track all that because I know who’s who. I just needed a way to combine “list of characters” with “immediately-visible connections.” That helps me craft a plot that makes sense, without forgetting anything obvious. Scapple is great for exploded-view lists like this.

2) Character sheets:

Many writers enjoy using standardized character sheets or questionnaires, both to keep track of their characters and to learn about their personalities. I often feel like these methods take some life out of my characters, though, so I needed a more organic way of keeping notes on personalities and character arcs.

Here’s a sample for one of my protagonists:

Note the ability to drag-and-drop images! I also love being able to mix and match “forms” that I can fill out or reimagine as needed, so I can combine plot notes with character notes. There are shortened versions of three “systems” in the sheet above, plus an unordered list of relevant information about the character and another list of relationships sorted by type. The next character sheet sits directly to the right in the same document and so on, because I like to see everything at once, but obviously you can set that up however you want!

3) Plotting and Outlining

I love all my character charts and sheets, but outlining is where Scapple really shines. It can handle complexity, and your own uncertainty about which ideas go where. Plus, I tend to change my visual outline structure depending on the project, and Scapple is totally flexible for that.

Here’s a half-done outline for an urban-fantasy project, in which I’m trying to work out several arcs in tandem:

There are four columns there, although muddled a bit: the left-hand column in the box(es) is a blank list of scenes, the guide to where my outline should be. (Again, I’m using Schechter’s system, but all this business of putting it into Scapple is my own design.) Then I have two columns tracing two characters’ arcs on each side, and the yellow notes down the center mark what the villain’s doing at the same time. The red ones are obvious questions to answer.

You can probably see at a glance that this would be incredibly difficult with sticky notes, because I’ve got several types of note and I need to keep track of how they relate to each other before I ever know which comes first in the final product — I’ve done outlines like this in Word before, but the linearity was a problem and things took much longer/were more stressful than they needed to be. (Also note the picture on the side there. I made some notes longhand, and rather than retype them, I just took a picture and slapped it in to refer back to as I go.)

Here’s a simpler project:

With this one I already know how it goes, and it’s a more linear space-travel story, so I’m basically outlining as I go along to have a clear reference for where I am in the plot. If I run into problems I can outline ahead to fix them, or I can go through and colorcode existing notes to highlight problems or check rhythm. It’s a completely different story with very different needs, but Scapple can do both without any fuss at all.

And worry not, you can back up your work in several formats. Plus, if you’re also using Scrivener you can drag notes straight into that. For me, though, I just adore being able to get my thoughts directly onto the page. I don’t have to force them to make sense, and I don’t have to remember how they relate, I can just draw them in however seems reasonable at the time. Then, unlike any kind of paper notes, I can immediately start working with what I scribbled down. Move it around, highlight it, draw lines, make a chart, anything I want.

If you’ve struggled to use pre-structured methods, been inspired by worksheets but haven’t found the exact right thing, or just desperately wanted electronic sticky notes in your life, Scapple may be for you. Either way, I hope this post gave you some organizational inspiration!


Hannah Givens is a lifelong book lover, student of literary history, and writer of numerous term papers. She blogs about genres of all kinds at Hannah Reads Books, and is currently working on her first novel. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter, talking about books and much more.

Permanent link to this article:

We’re Back! + Writer Career Brainstorming

Happy New Year! Hope you had a wonderful holiday season. We certainly did. We really, really, really needed that break! Heather was all like, “Wake me up when 2016 is over…”

And Robin was like, “Yeah, 2016 beat me up pretty bad… but I’m still standing!”

Politics aside, 2016 was for me (Heather) a year of constantly questioning my career path and exploring my options. I began on a high note, with a new freelance gig writing an educational game, a part-time job as a freshly certified gymnastics coach, and a hopeful grant application (for tips on applying to grants, check out this post). But a few months in things were looking bad — the educational game didn’t pan out, coaching gymnastics was hella stressful and required a lot of out-of-gym work I’m not paid for, and I didn’t get the grant. But just as I was resigned to wallow in a pit of despair, an old TV friend asked me to write some episodes for his new show, Opie’s Home, and I returned to work on LongStory, but this time promoted to Story Editor! Alas, it’s inevitable in the freelance world that all good gigs come to an end (that is the nature of contract work), and by fall I was again wondering how I’d to pay the bills while also having time to work on my novel.

Enter CAREER BRAINSTORMING. What was my next move? Get back into TV writing? Start a copywriting business? Or go back to school?

What was I going to do in 2017?!

I met with friends and colleagues to discuss those options. The first two are doable, but don’t leave time for me to work on the novel right now. The third option (school) is the opposite of making money, but the best idea for finally getting a darn book finished! And the novel is still my priority.

So while WriteOnSisters was on a blogging break, I decided on my path for 2017… I’m going back to school! I’m applying for a post-grad Creative Writing program with a good track record of successful published authors. As for money, this month I start a part-time job writing another awesome video game.

