Newsletter Update

When Marcy and I decided to stop blogging at GWP and only blog at our own sites, we offered everyone here the chance to subscribe to a GWP style newsletter we planned to write.

Plans change.

Because I miss hanging out with my writer peeps here, beginning Monday May 28 I am launching The Candid Writer, a weekly newsletter that will bring you GWP style articles with a few extras. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Marcy is unable to join me in this venture.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have decided not to automagically subscribe everyone who thought they had signed up for a newsletter from GWP. I have been blogging about writing weekly, but after this week my writing posts will appear in The Candid Writer only. Half of the great articles here at GWP are mine, so I hope you make the switch and subscribe for content available exclusively through this weekly newsletter especially for new and emerging writers that will always be free.

If you enjoyed GWP, I encourage you to subscribe to The Candid Writer.


Don’t forget you can subscribe to our blogs too!

Marcy Kennedy’s blog

Lisa Hall-Wilson’s blog

Tagged by Lucky 7

So – who wants an excerpt from the much talked-about WIP we’ve been trying to sell to agents?

There’s this fun little blogging blitz called Lucky 7 Meme or 777 going around where writers are tagging other writers in a virtual game of IT. I was tagged by CC MacKenzie over at Fizz and Fangs (that’s an awesome name for a blog btw), but since all I’ve worked on for the last few months is my co-written WIP with Marcy I thought I’d share here.

The rules:

  • Go to page 77 of your current MSS/WIP
  • Go to line 7
  • Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written
  • Tag 7 other authors

OK – Confession: I had to cheat a little because following these rules exactly would have lifted an excerpt that didn’t really make any sense.

Zerynthia glanced at Kaduis where he stood conversing with the man she presumed to be his commander. The man had at least two dozen scalps at his belt, and the skin on his face was black with tattoos.

Zerynthia smiled. “The queens of Amazonia will show Scythia we are not their submissive slaves, shall we. In Greek, so they have no doubts.”

They reared up their horses in unison and had them take two hops on their hind legs. The horses came down on all four legs facing the Red. The Red stared ahead, faces stone-hard. Zerynthia’s nerves sang with the thrill of the moment.

Marpesia lifted her left arm, the white binding that wound from her shoulder to her wrist blinding as it reflected the sun. “We are free. We are equal.”

Zerynthia lifted her right arm, bound in white like Marpesia’s, spear in hand. “Death to men.”

Every Amazon assembled joined in the war cry.

Hope you enjoyed it!

Who’s IT now?

Tiffany White – Ooooh Factor

David Walker – at Where The Heart Is

Melinda VanLone – at Demons and Dark Chocolate

Jessica O’Neal – The Sexy Little Nerd

Debra Kristi – at Sparks In The Fire

Leanne Shirtliffe – The Ironic Mom

Kourtney Heintz

Make sure you check out our own blogs this week:

Marcy – Life At Warp 10

One Thing Magneto Got Right – What Magneto got right in the latest X-Men movie.

Dealing with Fairies – Does Forgiving Mean We Forget – Careful what you say to a fairy…

Lisa blogging Through The Fire

Sounds of Spring – What spring sound like at your house? My neighbors leave their windows open at night…

I Can’t Believe I Said That – Yes…Yes, I actually said all these things. I can laugh about it now.

Just a reminder – only one week left of GWP goodness as it exists. We’re making the switch to a monthly online ezine – and we want all of our followers here (even those who lurk – we love you too) to join us. We’ll still write the same great writing tips and publishing news articles – but we’ll also feature interviews with published authors and writers that you just don’t want to miss!


Sign up for our NEW free Girls With Pens newsletter!

Subscribe to Marcy Kennedy’s Blog by Email

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Seeking Inspiration

Writers have active imaginations – fiction writers at any rate. It’s a job hazard. We call it a muse, creative juices, inspiration…

We seem to have been writing a lot of posts about the business of writing, so I thought it might be a good place for a bit of a break. When we go to conferences, we are often asked where we get our ideas.

I can’t speak for Marcy about where she gets her ideas, though I’m sure she’ll jump in. (She probably would have contributed more if I had thought to write this post more than 6 hours ahead of posting it…. yeah – I know. If I had ‘planned’ I wouldn’t be behind. I work better under pressure!) Me, I get my inspiration from a lot of different places.

