Writing Historically Based Books: Author Philippa Gregory

The-Other-Boleyn-Girl-by-Philippa-Gregory“Philippa Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the novel The Other Boleyn Girl which was made into a tv drama, and a major film. Now, six novels later, she is looking at the family that preceded the Tudors: the magnificent Plantaganets, a family of complex rivalries, loves, and hatreds.” Sourced from her web site, http://www.philippagregory.com

These videos are on how she researches her books and is drawn to work on the main characters. It’s a fascinating process, which I enjoyed hearing about. If you are a lover of research or historical fiction, you’ll be inspired by watching these clips.

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.

…The Traditional Publishing Empire…my part in its downfall… by Seumas Gallacher

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… over the past few years, the Richter-scale rattling of Ye Olde Traditionalist Publishing Empire has resulted from the confluence of several internet-related elements… the former, well-worn, convoluted trail from manuscript to bookstore shelves would have sat comfortably alongside the labours of Samson… each step of the authors’ obstacle course steeped in its own contrived ‘the-way-we-do-it-here’ rules… yer query letters to agents, each with distinctly unique submission regulations (even the WURD ‘submission’ has serf-like undertones)… and , if ye’re lucky, yeez get an answer within six months… let’s presume the Great God Agency smiles benevolently on yeez… yer manuscript crawls to the top of slush-pile number one, and the Agency undertakes to peddle yer wares…

next stage, the interminable round of the Princely Publishing Priories… enter slush-pile number two…notional Everests of offerings from gazillions of other quill-scrapers sit on purchasing executives’ desks… yeez win this bit of the Literary Lottery, and ye’re now a ‘house author’… done? …not on yer life… now the slalom of sub-editor, editor, proof reader, illustrator, cover page artist, marketing planners… in between, just to keep yeez from losing total interest in breathing, p’raps endless demands for re-writes… oh, what joy! (not)… comes now the Amazon Kindle Miracle… one of those wondrous ‘that’ll-never-catch-on’ fads, they said… panders only to the vanity-print brigade, they said… watch it crash and burn in a coupla months, they said… people will never switch from having a book in their hands they can touch, they said…

profileand d’yeez know what?… I was one of those stuck-in-the-mud ‘they said-ers’…this ol’ Jurassic swore never to be lulled/conned/hoodwinked into using one of those new-fangled Kindle thing-ys… fast forward to the present, and it’s all change… so what happened?… the Kindle and its cousin lookalikes came on the scene at the same time as the SOSYAL NETWURKIN, is what happened… enter Master Gallacher, stage right… the traditionalists’ staunchest supporter… now meta-morphed into a sexagenarian poster boy for the ePublishing universe…

there’s NUTHIN better than a real live example to show the doubters what yer talking about… show them me… I’m gonna claim my place in posterity for my part in the downfall of traditional publishing… I don’t want to give away too many spoilers just in case Martin Scorcese and Hollywood eventually look to do the blockbuster movie about it… but, as they say in the best court cases… the facts are straightforward enuff… the evidence is plain for all to see…

I escaped from the career-currently-considered-worse-than-serial-murderingbanking… about five years ago… and started to write the first wee crime thriller masterpiece, THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY… like all budding Lee Child-es, or that wee Rowlings lassie, I promptly sent it off to forty literary agents in London… and in perfect balance received back precisely forty rejection slips… then sumb’dy whispered the WURD, Kindle, in my ear… I knew not of what they spoke… so it was explained in monosyllables… and on to the eBook merry-go-round went the novel… at the same time, I read about another newbie self-publishing author, Rachel Abbott, who achieved 100,000 downloads with her maiden book, ONLY THE INNOCENT… she espoused taking a total business approach to the whole ten yards of writing… acknowledging that writing the stuff was merely the beginning of the enterprise… in any business yeez would expect to have a business plan, a budget, timeline targets, market and pricing strategies, and so on… now it was making sense to this refugee from the financial industry… and I dived in feet first…