I’m looking forward to learning a lot this year, from school and from writing video games, and I’ll be sure to pass the knowledge on to you guys now that the WriteOnSisters are back to blogging every week. With that…
And if there’s anything you want to know or want us to blog about, tell us in the Comments!

Permanent link to this article:

4 Visual Tricks for Writers Who Want To Rock NaNoWriMo

Are you entering National Novel Writing Month in November?

If you answered yes, the odds are 50/50 you’re doing some planning this month. If not hardcore plotting, at least making notes and brainstorming your story. I’ve done NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNo many times and I’ve won my fair share. For me, planning is the best recipe for success, but that doesn’t mean my stories haven’t gone down a rabbit hole, because they have.

The one strategy that has never failed me is doing some pre-NaNo visual brainstorming. I’ve put together four tricks that I like to think of as my NaNoWriMo secret weapons, but they will work for any writing project. 4-tricks-for-nano

1. Organize Visuals Cues:

I love Pinterest for letting my story creativity run wild. When I start a project, I pin everything! Eye colors, hair styles, outfits, you name it. I tend to keep these boards in secret mode; that way only I can see them and I don’t need to worry about giving away too many surprises.

While my Pinterest vision boards help me see the big picture, most of these pinned items will never make it into the story. Pinterest lacks the flexibility to take my visuals to the next level. Once I’ve narrow down the images, I create visual timelines in Canva. I like to use the free infographic templates to make these. This is the perfect tool to quickly create compact photo references and character studies. These visual guides help me plan each character’s changing physical look and track setting shifts. I like knowing both of these sources of visual candy are a click away, but it’s taking the extra step to organize my images in Canva that really helps keep my creative motor running.

2. Map It:

I’m an artistically challenged human. If you were to ask me to draw a map free-hand, it would look like blobs of Jello with sticks jutting out of it, in other words something completely un-map-like would emerge. However, I still need to see and understand how my characters will move in my virtual space, so that’s why I use tools. And graph paper, lots of graph paper.

My go-to trick for room mapping is the interior designer’s friend: a furniture template. This is not a cheap item, but you will only need to buy it once.

If you like your rooms more fleshed out, or just wouldn’t dream of putting pencil to paper, try the online tool from Pottery Barn. This tool is amazing! You set the room dimensions and drop in and arrange items until you have your room just the way you want it.

Looking for something with more scope, say you want to create a full town? Or perhaps you need a whole continent for your characters to explore? There are online tools for this too, but most of them are costly and challenging to master.

For this I use old maps. I simply can’t pass a sale of beat up and outdated maps without grabbing a handful. I’ve got a real passion for the historical maps, Havana, Cuba in the 1930s, Chicago, Illinois in the 1890s — I just never know what layout will inspire me.

You can make the most familiar landscape look fresh by rotating the ordination. Or stick a few different maps together to create a brand new world. Give the landmarks new names and boom the map is ready for characters to populate in no time.

3. Mind Map it:

This is another organizational brainstorming tool that many writers swear by. Scrivener makes their own version called Scapple. A free trial version is available here. Or you can use index cards and the kitchen table. Either way, this technique gives me a way to scaffold complicated ideas into relationship trees.

This is the perfect method for visual thinkers to lay out any series of events and work out how these events interrelate to the different plots and subplots. It’s also fantastic to use when you just don’t know where the story should go next. You can set down all your ideas and work them in different patterns until the right sequence of events jumps out at you.

4. Gather Brain Trigger Items:

When I get stuck, I always go for my brain triggers. These are special items that help me activate the creative part of my brain. This is not my idea. It’s based on highly detailed neuroscience most of which I don’t even understand, but it works.

The theory is your mind stores all unnecessary data in dormant sectors and you need something to re-prime those sleeping cells before you can access those memories. Almost anything can help reactivate memories: a smell, a picture, a sound, or a taste.

Putting together a box of items you want to use for triggers is highly personal. The triggers that will work best should relate to the emotions you want to transmit with your writing. If you want to write sad, you might want to revisit your worst breakup. You could also find something that reminds you of the death of a loved one. Want to write scary? Try fueling each writing session with mood setting sounds of a storm. I pack my box with old letters and photos. By looking these items over I can recall the mood of a summer beach outing, or trigger memories of childhood camping trips. Try to use your triggers just when writing. Overexposure to triggers weakens their best effect.

When the dark days of November strike and I feel my creativity tank running on empty, I take great comfort in knowing these sources of inspiration are ready to save me.

What about you? Do you have any unusual ways to brainstorm before writing? Please share in the comments. Also share your NaNoWriMo handle so we can all become writing pals this November and cheer each other on.

Permanent link to this article:

Plotters vs Pantsers: Are We Really That Different?

Ever since I learned the terms “pantser and plotter”, I’ve identified as a plotter (someone who outlines a story before writing a manuscript). To me, sitting down to write a whole book without an outline (i.e. the pantser method) is impossible. And now it’s time for a confession: pantsers make me feel stupid. Why can’t I just sit down at my laptop and start writing a novel? Why do I have to plan first? How is it possible that people can construct complicated long-form narratives without a story map? Is it because they’re geniuses and I am not? Should I just give up now?

