Giving Antagonists Depth and More Effective Roles in Plot Resolution

Source: A Lofty Existence Blog on WordPress:
Source: A Lofty Existence Blog on WordPress:

Whether you want to believe in personality typing or not, for writers building characters, the enneagram is one of the very best gold mines you’ll ever find. It is similar to a road map for human behaviour, which shows our basic motivational needs, strengths, weaknesses, temptations and what we can do to balance out our negatives (and thus resolve interpersonal conflicts in plots).

Using the Enneagram has been a wonderful tool for fleshing out the motivation of my antagonists. It’s given them depth. Instead of the good guys just being good, and the bad guys inherently having to be bad, now the bad guy is bad because he is a Reformer (the 1). He is compulsively motivated by a need to make things better, but he’s handled the challenges he is facing the wrong way. It has created fights and barriers, not change. He is out of balance (the enneagram shows you how to create balance) and is a danger to himself, as much as he is to others. I have a relatable, humanised bad guy, who doesn’t mean to be a rat and has no idea why people are opposing him, but he can’t stop himself. He isn’t a one-dimensional, one-task piece of the novel puzzle.

Let me give you another example of how this can work. Let me use an intellectual personality as an example. They are referred to as the Thinker or Observer (the 5). Out of balance, they can be withdrawn, thought-driven, self-motivated, happy to be alone and have a strong need for independence and privacy. Often they don’t fit in with social groups. This is a weakness of their personality type. Problems for fives include isolation, pride, power-seeking and their intellectual approach can drive people in the other direction, seeking friendlier company. The five can become one very frustrated, lonely individual, with answers no one will listen to.

No one has just one type they solely fit into. They have parts of all the types and two other, less dominant types which are called wings. They balance the psyche out. A five will have the wings of a four: the romantic, withdrawn ideal-seeker who wants authenticity, self-expression and who can also be deeply empathetic; and a six wing, which is the attachment-making loyalist. They can work towards balance by utilising their ability to empathise and be loyal, alongside their need to think, rather than coldly retreating.

One-dimensional villains, who simply exist, as a bad guy is needed for the story line to work.

Enneagram research will also give you lists of ways that the various types can get along with other people. It flags sources of conflicts, how to approach them and other techniques which will have writers in seventh heaven! This is a mystically based theory which has been around for centuries. At it’s simplest level it is an excellent idea generator, that you will find useful and intriguing.

Enneagram Resources
http://  and   http://


This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

Don’t “Write” Yourself Off: I Don’t Care How Old You Are!


One of my memoir classes was attended by an eighty year old lady who had little education; had never written a poem, story or anything else in her life – and discovered she could write with absolute perfection! What if she’d opted for the rocking chair and never tried? Obviously, she had been a life-long reader and that had taught her a great deal, but she never knew the talent was there… until she picked up a pen and started to write!

When this came out on Pinterest, I applauded. Take it to heart. It’s not too late until you’re *a week dead.


(*Survival Tip: be buried with a mobile phone in case it’s not really over. No, really, people do still opt for this.)


This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

Is Your Blog Trapping You or Helping You Fly?

BlogTamingMonthCommuniCATE2I’ve been looking at this debate for some time, as I see more and more bloggers talking of burnout and writers starting to rebel against the endless demands of what you must do to succeed! To settle the matter, I took a few hours out to read and properly absorb both sides of the argument. It is complex when it comes to the publishing industry. At the end, all I could do was make up my own mind about what was right for me. I have placed as many of the arguments here as I can (without this post being novel sized) so you can also make up your own mind. Don’t follow the herd: do what works for you!

