Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reblogs: The Writer's Circle: 5 Famous Authors and Their Strange Writing Rituals

(This article by Stephanie Ostroff originally appeared on The Writer's Circle.)

Routines keep us focused when we start drifting off course. They snap us back to reality and remind us that yes, we can do this. The words will come to us. Turning to a familiar writing ritual can help us find balance. Most authors have that one thing they do, even subconsciously, that sets the tone for a solid writing session.

Sometimes it’s as simple as creating the right lighting in a room or hearing songs from a favorite album. It’s the difference between churning out pages of your best work and wasting an afternoon staring at a blinking cursor.

At times, these rituals are taken to an extreme. Some of history’s most celebrated authors swore by unusual and bizarre rituals. It’s possible we owe many great pieces of literature to the fact that they were so meticulous in maintaining these strange habits.

In honor of the writers who embrace their quirky routines, the Writer’s Circle is highlighting a few of the oddest rituals practiced by famous authors:


Crayons, a white coat, and a comfy horizontal surface. These were Joyce’s essentials. The author of Ulysses found his words flowed better while lying flat on his stomach in bed. Since he was severely myopic, crayons enabled Joyce to see his own handwriting more clearly, and the white coat served as a reflector for light onto the pages.


Most writers can’t afford to check into a hotel when the urge to scribble hits, but for Angelou, it’s the key to great writing. In the wee hours of the morning she’ll book herself a room with a special request: all distracting wall décor must vanish. Armed with a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards, some legal pads, a thesaurus and the Bible, she’s spent hours crafting prose in this carefully constructed environment stripped of almost all inspiration.


The creative genius behind In Cold Blood, Capote was a superstitious man. His writing rituals often involved avoiding particular things. Namely, hotel rooms with phone numbers including “13,” starting or ending a piece of work on a Friday, and tossing more than three cigarette butts in one ashtray.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

ReBlogs: Positive Writer: 3 Game-Changing Tips that Will Help You Beat Procrastination and Get Back to Writing Today

Writer Bryan Hutchinson's Positive Writer offers articles "all written with the purpose of encouraging, inspiring and motivating" fellow authors. New York Times bestselling author Jerry B. Jenkins guest blogged recently on conquering procrastination.

If you’re like me, you’ve had trouble getting your rear end in that chair and writing.

Or if you do get there, the last thing you’re doing is writing.

You don’t have to tell me. I’m a professional procrastinator. I know all the excuses.

We shoo-in first ballot hall-of-fame postponement aficionados love to one-up each other, but before I list my bona fides in that arena, let me tell you what procrastination has wrought in my career:

● By the end of this calendar year I will deliver my 188th contracted manuscript to a traditional publisher—on deadline.

● I’ve had 21 titles reach The New York Times bestseller list, 7 of those debuting at #1.

● My books have sold more than 70 million copies.

Before I do the usual and tell you [that] I say all that not to brag (hey, I write a lot of fiction), let me get back to how accomplished I am as a procrastinator:

● When I’m on deadline, I become the world’s most obnoxious neatnick. How am I expected to write with a messy office, let alone a messy desk?

● Have the backs of all the cereal boxes been read? What about the prescription bottles?

● No, I don’t use pencils any more, but in case I might, all 24 must be sharpened!

● I haven’t been consistent with my physical training. I shouldn’t even think about writing until after a vigorous workout.

● Better clean up my email inbox. Every bit of it. Yes, Aunt Mildred, that is an incredible international scandal, and coincidence, and likely a conspiracy.

● A quick peek at Twitter. A can’t-miss moneymaking opportunity? I might never have to write again…

● And Facebook. I can’t believe that puppy. And that kitty! Oh, no he didn’t!

● The ugliest actor ever born? The ugliest two dozen? It won’t take long to run through those.

● Yes, I am also interested in the largest sea monster to ever wash up on New Zealand’s coast…

● The real mail must be here by now. And it must be close to lunch time.

Right now you’re thinking, Hey, writer man, get to the 3 game-changing tips. Calm down, I’m helping you procrastinate.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

5 Points for Writing a Mystery Novel

I have written a manuscript for a mystery, a legal thriller of sorts, and am in the process of re-writing it. It is my first. During this process I have discovered several things about writing mysteries but even more about myself.

I am lucky to be in a writing group with two men who are excellent craftsmen of the same genre. We critique each other’s work, and have become intensely familiar with each other’s stories.  They have helped me tremendously. One is a retired attorney, like me, and the other is a reporter for CNN and former editor for the AJC. They can be merciless, but since I know they have made their criticisms thoughtfully, I regard their comments with respect and appreciation. They write differently than I do, however. Their books seem to jump miraculously from their brains to the page, chapter by chapter. I, on the other hand, am a plodder. I toiled through my first draft outlining several chapters at a time, concentrating on nothing but plot. I focused on the finer details of language and voice in the second edit. But this method seems to work for me.   

