Category: Workshops For Writers

The simple answer is yes. They are very important. Whether the deadline you’re working on is self-imposed or one set upon you by some faceless name is of little importance. What is important is what’s behind that deadline, the bottom line. Most of us strive for publication and if that is our goal then a deadline will ultimately be a part of our lives at some point in our chosen career.

Giving ourselves a deadline is oft times just as important as one given by an agent or a publisher. hey make us accountable to ourselves. We no longer can allow dilly-dally. We are working toward a goal and the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (I know too many cliches.)

Without the dreaded looming deadline we get very little done. We don’t see the number on the calendar march on, we don’t see the possibilities evaporate or the contest date expiring. What we see is plenty of time. What that normally means is time wasted. Nothing constructive gets done. Our stories remain unfinished. We can claim nothing. Eventually when someone asks, “Are you published yet?” and you answer, “Not yet,” you will become a non-writer in their eyes. They will call your, ‘I’m a writer,’ remark nothing more than, ‘calling wolf.’ You’ll find yourself a has-been and you haven’t even been anything.

So are deadlines important? You bet they are. Start this month with a goal of writing something with a date in mind for its completion. Don’t give yourself anything that is unrealistic. Play fair with yourself. Remember that word count has a lot to do with the time allotted and that there should be time for editing included.


Example: A 3,000 word story may take 2-3 weeks but a non-fiction article of the same length may take only a week. It all depends on the amount of variables.

A fellow writer put up a challenge that she was given and has passed it on. I now answer her challenge and give it back to my writing friends too. At random I will pick seven of you. Your job is to take the first seven paragraphs or lines from page 7, 70, 170 of your current work in progress book and share it with your readers and pick some unsuspecting friends to challenge to do the same.


Here’s mine. The title is “Candy” Have fun with her as she learns more about herself and what she wants in life. At the moment we find her confused and very frustrated. Can you tell? This is taken from page 7.


My name’s Candace Peters but my friends call me Candy. But I guess you don’t much care what people call me,” Candy went on without letting Jeff answer. “I live on Brownie Boulevard. Number 401. There’s a crack in my foundation and there’s water coming in. I’ve fought it for two, three, maybe five hours. I don’t know anymore. I need a plumber or a carpenter or, I don’t know. I need help. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I swept and swept and swept and the water kept coming. Then the power went out. I walked into a wall and I think I’ve broken my nose. I’m headed to the hospital but I don’t know where it is. I’m looking for a blue sign but I don’t see one. Do you have any idea where it is?” Candy said all in a rush of frustrated anxiety.

Ms Peter’s the hospital is on Poison Ivy Lane.”

What?” Interrupted Candy. “Did you say Poison Ivy Lane? Who on earth would build a hospital on a street named Poison Ivy? Where is it? I’ve been driving around for what feels like hours and I haven’t seen any street named Poison Ivy. Are you sure there is such a street?”

Jeff laughed. “Yea. I’m sure. Though, honestly, I’ve always wondered about the name myself. Now listen carefully. From your house you want to take a left on Gnome Avenue, then a right to Pixie Parkway. Go through the stoplight out of the subdivision. Go another light and then turn right down Maple Drive. The first left is Poison Ivy Lane. You can’t miss the hospital. It’ll be right in front of your face.”

At this point I don’t think being in front of my face would help any,” Candy muttered. “Sorry. This is not your problem. Thanks for your help,” she said wearily. “I’m heading back to the house and I’ll start fresh from there. You’ve been a big help. By now,”

Hey, wait…” Jeff yelled loud enough to be heard a foot away from the phone. “Don’t hang up. How do I get in your house to fix the plumbing?”

Oh, sorry. Forgot. It’s been a long day. There’s a spare key under the mat.”

For writers, every day is Writer’s Day. Yet there are certain days throughout the year that hold a special meaning for writers over regular people.

Since we are creative in many ways, we share ourselves in different sectors. We write about the real and the imaginary. Our stories are found in books or on the silver and small screen. It is a type of magic that is enjoyed by many.