  • When you find yourself filling in posts with anything, as you just want it done and are tired, drained and over it!
  • Having no direction: which is sometimes apparent in writers with multiple blogs, unless they are for multiple purposes… but watch how much time that takes up!
  • Letting your self-esteem be dictated by reader statistics.
  • If it is an excuse for social media interaction which may be a sign you need to find a better answer to loneliness, or other tasks you are avoiding.
  • When you are investing too much time, and other higher priority tasks are going begging as a result.
  • Getting involved in blog challenges which run you into the ground with time demands and leave you wrecked.
  • When you have made such a hash of a blog that is screams lack of quality, poor commitment to your writing, or stands as testimony to an attitude that makes you cringe!
  • When your content is too personal and can do you damage in the future with potential relationships, employers or contacts in publishing and promotion.
  • Taking on guest bloggers, cover reveals and other sharing initiatives where you are used and not supported or thanked.
  • When the amount of effort invested is not getting you the results you need long term. If you are losing followers, not growing and this has been going on for at least six months, maybe it’s just not the medium for you…

… and you know something? That’s alright: you don’t H.A.V.E. to be a blogger. Do what is right for you. Write what you have in your heart and be true to yourself. Follower numbers aren’t everything.


This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

What Has Writing Done for You?

guest series logo

I am shy. If given the option of being that person who goes to parties (or anywhere people I’ve never met before may be milling about), or the one who sits home, alone, wine in one hand, television remote in the other – I’ll take the lonely wine drinking TV addict any day.

Fifty years into this life and I’ve not completely figured out this side of me. I want to be outgoing. But I’m not. I want to stand in a room full of strangers and not quiver in my boots. But I don’t. Or I can’t. Or maybe I just never learned how.

blakeWhen I write, I can be the best version of myself. Not just in fiction, but on my blog too. I share my opinions and feelings, ideas and thoughts, without filter, without interruption. Some might think I share too much, but I’ve found it cathartic. I feel safe in the cyber writing world. No one is sitting across from me, eyeballing me with that questioning look on their face. When I write I don’t feel the need to temper my thoughts to avoid offense. Not that I’m particularly offensive. I have a deep-seated desire to be ‘nice’ after all. Damn Canadian politeness.

I have always had strong opinions, always had great ideas and right answers (no, really!). But I hold back, keep things to myself. There is the fear of being wrong. The fear of rejection. Fear of potential conflict with those who disagree. Fear of looking like an idiot if (when?) I inevitably trip over my tongue and say something stupid.

Clearly the underlying issue is fear, no? Hand me my psych degree, please – nailed that diagnosis!

In the cyber world I am fearless.

This in-the-safety-of-my-own-home, open-vein style of expression is having an unexpected, surprising, confounding, and wonderful effect. I’m opening up in the real world. In the face-to-face world. My cyber courage is spilling over into interactions with people in the flesh.

I’m still shy, but I’m losing the fear. Or at least I’m doing a better job than usual of faking it. But as far as I’ve come, I’ve a long way to go.

So I did something outrageous. Something crazy.

Something brave.

juliebirdI signed up to be part of a book signing with 16 other indie authors. In Texas no less – an entire country away. It was “Indie-Vengeance Day” at Half Price Books flagship store in Dallas. I interacted with the authors, hid my intimidation, and soon realized something amazing. There was nothing to be intimidated about! They are all wonderful, and after spending four days with them, I consider them friends.

Once the doors opened, a few readers wandered in. I resolved to engage them all if they approached me. Approach they did. And engage I did! I managed to sell seven books, give away dozens of copies of a booklet with three of my short fiction pieces, and about 50 personalized bookmarks emblazoned with the covers of my two novels.

It was a liberating weekend. I extended my resolve to speak with strangers at Dealey Plaza where I engaged the only conspiracy theorist to brave the rain. Then I chatted up the clerk in the museum gift shop. He admired my Batman wallet. I told him I am Batman’s girlfriend (he just doesn’t know it yet). The clerk shared that he would be Batman for Halloween and would be singing at a party. I asked him to sing for me. And he did! I would never have done that a month ago. It was amazing.

I credit my newfound bravery, this pseudo-confidence that is quickly shaking off the pseudo, to writing. It is more than about telling stories. More than vomiting words onto a page to make room in my brain for more words. It has become therapy. A coping mechanism to deal with long-standing social anxiety. Writing, like my kids, is everything.

What has writing done for you?

a711d3e2c1030ad8956ea6.L._V374543340_SX200_Follow Julie

Amazon Author Page:





This blog post is Copyright Julie Frayn 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without the author’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-use if it is for a commercial venture.

