Saturday, July 23, 2011

Shadow Swans by Laura Thomas

I never do this, but today is a day for exceptions. My cousin Laura Thomas recently published her first novel, Shadow Swans, and I just finished reading it this morning. After finishing this amazing adventure of human emotion, I feel compelled to tell others about it.

So today instead of a blog post on writing, you are getting a recommendation to read Shadow Swans (and to be clear, I will not receive any financial reward for this plug). I am not giving a full review or a synopsis. You can see those on Amazon. Here I want to focus on the writing process and craft.

Why read this book? Because as a writer, you are in a quest to learn about craft, hone your skills, defy the rules, and break new ground. Laura Thomas has succeeded in immersing the reader into the characters and the world of a New York you have never imagined. The underworld becomes alive with vivid descriptions as the characters effortlessly become people you care about and long to follow.

In short, reading a book so well crafted will help you as a writer. Learn from the methods of coloring a room with a tuned mixture of sound, sight, and smell. Relationships that are complex to all parties involved, and yet clear in their parts.

I know you will enjoy the book, but that is not the point in this blog. Use the book to take your writing to another level. Study the way voice is employed. Examine the incredible use of simile. Grow as a writer by reading great writing.

And enjoy.

Buy Shadow Swans on Kindle
Buy Shadow Swans on Nook
Buy Shadow Swans in Print

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scrivener Public Beta for Windows

If you are looking for software to help you organize your writing efforts, Scrivener is a great choice. If you are a Mac user, you may have been using this for quite a while. If you are a Windows user, you are now lucky enough to join the club.

I am not posting a full review here because I have not downloaded the software yet, but on reputation alone, I think the Public Beta is worth a test drive. If you have feedback on the product, please post comments.

Literature and Latte - Scrivener for Windows

Until next time, keep on writing.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Free Ebook Publishing - How to Publish on Smashwords

In the last few months, I have been exploring the self-publishing options in ebook format. Over time I will probably post on each of the major distribution options, but I found an interesting centralized option that I had never heard of.


First, when you publish through Smashwords, your work becomes available through the Apple iPad/iPod store, Barnes & Noble, Sony Reader Store, Kobo Store, Aldiko Store, and more. Although they do not have a direct connection to the Kindle store, they will publish your work in Kindle format where users can transfer the book to their hard drive and to the Kindle when it is plugged in via USB.

That is an incredible first step to getting your new ebook to market. This is the closest thing to one-stop ebook publishing that I have seen so far.

Second, it is FREE! No setup cost, no publishing cost, no package cost, no upload or book revision cost, and they even include a free ISBN number for your ebook.

Third, for any ebook sold through their Smashwords store, you earn 85% of the price which is the most I have seen anywhere. And for the sales that occur through the major retailers you still receive 60%.

Fourth, they have free marketing tools to help you get the word out on your ebook, which is one of the hardest parts of self-publishing in my opinion.

Fifth, if you publish two or more different author works, you can upgrade your account for free to a publisher's account to centrally manage all of your author's works, and you get your own publisher's page on their site to showcase the work as needed for new releases or circumstances like a good news cycle going along with one of your book topics.

Although I am sure I will also use some of the direct publishing through the individual ebook stores, I have a hard time finding a reason not to start with Smashwords due to the incredible return on your time investment.

Click the link to get all the details for yourself, but I'm sure you will agree this is a great ebook self-publishing option. If you find other key points that I missed, please post in the comments for others to see.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

100 Free Online Tools for Writers

Thanks to the Writing Fiction blog for posting this great list of tools.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Writing Contest Websites for 2010

Happy New Year! 2010 is upon us so it is time to start thinking about a new year of writing goals, project possibilities, and writing contests.

In my last post I listed some specific contests with detailed information about prizes and rules. In this post I want to list other websites that contain lists of writing contests, so a jumping off point for you to stroll through your options.

My advice for the new year, be intentional. Do not allow the year to just happen to you. You shape the year. Make a small list of specific goals, and if they may be difficult to complete even better. If you aim for a 300 foot drive on the green, you are much more likely to hit 250 feet.

Aim big! And remember, you will never win a contest unless you enter. Best of luck to you all.

