Tag Archives: writers toolbox

5 thoughts for a Zen writing experience #amwriting

Every writer is different, with a unique approach to getting their work on paper. There is no one-size-fits-all method for taking a story from an idea, a “what if” moment, to a finished piece. Each of us has to find our own way. I have found a few tricks to jar things loose, organize my ideas, and make a coherent, logical arc out of a story.

But I’m like everyone else; I can’t write creatively when life is too stressful.

ICountMyself-FriendsHowever, I can always write a blog post—which is how I keep my writing muscles in “fighting form.”

When I reach a point in a manuscript where I’ve run out of ideas, I stop forcing it. As an indie, my deadlines are self-imposed, so my production timelines aren’t as finite as a writer who is under contract. I begin a different project and come back to the other one when I am inspired.

Thus, I always have several projects underway. Even if one goes unfinished, I can relax and enjoy the act of creating something from idea to completion. My goals are for me, not for anyone else. I choose to embrace a Zen writing life.

One book I began several years ago feels like it will never be finished because I’m stalled at the halfway point. I have a vague idea of how it has to end, but now that I’m halfway there, I don’t know how to arrive at the end. The original outline just doesn’t work.

So, one goal for that novel during the rest of this year (2022) is:

  • First: Get a new outline completed, with a choreographed ending.

In January, I hope to begin the next phase:

  • Second: Write and revise the manuscript.
  • Third: Self-edit the manuscript.
  • Fourth: Have the manuscript professionally edited.
  • Finally: Have the completed edits proofread.

Nowadays, I hang on to a finished manuscript, let it sit unread for a while, and go back through it a fifth time, looking for typos and cut/paste errors. Then, if I am happy with it, I will have it professionally formatted and will publish it.

Hydrangea_cropped_July_11_2017_copyright_cjjasperson_2017 copyI’m always learning. While I love to talk about writing craft, I am a far better editor than a writer. Free-lance editing is like being a hired gardener—with a bit of work, a trim here, pulling a few weeds there, you enable an author’s creative vision to become real.

Still, I need to write, so I do.

My work doesn’t appeal to readers of action adventure. My stories are internal; the characters and the arc of their personal journeys are the central elements of their stories. While I love the action and the setting, they are only the frame within which the characters live and grow.

The real action is in their heads. I write what I want to read, and I am an odd duck when it comes to literature.

So, I know my work is written for a niche reader: me. It’s not something everyone is looking for.

In the old days, I didn’t understand that. I rushed to publish my work when it wasn’t ready. Not only that, but I marketed it to the wrong audience. Readers of action and adventure aren’t interested in slower-paced work.

With each project that I complete, whether it’s poetry, blog posts, short stories, or novels, I grow in the craft of writing. Blogging about the art of writing from a reader’s and editor’s point of view offers me the chance to discuss the areas I am working on in my own writing journey. Writing craft is something I can write about when I am stalled on my other work.


The Needles, Cannon Beach,  © Connie J. Jasperson

The first hard-earned bit of wisdom I have to share today is this: you must develop perseverance. No one will satisfy every reader, so write your stories for yourself and don’t stop trying.

The second bit is a little more challenging but is a continuation of the first point: Write something new every day, even if it is only one line. Your aptitude for writing grows in strength and skill when you exercise it daily. This is where blogging comes in for me—it’s my daily exercise. If you only have ten minutes free, use them to write whatever enters your head, stream-of-consciousness. Write a journal entry.

The third bit is a fun thing: learn the meaning of a new word every day. You don’t have to use it, but it never hurts to learn new things. Authors should have broad vocabularies.

The fourth thing: is don’t sweat the small stuff when you are just laying down the first draft. I know it’s a cliché, but it is also a truism. Let the words fall out of your head, passive phrasing and all, because the important thing is to finish the story. Don’t share that first draft with anyone you can’t unconditionally trust because it is yours and is still in its infancy stage.

The fifth thing to remember is this: every author begins as someone who wants to write but feels like an imposter. The authors who succeed in finishing a poem, a short story, or a novel are those who are brave enough to just do it. They find the time to sit down and put their ideas on paper. As time goes on, we overcome the roadblocks that life tosses at us, and we have more time for writing.


Sunset Cannon Beach 2017 © Connie J. Jasperson

Every author I know has struggled in their personal life. Car wrecks, illness, divorce, fires, and floods–things come along. During the years I was raising my children, I had three failed marriages, worked three part-time jobs, and struggled to find time to write poetry. Just when life was getting better financially, two of my children developed adult-onset epilepsy.

Over time, I have learned not to “freak out” when I get the dreaded phone call letting me know something has happened. We pull through, but each episode interferes with my adult children’s ability to do many of the activities we take for granted. I keenly feel their stress, but I let them work it out for themselves.

