Category Archives: Writing Skills

Winter Isolation & Writing

By Terry C. Misfeldt

What do you do when a blizzard hits and you are isolated from the rest of the world?

When a recent snowstorm dumped more than one foot of snow on our community, I could not get my front door open. Sure, I had other means of egress but the first thing that came of mind–after removing the snow, of course–was that it was a perfect time to do more writing.

Winter in Wisconsin has a tendency to isolate us. It’s either too cold to go out or the snow and ice makes driving hazardous. And there’s only so much television you can watch before going stir crazy!

Whether you grab a pen and spiral notebook to make notes or plop yourself at the keyboard and type away at breakneck speed, winter is a great time to write. Personally, I have set a goal of once again writing 1,000 words a day during 2024. Just keeping a daily journal piles up that many words on average.

Working on a draft of a novel or jotting down memories for a memoir, writing can give you a sense of purpose during the long winter months. It’s also a time to organize files, go through your library and get your affairs in order. Once warmer weather comes back, your mind and body will tell you it’s time to get outside again.

Weather, while seclusion can be productive for writing, should not keep you from getting outdoors and enjoying the cleansing nature of snow or the briskness of chill winds. Exercise is good for writers despite the adage about seats in seats.

Wrapping this up, I just noticed something about the first word in each of these paragraphs. What word works with winter weather? Did you get the clue?

Frog Wisdom #3

Playing With Words

Frog Wisdom

By Dorothy Seehausen

“The horse raced past the barn fell.” Sound familiar? This is a classic example of what’s known as a garden path sentence, in which the initial interpretation of the sentence’s meaning is wrong because it contains syntactic ambiguity in the first half of the sentence, creating syntactic inconsistency with the rest of the sentence. Thus, multiple possible interpretations. “The horse that raced past the barn fell.” Better?

          Garden path sentences often pop up in our first drafts. Not very many writers can coordinate the right brain’s creativity with the left brain’s editing tasks at the same time. Wouldn’t that be sweet – your first draft would come out completely edited, putting thousands of professional editors out of work!

          In the real world, our goal as writers is to get the story from inside our head to inside the reader’s head. Being able to recognize your own garden path sentences is an excellent editing tool when you’re down into the weeds of line editing.

          Here are some more examples from Effectiviology, which is actually a website about psychology and philosophy:

          The old man the boat.

          The girl told the story cried.

          The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.

          We painted the wall with cracks.

Happy Writing from the Frog!

Check out my latest short story “Trace” in the October issue of The Mantelpiece Magazine at themantelpiece.org.

Frog Wisdom #2

The ABC’s of Editing

Frog Wisdom

By Dorothy Seehausen

        Remember the saying, “Those who can write, write; those who can’t, edit.”? As an English teacher and long time wielder of the dreaded red editing pen, I have found both with characteristic challenges. I would hope, however, that whoever is critiquing my work knows a little something about what makes a good story.

            Why, then, does editing one’s work seem so daunting? I believe it is because the creative aspect that we enjoy so much with our first drafts is missing when we start to edit, and we are faced with the application of a plethora of rules, directions, best practices, and….worst of all….the impending death of passages of some of our best work. These are the unkindest cuts of all.

To ease the task, I am finding critiques and feedback from writer friends an immense aid. To have objective eyes of a beta reader or colleague or even a supportive family member reading your final draft creates objective responses your first draft eye often misses.

Keep in mind the three kinds of editing: developmental (story structure); line editing (I call this wordsmything, finding the right word for the right job); and the final proofreading edit even your spell checker misses. They are all different tasks with different goals.      

The most important consideration I have found is to develop a system you can adhere to. Read editing blogs. Find out how the pros edit. Use checklists. And take those feedback notes seriously, clicking off what you the author agree with, and what you don’t. There is no greater feeling than having a polished piece all your own ready to submit to the world eagerly awaiting your prose!

Happy Writing from the Frog!

Check out my latest short story “Trace” in the October issue of The Mantelpiece Magazine at themantelpiece.org.

