Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So You Wanna Be a Freelancer: Step Two

So you’ve done your research. You’ve found a publication (or two) that you want to pitch to. But what are you going to pitch? What are you going to write about? It’s a big decision.

And the catch-22 is that you need to start writing before you start writing. You need samples before you get published. But fear not; you are a writer after all. This is the fun part!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

So You Wanna Be a Freelance Writer? Step One: Research

I’ve been a writer and an editor for over ten years. One of my “day jobs” is editor of a regional parenting magazine, and in that capacity, I see a lot of freelance submissions. They are the inspiration for this series of posts.

You see, this is the time of year when I see a sharp increase in the number of submissions that hit my inbox and desk top, usually from novice writers or those in search of a career change.

An impending new year is a compelling motivator, isn’t it?

If you’re considering starting or expanding your own freelance writing career, these tips are for you. This is the first in a series of six planned posts that is the equivalent of a couch-to-5K plan for writing.

So shall we begin?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Making Time for SOMETHING NEW: guest post by author Malena Lott

Today we have a special treat on the blog! Malena Lott, founder and executive editor at Buzz Books and author of new release, Something New, which she discusses with us here. Welcome, Malena!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: The Subversive Copy Editor

I'm an editor. I love to edit. But what qualifies me?
A love of words and language? Sometimes.
A certain level of skill? Certainly.
The fact of editing? That, probably more than anything.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mari edits ... and sometimes writes

I have always wanted to be a writer.

An editor? Well, not so much.

But I became an editor in the course of events of my life, as such things will happen, and it's been a good fit.

But I never gave up on writing.

Because writing is something you can never give up on.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Castle & Quill: Preparing Your Novel

Have you been planning and plotting and preparing to write your novel? Does November and NaNoWriMo loom large on the horizon?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


... As I ask a few more questions, it emerges that he hasn't actually written it yet. ... "That's the challenge, isn't it? ... actually knuckling down and getting the thing on paper ..."
-- from Alys, Always, by Harriet Lane
This passage struck me. Because it's true, isn't it? That's the hardest part about being a writer, the actual writing. I mean, aside from the editing. And the generating of all the fantastic ideas. The commitment of sitting down and getting on with it already.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Choose your shoes wisely

I've been dabbling in many different writing and editing projects these last few months since I last posted here, projects that have taken my time and energy, my concentration and my free time. Unfortunately, that has left this blog bereft of posts. And that matters. Because a blog is not really an effective blog if it lacks in posts. Posts are what bring the readers--not the cute background or the snappily-worded bio.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Once upon a time, I attended a conference for writers. At said conference, I made new friends, found fresh voices, reconnected with friends from years past, bought some books and heard some speakers.

One particular speaker stood out, but not for her great speaking ability; for her craziness. As a result of this craziness, witnessed by myself and my new friend Heather, it's become something of an inside joke.

Fast forward to this month, when there is another conference for writers but this time, I'm on the speaking agenda.

And I got a little nervous.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Follow that Dog

People watching is good, clean fun--and good practice for a writer.

Say you're at the park with the kids. It's a new park downtown, with plenty of room and green spaces and seating and art. There are all sorts of people around, both with and without kids.

Two old men sit on a bench, angled away from one another... Three teen girls lay in the grass with their heads together, legs splayed out like spokes in a wheel, their hands in the air as they emphatically make their points... A young couple chases after a toddler who runs through the columns of an interactive fountain, squealing with delight... A dog wanders down the path, stopping to sniff at random bushes, carefully chosen.

That's what you see when you look. But don't just look; use this bucolic scene as a writing exercise.
Two old men sit on a bench, angled away from one another (what does their body language tell you? What can you hear in what is unsaid?)... Three teen girls lay in the grass with their heads together, legs splayed out like spokes in a wheel, their hands in the air as they emphatically make their points (what plan are they hatching?)... A young couple chases after a toddler who runs through the columns of an interactive fountain, squealing with delight (Are they happy? Is that their child? Does he have a brother or sister?) ... A dog wanders down the path, stopping to sniff at random bushes, carefully chosen (Where is that dog going?).
I challenge you to follow the dog. Look beyond what you're seeing and develop subtext. Every person has an interesting story. Every person will surprise you with a true tale of their own antics, but what stories can you create when you look around?

Give them story lines filled with the stuff your own writing is made of--conflict, mystery, intrigue, romance, pain, compassion, redemption--you never know where that dog will take you.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: The Describer's Dictionary

We're creatures of habits, aren't we? Not just humans, but writers. When editing (myself or someone else), it's funny how often specific words or turns of phrase are used. When we're writing, we probably don't even recognize that they're coming, but when reading these frequently dropped words & phrases become speed bumps. Use the same words often enough and you'll catch yourself recognizing them. And if you're like me, you then turn it into a game to see how many you can find (take a shot next time you read [insert overused word or phrase here]!

And sometimes, all the Roget's Thesauruses (Thesaurusi?) aren't enough.