For ourselves we experience frustrations and lagging while we struggle to find our true path. It is who we are and exactly what we are supposed to be.

Listed below is a list of days that speak to writers as a group. There are days for ideas and emotions. Each expresses us whole sharing who we are with others. Have fun and remember that to be a writer is to be on this list.

1/13 Make Your Dream Come True Day

1/23 National Handwriting Day

2/7 Charles Dickens Day

3/5 Multiple Personalities Day

3/12 Alfred Hitchcock Day

3/23 National Organize Your Home Office Day

3/29 Festival of Smoke and Mirrors Day

4/5 Go for Broke Day

4/9 Winston Churchill Day

4/15 Rubber Eraser Day

4/27 Tell a Story Day

4/28 Great Poetry Reading Day

5/1 Mother Goose Day

5/11 Twilight Zone Day

5/12 Limerick Day

6/14 Pop Goes he Weasel Day

6/27 National Columnists Day

7/4 Tom Sawyer Fence-Painting Day

7/26 All or Nothing Day

8/18 Bad Poetry Day

9/4 Newspaper Carrier Day

9/6 Fight Procrastination Day

9/10 Swap Ideas Day

9/22 Hobbit Day

9/25 National Comic Book Day

10/5 National Storytelling Festival

10/2 International Moment of Frustration Scream Day

10/16 Dictionary Day

11/1 Plan Your Epitaph Day

Beginning your own writers group can be a bit tricky. There are several questions you must ask yourself at the onset. Each is important in its own way and just as essential as the other. There is no specific order to the questions but they all must be answered before you begin. Below you will find a starting list of the types of questions you must ask yourself. Just the action of reading them will bring to your mind other questions. Answer them. They are important.
After these questions are asked you must think of the guidelines you will use to run your group. Each set of people is different. They expect different things and have different fears. To that end you must do your best to calm or all together alleviate problems before they begin.
For the most part, being a writer is a solitary endeavor. We write in private and hide our manuscripts from sight. The action of joining a writers group is letting go of our insecurities about our writing and ourselves. Writers take a big step forward by visiting a writer’s group and an even bigger one by joining. We must help them come to the conclusion that they made the right decision.
Every group has a different set of people. Some expect to read every time, others bring something once in a great while. You can expect to find at least one soft-spoken person and might have one who does quite a bit of talking. To make the group work and to be fair to everyone, it’s a good idea to see how the group works the first few meetings and if you find that you’re consistently going over time, suggest using a timer for each member. That way you’re not singling anyone out and you’re keeping a schedule.
Some people like rules and are afraid when there is a lack of them. So I’ve found it’s a good idea to draw some up before the first meeting begins. That way when someone expresses a concern you’re ready with the answer.
What follows are some samples that will help y on your way to creating and enjoying your new Writer’s Group. If these tools help than the time I spent one this article are worth it. Good luck and as always, ‘Happy Writing!’

Here are some of the questions, likely they will raise some more.

1. Where: Think about your area’s demographics. What types of people live in your town? Do you have an artsy set? Do you see signs for concerts, a free community movie night or other like events? If you do than, you might be able to host your writers group in your own town. If you don’t see these things you might want to think of a neighboring town that has some of these things. Will you meet in your home or in a public place like Panera or Starbucks? Would your library sponsor you?
2. Type: Do you want to focus on a specific type of writing? Poets work different than screenwriters and fiction writers see the world in yet another light from nonfiction writers who do more research than writing for long periods of time. If you desire a diverse group, consider offering a mix and leave the type open.
3. Advertisement: How do you plan to tell people about your group? Will you go by word of mouth or will you put up posters? Are you social media savvy enough to get people interested in your group and know how to target people you live near you?
4. When: As you plan your event try to think of a day/time that will be convenient for the most people. A little research into events that happen in your town will give you a heads-up on when a reoccurring event happens so that you don’t schedule yours to coincide on the same night and find yourself in constant competition. Weekday, weeknight, weekend, what time of the day will you agree to meet every time? People need something easy to remember so don’t switch it on them. You’ll lose members quickly if you do. How often will you meet? One a week, once a month or every other week?
5. Cost: Decide what you will charge your members or if you will make it free to join. Remember you will be making posters or spending time on the Internet to promote your group. Do you want to be reimbursed or is this your baby and you say, ‘hang the expense!’
6. Name: What will you call your group? When choosing a name you should go for one of two goals. Either you make it catchy and hip so that people remember it or you make it specific to the type of group you are starting.