My stress comes from forcing myself to not be an interfering mother.

For many of us, writing is a way to make sense of the twists and turns of our human experience. It helps me process the complications in a non-threatening way. I don’t write to win awards, and I don’t expect to earn a lot. I have the choice to write and not feel guilty about the goals I don’t achieve. The story is the goal; everything else is a bonus.

Oregon Sunset Taken August 12, 2016 CJJaspersonIn real life, nothing is certain. Adversity in life forges strength and understanding of other people’s challenges. Having the opportunity to make daily notes in a journal, to write poetry, blog posts, short stories, or novels is a luxury—one I am grateful for.

If I can make it a Zen experience, all the better.

Credits and Image Attributions:

The photographic images in today’s post are the work of the author, Connie J. Jasperson. The hydrangeas are from her front garden, and the ocean images were taken at various times in Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA.


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The Author’s Toolbox #amwriting

Passive writing occurs when, as storytellers, we are separated from the moment by words that block our intimacy with the action. Beginning writers often choose stative verbs, the passive voice, and heavily depend on weak verb forms in their writing.

toolsOne step on the slippery slope of passive prose is the overuse of stative verbs. Stative verbs express a state rather than an action. 

They are “telling” words.

A few Stative Verbs as listed by Ginger Software:



appear (seem)


be (exist)


belong to

For a more comprehensive list of stative verbs, go to this article: Stative Verbs – List of Stative Verbs & Exercises | Ginger (gingersoftware.com). [1]

Let’s get real—at times, stative verbs are necessary to a balanced prose. We want a narrative that expresses the human condition, and how we feel at a given moment is often part of that story. But we must balance a little telling with far more showing.

When we are first starting in the craft, we lean heavily on subjunctives and the irrealis forms of mood words. Subjunctive verbs and all forms of the verb be are hard to spot in our own work.

Be_Eight_Forms_LIRF05122019I think the habit of using one of the eight forms of the word be is more one of nurture, not nature. When we first start out in this craft, we tend to write weak sentences. This is because we are trained as children to tell what happened.

Writers often find the words and rules we use to describe existence convoluted and hard to understand.

The subjunctive (in the English language) is used to form sentences that do not describe known objective facts. These are words noting or pertaining to a mood or mode of a verb.

In grammar, mood and mode refer to verb forms. That mood or mode depends on how the clause the verbs are contained in relates to the speaker’s or writer’s wishes, intention, or claims about reality.

These verbs may be used for subjective, doubtful, hypothetical, or grammatically subordinate statements or questions. An example is the mood of the verb ‘be’ in ‘if this be treason.’

In other words, subjunctives describe unknown intangible possibilities.

chicago guide to grammarThe whole thing looks quite complicated on the surface, but it doesn’t have to be. We must begin assembling our writers’ toolbox. One important tool is Bryan Garner’s The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing).

This is the book that will show you how to write a properly punctuated and formed sentence. It explains what a paragraph is and shows how to connect those sentences into understandable chunks of prose. The book also shows how to write and punctuate dialogue so that our work looks professional.

Soon, we have written a story and other people enjoy reading it.

In our first draft, we tell the story as if it were an event that we witnessed only a few moments before. Everything in our mind occurs in real-time, but once visualized, it becomes a memory. We tend to express our scenes and events as having a state of being, but we are looking back at them from a few moments in the future. So, the narrative is rife with they were, or it was.

We all start out writing that way, but with practice and self-education, we learn to write active prose. We begin by paying attention to our verb forms in the revision process.

I don’t have an education in journalism, yet I choose to write. Most of my friends who are authors don’t have degrees in either journalism or literature. So, if we wish to gain strength as authors, we must educate ourselves.

Learning the craft of writing is like learning the craft of carpentry. If you want to craft beautiful work, you must own the proper tools for the job and learn how to use them. My toolbox contains:

  • MS Word as my word-processing program. You may prefer a different program.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (for editing work in American English).
  • The Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation (for editing work in UK English).
  • Trusted, knowledgeable beta-readers for my own work.
  • Books on how to craft a story/novel.
  • Having my work edited by good, well-recommended editors.
  • Taking free online writing classes.
  • Regularly attending seminars (not free, but worth the money).
  • Meeting with my weekly writing group (virtual meetings).
  • Daily reading in ALL genres.
  • Attending NaNoWriMo Write-Ins (virtual meetings).

What is in your toolbox? It takes a little effort, but you can educate yourself for free if you have the internet. You can learn how to express your ideas so that other people will enjoy them.

One step is to identify the habitual overuse of the Subjunctive Mood in your writing. Cut back on subjunctives and see how your prose improves.

blphoto-Orange-ScissorsI say cut back, not eliminate. Despite the misguided efforts of many gurus and Microsoft Word to erase all forms of ‘to be’ from the English language and replace it with ‘is,’ there are times when only a subjunctive will do the job.