the realization that the SOSYAL NETWURKIN provided the multiple access to markets was the first essential epiphany… thus began the decision-making phase about which of the many channels to WURK with… yeez can’t do all of them… so for me it was Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn… today and every day, I allocate budgeted time for each of these… developing, nurturing, and enjoying the relationships evolving constantly on there… and, most importantly, sumb’dy else outlined to me about eighteen months ago what a BLOG was… so I have one of those in the quiver, too, and lo and behold was voted Blogger of the Year last December… must be doing something right, but darned if I know what it is…

over these fabulous few years of growing from a bewildered new self-publisher, with NUTHIN in sales, I’ve grown into a bewildered not-so-new self-publisher, but the first novel, and its successor, VENGEANCE WEARS BLACK have already done 70,000+ copies… a month ago, I stuck SAVAGE PAYBACK, the third title in what’s now the Jack Calder series, onto Mama Kindle, and so far, reports are doing very nicely, thank you, nurse… the bonus throughout all of this Magical Mystery Online Tour has been the discovery of the vast, generous, global, scribblers family… my direct connections during the BUILDING THE PLATFORM of links has grown from 200 to almost 14,000, many, many of whom are in regular communication… reciprocation is a key WURD for me in that regard… try to give back as much as possible, Lads and Lassies of Blog Land… ReTweet for others… share their Facebook success stories… download some books from newcomers… and post reviews for them… honest reviews, coz any other kind are not helpful… and most of all… enjoy, enjoy, enjoy…

so, there yeez have it… when the Nobel Prizes for The Indie Mouse That Roared are being handed out in years to come, bear a thought for the part played in the early downfall of The Traditional Publishing Empire by a delusional old Scots scrivener locked away in his virtual candle-lit garret in Abu Dhabi… let them speak well of me…LUV YEEZ

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Follow Seumas

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Click to buy.

Seumas Gallacher was born in Clydeside, Govan in Glasgow and spent his formative teens in the idyllic Scottish Hebridean island of Mull. His career as a banker took him from Scotland to London for ten years and thence on a further twenty-five year global odyssey through Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines in Asia. Along the way he metamorphed into a corporate troubleshooter and problem solver. He came to the United Arab Emirates for a month in 2004 and has remained in Abu Dhabi ever since.

A late discoverer of the joys of writing, his first two novels, The Violin Man’s Legacy and Vengeance Wears Black have sold more than 70,000 copies. The third in the Jack Calder series, Savage Payback was launched in late 2013.

Click to buy.
Click to buy.

Seumas has become a strong proponent of the use of the social networking channels to reach and engage with a global readership market in the new age of self-publishing and eBooks. Seumas is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on how to develop productive online relationships. He was voted Blogger of the Year 2013.

Blog: http://seumasgallacher.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/seumasgallacher

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This article / blog post is Copyright Seumas Gallacher 2014. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Seumas’ 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 his work if it is for a commercial venture. 

Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Seumas Gallacher is the attributed Author.

Myths, Mists and Magical Tales… Arthurian, Mediaeval and Celtic Information Sources

Celtic Dreaming Image Copyright Protected
Celtic Dreaming
Image Copyright Protected

Earlier this year I started to study the history of Ireland and the Celtic people, including Wales, Scotland, Basques and the Picts. The more I studied, the more I became intrigued by the rich cultural heritage, strong characteristics of the people and their legends and beliefs. Then I found myself engrossed in Mediaeval history, castles, weapons… It’s been fun!

If you are a fantasy, paranormal, romance or historical writers, you will find a generous helping of inspiration on these pages. Please also explore the sites these pages belong to for more information.

