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Exercise Wednesday: Your worst fear

October 29, 2014

Remember in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when they found the well of the souls and it was full of snakes? If I were Indiana Jones, I would have said, “Their headpeace of the staff of Ra only has markings on one side. They’ll never, ever find it. Throw the sand back in place and we’ll run some tree branches back and forth across and they’ll never know we were here.”

I hate snakes so much that I would risk worldwide Nazi domination to avoid repelling down into a big room full of them.

I have this phobia. I might fear being alone or not knowing the answer, but I would feel the most physical discomfort from being trapped in a room full of snakes. If you were in the doorway, I would run you over and not even think twice about it.

With Halloween upon us, today’s exercise is to place your character face-to-face with his biggest fear, with the thing that makes her blood run cold. Put him in a room with no way out. Force her closer and closer until it’s clear she can’t avoid her destiny.

How does it feel? What is she thinking as she slowly realizes she can’t avoid it? What does he do when he knows there’s no way out? Are the hands wet? Is the mouth dry? Who put them there and why? And can they retain sanity long enough to figure out how to get out?

This isn’t something supernatural. It’s a real fear from real things and it could, at least theoretically, really happen. And that makes it scariest of all.

Time limit: 30 seconds


October 27, 2014

By Alison Nissen


I am often overwhelmed by my own credentials. They aren’t really that impressive, but I fret, nonetheless.

I would review the literary canon at my collegiate library and think: Wow, how am I supposed to read ALL of that? Then I would take, from the shelves, classics. I would hold them, open them, smell them. I would rub their worn leaves between my fingers, caressing the pulpy paper. The musty scent of the stacks would engulf me and I would spend the next hour perusing Hawthorne, Hemmingway, or Homer. I’d review the Forward. I’d test the weight. I’d read the first and last lines. Then, I’d put it back.

I would wander back to my dorm and hunker down for a night with Fanny Flagg or Robert Ludwig to keep me company.

Why? Because I didn’t really want to READ the classics. I just wanted to say that I’ve read them. (Shh, let’s just keep that a secret between you and me.)

That was 30 years ago. Today, once in a blue moon, I’ll open a classic but for the most part, I’m happy to take my own professorial advice: Read, read anything, just don’t stop reading.

So, I read New York Times Best Sellers and novels written by friends and book club recommendations and (especially) things my kids recommend—except World War Z. I don’t do Zombies.

That brings me to what I want to write. When I close my eyes, I envision a somber library with bookshelves filled with classics and me, the embodiment of classic: refined and dignified. Then I open my eyes and look around. I see layers of photographs and half-written essays and the morning’s coffee cup. I see journals of notes and magazines and piles of suspense or chick-lit novels.

Maybe Hemmingway set out to write a classic, but as a friend often reminds me, look how he turned out—a bottle of booze in one hand and a gun in the other.

The question then to ask yourself is, when you close your eyes and envision the novelist’s library, does it match what you really want to read? One thing is clear, mine doesn’t.

Writing the book you want to read, then is simple. Look around your space. Write for the person who sits in your chair. Me, I’m writing for the crazy mess of a mom who is more than happy to read cheap literature. Who are you writing for?

Alison Teichgraeber Nissen

Alison Nissen holds an MA in Literature from Norwich University and taught writing and literature at Houston Community College. She is also the Small Group Leader for FWA’s Lakeland Writers. She lives in Central Florida with her husband and has watched her four children blossom in to energetic adults.

Read Alison’s Tales from the Laundry Room at

The Secret to NaNoWriMo

October 24, 2014

By CP Bialois

CP Author PhotoHello everyone! Hope you’re all doing good today!

I’m sure most of you know what NaNoWriMo is, but for those that have just heard of it, it’s National Novel Writing Month. It’s a wonderful event that happens every year where writers of all skill sets come together to write 50k in 30 days every November. The best thing about NaNo is meeting other authors and hearing their stories, tips, and tricks for “winning” and writing their novel. Just like any walk of life, each person has a plan or routine they follow that works for them.

For some, it’s staying up on caffeine for four days straight and writing all 50k words in the first week, while others like to stick to the daily word count goal. It’s also the time of year you’ll see advice from everyone on how to prepare, execute, and cross the finish line. All of it is great advice, but typical of my way of thinking, I’m delving deeper.

One of the biggest things you’ll hear or discover about NaNoWriMo is it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Like all things, it helps to come into it prepared, but for some it’s more fun to see what shakes loose as we pants our way through it.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a pantser. I don’t get along with outlines at all. Personally, I love them and wished I could use them as they’re fantastic tools, but my characters tend to do the talking so it’s easier for me to shut up and write their adventure. The best I’ve managed to follow an outline so far is I once kept one line or idea from a two page outline. What can I say? I love to do things the hard way.