One of the best ways to grow in the craft is to write short stories and send them off. Sometimes they are rejected, and sometimes not. Some stories aren’t really novel material, but maybe they are novellas. Send them to publications and expect rejection because that is how it often is. I can’t tell you how many rejections I have received over the years.

The truth is, we learn more from the rejections than we do the acceptances.

Rejection happens because at first, we write with WAY too many words. But a good writing group will both teach and support you through kind but honest critiques. I find it comforting to know my fellow authors will not tell me my work is awesome if it stinks like Bubba’s socks.

WritersjourneysmallA critique group may tear your work apart, which stings a wounded ego. But we grow from this experience. We learn that opinions are subjective, and writers are thin-skinned creatures. We develop a thicker skin and muck on.

In the revision process, we write mindfully, intentionally crafting lean, powerful prose.

It takes a lot of work to rise from apprentice to journeyman to master in any craft. I don’t know if I will ever achieve that status as an author, but I will keep working and learning. And above all, I will keep reading and will never stop writing.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from Stative Verbs – List of Stative Verbs & Exercises | Ginger (gingersoftware.com) Copyright 2021 Ginger Software.


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#amwriting: compound words and hyphens

Compound words are frequently a source of grief when I receive my manuscript back from my editor. Despite my best efforts, unless I am on my toes in the writing process I habitually hyphenate words that should not be hyphenated.

Most people know that a compound word is a combination of two or more words that function as a single unit of meaning.

Most people also know that there are two types of compounds:

  • those written as single words, with no hyphenation and which are called “closed compounds”– such as the word “bedspread,”
  • “hyphenated compounds,” such as “jack-in-the-box” and “self-worth.”

But there is a third group, and they are the bane of my writing life–those mysterious, ephemeral denizens of the deepest corner of writer’s hell, called open compounds. These seemingly innocent instruments of torture are written as separate words–the nouns “school bus” and “decision making,” for example.

Fortunately, the English language has rules to guide us when deciding if it’s one word, two separate words, or a hyphenated word:  

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or, as with many psychological terms, its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary.

The American Psychological Association  style guide gives of these examples:

covert learning techniques, health care reform, day treatment program, sex role differences, grade point average

Use a hyphen in a temporary compound that is used as an adjective before a noun

Use a hyphen if the term can be misread or if the term expresses a single thought.

  • “the children resided in two parent homes” means that two homes served as residences, whereas if the children resided in “two-parent homes,” they each would live in a household headed by two parents.  In that case, a properly placed hyphen helps the reader understand the intended meaning.

We also use hyphens for compound words that fall into these categories:

  • if the base word is capitalized: pro-African
  • when writing numbers: post-1910, twenty-two
  • an abbreviation: pre-ABNA manuscript
  • more than one word: non-achievement-oriented students
  • All “self-” compounds whether they are adjectives or nouns such as self-respect, self-esteem, self-paced.

We hyphenate words that could be misunderstood when there are diverse meanings if they’re unhyphenated:

  • re-pair (to pair again) as opposed to repair (to mend)
  • re-form (to form again) as opposed to reform (to improve)

We hyphenate words in which the prefix ends, and the base word begins with the same vowel:

  • metaanalysis
  • antiintellectual

The problem is unless you are a technical writer, how often are we going to use those terms? Hence, the confusion when we DO use them.

Get It Write online says, “One way to decide if a hyphen is necessary is to see if the phrase might be ambiguous without it. For example, “large-print paper” might be unclear written as “large print paper” because the reader might combine “print” and “paper” as a single idea rather than combining “large” and “print.” Another such example is “English-language learners.” Without the hyphen, a reader might think we are talking about English people who are learning any language rather than people who are learners of the English language.”

A good rule to remember is most words formed with prefixes and suffixes are written as one word with NO hyphen.

Prefixes: Afterglow, extracurricular, multiphase, socioeconomic

Sufixes: Arachnophobia, wavelike, angiogram

When I am laying down prose in the first draft, my natural inclination when writing these words would be to hyphenate them, but that is wrong, and my editor always kindly reminds me of this.

When in doubt, it is wisest to look the word up in an online dictionary to see the various different ways it can be combined. Just go to:


What it all comes down to is this—when editing for another author I am able to see these things clearly. In my own work–it’s like my finger has a twitch that absolutely MUST add a hyphen to compound words that should remain separate, and separates words that should be joined.

This is why the editor has an editor for her own work.

Credits and Attributions:

When do you need to use a hyphen for compound words? The American Psychological Association, http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/when-use-hyphen.aspx accessd June 25, 2017

Compound Words: When to Hyphenate, Get It Write, Nancy Tuten and Gayle Swanson  http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/042703compwdshyph.htm, 2017

Parts of this post were originally posted March 4, 2014, as Hyphen Help Us, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2014-2017.


