Monday, June 22, 2020

Making A Living At Writing

Hello! My name is Sean McLachlan and the IWSG has been kind enough to invite me to take over the blog today and talk about how to achieve a common dream—making a living from writing.

First, a bit about me. I started my adult life as an archaeologist and worked in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East for ten years before deciding to switch to writing. Of course, I couldn’t make the transition overnight. It was a slow process of building up my portfolio while keeping my day job. Then I got a degree in journalism and writing became my day job. I worked at various newspaper and editing positions before striking out as a full-time freelancer.

Now, twenty years later, I’ve written or ghostwritten more than 50 books, plus thousands of paid blog posts and articles. While making it as a writer is never easy, a few simple tips will help you on your way.

Start Small and Familiar

When I first got started, I pitched history and archaeology articles, using my professional credentials to get in the door. Many of these markets were on the small side. You won’t hit the big leagues with your first publication. Examine your expertise and background and figure out how to market them.

Write Every Day, And Write A Lot

Freelance writers are paid by the article or word. Thus it stands to reason that the more you write, the more you get paid. If you’re submitting articles and books on spec, the more prolific you are, the better your chances of getting hired.

The best writing advice I ever got came when I was still a complete novice. I went to a writing conference where a successful mystery author shared this gem: “If you write a page a day, by the end of the year you’ll have a book.” My first reaction was, “What if I write two pages a day?”

I got to work. Within a year I had my first two book contracts.

Most financially successful authors (as opposed to literary prizewinners who teach for a living) have one thing in common—they are hardworking and prolific. I studied the careers of a dozen of these writers in my book Writing Secrets of the World’s Most Prolific Authors.

It was an eye-opening project. All these writers had written more than 300 books. The great Isaac Asimov almost didn’t make the cut, being the least productive writer I covered. Besides having a strong work ethic and incredible focus while still making sure to take care of themselves mentally and physically, they also knew contract law and worked in a variety of genres often under a variety of pen names. Plus they wrote in a clear, accessible style that attracted readers.

They also recognized one important fact—writer’s block is a myth. As famous Western writer Chet Cunningham put it, “Ever heard of a carpenter not going to work because he has ‘carpenter’s block’? If a writer can’t write, it’s because he doesn’t really want to, he isn’t ready to get it on paper, or he’s just plain lazy.”

Avoid Amateurism

First off, don’t write for free. If a market offers “exposure” but can’t afford to pay its authors, how much are they going to put into marketing? Beginning writers often lack self-confidence and get taken advantage of. If your work is good enough to be published, it’s good enough to pay for.

Also, don’t spend too much time on writing groups filled with other beginners. While they can be fun and supportive, they can also be filled with petty squabbles and bad information. If you must chat online with a community of writers, seek out a community that is achieving more than you are. That will help you level up.

Go Where the Money Is

Be constantly on the lookout for better and more promising markets. For several years I worked as a travel blogger for They paid me to travel and write. Heaven! I sensed, however, that it was too good to last, so I started doing side gigs on Elance (now Upwork). I began with my original strength—rewriting a client’s archaeology dissertation as a popular level book. Then I got into ghostwriting novels, using my indie published novels as a CV. When the bottom fell out of the blogging market and Gadling folded, I was able to leap into ghostwriting to replace that income. In fact, I ended up earning much more. Sadly, I have to pay for my own plane tickets these days!

The key here is to diversify. Never rely on only one source of income. While Upwork is my biggest moneymaker these days, I work hard to sell my indie titles, and also do magazine articles and history booklets for extra income.

Always Be On the Lookout

The world is full of opportunities, and they go to those bold enough to ask for them.

In her memoir No Lady with a Pen, Ursula Bloom, a bestselling author of the early 20th century, wrote about how one early collaborator gave her a tip that she took to heart. “‘For every editor you meet, you ought to get an introduction to another one. That’s important.’ I followed his advice faithfully. I’ve met too many people who ask for advice and then push it aside because it isn’t the kind they fancy for themselves.”

Be open to good advice, be ready to take on new things, and be willing to work hard. That’s all you need. Good luck!

Want to know more about me and my work? Feel free to check out these links:

Amazon Author Page, The Productive Writer YouTube Channel, Facebook Author Page, The Midlist Writer Blog, and Instagram

Monday, June 15, 2020

Foreshadowing, Symbolism, and The Payoff

Sunrises and sunsets are powerful and common symbols.
Photo by Tyrean Martinson, taken with her phone in Georgia 2019.