Writing Resolutions

By Terry C. Misfeldt

As 2022 kicks into high gear, writers often think about and consider establishing resolutions regarding their writing for the year ahead. Here are a few worth taking a look at setting for yourself.

  1. I commit to writing 500 words a day.
  2. I sustain the ability to write 1,000 words every day.
  3. I complete my novel by August 1st.
  4. I compile my memoir and publish it by September 15th.
  5. I develop a character arc for my novel by April 10th.
  6. I edit my work within 60 days of “completing” whatever I write.
  7. I send 10 query letters to publishers every week.
  8. I set aside two hours to write every other day.

You will notice in each of these suggested goals for your writing that three are no “can” or “will” or “might” words. There are, however, action verbs since action is a major element of establishing any resolution.

The second element of resolutions is will power. If you set a goal and fail to act on it, or do not follow through on the commitment you made to yourself, learn from that and apply corrective behavior. You can do it!

Be realistic. Avoid resolutions you know in your heart you lack the fortitude to stick to. Yes, goals are a good thing but they require honesty and commitment. Saying you “want to” quit smoking does not commit you to quitting. Quitting does.

Think about what you need to accomplish as a writer. Be honest and then apply yourself to you. Write that goal down and post it where you can see it. After sticking to it for seven or more days, you have it made.

When my father told me how I could quit smoking, his advice was that if I could make it one day, I could make it two days. If I could make two days, I could make it four days. If I could make it four days, I could make it a week. If I could make one week, I could make two weeks…and so on. I followed his advice and more than 46 years later am still making it!

Do it!

To Query…Or Not?

By Benjamin Hock

   To query or not to query? It’s really not a question for those of us who wish to have our stories published through a traditional publisher. It’s one step on a laundry list of things that need to be completed before those precious stories we’ve spent countless nights putting together can see the light of day.

    I’m not here to tell you how to query; you can type that into Google. I simply want to share what it’s like to send your precious baby to a complete stranger whose job it is is to play gatekeeper for publishers. Impressing just the right person in only a few short paragraphs is what stands between me and my book ending up on the shelves of my favorite bookshop. 

    Sending my first query was both frightening and exhilarating. Like every writer, I wrote and rewrote, questioning whether or not my query letter was up to snuff. I sent my first, and eventually would send them in batches, preparing for the 12 week wait, wondering if I would hear back and what they would have to say. 

Then, finally, I see it. Maybe this has happened to you. You’re at work or out with friends. Or maybe you just woke up and saw the notification flash on your phone. It’s a response from an agent and you open it…

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to consider your project. I’m sorry to say that I respectfully pass on yours. 

Agenting is subjective, and while I couldn’t take on your project, another agent may well feel differently.

Thank you, 

[Insert agent name here]

I begin to see this same form letter over and over again. I don’t know if every agent got together to come up with the verbiage for these or what, but they all seem to use it. At first the rejections are disappointing but the knowledge that my other submissions are waiting in agents’ inboxes preparing to wow them brings me hope. After the twentieth rejection it begins to feel personal. Fifty and I’m wondering if I enjoy the rejection, because why else would I keep this up. 

And to be clear, I don’t hold a grudge against any agent that passed on my work. Maybe they read my query on a Friday when their thoughts were on the weekend. Maybe they were having a bad day and nothing was going to catch their eye. Maybe they already had a similar book they were representing or just took on a big project. I’ll never know. But that won’t stop me and it shouldn’t stop you. 

Querying is both simple to do and emotional weighty. The physical act of sending a query today has never been easier. Finding agencies and their guidelines, understanding the template to follow, it’s all a snap. Preparing to hear that others don’t find my book as interesting as I do, well, that’s not so easy. Giving into the resistance that wants me to give up or back down or hide out would be a lot easier.

So why keep doing it? Why put myself through the emotional roller coaster of rejection after rejection? The answer is simple: I want people to read my book. I want to see it in the hands of teens in coffee shops, I want to share it at book readings, I want the characters to be brought to life in the imaginations of people who connect to them.

And even if I get a hundred rejections, a thousand, all it takes is one yes for a dream to come true. My job is not to judge the work or panic over its future. My job is to write the thing that piques my curiosity and do the legwork to advocate for it. I can do that; and so can you.