Poets and Writers
Creative Writing Contests blog on Wordpress

Monday, January 4, 2010

yWriter5 Writing Software Review

I decided to start the year out by trying to be more organized in my writing. I have a system, but it consists of individual files for things like character summaries, plot outline, and chapter summaries. Knowing that there is software out there for writers, I decided to search and see what I could find.

After reviewing a long list of possibilities, I focused in on yWriter5. I watched the video demo and I was sold. It is feature rich, very light-weight, and FREE! And as an unpublished writer, I am a big fan of free.

I formatted my latest writing project in rtf format with chapter headings as required by yWriter5, and was able to import my whole project and have it automatically create the chapter division files.

You have options to add characters with character details, locations, items, and scenes which make up your chapters. Because of the "scene" approach, it is easy to drag scenes between chapters or rearrange them as your story fleshes out.

The reports are helpful, and you can even do a word-count report to help you stick to your writing goals.

I am really amazed at how much this free program offers, and from what I have seen so far, you are getting a top quality program.

Check it out at

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Writing Contests 2010

The new year is just around the corner. If you want to enter writing contests in 2010, start scanning the contest options and find one or more that fit you. Here's my annual summary of some contests that look promising. Good luck!


Ladder Writers Competition - Short Story competition with a prize of approx. $100.
Deadline: January, 14, 2010

The Eric Hoffer Award - Here you will find two contests.
1) A winning work of short prose will earn you $500, and you can win other honors or distinctions.
Deadline: March 31, 2010
2) Submit your independent book, which includes self-published books, and you could win $1,500.
Deadline: January 21, 2010

Career Transition Story Contest - Write a non-fiction story about your real life career change experiences and you could win $500.
Deadline: January 30, 2010

First Annual Spirit Meditation Poetry Contest - Submit your unpublished poem for a chance to win one of three prizes between $50 and $150.
Deadline: January 31, 2010

Christian Poetry Contest - You could win $3,000 in this poetry contest.
Deadline: February 28, 2010

The William Saroyan Society Contest for 1st Grade through College - Submit your short story for a chance to win up to $100 in several grade groupings.
Deadline: March, 8, 2010


American Short Fiction
- Submit a short story and you could win up to $1,000 and publication.
Deadline: January 1, 2010
Entry Fee: $20

Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize - Write a short story on the theme Apartments and Neighbors under 750 words, and you could win $1,000.
Deadline: January 10, 2010
Entry Fee: $25

Iron Horse Literary Review Competition - Submit a collection to try for a $1,000 honorarium.
Deadline: February 15, 2010
Entry Fee: $15

Limnisa Short Story Contest
- Write an original short story up to 3000 word and you could win a two week writing class in Greece or a one week vacation in an apartment in Greece.
Deadline: March 1, 2010
Entry Fee: £5.- (€6.-)

Westmoreland Poetry and Short Story Contest
- Submit unpublished short story or poems for prizes ranging from $75 to $200.
Deadline: March 15, 2010
Entry Fee: $10 - $20

Once Bitten Contests
- Here you will find a variety of poetry and other fiction contests with prizes from $150 to $5,000.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Web 1.0 vs 2.0 promotion

I thought this was an interesting reference chart that was worth sharing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Work, work, and more work

To those who read here regularly I have to apologize for the lack of recent posts. Due to four major IT transitions in the last two months, I have been working 60-70 hours per week lately, which has not allowed any room for my fun activities like writing this blog.

I hope over the next few weeks I might have time to blog some more, and to get back to my book. That is just life. The bills must be paid first.

So for now I will just encourage you to press on in your writing. Do not let anything stand in your way. When life requires you to take a temporary detour, keep your chin up and jump back in the first opportunity you get. That is what I plan to do.

So if you can write, write. And if not, hold on to your story and wait until you can.

Best of luck.\jhughthomas

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Frustrated by Real Life

I have read repeatedly that the way you know if you are a writer is how much you write. If it is in your top three to five priorities, you may be a writer. Lately the extremely long weeks at my day job (although more nights are involved these days) have been making it impossible for me to move beyond my basic family and chore obligations into my writing.

Today I am trying to break out of that rut, but I know we have an office move coming up in a week so I will probably have a long couple of weeks. In reality, I think there does come a point where you have to realize writing will always be an extreme challenge while working a full-time job. Sometimes will be harder than others, but that is the point. You will never be able to really settle into a routine because your primary obligations will change your schedule.

