Category Archives: For Writers

To “Spend” or “Save” Your Best Story Ideas?

Having just finished writing a novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about story ideas and what to write next, so a bit of advice offered in a blog post I was reading jumped out at me.  It caught my attention partly because of its relevance to what I was thinking about at the time, but also because it appeared to be completely at odds with another bit of advice I’d read a few months prior that really resonated with me.  This sent me digging through my Twitter Favorites until I found that other post I remembered reading, so I could re-read it and compare the two posts side by side.

Now I’m wondering what others think on the issue of choosing to “spend” or “save” your best story ideas.  So please, check out these quotes and the links to the original articles, and then if you’re intrigued, come back here to discuss.


Image derived from openclipart by relsi

The more recent article is one advising new novelists not to worry if their earliest attempts don’t measure up to what they want to achieve.  It makes some great points about having to write novels in order to learn how to write novels well, and makes the very reasonable assertion that your first attempt will probably not be as good as future attempts.  Then it goes on to compare writing a novel to climbing a mountain or cutting a precious gem, and recommends waiting to tackle the really high mountain or the particularly valuable gem until your skills are equal to the task.

“If you’re not ready to write that really cool novel that’s pounding at you, demanding to be written, shelve it. Put it on the back burner. Pick your cliche, but set that story aside and begin with something simpler. Or just something that doesn’t matter as much. If you know that you’re not ready, that you don’t have the skills and insights, don’t try to write the story that you hope will compare favorably with your favorite author’s best work.” – Beth Hill’s “(Stop) Comparing Yourself to Successful Authors

There are some great points in this blog post that I do agree with, and I’m sure there are some excellent reasons for shelving an idea to write later, but the concept of putting off writing an idea you love just because you’re not sure the result will live up to your expectations?  That bothers me.  I know I learned a lot over the course of writing my first (incomplete) novel that made my second (or first complete) novel significantly better.  And I learned a lot over the course of writing and editing my first completed novel that allowed me to see my first attempt a lot more clearly.  Someday (maybe next week or maybe in a few years) I’ll come back to edit and finish (or maybe completely rewrite?) that first attempt, because I do still love the premise.  I picked that idea in the first place for that very reason, because I loved the idea, whether I was ready to realize it fully at the time or not, knowing that it could be edited or rewritten later if necessary.

And that’s where I think the analogy to mountain climbing or gem cutting breaks down.  Writing a novel isn’t like climbing a mountain in that you could die or be irreparably injured in a failed attempt.  And it’s not like cutting gems in that a poorly planned or executed cut could destroy rather than enhance the value in your raw material.  Books can be edited.  They can be rewritten.  You can have as many second chances at that great idea as you want to take.  Or come up with new and better ideas.  But if you don’t try it and really give it your all, how can you know for sure what you’re capable of doing right now?

Which brings me to that competing bit of advice that struck a chord with me when I read it back in January, so much so that it stuck with me and came to mind when I read the more recent post.

“Don’t save your best storyline for later. Use it now. And what’s more, use the most intriguing characters you’ve ever come up with to people that tale. Keep a list of striking metaphors? Try and employ every single one of them in your current work in progress. Don’t skimp. Don’t save. Become a wanton spender of your creativity.” – Lisa Samson’s “Shoot the Wad

Lisa Samson goes on to suggest, “If you live and love and take chances, if you open your eyes to the world not as you think it should be, but as it is, every single bit of it will soon be replaced.”

I hope she’s right about that, because for the book I just finished writing, I took her advice.  I used what I considered my best romantic suspense story idea, one that had been percolating in the back of my brain for months (while working on that other novel), and I ran with it, holding nothing back.

So far, so good.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story, and it got me through to the final stage in Harlequin’s Killer Voices contest and garnered a full manuscript request.  No word yet on whether I’ll be getting a contract, a rejection, or a revision letter, but whatever happens next I’m glad I chose to focus on an idea I loved because I think it allowed me to write the best story I could at the time.