The thing about inspiration is that it’s a starting place. I think a lot of people get caught up in the beginning idea and never work to develop the idea. My English teacher in high school used to say that every writer had a glass ceiling over their heads. All your initial ideas happen beneath the glass ceiling, but when you work on them, develop them, you can get past the big easy, the over-done, the unoriginal, to where new unique stories happen above the glass ceiling.


I love a good story in almost any form (though radio dramas tend to put me to sleep). I love to watch movies. I’ve had many story ideas come to me by watching movies – a twist on this concept or that, or how it should have ended, etc.


Of course. Enough said? Whether it’s a encyclopedia, a biography, a fiction story – anything can be a jumping off point for a story.

People Watching

I get lots of great story ideas watching people at the park, at the mall, stopped at red lights, waiting in lines. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation, maybe the body language, a gesture or expression. It’s the seed of an idea.


I’m a news junkie. I’m constantly scanning the trending headlines on yahoo or whereever. I have this crazy story inspired by the Robert Picton story that happened out in British Columbia. I should get back to that story… 😛 Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.


When I’m stuck for new ideas, I go for a walk. CJ, my black lab, and I have taken walks at all hours of the day and night because I was stuck on a story. There’s something about the mix of getting active, new scenery, and fresh air that rejuvenates my creativity.

Take a break

Sometimes the best thing I can do is shut down the laptop and go do something else. I will do laundry, wash dishes, make cookies, take a nap (never underestimate the power of a good nap), or play with my kids. When I stop working so hard to find an idea, that’s when something pops into my head I can use.

But don’t stop with the idea…

Then you take that kernel, that seed of an idea, and you play with it. You noodle it for a bit. Maybe you write a few things down. One writer described the process (yes, he’s a planner – I’m surrounded) like working a ball of clay in his hands, shaping the idea, working with new angles and shapes until it begins to take form in his mind.

Where do you get your ideas? What do you do when you’re ‘stuck’ for a new idea?


Reminder: As of the end of this month, Marcy and Lisa won’t be posting full blog articles here at Girls With Pens. Instead we’ll still be writing the posts on writing and social media that you’ve come to expect on our own blogs, and we’ll be creating a monthly Girls With Pens newsletter to bring you amazing interviews with industry professionals.

Sign up for our NEW free Girls With Pens newsletter!

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6 Ways to Develop Your Voice

writing voiceA distinct voice seems to be the thing that everyone wants but no one can tell you how to get. And I have to admit this annoys me. I’m a very practical person. If you can clearly tell me how to do something, I’ll get it done for you. If it’s ooey gooey and you tell me “it just has to develop over time,” I’m going to be cheesed.

I’m also going to set out to figure out how to do whatever you’ve just told me can’t be taught and has to develop organically.

Developing your voice–like everything else in writing–takes time and discipline, but it can be done. So here are some ways you can actively work on developing your voice.

(1) Learn the Basics of Writing

Before you argue that this will only teach you to write like everyone else, hear me out.

Can an artist sculpt a lifelike statue without first learning about the features of different types of stone and without learning how to use a chisel and other tools? Can a pianist compose a sonata without first learning which notes sound good together?

One of the most important things a writer trying to develop their voice can do is to read craft books. Writing is just like any other skill, whether that be painting, woodworking, engineering, or neurosurgery. You have to be so solid on the basics that they come instinctively before you’re able to truly create something fresh and unique.

(2) Set Boundaries

In her excellent post on Ways to Develop Your Unique Writing Voice, social media maven and bestselling author Kristen Lamb pointed out how boundaries can actually free your creativity rather than limit you. She likened setting boundaries in writing to narrowing down what means of transportation want to use to take your vacation.

If you want to develop your voice more quickly, pick a point of view (first person or third person – if you’re not sure what that means, check out our post on point of view) and a genre and stick to it until you’ve mastered it.

How will this help? Each genre comes with conventions that you need to follow to write in it. POV adds structure and establishes how you can tell your story. When some of these big decisions are settled, you’re free to focus on the actual writing. In other words, you’re free to allow your voice to come out. 

(3) Read and Analyze

Read a lot is one of the few pieces of advice novelists are given for developing their voice. But reading alone isn’t enough. You need to figure out what works in these books and what doesn’t. What do you love and hate about them? It could be something big picture (like the way they weave their theme throughout the book) or it could be something more subtle (like the cadence they use in their sentences).