While I am frustrated, I am trying to be an adult and recognize that it is just something to roll with and get over. I will try to write some more today, and hope to write more this week. If it does not happen, I know I will pick it up the following week.

Does it make continuity of plot and style and flow difficult? Absolutely! That leads me back to truth of life number 87, there is a reason that not everyone writes a novel... it is hard.

So wishing you all the best of luck in your writing, while sprinkling some luck in my direction as well, I bid you farewell to go write.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Preparing Plot Archs and Character Archs

One of the most satisfying plot twists in The Empire Strikes Back is the moment when Luke and Darth Vader are finishing and intense light saber battle and Vader reveals a life altering piece of information, "I am your father."

For those of us that saw this in the theater before the information was leaked, it was a powerful moment that was emotionally jarring and instantly opened up new avenues for the plot and character development. You were left wondering what would this mean? How will Luke react? Is it true?

To me this is still one of the best examples of how a writer that plans into the future is capable of bringing more to the table than one who just writes in the moment. When you go back to the first movie, you see clues like when Uncle Owen responds to a statement that Luke has too much of his father in him by saying, "That's what I'm afraid of." I remember in the theater thinking this was an obscure thing to say but after Darth Vader's revelation, it all made sense.

I wish I could say I know how to pull this off in a magical and compelling way, but as you know, I am only learning. Here are the things that do seem important to me when approaching a story which you are sure will span over several books.

1) Write Detailed Character Sheets. This helps when you only plan to write one book with the characters, but when the story will stretch on, it is critical. The more time you spend developing these characters on paper, giving them an interesting background, the more material you have to sprinkle through the books ahead.

2) Write History Overlap Sheets. Consider this an addendum to the Character Sheets. Here you will document the ways in which the various characters have crossed paths in the past, before the beginning of your first story. These interactions will provide insight to you as the writer to explain why Judy hates Steve, or Phil is tortured when he is around Judy.

3) Write a Goals Sheet for each Character. This is from the character's perspective, and can include an old set of goals and then a newer set that changed due to some events that occurred. This gives you a clear starting point for motivations of your characters. Whenever you get stuck writing a scene with that character, go back to their goals and see if it helps you find the character's next move.

4) Write an Author's Goal Sheet for each Character. This is a guideline that you may have to scrap as your plots unfold, but it can be a useful guideline. Within each story, you want a character to make some movement as a person. It may be the realization that they will never reach their goal, or it could be the fulfillment of something unexpected. Whatever it is, if you write it down and modify it as you work on your plot, it will be a helpful reference.

5) Map the Big Pieces out for the Series of Novels. I don't know how many writers actually do this, or have the time for that matter, but I can see how good initial planning will result in a richer more fulfilling plot. If you know which pieces of character background will be revealed in which book, and which major plot points will occur and when, it can allow you the freedom to fill in the blanks knowing that you have a strong overall story map for both plot and character development.

I can only hope these steps will prove true as I work on my story and characters. If you read this blog regularly, I am sure will find out if I was right or wrong about my instincts.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Writing Contests and Some Good Blog Entries

I have been busy lately so as usual, unpaid activities like blogging take a back seat. I'll try to make up for it with some great links to great writing contests, articles, and blog entries on writing.


Halloween Writing Contest

Submit a 300 word Halloween story and if you make the top three, win a prize. Age categories from Kindergartners all the way to Adults.

Short Writing Contest

The struggling Writer points to an interesting 500 word writing contest, any genre, that must use three out of a list of ten words.

Teen Writing Contests

A great resource if you are a teen looking for some street cred as a writer.

Winter Short Story Fiction Competition

This one comes with a $15 entry fee, but you can win up to $500 for a 1000-3000 word story.

Science Fiction Writing Contest

Poetry, one act play, or short story up to 5,000 words for this contest.


How To Write Action Scenes
Nice blog post by Author James Scott Bell on writing a good action scene.

5 Excellent Writing Blogs
Enough said.

Writing That First Draft
A good reminder to just write.

How To Write A Novel In Three Months
Sound crazy? You be the judge.