Then I discovered something that made me realize that pantsers and plotters are more alike than we think. This doesn’t mean we’re all “plansters” — the en vogue definition for writers who see themselves as a little bit of both methods. What I mean is we’re all doing the same thing, but we use different terminology to define it, and sometimes that leads to misunderstandings and a sh*tload of writers doubt. Let’s end that now…


So because pantsers begin by writing a manuscript, I used to think they didn’t do any story development, that the story just spilled from their magic brains fully formed. How I envied that! But that’s not exactly how it works. Every writer goes through a process of story development. We all head out into the unknown and follow that unmarked road to discover where it leads. It’s just that some record that journey in full sentences and paragraphs (first draft), others take point form notes (beat sheets), some map the route (outline) and backtrack to explore (revise), and at one point or another we all stare out the window daydreaming. Each writer is developing the story, but using different methods and calling the process different things. Pantsers call this the first draft, and the reason this made me feel stupid is because as a plotter, I picture a first draft as a readable manuscript that doesn’t need too much story editing. How do pantsers achieve that without an outline or ten?! Well, my pantser friends clarified that they don’t — their first drafts are often a mess of ideas spit onto the page that they then build, revise and edit into a novel via many subsequent drafts. See, it all comes down to terminology: a pantser’s first draft is different than a plotter’s first draft which is different than a plantser’s first draft.

Though this might be obvious to some people, for others, especially those just starting out, hearing writers use the same term to describe disparate stages of writing can be confusing and daunting. I know it was for me. And if you’re a plotter, you might beat yourself up for not “really writing.” Pantsers were always telling me to “just start writing” because they didn’t understand that I was already writing, that my outline serves the same purpose as their first draft, that we’re both getting the story out of our heads but just in different formats. And sometimes the formats aren’t even different! For example, I wrote a post last year (A Slow Writer’s Scheme to Win NaNoWriMo) where I confessed that I was not writing a fast first draft for NaNo, I was instead writing a detailed outline, and that started a conversation with some writer friends who said that my detailed outline sounded exactly like their first drafts. We were at the same stage of story development, but called it different things.

There’s a lot of chatter between novelists about whether it’s better to be a plotter or a pantser. A quick Google search reveals that the debate is endless! But I don’t think we’re all that different. Both camps develop, build, revise and edit the story, we just use different methods to execute and different terminology to define those stages.

This is all to say that the Plotter vs Pantser divide is silly and possibly harmful to a writer’s psyche. After all, I didn’t participate in NaNo for the longest time because I don’t “fast draft” first drafts. That’s pantser territory, right? To me, NaNoWriMo didn’t seem like a place for plotters and slow writers. But it can be if you change the terminology. Words are words, after all. If you’re a plotter who’s not at the first draft stage yet, count words for outlines or story development notes or whatever. Use the challenge to motivate yourself to write (that’s ultimately what it’s for) and do it. As for me, I am participating with another “detailed outline” this year. Here’s my NaNo profile. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

What do you think about the pantser vs plotter thing? Are we more alike than different?

Permanent link to this article:

How to Write Respectful Reviews

Writing book reviews is always a hot topic with writers. We realize reviews can make or break book sales, but as reviewers there are times we just can’t offer a glowing recommendation. What then?

Do we stay mum? Or write honestly and hope for minimal fallout?

Heather and I have always embraced the write-an-honest review stance; and we support other authors who strive to do the same thing. Today we are sharing some of our tips for turning a lackluster review into a helpful commentary about storycraft and not something that makes the author feel like we knifed them in the back.


1. Make opening a dialogue your primary goal:
Book reviewers understand they must entertain; if they don’t, people aren’t going to read their blogs. But for some reviewers, the mission to entertain overrides common courtesy. Their negative reviews are fodder for insults in the name of writing amusing copy. When you perceive reviewing as a form of discussion, you approach the process differently. You try to make the review about something bigger: the book’s role in society, the way the writer uses language, how the writer tackled a plot twist, or if they made you think about something differently. These are all valuable aspects of literary culture and worthy of discussion even when a book doesn’t live up to your expectations.

2. Use specific examples:
If you have a point to make, make it! Don’t skirt the issues with indistinct chatter. If the story feels too derivative of another famous story and that made it impossible for you to remain engaged, say that! Don’t say that the book was “boring” or it “put you to sleep.” These comments are too vague and don’t convey what your real complaint is. Besides it’s likely someone reading your review will love retold stories, and they will jump at the chance to read the book you didn’t enjoy. That helps turn your review into a potential sale for the author. Best of all, you stayed true to yourself and your honest opinions while doing it.

3. Distinguish between writing mechanics and your opinions about those mechanics:
Both aspects are important, but one is objective (the book has typos or it doesn’t) and the other is subjective (typos throw you into a whirlwind of revulsion). I can enjoy and even rave about a book with some mechanical issues; however, too much data dumping makes me crazy! Break the two issues apart. Describe the mechanical problem and then give your opinion of how prevalent and disruptive the issue was to your enjoyment of the story.