Below is a sample of what your rules might look like. You can add to them but be sure that the results don’t read like a law book. People need to know you’re there to protect their rights but they don’t want to feel intimidated so that they leave the group either.

Critiquing and meeting manners:

1. Members should be courteous and honest in their critiques – we are here to help each other accomplish our goals. Only through honest answers will we learn and write suitably for publishability.
2.Members should be aware of the time so that everyone gets a fair chance to read/explain their work.
3.  Members should always get permission before they take an extra copy of another’s work home with them – some people are not comfortable with their work leaving their hands.
4. Members should never tell someone outside the group about another member’’ work; whether it be an idea in the making or a complete work unless asked to by that member.
5. Members should be aware that anything that is either typed/written down is protected under US Copyright Laws.
When sending emails:
1. We ask that you please refrain from sending junk/interesting story mail – we get enough already from others.
2. Only send messages pertaining to writing, writing events or answers/requests from a fellow member.
3. Please do not share any members email address without prior permission and knowledge to that member.

Below is a sample poster to give you an idea of what might work. Adding an attractive picture gets people’s eyes to stop and read just to see what it is.


Event Name:          Nonfiction Writers Group of McHenry County

Time:                       6:30 – 8:45 p.m. the 1st Monday of the month
Beginning August 6th

Location:                               McHenry Public Library
809 N. Front St. (Route 31)
McHenry IL 60050

Cost:                                                   Free

Contact Information:                      Your Name
Your email address
Your phone number

Description:  Are you a writer?  Do you want to publish your nonfiction article or book? The Nonfiction Writers Group of McHenry County is a group of authors seeking other authors who are actively working on pieces, researching topics, and compiling interesting stories on various subjects.  Only other nonfiction authors understand what it takes to make a piece captivating yet factually accurate. Join us as we help each other accomplish our goals and succeed in the writing business.

Everyone wants to write a great novel. They have a terrific idea and a few intriguing characters but how do they prolong the short story in their head to novel length? They may also worry about keeping it real. The idea of writing 60,000 words alone can be terrifying. So my advice is not to think about it. As more scenes are added, your word count will grow. It has to.

So how do you write a scene that sounds real? For me I’ve found a few tricks. I’ve found they work best if you’re sitting in front of the computer. If you write longhand you can still do these, it’ll just take longer.

The first thing to do is sit down in a comfortable position. Next place your hands on the keyboard and close your eyes. Take in a few deep breaths. Then put yourself into the character’s shoes that owns the scene you want to write.

Feel the character’s emotions rising in you. See with your eyes the character’s surroundings. Then delve into the character’s memories. If the character ran into someone right now, what would they say? How would they act?

Put yourself into this character. With your eyes still closed, begin to type the scene. Don’t worry about the typos. You can go back and fix them later. Right now focus solely on the character and what’s going on. You are that character. It is you, that has been robbed. What do you say? Do you scream it? Do you throw something? What? Did it brake? How? Do you feel satisfaction? Fear? Anger?

Pretend you are up on the stage in a play. Your readers are the audience. A great scene will keep them in their seats. A great play will have them return for your next staring role.

Don’t just write the scene, own it!

Okay, you’re starting your day and you have a ton of things to do. What you don’t have is enough time to do them all. This said you set down what your priorities are. You know which ones you absolutely have to get done and which ones can wait. The biggest problem you have is that what you need to do is work on-line. That means that your whole day is subject to the cosmic god that watches the internet. It will be up to him/her if you get your goals done or not.

To me that means that when I have to do something like download new software and there’s a bug in my system somewhere, well the time it takes can be untold. You think that when the bar is filled you’re closing in on being done with that one area. What you don’t know is that there are an infinite amount of bars that need to be filled before you can even start on your project. In the end you’ve just spent an hour of your life looking at bars fill up and now that nothing useful has been accomplished you feel like you should go to an actual bar and drown the whole tale.