Now comes the scary part.  No, I’m not talking about getting editorial feedback.  I’m looking forward to that, strange as it may sound.  I’m talking about coming up with another idea I love just as much for my next book.  Which is where Lisa Samson’s advice is a huge source of encouragement.  With thirty-four novels and three Christy Awards under her belt, her approach seems to have worked out well for her, and I’m hoping it’ll work well for me too.

I’m in the brainstorming phase right now.  I’m busy bandying about possible villain motivations, hero and heroine characteristics, internal and external conflicts, scenes, settings, and more, looking for just the right mix of pieces that will fit together and complement each other to make a complete story idea I can really get excited about writing.  Maybe (hopefully!) I’ll like it even better than my last one.  :)

Now I’m curious.  What do you think?  Is it better to “spend” or “save” your best story ideas?  Or does it depend on the situation?

Tangentially Speaking: Authorly Take-Aways from a Librarians’ Conference


Image Created Using

So, a quick poll:

Who among my readers knew that librarians not only need a Master’s Degree in Library Science (MLS) or in Library and Information Science (MLIS), but also require ongoing continuing education?

Okay, I guess that was more a rhetorical question than an actual poll… but anyway….

In point of fact, we do.  In order to remain certified as a Professional Librarian in the state of Maryland, I need ninety (yes, that’s 90) hours of continuing education every five years.  So, this past Wednesday through Friday I found myself in Ocean City, Maryland with a  hotel-ful of other librarians from Maryland and Delaware for the annual library conference sponsored by the Maryland and Delaware Library Associations.

Which was awesome.

I got to hang out with friends and former colleagues, as well as network and meet librarians from all over not one, but two states.  And attend a half dozen awesome learning sessions, a couple yummy banquets, etc.  And in the evenings, I had a quiet place all to myself in which to get some concentrated writing time in on my novel, distraction free.  Yay!

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “That’s great, Karen, but what’s the point?  Why do I want to read about the great time you had at that conference?”

I’m so glad you asked.  😉

What I want to do in this blog post is share a few things I learned in some of the sessions I attended that could be of interest to authors and bloggers.  More specifically, some awesome-sounding tools and resources mentioned that could prove useful in developing a social media presence and in other writerly areas.  A few of these tools I’d heard of or used before, but many  were completely new to me and I plan to check them out myself in the weeks and months to come.

The first two resources were mentioned in a session on User Centered Design for Web sites, presented by Ben Kutil.  You’d be surprised at the kinds of things you need to know as a librarian.  And yes, as a tech-enthusiast I was in my element.

  • – At the touch of a button you get a randomly generated name.  You can ask for a particular gender or country of origin or go completely random.  What great inspiration for naming a character!  FYI, the “UI” stands for user interface, and it’s designed with User Interface Designers in mind, but I think it’s just as cool for authors.
  • – Real avatars people have shared for use in user interface mock-ups.  I’m thinking they could serve as inspiration for characters… not that there aren’t already tons of great pictures all over the web you could browse through.  But you get the idea.

And there were a ton of useful resources mentioned in the session I attended on Social Media, which was presented by Erica Jesonis from the Cecil County Public Library.  The focus of the session was on increasing engagement on your current social media outlets, which is wildly pertinent not just to librarians, but also to authors, and really anyone on social media.  So here goes.  I haven’t personally checked these all out myself, so if you’re familiar with any of them, I’d love to hear what you think.  And of course, if you find one here you come to love, I’d be thrilled to hear about that too.

  • HootSuite – a tool for scheduling social media posts, as well as for following search terms to see what’s popular at the moment and for finding content to share of interest to your own followers.  It calls itself a “Social Media Management Dashboard.”  I’ve heard good things about HootSuite before, but have yet to give it a try myself.
  • – a great tool for digging up related hashtags and seeing which are the most popular, for use in deciding how best to “hashtagify” your own social media posts.  I’ve used this one a little before, but it looks like it’s capable of so much more than what I’ve used so far.  Will have to explore it some more when I find the time.
  • Topsy – for use in searching “the social web” (photos, videos, posts, links, etc) as well as analyzing trends in what’s popular.
  • Keyhole – for tracking hashtag, keyword, and URL use on popular social networks in real-time.
  • Snapseed – a photo editing app available from both the Android and iOS App stores.
  • InsText – another app available on both platforms (Android and iOS) for editing photos, with a focus on easily adding text to your pictures.
  • Recite This – Lets you convert text to beautiful images quickly and easily.  Sounds great for use on Facebook, where images get preferential treatment.  😉  The site’s tagline is “Turn a Quote into a Masterpiece.”
  • Canva – a web-based tool for graphic design, supposed to make great looking results incredibly easy.
  • Picframe – an App available on multiple platforms for easily combining and framing photos and sharing them socially.
  • – a web based tool for creating your own infographics and charts.
  • Lapse It – an App for Android and iOS that allows you to create time lapse videos with your mobile device.
  • Animoto – can be used for making video slideshows out of still pictures and video clips.
  • Storify – for creating a mashup of related social media posts that come together to tell a story.

