Wednesday, November 28, 2012


December is Na-Now What?-Mo

National Novel Writing Month is nearly over. For marathon writers everywhere, the end of November cues a collective sigh of satisfied relief. The rigid, daily ritual of vomiting out 1660-word bucket-fulls of raw, creative genius will slacken, and like coming off any intense schedule, participants will often be left physically exhausted and emotionally drained. It's natural to need a break from writing after such a strenuous stretch. But beware: that little break can easily turn into weeks of full blown writer's neglect, especially around the holidays when seasonal demands take priority over creative pursuits. Don't let a film of dust form on your keyboard! Here are five ideas for warding off the pitfalls of writer's burnout and maintaining a sane dosage of NaNoWriMo momentum:

1. Resist the urge to jump right into NaNo novel revisions. It's too soon, and your burnout will likely intensify. Put the manuscript away; close the file, tuck it neatly into its folder tree, and leave it there. Stephen King says in his book "On Writing," that he puts a new manuscript in his desk drawer for at least three weeks. That way, when he does read it, his 'fresh eyes' easily detect plot holes and character development issues needing attention during revisions. Sage words from a true master of the craft.

2. Write a new story. It doesn't have to be a new novel; in fact, I suggest tackling short or micro fiction. It'll be good to finish a project, bolstering confidence to then go on and finish the NaNo novel. The idea now is to shift gears, head down a new path and see how the perspective changes. Entering a contest is a great way to prompt you while presenting a deadline to keep you creatively on track. Good ones that run every day or month at are "Daily Flash Fiction Challenge and "Twisted Tales Contest. ( membership is FREE.)

3. Try your hand at one of those God-awful end-of-the-year letters people like to send at Christmas time. (Okay, I admit it, I write one every year. Don't judge me! *Laugh*) Instead of recapping all the wonderful accomplishments you and your family members have achieved, which tends to bore even the most loving of readers, try approaching it as an exercise in creative nonfiction, where you share a special memory or an insight gleaned in 2012. Even if you don't end up slipping a copy into every holiday card you send, you may uncover something about yourself you wouldn't have known had you not articulated it in this way.

4. Find yourself too burnt out of creative energy to write? Practice your revision and editing skills by pulling out an old story from your portfolio and revamping it. Not only will this train you for the revision phase of your NaNo novel, but you may uncover that elusive twist of magic that takes the story to the next level.

5. And if you really can't get that NaNo manuscript out of your mind, don't fight it. Try writing short stories or scenes starring your novel's characters. Explore them from outside the timeline of your book. Tell about an incident from their childhoods, or describe their first kiss. You never know what you might learn about them that may come in handy during revisions!

The intensity of writing 50,000 words in a month is exhilarating but exhausting. In the weeks following NaNoWriMo, beat writer's burn-out by writing a little every day. Look for new projects that kindle the fires of creativity. Before you know it, the time will be right to re-read your NaNo manuscript and start revisions. And when that time comes, you'll be ready! 

Question For Next Time: How do you decompress after the intensity of NaNoWriMo? 

[Published by me today in's Drama Newsletter.]


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Show & Tell in a Nutshell

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Have you been told there's a little too much telling in your novel? Want to remedy it? Then this is the book for you!

In Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing you will find sixteen real scenes depicting a variety of situations, emotions, and characteristics which clearly demonstrate how to turn telling into showing. Dispersed throughout, and at the back of the book, are blank pages to take notes as you read. A few short writing prompts are also provided.

Not only is this pocket guide an excellent learning tool for aspiring writers, but it is a light, convenient, and easy solution to honing your craft no matter how broad your writing experience. Keep it in the side pocket of your school bag, throw it in your purse, or even carry it around in the pocket of your jeans or jacket. Enhance your skills, keep notes, and jot down story ideas anywhere, anytime.

If you purchase the e-book, you will be armed with the convenient hyper-linked Contents Page, where you can toggle backward and forward from different scenes with ease. Use your e-reader's highlighting and note-taking tools to keep notes.

The author, Jessica Bell, also welcomes questions via email concerning the content of this book, or about showing vs. telling in general, at

“Jessica Bell addresses one of the most common yet elusive pieces of writing advice—show, don't tell—in a uniquely user-friendly and effective way: by example. By studying the sixteen scenes she converts from “telling” into “showing,” not only will you clearly understand the difference; you will be inspired by her vivid imagery and dialogue to pour through your drafts and do the same.” ~Jenny Baranick, College English Teacher, Author of Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares
“A practical, no-nonsense resource that will help new and experienced writers alike deal with that dreaded piece of advice: show, don’t tell. I wish Bell’s book had been around when I started writing!” ~Talli Roland, bestselling author

Purchase the paperback:
$4.40 on Amazon US
£3.99 on Amazon UK

Purchase the e-book:
$1.99 on Amazon US
£1.99 on Amazon UK
$1.99 on Kobo

About the Author:
The Australian-native contemporary fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.