Surviving Blogging and Writing Challenges: Wise Choices


The aim of this blog is to equip, encourage and empower writers. I pass on as many resources as I can, including writing and blogging challenges which appear sound.

We have NaNoWriMo, OctPoWriMo, NaPoWriMo, JuNoWriMo, Camp NaNoWriMo, the Wego Health Bloggers Challenge, the A-Z Blogging Challenge, Story A Day, Script Frenzy, NaPoBloMo, ROW80, NaNoEdMo, Story of my Life Blogathon, Word Count Blogathon, Creative Every Day, #writemotivation, Blog Blitz, Write Non-Fiction in November, more Wego Blogging initiatives, commercial authors such as Jeff Goins have their own… and each time I look at Twitter there are more!

There is something for everyone and that’s not a bad thing… however… exhaustion and creative burnout beckons: the time requirements are absolutely deadly on some of those challenges. When considering getting involved in these challenges, don’t follow the crowd. Please ask yourself:

  • blog post ideasWhat are my time, family and energy constraints?
  • Is it flexible enough to encompass the goals I need to work on.
  • Is the “encouragement” given in this challenge cracking the whip too hard, making me feel pressured or guilty?
  • Is the stated time period without rest days? (This is deadly to your mental and physical health: ask any counsellor, psychologist or balanced life coach.)
  • Will this take me away from my work in progress which is my top priority?
  • Will this actually increase my skill as a writer? Am I just ticking a box that I blogged?
  • Will this make me feel good or bad at the end, as I aced it or failed miserably?
  • Can I take the inspiration and do my own version, at my own pace?
  • Are the social requirements too much or too tempting as a distraction?
  • Will the time it takes to read other’s posts and check-in be too much time away from what I actually need to be doing?
  • If you are not feeling motivated to write, are you using this challenge as a crutch to get motivated? If so, don’t use the challenge as a magical remedy to put you on track. It won’t. Especially if your issue is lack of confidence, time shortages or exhaustion.
  • Am I relying on other’s around me in challenges for affirmation, rather than working on my own self-esteem as a writer?

Sometimes when we feel exhausted as writers, it is because we simply need a break to re-charge our batteries. Like any body part, your mind needs rest. If you over-use any muscle in your body, it will become strained, painful and you won’t be able to work. If you are simply over it, maybe the best remedy is time-out before you burn out. Don’t get to the point where you go months without writing again.


This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

Write Where You Are: Sourcing Blog Posts from Your Heart

guest series logo

I think I need to post a blog post more often. People I know tell me they’re amazed I post one twice a week. I don’t know what the “right” posting frequency is, but I do know two things:
1. I don’t think I could come up with more to say more often than I currently do, and
2. I’ve learned to “write where I am.” Or I guess to write about right where I am.

The only way I know to write my posts is to write from my heart. To share what I’m learning and facing. To honestly and hopefully authentically reveal the good and the bad about my experiences. Although I still want readers to gain some value from what I’ve posted, I’ve given up trying to sound smart. It’s too hard to put, and keep, on airs. Anyway, people can smell a fake, even virtually.

smallLisaKohnSo I write where I am – or about right where I am. The blog posts I most love reading on my favorite blogs are the ones about the writer’s human experience. I guess it’s what we all have in common.

I feel the same way about my memoir writing. Maybe I’d be a “better” writer if I tried to be different than I am, or to sound as if I was in a better space than I’m in at a moment, or to tell stories in ways that make me sound good. But I’ve learned in life that realness counts. And I think it should count in writing as well.

It’s funny – I wonder if people will get tired of reading about my struggles. And then I wonder if they’ll get tired of reading about my joy. Or if they’ll tell me I complain too much, or gush too often. I haven’t heard that at all. I’ve had great responses to both. It’s weird – while we all have different stories, there is so much that connects us and unites us. So much we have in common. That’s what I write about, as much as I can.

If you find something to laugh about, capture it on paper (or electronic paper). If you’re brought to tears, chances are someone else will be as well. If you’re facing a challenge your struggle can help someone feel validated, and your triumph can help someone feel hope.