Arthur: http://www.uiweb.uidaho.edu/student_orgs/arthurian_legend/celtic/celtic.html

Druids: http://www.celtic-twilight.com/otherworld/druidism/bonwick/index.htm

Seers: http://homepage.eircom.net/~shae/chapter16.htm

Faeries: http://www.timelessmyths.com/celtic/faeries.html

Animals: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/rac/rac17.htm  and http://www.celticheritage.co.uk/articles_animals.cfm

Nature Worship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_nature_worship

Celtic Religion: http://www.celtic-twilight.com/otherworld/celtic_religion_overview.htm

Bards: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/onbards.html

Other Worlds: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/ffcc/ffcc260.htm

The Pale: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pale

Sexual Equality: http://www.examiner.com/article/new-age-101-brief-history-of-the-celts-major-precursors-to-new-age-beliefs-part-2

Sacred Groves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_grove

War: http://www.applewarrior.com/celticwell/ejournal/beltane/warfare.htm and planned warfare: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/gafm/gafm07.htm

Cult of the Severed Head: http://www.celticheritage.co.uk/articles_headcult.cfm

Invaders: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/middle_ages/ireland_invasion_01.shtml

The Tuatha de Danaan: http://www.greatdreams.com/reptlan/Tuatha_de_Danaan.htm ;
http://www.danann.org/library/arch/irishmyth.html and

Resources on Castles

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/finefella/ Creative Commons Licence.
From http://www.flickr.com/photos/finefella/ Creative Commons Licence.

These links will will assist you in designing and writing about your own. Some of the information is introductory level. The free Project Gutenberg books should be very helpful.

What you are up against when storming a castle, thanks to Horrible Histories.

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.

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


Twitter: https://twitter.com/albertaross

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.alberta.ross

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 http://www.amazon.com/Impressions-Michael-Elliott-mystery-ebook/dp/B0086WMMZ0/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1338295012&sr=1-6

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.

Three Warning Signs When Bringing Your Own Emotions into Fiction Writing

Have you ever been working on a first draft and written down something where you had to stop and say, “Whoa! Where did that come from?”

I’m not talking about being so overly impressed with your own ability to write prose, I’m talking about moments where characters give voice to an emotion you didn’t realize you had. You’re going through a tough time financially or emotionally (or finacially AND emotionally), and out of nowhere you’re confronted with a scene where a character screams out, “I just want to be able to stop worrying about how I’m going to pay for the kids’ lunches next week!”

Suddenly, you’re staring your beleaguered emotional self in the eyes when you thought you were just taking a little time to escape into your story. How did that happen?!

Of course, we know that our emotions don’t just disappear when we turn to writing, even if we wish they would. In fact, it’s our own emotions that make our writing more powerful. Art is a living, moving thing. Without emotion, you’re just writing instruction manuals. They may serve a purpose, but they sure ain’t fun to read.

Beta-Testing Real Life

pj_in_oz from flickr I’ve recently become enamored with the works of Cory Doctorow. Mr. Doctorow is a big sci-fi fan and a techie at heart, so his sensibilities especially appeal to me. In a recent interview with Wired, Doctorow stated that he used his characters to sometimes “beta-test” ideas that he had for handling problems. If the solution seemed feasible in his fictional universe, then perhaps the idea could work in real life.

We face emotion in our writing every time we sit down at the computer, but we actually have the power to do something about the problems facing our characters. If we’re true to our stories and we take the process seriously, then we’ll have to come up with credible solutions.

I like to write big sci-fi adventures, but it would seem as if there isn’t much room to apply solutions to real life problems.

The same may be true for your writing. You may not be an Indiana Jones or a Lara Croft in your day-to-day living. You don’t live in Victorian England or the 24th century, so not all your proposed problems in your story will be relevant to your life.

But the emotions… Ah, yes, the emotions can apply. You can express your frustration, your sorrow, your joy, your child-like sense of enthusiasm. You can let those emotions flow on the page, and you can watch as they crash into the rocks of resistance. And then, you have to decide how to overcome that resistance. You can finally write the conversation you’ll have with the bully at your work or at your parent-teacher organization. You can write out honest responses to those who would doubt your dreams. You can share the depth of your sorrow with those who would just tell you to get over your hurts and ignore your past.