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#amwriting: Repetition

f scott fitzgerald The Great GatsbyAs it is March and is that month known as National Novel Editing Month or NaNoEdMo, I will be revisiting some of my posts on the craft of writing. Today we are looking at Repetition: Repetition can be an effective literary tool, or it can be boring, the overuse of a crutch word, or even the inadvertent repetition of an entire paragraph.

Unconsciously using the same words too often in our descriptions is one of the pitfalls of writing. It happens to all of us, and for me, it occurs most often when I am laying down the first draft. I’m hurrying and trying to get the ideas out of my head and onto the paper, and my vocabulary can’t keep up.

Many common words (the, and, etc.) don’t really stand out when used more than a few times in a paragraph, and you couldn’t write well if not for those words. However, some words will always stand out more than others, and if you use them more than once in a paragraph, it looks like you’re unimaginative or a lazy writer. This is especially true if the word in question has a lot of synonyms you could have used instead of repeating the same word. Having a good thesaurus at hand is a great help to the brain-stranded author.

Some words don’t have a lot of obvious synonyms, so you get hung up on the few you can find.  In my own work, the word sword is one of the main culprits. The type of blade my characters wield in the World of Neveyah books is a claymore, and four ensorcelled blades figure prominently in the Tower of Bones series.

Therefore, some obvious synonyms will not work as these are distinct blade types that are in no way like a broadsword.

  • Rapier
  • Epee
  • Foil

Because of this constraint, I am limited to:

  • Sword
  • Blade
  • Weapon
  • Steel (if I’m desperate, but I despise using that to reference a weapon that isn’t an epee or a rapier)

The spell-check function of your word processing program will pick many inadvertent repetitions out for you, such as “the the.” However, I recommend printing out each chapter. Then, starting on the last page, place a blank sheet of paper over your chapter, covering all but the last paragraph on the last page. This paragraph is your starting point. With a highlighter, start from the bottom and work your way up, paragraph by paragraph. Use the highlighter to mark the places you want to correct.

Once you have marked up your hardcopy, you can open your digital files, and make your revisions much more quickly, simply by looking at your notes and crossing them off as they are completed. This method saves me weeks of work when I am trying to get a manuscript submission ready.

Working with hardcopy from the bottom up, blind to what has gone before in that chapter, allows you to see the work through unbiased eyes. When you do this, you will also find places you have repeated an entire thought almost verbatim, and places you don’t like your phrasing. You may decide to change some things around.

However, sometimes we use intentional repetition:

Sometimes we want to emphasize a concept, and deliberate repetition is the way to do it. Some of the best authors use the repetition of certain key words and phrases to highlight an idea or to show the scene. This technique is an accepted rhetorical device and is commonly found in mainstream fiction. It is used to evoke an emotional response in the reader and can be exceedingly effective when done right.

Literarydevices.net says, “The beauty of using figurative language is that the pattern it arranges the words into is nothing like our ordinary speech. It is not only stylistically appealing, but it also helps convey the message in a much more engaging and notable way. The aura that is created by the usage of repetition cannot be achieved through any other device.”  (End quoted text)

Also according to literarydevices.net, repetition as a literary device can take these forms:

  • Repetition of the last word in a line or clause.
  • Repetition of words at the start of clauses or verses.
  • Repetition of words or phrases in opposite sense.
  • Repetition of words broken by some other words.
  • Repetition of same words at the end and start of a sentence.
  • Repetition of a phrase or question to stress a point.
  • Repetition of the same word at the end of each clause.
  • Repetition of an idea, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
  • Repetition of words of the same root with different endings.
  • Repetition both at the end and at the beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or scene.
  • A construction in poetry where the last word of one clause becomes the first word of the next clause. (End quoted text)

Some famous examples of repetition as a literary device:

“Every book is a quotation, and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Prose and Poetry

“About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

When an author writes it intentionally to drive home a point, repetition is an effective tool. It is when words are inadvertently used with a lack of creativity that repetition ruins a narrative.

ozford-american-writers-thesaurusConsider buying a thesaurus or make use of the many online thesauruses that are available.

I have a well-worn copy of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. This book has become just as important to me as my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. This large book of synonyms can be purchased used from Amazon, for as little as $9.99 in the hardcover form. I do recommend purchasing this as a paper book rather than an eBook. Once you see the amazing variety of words at your disposal, it’s one you will refer back to regularly.

Credits & Attributions

LiteraryDevices Editors. “Repetition” LiteraryDevices.net. 2013. https://literarydevices.net/metaphor/ (accessed March 8, 2017).