How To Write A Novel
Nice detailed article on the topic.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How To Handle a Character's Thoughts

I recently received the following email question from one of the blog readers. Below is our exchange in case anyone else has the same question. As always, this is just my amateur opinion.

How do you show what a character is thinking in a novel? I don't want to write (he or she thought) every time. Can I place a character's thoughts in single quotation marks, and then place a character's words in the traditional double quotation marks?
My first reply:

All I can give you is my perspective. I think the best way is to shift seamlessly into the character's thoughts without attribution. In other words, allow the perspective to simply become closer to the character, reflecting thoughts as they happen. This can be tricky but it seems to be the best method of keeping the reader engaged. If you require a directly quoted thought, I would recommend italics followed by "he thought." I think that most often the simple method is best, just as "he said" is better than "he shouted." Writing "he thought" does not take the reader out
of the reading flow, which is the real goal. You want it to be invisible. Hope that helps some. Best of luck.
Joe Responded:
So if a character is thinking, write their thoughts in italics?

I Replied:

Here are two examples. First is one where you are communicating thoughts without attribution.

Jake walked into the room slowly, guarded. The single bulb cast shadows across the table. The smell was strong and rancid. A dead animal? Or... no, probably just an animal.

He continued through the room.

The second one uses attribution.

Jake walked into the room slowly, guarded. The single bulb cast shadows across the table. The smell was strong and rancid.

A dead animal? Jake thought. Or... no, probably just an animal.

He continued through the room.
In my opinion, the version without attribution is better. As you read the passage, you more directly get the thoughts of the character without really noticing the deepening perspective. I am not saying that I really know how to do this well, but I definitely think it is the right approach when it is done well.

I see it as creeping perspective. You may start out with simple observations, more narrative description than written from a specific perspective. Then slowly, as the emotion needs to ramp up, you make it more clear that the perspective is from the character, maybe drawing in life experiences as part of the context for the current events. Finally, you begin to slip into the thought process, the emotions, and even some specific thoughts of the character. When done properly, the reader never realizes the shift is taking place, the reading flow is not broken, and at the same time the reader is becoming more emotionally connected to the events taking place, and to the character.

Hope this helps those of you struggling with this issue. If you have other opinions, please share them will us all in the comments.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Articles, Blogs, Cover Art, and a Writing Update.

I am sorry for the delay in my post. Things have been crazy lately and I just could not find the time. Because I am starting a technical blog on SQL Server, it just means I have more to juggle, and I have not learned how to juggle yet. In addition, I just wrote my first technical article that will appear in the September 3rd newsletter from This is an exciting new avenue for me to expand my professional profile, but it once again takes more time.

I will begin with a writing update on my Novelette/Novella. I am currently at 11,689 words which means I am making some progress but not at the speed I would prefer. Anyway, I am trying to finish the first draft by the end of September so I can have it edited by the end of the year. I may not reach that goal, but I will try to have my book available in 2009.

I am pretty sure I have the title locked down as well, "Closing Gitmo," which is the first book in a series named "Within Our Borders."

At the same time, I have started to work on cover art so that hopefully by the time the book is done, the cover art will also be done. I will risk posting a first draft for feedback, so please be brutally honest if you leave feedback. Otherwise I will not be able to use your comments to make improvements.

Next time I hope to have more written words to report and some helpful tips.
Until then, let's keep on writing.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Novel Setup in and Choosing Book Size

I am making good headway on the Novelette/Novella, and as I started thinking about overall page length it led me to thinking about the book size. So I logged into and started setting up my book.

Here is a quick run down of getting started in Lulu.

1) Setup an account if you don't already have one. This part is a pretty straight forward sign up process.

2) Start a new project. You can choose paperback, hardback, or a host of other formats. In my case, I choose paperback.

3) Add the title, author name, and you can set the work as private or public. When you are just getting started and playing around, just make sure it is private. Then click to Save and Continue.

4) Choose the paper type and size. You can choose Publisher grade (only ships from the US) or Standard for the paper type. The size options are too many to list here, but all the standards are available. You also pick the binding: Perfect-bound (traditional for novels), coil-bound, or saddle-stitched. You also get a neat floating calculator in the top right of the screen that shows you the cost of your book based on your selections. You also choose black and white or color, but the black and white option does include a color cover.