4. Fact check like your life depended on it:
If you want to comment on any emotionally charged topic (race, religion, etc.), make sure you can support your claim with some hard data. When in doubt, stop writing and start researching. If you don’t have time to learn more about the subject, talk about your impressions in an open-ended way. Ask questions of your readers and invite someone closer to the topic to comment. You might learn your interpretation was correct, or that you were dead wrong. Either way, you have opened a meaningful discussion about the subject, and perhaps that’s exactly what the author intended by broaching a challenging topic.

5. Never make it personal:
A book review is not about the author. Never speculate that the author’s real life is bleeding onto the page, or attempt to make the actions of the characters a reflection of the writer’s state of mind. I know many wonderful people who write ghastly horror stories with high body counts; yet I can assure you they are not secretly planning to do anyone harm. Except maybe Stephen King. I’m sure they would love to take a great big bite… out of his bank account.

6. Back away from rebuttals:
When you write a low-star review, someone might come gunning for you. This someone might be the author, or the author’s fans. The best policy is don’t engage. You have written your review, let it stand. If you feel you must say something, thank the person for reading your review and leaving you a comment expressing the wide range of opinions a book can generate. Even if the person comes back and does their level best to drag you into a fight, don’t do it. If you stay silent, the angry person should eventually move on to the next reviewer.

You didn’t think your bad review was the only one, did you?

7. Link with caution:
You took the time to write a review and you want people to read it. That’s normal, and I bet you drop blog links everywhere you go. But stop for a moment and think. How will your link look to other people? When I go on Amazon or Goodreads and see a rating with a solitary sentence (usually something overly sensationalized) with a “read this review at my blog” style link, I immediately dismiss the review as link bait. Any links on Amazon or Goodreads should include at least a paragraph to show the review is genuine.The absolute worst possible link is the one that looks like the review was written to boost the reviewer’s book sales. Be mindful of reviewing any books in the same genre as your own work. Any negative reviews might be perceived as unfairly running down the competition.

8. Don’t review a book you haven’t read:
Every so often this situation crops up in force. It often revolves around a book some group wants to ban and I consider it a form of reviewer fraud. No matter how much you know  you will hate the book, or how many people have told you unpleasant facts about the book, stay away from rating or reviewing the book. That’s not to say you can’t review a book you didn’t finish, you absolutely can, as long as you’re clear about where and why you put the book down.

9. Avoid reading books you suspect you’ll hate:
I read reviews all the time, and I’m just as likely to be put off by positive review as I am caustic one. That’s because I look at the reasons the reviewer cited, not the number of stars. I know my reading taste and I understand what factors will bother me. I take care to avoid reading those books. Just as you shouldn’t review a book you haven’t read, why bother reading a book you’re sure will disappoint you? Just so you can write a negative review? Take the higher road — life is too short to be that reviewer.

Honesty is the best policy when reviewing, but it’s not the only consideration. Show respect, and be polite, especially when the review isn’t packed with praise.

Do you write reviews of books you didn’t like? Let’s hear your thoughts (pro or con) in the comments.

Permanent link to this article:

Guest Post: 9 Easy Steps to Host a Blog Link-Up

We met today’s guest blogger, Diana Gordon of Part-Time Monster, about three years ago. And we met her through a blog link-up, the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Participating in link-ups (also called blog hops or link parties) is a highly effective blogging tool. It can be the fast-track to building a bigger and better blogging community. But hosting a link-up takes the experience to whole new level. It’s hard work, but so worth it. Running your own link-up offers you a creative and unique way to start a conversation with a central topic or theme, and to share that topic over a collection of participating blogs. Link-ups can be recurring blog features, similar to what Diana does, or a one-time themed blogging event. Although recurring flash fiction link-ups are the most common for author bloggers, single event theme/topic link-ups are growing in popularly. WriteOnSisters will host two single event link-ups later this year, the first one in September. And when we wanted advice about running our event, we turned to Diana, who generously agreed to share her steps for creating a successful link-up. Take it away, Diana!

9 Easy Steps to Host a Blog Link-upHello lovelies! I’m so excited to be hanging out today at WriteOnSisters who have invited me to talk to you guys about starting a link-up!

When I started my blog, Part-Time Monster, it mainly focused on books, monsters, and girls. Personal things I wanted to write about, like being a mother, being a graduate student, and having just moved to an entirely new city, didn’t fit the rest of my content. However, I learned I could start a post with “if we were having coffee” and chat with my readers about all manner of things, letting them peek behind the curtain and allowing me to break the persona of academic writer and write conversationally. My coffee share posts seemed to really click with my readers, and some started to use the idea on their own blogs. I’d accidentally stumbled onto something good for a link-up. Creating Weekend Coffee Share was a big task with a lot of moving parts. So here, dear-hearts, are some things to think about if you want to start your own link-up!

1. Pick a theme, writing prompt or idea:
One of the reasons that the Weekend Coffee Share works so well is that it provides an open-ended prompt that can be responded to in any number of ways and then passed along. Basically, it’s a meme I created for the blogosphere. You can go almost anywhere from “if we were having coffee,” and people have!