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works. Published 1904. Vol. VIII. Letters and Social Aims, VI. Quotation and Originality, Bartleby.com, accessed (March 8, 2017)

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, pub. 1925 Charles Scribner & Sons.



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What reference guide is right for what I #amwriting?

The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style_16th_editionNovember is a difficult month for me because I have a specific goal to accomplish, and I’ve set the bar high. It’s National Novel Writing Month and I have many activities involved with that. I need to add writing time to my already packed schedule, attempting to rebuild my stockpile of short fiction and essays, and am letting everything else fall by the way to do it. Trader Joe and the Microwave are providing my husband with hot meals because I have been known to forget to cook.

For my NaNoWriMo project this year I am writing a variety of short pieces, some technical essays on writing craft, some essays on life and travel, and some short fiction. I am writing for three different markets and we will get to why that distinction is important a little further on.

I’m on the road a lot, and have limited time to get my wordcount. Sometimes I get two or three pages of writing done in the 20 or 30 minutes before I have to leave the house for an appointment. There is something about the pressure of knowing I will have to quit at a certain time that forces me to be more productive than I would ordinarily be.

Why is this? When I am pressed for time I use every second to get those ideas out of my head. I don’t have the luxury of stopping to research grammar and questions of style on the good, old, time-wasting internet. Instead I refer to hardcopy reference manuals, unless I absolutely must go out to the internet to research something.

Some references have to be in hardcopy, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the most comprehensive style guide geared for writers of essays, fiction, and nonfiction. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is an acceptable beginner style guide, but the information there must be looked at with a critical eye as it is presented in an arbitrary, arrogant fashion and sometimes runs contrary to commonly accepted practice.

Instead I always recommend The Chicago Manual of Style to authors who are writing fiction they someday hope to publish, and who want to know about sentence construction. The researchers at CMOS realize that English is a living changing language, and when generally accepted practices within the publishing industry evolve, they evolve too.

Writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of occupation. There is no one style guide that will fit every purpose. Each essay and book may be meant for a different reader, and each should be written with the style that meets the expectations of the intended readers.

The Chicago Manual of Style is written specifically for writers, editors and publishers and is the publishing industry standard. All the editors at the major publishing houses own and refer back to this book when they have questions.

micosoft-manual-of-styleWhat is the best style guide for writing technical user manuals?

Are you writing for a newspaper? AP style was developed for expediency in the newspaper industry and is not suitable for novels or for business correspondence, no matter how strenuously journalism majors try to push it forward. If you are using AP style you are writing for the newspaper, not for literature. These are two widely different mediums with radically different requirements.

For business correspondence, you want to use the Gregg Reference Manual.

If you develop a passion for the words and ways in which we bend them, as I have done, you could soon find your bookshelf bowing under the weight of your reference books.

Some of my best ideas have come about under a time crunch.  Normally when I am writing on a stream-of-consciousness level, I can key about fifty words a minute, which I know is paltry compared to today’s authors who grew up keying their homework rather than writing it in cursive.

ozford-american-writers-thesaurusI do admit that just because I can key those words does not mean they will all make sense, or be worth reading. That is why we are driven to look at what we just wrote the day after we wrote it. Did it say what I meant? How many times did I use the word “sword” in that particular paragraph and where am I going to find six different alternatives for such a unique weapon? Sword? Blade? Steel? After all, an epee is not a claymore, nor is it a saber. Any reader with a small amount of knowledge will know that, so I have to be careful what synonyms I use. My characters swing a claymore-style of sword which is rarely referred to as “steel.” In literature, that term is more commonly used for epees and rapiers.

It’s a jungle in my head sometimes, and my ancient  student edition of Roget’s Thesaurus is no longer my friend. But neither is the modern, online version cutting it. I need more synonyms. Lots, and lots more! Thus I have the Oxford American Writers’ Thesaurus on my desk and I refer to it regularly. It saves time to use the hardcopy book rather than the internet because I am not so easily distracted and led down the bunny trail of “Wow! I never knew that!”

All in all, I like the way being forced to produce words in a short time helps me lay down a rough draft. But I admit, I do look forward to the end of November, when I can look back on my accomplishments and go back to my normal writing routine of wasting time on the internet researching important things like the life cycle of sand dollars. Who knew those little creatures were so intriguing?


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#amwriting: stylesheets

IBM_SelectricWriting a fictional novel is really the same as telling a whopping lie that you believe in with all your heart and keeping it straight for 80,000 words or more.

Everyone knows how lies evolve in the telling. That tendency to elaborate and embellish is the eventual downfall of even the most believable of liars.

What the writer has going for them that the average liar doesn’t is paper. We write the falsehood down on paper the way we pretend it happened. Once the fabrication is complete we have the luxury to go back and forth over it, making sure we haven’t contradicted ourselves, and then we dare the reader to believe it.