Writing where you are can be easy, because you don’t have to make too much up. But writing where you are can be tough, because you’ll expose the good, the bad, and the ugly. Truth is though, it’s probably only ugly to you.

We’re all on a journey and we’re all on it together – as much as we think we’re alone or different from the rest. Write where you are and share yourself with others. Maybe they’ll write back!

lisa-kohn Follow Lisa

Lisa Kohn is the author of the soon to be published, “Way Out,” an autobiographical work about a period in her life which she describes as: “I was raised in and torn between two conflicting, bipolar worlds. There was the world I longed for and lived in on weekends – my mother’s world, which was the fanatical, puritanical cult of the Moonies – and the world I was forced to live in during the week – my father’s world, which was based in sex and drugs and the squalor of life in the East Village of New York City… Way Out chronicles my journey – from my unconventional childhood, through my self-destructive early 20s, through my Way Out to challenges, peace, and healing today. My intention in writing has been to offer hope and potential joy to others who may feel beaten or damaged by their upbringing or circumstances. If by telling my story I can help others find their own Way Out, it has all been worth it.”

She is also an accomplished leadership consultant, executive coach, and keynote speaker with a strong business background and a creative approach. She has over 25 years of experience, including over 15 years direct consulting, coaching, and speaking with Fortune 500 clients in areas of leadership, communication styles, managing change, interpersonal and team dynamics, strategy, and execution.

Lisa has taught as an adjunct professor at Columbia University and New York University’s Stern School of Business, and has been featured in several professional publications.





Copyright Lisa Kohn 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using this work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Lisa Kohn is the attributed Author.

Getting Real About Writer’s Burn Out and Social Media Demands

The Scream by Munch
The Scream by Munch

I was going through my Triberr stream today and someone had blogged on people who are too “big for their britches” to say thank you for retweets, comments etc. I shared the post as they do have a point. However, there can more behind this issue than mere rude behaviour: it may be overwhelm and silently suffering burn out.

Lack of response can come down to time availability, overload, required response numbers… and the need for a balanced life which includes family, recreation and rest. Those of us who have the sense to balance our time, or step away from “must-do to succeed” tasks, can pay a price in public criticism and the god called search engine rankings. It’s time for technology and all writers to stop cracking the whip and set better standards. Our online culture needs to allow people to lead balanced lives! We are creating our own hell… but we can create a way out of it, by changing our expectations and what we pressure other writers to do.

As my blog and business have grown, I have had increasing issues with time. I cannot comment on all the visited blog posts I would dearly love to respond to, which makes me feel very guilty. Thanks to Triberr, I have more RTs than I can keep up with. Add on the demands of marketing, networking, supporting other writers, time for writing, home life, book keeping, bills, health challenges and the many, many social media must-dos which I am supposed to follow… it all becomes physically and mentally impossible to keep up with.

For the last few years, I have worked my butt off trying to do it all the right way and it has slowly and surely led to me balancing on the edge of total burn out. So I chosen to step back from much of my prior workload for a time. Does that mean you will judge me as “too big for my britches,” as I need to switch comments off for a time, or because I am not on Twitter saying thanks every day?

I see so many writers say every week. “I am out of ideas.” “I want forget all the social media: I am forcing myself, as I am told I have to.” “My book isn’t working any more, I am going to ditch it. I don’t know what to do.” Guess what, like me, you’re over-tired. If you’re stats are low on blog visits or followers, maybe your content is bad as you’re too tired to think straight and good ideas have stopped flowing. If you’re stuck on a plot problem, maybe you need to let your mental muscles rest and regenerate.

Rfc1394_Danger_-_High_Voltage_(Alt_1)Technically burn out is: “the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time.” There is a fallacy that if you are doing what you love, you can’t burn out. Yes, you can. Burn out advances faster when you feel trapped, stuck, frustrated or are doing a task you don’t enjoy: but it can still quietly sneak up on you when you are doing what you love. It comes from being out of balance.