For each book you read, try to identify and write down three things you loved and three things you didn’t. For the things that you didn’t enjoy about the book, ask yourself why you didn’t like them and how you would have done them differently.

(4) Make A List of Words that Describe Your Personality

In her post about Author Voice Vs. Character Voice, romance writer Roni Loren describes her author voice and then points out how it directly relates to who she is as a person and how she approaches life. Your voice is you.

Sit down and make a list of 15-20 words that describe you, then elaborate on each and how you see that trait expressed in a normal day.

For example, I’m quirky, sarcastic, thoughtful, structured, and equal parts dark and optimistic. So is my voice. By identifying who I am, I can look at my writing and see what parts are true to me and what parts aren’t.

(5) Stop Reading Novels

I know. I know. Up above, I told you to read and analyze. That was one step along the path. But eventually, you’re going to need to make sure that you’re starting to sound like you rather than subconsciously copying another writer. The only sure way to do that is to stop reading other people’s work.

Take 1-2 months and use your reading time to write instead (or exchange novels for books on craft).

This isn’t meant to be maintained long-term. You only need to stay in this stage until you start hearing yourself. I made the biggest jump in developing my own voice when I stopped reading temporarily.

(6) Read Your Work Out Loud

What flows off your tongue? What comes naturally? What doesn’t?

Reading your work out loud helps you smooth out the tongue twister passages and create more realistic dialogue, but it also helps with voice. What sounds right to your ear? Could you see telling the story this way out loud to your friends?

(7) Blog to Get Comfortable Being You in Public

In a post she wrote back in November, YA author Susan Bischoff said that one of the benefits she gained from blogging was that ” I learned how to be myself. In public. I don’t think that’s something that comes naturally to most people.”

The only way you can develop your unique voice is to be proud of who you are and how you sound. As soon as you start worrying about what other people will think or whether they’ll like your voice, you’re going to start trying to change it.

Blogging helps you learn to be comfortable with who you are and with sharing who you are with readers. Writing magazine articles is another way to help develop your voice in a public forum.

What other ways have you found to develop your voice? Do you agree with me that it can be developed or do you think it needs to develop organically? What author’s voice do you love the most?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.


Much More Than A Writer

Make sure you join Girls With Pens on Facebook where we search out the best writing links from around the web every day so you don’t have to.

Check out Lisa’s post today: Fish Stories and Amazons – that crazy phenomenon and rite of passage for women surrounding the retelling of birth stories.

Check out Marcy’s post today: The Lie of Helen of Troy – Have you bought into the lie that beauty is purely physical and matters more than character, honor, or intelligence?

Gone are the days of writers sitting in their writing cave and never interacting with their readers, or having to promote themselves. Learning a variety of related skills is necessary today to be a successful income-earning writer/author. As a full-time freelance writer, a lot of work I take is writing-related, but not writing-only. But, through these various jobs, I’ve learned a number of valuable pre and post publication skills.

On the heels of my interview with James Scott Bell, I thought it would be beneficial to look at what kinds of skills, programs, etc. are valuable to have or work towards.

Some of the writing-related things I’ve been hired to do (and had to learn on the fly):

Write and submit event press releases for a large non-profit intended to get pre-event coverage in newspapers.

-related skills: researching editors/reporters, coordinating interviews, learning to catch reporters interest to get coverage, timing press releases to get timely coverage, collecting contacts

Value: Submitting press releases is mind-numbing a little boring, but every author needs to be able to get coverage about their book’s release and know how to catch a reader’s eye. Being able to write a compelling and news-worthy press release AND have it picked up by the media is invaluable.

Hired to write web copy.

-related skills:

  • learned to enter content and images to the back end of Joomla, Business Catalyst, and WordPress
  • learned about SEO (search engine optimization), web writing best practices, importance of backlinks, currency of content, cross-promotion across platforms, key word searches, naming photos, etc.
  • continuing to learn how to manipulate an e newsletter in mailchimp, creating lists, creating new templates, etc.
  • learned to focus on audience
  • continue to learn basic html coding
  • administration of social media accounts forces me to stay on top of all changes, keep my ear to the ground of how to best use various platforms, and build an audience

Value: Becoming an intermediate creator of web content gives the necessary skills to successfully keep up a blog/website. Eventually, building up an email list and sending out newsletters may become a valuable marketing tool.