Play with the combination of these features to determine the best combination of size preferences and cost. I only started checking, but also consider the ISBN option you will want. If you choose the free option of publishing with a Lulu ISBN, your print sizes are more limited. If I decide to purchase my ISBN (for $99.99), I like the Digest size (5.5" x 8.5"). Due to the print size, this allows for the least amount of paper waste and therefore the best price. For a 300 page Digest book the cost is $7.00 per book. For a 300 page Pocket book (4.25" x 6.875") the cost is $10.50 per book. Obviously that means a smaller book with less words costs more money. That is why I like Digest for a first book without an established audience.

5) Upload your file. I uploaded a Word document but you can use a PDF and I think there are more options than that.

6) Design your cover. There is a great wizard for designing a simple cover. I will probably end up designing a custom cover but it is nice to have something setup in the meantime.

You can then generate a print-ready PDF to see what your book will look like in layout. I am very impressed with the ease of setting up a book in Lulu. I'll give more details as I evaluate the different parts of Lulu.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

How and Why To Use Google Alerts

When you take off your writer's hat and put on the marketing hat, consider Google Alerts. They can be your best friend in both driving your marketing efforts and in showing you new avenues to explore.

One of the m0st difficult aspects of marketing is knowing how to reach people who might be interested in your content. Sure you can invest time in good search engine optimization, joining common interest groups on the Internet, and social networking with the right groups of people. In fact you should do all of these.

But how well is it working? Other than Google alerts, you should be monitoring your website/blog stats through a service like Google Analytics or to see where the referring traffic is coming from.

I will start with the "how" of using Google Alerts.

Go to and if you have a google account, login. If you do not have a Google account, then signup here. Once you are logged in and on the alerts page, you will see a form where you can create alerts that looks like this:

In the "Search terms:" blank, just fill in the words, phrases, or an exact website URL that you want to search for. Effectively, Alerts do the same thing that happens when you go to the Google search page and type in a search. One big difference is that if you do daily or weekly alerts, it will only include NEW results since the last time. You decide if daily or weekly works better for you. Then choose the email address to deliver to and you are done. You will begin getting alerts.

Also, just as with regular web searches, make sure you qualify your search as needed. If you want to search the exact phrase Till death do us part, you must use "Till death do us part" to do an exact phrase search.

So now that you know how, why use Google alerts?

1) Google Alerts can show you who is linking to your website/blog. Why do you care? I hope you can come up with lots of reasons, but here are a few. The person who added a link to your site did you a huge favor! They are directing traffic from their site to your site. It is good Internet manners to go to their site and post a "thank you" comment and perhaps put a link to their site on your site, if it is appropriate.

You also care because the more links there are to your site, the more your site will be optimized in the search results from Google. That is just a free bonus which requires no extra effort on your part.

2) Google Alerts can show you where you should be marketing. You can setup alerts for search phrases that people might use who would be interested in your subject matter. For example, setup a daily alert for "teenage vampire fiction" if you have a YA vampire book. Then look at all the links that come to you in your email, and click on every link. If the page seems to have users that might be interested in your fiction, leave a comment on the page if you can and include a link to your website.

You just directly marketed to your target audience. If you do this on five links a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks in the year, it will result in 1,820 unique links to your site from locations on the Internet that are part of your target market!

Seems like an easy choice to me. Hope this helps propel you from Internet anonymity to cyber-stardom.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Google Voice

I am seriously geeking out about Google's new Voice service. I signed up to be part of the early testing period and after about an hour, I am hooked and amazed.

First of all, notice at the top of the right-hand column on my Blog homepage the new "Call Me" link with a phone icon. You can type in your name and phone number, Google Voice will call your phone, and when you answer you will be connected to my voicemail (or my phone if I had it set that way). You don't even have to dial the number!

I was able to choose a phone number in my area code and to search for a phone number with a word or series of letters that I would like to appear in my phone number. The Google Voice page does a search to see if a number with that word is available and if so, it appears on the screen. I tried "hugh" and "jhthomas" but finally I found that "thom" was available, so now I can use the phone number 205-677-THOMAS, which is really just THOM but it looks better with my whole last name. Pretty cool.