It comes from not getting away from your desk and taking “you” time; from giving into the online peer pressure to be so involved in everything, you are too busy for your creative brain to rest and for your stress level to reduce. Long term, those two don’t just lead to writer’s block, increased stress hormones will make your body sick. If you over-rev a car, the motor will burn out. We are no different.

There is an answer: rest, reduce your workload and balance out your time.

Until I feel better, my Triberr shares will automatically appear on Twitter, but I will rarely be doing my usual sharing; I won’t be on Facebook much; my time on Pinterest and Google Plus will be the barest minimum if at all; and I will be rarely reading blog posts I have subscribed to. I am not going to be stupid with my mental and physical health. I have to take time out, now.

According to SEO and all the good advice on success, this is suicide. According to Jeff Goins and his Slow Down Challenge, it is wisdom. For me, it is necessity. I am going to stop and quietly repair.

I challenge you to join me in re-assessing what you’re doing:

  • Look at your stats and see what social media/promotion doesn’t work, and have the courage to radically reduce your time on it, or stop using it.
  • Limit the number of days a week you post so you don’t run out of ideas, energy or overload your audience.
  • Get out of Facebook and Google communities and groups that are unresponsive, spam attractors or criticism ridden. (I exited 17 last week to pull my work load down to a controllable level.)
  • Stay away from Blogging challenges that are demanding more than 3-4 posts a week, or modify your involvement to what you can handle without stress, regardless of the rules. (I dropped out of two last week. I feel free! I’ll stash away the prompts I like and do them in my own time, for me, when I am ready.)
  • If you know NaNoWriMo and challenges like it are unrealistic and will scorch your sanity and stress you, don’t do it! Give yourself a longer time frame.
  • Reduce word counts to a level you know you can achieve and be patience. Just because it takes longer to get there, doesn’t mean you won’t!
  • Reduce extensive goal lists to the most important and work on no more than three at a time.
  • Stop being a type A and enjoy your family, friends, fresh air, fun and the good parts of life which involve no computer connection.

Take very good care of yourselves.


This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

Protect Your Boundaries, Feed Your Writing, by Lauren Sapala

Lauren-1-300x199Protecting your time as a writer comes down to learning how to use one magic word:


It sounds simple, right?

But “no” is one of the hardest words to say—especially when it comes to pleasing others, indulging in things that catch our interest, and falling prey to procrastination.

Because although we like think of our precious time as being stolen from us, the truth is that we’re usually the ones giving it away.

When writers resolve to make more time for creative work, we frequently choose the strategy of setting up guard against distractions. But after a while we let down our guard, because it’s exhausting to keep fighting off every distraction as if it’s yet another mosquito. And everyone suffers from this approach. You feel harassed, and your family and friends feel deprived. It’s also very likely that your writing ends up feeling like more of a burden than a source of joy.

However, we can shift our strategy. We can refocus the perspective we hold toward our time and the way we implement boundaries to protect it. Instead of constant gate-keeping against distraction, we can build a gate that distraction never even gets past. By setting firm, appropriate boundaries around our time, we shift out of resentment and into empowerment, and everyone ultimately gets more.

You can start with two meetings a week.

The first meeting is between you and your writing. This meeting should ideally last for one hour. A quiet library or low-key café are great places to be by yourself, while benefiting from the white-noise buzz from others. It’s also a good idea to set the time and day for this meeting as a permanent fixture in your schedule so that there’s no putting it off or getting around it.

I meet with my writing every Thursday night at 6:30pm at a little café with delicious food and soft music playing in the background. I set my phone to silent and turn off my email. After three years of keeping this meeting everyone in my life now knows that, when it comes to Thursday nights around six, I’m busy.

Your second meeting of the week is your meeting with…you. This meeting is with your own creativity, and it works best with a little spontaneity thrown in. Give yourself two hours a week to do whatever you want, as long as it feeds your creative flame. If you want to sit in the park and do nothing, go for it. If you want to sit at home and finger paint, do it. If you want to go to the theater and watch a movie that you’re dying to see, give yourself free reign. The key is to block off these hours as a “meeting” and treat them as such.

coffeeI meet with my creativity on Saturday and Sunday mornings before anyone else in the house is awake. Sometimes I walk to the beach and meditate, or sometimes I read or watch a movie by myself. It might seem to anyone else that I’m not doing much of anything, but as an artist I know that this time with myself is crucial to my writing work. It’s my time to imagine and dream.

