In the beginning…

3d Character At Maze Shows Challenge Or ConfusedThe best selling book of all time starts with those words. It’s as familiar and enticing as “Once upon a time…” inviting you to enter another life, another time and place.

Call me Ishmael.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Everyone has a favorite opening line or two or three. Search for “beginning a novel,” and you find hundreds of millions of articles—some more relevant than others, but they all seem to agree about the importance of the first page, if not the first sentence.

But what about your own book? Every book starts with an idea, a thought that will soon be a story, complete with beginning, middle, and end. The details won’t be clear at first, the ending might even be uncertain, but even pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants rather than using an outline) have a basic idea before sitting at the keyboard, and even outliners can end up with a completely different book than the original outline suggested. That’s why the first draft is called a first draft. It is still malleable and the pearls are not necessarily strung the right way.

So, back to the beginning—your beginning. It has to pack a punch. The punch doesn’t have to be an upper cut to the jaw or a kick in the stomach, unless your book is a thriller or action adventure. A good beginning evokes an emotion. It can make the reader laugh, or be ripe with promise of young love, or set a dark mood of mystery or impending disaster. If you’re writing nonfiction, the beginning can promise to solve a problem for the reader, it should reach the pain points.

If you’re writing memoir, the beginning is particularly challenging. Why would a reader want to read your story? Your job is to form a bond with the reader. Give them a reason to like you and take an interest in your story. This can be your good humor in the face of difficulties, or your willingness to jump into an adventure they can share with you.

One not-so-secret secret is that the beginning of the book is seldom the beginning of the story. The background can be told in bits and snippets as the story progresses, or even in full-fledged flashbacks. You must know the time line of the story intimately, but you’d be surprised how many “vital” pieces don’t have to be written into the book. When the reader needs some background to understand a scene or character’s action, feed that piece of the background.

When you sit down to write, don’t stare at a blank screen stressing over the killer opening. Write your story. You can come back any time you write a scene that strikes you as a powerful beginning, even if it’s not the beginning of the story. If that scene is in chapter three, it doesn’t mean the first two chapters were wasted time, your pearls can be strung in a different order.

Do you have a favorite book beginning? Please share with your fellow writers.





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We Can ALL be Winners!

What did you learn from watching the winners_raising_hands_800_clr_7607Winter Olympics?

I learned a lot and noticed some things I already knew, like I’m really good at procrastinating. Now that the Games are over, I’m trying to justify all that potential writing time that I spent on the couch admiring the skill, grit, and sheer determination of the athletes.

Writers have a different venue to display their skill, and they have a different version of a gold medal—yet many similarities exist in the lives of writers and those of athletes. I sat down at my computer this morning to work on revisions of my latest manuscript and wondered how many of the Olympian athletes were getting up and spending hours of effort working to improve their performance for the next race. Most of them, I’m sure.

  • Persistence and self-motivation must exist in both worlds. Both the writer and the Olympian athlete must devote an insane amount of time and effort to master their skill. No one makes them do it; they do it because they love what they do.
  • Amateur athletes and writers are in the privileged position of setting their own goals and defining their own success criteria. They tailor their lives to suit the goals.
  • Consistency is another key ingredient. No one gets to be an Olympic skier by deciding to go skiing every Sunday afternoon when the weather is nice. Nor can a writer become a successful author by sitting down at the computer when the inspiration hits.
  • There will be pain. Not every step is fun, but keeping your eye on the goal can keep you going. So will sharing with others that have similar goals. Olympians often train in clusters, benefiting from shared venues and coaches. Similarly, writers can go to conferences and workshops, benefiting from sharing knowledge of experts and gaining confidence from sharing with their peers.
  • A successful athlete, like a successful writer, knows there is always more to learn. If you’re not coachable, you’ll get stuck along the path. Keep learning and moving forward toward whatever goal you have.
  • Many athletes are thrilled to be a part of the Olympic experience, knowing it would take a major miracle to even get in front of a TV camera, not to mention a medal of any sort. Similarly, many authors are thrilled to hold a book in their hands with their name on the cover, knowing it would take a severe disturbance in the laws of the universe for their book to become a best seller. That’s not always the goal. Define your own success and work toward it, one word at a time.

Do you have the Olympian determination in your writing life? Please share any hints with your fellow writers.