Writing Time

By Terry C. Misfeldt

When is your best opportunity for writing time? Do you need peace and quiet to think and write? Can you squeeze in a few minutes during your lunch break? Do the kids all have to be in bed before you can sit down at the keyboard?

Knowing your best writing time is an essential element of becoming a professional writer. Let’s consider options. An important aspect of these options is determining how many words you intend to craft in one sitting and how long it takes you to generate that many words. When I gave myself the challenge of writing 1,000 words per day, I learned I could achieve that goal in 40 to 45 minutes…depending on whether my brain was functioning at 25 words per minute.

  1. Pouring and sipping that first cup of coffee in the early morning hours gets some writers started. If you work at 9:00 a.m. and need an hour and one half for feeding and grooming yourself before getting dressed and commuting, you should consider how much you are willing to forego sleep to get in writing time. Could you write 500 words in half an hour? If you can and want to rise with the sun to do that, go for it.
  2. Finding time during the day to write can be a challenge if you are working full-time or in an office environment. More than likely you already spend time in front of the computer screen, but could you sneak in 15 minutes to crank out 400 words? The challenge here is to avoid using the company cloud to save your work…unless you own the company and then it does not matter. Suggestion: Use a flash drive to store your work.
  3. After work, dinner time with the family, and relaxation time can be productive writing time. Many writers work late into the evening or early morning crafting their novel or writing their memoirs because that is when they are inspired to write. Just remember there are also times when your brain is fried by then and what you write may look like rubbish when you read it the next day.
  4. In short, the best time to write is when you are motivated, inspired, and can concentrate on your project. Writing time may also be best devoted to research and making notes. Writing time is your time!

Promotional Outlets

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Finding promotional outlets enables you to market your novel or other writing to specific markets at little to no cost. What is required is taking the time to think things through. What organizations do you belong to, or have a relationship with?

Clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Zonta, Lions, and others are often looking for speakers. If you get invited, have a copy of your book as a door prize and bring more copies along to sell after the meeting and your presentation. It is a promotional outlet requiring some of your time in return for potential sales and for visibility with potential buyers.

One member of the Guild, H.G. Watts, wrote about a character related to another religious figure. She was interviewed about the story on WFRV-TV in Green Bay and recently appeared in a feature article about the book in The Compass which is a publication of the DIocese of Green Bay.

Alumni associations–either high school or college–offer publications which may afford a promotional outlet to tout your work. Craft a media release (so it looks official) and forward it to the editor for consideration. Fraternities and sororities offer another avenue for free publicity. If you have books at a book store or cafe, offer them a book signing to help bring customers in and promote sales of your book…and others.

Also, think about your favorite magazines and read about what news they consider. Again, the media release is an excellent way to make your plea look professional. Every chance to gain promotional credibility also builds your reputation as an author.

On Media Releases

Think teaser when you put together a media release. It contains enough information to tell the editor that your submission is news worthy…and teases them to want more details. At the least, it can be printed verbatim in the newspaper, magazine, newsletter, or journal.

Create a catchy headline, centered near the top of the page and in bold. Releases should be one page. At top left goes date, when it can be released, and contact information (name and phone number).

The first paragraph gives the who, what, where, why, and when with a variant being a teaser comment from a respected individual or someone who has read your book and gave you a good quote (perhaps one you wrote for them). Get the rest of the information out there in double-spaced format and end with -30- at the bottom.

These tips make your media release look professional, and gain credibility.

Writing Thank You Notes

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Writing thank you notes may be going the way of dinosaurs, but they are still valuable to the recipients which requires the writer to be artistic with words.

Start with why you are writing someone to thank them. Sure, you can shoot them a text that says, “Thanks for meeting with me,” but what impression does that leave with the person getting the text? To me, it tells them I really do not have a lot of time for you, so here is a quick brush off by means of text.