By using the term “meeting” you are telling yourself and others that your writing, and your time, is important and it should be respected. People understand that most meetings are necessary, that they are scheduled for a purpose, and that the people involved are trying to achieve valuable results. When you use language that carries these inferences it gets the point across that, when you’re in a meeting, you’re focused on important work and simply unavailable.

When you finish reading this post, sit down and think about your schedule for the next week. Zero in on one hour for writing, and then nail down another couple for yourself. Circle this time in red. From now on, your creative time has a sign on it that reads: Writing Zone. No Trespassing.

From this point forward, your time to imagine and write and dream gets first priority.


Follow Lauren

Sapala, Lauren_Cropped


Twitter: @losapala

This blog post is Copyright Lauren Sapala 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without the author’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-use if it is for a commercial venture. Images used are from Open Clipart Sources and may be re-used.

Ten Lessons Learnt On Becoming An Author: Alberta’s Adventure

In the few years since I began this last adventure of mine, it occurs to me I have done nothing but learn. Here are a few lessons learnt:

1) Writing is the easy part. Really, it is.

419960_295545063834907_398500026_n2) After that comes ‘editing.’ Is a quick read through should be enough? No. Be prepared to read, re-read, put aside, read, re-read. Despair, look again, line by line, word by word, read, tinker, eliminate, add, change. Despair and begin again. When you are sure, very sure, all is well, send it off, received the proofs, be prepared to find a glaring mistake on the first page!

3) The first time I had ever tried to write a book was 20+ years ago. I ignored all advice about writing what you know. I had an idea, set it on the east coast of USA (I had never been there, and it was before Google Earth), using the Police Force as its setting. I know nothing about the police here, let alone across the pond. Still I did get some great holidays over there doing my research. That story lingered in a box in the attic as a mistake! With Ellen’s Tale, at least I was writing on a subject I have some passion for and knowledge of. It is a good piece of advice, write what you know: it is amazing what we all know.

4) This old lady was brought up with a strict understanding one sorted problems oneself. You did not seek or accept help from others. Yes, well, maybe.  Twenty years travelling the world alone I learnt the limitations of that upbringing. Sometimes one needs help. Sometimes others enjoy helping. It is no different in writing. Hours spent living in another world, speaking only to make-believe folk, is an isolating experience. What cyberspace has allowed is for all of us isolated people to make contact, and to receive advice, support and counsel. I found it scary at first but, so much generosity was offered. Ask and receive graciously, give willingly. “Writers rock” as they say.

5) The second book is harder than the first! But surely the third? Nope, no easier. Maybe as time goes on the editing becomes easier, but after the first, there are expectations. Dreadful word that. It hangs like that confounded sword, poised and ready to strike. If one is lucky and people enjoyed that first book, the sense of foreboding grows like a pernicious weed. Failure! Possibly.

6) Be prepared to have Despair come visiting. An unwelcome guest who never seems to know when to vanish. Have a deadline? “You’ll never get there,” Despair whispers. Read a fantastic book written by someone else? “Yours is rubbish,” chuckles Despair. Write a steaming love scene, a heartbreaking death scene? Despair rolls on the floor laughing at your attempts.

Sometimes one need to be firm, to be strong! To banish said Despair stamp your foot, point your finger and in ringing tones declare, “darken my door no more, you misbegotten cur.”

414ip947v1L._AA160_7) You will not be master in your own house. Characters are renown for taking matters into their own hands, if they are not satisfied with the author’s attempts. Plots have been known frequently to vanish and be replaced by changelings, who romp home with the glittering prize. Master of your novel’s fate: think on, poor deluded one.