This is what working on the internet has become. There is nothing more frustrating than a simple thing that takes ages to complete. The whole idea of using the computer is so that we get our work done faster. When that doesn’t happen, well its time to give up and go with old reliable.

As writers we are not fastened to the seat of a computer table. We can write anywhere at any time. We don’t need to live in Venice to write about it. We can live in Chicago or somewhere out in the middle of corn fields. A pen and paper is never going to desert you. It’ll never tell you that it needs more time to load or that your files have become corrupted and unreadable.

We live in an age where science and technology are king. We are merely the subjects of a greater power that we don’t understand. Yet, we are the creators of the computer. How did we become lesser beings. The answer is quite simple. We let it happen. While some people have no choice in the matter, we, you and I do. We are writers. We can find napkins at the restaurant. We even write on tissue paper if we are hard pressed. The only thing we need is ourselves and our imagination and those are two things that the computer can never replace.

Join me. Let loose the mouse and pick up the pen. Become whole bodied in the craft and leave the frustrations of the tech age behind. I think you’ll find that you have hidden yourself and that when you let yourself loose there is magic in the words you write.

So…It’s time to write…You stare at the blank page…You stare some more…Nothing is coming…You’re wasting time, you could be writing. But…You have no ideas…Sigh…

Ok, sit up. Stretch your arms out in front of you. Relax. Mentally reaffirm to yourself that you are a writer and that you’re going to write because now is your writing time.

If you still have no ideas, don’t worry. They are about to come your way. Guys, pick up your news paper. Gals, pick up your magazine. Now look at a picture. For now, don’t read the caption or the story. Now who does that person look like? Who do you think they are? What job do they look like they have? Now write about all the thoughts you just had.

All right. So, nothing happened. Now read the article. Do you agree or disagree? Why? What would you have done differently? What would have happened if that difference were introduced?

If somehow you’re still stuck, pick up a picture of yourself.  What was happening around the time it was taken? What were you feeling? Why? What happened after? Write about this event in full detail first. When that’s done, fictionalize it. See what happens when your character has to deal with the situation. It’s a story now and anything’s possible.

While all writers get the dreaded writers block, they don’t all bow to it. They use tricks like these to break-out. Sometimes, what results is 10 times better than anything they could have planned. Next time you have the block, try these tricks or one of your own tips and see how quickly you’re back on the page. Kick writers block good-bye and welcome finished pieces.

You can do it!

Love story lessons

Nicholas Sparks’ ‘The Lucky One’ is on its way to theaters. But he’s here today to help you craft a perfect tale.

By Molly Lyons

Nicholas Sparks has sold about 52 million copies of his books, so he knows something about how to write a compelling tale. Hollywood agrees: Seven of his novels have been made into movies. The latest love story, The Lucky One, stars Zac Efron and is due in theaters April 20. Looking to crack Sparks’ best-selling code? “There’s no magic answer,” he cautions. That said, the author has some guidelines on how to weave an authentic love story:

First, determine your character’s ages.  “Age informs dilemma. If you’re going to write a novel about everlasting love, the characters can’t be teenagers,” Sparks says.

Ask questions.  A protagonist without an obstacle doesn’t turn pages. Sparks drums up dilemmas by asking, “what if?”

Decide on the answers.  Sparks says he needs to answer essential questions before he starts writing. “I have to know the age of the characters, I’ve got to know how they meet. I have to know the conflict that’s keeping them apart and what brings them together. Finally, I have to know how I ends,” he says. And fore this author, there are only three possible endings: “Happy, sad or bittersweet.”

Hit the right tone.  “You don’t want to be cliché or melodramatic, and you want it to evoke genuine emotion, and that’s tough,” Sparks says.

Join author Nicholas Sparks and create a story for USA WEEKEND.

It’s your turn to participate in an enthralling story that lives and grows with every contribution! We asked Sparks to help by writing a first and a last sentence to inspire you:

Title: The End of All Things

First sentence: Jasmine Blake thought she understood what love meant until the day she almost died.