Foreshadowing and symbolism can connect stories with readers on an emotional level to create a fully satisfying payoff ending. 

For an example from a popular movie I hope everyone has seen (spoiler alert!), near the beginning of Disney’s The Lion King, King Mufasa says to Simba, “A king’s time as ruler rises and falls with the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here and will rise with you as the new king.” This piece of dialogue, along with the scene setting on Pride Rock at sunrise, includes both foreshadowing and symbolism.

Although movie-goers were moved to tears by Mufasa’s death in this Disney movie when it first came out in theaters, we also knew in the back of our minds this was coming because of the important piece of foreshadowing dialogue with Mufasa and Simba. This is cemented by the setting of the sun as Simba finds his dead father. The sunset symbolizes an ending.

When Simba takes his place at Pride Rock, much later in the movie, the scene swiftly changes from a stormy atmosphere to a sunrise, symbolizing the beginning of his new reign. The music swells, and we finish the movie on a positive note.

For many viewers, this movie struck a deep chord, speaking directly to them through symbolism and foreshadowing, with a good follow-through in the payoff ending.

Foreshadowing can come in the form of dialogue as it does in Lion King, a dream or vision, or a small, but meaningful incident during the introduction of a story’s characters and their problems. It can help the reader or viewer see a little of the way ahead in the story, and hint at a bigger picture to come. Foreshadowing builds tension and excitement.

Symbols connect us to the story with a minimum of words. There are so many symbols, it would be hard to list them all, but try thinking of movies or stories with these: sunsets, sunrises, open doors, closed doors, keys, locks, shadows, lightning, storms, roots, caves, tunnels, mountains, valleys, and any of the four seasons (summer, winter, fall, and spring), just to name a few common symbols.

Seasons make for great symbols, even if they are commonly used.
Photo by Tyrean Martinson, with her phone camera.

When foreshadowing and symbols are tied closely to each other, they seem to magnify their connection to the reader. 

However, a writer must always be aware of need for a payoff ending.

If a writer sets up foreshadowing and uses symbolism, the reader is going to expect a big payoff on these investments. A writer can create red herrings or false trails to give readers more possibilities to wonder over in the story, but a path of foreshadowing and symbols needs to land the reader in the payoff section of the conclusion. This is the reader’s reward for reading the book. It doesn’t have to come in a happily ever after like The Lion King. Shakespeare’s Hamlet was one of the sources for The Lion King, but while it includes foreshadowing and symbolism, it definitely does not have an HEA.

Payoff in the conclusion of a story does not necessarily mean happiness for the characters, it only means the foreshadowing and symbols line up with the ending events. 

How do we create foreshadowing and symbols which lead to a big payoff?

Plot-bound writers can often plan these effectively in their writing.

Pantsters may need to read through their rough draft and find foreshadowing and symbolic elements they may have used without realizing it.

Plotters need to be aware of subconscious symbols as well, since these may show up randomly in our writing because the language of symbolism runs deep across many cultures.

Circle the specific nouns you’ve used the most in description throughout your novel. These may be the key to symbolism in your novel. If you need to, make a list of what these nouns could symbolize or look up a list of symbols on the internet.

Foreshadowing may take a little more work in revision, even for plotters. A writer may need to plant some foreshadowing dialogue in the first five pages of the novel. At first, this may feel awkward, but I suggest trying it, and then getting feedback from other writers.

For the payoff in the conclusion, a writer needs to use the most important symbol(s) again. Refer back to the foreshadowing with character dialogue, setting description, or another small-but-meaningful incident. Mufasa and Simba walk up Pride Rock at sunrise, Mufasa dies in a dark valley at sunset– opposite place and time of day, and Simba walks back up Pride Rock at sunrise when his reign begins. Foreshadowing and strong symbols find their bookend pairs in the payoff ending.

Foreshadowing and symbolism can work powerfully in individual books and across a series of books, but a writer must give the reader some kind of payoff in each book in a series. 

This is important. No matter how beautifully written the symbols are, some kind of payoff needs to take place in each book. In a series, layers of foreshadowing and symbols may be used to give readers more and more to look forward to as each book presents a mini payoff leading up to the final payoff in the last book.

For an example of this, think of the symbol of the Death Star in the Star Wars universe – this weapon, technology leading up to the weapon, or technology based on the weapon are in nearly every Star Wars story. Death looms over the characters and must be dealt with in every movie.