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonThe thing about NaNoWriMo I learned early on is that you can be as prepared as possible and still stumble. While the “official” goal is to write 50k, the underlying goal is to write as much as you can. It’s about creating and establishing the habit of writing every day, or as much as you can depending on what life throws at you. If you finish your book and it’s not 50k, that’s all right. Work on another project if you like. It happened to me last year (or in one of the Camps, I can’t remember which) and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every book is going to be 50, 60, 95, or 115k. it’s just the way it works sometimes.

Remember what I said about stumbling despite being prepared? Sounds a little on the weird side, right? That’s the thing. You need a certain tenacity and dedication to continue writing throughout the challenge.

Here’s where I get all Yoda-ish. I look at the challenge as a battle of attrition. During NaNo, I’ve found it’s best to write every day even if it’s only a few words whether we feel like it or not. It becomes harder and harder after the first week or two for those not used to it. Throw in the countless issues of the real world like pets, jobs, and family and things can look bleak. That’s when the tenacity comes to play. For all my fellow sports nuts out there, think of it as a gut check. Even if it’s only a sentence or paragraph you write, it’s more than you had before, right? Any progress is good, so try to continue pushing as much as you can.

That brings me to another awesome part of NaNoWriMo: The Write-ins. Whether you’re online or have your fellow NaNos near you to meet up, it’s a great opportunity to discuss any problems you may have with your plot or characters. It’s something we all go through at some point and it’s amazing how someone may have an idea that’s so simple it’s freaking awesome and just like that you’re writing away again. I’ve been blessed to have found some of the greatest people through NaNoWriMo that I can’t imagine what my writing career would be like without them.

In the end, NaNoWriMo is about you getting the most out of the experience you can while accomplishing something you though you may never have done. The best advice I can offer is be tenacious and enjoy the ride. Who knows? You may just surprise yourself.

What you’re missing

October 23, 2014

Today is the first day of the Florida Writers Conference experience, as Marie Bostwick is talking about how to complete your project–A to Z: Concept to Completion. As part of that talk, this happened…


That’s right, it says Bimbo, Grandma in a rocking chair, grumpy old man. I have confirmed with Marie that they aren’t the premise for her next book. (They’re actually examples of characters that might be flat.) But you never know at this conference. That could also be a writing prompt.

When a top-selling author talks to you about how to complete your project, that’s the type of thing you want to listen to.


Marie and her audience

You can still be part of the fun. Just show up at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary and pay at registration. The full conference is $375 for members ($430 if you aren’t, but you get a one-year membership).

Come on down!


Creative Efficiency and Rubber Bands

October 20, 2014

By Anne Hawkinson

Anne Hawkinson - PhotoThink big, think small.  Imagine the entire story, but don’t forget the smallest of details.  Sometimes my mind feels like a rubber band, stretching to its outer limit while remaining stationary and focused.  As a writer, I have to be able to do both.

The first draft of my story is complete in all of its pathetic glory.  It’s not very good – there are huge gaps and lots of unanswered questions.  It was hard not to go back and edit, because I like to correct what is wrong before moving ahead (in my life and in my writing).  But the goal was to get the entire story out of my head and down on paper.  I achieved that.  It felt good.  Really good.  And as I pawed through the pathetic, I found a lot of good bits, unearthing nuggets to a really good story.

I needed to wrestle my first draft into a manageable document for the second.  While trying to do this, I tried out several ways of re-writing the story and making it better than the first draft.  I discovered that plotting is my weak spot – I have great scenes and present wonderful scenarios, but don’t always have the story going where it should, or I send my characters down a dead end road into oblivion.  My patient, dedicated writing coach/editor and I agonized through the process over the course of several meetings and that’s where my own Divide and Conquer method was born.

I love how it works.  Creative efficiency.  For example, it eliminates the time and effort spent writing a five-page scene that ends up going nowhere and has to be trashed.  It works for me because I like efficiency (yes creative minds can be efficient and organized) and it helps me bring order, bit by bit, to my chaotic, first draft as it morphs into the second.

First, we used the plot clock to organize the story into the four major quadrants (for my genre – middle grade, about 50 pages each) and labeled them accordingly.  Then, I went back and outlined each scene (15-20) of the first quadrant (some were pared down, some were merged, and some were eliminated so you have to write extras).  After review and revision, it is “good to go.”  Quadrant One:  Done! But not “done done.”(Final edits will take place once the entire second draft is complete.)  So, done for now.  Since I already wrote the story once (the reward for getting it out of head and onto paper), it was a matter of keeping the good bits and re-writing the rest.  Sounds easy, but it’s not.  But it was easier than going back and starting over from scratch.

