Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Clothes, said Mark Twain, make the man. And the woman, as any woman in her right mind knows—whether she’s shopping at Saks, at the mall or on her iPad.

As any writer knows, clothes also make (and define) the character. Think about it: Who's Mark Zuckerberg without his hoodie? Or Steve Jobs without his black turtleneck, jeans and New Balance?

Whether you’re writing about a fashionista or a stay-at-home-Mom, a tomboy, a 1920’s flapper, a surfer, an East Village artist or a Queen, modern or otherwise, the characters will be different and their clothes will be different.
An Annie Hall look projects one kind of heroine; a little black dress and sunglasses à la Audrey Hepburn another. Whether you’re writing about Madonna or Lady Gaga, Michelle Bachman or Michelle Obama, about Catherine the Great or the girl next door, their clothes are your secret weapon and a crucial part of the author’s tool kit, an essential way to bring your characters into focus for yourself—and for your readers.

By the way, speaking of writing about a Queen, did you know that Queen Elizabeth’s skirts are weighted so that no errant gust of wind can blow her skirt up? Never a photo of with the Queen’s underpinnings hanging out. ;-) Interesting tid-bit and just the kind of info that can give a scene or a character another and very intriguing dimension.

Shoes rule.
Some actors say that finding the “right” shoes for the character they’re about to play is key. Shoes on chick lit covers have edged into cliché territory. Cliché—but effective! Jennifer Weiner went even further and acknowledged the importance of footwear in a title: In Her Shoes.
The fashionista will be hobbling around in stilettos, the surfer in flip-flops, the tomboy in Nikes, the artist in Doc Martens, the Lauren Hutton type in jeans and Topsiders. They look different, they walk different, they talk different.

Diction and dialogue.
What your characters say and the way they say it helps define them: a bit of faux French for the fashionista? Chat about pediatrician recommendations for the Mom? NFL scandals and World Series stats for the tomboy? References to Renoir and Warhol for the artist? Safari tips from Lauren Hutton?

Menus matter.
Everyone loves food and reading about it. Think of all the “cupcake” covers or James Bond’s haute cuisine choices.

The fashionista will lunch at the latest, trendy bistro, Mom will eat whatever the kids don’t, the tomboy will scarf down a hot dog at the baseball game, the artist will go organic or maybe vegan. Where they go, who they meet, who they fall in love with—in essence your plot—will all derive from your characters as revealed by their wardrobes.

Twists and surprises.
Take the fashionista out of the trendy bistro, put her into vegan lunch counter and you have the beginnings of a plot. What will she think of the bearded video artist who, apparently needing to make a little money, serves her the organic sprout sandwich? What will he think of her? Intrigue? Disdain? Conflict maybe? Leading to sparks?

Then the twist: the “starving” artist working in an organic luncheonette turns out to be a good-guy Department of Health Inspector and the fashionista turns out to be the devil in (knock-off) Prada. Looks can speak honestly or looks can deceive. The twists and turns are up to the writer but clothes, well-described, can launch an engaging, twisty plot.

Tighty whities and Victoria’s Secret.
Whatever your character wears—or doesn’t wear—underneath his/her clothes counts. Come on, we’re writing fiction—romance, adventure, horror, mystery, erotica. We’ve got to get them undressed, too, don’t we?
The unexpected shock of Fruit-of-the Loom white cotton under the fashionista’s haute couture? Does Mom flaunt lacy, silky undies from Paris? A sequined thong for the tomboy? Or is super sexy Victoria’s Secret the secret our surfer is hiding? And what about the rule-breaking downtown artist? A bullet bra maybe?

If you’re writing historicals, don’t forget that corsets were abandoned in the 1920’s, that underwire bras became popular in the 1950’s and that recently a bra dating from the Middle Ages was found in Austria.

Briefs or Boxers.
Let’s not forget our heroes, either, the bad boys and the good ones. After, all, athletes aren’t called jocks for nothing!

Does the powerful executive in his custom-tailored Saville Road duds indulge in a silk g-string underneath? The electro-punk musician in tightie whities? What is that superhero wearing under his tights and cape? What, if anything, comes between that cool and clever assassin and his Calvins?

Is that honest politician (this is fiction we’re talking about, right?) wearing Spanx under his drab off-the-rack suit?

To finish where we started, I’m about to make a confession. MTwain’s entire quote reads: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Much as we love, respect, and admire you, Mr. Twain, we beg to differ. After all, we’re writers and we know better!

Ruth Harris, million-copy NYTimes bestselling author
Blog / Twitter / Pinterest

Decades - 2014 edition revised by the author for today's reader.

THREE WOMEN. THREE DECADES. Spanning the years from the optimistic post-War 1940s to the Mad Men 1950s and rule-breaking "Make Love, Not War" 1960s, DECADES is about three generations of women who must confront the radical changes and upended expectations of the turbulent decades in which they lived.