2. Establish your timeline:
Think about when and for how long you should keep your link-up open.
This is dependent upon several factors. You’ll want to consider when you get the most traffic and responses, but don’t let that be your only deciding factor. When creating the coffee share, I considered not just that the engagement on Part-Time Monster was higher on the weekends, but also that there were other blogging hashtags and link-ups in play during that time, like #SundayBlogShare, that could be powerful cross-platform partners and participants without competing for attention–something that I wanted to minimize. I also considered my own schedule, knowing that I would have more time to monitor the link-up and share posts on the weekend than during the week. I started the coffee share with just a Saturday/Sunday opening, but as more people started participating from various parts of the globe, I decided to expand it and start on Fridays, thus giving people more time to link-up and share.

3. Give the link-up a name people will remember:
Long or complicated names probably are not going to work. It’s also good for the name of your link-up to tell readers when and what to expect. Top Ten Tuesday (another popular link-up from Broke and Bookish), is a 3-word title that tells participants that the event takes place on Tuesday, and it is indicative of creating a “Top 10” list—exactly what the link-up is designed to do. Weekend Coffee Share is also a 3-word title, indicating to participants we’ll be sharing coffee over the weekend.

4. Create a strong, shareable graphic:
This is one area I wish I’d put more time into when I initiacoffee2lly began the link-up. Graphics have always been my weak point of blogging. My initial coffee share image (to the right) had a few problems—it didn’t have any information about where the link-up took place or on what platforms, for example. I used a stock photo, basic fonts, and a simple free editor, Pixlr, to create this one.

WeekendCoffeeShare logoMy next graphic (to the left) was a bit better in that it included my blog’s current logo and the information that this was a weekly link-up, but it still did not give a web address, and in looking at it now I do not find it that aesthetically pleasing.

GreenCup2I’ve recently created a new graphic (to the right) that includes my web address, more visual interest, and Twitter/Facebook hashtag information. I used Canva and my own photo to create this one, which is something I should’ve done far sooner in the process!

5. Register your Twitter hashtag:
When I was naming the coffee share, I considered whether it would be too long to use as a Twitter hashtag. This is another reason that long, complicated names are not ideal—they make hashtagging hard. Twitter is the strictest with its limits, but other sites limit characters as well. A hashtag that is too long won’t be useful because you won’t be able to send anything more than the hashtag. After you’ve come up with something you like, search Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites where hashtags are in use. See what, if any, content is already being shared under the hashtag you’re considering. If the hashtag is already crowded, you’re probably not going to want to use it because you will not stand out. Once you’ve nailed down what your hashtag is going to be, you can use a site like Twubs to register that tag. (That doesn’t mean others can’t use the tag, of course, but it is a way of claiming ownership.) Even if you decide not to register your hashtag, you should still use it as much as possible and encourage others to use it when they are discussing or participating in the link-up.

6. Now you’ll need to choose a linky list generator:
This will make it possible for users to add their posts to the link-up without crowding your comments section with links. I use InLinkz for the weekend coffee share, but there are some other tools available too, like Simply Linked. Some of these sites, such as Inlinkz, have options for free or paid accounts, so you’ll want to consider how much you’re going to invest in the link-up and whether a paid account is worth your investment.

7. Compile a list of questions and comments for a Link-up page.
This page gives participants (and anyone who wants to write about your link-up!) a place to link to as well as well as answers their frequently asked questions.

8. You’re ready to write an introductory post and get started!
You can see my first post here, in which I introduced myself and the link-up. Make sure you engage with your participants’ posts. Leave them comments, thank them for joining up, and share their posts far and wide. This will create a sense of community and encourage bloggers to return to your link-up.

9. Lastly—have FUN!
A link-up can be hard work, but it should also be fun. If it isn’t fun for you, it’s not going to be fun for anyone else, either.

My Weekend Coffee Share link-up officially started in January of 2015, so it just hit its year-and-a-half-old birthday. The coffee share community amazes and surprises me with their honesty and tenacity, and the link-up has been featured on The Daily Post and regularly has between 35 and 50 blogs participating.

I wish you all good luck and a successful link-up!

IMG_20150210_143557Diana Gordon is a writer and researcher specializing in nonprofit work and pop culture analysis. She spends her free time running the blog Part-Time Monster, where she writes about feminism, motherhood, living life as a liberal in the conservative American South, and monsters of all sorts, including herself. She lives in New Orleans with her husband, son, and a rambunctious rescue terrier aptly named Tank. You can follow her on Twitter @parttimemonster.

Permanent link to this article:

7 Tips for Better Book Swag

SwagSwag is the term used for the colorful marketing goodies authors give away to promote their books and brand. Swag is a big part of many book promotion packages, and it’s increasingly important in a crowded marketplace because it sends every prospective reader off with a little something to remember the book and author by.

Here are our tips for creating eye-catching–and totally hoard-worthy–swag.