You get voice mail which can convert your received messages into text and email the text of the messages to the email address of your choosing. I tested this and it works surprisingly well. You can also make outgoing calls to anywhere in the continental US for free. That's right, FREE! You just initiate the call from the website, it calls your phone, and when you pick up it connects you to the other party with no long distance charges.

I can call my phone number from any phone to check messages, to call another phone number, check Google411, or change my settings.

I would recommend getting a Google Voice account as soon as you can even if you just use it like I plan to use it, for connecting with my blog readers, fellow writers, and future fans.

On the writing front, I have almost reached 10,000 words in my Novelette so I am getting there.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Novel Writing Contest Due September 1st

If you have a novel ready to go, check out this contest.

The winning author retains all literary rights and receives a $300 honorarium upon publication.

Monday, July 20, 2009

How Story Time Can Develop Your Novel Writing Skills

Another day is coming to a close. The kids hug mom and jump in the bed ready for a night of happy dreams. After I tuck them in and kiss their heads, the familiar request spouts in unison from their mouths, "Story!" In my benevolent mood, I acquiesce to their request.

I have repeated this routine countless times. However, I have never repeated a story. Every night I make up a new story, from scratch, on the spot, as I go. Some have been engrossing and surprising, and others have fallen flat. The content is not what I want to focus on, but rather the process.

By committing to tell a story without a guideline or a starting point, I am using the "jump in and see where it leads" form of writing rather than the "outline, summarize, and then write" approach. It requires thinking quickly on your feet and using intuition and free-form creativity to get you from a beginning to an end in your story. It may seem like an innocent parental duty that people execute all around the globe, but it can be much more.

It can be a teaching ground for learning craft.

Perhaps you are strong in the outlining method of novel writing, but you struggle with bringing spontaneity to your story as you write. Telling improvised stories will stretch you to be creative, think outside the box, and not have time to worry that it does not make sense. Once you say it, you then have the obligation to make it work in the story and you will be surprised at the creative ways you make your twists and turns work.

Another good side-effect is the collection of story ideas that you produce. I have several ideas for books and short stories that have been birthed from story time with my two girls. One of them I think has real promise for a series. And there is no guarantee that I ever would have found the idea without the constraints of story time.

If you do not have kids, borrow some. I know most parents will be glad to loan them out for a while. Seriously, nieces and nephews or kids in your neighbors work just as well. Story time can happen any time of the day, not just at bed time. And if your subject matter is adult material, tell stories to your friends.

There are many ways to hone your craft that require reading, study, and intense focus. I think you deserve a break from all the hard work. Remember how to have fun with your stories, and continue learning about craft in the process.

J Hugh Thomas is a database developer and a programmer who is writing his first novel. Read his blog to see all of his writer's resources and free advice.

Article Source:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Resources and writing update

Here are some links that I found interesting over the past week. Regarding my writing, I submitted a new article to and wrote a few paragraphs in my Novelette prequel to the main novel I am writing. This was a busy week with July 4th and my oldest daughter's 13th birthday, so I did not write much, but I am getting back on the horse.

A quick read to inspire you to get started on your novel.

This is a funny and practical approach to finding an idea for your next story

A good article on 8 steps involved in writing your novel

Here is an encouraging question/answer for any young writers out there

Mighty Mur Lafferty talks about self-publishing

Here's info on a Screenplay writing contest

If you have some writing that is "contest ready" you have a couple of days to submit. This one is due July 15th.

Here's a good article on setting your rates as a freelance writer.

The next time I blog I hope to have another chunk of the story written. Until then, let's keep on writing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Choosing the Best Writing Tools

Although some writers still insist that their muse will vacate the premises unless they are writing on paper, that is not the case for most of us. We typically like the "type once" approach that a device provides. Today there are more choices than ever before. Here are a few that work for me.

Quickpad - The Quickpad is a small, keyboard sized device with a small four line LCD display window. It starts up very quickly, saves quickly, and shuts down quickly. That combined with long battery life and and light weight make this a great device for writing on the go. I have found this to be perfect for writing a first draft. The four line screen is not very helpful for editing.

Smartphone - That's right, I said smartphone. I would not recommend writing a novel on a phone-size device, but it is great for blogging, social networking, and even writing articles. Take advantage of those fifteen minutes you wait for the oil change or sit in a waiting room. I use a T-Mobile Shadow and have written more than fifty of my blog posts from the phone.