I posted a blog to this effect on November 9, 2015: 3 steps for keeping the story straight. One step that I discussed is what editors refer to as the “stylesheet.”

Bleakbourne Style SheetWhen a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a stylesheet.

The stylesheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or  keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and past every new word or name the first time they appear in the manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale.

Many people use a program call Scrivener for this and they are happy with it, but I found it didn’t mesh well with the way MY mind works, so I went back to my one-page list and hand scribbled map.

Regardless of how you create your stylesheet, I suggest you include these elements:

  • Word/Name
  • Page it first appears
  • Meaning


This is especially crucial for fantasy authors because we invent entire worlds, creating names for people, places, and creatures.

Take my own work-in-progress: it is the final volume of the Tower of Bones trilogy, and has people with names that can be spelled several ways, and when I am in the throes of writing the first draft I fling them out any old way.

Thus, a character named Linette on page one can become Lynette by page six. Kalen can become Kalin. Place names become mushy, and any word that is important or invented can evolve over the course of a manuscript.

Now I am in the final stages of making the manuscript submission-ready. I have completed a global search for every possible variant of the words on my list, and replaced the incorrect instances with the version I like best.

Valley of Mal Evol ©Connie J. Jasperson 2016Place names evolve too, so maps are essential tools when you are building a world. Places written on a map tend to be ‘engraved in stone’ so to speak. Readers will wonder where the town of Maudy is when the only town on the map at the front of the book that comes close to that name is listed as Maury.

To prevent that from happening, double check what you have written on the map, and then do a global search for every possible variant.

Just because you invented the world doesn’t mean you know it like the back of your hand. That world is constantly evolving in your mind. I have been writing in the world of Neveyah since 2009, and still I find that I frequently contradict myself, which is why the stylesheet is so important.


Filed under Fantasy, Publishing, writing

The Writers’ Toolbox: Seminars, workshops, and conferences

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

One basic tool every author needs in his/her toolbox is the Writers’ Seminar. These are workshops offered by people who have mastered certain aspects of the craft, and are your way to gain more knowledge of the craft.

They are classes, focusing on every aspect of writing, from the story arc to character development. You can also get classes in how to court agents and editors, if the traditional route is your choice, or conversely, advice on negotiating the rough seas of indie publishing. In this craft, there is never an end to the learning process.

But what if you are housebound and can’t get to a conference? Three excellent resources for an intensive online 3 part seminar are Scott Driscoll’s courses through The Writer’s Workshop ($500.00 each, plus textbook, see the website for more information. Length- and quality-wise these classes are the equivalent of a college course–where else will you get this kind of education for the cost of an average 4 day seminar?)

What about actually finding and physically attending seminars and events? That is where you will meet authors, both famous and infamous, known and not yet known.  You will meet people in the industry who will enlighten you and also help you up the ladder to success.

I love writers’ seminars, and attend every one I can afford to get to–and cost is an issue. But there are many budget-friendly seminars out there, many offered by your local library system.

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via buzzfeed

For me, it’s about being in a community of authors who are all seeking the same thing–a little more knowledge about the craft. Everyone who attends a writers’ conference, seminar or workshop is serious about the craft, and just in conversation with other attendees you can find great inspiration to help fuel your own creative muse.

How does one find these things? Google (or Bing) is your friend here:

A short list of Seminars, Workshops, and Conferences in Western Washington—check websites for the next seminars offered:

  • Hugo House ($60.00 to join-cost per event may vary)
  • PNWA Writers Conference ($65.00 to join PNWA + cost of 4-day conference–can be pricey. With early registration 2015 conference was $425.00 + the cost of room. Continental breakfasts and two dinners were included, and being vegan I brought my own food. Altogether I spent nearly $1000.00, but was able to do so in 2 chunks.)
  • Southwest Washington Writers Conference ($60.00 early registration, 1 day conference) VERY GOOD INVESTMENT!
  • Port Townsend Writers Conference (10 day conference, Tuition ranges from $150.00 for one or two classes to $900 for the full 10-days, includes room with meals==$90.00 per day–a steal!)
  • Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (costs of individual events vary, average seminar under $200.00) (Terry Persun is giving a seminar most indies could benefit from on taming the beast that is Amazon there August 22, 2015 from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm–get to it if you can!)
  • Clarion West Writers Workshop (Specializing in speculative fiction,  offering everything from seminars to a highly respected 6-week workshop for $3,800.00.  Costs vary, average one-day event $130.00)
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via buzzfeed

But what if you have little or no $$ to spare for food much less a conferences? For the love of Tolstoy, check out your local library! They are an unbelievably great, free or exceedingly low-cost resource.

