The Hardest Part of Writing…

A few years ago I would have said that editing was the hardest part of writing. Today, however, editing is one of my favorite parts of the process because I’ve learned how to accept that a rough draft is crappy no matter what.

So much red ink…

Accepting that fact has freed me to laugh at myself when I find typo’s in a work, and to scratch out passages that aren’t fitting right.

So, editing is not the hardest part of writing anymore. (At least for me, other writers may feel differently.)

Writing the synopsis is and always will be a freak show that makes me hide under my desk. Crunching down a novel into its bare essentials and trying to make it sound interesting at the same time feels a bit like taking a potato peeler to raw skin.

But, the synopsis only comes toward the end of the writing process. I’ve heard of people who write them first, but my endings are always up in the air when I start so that doesn’t work for me.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that my “muse” has to be present in order for me to get work done, so catering to her (I’ve always imagined her as a glittery wood sprite hiding in my plants, don’t ask me why) isn’t a part of my daily writing regime either. I put my batoosh in a chair and I start working. Sometimes she shows up. Most of the time I’m just arranging words on the page and praying they make sense.

The Pest who probably ate my muse.

Finding ideas isn’t hard either. Ideas are everywhere, I just have to pay attention.

So what is the hardest part of writing?

Today I’m going to say… beginnings.

Beginnings have to engage the reader and convince them to keep reading. They have to set the tone of the story, introduce the main character, hint at the main conflict – or at least a starting conflict – and avoid backstory like the plague.

Endings are hard too but beginnings are what make or break you.

And nobody can agree on how to successfully begin a story, either.

“Start in the middle of the action!”

“No! Don’t start in the middle of the action! Give us some set up so we care about who the action is happening to!”

“Do both at the same time!”

“Start where the story begins.” – AKA – No prologues, please.

Now, if you’re an author, please don’t feel discouraged. Beginnings are hard, but they are also editable. So if you begin your story and it’s not doing what you want it to, revise it on the next round.

Sedition went through five beginnings. FIVE.

Persona had three.

And right now I’m dealing with a new novel that has managed to go through two beginnings already and I only started working on it this month. (Hence the blog post about beginnings.)

So if you’re struggling with your beginning today, rest assured that you’re not the only one. We all go through it. The difference between a writer and a hobbyist is whether or not they’re willing to scratch it all and rewrite.


Naked Characters – January Round Robin (2018)

Among the very first decisions I have to make when I come to the blank page is what point of view to use. Some people come up with a cool idea for the world their building or a new technological advancement they want to display, but for me it is always the character.

Normally I go with third person limited, because that is what I enjoy reading. I like knowing exactly whose head I’m in and learning more about that particular character in the scene. To me this just seems orderly and natural.

I have great respect for people who can write in the Third Person Omniscient (aka – they can be in any character’s head at any time, even in the same scene) but my brain simply can’t focus when there’s all that head jumping. Sadly, this includes reading.

With the exception of Dune, I haven’t been able to read anything Third Person Omniscient. It confuses me.

Third Person Limited gives me the freedom to explore multiple personalities in a given story and allows me to “zoom in” with the narrative, which I really enjoy.

This idea of “zoom in” with the narrative is relatively new to me, in my early works I was… Well, I was winging it, to be honest.

But to give a running definition of how “zoom” works in a narrative, anything that the character is doing (running, kicking a computer, glaring at their partner) would have the “zoom out” and anything that deals with the internal aspects (why they are kicking said computer, imagining themselves strangling said partner, and all the reasons why they have to run because they absolutely must not be late… Character B will be dead if they are late… Character B, who knows exactly how much honey to drizzle on their oatmeal and labels their socks for each day of the week and life would be sucked dry of all meaning and hope if they are dead…)

OK, I got carried away there, but I think you get it.

Zoom Out = Physical world

Zoom In = Internal world.

If you read any work of fiction you will see a dance between this “zoom in” and “zoom out.” For me, I’m still learning how to balance this out. It’s something I end up layering during the editing process, but I try to have fun with it.

How much of my characters do I expose?

I strip them bare. I want their naked thoughts on the page as much as possible. I want everything that makes them uncomfortable and why.

Because that’s when I know I’ve got a real character. That’s when I know I have touched on something true. If I’m not digging into their guts then they will always be a two-dimensional bit part in a shallow story.

Check out what my fellow authors have to say about how they reveal their characters on the page in this month’s Round Robin…

Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines
Helena Fairfax
Fiona McGier
Judith Copek
Marci Baun
Anne de Gruchy
A.J. Maguire  (YOU ARE HERE)
Skye Taylor
Anne Stenhouse
Beverley Bateman
Rhobin L Courtright

Dead Weight Completion And Beta’s

On August 3rd, three days after I’d hoped to have it done, I wrote “The End” on Dead Weight.

Breaking the deadline by three days isn’t so terrible, so I’m counting this as a win-win all around. The book will need at least two more rounds of revision, but I won’t be touching it for the rest of the year.