You can express yourself.

The Warning Signs

80415260_fba14a5e6cBefore baring your emotions to the world, you’ll want to keep in mind a few words of caution. Emotions can either derail or enrich your story, so make sure you’re getting the most out of them.

1. Keep your character’s motivation in mind when expressing emotion in your story. — Do your character’s emotions make sense, or are they just a reflection of what you’re feeling at the moment?

The problem with including personal emotion in story is that we can become too attached. We argue the emotions are “true,” so they have to stay there. Just remember, you’re writing a character. Your struggles still aren’t exactly the same, no matter how similar you are to your character.

Remember, the reader only knows about the world you present in your story. If you pull too much from your life, then you run the risk of leaving the reader without any sense of context in the life and world of the character.

2. Your emotional struggles may not be very entertaining. — Sure, your emotions are real, and you need to find a way to deal with them. Your readers may not be able to relate, or they might find the issue boring. I might struggle with coding a website for the day. I can try to convey that to my wife, but she just isn’t deeply interested. She cares about me, but the problems and, to some extent, the emotions connected don’t resonate.

Get an editor or proofreaders to help you figure out which emotions are the most important and the most resonant for your audience.

3. Watch out for the “everyone lives happily ever after.” — When we put our characters through a rigorous ordeal, rich with emotion and strife, we have to make sure that our characters earn the solution they find. As much as it would help in the storytelling process at times, tough problems rarely just “get better” all on their own. (That would make for some pretty boring stories. Right?)

We can’t make the solutions too simple for our characters after they’ve been pouring their hearts out through the course of the entire story. This may mean that your character gradually solves a problem. He or she may have to leave a situation or have a showdown with someone. Emotion means that things are building up, and there has to be some sort of release to allow emotions like peace and happiness to enter the picture.

Your Emotional Journey

Keep these warnings in mind, and your emotions can serve you in telling richer stories.
How has your experience been with tying in strong emotions to your writing? Do you feel like it got you off track? Have you ever been surprised by your emotions while writing? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

profile-michael-204x300Michael W. Roberts just finished the rough draft of his first novel and was surprised by how emotional he got over it. He works extensively in web media, and he blogs about writing, creativity, and communication on his site http://MichaelWRoberts.com

This blog post is Copyright Michael W Roberts 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 train sign photo is owned by pj_in_oz on Flickr and the electrocution sign by r000pert. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Getting to the Heart of Your Story, by Rossandra White

Jans-house-9-20-121At 49 I felt compelled to write a book. Not something I’d always wanted to do. I figured maybe it was just time to finally record all those stories about my ancestors who had been in South Africa since the 1800s, as well as my own stories about growing up in a small Zambian copper mining town; plus a two-year stint on a sisal plantation in Zimbabwe. This was before the two countries were independent, when colonial power held sway, when the bush was full of animals. And then there were all those road trips my family took to the Congo, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania. The time an elephant chased our car for over five miles, forcing my dad to reverse down an excuse for a dirt road before the elephant gave up. The time we spent in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro with a crazy Belgian who kept wild animals for film-makers’ use; as well as that episode in Kenya when the Mau Maus attacked the cattle ranch where we were staying with a family my dad had befriended along the way. I had a lot to write about. What I didn’t know was that I intuitively chose writing “to take fuller possession of the reality of my life,” to paraphrase Ted Hughes.

Mau Mau

So I started writing, most days after work and on weekends. I agree with Kurt Vonnegut who said writing made him “feel like an armless and legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” Three years later I ended up with a 500 page memoir of flashbacks. The poor volunteer reviewer from the National Writer’s Association I joined penciled these little round faces with downturned mouths in the margins, complete with dialogue: “Oh nooo, not another flashback.” The other reviews I received convinced me just how much I had to learn about writing. Starting over, I bought and read a library of how-to books and took classes; I learnt about structure, plot, conflict, pacing, and theme. I joined critique groups and re-wrote.