Point No. 1: Mysteries are all about plot. 

Hope Clark, a highly acclaimed mystery writer, critiqued the first twenty pages of my manuscript this summer during the Southeastern Writer’s Workshop. She kindly gave me a book edited by Sue Grafton entitled, Writing Mysteries, published in 1992 by Writer’s Digest Books. It is a compilation of several well-known mystery writers’ suggestions. First among the ten commandments of writing a good mystery is plot. Jermiah Healy, the writer of this particular section of the book, suggested that all other aspects of the mystery must adhere to the story line or plot, and that the “wrongdoer” must be punished in some way as well. It took me an embarrassingly long time to write my first draft, but I wanted to keep readers guessing about who was the actual murderer and also keep some sympathy for the accused. Primarily, I wanted to avoid the reader guessing who the actual murderer was until the very end to increase a sense of suspense. 

Point No. 2: Character(s) 

The development of characterization in a mystery is second only to plot. Most mysteries are written with an eye toward a series as well. It is difficult to write convincing characters who are capable of unlocking challenging legal or criminal puzzles time and time again. I have the beginnings of a second novel for one of the protagonists in my first book, and plans for a third. My main character is an attorney and although she is a civil litigator, she will find herself in situations where she will need to defend those accused of crimes. She is also a single mother of twin boys.

Rex Burns wrote the chapter on Chacterization in Writing Mysteries.  He suggests developing character around one intense personal trait, such as pride, or a leathery toughness, and using that trait to describe even the physical details of the character. He also suggests using props to make the character more interesting, such as an orchid growing detective or a police chief who is a gourmet chef. He notes that Ian Fleming eventually gave more interesting facets to the severely one dimensional James Bond. 

One problem we all face when writing a mystery novel is how to avoid the cliché in our characterizations. I found this to be a problem with some of my secondary characters in particular. This can be avoided by presenting fully developed characters, but there is not enough room in a book to fully develop all characters. Burns suggests using narrative voice and dialog to round out the character. In one scene of my book, a deputy sheriff was approaching the scene of a murder and is about to step into the house of a man whose daughter had just been shot. The reader knew nothing about the father at this point, but the deputy did, and let the reader in on what he knew. This helped to round out the father’s character.

Generally, character consistency is preferred throughout a novel. But a major character in my novel goes through a significant change toward the end of the book. This character also has a substantial communication problem. Showing character change is a challenge, but it was a natural process for this character and one that should demonstrate his humanity and strength. Such a change should move the book toward its logical and positive conclusion.   

Point No. 3: Know Your Setting 

I have always heard that one should “write what you know”. My story takes place in a southern college town in Georgia. It could be any one of several universities, and will seem familiar to those of us who have attended one of those institutions. The fact that I was familiar with the setting of the story gave me confidence as I was writing the plot. I knew the turns and twists of the road when the main character was kidnapped, and I knew what sort of issues would arise when she finally escaped. Setting sets the mood and tone for the story as well. It will give the story its ambiance and is essentially another character. Of course, if you don’t know your setting intimately, and are writing a story set in an exotic location for instance, the setting would be fun to explore or research in person and a good excuse to get away. 

Point No. 4: Theme

Mysteries should involve at least one death by criminal act. (See Writing Mysteries.) I did not outline my entire book before I started writing, but instead had a general theme. I knew there would be a murder, and why. Not all homicides are motivated by emotion, but there must be a motivation for a murder in a mystery novel, whether it is passion, revenge, money or all three. The theme must exist before you begin writing the outline or the any of the chapters. I kept the antagonist’s incentive for the crime dangling in front of me as I wrote, like a carrot. My constant inspiration for the plot was my antagonist’s greed and the motivation for her acts. It helped me contemplate how others would react to her as well.   

Point No. 5: Emotional Connections are Essential to a Mystery

Writing the twists and turns of the plot were so all-consuming for me during the preparation of my first draft, I didn’t make several emotional connections.  I knew these were necessary to the story since a death, particularly a murder, is a highly charged emotional event. I thought they could be easily inserted at a later date. What I didn’t count on was how difficult it would be for me to demonstrate certain feelings and circumstances. 

One of my characters is handicapped. I had a difficult time getting in his head and comprehending how difficult it was for him to communicate with others. I had an easier time understanding his emotive reactions than his communicative issues. I also discovered I was often stiff or non-emotive in situations which required a more tender approach. My legal background seemed to have desensitized certain responses. My manuscript seemed strangely flat where there should have been touching passages or excited exchanges. It was clear that I needed to get back in touch with the part of myself that existed before law school…before I took two thousand depositions and was exposed to too many harsh realities and tragedies. My sense of humanity wasn’t lost, but it needed cultivating. I needed to be reminded of the preciousness of life and that everyone was innocent once. What was it that made the antagonist become such a monster? What was the turning point in her life? 