Netbook - The most popular computer devices on the market are also great for writers on the go. The small form-factor, light weight, and Wi-fi connectivity make them perfect for blogging, writing articles, social networking, and writing novel length fiction. I recommend a screen ten inches or larger, less for the screen size than for the larger keyboard which allows for comfortable typing.

Laptop/Desktop PC/MAC - Most writers today use a PC/MAC as their primary writing tool. It is my top choice for serious writing and my only choice for editing. Why mess with a good thing.

Word Processing - I still prefer MS Word over most of the competition, but I have used the free OpenOffice package and it did what I expected from a word processor. Google Docs has been my recent tool of choice which is helpful if you find yourself writing from different computers or internet enabled devices.

The bottom line is you have a lot of options. Choose wisely and you may even increase your writing productivity.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Valuable Writing Podcasts.

Every writer finds methods to continue learning about the craft and business of writing. There are blogs, ezines, books, and magazines just to name a few. I use most of these resources but today I want to focus on podcasts.

What do I learn from podcasts? I learn about the craft of writing from authors and writing professionals. I learn about how to market your work. I hear interviews with authors which teaches me what to expect when (hopefully) I am one day being interviewed. And I can learn all of this in the flexible form of audio from a podcast.

Either from your computer or on your MP3 player, you have the flexibility to listen when you have time, and even take care of other minor tasks while you listen. Here are a few of the podcasts I currently enjoy, and I welcome you to post any that you love in the comments.

A 24/7 Writer's online radio station that I recently discovered. You will find some great interviews with Author's.

The greatest combination of humor and practical guidance I have ever heard.

Mur is a great example of building a career through podcasting.

Great interview show broadcast out of Irvine, CA with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett hosting.

Valerie Connelly, a writer and publisher, hosts this interview and tips show.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Novel Writing Contests 2009

I have received some feedback on my Writing Contests post that most contests are for short fiction, not a full Novel length work. So in response, here is a post of what I could find for those who want to submit full Novels to writing contests, or at least submit from your completed novel. My list is short since most of the contests I found have already expired for 2009.

If you are aware of any more Novel contests, please post them with links in the comments for everyone to take advantage of.

If you write Christian Fiction and are a first time novelist, here is a chance to win $20,000 plus publication from the publishing house and author behind the Left Behind series, Jerry B. Jenkins and Tyndale House.

Writing Room contest:
This contest is for work between 50,000 and 125,000 words. There are a range of prizes including cash prizes maxing out at $500 and including publication through and some publicity. I would not consider this a traditional contest, but rather more of a "promoting our services" contests. You are required to publish your manuscript through if you enter this contest (you can choose the free publishing option with no frills). Read the fine print before you make a decision on this one.

A Woman's Write:
Submit the first 75 pages of your novel in this contest to win a $500 prize along with publishing aids and a letter of recommendation.

I know this requires you to write a new novel for the contest, but it is still a good contest with a high profile.

3-Day Novel:
That's correct, 3 days. This is a great contest to help you focus on writing volume and ignoring your inner editor. You may find that after producing a lot with a little time, you have some good material in the middle.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Summer Writing Contests for 2009

Here are some great writing opportunities over the summer. If you already have some stories written, or you plan to write over the summer, take advantage of writing contests to raise your profile and give you an advantage in the writing marketplace. If you have a specific type of writing that you want to submit, Google search for a contest that fits the type. Chances are there are one or more contests out there that fit the bill.

For Young Writers, K-12:

If you are a student who has what it takes, enter this contest to prove yourself to the rest of the world.
Due Date: July 31, 2009.

For High school Seniors:

You can receive a $500 college scholarship for 500 word (or less) essay.
Due Date: August 28, 2009.

For All Writers:

Write the most gripping first paragraph of a story in one of the following genres: Science Fiction, Romance, Western, Ghost Story/Gothic. " could win a prize package from Fairmont Hotels & Resorts or a Walrus prize package, and have you work published at!"
Due Date: July 31, 2009.

If you write middle-grade or young adult novels, you could win the ultimate prize, publication of your novel with Random House!
Due Date: June 30, 2009.

Writer's Digest holds a recurring contest called Your Story. Based on a writing prompt, you write a 750 word short story and the possibility of being published in Writer's Digest.
Next Due Date: July 10, 2009.

