Friday, October 31, 2014

Brand New Feature: The Friday Five

While I have enough story ideas to last me the rest of my life—and the life of whoever inherits them someday!—finding interesting topics on which to blog continues to be a daily challenge. While I do some promotional blogs—character interviews, blurbs, and excerpts, and so on—I’ve come to the conclusion that a worthwhile blog should provide the reader something to take away and use—and that means not only ideas, food for thought, but also links.
So beginning today, The Word Place will have a new feature: a once-a-week listing of ideas with links to same. If they stir up a story, provide impetus for more research, or just fill a few minutes with interesting reading, the weekly spotlight will have fulfilled its purpose.
Let’s get started! Five ideas—so we’ll call this new feature The Friday Five!

1. says there are 7 different types of ENGLISH surnames. Which category might yours fall into?
·        Occupational
·        Descriptive characteristic
·        English place name
·        Name of an estate
·        Geographical feature
·        Patronymic, matronymic, ancestral
·        Signifying patronage
If you don’t want to plow through the entire article (though you should—it’s jam-packed with great information for writers mulling over names for their newest characters), type in your name here and see what fascinating facts come up about YOUR name!

2.      Looking for next Halloween’s short story? Try this mystery at an excavated colonial site. Seven skeletons and—you guessed it!—one is headless!
3.      And speaking of unearthed (though not unearthly) treasures, this photo essay about things hidden for 5000 years until Mother Nature revealed them with a huge storm. Hint: It would make a great setting for almost any kind of story!
4.      Unsolved mysteries—don’t you love them? Flyer Amelia Earhart disappeared 77 years ago, and curious folks have been searching for her ever since. Could this recently-discovered piece of metal provide the best clue yet?
5.      And finally—though with a caution about a rather dark theme—do the last words of condemned prisoners provide a clue to their true characters? What did Marie Antoinette say just before the executioner relieved her of her shorn head?

I’d love to know if any of these ideas worked for you! I’m archiving them on my website, so drop by from time to time to catch up.

And remember…

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The 500 Club (for Writers)

I'm delighted to share part of an article from the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine by Randy Ingermanson. Here is the generous permision he gives:

Reprint Rights

Permission is granted to use any of the articles in this e-zine in your own e-zine or web site, as long as you include the following 2-paragraph blurb with it:

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 8,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit  I've subscribed to this monthly magazine and look forward to sharing more great tips!

Now read on...
Organization: The 500 Club
Most fiction writers have a major bottleneck in their process. Not all of them, but most of them.

That bottleneck is that they don’t produce enough first-draft copy.

If you haven’t developed your skills as a novelist yet, one of the key things you must do is to write lots of first-draft copy. (And you also need to get it critiqued and you also need to read up on the theory of fiction writing.)

If you have developed your skills as a novelist, then your earnings are usually limited by how much first-draft copy you produce. (Once it exists as first-draft material, you can then get it edited, polished, and published. But until it exists, you can’t do any of that.)

So the problem to solve is this: how can you produce more first-draft material?

I have a solution to propose. It may work for you and it may not, but try it and see.

The 500 Club

I call my solution “The 500 Club”. It’s deceptively simple.

Here’s how it works:

You commit to producing 500 words of first-draft material every day for the rest of your life.

Let’s look at the key ideas here, because each of them is critical.

You commit. That means (how can I make this clear?) that you COMMIT. When you sign up for the 500 Club, you are making an absolute commitment. No excuses. No rain checks. No bad hair days. Why? Because this is for you. And you deserve total commitment.

500 words. Why “only” 500 words? Because it’s a low bar. You can write 500 words in your sleep. And once you’ve got 500 words down, you can quit for the day, but you know you won’t, you dog, you. Because you love writing, and you’re going to write another 500 or 1000 or 2000 or 5000. You will. Write the first 500 because you have to and then write as many more as you want because you just can’t help yourself.

First-draft material. It’s okay to start out the day editing what you did yesterday. I do this myself—it gets me rolling. But editing doesn’t count toward your 500 words unless you’re adding in new words. Fixing typos doesn’t count. Fixing commas doesn’t count. The only thing that counts is new words. And if you exceed 500 words today, you don’t get any “rollover words” for tomorrow. Tomorrow, you have to do 500 words of first-draft all over again.

Every day for the rest of your life. Because after your life is over, there won’t be any more days for you to write, ever again. Sorry, but there won’t. The only writing time you have left is every day for the rest of this mortal life. So use it. Don’t take off for your birthday. Don’t take off for Groundhog Day. Or Valentine’s Day. Or Christmas. Every day. That means, literally, every day. If you’re conscious and can physically type, then you write your 500 words.

Why This Works

Practically every successful novelist I know has some sort of a quota. Either a word-count quota or a time quota.

I favor a word-count quota because you can waste time browsing the web, but I defy you to find a way to waste words browsing the web. It’s not possible.