This time I started with an incident when I was poisoned by rebels as a six-year old in Zimbabwe and turned my messy tome into a young adult novel and sequel, with two teenage protagonists, a black boy and a white girl. The story had political and spiritual overtones, lots of action, but the white girl and her family were essentially me and my family. The black protagonist represented Africa and her people.

An interested agent told me that the story was a good one, except that it lacked a unifying purpose; I hadn’t found the heart of the story. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know how to pull it all together, how to find that elusive heart. I kept writing. Only now I began to realize that I hadn’t connected in any meaningful way to my characters. I had plumbed the depths of the story’s message and meaning, I had plot points and a climax; I had my people say words that revealed character and furthered the plot, but I didn’t know how they felt about all the conflicts they were going through, how they felt about each other – not in any meaningful way. That was because I had avoided my own feelings from the past. It was too painful. But in order to find the heart of my story I had to do so.

africaI immersed myself in the past and all those feelings I had suppressed. The white girl became more vulnerable, a little less reactive and rebellious; her mother more loving and sympathetic than my own distant mother had ever been; the father more fallible than I’d always believed my own father to be. Overall every character grew, including Africa, a country with which I’ve always had a love-hate relationship. In the end, what I managed to produce was a fully realized coming-of-age story. Both for the protagonists, but especially for me. Through the power of words, I had set down roots in time and explored my own personal myths, uncovered their purpose and grounded myself in a way I might not have been able to do otherwise.

You can follow Rossandra’s blog: “A former bushbaby’s take on writing, appreciating life and everything in between” at http://rossandrawhite.com

Rossandra lives in a Hobbit house, along with her two Staffordshire bull terriers, Fergie and Jake, where she writes about them, her life in Laguna Beach and her African past.

This blog post is Copyright Rossandra White 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 Healing Energy of Words: Writing for the Health of It

Earlier this year I discovered Diana M. Raab’s work on Twitter and asked her to write a post for this blog. I am delighted that she has been able to do it. This is an excellent post for anyone who is working through any battle in their life, whether it be emotional, spiritual or physical. You can follow Diana through Facebook, Red Room and She Writes. Her web site is here and her blog is www.dianaraab.wordpress.com.

“When life takes an unexpected turn, writing can be a beneficial form of release from stress due to either emotional or physical factors. Many published authors have used writing as a catalyst for their survival during difficult times. Some of them include: Mary Karr, Jeannette Walls, Anais Nin, Joan Didion, Tobias Wolff, D.H. Lawrence, Isabel Allende, Vivian Gornick, Kathr writers and Kathryn Harrison, Sue William Silverman, and May Sarton to name a few. For many writers, writing gives a purpose and meaning to their life.

D.H. Lawrence, for example, sat at his mother’s bedside while she was dying and wrote poems about her. He also began an early draft of Sons and Lovers, his novel which explored their complicated, loving, painful and close relationship. Marcel Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past while sick in bed with asthma. Flannery O’Connor wrote some of her best stories while dying from lupus. I wrote my first book, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to High-Risk Pregnancies back in 1983 while I was on bed rest with my eldest daughter. The book began as a journal I typed on my Smith Corona which was mounted upon a specially-designed bed table my husband built for me. After my daughter was born, I condensed the journal into a prologue and added research to create a self-help reference book for women having similar experiences. Now, more than twenty years later, the book is still in print and has helped many women cope with problem pregnancies.

In her book, Recovering, May Sarton chronicles her battles with depression and cancer. Anais Nin used her journals to write to her deranged father who left the family when she was young. In Nin’s case, her journal entries became a springboard for a four-volume collection of her journals. The memoirist, Mimi Schwartz is another writer who used her journals as a springboard. I’ve heard Mimi speak at a number of writing conferences and she shares her story of having written an essay for Lear’s Magazine about her experience with breast cancer. “Journal writing,” she says, “and the process of turning it into a public account—made all the difference for me in recovering quickly, emotionally and physically. It gave me a double set of survival goals: health and telling the story.”  As a matter of fact, her journal notes inspired her to go from being an English professor to being a narrative writer.