Other sites with writing contest lists:

Here is a listing of many writing contests courtesy of Barton County Poets and Writers.

Beware, most of these cost a fee to enter, but some of them are free to enter.

Sign-up for this feed and get ongoing updates on contests.

Ready to enter quickly? Here are contests with deadlines in June 2009.

I realize I have barely scratched the surface of a comprehensive list, but I hope it helps. I wish you all the best of luck in your contest submissions.

On the writing front, after a week at the beach I have written just over five thousand words in my short story. I like the way it is coming together, and I hope to finish the first draft in the next few weeks.

Until next time, let's keep on writing.
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Changing Directions... Again.

For anyone following this blog, I have been slammed with work and it does not seem to be letting up. I will blog when I can, but it may not be weekly at this point.

Regarding my "Changing Directions" title, I am in fact shifting any time I do have into a short story. I know, I should focus in, finish the novel. But don't judge so quickly.

The reason I am writing a short story is there are current events that nicely tie into the ground work for my novel. The short story I am writing is actually a lead in to the beginning of my novel. Due to the current events tie in, I decided it makes more sense to try writing this story first, polish it, and get it on the blog/website/etc as quickly as possible.

In my mind, it has the potential for free advertising and/or Google Search hits on my story that people will stumble upon. Will it really help me? Who knows. I'll find out. And of course, as always, I will let you know if it is a success or failure.

In addition, I can submit this short story for publication. If I am able to get it published, it will be another boost to my book marketing and potentially a boost to getting my novel published.

Once it is done, I will post more about it here, including where you can go and download it. I may try my first Podcast with this story as well. We'll see about that one.

Until the next time I can squeeze out a few minutes, let's keep writing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Sometimes, it is good to just look around on the Internet and learn what you can from others. That may even be how you found my blog. This week, I just want to list out some links that I found interesting or could relate to in some way. Hope they help you either emotionally or practically.

Another unpublished neophyte talking about writing.

A nice set of writing insights from novelist Marilynne Robinson.

A young person struggles with the idea of writing a novel.

A blog entry about Print-on-demand.

An interview with Cindy Wilson.

What do you do after you finish the first draft? Here's a list.

Learning the Craft: Writing a Novel

Until next time, let's keep on writing.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How To Find The Novel In Your Story.

Your finished novel will have a story, hopefully a great story, with a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is a specific point in time within your story universe and so is the end. All the scenes within your novel often only represent a small portion of the time between the beginning and end. Usually you are just including the scenes that will give the reader the most engaging and exciting experience to keep them hooked and satisfied.

So as you brainstorm before you begin writing your novel, you have ideas for the world that your story will live in and some of the history of your main characters. As you get to a plot, you may have trouble deciding where your story should really begin. This is probably one of your most important choices.

Star Wars is the perfect example to study. The beginning of this classic story throws you right into the middle of a conflict that has been raging for quite a while. You find the characters in various stages of unrest, either because they are running from trouble or trying to cause trouble. The back story fills in as the story is told, but you don't have to wait to be engaged.

Why didn't George Lucas chose to begin at the inception of the rebellion, and show how the whole thing started? Because that was not the plot story or the character story that he wanted to tell. Of course years later we finally saw in Episode III how the empire and the rebellion came about, and it was also a great story. The key is he chose the specific story out of the story universe to tell in each episode.

It may be more important to carefully choose the story in epic adventures, but I think it applies to all fiction. The key may be to just choose the combination of plot and character progression that is most interesting, usually at a point of great change.

Think about your own life. The majority is just business as usual, but maybe you had a big family tragedy that turned everything upside down, or you met "the one" and had a whirlwind romance leading to a proposal. I think you get the point.

Endings are just as important as the beginning. If you end too early in the story, the reader may feel unfulfilled. End too late in the story and the reader is bored on the last page, which is not good. Find that sweet spot where you wrap up the plot points and the emotional promises that you made throughout the middle of the story.

I know this is just an overview, but I hope it helps you identify the right part of your story to tell. Search hard enough and you just might find a gem.

J Hugh Thomas is a database developer and a programmer who is writing his first novel. Read his blog to see all of his writer's resources and free advice.

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