"The songs we sang, the clothes we wore, the way we made love. Absolutely perfect!" --Publisher's Weekly

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Helping Other Writers Helps You – Sarah Allen

I think, in general, writers are known as a welcoming and supportive community. That has been my experience as a new writer and blogger since the very beginning. People have offered advice and support that has helped me progress along my journey, and groups like the Insecure Writers Support Group are solid evidence of the way the writing community tries to support its members.

But this is not always the case. I am saddened when I see the rare cases of back-biting and author jealousy. I am a firm believer that there is room for all of us on the shelves, and that by helping other writers, we also help ourselves. Here’s how:

1. We find new readers. Writers are readers too, correct? Reaching out to support and help other writers is one of the best ways to introduce ourselves to a potential reader. Whether in real life or online, giving advice or a comforting word to a fellow writer will familiarize them with our name in a positive way. Of course I don’t mean for this to be all contractual, and the key is starting with genuine friendship. And to add cheese upon cheese, everyone is helped when you make new friends.

2. We find new publicity support. You remember when someone spontaneously gives your book a shout-out on Twitter or their blog, right? I know I do. And when they do I’m much more inclined to follow them or even give their book a looksie. In this way we create a team of friends both online and IRL who will help us spread the word when we have a release. Again, this doesn’t work as a straight up tit-for-tat kind of thing, and when someone lends a supporting hand solely for some kind of reciprocation or obligation, that’s just slimy and obnoxious. But by starting with genuine friendship we can create a trailblazing team that supports everyone involved.

3. We find new inspiration. I firmly believe we are shaped by the people around us. From family and closest friends to casual acquaintances and even strangers. I feel intellectually and creatively inspired by discussions with my roommates, or the great content on my favorite blogs, or the pictures of kitties in bowties I found on Tumblr. When we interact with other people, even in small ways, our circle of experience is expanded, and that can only mean good things for our writing.

C. S. Lewis said, “We read to know we’re not alone,” and I think in large part we write for that reason as well. This isn’t a race where only one person can win. In fact its more like a hike up a steep mountain, and the more we help each other, the higher we can climb.

Sarah Allen is querying two novels (one adult, one YA, both magical realism) and drafting a third. She has been published in several literary magazines and placed in several writing competitions such as the Utah Arts and Letters Original Writing competition and the Writer’s Digest 77th annual competition. She received her English degree from BYU and currently lives in Las Vegas where she works as a grant writer for Best Buddies Nevada. You can find her at her Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of other places. Her short story collection, Cross-Eyed, is available on Amazon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Tips To Block Creativity

Do you want to live a creative life but sometimes feel something is holding you back? Guess what? It’s most likely you. Those obstacles you feel are in your way and block your creativity are the negative attitudes/thoughts/choices you allow into your life, that have the biggest impact and keep you stuck. From a writerly point of view, consider how your creativity suffers. I don’t know about you, but I am guilty of some of the following points:

I get too tired. Know that feeling of working late when you should be relaxing and winding down?

Eat sugar. Drink caffeine. How did I get tempted by coffee and a biscuit instead of water and fruit?

Take on extra work. Learn to say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean you are being rude; neither does it mean you are being disagreeable. It’s how you say ‘no’, rather than the fact you’re saying no, that affects the outcome. After all, you have your own priorities and needs, just like everyone has his/her own needs. Saying no is about respecting and valuing your time and space.

Spend time with energy vampires. Don’t fight them. Don't argue or get defensive, or tell them they're wrong. As soon as you do this and interact with them directly, you are pulled into their drama. Stay away from them. Rather say no to that invitation that doesn’t appeal to you.

Beat myself up for what I haven't achieved. Why not see the successes?

Compare myself with others. When I know their world is so different to mine. Remember, each individual’s talent, contribution and value is unique to that person, and to his purpose in this world.

Worry. 80-90 percent of what you fear will happen, never really becomes a reality. They are just monsters in your own mind. And if they happen then they will most often not be as painful or bad as you expected.

Forget to go out and play. Moderation and balance are things that we don't often think about in life. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks. Addictions can take hold of us quickly and devour us. Moderation and balance = a little bit of this, a little bit of that, not too much and not too little, just right.

Feel there's no time, so don't get started. Every moment counts. Remember your life is not lived one day or one hour at a time. It is lived one moment at a time. The only thing you have absolute control over are your choices right now in this moment, so make the most out of this moment - and every one that comes after it. Even ten minutes is worth getting started for.

Cut out the clear thinking time. We all know that these moments of space are so important. Your brain needs that downtime. Mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity. 

Can you relate to any of these? Want to share any thoughts/ experiences of things that block your creativity?