As I said, I’d love to hear if you find any of these tools useful.  I expect I’ll be experimenting with some of them as I find the time.  Thanks for stopping by.  :)

Some Thoughts on Writing My First Synopsis

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about entering Harlequin’s Killer Voices competition with the first page of a novel I’m working on.  Today, I’m happy to report that not only did I get selected to advance to the next round of the competition (Yay!), but I was also able to get a 3-5 page synopsis describing my plot and characters in to my editor on time (Whew!).

As an aside, I love the fact that entrants have each been assigned to a given editor’s “team.”  That means, besides having teammates to cheer on, I can refer to “my editor” in posts like this.  Technically, I suppose I can’t claim to have an editor since I don’t have a contract, but I prefer to overlook that technicality for the moment.  😉

Anyway, writing a synopsis of my novel in progress has been quite a learning experience for me, and I hope my readers don’t mind if I talk a little about that in this post.  (Sorry if you do mind.  For anyone experiencing book review withdrawal, allow me to direct your attention to Megan Besing’s review of The Pelican Bride by Beth White; it sounds fantastic!)

Okay, I promise, no more asides… I think.

Since writing a good synopsis has the reputation for being particularly challenging, the prospect of writing my first synopsis was a little, um, daunting at first.  I had a week in which to write it, and I spent the first half of that week researching what was expected in a synopsis and hammering out kinks in my plot.  My early attempts at synopsizing were thwarted by some remarkably convoluted explanations as to why particular details had to occur in a particular sequence.  Which stopped me cold.  Yuck!

I wanted to focus on action and emotion, not the nitty gritty details.  I realized I had to back up and allow myself to tell, rather than show.  Ground breaking, right?  It was for me.  I think “Show; don’t tell,” has got to be the most commonly offered bit of writing advice out there, or close to it, so telling felt a little unnatural.  But I told myself to get over it.   And when I gave myself permission to tell, the process got a whole lot easier.

I also realized that Act Two of my plot as I originally envisioned it really was a little convoluted, and if I couldn’t explain it succinctly, then maybe I should rethink that part.  I got out some three by five cards, wrote plot points out on them, spread them across the dining room table, and started rearranging.

That and beating my head on the table, but we won’t talk about that part.  😉

I thought long and hard about which plot points were essential, pivotal moments for the characters and their relationship, and which ones were moveable or expendable.  In the end, I removed one plot point that didn’t really make sense and moved two other plot points to different locations within the narrative.  With those minor changes, everything else fell naturally into place.

After picking my jaw up off the floor, I ran to tell my husband that my plot wasn’t broken anymore, so he would no longer be asked to stare at a jumble of three by five cards with me.  (Have I mentioned he’s incredible?  He really is.  And back to the point….)

Once I had the sequence nailed down for my plot, I found to my delight that the synopsis flowed.  I wrote systematically from beginning to end, just telling the story, one step at a time, leaving out nonessential details.  And when I reached the end, and my synopsis was two pages too long, I went through again, looking at each sentence to see if it was really essential to understanding my story, or if it could be removed or shortened.  When I was done pruning, I set it aside for a day, read it through, and discovered that I liked it.  And breathed a big sigh of relief.