Hired to ghostwrite books, speeches, and do research.

related skills: research and fact verification, adjusting your voice, writing within specific guidelines, interviewing skills, being flexible

Value: Ability to write for different mediums, outcomes, and audiences, adjusting the message accordingly.

Continue To Search For Work

To be a freelancer means that for tax purposes (in Canada at any rate) you have to prove you work for different employers, not just one. Plus, putting all your eggs in one basket (only taking work from one source) is risky because freelancers are easy to hire and easy to let go. Lots of turnover. This means continually searching out work, putting yourself out there, selling yourself. Taking several months off from finding work can leave you in an income lurch for months if you lose a contract for any reason.

Value: Learn your strengths and weaknesses, make insider contacts, gather recommendations, learn rejection isn’t personal – all kinds of great things.

Can you think of any other skills it would be valuable to learn or acquire to help your book’s success?


Subscribe to Marcy’s blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s blog Through the Fire.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or follow her Pin Boards on Pinterest where she’s pinned all kind of photos used as inspiration for our co-written novel.

The Business of Writing with James Scott Bell

Marcy and I had the privilege of meeting James Scott Bell at the Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference in California last year. He gave us a free critique (part of the conference) and helped set us on a new path to publication that landed us in New York at the Writer’s Digest Conference. And who did we find there? James Scott Bell. He was a guest speaker, so we had a chance to reconnect. Much to our great delight he remembered us. He graciously agreed to give this interview on the business of writing.

Thank you so much, Jim! And to our readers, enjoy. 🙂


LHW: You’re a successful author who’s sold a lot of books, but in support of the writing career you speak and teach at conferences, tweet, blog, give interviews <grin>. What myth would you most like to dispel for new writers about the successful writer’s life?

JSB: That it ever gets easier. In fact, in some ways, it gets harder. Or should. Your standards go up with each book. You know more, you set the bar higher. And you want it to, if you’re a real writer. I have a number of bestselling author friends, and they all feel this way. It’s nice to have a career doing this, certainly. But it’s work, too. Don’t think it’s ever a fluffy ride on a cloud.

LHW: You’ve stated elsewhere that new writers need to focus on craft first – without a good book the rest doesn’t matter. But, at what point in an author’s early career should they begin thinking about the business behind the writing? How does one plan for that? What are the key items to think through, and consider?

JSB: A writer should think about this being a business from the very start. Know how the business runs, what publishers and agents and readers look for, what sells and does not sell. Learn how to plan at least two years ahead. Set goals for finishing projects and getting them out there. Learn about production–editing, cover design, copywriting and copyrighting. This approach establishes its own momentum. You can be doing things every day toward your goals, and there’s a power in that.

At the same time, never think that business knowledge and marketing can cover a multitude of writing sins. One still has to be able to consistently deliver the goods, and that means learning the craft by writing, revising, studying, getting feedback, and more writing.

LHW: You have a wide range of new ‘products’ being offered through ebooks, traditionally published fiction and non-fiction books (at my count you released 9 books in different formats on Amazon in 2011). You’re speaking and teaching at writers conferences, and Donald Maas just announced that the two of you will be doing a new workshop together in the fall. There’s been a lot of doom and gloom talk about publishing lately. In your opinion, is this a good time to be a new writer/author?

JSB: Never a better time to be an author! Ever. Period. Because of choices. It’s always been hard to get published traditionally. And yes, it’s harder at this moment because of the shakeups in the industry. Not impossible. New authors are getting deals. But we have the independent route now that means there’s a real alternative. There wasn’t before. Yes, you could pay a lot of money to self-publish in print, but 99% of the time you couldn’t sell enough to make any real dough. Not only has indie publishing been a boon for books, but also for short stories and novellas. The latter market was virtually non-existant. Now it’s back, better than ever.

Yes, it’s a great time to be a writer.

LHW: A lot of indie authors are telling new writers they must be prolific and produce new content often, 3-5books a year, to be successful. Not many traditionally published authors can manage that kind of output. Looking ahead, what do you predict will be the key factors for a successful writing career? Being prolific? A wide range of ‘products’? Social media clout?