There is good and bad in all people if the truth is exposed in its entirety. But mysteries do not seem to allow for that sort of story-telling. They are simpler in construct. In a classic mystery, the bad guy does the crime and must pay. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to understand the motivation behind the murder emotionally, and its ramifications. I am working on my best way of telling that.      

Winning the Georgia Bar Journal 19th Annual Fiction Writing Competition for the short story entitled OUT FROM SILENCE, Cynthia Tolbert began working on a novel based on those same characters the following year. Cynthia practiced law for 28 years and is a free-lance writer for legal publications. She writes legal thrillers set in the south.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

ReBlogs: Simply Cappy (Sept 11, 2015): Sackcloth and Ashes

On this eleventh morning of September, we Americans turned off alarm clocks, got out of bed, put on the coffee, did morning rituals and perhaps at some point perhaps we glanced at a calendar.

That is when we recalled exactly where we were and what we were doing at 8:46 a.m. fourteen years ago. It is when we remembered exactly how we felt when we learned of the terrorists' attacks on the World Trade Center. That is when we experienced, just as we did for thirteen previous years, the same sickening feeling in our bellies, the fears, the helplessness, the unbridled anger. 

It has been a very long fourteen years.

That day made such a profound change, whether needed or not, in all of our lives. Every day since has made us look at life in a different way. Nothing will ever again be the same for any one of us. How then, do we deal with the effects of 9/11 as it pertains to us on a personal level in 2015?

Cappy Hall Rearick is a columnist, humorist and is the author a dozen books, including The Road to Hell is Seldom Seen, 50 Shades of Southern and Hey God ... Let's Talk: Days of Our Lives.  She has stories in several editions of the Not Your Mother's Book series and she writes regularly for Writer Beat, After Fifty Living, and others.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Former Possum Queen, Miss Cow Patty Cotillion 2005, and a Writer Walk into the SWA Conference...

“But I’m due at the SWA writer’s conference in two days,” I whined in the E.R. as the evil nurse slapped a hospital bracelet on my wrist and kick-started my IV pole. Wouldn’t you know it? Struck down in my prime by a bowl of… coldhearted blackberry cobbler? 

That was last time. This year I’m happy to report I made it to St. Simon’s Island and came away with more than when I left home—gotta love that new Michelin radial. As the bonafide “Mistress of Mayhem” and budding humor writer, I rely heavily on personal experiences for inspiration. Predictably, the SWA Conference provided me with plenty of material—albeit at my own expense. For you newbies I recommend this wonderful workshop and have included some helpful items for your conference checklist. In addition to the usual arsenal of pens, notebooks, and IPad, I suggest the following: 

 A Spare Tire

This will come in handy when you have a blow-out five minutes into your conference adventure leaving you stranded on the highway like metallic road-kill. Don’t forget your phone, AAA card, and some kindling and matches for those smoke signals you’ll be sending while awaiting help. “I’m sitting underneath a big palm tree,” does little to help you out in Florida.

Your Best Karaoke Get-up

Hand gestures are also crucial, (sorry, no sock puppets) as are your talented back-up singers who must be able to read acronyms and groove in sync while belting out, Harper Valley P.T.A. And while the moves from the famed “chicken dance” are entertaining, they can scream, “America’s Got No Talent.” 


Nine pairs of “matching” shoes should do it – matching shoes. While considering swing dancing confident you’ve packed the perfect clodhoppers keep in mind, donning a stiletto with a stylish flip-flop, even if they’re the same color, won’t make you the conference twinkle toes.

Mr. Magoo Cheaters 

If a bout of “temporary vanity” strikes and you decide to insert your contacts before being suddenly called to read your writing masterpiece aloud, pandemonium will surely ensue. This is complicated when one lens goes loosey-goosey and the other gums up, gluing both eyelids together. You’re guaranteed to wander your hotel cockeyed and dependent upon the kindness of the first unfortunate stranger you can grab. Thank-you Linda Joyce for agreeing to channel your inner Annie Sullivan.

An Open Mind

While pitching your book to the literary god of the north, (the prospective agent) and she suggests you’re better suited for You Tube, bear in mind, “There’s no crying in writer’s conferences.”


These are essential while laughing yourself silly over lunch with your new BFFs following your fifth glass of sweet tea while pondering your upcoming YouTube debut.

Heading home with my first-place certificates proudly riding shotgun on the adjacent seat I realized I’d gained more than valuable writing skills and my awards, I’d acquired a wonderful support group whose motto truly is, “Writers Helping Writers.” Lord help them. Remember, when all else fails, just add humor. Until next year…

Mellie Justad writes humorous stories about everyday life. her work has appeared in anthologies, NYMB on Being a Mom, NYMB on Sex, The Storyteller, Smile, American Humor, Parenting Plus, New England Writers Journal, and online: Midlife Boulevard, Midlife Collage, Dew on the Kudzu, and Muscadine Lines. Please visit her at justadshumor.com