I’m glad to have that synopsis done, but I think I’m hooked.  Forcing myself to write a synopsis of my novel before writing it, really helped me distill the plot down to its bare essentials and get a better view of how the various pieces interact with each other.  As a result I think I have a much better understanding of my story, and it will be stronger in the end than it might have been otherwise.  Frustrating as the process was at times, I’m fairly certain I’ll be doing this again with future novels, whether I have to or not.

Does that mean I’m crazy?  😉

Writing Update: Finding a Balance Between Blogging and Writing My Novel

Book review blogging is great fun.  I love spreading the word about a book I really enjoyed reading.  It’s also nice to get free electronic copies of some great books, often before they’re officially published, in exchange for writing honest reviews.  But the best part is that in the process, I’m learning a lot about what does and doesn’t work in a variety of published novels.  And that’s something that I can apply to my own writing.

Balancing Blog and Novel

Balancing Blog and Novel

Trouble is, all this reading, blogging, Facebooking, and tweeting has seriously cut into the time I’ve been spending on actually writing my novel.  In fact, between you and me, there were six weeks straight during which I didn’t write a single word of my novel.

Not a good thing.

At first, I was trying to get ahead in my reading and blogging so I could be sure to post reviews and articles on a consistent weekly basis.  Then, as time passed without writing, the details on where I was in my novel and where it was headed began to fade, making it harder to get back into it.  And before I knew it, six weeks had passed without writing a single word of my novel.  Gasp!

This week, I decided it’s time to change that.  I re-read a half dozen chapters of my novel in progress to bring myself back up to speed on where my story is going.  And I’ve been making a point of devoting time to my own writing each day, regardless of what books are waiting to be read or blog posts are waiting to be written.  Best of all, the excitement for writing my novel is back.

Don’t worry.  This blog isn’t going anywhere.  I’m still here, still reading and reviewing, still writing articles.  But my novel is moving along again too.  A little bit at a time.  Yay!  I’m still trying to find the right balance, but I think I’m on the right track.

Anyone have any tips to share on balancing competing priorities or finding more hours in the day?  If so, I’m all ears.  😉

Outlining a Novel is Like Planning a Cross-Country Road Trip

For any writers out there, and anyone else curious about my writing process, check out today’s guest post on the Writing Irish blog, where I make an extended analogy between outlining a novel and planning a cross-country road trip. I’m the type who would “rather spend a little extra time up front thinking about where I’m going from the comfort of my own home than put in those extra hours lost on the side of the road.”

What about you? Are you more the planner or the spontaneous type?

Book Review: The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke

While non-fiction reviews are not at all the focus of my blog and other writers are not my core readership, I thought it appropriate (if a little ironic) to review Amanda Luedeke’s The Extroverted Writer in my inaugural blog post.  Appropriate since the advice contained in that book proved invaluable in helping me to define the focus of this very blog and my other social media outlets.  Ironic since one of the key points I gleaned from the book is the importance of knowing your focus and sticking to it.  Ah, well.  I guess I’ll start sticking to it with my next post.

With experience in both the marketing and the publishing industries, Amanda Luedeke is in an ideal position to provide advice on marketing and platform building for authors.  Even better, she did a great job in this book of approaching the subject in a logical, well organized, and approachable manner.  Best of all, the book is concise.  I was happy to glean the information I needed in a short format rather than a 300 page tome.  That’s an important consideration for someone like me who’s working toward finishing her first novel at the same time she hopes to begin building her following as an author!  It’s my guess that I’m not the only writer feeling crunched for time who will appreciate the brevity.

Since I am no stranger to managing Web sites or using social media on a personal level, the aspect of The Extroverted Writer most helpful to me was the discussion of how authors, including those who have yet to publish, can identify their target audience and use social media outlets like Web sites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook to reach that audience.  The ideas and suggestions presented really got me thinking about how I could use my own areas of expertise to engage with the very readers I hope will become my fans.  For this reason, I highly recommend The Extroverted Writer to other authors and aspiring authors interested in online marketing and platform building.

So, with that out of my system, I’ll aim to stick to my blog’s focus from here on out.  I’ll be drawing upon my experience as a librarian and book discussion group leader in reviewing fiction similar to what I write and sharing tips and discussion questions for book groups.

Amanda, if you’re reading this, thank you for sharing your expertise!