Archive for Writing Tips

Client Success: Novelist Sue Horner

Sue and I met in 2012 when she joined my writers’ workshop at Foxtale Book Shoppe in Woodstock. I had the pleasure of conducting a complete content evaluation and edit on an early draft of her book in July 2013. . .and then congratulating her at the book’s launch event a short year later.

sue.hornerSecond Place Sister is a humorous mystery by first-time author Sue Horner about big time sibling rivalry set among small town relationships. Ali, a forty-five-year-old wife, mother, and community volunteer, affectionately known as “St. Ali” in her quaint hometown of Willoughby, nervously anticipates the arrival of her older sister, Janelle, a bestselling romance author and all-around spoiled brat. Ali vows to stop being a bitter doormat and stand up to her diva sister. But when Ali discovers a secret that has the potential to destroy Janelle’s career and reputation, will she expose her sister, or, for the sake of family unity, will she protect her? Can the sisters finally come to terms with each other, or will their relationship disintegrate, bringing bedlam to Willoughby in the process?

WSS: How long did it take you from conception to publication?

SH: It seems as though it was lifetime. Still, I enjoyed writing, rewriting, and trying to find the perfect word or description. I began this book five years ago at age 65.

What inspired you to write this story?

I wanted to write a book before I died.

It’s said that “Writers write what they know.” Is this true in your experience?

Second Place Sister is set in a fictional town, but for readers familiar with Roswell, Georgia, where I live, they might recognize some places. As far as the relationship with my own sister goes, all those who know Jill and have read the book realize there is no connection.

How are your sales?

My initial order was seventy-five copies, which I sold in about three weeks. Sales on are steadily growing. It’s still too early for a royalty check. And whatever I receive will be a drop in the bucket compared with what I spent. I have no unreasonable expectations. It would be nice to break even, but. . .it was well worth it.

Any surprising feedback?

I love how supportive everyone has been even before reading the book. The July launch party at Anna Lee’s in Roswell was attended by over 50. I also loved the Greensboro, NC, event later that month. I was overwhelmed because so many attendees had previously purchased the book, but wanted additional copies to send to family and friends for gifts. Some who had purchased on Kindle wanted a print copy so I could autograph it. And many made comments about the book that proved they read it! hints for budding authors?

Write every day. Find a trustworthy and supportive writing critique group and then hire Wayne. To be successful, you have to write and rewrite, then edit, edit, edit. And then edit a little more. My group was there for me through every step. Wayne promised and delivered not only page-by-page comments, suggestions, and critiques on my initial draft, but also a nine-page overview which I referred to during the rewriting process. I hired him for an honest assessment, no matter how tough, but he also gave encouragement and compliments.

Second Place Sister is available in print and e-book formats on Amazon. Sue is available for book club discussions and public events. Visit her website and reach Sue for more information about the book and appearances at



Procrastination’s Pull

For the ongoing Creative Writers Workshop, a month off is unusual. Before the break, all members affirmed the writing they planned to accomplish.

Upon return, two revealed how their steady flow of writing halted through research.

researchOne writer is drafting fiction within the setting of the politics, culture, and landscape of her birth country. In her weeks off, she stumbled upon information on the hospital system, discovering fascinating facts about how colonizers had built many of these structures.

“After lots of reading, I downloaded and printed a picture of one hospital,” she shared, “then I didn’t do anything with it.” She paused, then admitted the new found history had nothing to do with her story, and honestly, the internet searches had become her “escape route.”

Another writer, striving for accuracy in her memoir about family, has the gift of diaries and letters from several relatives. There were also judicial proceedings involving them in her early childhood, and she has a bound copy of transcripts more dense than a bible.

“I know there’s a companion with some great dialogue in it, but I’ve exhausted all avenues to find a copy. It may have been lost in a fire,” she said with conflicting hints of defeat and lingering determination.

After weeks of research, these writers, who usually produce 2000 or more words each week, had only the 2000 or less they showed up with.

Though research is incredible ground to build upon and important to the reality created in fiction and nonfiction, I reminded them research isn’t the story. The researched details are unique and often vital, but the universality the reader connects with is the humanity of the characters and the conflicts involved in the story.

Researching is a great place for ideas before drafting, and wonderful to secure details during the revision process, but get the story down first. Unless the exactness of the hospital’s location or the court testimony is crucial to the story, leave them for later. Don’t abandon the flow of writing to check facts or create mountains of info looking for a burst of inspiration. Use your imagination, talent with words, and craft with storytelling. These are your finest resources for writing and always at hand.

Better Writing Through Chemistry

A friend recommended the movie “Just Like Heaven.” Reese and Ruffalo starred; I admired their work. On HBO. DVR set. Off I go.

better writing through chemistryWanted to love this love story about a doctor who dies but isn’t dead yet.  Her spirit haunts her apartment which he rents, and somehow he’s the only one that can see and speak to her.   Hijinks ensue, love blossoms, yada, yada. The story was light, yet interesting enough, but there was one big problem:

The leads had zero chemistry.

It was like R&R met and hated each other, or they signed on, got paid, and checked out. “Just Like Heaven,” sadly, was not.

We’ve all read books that were just so-so. Clear plot, good characters, well edited, but the reading doesn’t incite your passion. Instead of being engrossed in the words, you keep having passing thoughts of other things to do instead.

When you write, you have to create good chemistry with your writing. When you cultivate this relationship, delight in every phase of the process, feel happy with the product, and launch the book into the world with positive expectation, readers sense it. They connect to it. It’s what they want. Their passion and joy connects with the passion and joy you’ve infused in your writing.

Having readers say of your book “I really bonded with that character” or “It swept me up” or “I never wanted it to end,” well, that’s a love story, one you’ve created from dynamite chemistry.

Recipe for Robust Revision

Sign up for classes: Writing MemoirScreenwriting, Conquering Writer’s Block, and Creative Writers Workshop.


As a person new to grilling, I recalled a truth that once meat is cooked, it remains more flavorful if it rests before cutting and serving. This allows the juices which escaped to the middle while over the flames to reestablish themselves throughout, bringing moisture to every bit. If you cut into it while the meat is too hot, much of this valuable flavor will dribble out. So toss the salad, refresh beverages, and give a word of thanks as you inhale the aroma before taking the first bite.

grilling meatThe same is true for your writing. Like resting the roast, rest your draft before revising. And while it cools down, rest yourself. Taking a break from the piece is vital before revision to clear your perceptions and come back fresh. 24 hours will do, but I like 48. If under a tight deadline, change your perspective through working on something else, having lunch, reading a bit, or getting away from your writing desk by exercising, meditating or talking to a friend.

Return to your writing with a renewed appetite to genuinely experience its flavor. As you savor, you can easily notice what parts are juicy and which ones need an infusion of creative essence. Consider taking steps with revision beginning with a perusal of the work as a whole, making broad directives in the margin like “edit down,” “choose one,” “divide sentences,” “awkward,” and a personal favorite, “?” Don’t cut into it just yet. Examine it before scrutinizing line-by-line, before chewing on it word-by-word.

With grilling, the results rest with the fire and timing. Robust revision involves passion and perseverance with plenty of room for patience.