Normally at this point, I would track down my wonderful Beta Readers and beg them for their time to read and give feedback on the draft. Some of them require a pint of blood for this transaction, but I’m happy to pay the price if it means I’ll get solid critiques to work with.

However, this year I’ve been studying my craft a bit more and I’ve come to the conclusion that I send the drafts out too soon.

This would be the difference between the Alpha Reader and the Beta Reader. I do have one Alpha Reader who gets my work almost as soon as it’s done. He gets me excited for my work even when I’m frustrated and can’t figure out what’s broken in the manuscript, which is invaluable for a writer.

If you’re a writer and you don’t have an Alpha Reader who happily (or sometimes just politely) listens to your ideas, and then constantly asks if you’ve written that day, I encourage you to find one.

A Beta Reader, on the other hand, is supposed to see a more completed draft. They aren’t — or shouldn’t be — hunting for any huge problems in the plot structure. They look for the motivations of the characters, and the places where the description gets so scrambled they can’t quite picture what’s going on.

Some people can give a second draft to their Beta’s, but I have learned that I cannot.


Well, because with certain novels my second draft has a completely new ending to it.

Okay, so many of my novels end up that way. I get to the last five chapters of the book and then I have to step back. I go work on something else for a while.

And by “a while” I mean a couple of months.

Then, when I’ve been separated from the novel for long enough, I can sit down and do a “revision” of everything already written. This helps me see the promises and sub plots and themes that may have worked themselves into the manuscript so that I can create a more satisfying ending.

But that ending is still a first draft ending.

So … My wonderful Beta Readers, who I love so much, and who – hopefully – understand this plight, will not be receiving a request for feedback until after the next revision.

Which won’t be happening until January.

Word Choices – Round Robin Dicussion

This month’s Round Robin topic poses the question about word choice and how the words we choose manage to develop characters within our stories.

Or, as I like to call it, taking ownership of your craft.

Writers are in the word business. This is how we convey our art to the world, so our word choices are supremely important. Granted, most of the time the real art shows up during the editing process.

At least it does for me.

The first draft I just sort of keep going but the second draft is when I hone in on what words create the affect I want. I’m not sure how other authors do it, but for me it works best when I take a chapter or a scene a day during the editing process and I sort of … edit just that chapter/scene that whole day.

Which means I end up editing the same chapter/scene at least 3 times and each time I’m looking at something different.

First Pass – Graphic Detail … meaning the setting my characters are standing in. I do this first because it gives me something more to work with when I go through and focus just on the characters. If I’m grounded in the setting, then my characters can interact with that setting, which, in turn, helps convey who that character is to the readers.

Second Pass – POV character … meaning I dig in deep with my point of view character for that scene. I ask how they’re feeling that day, how they’re being affected by what’s happening in the story, and what about the setting really annoys them. Or, conversely, what they love about the setting.

No, seriously, just stopping to ask; “Hey, what does so-and-so hate about this room?” reveals sooooo much about who they are as a character. I promise. Give it a try.

Third Pass – Major/Minor characters … meaning I concentrate on the other characters on the page in that scene. And I ask the same exact questions for them that I ask about the POV character in the scene.

This is from Persona … my WWII novel that was going to be published this year but someone convinced me not to give up on the traditional market just yet, so it’s currently being considered by … ahem, places.

She turned and headed for the bathroom across the hall. Maybe she’d left the bathroom cupboard open again and Grendel was perched on the towels. She sighed in annoyance, pushing her way through the half closed door. She’d have to wash those towels again before she could use them. Grendel shed like the beast he was and she had no desire to be covered in orange cat fur.

She flicked on the light.

“Grendel, you little vagrant. You know you’re not …”

A blur of blue and white rushed at her from behind the door. Megan tried to scream but something fleshy and firm clamped over her mouth, smothering the sound. A heartbeat later she felt the hard edges of the counter press into her backside and she was forced to lean awkwardly until her head touched the mirror above the sink. She squirmed and tried to break free, too terrified to think. One word screamed through her mind; intruder.

“Sh! Please!” A man’s voice hissed near her ear. “Please! I don’t want to hurt you!”

It took several seconds before she realized he had spoken English.

English with an American accent, she thought.

Megan forced herself to relax but the grip he had on her was hard and uncomfortable. She felt a tremble pass through him, smelled blood and fear in the room, and prayed they could get through this without anyone getting hurt. He pulled back and his face came into view. His nose looked like it might have been broken once and he had strong, masculine features lined with a reddish beard and the dirt of many days in hiding. Olive green eyes stared at her, hiding none of his panic or pain, and she began to realize he was injured.

His body started to shake more forcefully.

“Do you … do you understand?” He asked.

She nodded her head as best she could, rattling the mirror a little. He exhaled unsteadily and began to let go. His hand slipped away from her mouth.

“Thank God,” he said. “Thank God.”