1. The better the swag, the longer it lingers.

Every marketing person knows this rule, yet the idea of what constitutes “better” is subjective. A bestselling author can give out the ugliest swag item in the world and still have a line out the door of rabid grabby hands. And what works for a mystery writer will not necessarily work for a children’s writer. Each and every book is different; you need to understand your product and your audience. Try to think about the best piece of book swag you have ever received and how it made you feel about that author. For me, it was a mini Ouija board on a key ring. I love it! And I’ve already bought three of this author’s books and counting.

2. Revamp the commonplace.

Swag that creates a high demand and breeds long-term retention takes creativity. The old standby of paper bookmarks are cheap, but they’re uninspired. And if 20 authors at the same book fair are giving away paper bookmarks, you have only a one in 20 chance that your bookmark is the one they reach for. Think outside the box. Give away bubble tubes, stress balls or small toys. BubblesIf your heart is set on bookmarks, find a way to give it a spin. Try book thongs.These long colorful bookmarks are more like beautiful book jewelry.

Book ThongsThongs are totally practical swag, light weight and small enough to ship in an envelope, or to carry by the hundreds in your luggage while traveling. You can make these items yourself, buy them ready-made on Etsy, or hire your kids or some local teens to make them for you. Try to pick beads that match your book’s theme or make them with some custom-printed ribbon. With a little imagination, you will have bookmarks people will cherish for years to come.

3. Shun quickly consumed swag.

Hungry book fair trekkers will scoop up cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies in cute custom printed cookie bags by the handfuls, but they’ll shuck your data along with the wrapper just as quickly. Consumable swag is tricky stuff, but for some books indulging a potential reader’s sweet tooth might be the logical choice. That means you must think smart about your treats. Since talking to strangers makes everyone self-conscious, consider giving out mints. You can pick up over 100 individually wrapped mints with custom printed stickers for about $16.00 USD. Most people don’t binge-eat mints, so the candy should last longer in a person’s bag. Better yet, if you have the marketing money to spend, get some of your mints in a custom printed tin. Swag TinTins are readily available from companies that specialize in wedding favors, but they do run about .75 to 1.00 each. This price point make tins best for special occasion swag. The plus side of tins is they mail like a dream, and when the mints are gone, the tin is reusable. Your tin might stay on a reader’s desk for years. That creates a long-term happy reminder of how thoughtful you were to give them such handy swag.

4. Find a need and fill it.

Public venues present the opportunity for you to come to the rescue by filling a need. Pens and pencils fit the bill perfectly, they are inexpensive and people love them. Consider teaming your pen with a mini notebook, pocket planner or date book. This will increase the value of your swag and turn it into a solid keeper.


Always a big hit in the fill-a-need category are giant clips for holding handouts and tote bags. Offer tote bags as swag and every reader with overburdened arms will find you. A great place to spot more ideas like these is on Pinterest.



5. Comfort is king.

Summer heat and air-conditioned spaces makes for dry cracked lips. Consider giving your new friends a lip balm to sooth those aches. You can buy high quality/major manufacturer brands of unlabeled lip balms for pennies on the dollar. Tubes start as low as .28 cents each if you buy them in lots of 50. Check out Bulk Apothecary.Lip BalmThey have a range of lip balms in assorted colors and flavors. Make your own labels and you can send everyone you meet off with kissable lips and a way to remember your book for at least a month of happy smiles. This one is perfect for romance writers. Mailing lip balms might work okay in cooler months, but in summertime keep these for in-person handouts.

6. Reward the faithful.

If you have the marketing budget for a few expensive items, try to make sure your most loyal fans get those items. The best way to do this is with cross-promotion. Place a riddle or a task (like creating fan art) on your website. Make sure you include the information about the special prize waiting for the first group of people who email, tweet pictures to your hashtag, or come to your book fair table with the secret information. T-shirts, fun USB drives or any high-end swag item is perfect.

7. Keep information simple and accurate!

Figure out what you want your readers to remember. Is it your name, your website, the title of your next book? Custom printed swag is often highly restrictive of word counts. There can be set-up fees to consider. Try to select easy-to-read fonts and high contrast ink. Proofread everything at least three times before you order. There is nothing worse than swag with a big old typo on it, or with print so small and faded no one can read it.

What is the best swag item? Please share your suggestions, DIY tips or links to great swag resources in the comments.

Permanent link to this article:

#AtoZChallenge : Productivity + Theme Reveal

The April Blogging From A to Z Challenge is upon us, and for the third consecutive year, the Write On Sisters are doing it! Check out the tab above for a list of all our A-Z posts. In 2014 we didn’t have a theme; it was kind of a free-for-all about writing between four bloggers. In 2015 Robin and I focused our efforts on writing craft with the 3, 2, 1 BLASTOFF to Stellar Writing theme in which each post had 3 quick tips on an aspect of writing, 2 examples of good technique, and 1 resource for more in-depth help. And our 2016 theme is…


Actually, hold the curtains! I’ll reveal this year’s theme by the end of this post (promise), but first we need to talk a bit about writer productivity.