JSB: I love being prolific, but I don’t think you need to put a number on the speed of production. Consistency is a better word. A writer who wants to succeed at this needs to establish a consistent rate of production (I always use a weekly quota of words), and plan projects out in advance (I have enough for at least five years hence). The “keys” to success are quality and consistency, which is why I advocate a systematic studying of the craft of writing for the rest of your life. Some writers sniff at craft study, but they are fooling themselves and others. Would you want your brain operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t keep up with the medical journals? Make craft study a part of the “quality control” of your business–and all writers are in business for themselves.

Social media certainly has a role to play, but if one gets obsessive about it, the ROE (Return on Energy) just doesn’t add up. Recent studies have shown that books are not sold in great numbers via social media. Create relationships with readers in social media, but always remember the best thing to do is write excellent books and let word of mouth take over. Concentrate your energy there.

LHW: Any advice for emerging authors about the business of writing?

JSB: Learn business principles: goal setting, time management, marketing fundamentals, quality control, pricing, copywriting, sales. You can get good books on all of these and study them when you can. I wrote a book, The Art of War for Writers, which covers a lot of this territory, but you can go deeper into each area.

The most important things a writer can do are, in order of importance:

1. Write

2. Keep improving what you write (study craft, get critiques)

3. Sell what you write (via marketing and business principles)

And try to enjoy the ride. I blogged about a new definition of success for writers, where freedom is the operative word. Freedom and responsibility. It’s exhilarating to hold them in your own hands.

JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Deceived, Try Dying, Try Darkness, Try Fear, One More Lie and Watch Your Back. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books for Writers Digest Books, including: Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense. Under the pen name K. Bennett he has written the zombie legal thrillers Pay Me in Flesh and The Year of Eating Dangerously. He lives and writes in L.A. His website is

What do you think? Is this a doom and gloom time for writers, or a world of new opportunities?

Making This Year Better Than The Last

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass.
–Counting Crows, “A Long December”

Goals and AmbitionsDid you make a New Year’s resolution yesterday? Did you know that you have a 78% chance of breaking it?

A few years ago, I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions because I always broke them and ended up feeling like a failure. This past year, though, I noticed another more serious problem.

My life has become triage.

Instead of acting, I spent most of my time reacting. Fires kept cropping up, and I survived by dealing with the biggest and badest first. Everything else tanked. I gained 20 pounds. My husband began to complain that he didn’t get any time with me anymore because I’m always working. I don’t remember what a day off looks like. Lisa and I are scrambling to prepare for the conference we’re headed to in New York this month.

I want this year to be better than the last.

Part of my problem goes back to my failed New Year’s resolutions, and why I was consistently breaking them. To make this year better than the last, I need to care for myself as well as I care for my characters. You see, I give them goals, but I mostly only had ambitions for myself.

If you remember the post I wrote about Creating Three-Dimensional Characters, I explained the difference between an ambition and a goal.

An ambition is an abstract, high-level concept. For example, “I want a well-behaved dog” or “I want a happy marriage.” Two people can have the same ambition, but the way it plays out in their lives can be diametrically opposed based on how they define that ambition. Goals are how you reach your ambition. Without them, you can float around for years never certain if you’re making any progress toward your ambition.

If all you have is ambitions, you’re bound for disappointment and failure because you don’t have any direct control over whether an ambition is reached or not.

For example, “I want an agent this year” or “I want to lose 20 pounds.” Those are ambitions because nothing you do will guarantee they happen. You might change your eating habits and hit the gym, and only lose 10 pounds because you gained muscle as well. Or because that’s the healthy weight your body wants to be at.  

Goals, however, are in your control.

I do a lot of work for non-profit clients writing grant proposals. One of the things that separates successful grants from unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones set goals (they call them objectives) that are SMART.

S – specific

M – measurable

A – attainable

R – realistic

T – time-bound

So if your ambition is to land an agent this year (it’s one of the ambitions on my new list), set SMART goals to reach it.

For example, “I will query one new agent every week in 2012 except for the weeks of Christmas and Thanksgiving.” (Noah Lukeman suggests querying 50 agents before you give up on that particular project.)

Specific – You’ve given the number of agents (one) and what you’re going to do (query). You also specified what you’re not going to do.

Measurable – You either did or you didn’t send out a query each week.