Enter David Grambs' The Describer's Dictionary. Whether you want to take your writing from the mundane to the literary or you're just trying to find the right word to describe a dart-shaped thing (belemnoid--but I might not use that. That's an obscure one) or a better way to say "walking aimlessly" (rambling, waddling, roving), possibly with duck-like short steps (waddling), both of which may be found in the "Walk (Gait) and Carriage" section.

I will give you fair warning, however; each section, along with a wealth of word choices, comes with excerpts from literary works that expound on that particular topic. So a quick minute to find a word may turn into a languished hour spent reading literary excerpts.

The Describer's Dictionary is available in digital and physical formats at your favorite bookseller.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


"What a good book this is going to be!" I thought. The cover was compelling; the blurb intriguing. I picked it up without a second's hesitation. But then I began reading... and just a few short chapters into the narrative I was absolutely lost. Characters were behaving as though I knew them already. It was as if I had amnesia and was waking up in a world where everything was happening but I didn't have a clue as to the context.

This wasn't a stylistic, literary choice by the writer, however; what I didn't know when I picked it up was that the book was a sequel, and not having read the first book of the series, there was an irreparable disconnect in the narrative. I felt alienated from the story and not encouraged to seek out the previous title to gain clarity on the storyline--instead it left me feeling ambivalent about this story that I had been so excited to dip into.

This book suffered from vague references to past events that greatly informed the current plot points, but the references were structured in such a way that I was made to feel like I wasn't in on some inside story that was happening. I got mad at the writer. I wondered why did the author want to alienate the reader like that?

Back up a few weeks before I picked up that title, when at a writer's conference I attended a session where the speaker encouraged us to write each book as a stand-alone product, even if it is a sequel or part of a series. I didn't really connect to what she was telling us, until I found this book that lacked that thread that held the narrative together.

But along with the title I mention above, where the narrative is not connected and I felt lost, I've also read books on the other end of the spectrum, where there is so much space and attention given to touching on events in the earlier book(s). It's an equally distracting mistake to make. Happily, the vast majority of series I've read have handled the parsing of information carefully and respectfully for the reader. And I've learned to appreciate the attention to detail that this requires.

It would seem that writing sequels is easy; you are, after all, tapping into characters that you've exercised before and it might be easier to get into their storylines. But sequels must be carefully handled; if you are revisiting your characters, you have a duty to carefully straddle that line between readers old and new. You must be careful not to provide too much of the previous story so as not to turn off your devoted readers while at the same time including enough information so that your new readers connect to your material while also being drawn to your previous stories.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: 250 Things You Should Know About Writing

250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig is a great writing book. Eleven chapters that concisely cover the many aspects of writing in 250 (275?) easy-to-digest little nuggets.

But yeah; it's more.

Wendig is smart about the business of writing and he doesn't pull punches, which is why this is a great book and why it might not be for everyone. He uses a year's worth of profanity and vulgarities. And I adore him.

Maybe it's my military background, but I respond to the drill sergeant archetype. He motivates me to want to excel when I try new things. Of course, after I try them, I want to be coddled and provided with the appropriate "atta girl!" affirmations of adoration, but while I'm struggling to succeed, I crave the grit.

This book is available in many formats, I picked it up on Kindle for a steal (99 cents!). If you're thinking mayhaps your writing could use a swift kick in the teeth, I suggest you check it out. Also, visit Wendig's website.

It's definitely not for everyone. If you're offended by swearing, off-color remarks, questionable metaphors or the like, perhaps you should consider another career choice as there is much of that throughout this business. Kidding! If you don't like a gritty approach, this isn't for you, but if you don't mind it or enjoy it then drop the buck and pick this up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


What drives a taut scene? The pacing, the characters, the story, to be sure; but also brevity.

Saying the most you can say, creating the greatest impact with the fewest number of words.

Possibly the most important lesson I have learned as a writer and editor is what to leave out. From the completely unnecessary to the verbal crutches that I lean on (we all have those; want proof? Review your work and discover the unnecessary words that pop up like little tufts of crabgrass, doing nothing to further your story save mar the white space), my own writing--and the works I edit--often benefit greatly when these speedbumps are removed.

Flowery, exaggerated, literary description has its place; but practice the art of brevity to hone your skills.

Famously, Ernest Hemingway was given the brevity challenge, asked to write a six-word story; his powerful response:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
A master class in brevity can be found in that short sentence, which creates a textured story in the imagination of the reader. Visit for more concise gems.

Practice writing a scene with different word counts, especially if it's a scene that is giving you fits. If your scene is 1,000 words, try for 700 or 500; note the difference in tone and expression that you achieve with something as simple as word count and editing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: On Writing

The first book on the art & craft of writing that I ever read was Stephen King's On Writing. I know not everyone is a fan of King, but if you ask me? He's a masterful writer. He develops these alternate worlds that require you to completely suspend your own reality. It should be said that these worlds do not often translate well when spilled outside of the confines of the imagination and page; some of King's books defy description, much less adaptation to the screen. But as one of the most recognizable names in fiction, I think he's a great place to begin.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hello, world

Hi, my name is Mari. And I'm a writer/editor.
[Hi, Mari]
Okay, so this is my new blog where I'm going to talk about the stuff I do for money--get your mind out of the gutter!

I'm talking reading and writing.