For example, the Tumwater, Washington branch of the Timberland Regional Library system has several upcoming seminars offered by author and writing coach Lindsay Schopfer, at no cost to the attendee– the library has hired him as a bonus for the aspiring authors among their patrons. These seminars are not fluff–Lindsay gives good, solid, technical classes for serious authors, so if you are in this area check out the schedule and try to attend.

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

Check out your local library, and see what is available for the starving author!

Now that you know what is available in my area, check your own area and see what you can find. You will be amazed at the wide variety of good one-day conferences, multi-day events, and continuing education courses that are available. While most have some cost attached to them, the author who is determined to improve within the craft and who has little or no money can find something that will fit his budget just by doing a little research at the local library.


Filed under Publishing, writer, writing

Achieving balance

the balanced narrativeYou’ve heard the saying, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The implication is that a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence and leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don’t know.

When we are newly-hatched authors, we eagerly soak up the wisdom offered to us through writing seminars and handbooks on the craft of writing.

But if you are an avid reader, someone who reads widely and in many different genres, you can see that writing is not simply a matter of following rules.

This is especially true in regard to the many-layered concept of exposition, introducing background and necessary information into the narrative.

Sometimes there is life in a manuscript that has broken all the rules. The work shines because it’s clear that the writer had passion and it was conveyed in the written word. Life is a natural consequence of the rush of creativity and is set into the manuscript when the first words are written.

Unfortunately it is easy to murder what began as a beautiful story. Consider those writers who spend years carefully combing every spark of accidental passion out of their work, creating textbook-perfect sentences that are flat, toneless. The reader has no desire to care about the characters or their struggle.

kurt-vonnegut_quoteI’ve also known people who use “the ‘f’ word” regularly in their work  because they think it’s cutting edge, and then they have the balls to say they write like Kurt Vonnegut.

They don’t.

Blindly breaking rules without understanding them is not good writing craft. Vonnegut understood the rules, and when he broke them, he did it to inject life into his work.

He understood balance and was not afraid to use it.

You want to create a balanced narrative:

  1. Information must be delivered only as the protagonists need it.
  2. The information can never be something everyone already knows.
  3. You must offer SOME information–people appearing out of nowhere mean nothing if you do not offer an explanation for them.
  4. No one will die if you use an adjective to describe an object, once in a while.
  5. Show people by using simple, general descriptions such as handsome or dark-haired, and use their mannerisms to convey their moods–things that allow the reader to form their own idea of what the characters look like and how they are feeling. But do give the reader something to build their visualization around.
  6. Stick to simple basic speech tags like said and replied, and if the conversation has only two people, skip them sometimes for a sentence or two.

I know a few authors who are like pendulums. They have no concept of balance and leave each meeting of their writing group with the notion that they have to go all or nothing when deploying information.

Thus, if they have been told they gave too much information, they go too far and now their characters appear out of the ether, with unexplained powers and do things that make no sense.

First you have to realize that no one writes a perfect, completely flawless manuscript, not even Neil Gaiman. And then you have to decide: are you writing for the critics who might be out there, or because you love to write.

If you are not writing for the joy of writing, quit now.

Otherwise, keep writing. Only by continued practice will you develop the balance you know you need. And you don’t have to be committed to only writing novels. Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of short stories.

You can gain a handle on balance by writing short-stories and essays.

With each short-story you write, you increase your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition. This is especially true if you limit yourself to writing the occasional practice story—telling the whole story in 1000 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

  • You have a finite amount of time to tell what happened, so only the most crucial of information will fit within that space.
  • You have a limited amount of space so your characters will be limited to just the important ones.
  • There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot, or affect the outcome.
  • You will build a backlog of short stories and characters to draw on when you need a good story to enter into a contest.

Go for the gusto, and try writing flash fiction–give yourself less than 1000 words to tell a story. Or really challenge yourself–tell that story in around 100 words ( a drabble):