Monday, October 13, 2014

11 Tips to Increase Your Word Count

I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, but I admire those who do. I've visited numerous blogs lately where my friends are debating if they should participate this year or not. Those who are participating are doing some preparation in anticipation of their efforts to write a novel in the month of November. It's a challenging task where many will fail and many will succeed. There is a lot of advice out there to help writers reach their goal. But that advice is solid for all year long not just during NaNoWriMo. Not all these tips may work for you and most of the ideas are oft repeated.

11 Tips To Increase Word Count

1. Prepare an outline, plot points and character profiles before you start writing.

2. Have a routine such as a particular time of day or place to write.

3. Design your writing space for comfort but free of distractions. Cat or dog at feet allowed.

4. Be superstitious and use those rituals. If you're always productive when you drink green tea then have green tea. Need your comfy slippers on, then slips those puppies on.

5. Put some music on that helps you write. Perhaps a play list that fits the story or something without words that calms your muse.

6. Don't discuss your WIP while you're writing it. Keep it to yourself until you have that first draft done.

7. Spew out that imperfect first draft. Quiet your inner editor and keeping pounding the keyboard.

8. Along with that tip, don't delete or throw away anything. That scene that you've decided you hate may not seem so bad when the entire project is complete. You can fix or dump it in the second draft.

9. Stop each writing session in the middle of a scene or sentence where you know what comes next. It gets the next day's writing off to a quick start.

10. Remember to eat right, sleep enough and exercise. Take care of yourself.

11. Reward yourself as you reach your goals. Made the halfway point? Celebrate and move onto the next one.

Few of these ideas are new to experienced writers. I challenge you to add a tip to the list. What works for you to keep your word count high all year long and not just in November? Are any of the above suggestions part of your routine? Any of them that just don't work for you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Any interesting rituals or superstitions you use to maintain your writing pace?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Are Your Dreams Getting in the Way of Your Writing Goals?

By Anne R. Allen

What’s the difference between a dream and a goal?

Short answer: reality.

A dream is a creature of the imagination, full of sparkles and rainbows. It’s our magic castle where we live our fantasy lives. We all need them. But we also need to recognize them for what they are.

A goal is something doable. Like getting a college degree, saving money to go to a writers' conference, or finishing that novel.

"I want to be a rich and famous writer" is a dream.

"I want to write a novel and get it published" is a goal.

Here are some common writers' dreams that can stand in the way of writing success.

1) The Travel-Adventure Dream

You know the one—most writers have it at some point. We're going to travel around the country in a camper/sports car/motorcycle—writing our own version of On the Road.

Or we're going to go live in Paris and become the next Hemingway.

I plead guilty to this one. When I was a kid, I always pictured myself traveling the world, having adventures and turning them into lovely novels.

Thing is, I got the traveling and adventures part right, but until I was nearly forty, I’d never actually produced one of those novels.

I didn't realize writers don't need adventures. We need imaginations.

2) The Award-Winner Dream

When you were twelve, you probably rehearsed your Oscar acceptance speech in front of your mirror and thanked your hairbrush for the great honor you knew you deserved. A lot of us have been there.

But that dream can hold us back. Whether it’s winning an Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer, or making it to the top of the NYT bestseller list—picturing that kind of rare occurrence as your sole image of success can freeze you at square one.

Real success comes in baby steps.

You need to consider yourself a success when you finish your first novel, send your first query, self-publish your first book, write your first blogpost, get your first royalty check, etc.

Otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the huge gap between where you are now to where you want to be and you'll be defeated before you start.

3) The Literary Kudos Dream

This was one of mine, too. In my dream I made a lovely income from my books (somebody had to pay those Paris cafe bills.)

But I didn’t have a clue how to write stuff that could make money.

I mostly read literary fiction, so I wrote Alice Munro-wannabe stories and poems.

Yes, I loved reading romantic suspense and mysteries, but I didn’t want to be a genre writer. Oh, no: I wanted to be reviewed in the New Yorker!

I didn’t take into account that pretty much everybody who's published in the New Yorker has tons of academic credentials and teaches at a prestigious university.

I didn't want to teach. I wanted to write. So now I write mysteries.

4) The Rich Writer-of-Leisure Dream

Richard Castle has a lot to answer for.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the TV show Castle.

But do you ever see that guy writing books?

Movies and books are full of characters rolling in money they've earned from writing fiction. But the truth is, even successful, bestselling authors don’t make as much as the average lawyer, professor, doctor, or accountant (and they don't get benefits.)

The vast majority of writers have day jobs. Either we teach or edit or work at something entirely separate from writing. And we don't have much spare time to go solve crimes for the NYPD.

5) The “I Never Interfere with my Genius” Dream

There’s a quote sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde: "I never rewrite. Who am I to interfere with genius?"

Some writers believe talent is all they need, so they never subject their tender feelings to the editor's red pencil.

But writing is like any other skill: you have to learn the rules and practice, practice, practice.