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Show Don’t Tell—Not Just for Novels

Heart And 3d Character Showing Love For Girlfriend It’s Valentine’s Day and you suspect a simple statement of love won’t win you any points today. The writers’ adage of “Show Don’t Tell” is true for love as well as for novels.

Roses or chocolate? Too cliche. Be creative. Give your sweetheart a gift of time. Take care of dinner. Chinese take-out with a candle can be more romantic than a crowded restaurant. Buy an ebook and let your sweetie lounge around with a good book while you do the chores.

Is your loved one a writer? an aspiring writer? Time to write is the most precious commodity for a writer. You can support the writer in your life in many ways.

  • What tedious and time-consuming chore can you take over to leave time for writing? Laundry? Grocery shopping? Dish washing?
  • Spend some time and money helping your writer learn more about the craft of writing.
    • Find some helpful books that are highly recommended. Steven King’s On Writing is one of my favorites, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King is another favorite.
    • The Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White’s Elements of Style  are great reference books.
  • Suggest your writer find a local (or an online) group of writers that meet once or twice a month. Writing is a solitary activity, and talking with other writers helps put things in perspective. It’s nice to bounce ideas around, share writing tips, and share your problems with others.
  • Find some online or local courses your writer would enjoy. Public libraries are good places to ask about local writing activities.
  • Show your writer some love by gifting something from the Short & Helpful Online Writer Workshops’ menu of short videos with personal feedback or one of the six month courses currently being offered. Six Months to Memoir is a step-by-step guide to writing memoir. The Author Marketing for Success course offers a full year of interaction with Deborah Riley-Magnus, a professional Author Success Coach.

Whatever your choice, remember that showing your love makes a lasting impression. Talking about it? Nice, but…you know…doesn’t win any medals.

Keep in touch and let us know how you showed your writer your love.


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Who is stealing your time?

3d-character-robbing-a-businessman_G1G5C3Ru What do you do when you first sit at your computer in the morning?

If you’re anything like most people I know, you begin by checking your emails and messages. Well, I don’t do that now—I get right to work on the creative project of the day.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, that is the time when we are most focused. “We have a window of about three hours when we’re really, really focused.”

Why should we waste a single minute of that deleting junk mail and answering email that can just as well wait a couple of hours? I don’t need to spend my best time dealing with people who are usually trying to separate me from my money, however worthy the cause. Yes, I do get emails that are important to me, but I think everyone knows that if it’s an emergency, the telephone still works.

But what about all the mundane tasks we can’t avoid doing in the productive early hours? That is when you try multi-tasking. Standing in a hot shower is the perfect place to plan your creative moves. Eating breakfast, riding to work, straightening the kitchen—all perfect places to nail down exactly what you intend to do when you finally sit down to work.

Do you get an energy slump in the afternoon? That’s the time to go into your email and deal with other people’s needs and wants. Don’t let other people steal your most productive time.

Keep in touch and let us know how you start your day.


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Don’t Abandon Your Writing Resolution This Year

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According to the latest statistics, only 9.2% of all New Years Resolutions are achieved. Nearly a third of them are abandoned in the first two weeks of the year. (

One way to keep your resolutions alive is to set up an accountability check for yourself. Tell someone your plan and report your progress.

  1. Set reasonable goals and little rewards for short–term success, larger rewards for long-term success.
  2. Don’t give up if you slip and miss a goal or two or three. Life is unpredictable, and circumstance can overwhelm you. Don’t let it be permanent. Get back on track as soon as you can, and forgive yourself for the lapse. Moving forward is better than looking back and beating yourself up for missteps.
  3. Get support. Your family and friends may all be very supportive of your plans and ambitions, but they can’t give the kind of support other writers give.
    1. If possible, find a local writers’ group and ask to join. Writers are among the most generous people when it comes to sharing knowledge and expertise. Sometimes local bookstores know of writers’ groups; sometimes a Google search or a Facebook search works.
    2. If there are no local groups, or the local group isn’t right for you, Facebook has many writer groups. Some are specialized by genre, others are regional, still others discuss marketing. If you search and look for groups that seem interesting, become an active member.
    3. Find a critique partner. One of my best friends and critique partner is a woman I “met” in a Facebook group. We have never met in person, but we have been friends for years.
    4. Find online webinars and workshops with an interactive feedback. This gives personalized support for your writing.

The most important thing to remember is that writing is not easy. It takes time and perseverance. Don’t give up. You’ve only begun to fight.

Keep in touch and let us know how you stick to your writing resolutions.

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