On to Quadrant Two.  More scene outlining, and meeting with my coach/editor.  Some scenes will be dropped, some need enhancement, and there will be new ones to create.

Back to the stretching rubber band.  At the same time I’m focusing on the Second Quadrant, I have to plot out the entire search process for my main character and her two friends from the time they begin, where they go, and where the answer to the riddle is hidden (vital plot points to the entire story).  I’m grateful for a fresh, flexible rubber band, because a loud snap in the wee hours of the morning would be bad.

Missed the Deadline to Register for the Annual Florida Writers Conference? Relax!

October 19, 2014

Okay, you were waiting to see how your schedule shook out. Or you procrastinated. Bottom line: if you recently hopped onto the FWA website to register for the 2014 Annual Florida Writers Conference, “Stars of Florida Writers,” you found the item—poof!—gone from the shopping cart! Ditto, signups for faculty interviews.

No worries. You may register onsite. Simply arrive a little early (say, 45 minutes) to allow us time to process your paperwork and create your conference badge. The Registration Desk is open Friday 6am-6pm, Saturday 7am-5pm, and Sunday 7am-9am.

We take cash, checks, or credit cards but not American Express. Limited interview appointments are available, so after you register at the Registration Desk, you may wish to move directly to the Interview Desk to make your appointments with faculty. Interviews are booked first-come, first-served. Also, big news! Currently, RPLA Banquet guest tickets are now open to all, so if you would like to bring a guest, please sign him or her up.

There are a bazillion new things this year—too many to recap here—but you may want to make note of the Twitter contest. Pure fun, no work: just tweet a status update, picture, or anything else related to the conference and include the tag #FWA2014, and you’ll have a chance to win a free mini-conference registration.

Twitter Contest4C

See you at the annual conference!

“Stars of Florida Writers”

Annual Conference

October 23-26

$375 for the entire weekend, which is from Friday to Sunday with all meals included. ($35 additional for Thursday evening workshops)

Register now Single-day registration is available. For 101 pages of ultra-useful details, check the conference program. Questions? Contact

On Marketing

October 17, 2014

If you’ve been following the Florida Writers group on Facebook, you might have seen a little discussion about book promos. I promised that I would talk a bit about how this strategy might not be the most effective, and what can be done.

You might have seen me talk a little about marketing online before. One of my favorite people for info on marketing online is Rachel Thompson, who advocates a soft-sell approach I couldn’t agree more with. This approach is based on building relationships with people as opposed to sharing a string of book links.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying never share your book link. We are, after all, authors who are trying to make a living selling our work. I loved how Rachel broke the problem down, though, in regards to groups: People are sending their book links to groups filled with writers who are doing the same. Why is this a problem? Well, the main one I can see is the posts get little-to-no action. I very rarely ever see a LIKE or a comment on these posts, or a share. Another issue I see (and what has happened with me and others I know) is people go blind to the posts after a time.

I get the temptation. After all, we writers are all readers too! Still, there is a method I think would be even better, one that I have seen people use to great effectiveness: marketing to groups specifically for promos/readers. Why is this a good idea? Because people are going to these groups because they are looking for new books as opposed to a lot of other places where people might be going to get advice, discuss topics that affect writers, and other similar things.

After doing all the reading online and thinking on ways to connect, here are my favorite ways to promote:

  • Joining groups for readers/promo/your genre. A quick Facebook search turns up  quite a few of them.
  • Posting interesting facts about the topics you write about. For example, I write a lot of paranormal/new age stories, so I share information/ask questions about crystals, meditation, reincarnation, ghosts, favorite paranormal shows, and so on.
  • Sharing quotes/videos/lyrics that relate to your topics or inspired your writing. Here is one of those tweets:

Tweet for Post

  • Retweeting others who have similar interests/genres. I get more action for these and question tweets that almost anything else.
  • Chatting people up and asking them questions. It connects me with followers and is my way of showing I care about what they say. And let me tell you, some of these people are hilarious! I put my favorites in different twitter lists so I can easily follow them.

Now that I’ve said all that, what is another way to make the book promo thing more effective in groups, besides the obvious part of joining reader/promo groups? Here are a few:

  • Share each other’s stuff, especially those who are in the same genre as you. Your fans might like similar works by other writers.
  • Switch guest blogs/interviews with fellow writers.
  • Have a radio show/podcast? Offer people the chance to be on it!
  • Trade beta reads/ARCs. Advance reviews help spread the word about a work. You might also get some valuable feedback from betas that can improve your book!

These are just a few of the ways writers can both promote their work while connecting with others and building relationships. Do you have any you have used? If so, what? Do you have favorite groups you post in?


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