Last sentence: She was just falling asleep when the car stopped, and Rick whispered, “We’re home.”

Visit and share your first paragraph (about 100 words.)

Plus, register to win a signed copy of Spark’s latest book.

The Truth About Ideas

We would all like to think of ourselves as solitary writers, but that is not so. Without our knowledge, we receive help from every which way.

Unconsciously, we add a piece of a plot from a movie we saw a year ago, a character trait from a book we read a month ago and a sentence of dialogue from a lyric we heard on the drive home last night.

We did not decide to borrow these things. Indeed, if someone pointed it out to us, we most likely would deny it, say it wasn’t’ true and at some point distantly later, revisit these works for entirely different purposes, only to be reminded of our helpful friend’s advise and secretly admit they were right.

There is no such thing as an original thought. There are too many people, who have come before us and too many that will come ages after we have passed and are forgotten, for that to be true. The difference that makes us each different, and indeed our work, it is the twists that we add to our stories. These are endless. Each decision we make in our story adds hundreds of variables, a colossal infinitum.

While the idea behind the story might not be original, our interpretations and imaginations add the spices that produce our own unique flavors. These can not be replicated. We all belong to the same species and the same planet but the human mind is neither simple nor fathomable in its entirety. We make fantasy become reality with a few thousand different words and here in lies the magic symbiotic relationship of writer and reader. Enjoy it.

A Typical Day in the Life of a Writer

            If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a writer, look no further. Being a writer (an average writer, not a bestseller) means living a double life.

You’re a writer but that’s not your job, at least not the one accepted by the vast majority of your family and friends. To them you will always be the girl handy-woman. Every now and then you work up the courage and say, “I’ve finished another story. It’s almost ready to be sent out.” This exited statement is quickly reduced to a, “That’s nice dear. Did anything happen at work today?” so you see, oft times a writing muse is done for the day, writer is an ego of one. He or she must believe in themselves, without the help and encouragement of those they love most.

At times a writer will calmly, rationally decide maybe their wrong. Maybe they’ve been kidding themselves and they’re not a writer. But if that’s true how come rich intriguing ideas spring forward when you’re at a clients house, standing on a ladder, holding a board in one hand, an electric drill in the other and have a mouth full of drywall screws? It’s then that you know you’re a writer and you can’t wait until you’re on the ground again so you can jot down the new ending of your story. But that’s won’t happen for another thirty minutes, so you repeat the lines over and over again in your mind until they’re as permanently implanted on your brain as your own name.

Once those words are down on the page you think your writing muse is done for the day, she’s clocked out and you can resume your own life but your wrong. Pursuing a movie, she strikes again with a new twist. Almost gleefully you turn off the TV to whines of “Oh, Mom. It was just getting good!” you’re sorry but idea mania has no bounds.

With that done, you turn out the lights and go to bed. Sleep takes you far away and then you bolt upright in bed at three in the morning. Another idea has pounced and sprung you back into the habitual ritual of ink and paper scratching we know as writing.

Once again, our faith in our writing ability and ourselves has been reaffirmed but we sure wished our muse would keep to business hours!

Look at this picture. Do you know what it is? Is it a building or is it something else? Is it covered in fog or could it be tear gas falling from the sky? Or maybe it’s poison gas sent by our enemy to kill us all.

For me, the Lake Point Towers building (pictured above), which I’ll always think of as “The Flask” is a special building on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

If you are a person who can look at the same things everyone else sees all the time and find something interesting, something unexplainable about it or just wonder how the heck does it work, you need to think about being a writer because you are truly needed.

There are a lot of poor souls out there who need your help. They need to forget that the coffee makes them wake up and remember that the sound of the percolator is like a tiny steam train revving up for the day.

Now…  I want you to sit down and write what this picture looks like to you. It can be a short story or just a little description. Either way, you can smile and know that today, you wrote something. As a writer, you accomplished something.

Feel free to share your ideas with me and my readers. Who knows something great could come rumbling out of the mist?!!!

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