The A-Z Challenge is, well, a challenge. Blogging every day except Sunday is tough! For our regular schedule, Robin and I each used to write one blog post per week, but in 2016 we’re alternating weeks so we only have to write two blog posts a month instead of four. That leaves us with more time to concentrate on our novel writing.

But in April we’re both writing THREE posts a WEEK! Eek! How are we going to do it?

I don’t know about Robin, but I have a bit of an attention-deficit problem. Getting started and staying on task are daily struggles. Consequently, I am always trying new things to make me more productive. Here is a short list of my attempts:

How To Stay Motivated Without Deadlines or Money

Writer <3 Internet Relationship Woes

7 Tricks To Stay Off The Internet

4 Tips To Beat Mental Procrastination (aka Daydreaming)

Writers & Productivity: Do you need an Internet Blocker?

All of these approaches have worked with varying degrees of success, but sometimes I still stare at the wall instead of writing. So this week, in preparation for the A-Z Challenge, I downloaded this to my phone:


It’s an interval timer app. Most people use these to plan and time workouts, which is why the first round of my “Morning Write” routine is called “Warm Up” – but I’ve interpreted that as eating breakfast and warming up water for my tea. 😉 There are tons of interval timer apps available, but I’ll save you some trouble and recommend Round Timer. Others I downloaded were either too simple (i.e. the only sound available is an obnoxious buzz) or too complicated (I don’t need to select music playlists for each interval) or didn’t work (one app wouldn’t let me schedule anything longer than an hour).


So how do I use this app to stay on task? First, I schedule my time. I give myself 30 minutes to “warm up”, then I start writing in 19 minute intervals with a 1 minute break that I use to stretch or start a new pot of tea or go to the bathroom. Then I set the rounds to repeat 6 times, and end it all with a half hour “Cool Down” which for me means “eat lunch.” I don’t bother setting a warning time signal.

Sometimes I set specific writing goals for each interval, but often the intervals simply act as an audible cue to snap me back to work if my head wandered into the clouds. I chose the “Clock” sound for the start of an interval, and the “Bird Tweet” sound for the breaks.

RoundTimer-SetSoundAnd RoundTimer is working for me! I’m staying on task better and getting more writing done, which is great because I need to write a whole bunch of A-Z posts pronto! And now, as promised, here is this year’s theme…

Masterplots Theater(2)

Ta-da! Masterplots Theater will study core plot structures — one for each letter of the alphabet (such as Adventure, Buddy Love, Chosen One, etc) — and shed some light on what makes these stories so compelling. We’ll also provide some example books/films to study. And by the end of April, we’ll all be masters of plot!

There are lots of interesting bloggers taking part in the challenge, so head over to the linky list for other A to Z theme reveals. And if you’re participating, let us know in the comments!

See you in April!

Permanent link to this article:

Writers: Should You Quit Your Day Job?

Quit day job and pursue dreamOriginally posted on Jan. 27, 2014. Updated and reposted on Jan. 18, 2016.

This question has been on my mind a lot considering that over the past year I’ve gone from no day job to two concurrent part-time jobs. How much to work while pursuing a creative dream is a common dilemma. There’s no easy answer and the approach you take depends on your writing habits and where you’re at in your life and your career. However, if you’re considering quitting your day job, or reducing your hours to part-time, or even going back to work full-time, maybe I can help by sharing what I’ve learned over the last decade pursuing my dream while working part-time, full-time, overtime, and not at all.

Writing While Working Part-Time

When I first decided to write a book, this was the option I picked. Since I was already living like a starving artist (click here for my 10 Tips to Survive the Starving Artist Lifestyle), I knew I could pay my bills with part-time work. If you can afford to live on less and have a job where you can cut back your hours, perfect! Give it a shot. This is the most low-risk option. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury and might need to pursue part-time work on top of your full-time career before you can quit the day job. Fair warning: this is a brutal, exhausting phase, but remind yourself it will be worth it when you have the extra time to write!

Working part-time is best for those who write in short bursts or need daily breaks from writing. Not everyone can sit at their computer and write for 8 hours straight. If you get burnt out after 4 hours, then you might as well go to a part-time job, right? I also find that a part-time job is like having a bunch of mini-deadlines. If I only have three hours to write before starting work, I’m less likely to procrastinate.

Writing while Working PartTimeBut my first part-time experiment had a downside because I worked freelance. Instead of having just one part-time job, I had a multiple clients who would give me tiny jobs that all together were supposed to equate to part-time hours. But it’s hard to say no when you’re freelance, and soon I had so many little jobs I was working full-time…

Writing While Working Full-Time

Lots and lots of people work full-time and write. If you do, you need to be dedicated to the measly hour or two a day you have to write. You can’t procrastinate or wait for inspiration. This option takes a huge amount of discipline. It’s so tempting at the end of a long work day to just relax and not write, but if you’re serious about finishing that novel, you must write! The other option is waking up and writing for a couple hours before starting your day job.

The type of full-time job you have also influences your writing. Is your job creative? If so, are you creatively burnt out by the end of day, or inspired to create more? Will your job help your writing career? Or would you rather have a job that’s completely separate from your creative side?