Writing provides an opportunity to vent both small and large issues, from  problems with your boss to the death of a parent. It takes a great deal of energy to be angry at someone; it’s much healthier to drop it, as one would a suitcase full of trash. Holding grudges is unhealthy and certainly quite heavy! Once we are able to let go, it’s easier to gravitate to the joys in life.

Journaling is a cathartic way to spill your feelings out on the page rather than on the person. My attitude is: “Direct the rage to the page.” I have a writing colleague who says, “If it hurts, write harder,” and for years those words were posted above my computer, until they simply became a part of me.

Some years ago, at an Associated Writing Conference, Dr. James Pennebaker, the author of Writing to Heal said, “Writing dissolves some of the barriers between you and others. If you write, it’s easier to communicate with others.” Pennebaker believes that there’s a certain type of writing that erupts when we’re faced with loss, death, abuse, depression and trauma. He does have one rule that he calls, “the flip out rule,” which proclaims that if you get too upset when writing, then simply stop.

Learning to open up about issues from your past and present lives does nott happen over night, but it’s all a part of the healing process. Author Louise DeSalvo, an advocate of writing for healing, began writing her own memoirs, Vertigo and Breathless as a result of coming to grips with her own pain.

Whether you’re affected by change, loss or pain, finding the time to write can be a boon to your healing process. Some people prefer to journal about their experience, while others may lean towards the fictional or poetic modalities to help them escape their own reality. Whatever your choice, once you try it, you’ll see that writing, in any form, can be healthy and empowering.”

Some reasons to journal

  • To discover yourself
  • To vent frustrations and express joys
  • To record and remember events
  • To fine one’s purpose
  • To plan for the future
  • To tap into your intuition
  • To become empowered
  • To build self-confidence
  • To allow self-expression
  • To uncover secrets, sometimes unknown to us
  • To improve communication skills
  • To improve mental health

Some journaling tips

  • Date entries
  • Don’t worry about grammar
  • Be honestly and write deeply
  • Write quickly
  • Don’t erase
  • Write for yourself

Some journaling prompts

  • Make a list of what brings a smile to your face
  • Make a list of all your accomplishments
  • Write about your morning
  • Visualize a place you love and write about it
  • What is your first memory?
  • Describe a grandparent
  • Write about books which have changed your life and why

The entire content of this post, including book covers, is Copyright Diana M. Raab 2012  The link may be shared, but the content may not be reproduced in any form in part or full, whether that be print, audio or digital, without her prior written consent. All rights reserved, world-wide. Action will be taken against offenders.

Diana Raab’s Biography

Since childhood, Diana has been fascinated with the written word. As an only child of working parents, she spent lots of time alone, which she filled with reading a great deal of books and filling the pages of many  journals. That’s how she liked to keep busy. She always expressed herself better on the page. Today, Diana is a poet, memoirist and essayist and teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. She frequently writes and lectures on the healing powers journaling and poetry.

Her award-winning poetry, essays and memoirs have appeared widely in journals and anthologies. She has two poetry collections, Dear Anais: My Life in Poems for You (Plain View Press, 2008, winner of the 2009 Next Generation Indie Award For Poetry, and My Muse Undresses Me (Pudding House, 2007) Her memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal won the 2009 Mom’s Choice Award for Adult Nonfiction and the 2008 Indie Excellence Award for Memoir.

She is currently working on her third collection of poetry. She has two forthcoming nonfiction books forthcoming, Writers and Their Notebooks (University of South Carolina Press, 2010) and Your High Risk Pregnancy: A Practical and Supportive Guide (Hunter House Publishers, 2009). This book is a newly updated version of a book originally published in the mid 1980s.