Attainable– You can query an agent a week. That’s within the realm of what’s allowable when it comes to agents. You couldn’t talk to an agent on the phone every week any more than you can probably call up Suzanne Collins or Daniel Craig and expect to have a chat.

Realistic – This really depends on you. Maybe that isn’t realistic for you depending on what you know your personal limitations are. Maybe what you can do is query one new agent every two weeks. But you get the point. Don’t set an unrealistic goal like “I’m going to query 50 agents every week.”

Time-Bound – You have from Monday to Sunday each week to complete this goal. You have from January 1 to December 31 of 2012 to complete this goal.

If you reach your goal, you’re that much more likely to also fulfill your ambition.

I’m not just working on my goals and ambitions for my career, but also for the rest of my life. As writers, it can be easy to become a slave to our work, but some sacrifices are too great.

You see, I don’t just want to be remembered as a great writer at the end of my life. I also want to be remembered as a great wife. As a great friend. As a great daughter, and sister, and cousin, and niece. Perhaps one day as a great mother and grandmother and aunt.

To do that, I need to make this year better than the last.

What’s one ambition you have for this year, and one of the goals that you’re setting to try to meet it?


Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

And don’t forget to subscribe to Marcy’s blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s blog Through the Fire.

Merry Christmas From Marcy & Lisa

We hope you have a fabulous holiday season with friends and family. We are taking a blog break for a week to enjoy some time with our families, so come back next Thursday for more GWP awesomeness (is that a word?). We’ve collected a few links to tide you over until we’re back – you know, for when the turkey hangover wears off and you’re looking for an escape from the relatives 🙂

Check out Marcy’s post today What If Santa Were Real?

Someone hacked Lisa’s website (she’s still bitter), so instead here’s the five most popular GWP posts of the year.

5 Tips For Writing Deep POV
5 Ways To Know if You’re Showing Or Telling
5 Basics About Dialogue You Need To Know
Crafting A 25-Word Pitch
6 Grammar Mistakes That Will Cost You Readers

A Year In Review – seems like everyone is doing a collection of the year’s best posts

Jane Friedman has collected what she says are the 12 best articles about writing posted in 2011. Some of these are more academic in nature than others, but worthwhile reading.

Jane Friedman has also collected the very best of her own posts from this year (if you don’t already follow her blog). Lots and lots of great stuff here to sift through. A good site to bookmark and read one or two posts over your morning coffee (or other caffeinated beverage of choice) for a few days.

Are Tablets responsible for  a surge in the popularity of reading?

Bookbiz Santa list – sure you want to go with a royalty-based publisher? This may make you have second thoughts.

Ever heard of WattPad? It’s a Canadian initiative that’s made some big waves. Here’s a great WattPad success story of a serialized novel. Will be watching to see how this author does on her own.

A New Year’s resolution list for writers – you know someone was going to do it. This is pretty good. How many are you willing to give a go at?

If you’ve enjoyed and benefited from GWP weekly writing posts, we’d appreciate it if you dropped a quick email to the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites For Writers contest on our behalf. Nominations close Jan. 1st. Make sure to take a minute and nominate your favorite blog or website – we hope we’re one of them – but do it even if we’re not.

Email: and put 101 Best Websites nomination in the subject line. Write a brief bit about why the site should be included in the list and give the name and url of the website/blog.

Marcy and Lisa

P.S. Here’s a little Christmas cheer for ya!

What It Takes To Succeed

How do you find time for all that, I’m often asked. How did you accomplish so much in so little time with your writing? Here’s the honest answer: I don’t do anything else.

The mark of a successful income-earning writer is that they’re dedicated, disciplined, and focused.

woman asleep at laptopIn late 2008, Marcy and I sat down together at Write! Canada, a writer’s conference we try to make a point of attending every year. We decided to cowrite a few articles about a shared experience, and were also asked to take on a book review column. Those two decisions launched our writing careers early in 2009 when those articles began appearing, and we started writing full-time. We launched this blog in November 2010 which has given us further credibility.

So, here’s an insider’s view into our messed up chaotic schedule. You want to know what it takes to be able to write full-time? Here’s the down and dirty details:

How many hours/days a week do you write on average?