Writing while Working FullTimeMy full-time job was writing television shows. I liked doing something creative all day, but often had nothing left in the well for my own projects. Plus, TV is never 40hrs/wk. It’s more like 60 or 70 hours. So when I had enough money saved, I quit to write my book.

Writing While Not Working

When I quit my day job, I was already an experienced screenwriter and had a novel idea I’d been working on for a year. I was ready to write with no distractions, or so I thought. Turns out my idea still needed a lot more development, and in fact I got so frustrated that a few months in I scrapped it for a whole new idea, which took more months of development. By the end of my year off, I was finally ready to start writing. Not that I regret it. I needed the time to immerse myself in the process and experience what it’s like to write a novel full-time.

So what is writing full-time like? Well, it can be lonely. I missed my co-workers. But if you hate your co-workers, that won’t be a problem. Writing full-time is awesome when the words are coming fast, but demoralizing when you hit a slump and have nothing else to do. This option is best if you already have a lot of writing experience and know how to handle those highs and lows.

Writing While Not WorkingSo with that in mind, before you quit your day job make sure you: 1) have a few years of writing experience under your belt, 2) have a solid novel idea that is ready to write, and 3) have a backup plan for when your money runs out. My backup was keeping in contact with people in the TV business, and whenever I was a couple months from being flat broke, I picked up a gig with them.

After living all three options, I learned the best one for me is to write while working a part-time job. It helps with my motivation. I procrastinate less. And I need breaks away from my novel (especially during the development phase) to help me recognize and solve story problems. Though if I’m ever lucky enough to be a full-time novelist, I’ll deal with this by having two projects on the go, so when I need a break from one novel, I’ll work on the other.

Deciding what’s right for you might take some trial and error. It did for me. And if you’re pondering the question of whether to quit your day job, hopefully this post gave you some insight about the options.

Anyone else have tips for choosing a happy working-writing balance? Please share in the comments!

Permanent link to this article:

Resolutions & Goals: 5 Tips to Make Them Stick

Writers are notorious for setting ambitious new year’s resolutions and goals, then beating themselves up for not achieving them. At least that’s what I’ve done the last few years. The result? Around this time of year I always feel like a failure, despite the things I managed to accomplish. But no more! I’ve come up with some tips to make them stick, so that at the end of 2016 I feel like a success!

Resolutions-Goals-5 Tips

#1 Be specific about resolutions, but vague about the end-of-year goal. Up until now, I have always done the opposite: I set specific end goals (like finish a novel) and vague resolutions (write more). This hasn’t worked because vague resolutions are not actionable plans and therefore don’t help achieve goals. So this year I’m being more specific in my resolutions (write at least 1 hour every day, before bed set writing goals for next day, etc.) and more vague about that end-of-year goal (make progress on my novel). Why am I not setting a specific final goal? Because that sets me up for disappointment and failure. Writing isn’t a science (at least not for me); there aren’t measurable steps I can take that will guarantee the desired outcome. The best I can do is make resolutions to improve my writing process, and when that leads to accomplishing something, whatever that turns out to be, I’ll be happy with it instead of despairing over The Big Goal I failed to achieve.

#2 Make small goals. As I mentioned in #1, I’m keeping my end-of-year goal vague, but that doesn’t mean I’m not working towards anything. Instead I’m creating daily, weekly and monthly goals to keep me motivated and productive. Not only are small goals quicker to achieve, they are easy to adjust, meaning if I get sidetracked by something mid-month I can get back on track without irreparably messing up a year-long deadline schedule.

#3 Learn from the past. After a few years of not achieving my goals, I made a calendar of deadlines for those goals. Did this lead to me meeting those goals? Nope! But at least now I can clearly see the reason why… because in that calendar I had a column with what I actually did each week versus what I’d planned to do. Using that information in this year’s calendar, I can better estimate how long it will take me to complete various stages of my novel, and therefore create more realistic and achievable goals.

#4 Only set goals I can control. This means not making goals like, “Get an agent this year.” Why? Because I don’t have the power of mind control over other people, so I can’t make this happen. Instead resolve to query agents by a certain date.

#5 Make some purely fun resolutions and goals. I have totally forgotten about this one for the last half decade! My goals and resolutions have been entirely writing focused, but all work and no play make Heather a dull girl. So this year I’ve resolved to go on at least one trip, whether my budget is $200 or $2000. I’ve also resolved to do something social at least once a week, even in the dead of winter when I don’t feel like going outside.

So that’s how I’m planning to keep my new year’s resolutions and goals. What about you? What’s your plan?

PS – For 2016, Robin and I are changing our blogging schedule. Instead of both of us posting every week, we are going to alternate Mondays. So today is me! Next Monday is Robin. And so forth. We will also do the occasional #WeekendCoffeeShare when the mood strikes, as well as host amazing guest bloggers throughout the year. First up is Alex Hurst with a post about working as a slush pile reader. Stay tuned!

Permanent link to this article:

Older posts «