Drake - a drabble by cjj

Drake, © Connie J. Jasperson 2013, All Rights Reserved


Filed under Humor, Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing

Sharpening my clause

I’ve been reading a lot lately, some for editing, which is a great pleasure, and some for my own amazement, which can be a mixed bag of nuts.
So let’s talk about what it is that makes reading for pleasure not a pleasure at times:  Some authors don’t understand the basic rules of how to write coherently.  I suppose that’s not a surprise to you, but I am always shocked.
So what makes a coherent sentence? We want a subject, a verb and some words to help explain those two things. We call this a sentence.
Sentences frequently consist of clauses. Okay, they always do, but…anyway:
  1. a unit of grammatical organization next below the sentence in rank and in traditional grammar said to consist of a subject and predicate.
Well, that seems pretty simple–simply confusing, anyway.
According to About Education: A clause may be either a sentence (an independent clause) or a sentence-like construction within another sentence (a dependent or subordinate clause).
Subordinate Clause definition: A group of words that has both a subject and a verb but (unlike an independent clause) cannot stand alone as a sentence. Also known as a dependent clause. Contrast with coordinate clause.
If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
(John F. Kennedy)
Mostly I find subordinate clauses cropping up in conversation–dialogue–when I look at my own writing. These “grammatical juniors” are like any other form of seasoning in our writing and must be used consciously and sparingly. When we write with too many subordinate clauses, we separate the reader from the narrative.
If you go on a cruise that consists exclusively of drinking, dancing, and partying, I shall worry.
Well, I won’t really worry, but I shall be jealous.
In genre fiction, which is what I write, readers do not want to be held away from the story by too many words. They want to be immersed in the tale, living it with the characters. One way we do this by providing balance in how we phrase our sentences, using a variety of sentence structures. We use complex sentences, consisting of:
Fun-Fruit-Skewers-21. a simple clause 
I went to the grocery store.  (the meat of the matter)
2. a dependent clause
because I needed skewers. (technically not necessary but adds to it)
I went to the grocery store because I needed skewers.  
Who was I going to skewer? I don’t know, but I at least I had the right tool for the job.
We can set the clause off with commas:
The lake, its surface calm and black with deceptive serenity, called to me.
The lake called to me is the meat of this sentence, the clause describing it is technically not necessary, but without that clause the sentence is flat.
An excellent FREE and entertaining resource for writers who want to get a grip on clauses, commas, and all that conjunction stuff is:
You might want to check it out, it costs nothing and is really easy to understand.


Filed under Blogger, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, WordPress, writer, writing

My Writing Toolbox

xcg65LacAApparently, I think visually. Actually, I come from a family who, while we are quite verbal, all tend to think visually.

We are musicians, artists, engineers and authors. These are occupations where we create images and think in terms of a whole picture.

I recently read an article, written by Gerald Grow of the School of Journalism at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. I was intrigued by his theory on how the type of thinker we are influences the way we write. He says, “Visual thinking produces whole, patterned expressions such as maps, symbols, and pictures. Verbal activity leads to sequences such as narratives and explanations.”  He goes on to say that visual thinkers tend to write briefly-evoked scenes about one another with little connective explanation. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but it’s a good topic to ponder.

AGameOfThronesIndeed, a lot of what I read in genre fiction is written in 30-second sound-bytes, and it is because 3 generations of our society have become dependent on visual entertainment delivered in short segments–small pictures if you will. Reading is not as popular as it was, since many people think it’s much less work to watch A Game of Thrones than it is to read it.

I disagree–getting lost in a great book is not work at all! That reminds me, I should probably read that book. I own it, I started reading it in 1996, but had a hard time following the way it jumped around. I put it aside and never got back to it. But now I’m curious as to why folks are so crazy for it.


Gerald Grow also writes, “Since everything tends to happens at once and in present time to visual thinkers, they tend to choose static verbs, the passive voice, and heavily depend on forms of the verb ‘to be.’” 

When we first start out in this craft  we tend to write weak sentences. This is because we are approaching it from the point of view of the story-teller. We sit down and tell the story, and that is quite verbal when you think about it. I think it has more to do with lack of experience than how a brain visualizes, because we all seem to start out that way.

Weak narrative happens when, as story-tellers, we are separated from the moment by words that block our intimacy with the action:

wak vs strong table

Many of us do not have an education in journalism, and yet we choose to write. As we grow in the craft, if we want our work to be enjoyed by many people, we train ourselves to craft stronger sentences.

We write short stories, and send them off. Sometimes they are rejected, and sometimes not. We write longer short stories, novellas. We write novels, sometimes with WAY too many words. Our writing groups give us support and good, honest critiques. We know they will not tell us our work is awesome, if it stinks like Bubba’s socks.

They may tear it apart. But we grow from this experience. We learn that opinions are subjective, and writers are opinionated prima donnas–and we will do anything to never have that experience again.

Learning the craft of writing  is like learning the craft of carpentry–if you want to craft beautiful work, you must choose to learn what the proper tools for the job are and how to use them. My toolbox contains:

  1. MS Word
  2. The Chicago Manual of Style
  3. The Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation
  4. The Olympia Writers Co-Op
  5. NaNoWriMo Write-Ins
  6. Trusted, knowledgeable beta-readers
  7. Good, well recommended editors
  8. online writing classes
  9. regularly attending seminars
  10. reading in my genre

nano_12_new_Come_Write_In_Logo1What is in your toolbox? You might be surprised at just what you have acquired in the line of tools for advancing in this craft. Whether you are a visual thinker or a verbal thinker, you have the ability to express your ideas.

It takes a lot of work to rise from apprentice to journeyman to master in any craft. I don’t know if I will ever achieve that status as an author, but I will keep working and learning. and above all, I will keep reading.



Filed under blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, WordPress, writer, writing