Marcy: I’m writing 7 days a week (on average) between the grant writing company that I’m on retainer with, my freelance work (both writing and editing), my blog, Girls With Pens, and our co-written novel. My long-term goal is to cut back to 6 days a week. I’d love to have a 5-day work week, but I think that’s impossible for writers. A girl can dream though.

Lisa: I try not to look at it in terms of hours – it’s too depressing. I write 7 days a week. Mon-Fri I work 9-5, and then go back to it after 9pm when the kids are in bed for another 2-4hours. I’m working freelance for 3 non-profits, and am on retainer with a fourth. I accept work from one small business, and write regularly for a few magazines and newspapers which means I’m always looking for a good story and interviewing people. I also write my own blog, Girls With Pens, and am writing a fiction manuscript with Marcy. I try not to work a lot on weekends, 2-4 hours at the most each day when the kids are awake, then more after they’re in bed. If I’ve been up late, I’ll crash for an hour or so in the morning after the kids go to school.

What time do you shut down the laptop at night?

Marcy: Do I have to answer this one honestly? Right now, I usually fall asleep with my laptop in my lap, and my husband has to come wake me up. Some nights it’ll be 1am before I crash. Other nights, it’s more like 11pm. (P.S. Don’t try this at home. It’s a recipe for eventual total meltdown.) I’m not always writing that late though. Sometimes I’m paying bills, answering emails, etc. There’s never enough time in a day.

Lisa: I’m bad for this. I’m often up until at least midnight, if I’m under a deadline for a blog post it’s not unusual for me to be up until 2am.

What’s your most productive writing time?

Marcy: I’m not one of these writers who can get up and crank out 1,000 words before breakfast. (I could try, but it would be a waste because I’m not at my best.) I’m most productive between 1pm and 7pm.

Lisa: I’m not a morning person. I tend to do my blog reading and social media in the morning because I don’t have to think as much. My best writing times are 1pm til about 4pm, and then 9pm and on.

What other hobbies do you spend time doing?

Marcy: I play the flute and World of Warcraft (it’s endorsed by Chuck Norris you know), and I train our one-year-old Great Dane in obedience. I read, but I’m not sure anymore if that’s a hobby or work related. Most of my hobbies are so neglected they’re buried in dust.

Lisa: I don’t. I go to a writer’s club meeting for 2 hours once a month. Between running kids to cheerleading, horseback riding, aikido, helping with paper routes and homework, and trying to keep the health department from storming my house, there’s no time for anything else. I try to get out and walk the dog. A real treat is to go out to a movie with friends, cuddle with the hubs in front of the tv, go shopping with my girls, or take a weekend off to read a novel.

What has caused you to miss publishing a blog post on your scheduled day?

Marcy: As of yet, I’ve never missed a scheduled day 🙂

Lisa: I’ve never missed posting a blog. For me, it’s a credibility issue so I make it a priority even when I get a last minute assignment from an editor with a short deadline, or a frantic email from a non-profit that x or y needs to be done yesterday.

Where in your house do you eat breakfast and lunch?

Marcy: Clearly these questions are meant to bring out all my dirty laundry for public viewing 🙂 I eat lunch wherever my laptop is because I usually do social media while eating breakfast and lunch.

Lisa: C’mon – I didn’t make you share what you wear to ‘work’ 🙂 I eat breakfast and lunch at my desk, that’s when I do a lot of my social networking and blog reading.

How do you decide which new projects or assignments to take on and which to turn down?

Marcy: Three simple questions:

(1)   Do we need the money to pay our bills?

(2)   Will it advance my long-term career goal of writing novels?

(3)   Does it help support a charity/cause that hits me in the heart?

I also consider whether I’ll enjoy it.

Lisa: Freelancing is a bit like feast or famine. One week I have time on my hands and my house is super clean, other weeks I’m so busy I forget to eat.

1) The job has to be interesting to me, or further a cause I’m passionate about

2) Depends on my workload at the time and the publication date. I often get work because I’m willing to accommodate a short deadline. An editor will say, I’m looking for x but I need it by Friday (this is Monday), but it won’t come out for 4 months. Translation: I don’t get paid for 4 months. I’m constantly searching for more freelance opportunities because a gap in work can mean no income for months.

3) Will it help or hinder my ultimate goal of writing novels?