8) Be prepared for long hours hunched over the machine, into the small hours. The deadline is a a few days hence. The manuscript polished to a shine which will blind. The hours of muttering, of sorrow when heartbreakingly beautiful words are deleted. The boredom of checking spacing and font sizes. The anguishing over which cover A or B or would a C be better? The desperation when a satisfactory blurb eludes you. All that remains is to upload to Lulu or some such site, convert to Kindle, upload to the Smashwords meatgrinder. No problem. Sure? The transition from one software to another can cause earthquakes, tsunamis or maybe just cracks in your baby. Check, check and tear your hair out.

9) There will be times, when you ache to hurl machines through windows,  howl at the new moon, chew edges of carpets and generally ‘lose the plot’. Stress points include:

  • Blank page, blank mind: this is common.
  • Computer crashes, loss of the last 10,000 words of perfection.
  • Unexpected, unwanted guests arrive, complete with chocolates and schemes of days out with you.

Most importantly:

10)  Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Finishing a book is the most amazing, addictive feeling. Your name is in print, your book is on bookshelves, in the library, on reading groups lists, It is exhilarating. There is nothing quite like it.

Holding the first ‘proper book’ in your hand is like childbirth, the pleasure and joy of it, drives all thought of pain, anguish and despair from your head and heart.

Time for a second go?


Follow Alberta Online



This blog post is Copyright Alberta Ross 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without the author’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-use if it is for a commercial venture.

Coping with a Cynical Critique, by Sandra Nikolai

Equator-1-Gallery-300x225Like any writer who wants to succeed, I spent years learning about the profession and refining my skills. I attended writers’ conferences, studied how-to books on writing and publishing, and read piles of novels in a variety of genres.

Armed with a draft of my first mystery novel, I took the next step in the process: I found a mentor through a writers’ group I’d joined. My mentor offered to review the first and last thirty pages of my novel and email her comments to me after a month’s time.

At the end of the session, her email arrived and I was eager to read it. As my eyes flew over the words, disbelief stifled enthusiasm. Her remarks were sarcastic and stung as much on screen as if she’d read them out loud in a room full of people. She proposed drastic changes to the characters, settings, and plot. She even advised me to re-write the entire story in the third person. (I’d written it in the first person.) In closing, she defended her position as a “tough editor” and hoped her comments would help me write a better book.

You’ve got to be kidding!

My next reaction was to send “Miss Sarcastic” a nasty email but I decided against it. It wasn’t worth the time or energy to respond to someone who was inconsiderate and rude. I’d just file a complaint against her on the evaluation form I had to complete and send it off to the writers’ group headquarters. And yet…

Available from Amazon Kindle

I read Miss Sarcastic’s comments again. Her mocking attitude had dealt a serious blow to my ego, but what if she was right and my story did need a revamp? After all, she had a handful of published mystery novels under her belt and had mentored other writers. I was…well…green. Surely she must know what she’s talking about. And so I conceded, knowing that the revisions to my manuscript would entail a major upheaval. In fact, the task proved a lot more difficult than writing the book in the first place and took months out of my life. After I’d finished, I put it aside. When I read it a week later, I was disheartened. It was no longer my story. The changes I’d made had sucked the life right out of it. I hated it.

Not one to accept defeat, I reviewed Miss Sarcastic’s comments again—this time from an unbiased perspective. I dug out my original manuscript and integrated the changes that I felt would benefit the story and ignored the rest. After I finished, I had to admit it was a stronger novel.

I recently heard that my mentor has abandoned her writing career. Her book sales weren’t doing well, so she accepted a job with a media firm. If anything, I owe her a modicum of gratitude. The experience inspired me to set up guidelines that I’ve since followed when reviewing critiques of my work. I’d like to share them with other writers in the hope they might find them useful too:

1. Take the time to review a critique. Let it ferment. You might interpret it differently later on.

2. Try not to take a negative critique as a personal insult but consider it with an open mind.

3. A negative critique gives you a choice: either fix the problem or ignore it. Consider how any change will affect your story. Will it strengthen or weaken it?

4. No one knows your characters or plot as well as you do. If a suggestion for a change doesn’t fit— no matter how good it might sound, don’t force it into the story.

5. Growing as a writer means heeding your inner voice or gut feelings. Trust your writer’s instincts more often. If you believe that a change will improve the story, do it. If not, move on.