No matter how great your natural golf swing, you have to learn the rules of the game, or you won’t win any tournaments. Writing's the same.

But I often meet writers who refuse to edit or learn about POV, story arc, or pacing. Then they're devastated by rejections or dismal sales and scathing reviews.

Here's the thing: real genius is learning to rewrite well.


What are your writing goals? Can you clear your brain of the misty fantasies and figure out what you really want—and then map out a step-by-step path to reach it? Have you been snagged by any of these dreams the way I was?


Anne R. Allen is the author of seven comic mysteries and co-author of the bestselling How to be a Writer in the E-Age: a Self-Help Guide, written with Catherine Ryan Hyde. She blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog…with Ruth Harris,, which Writer's Digest named to their Best 101 Websites for Writers in 2013. She has an article coming out in the November issue of Writer's Digest on the renaissance of the short story.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Target Audience, Benefits, and Filling a Need

You have an idea for a book. Now for the tough questions! Ask yourself:

• Who is my target audience?
• What are my book’s benefits?
• Does my book fill a need?

Let’s consider audience first. Create a reader profile sheet. This can guide you when writing the book, but the greatest benefit comes when you’re ready to begin promotions. Write down the following aspects as they relate to your target audience:

• Age
• Gender
• Income bracket
• Location
• What are their hobbies and interests?
• Where do they shop?
• Where do they frequent?
• What magazines, websites, and news sites do they read?
• What are their needs?
• Where do they hang out online?

Fill in as much information as possible. Refer back often to your reader profile and continue to add details. The more you know about your audience, the better you can tailor your book to appeal to them. (Still write the story you want to write but be aware of what your audience likes.) It will be that much easier to reach them when you’re ready to promote.

Now, what are your book’s benefits? How will it enrich your readers’ lives?

Are they reading for entertainment? Will your book amuse them? Will you help them to escape their everyday lives? Will they enjoy the experience?

Are they reading for enrichment? Will your book deliver meaningful and deep views? Will readers be moved by the experience?

Are they reading for information? Will your book expand their knowledge and understanding?

Are they reading to better their lives? Will your book help them save time or money? Will it provide healthier options? Can your book solve their problems?

This is where you really need to place yourself in your reader’s shoes. There are millions of books on the market. Why should they read yours? “They’ll enjoy it” is not enough. You must give people compelling reasons to read your book, appealing to their logic, their emotions, or both.

Finally, does your book fill a need? There are several aspects to consider.

Does your book provide information people are actively seeking? Is it new information or a unique take on a subject? Are changes in the world (technological, political, etc.) making this information necessary or beneficial?

Is your book tied to events, locations, or people? Is there a demand for this information? If other books already exist, will you provide new or more current details?

If a work of fiction, is it part of a new or growing trend? (Current trends will be on the slide by the time your book hits the market.) Is your story unique and fresh? Is there a demand for the storyline?

The more you can answer, and in as much detail as possible, the better equipped your book will be to succeed.

- Adapted from How to Publish and Promote Your Book Now by L. Diane Wolfe

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond!

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 1 anniversary posting of the IWSG are Kristin Smith, Elsie, Suzanne Furness, and Fundy Blue!

Today marks the one year anniversary since the IWSG site and Facebook group opened. The IWSG Team is putting together an eBook that will benefit all writers - The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond. We invite all IWSG members, Facebook members, and followers to contribute, whether you are a writer on the journey or a published author.

Here are the details:

The purpose of the book is to assist other writers on the journey, so we are looking for tips and instructions. It can be inspirational in nature as long as you provide a solid benefit.

The three topics will be writing, publishing, and marketing. Please let us know what category your submission falls under.

Each contribution needs to be between 200 and 1000 words. Give us your best tip or procedure. The essay can include bullet points, top ten lists, and recommendations. (Websites, software, books, etc.) We’re trying to keep it simple, so no images.

If it’s under 300 words, you can post it for your October 1 IWSG post. Once you have posted, go to this PAGE at the site and submit your link. (With almost three hundred members, we don’t want to miss someone’s submission.)

If over 300 words, please email it directly to the IWSG email or to Alex J. Cavanaugh.

Be sure to include: title, topic (writing, publishing, or marketing), a one line bio (with your name, book(s), and blog), and state that you give us permission to use it.

Please use fresh material – no recycled blog posts. Include a one sentence by-line. Also state that you give us permission to use it in the book and note which topic it falls under. (We will only edit for misspellings and grammar mistakes.) Also no images or hyperlinks.

All submissions need to be sent or posted by October 2, 2014.

To submit, you must be a current IWSG member, IWSG Facebook member, or confirmed follower of the IWSG website. This book needs to represent the group.

We will compile them into an eBook and aim for an early December release. The book will be free and available for all eReaders.

Thank you for making the IWSG such a huge success!!