As you can see, we’re busy. We rarely see each other at all, we communicate through a frenzied flurry of emails, IM’s, Tweets and Facebook messages. (If Marcy would start texting we could probably eliminate at least 3 of those things.)

We don’t miss deadlines. We deliver quality material to our employers and editors that garners us more work from them, and from word of mouth. We’re focused and determined to reach the same goal, and we don’t let much else distract us from that. People have accused us of being ‘intense’ and ‘too-driven’. Maybe.

We both agree that we’re looking for better balance once we get this novel finished – of course, ultimately we want to be able to stop freelancing as much and just write fiction. Are you this passionate, dedicated, focused, on your writing? What’s your ultimate goal in all of this writing frenzy?


Inspiring Reader Allusions

When the local university sponsored a Writer in Residence for anyone from the community to have a free 15 minute appointment with a published writer – I was all over it. That 15 minute appointment taught me how important allusion is.

Allusion: a passing or casual reference, an incidental mention of something either directly or by implication: an allusion to Shakespeare.

The excerpt I sent in was an experiment. I’d written the kind of urban fantasy I wanted to read, but I hadn’t intended to sell it – so I included a few allusions I normally wouldn’t have. I always thought literary allusions were best reserved for works of literary fiction.

In the excerpt, you meet Mrs. Walters-Scott, a rich, garish woman, looked down on by those with ‘old money.’ The allusion to Sir Walter Scott and the popular opinion of his work by his contemporaries was a private self-indulgence for unused research.

The Writer in Residence caught that allusion, but that tuned her reading to look for more.

I named my main male lead Silas because of the supercilious Sssss sound. In one place, Silas pauses in front of a painting featuring a lantern post. I had only intended an allusion to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and the lantern post where Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus for the first time. The Writer in Residence nodded. “I can see Lewis, but with the name Silas and the signpost, I immediately thought of Silas Marner by George Elliot.”

I hadn’t wanted to include too many allusions to the classic literature I loved reading, sure no one would ‘get it.’

The Writer in Residence gave me this advice: Write for the people like you, who have read those classics and understand the allusions, but never make the allusion a prerequisite for understanding the story.

Allusion is a very common literary device.

Love Story by Taylor Swift

“You were Romeo, I was a Scarlet Letter…” Of course, she’s alluding to Shakespeare and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. In the video below for Love Story, Swift adds (or the director did) further allusion at moment 2:38 in the video when she plucks cherries from a branch. (You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.) And those who didn’t catch the allusions still enjoy a song about love at first sight.

American Pie by Don Maclean

This song, released in the early 1970’s, became a hit mostly because of the allusions to contemporary issues and events.

I can’t remember if I cried When I read about his widowed bride, But something touched me deep inside The day the music died. I was told he was alluding to the death of Elvis Presley, but popular opinion has this referring to Buddy Holly. Both work, I guess – but this is a risk with allusions at times.

And while the king was looking down, The jester stole his thorny crown. And here, the jester is generally agreed to be The Beatles, stealing the music crown from the King – Elvis.

Allusions to contemporary issues can be very powerful, but also a stumbling block to those unfamiliar with the social and political issues of the day.

Easy ‘A’

This movie is witty and clever. First is the very blatant allusion to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Olive pins a red letter A to her bustier and flaunts her new-found though unearned slutty reputation. But the references to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Demi Moore’s version of the movie The Scarlet Letter “Moore takes a lot of bathes”, Mark Twain, and many others are a lot of fun to catch.

At one point her best friend asks her out. She replies: “Brandon, just a couple of hours ago you told me you were kinsey 6 gay.” This is a reference to the Kinsey Report about male sexuality. On the Kinsey Scale, 6 makes one exclusively homosexual.

Really fun to try and pick them all out.

Blast From The Past

A couple expecting their first child during the Cuban missile crisis go underground for 30 years to survive the ‘fallout.’ Their son is appropriately named Adam – that’s an allusion to the Bible – hope you caught that. Of course, who does Adam meet and fall in love with once the 30 years is up? Eve. Tell me you saw that coming…

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The latest version of the Narnia classic has the lion, Aslan quoting Christ when he kills the White Witch: “It is finished.” In fact, the allusions in the book to the Bible are quite numerous.

Readers will always bring their own history and experiences into the book with them, but do you purposely include allusions to other works, events or people? Do you feel that allusions add meaning to the story?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.