Have you used foreshadowing, symbols, and the payoff ending? Can you think of more examples? 

Monday, June 8, 2020

An Expansive Mini-Guide for Structuring Your Short Story

Structure and Character in the Short Story

Let’s talk about short story creation and structure. 

Word Limits: 

·         A short story typically has 1500 to a 7500-words. You need to always read and follow submission guidelines when submitting stories. 
·         Flash Fiction has around 500 to a 1000-words. 

Word count image created in Excel by the author using information from Wikipedia and the Author Learning Center

To Start:

·         You need a character with a deep need or desire. Something that they will fight or struggle to get or resist. They need an external need/desire and an internal need/desire. This need or want is intertwined with the character's core motivation for their actions and choices, consciously or subconsciously, good or bad. Maslow'sHierarchy of Needs.
·         Your character needs resistance, and by that, I mean something, someone, situation or event, that prevents them from fulfilling their deep need or desire. This resistance generates conflict for the forward story movement.

Clarify and simplify your character's personality with a one-word description tool to capture character essence while you write.  Describe them with one word to help you create a concept in your mind to use as a guide. ex: hopeless romantic, avenging mailman, nervous bank teller, guilty father, cranky bus driver. 

Decide on setting.  Setting can be snow at Christmas, or in the middle of Walmart, or a rainy day Monday, or waiting for a bus at the bus terminal.

Or a situation can also serve as both setting, location, and generate general conflict ideas: A bank robbery or shopping for toilet paper during the Corvid19 pandemic.

Start a short story as close to the end and in the action as possible.

The Hook

What is a story hook?  Why use it? A hook is something that is special about your story that grabs the reader’s attention keeps them reading.  A hook is story-based through ideas and concepts directly connect to the story world.  Suggested reading: Active Hooks.

In short stories, the hook works somewhat like the inciting incident in novel plotting. You want to grab them in the first couple of lines or by the first and second paragraphs.

Keep your word limits in mind.

Start your story in the middle of the action, or with active dialogue, or active setting as story character or reveal some aspect of your character.  Suggested reading: Active Setting

Get rid of thought verbsto be verbs and excess filler words such as just, really, very, even, then/than, suddenly, and phrases like at or in the moment, just now and so forth. Write with conciseness.  Limit your adjectives.

Use strong verbs such as batter, blab, growl, gush, shimmer.  

The purpose of a scene is to show a moment in the life of the character within the story world moving toward the story end goal. 

Story Movement--Rising Action


The rising action is a series of actionable scenes leading up to the climax of a story. 

The word limits of short stories do not leave a lot of room for characterization, setting, and conflict. That means you have to be selective in word choice and limit your conflict.

The rising action begins at the beginning of any story. Actions and choices, when presented with resistance, move your character toward the story's high point. (Novels structure refers to this as the climax — turning point.)

Short stories, unlike novels, will only have two or three of these moments until the turning point because of word limits.

Conflict In Story: Resistance

The purpose of all conflict in stories is to move the story forward toward the end story goal or scene story goal.

Conflict is NOT something random happening or daily routine.

Conflict is anything that stands in the way of your character reaching their greatest desire or need creating change within the character and/or outside the character or story world.

Conflict is generated and sustained through the choices and actions your character takes when blocked by the resistance, keeping them from the thing they desire or need most.

The High Point or Climax


The climax is somewhere in the middle of ANY story. Everything after that will be falling action moving the character toward the resolution or end story goal.

The climax is the highest pivotal moment or emotional point signifying a change in direction or heart in the story. It is the moment when your character realizes how much they have to lose.

It also clarifies and solidifies all rising action to this point leaving, no doubt why this is happening or happened.

The character is all in—no turning back win or lose.  

In short stories, this is often the dark night of the soul too or followed, in short, by the dark night of the soul because of limited word counts. The falling action then is the events that move the story toward the end goal or resolution.

Falling Action


Falling action occurs after the climax and sets a tone opposite of rising action cueing the reader the end approaches.   

In a short story, you may have two or just one falling action moment, conflict--resistance, before the resolution. The falling action is the journey to the wrap-up. You tie up loose ends giving the reader closure for the story.