His eyelids drooped suddenly and he collapsed on top of her. Megan yelped, scrambling to grab hold of him before he slid to the floor. He was heavy, so much heavier than she’d been expecting, and she struggled not to fall herself. It took several minutes but she managed to get his limp body squashed into the corner between wall and tub.

She stood up and stared down at him, panting. A smear of blood ran down the right side of her dress jacket and Megan felt her mouth go dry. He really was injured.

For a dumbfounded moment she stared down at him, her mind catching up to the events.

There was a bleeding American man in her bathroom.

Bleeding, she thought again and forced herself to move.

She knelt, peeling back the man’s navy blue coat to reveal a heavily leaking bandage underneath. It was lashed across his torso, the deep red seeping through enough that she couldn’t rightly anticipate where the wound was.

Her stomach turned and she covered her mouth with a trembling hand.

She looked at his ashen face; saw gaunt illness overlapping what she imagined to be a normally handsome, strong man.

How far had he come with such an injury?

To be this deep inside Germany he had to have come from a war camp somewhere. Megan had no idea where such a camp would be located, but she could see by the mud caked to his boots and trousers that he’d travelled quite a distance. By the reek of him he hadn’t had a shower in some time, too.

She turned and opened the cupboard beneath the sink, fumbling with the first aid kit stored there. He must not have been in the house long if he hadn’t found it. She opened the gray, steel container and spilled bandages, tape and scissors on the floor. Megan hissed in irritation, snatching all the contents and tossing them haphazardly into the case again. She kept the scissors out, prepared to cut through his dirty shirt to get to the injury.

A loud banging resounded from downstairs and Megan froze. Her heart seized and then sped as she glanced between the bleeding man and her half open bathroom door.

Someone was knocking on her front door.



So this scene reveals a lot about Megan. Firstly, she’s a neat and tidy person because she can’t handle the idea of drying herself off on towels that the cat has used as a bed. Secondly … she talks to the cat.

Which in my book makes her totally likable.

I talk to my cats. I can relate.

Notice there’s a shift in her perception in the scene. I’ve put some words in bold and italics to highlight them for you.

When she first goes into the bathroom the door was ‘half closed’ but then … after she’s encountered her intruder … that perception changes to a ‘half open’ doorway. And yes, this was done on purpose. Because Megan’s mindset has changed due to her fear.

Take a look at how some of my fellow authors address the issue of word choice in their works …

Skye Taylor
Marci Baun
Margaret Fieland
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
Dr. Bob Rich
Rachael Kosinski
Judith Copek
Helena Fairfax
Rhobin Courtright


The Versatile Writer

One of the most important traits a good writer has is versatility. And I don’t just mean in life, but in the writing itself.

Yes, authors who want to see their books completed have to be versatile in their lives just to squeeze writing time into a day. Parents have to find times that don’t clash with the whole parenting regime (get ready for school, take child to such-and-such event, help child with homework, get child ready for bed.)

Those of us with day jobs obviously can’t write while at work, so there’s that obstacle to get around. And then most of us with children also have a day job, compounding the aforementioned things that take up our 24 hours.

So yes … writers have to be versatile.

But that’s not what I’m really talking about today.

You see, once upon a time I did a lot of interviews with a lot of different writers and I started to notice a somewhat alarming trait in most of them.

A lot of them, not all of them but the vast majority, were very stuck in one particular genre. It’s all they read. All they write. All they pay attention to.

I can only imagine that this mindset comes from the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” or “Why mess with a good thing” mantra that we’ve all heard. They found one genre that works for them. They like it. And they don’t see a need to expand further than that.

They “know what they like” and it made me just a little sad.

A book is a whole world, a whole life for the reader to live. By limiting yourself in your reading and writing habits, you’re limiting your readers too. Not only that, but you’re missing out on some really awesome learning experiences in regards to your craft.

Every book is like a cat. They have different personalities and different needs. Such as my cat versus my son’s new kitten.

Pest. The Grandpa Cat.

My old grandpa cat (Pest) likes to laze around, talks to me while I’m on the phone, and lets me know I’ve been on the computer too long by attacking my head.

My son’s kitten (Nuisance) has a lot more energy, runs about, attacks anything that moves and recently chewed right through my headphone cord because apparently it looked really tasty. (Bad Kitty.)

I can’t approach Nuisance they way I do Pest. He attacks my hand when I do. I have to wait for him to come to me, curl up on my neck in the middle of the night and start to purr before I can really pet the creature.

It’s the same with books. You have to adapt to each one.

Nuisance. The Kitten.

It’s alright if you really love writing in just one genre, but every genre has elements of the others in it. There’s mystery, romance, crime, adventure, and history in just about every single book you pick up. So if you’re not reading those genres, you’re missing out on seeing it done really well. (Or really poorly, depending on which book you pick up.)

So … versatility is more than just how you manage your time and adapt to your life, it’s about how you approach your craft. Are you willing to try something new?

Read a book you normally wouldn’t.

If you normally write in first person, try third. And vice versa.

Be a chameleon, you know? Your book is going to be versatile, or it should be, and how you approach it should change to match.