For more information about Jessica Bell, please visit: 


Friday, November 2, 2012

Semicolon: Old-School or Archaic?

I'll admit it; I am fond of the semicolon. Some may accuse me of sounding like an old-school grammarian, but I hold the English language and all the grammatical rules that govern it in high regard. They are the authorial tools that allow me to communicate with accuracy. Thoughts flit through the mind, intangible and abstruse, and capturing their essence is a writer's first challenge. Without proper punctuation, the version of those abstract thoughts that makes it onto paper can be flat, lackluster, and bereft of nuance. When used correctly, the semicolon is vital in establishing balance between two thoughts, defining a relationship, and cuing the reader that attention should be paid to a nuance in the author's message. 

It turns out, not all writers and editors share my enthusiasm for the semicolon. Debate about the relevance of the semicolon in today's contemporary fiction has people passionately divided into two opposing camps. Those who disagree with me believe the semicolon is an archaic mark that looks pretentious and doesn't fit with today's modern writing style. Before I discuss this once highly respected punctuation mark, let's conduct an informal poll to gauge authors' opinions on the following question. (You will be zipped over to the poll page to see results. Please click the 'Back' button below the results on the poll page, to be redirected back here.)

Is the semicolon worth saving? free polls 

The English language in America is changing; there's no doubt about it. Texting on our phones and posting on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have given rise to a new degenerate language which is abrupt, coded, and transparent. Abbreviations pass for words. Capitalization is reserved for denoting shouting. And punctuation is used almost exclusively to decorate with smiley faces. i luv 2 write. imma b published 1 day. OMG FURR REELZ dat b da truf :))

The effects on our culture are unsettling. We're increasingly conditioned for brevity, and our attention spans are shrinking. Some writers and editors maintain that strong book sales result when they cater to these shifts in cultural perceptions. The market is flooded with books stylized by plots with lightning-speed pacing, which depend on stripped down sentences that are punchy, declarative, and void of the artistic flourish of a by-gone era. The popularity of today's bestsellers seems to confirm the belief that readers don't want stories bogged down by long, lush sentences, and this speculation serves to perpetuate the cycle.

However, it's a misconception that semicolons are no longer needed in today's fiction. It is simply untrue.

According to English language punctuation rules, there are three specific situations that necessitate a semicolon, even if you don't "like" them. In each case, use of any other punctuation mark is incorrect, period.

1. Use a semicolon between closely related main clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction (such as and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet).
         Example: "I never vote for anyone; I always vote against." (W. C. Fields)

2. Use a semicolon between main clauses linked by a conjunctive adverb (such as however and therefore) or a transitional expression (such as in fact or for example).
         Example: "It is forbidden to kill; therefore, all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." (Voltaire)

3. Use a semicolon between items in a series when the items themselves contain commas or other marks of punctuation.
         Example: The sites being considered for the new Volkswagen plant are Waterloo, Iowa; Savannah, Georgia; Freestone, Virginia; and Rockville, Oregon.

(Source for numbers 1-3 above.  )

The semicolon is also a tool for crafting strong sentences that convey a relationship between thoughts. In a July 19, 2012 New Yorker article called "Semicolons; So Tricky,"   Mary Norris says this about semicolon usage:

"If the sentence "She looked at me; I was lost for words," occurred as dialogue in a piece that I was copy-editing, I would be tempted to poke in a period and make it into two sentences. In general, people -even people in love- do not speak in flights that demand semicolons. But in this instance I have to admit that without the semicolon something would be lost. With a period, the four words sink at the end: SHE LOOKED at me. The semicolon keeps the words above water: because of that semicolon, something about her look is going to be significant."

Semicolon use may be on the decline in the United States, but it is not destined to become obsolete. The poll you took above was borrowed from Richard Nordquist who polled readers of this article.   As of the writing of this newsletter, the results showing the semicolon IS worth saving are as follows:

Total Votes: 922

Yes. I use semicolons in my own writing: 748 / 81%
Yes, though I don't use semicolons: 41 / 4%
No. Though I still use semicolons, they'll soon be obsolete: 47 / 5%
No, I don't use semicolons: 70 / 7%
What's a semicolon? 15 / 1%

Question: Do you use semicolons in your fiction? Why or why not? And, were you surprised by the poll results?