A Summary of Short Story Structure

The beginning = Setup a character with a problem in setting
The rising resistance = A character faced with choices and prevented from reaching or achieving their deepest desire or need. (Obstacles to overcome internal and/or external.)
The climax = This is the highest point in the story. It is created by the rising action forcing the character to go all-in with no turning back.
The falling action = The journey and resistance to reach the end tying up all unfinished elements moving to the story resolution.
The resolution = The problem is solved through the characters, choices or actions, achieving their deepest desire or need or accepting the loss.

All loose ends are resolved. It may also show a brief glimpse of the character in this new world created by their journey and choices.

Here are some free tools to help you create characters and guide story structure. 
·         Bonus extended character creation cheat sheet using astrology for creating more 3-dimensional characters and in-depth worldbuilding.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

What's Happening with the IWSG?

The annual anthology contest is open!

Theme: Dark Matter

Submissions accepted: May 6 - September 2, 2020
Guidelines and rules:

Word count: 4500-6000

Genre: Science Fiction
How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (double-spaced, no footers or headers), previously unpublished story to admin @ before the deadline passes. Please include your full contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group.

Judging: The IWSG admins will create a shortlist of the best stories. The shortlist will then be sent to our official judges.

Our official awesome judges:

Dan Koboldt, author and #SFFpit founder
Dan Koboldt is the author of the Gateways to Alissia trilogy (Harper Voyager), the editor of Putting the Science in Fiction (Writers Digest, 2018), and the creator of the sci-fi adventure serial The Triangle (Serial Box, 2019). As a genetics researcher, he has co-authored more than 80 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. He is represented by Paul Stevens of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Lynda R. Young, author
Lynda R. Young is an Aussie writing fantasy novels as Elle Cardy. Wielder’s Prize is her debut YA epic fantasy. She is also an editor, game developer, 3D artist, graphic designer, photographer, gamer and more.

Colleen Oefelein, agent, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
Colleen Oefelein is an author of YA, picture books, and author promotion guides, a devourer of books, and the owner of the book review site North of Normal. Formerly an associate agent and PR manager with Inklings Literary Agency, Colleen has hosted numerous “Pitch Perfect” and “Rejection Correction” workshops on Facebook and at conferences nationwide, and she’s mentored several authors one-on-one through online pitch contests such as Pitch Wars.
Damien Larkin, author
Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. His debut novel Big Red was published by Dancing Lemur Press and went on to be longlisted for the BSFA award for Best Novel. He currently lives in Dublin, Ireland and is working on his next novel Blood Red Sand.

is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia's longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998. His qualifications and employment range from horticulture through electronics into literature and communications.

Julie Gwinn, agent, The Seymour Agency
Julie Gwinn most recently served as Marketing Manager for the Christian Living line at Abingdon Press and before that served as Trade Book Marketing Manager and then Fiction Publisher for the Pure Enjoyment line at B&H Publishing Group, a Division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Recently, she was awarded Editor of the Year from the American Christian Fiction Writers and won B&H’s first Christy award for Ginny Yttrup’s debut novel Words.
David Powers King, author
David's works include Woven, The Undead Road, and Full Dark: An Anthology. He currently resides in the Mountain West with his wife and 4 children.

Prizes: The winning stories will be edited and published by Dancing Lemur Press' imprint Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title. Please see their website for general guidelines on the types of stories they publish.

We’re excited to see the creativity and enthusiasm that’s such a part of this group put into action. So don your creative caps and start writing. And spread the word!


Have news and want a shout out? Email us!
Each month, we send out the IWSG newsletter packed with information, updates, and tips. If you'd like to be included or add quick promo for your work, just let us know.
Email me: elizabethseckman(at)ymail(dot)com
*please add IWSG shout out to the subject line


Have a question about marketing or publishing?

Carolyn Howard Johnson has a series of books that are a great resource for writers who need to do their own editing and promoting. She's one smart lady and she's agreed to help our writers by answering any question from editing to promotion to publishing. If you have a question you'd like Carolyn to answer, add it to the comments or email me at elizabethseckman(at)ymail(dot)come. Add IWSG Question to the subject line.

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HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. For only a few cents a day the third edition of The Frugal Book Promoter assures your book the best possible start in life. The author was inspired to write this book full of nitty-gritty how-tos for getting nearly-free publicity for her UCLA Writers’ Program class. A former publicist, journalist, and retailer, Carolyn shares her professional experience as well as practical tips gleaned from the successes of her own book campaigns. She tells authors how to do what their publishers can’t or won’t and why authors can often do their own promotion better than a PR professional. Check out Carolyn's website and see all of her books.