Imagine that person getting a piece of mail in a nice envelope and a card, preferably embossed with the sender’s initial (surname) or corporate logo. The card contains a hand-written message expressing appreciation for meeting with the sender, solving the sender’s problem, wishing the recipient success, or some similar accolade. If the message is written with sincerity, that will come across to the recipient and be deeply appreciated. They may even save the card as a testimonial to their service.

A thank you note need not be long-winded. Short and sincere, but not necessarily sweet. Write it with the recipient in mind and you can create a relationship based on friendship, honesty, and trust. Use your best penmanship to write the note. Do so as legibly as you can so the recipient can avoid trying to figure out what you scribbled in the note.

If you are a writer, the cost of postage and some thank you notes is minimal compared to the good will you create sending these messages to proofreaders, beta readers, editors, publishers who read your manuscript, agents who consider representing you, and to the people who put up with you during those days, weeks, and months of writing your novel or memoir.

Writing Exercises and Prompts

By Lawrence Wilson

Whenever I experience a lack of motivation, ideas, or energy (which sometimes occurs daily), I look over my collection of exercises and prompts to help get started.

Going back to my high school typing class, I did manage to type 40 or so words a minute without looking at the keys. Using this tool as a writing exercise, I sit quietly for a few minutes and then begin to type. Eyes closed. Letting any and everything that fires through the neurons wind up on paper.

If I don’t lose my place on the keyboard, it usually ends with a jumble of words and phrases that may or may not resemble a theme. It really doesn’t matter. It’s spontaneous, gets the mind and fingers working in synch. Most of the time, it gets deleted afterward. 

Another exercise is the six-word memoir. One of the more famous of these, “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” (Ernest Hemingway). My own: “Hearing the call, afraid to answer.” Or “I married up, she did not.”

Word prompts are much the same kind of mental exercise for writing. These can either be timed or have a defined word count. I try to make it to 500 words.

 I have just perused through some old prompts and found some that are rather good and could be developed.

‘Pitching a Frog’, for example. I don’t even remember what the prompt was, but it has the makings of an excellent short story. Another I found, ‘The Secrete Planet’. I called it “Orangetang”, a collection of all the citrus fruit drinks the astronauts couldn’t stomach and thus, jettisoned them so NASA wouldn’t find out. All prompts do not a story make.

Others have made it into the collection of my book, ‘Catching Chickens’. ‘The Door’, ‘Friends’ (the prompt was something about seeing a man on a ledge).

There are many sources of prompts and exercises available on the Web. Here are just a couple of them.

  • ‘The Author’s Publish Compendium of Writer’s Prompts’, http://www.authorspublish.com/writing-prompts-compendium/
  • Writer’s Digest Magazine has many links to prompts. In one contest, they provide the photo, and you write the first storyline.  The winners are published in the next issue.
  • As with anything else writing, all you must do is enter the keywords, “writer prompts,” and AI will find more than you ever wanted to know.

Cover Art

By Terry C. Misfeldt

In this day and age when naysayers believe print books are going the way of dinosaurs, it is ever more important that the cover art of your book grabs a potential reader’s attention.

Print on demand (POD) publishing today demands even more that your artwork is appealing since your book will most likely have a soft cover. That means paper instead of a stiffer, non-printable binding.

Now, if you are getting published in hard cover, there will be a wrap-around cover which will still require cover art. Even E-books have a need for cover art.

How do you create cover art that sells? I have long held the belief that copy sells while art enhances, but selling books with cover art requires both.

Romance writers know their cover art needs to show couples in a passionate embrace. Poets have more latitude in what graces their covers. Science fiction writers need “out of this world” artwork to entice potential readers.

Elements of strong cover art include: 1) Attractive color schemes; 2) Text (like your book title) that stands out from the background and uses an appropriate font; 3) Images that convey the essence of your book and entice people; 4) Catchy blurbs to garner attention; and, 5) a Professional image of you, the author.

Consider hiring a professional graphic artist to create your cover. Many publishing companies have cover artists on staff to assist you in that process…often at a steep cost. An option I employed with my first novel was contacting the local university’s graphic arts department to see if any students wanted to attack my cover. After several drafts and a few hundred dollars, I got an excellent (IMO) cover, thanks to Angela Collier. Can you guess what the novel is about?