The big problem most of us have is getting started. We have this mental inertia that makes it hard to get rolling each day.

The 500 Club solves this problem because you only have to get started once. You get started on the day you sign up. After that, you’ve got a streak going. Three days. Fifty days. Seven hundred days. Nine thousand days. You don’t want to break the streak. 

Joining the 500 Club gets you in the mindset to produce copy. Once you have produced copy, you’ll have to edit it. You’ll have to sell it. You’ll have to publish it. As long as it’s good. If it’s not good, you can abandon the project. That’s totally fine, and you will certainly abandon some projects. Abandoning projects occasionally is a sign that you’re taking risks and growing as a writer.

Are You Ready to Join?

There’s nowhere to sign up. I don’t have an organization for you to join. No dues. No membership rolls. No accountability partners.

There’s just you. You make the commitment to yourself. Nobody else cares about your writing career as much as you do. 

Commit to yourself. Make this commitment: “I will write 500 words of first-draft material every day for the rest of my life, as long as I am physically able to do so.”

Then just do it. (Gack, I can’t believe I just had a Nike moment, but there you have it.)

What If You’re Not a Seat-of-the-Pants Writer?

The 500 Club seems ideal for seat-of-the-pants writers—people who can just sit down without planning anything and write.

What if you’re an outliner? What if you’re a Snowflaker?

The important point to notice is that joining the 500 Club creates a “keystone habit.” I talked about keystone habits last month in the Organizing column of this e-zine. 

A keystone habit is a habit that tends to create other habits. 

If you join the 500 Club, you are creating a keystone habit of producing first-draft material every day.

If you’re an outliner or a Snowflaker, then joining the 500 Club forces you to regularly do some planning for your work. Which is another good habit.

It also creates a growing backlog of work to be edited, which forces you to regularly edit your work. And regularly get it critiqued. And regularly study more about the craft of fiction writing. And regularly do something to market your work.

All of these are good habits that you will naturally fall into, once you start producing more first-draft material.

Enough said. If the 500 Club is for you, then you know it already. Make the commitment. Follow through.

If the 500 Club is not for you, then no harm, no foul. Ignore everything I just said. Take a moment to pity those fools who are signing up to write 500 words per day, 15000 per month, 180000 per year, for the rest of their long and productive lives. 

Whatever you decide to do, have fun!  

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Vanishing Town Square

     Watch any western on television (Gunsmoke, Big Valley, The Rifleman, Bonanza) and visit a town with a Main Street and not much more. But eventually towns began to be laid out in ‘squares’ around a courthouse (if the town was the county seat) or at least around a park, historical statue, or plaza. Then I thought about my own hometown, San Angelo, in West Texas.
     Founded in 1867 with the establishment of Fort Concho at the confluence of the North and South Concho Rivers, it was a wild and wooly place filled with saloons and other establishments not mentioned in polite company. Families tended to settle in nearby Ben Ficklin, a nice quiet place which became the county seat of Tom Green County. A two-story stone courthouse established the little settlement’s ‘authority’ over San Angelo.
     However, in August 1882, a devastating flood destroyed the town and took the lives of many of its respectable citizens. The rest, as they say, is history. San Angelo took over as the center of the area. Seven years later, the last company of soldiers occupying the fort marched away, and ‘the little town across the river’ came into its own.
     It does NOT have a town square, and so far as I can tell, it never did. There is a Main Street, but more businesses tended to build along other streets in the downtown area. Chadbourne Street divides the town into north and south, while Harris divides it into east and west. The residential areas spiral out from there. 

     Most of the smaller towns of the same age have town squares:  Sterling City, Sonora, San Saba Lampasas, Granbury—all being county seats, of course. These towns with their historic courthouses plunked right in the middle exude a certain charm. Farmers bring their produce to sell “on the square”. Festivals and celebrations mark holidays and changing seasons. People still tend to congregate to discuss the weather, politics, and anything else which comes to mind. The ambiance of community and slower living thrive—or at least, they did when I passed through these little towns in my travels. View some assorted town squares here. (The European 'plaza' is always magnificent!)
     In my husband’s hometown of Seneca SC, the ‘square’ was three-sided. The railroad track composed the fourth side, but the essence of “the square” remained. Other towns I’ve seen have the same configuration without really changing the effect of “the square”.
     So when I wrote the Penelope Series, I never envisioned Amaryllis AR, (pop. 5492) as anything but a small town with a square, nor did it occur to me to change the format for Dreamland AR where Trixie Blake plants her stubborn feet and very nearly gets swept off them by disaster rather than romance.
     Perhaps these are towns lost in time or behind the times. Or perhaps they represent the best of times. Penelope thought so, and Trixie discarded the idea of getting back to the big city in spite of intrigue and threats. And just maybe I’m a small-town girl at heart, too.

Start your visit to Amaryllis and then move on to Dreamland.
Stop for a while on your journey at Someday Is Here.

And don’t forget:

Get hooked on a good clean read!