Happy writing!


Meet Sandra Nikolai

Bio-234x300Sandra was raised in Montreal, Québec, and graduated from McGill University. As a young girl, she loved reading the Nancy Drew mystery series and was determined to write her own stories one day. Her career choices didn’t exactly lead her along the “yellow brick road” to writing mystery novels—though working in a bank and experiencing a string of armed robberies did ingrain terrifying memories worthy of a story!

In 2002, Sandra won an Honorable Mention in Canadian Writer’s Journal short fiction competition. She has since published a dozen short stories online and in print. False Impressions is her first mystery novel in a series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. She is currently working on Fatal Whispers, book two in the series.

Sandra is a member of Crime Writers of Canada and Capital Crime Writers.

You can catch up with Sandra at her beautiful website and blog:

This blog post is Copyright Sandra Nikolai 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without the author’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-use if it is for a commercial venture.

Make The Iron Hot By Striking: Writing Every Day

69cb8cac6f9199b4d8faaf1ce33c9479In the whirlwind of writing advice, one can always find opposing viewpoints.  There are many writers who counsel writing every day, and just as many who find such strictures confining and harmful to creativity. I am one who needs to write every day; even if what I write does nothing to advance the work, it keeps me limber and creative.

When I was young, I thought I had to have the perfect conditions in order to write; my desk had to be clear; my paper and pens just so; all the research done and documented; and a minimum of four hours blocked out. Once everything had fermented in my brain, I was ready. It took me eight months to get ready, but I wrote my master’s thesis in 72 hours.

Then my life changed.  My days of reading and studying for hours were over. I found gainful employment; I had children.  My desk was littered with crackers and crayons, my paper creased and grimy, and my precious fountain pens locked safely away.  The day job offered me respite from disorganization, but filled my day with meetings and paperwork. My writing stuttered, and stopped.  I convinced myself that I had writer’s block.

Pen on NotebookI found ways to work around my writer’s block, and in so doing realized that I did not have writer’s block but unreasonable expectations. Still I yearned for time, space, and order. It took me a while, but I realized that I did have time to write, tucked away in the corners of my day job, during the early morning hours when everyone but the dogs were asleep. I did not need hours of time to write a work in a single sitting, but could draft, improve, refine, and tweak, in small pieces of time and space.  I did not have to write in linear fashion, but could choose a part of the work that called to me; I could delve into a character’s thoughts and history in a way that might not add words to the page but added depth to the character; I could explore a personal injury in order to find the words to express a character’s pain, grief, loss, or fear; I could write to vent, complain, whine, protest, or endeavor to understand.

“Not only strike while the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking.”
Oliver Cromwell

I have known the adage of striking while the iron is hot all my life.  When I saw the above quotation two weeks ago, I was overwhelmed by how right the second part sounded to me. The platitudes of “practice makes perfect,” “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” and numerous others are founded on the notion that one must strike in order to heat the iron. It may not pertain to blacksmithing, but it explains how I write with pinpoint precision. I have used the metaphor of a mosaic to explain the way I write, and knitting as the metaphor for how I tie everything together. My need to touch the work every day, to keep it fresh and alive is expressed in the need to strike the iron. Everything extraneous to the work burns to ash and flies away in the heat of the smithy.


Each person must find what constitutes striking the iron, as it will be different for each writer. Each bit of advice must be weighed in terms of one’s own personality, personal situation, and proclivities. The only universal advice I can offer is to find what works for you, and make it a habit.  Also, realize that what works may change given differing circumstances, and make assessing how it is working a habit as well.  A new day job, a new relationship, even a new workspace, will have an impact.  Assess and adjust, then make it your own.

Elizabeth is a librarian by day, and a non-fiction and historical fiction writer by night. She has trained as a Medievalist. You can visit her web site, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

This blog post is Copyright Elizabeth Anne Mitchell 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without the author’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-use if it is for a commercial venture. The image is owned by the State Library of Australia. (Fitzpatrick, Jim, 1916- Portrait of Ernest Edwards, blacksmith of Drouin, Victoria, 1944/1945)