Sunday, November 27, 2016

Writing a book in a month (or two)

Recently I read the book, Write-A-Thon: write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it) by Rochelle Melander. This book gives detailed suggestions for writing a novel in 28 days.

Since it was almost November and I was planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month, (nanowrimo) I thought this would be good preparation.

Melander refers quite often to Nanowrimo, but she gives hints that should help you complete a basic novel in less than a month. Amazing! Remember though, that this does not include the editing and rewriting after the month. She gives tips, exercises and inspirational quotes.

Much of the information is similar to books such as No Plot? No Problem! The low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days by Nanowrimo founder Cris Baty; Book In a Month, a foolproof system for writing a novel in 30 days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and The Extreme Novelist, the no-time-to-write method for drafting your novel in 8 weeks by Kathryn Johnson.

Product DetailsMelander stresses planning your novel ahead of time and knowing what genre you want to write in. Each genre has its own set of conventions.

“Knowing the genre you are writing for can help you structure and write your book,” she writes. ““What do you love or hate about books you read?”

She recommends keeping a story bible, such as that used with screenwriting. It holds notes on all the planning for the novel, so it is easy to find what you need. Organization is necessary if you want to finish in a short amt of time.

To get ideas, start with what you know. This is advice that we have heard for years, but it is important to consider your experience, knowledge, training, hobbies, interests and possibly family secrets.

What do you wonder about: People, places, issues, events, facts and idea or everything? Do you prefer true stories or fiction? Other questions you should be thinking about include: What If? If only? Why? Why not? Wouldn’t it be interesting if….?

Remember, your characters must want something, have a unique point of view and they should change. You can portray them through description, self-portrait, appearance, actions, behavior, their habits, reactions of other people to them. You can reveal more through dialog and thoughts.

Decide where you are going to set your story. Setting provides the where and when of the action. It also creates atmosphere and mood, supports plot, and reveals character. Setting also can function as a character.

She recommends having some sort of outline. Details give you a road map for writing. Having a skeleton provides the broad strokes of plot. Before starting the month, consider: What am I writing about? Who am I writing for? Why am I writing this book?

This Write-a-thon book also includes information about planning for your non-fiction book. Many non-fiction works have less than 50,000 words, such as memoirs, How To books, essays, lists and quote books and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff books.

She recommends keeping a project binder to help stay organized. You want as much information at hand as possible.

Again think about who you are writing for, why you are writing this book and what you are writing about. What are you passionate about? What keeps you up at night? What do you know about? Once you discover your passion, find your purpose. You have something to say. You have a unique point of view. You need credibility which you can increase by blogging, teaching, building a better platform and more. (read the book)

Design your book structure. An outline can help. Think of it like building a house, with plans for the foundation and framing.  Design your marathon schedule and prepare your environment, including clearing your work space.

Melander said it helps to monitor yourself. Since I am participating in Nanowrimo, I have been doing that and now that I have more than 45,000 words, I am encouraged and am determined that I will complete the 50,000 word challenge.

For more information about the other books I mentioned check out my blogs of October 21, 2015 and October 2013 and January 2015.

Melander quotes Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” That is good advice for writing a book and a blog, so I will end here.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Devens, Dobson and Fall recap

In October, I wrote three different blogs and now have a little more to say about each of them.

I mentioned Autumn Glory in the blog about Fall. Happily, I was able to go to Garrett County with my daughter, grandson, son-in-law and his parents for that weekend. We rented a house on Deep Creek Lake, so were able to enjoy the changing fall colors, the peacefulness of the lake (off-season) and the festival activities in Oakland.

My daughter and I enjoyed returning to Dottie’s CafĂ© in Englanders, Our Town Theatre, Traders’ Coffee Shop, and many other past favorites of ours. Everyone watched the parade. My five-month-old grandson loved seeing and hearing the old putt putt tractors.

Garrett County, Maryland’s fall foliage has been drawing visitors to the area for years, especially for the Autumn Glory Festival. I have been to that event numerous times and am never bored. The entire weekend includes musical entertainment, plays, quilt and antique shows, and turkey dinners. There is something for everyone in the small town of Oakland and surrounding areas. Maybe in the future, my grandson will be able to take part in the Sundae Ice Cream Eating Contest. I love the Creamery’s ice cream and you can get to it by boat, as well as by car.


Recently I read Barefoot Beach by Toby Devens, Penquin Random House author, and really enjoyed it.  She mentioned “A writer is a witness to the world,” and she showed how to portray some of that in this book through the different people and situations.

Details, such as Old Bay seasoning and seagrass, took me back to wonderful times in Ocean City. Besides the wonderful stories about the lives of these three friends, it was interesting to learn a little more about therapeutic dancing, prosthetics, and turkish food an customs.

You can find out more about her at her website:


Author Sharon Dobson spoke about National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). Writers try to write an average of 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 by the end of the month.

Writers can prepare for Nanowrimo ahead of time by deciding on their story, making an outline and a timeline, but they don’t start writing until the first of November 1. At least I have made it more than half way there so far, but I need to keep those fingers moving faster if I am going to succeed in meeting the 50,000 goal.

Write-ins are held at various times and places during the month, such as libraries and coffee shops. I had my largest word count from the write-in at the Taneytown Library. I am heading for another one now.

The weather is about to turn cooler, so enjoy the fresh, crisp air and what remains of the colorful trees and flowers. Thanksgiving is coming so think of the people and things you are thankful for. I am thankful for many things, including the opportunities I have to write and for those who read what I have written. Thank you.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Use What You Know

Author Sharon Dobson spoke about National Novel Writing Month and writing about what you know at the October meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association.
Sharon used Hershey kisses to illustrate how writers can take a thought and a brief sentence and build on it to create a story.

She gave us a six word sentence. Then used information about how Milton Hershey built his business and about his world-famous candy kisses (which she distributed to entice us more into the story. Yum) and increased it to 130 words and enhanced her story.
Added information helps draw readers into your story, she said. You want to give them something more than quick details.

Using methods like this can help those writers who participate in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) which is in November. Writers try to write an average of 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 by the end of the month.

Writers can prepare for Nanowrimo ahead of time by deciding on their story, making an outline and a timeline, but shouldn’t start writing. Actual writing of the novel has to start on November 1 and end by November 30.

Sharon said she would encourage writers to participate in Nanowrimo and recommended using methods such as above to expand sentences. Think of connections, she said. When you are painting a picture with words, you need more.
Use day to day experiences. Tell your reader about the blade of grass that you know and feel it under their feet. Have them eat with you. Smell and taste the food.

Develop a personality for your characters. Search for the human aspect of each story and scene. Write in people you know, but first ask them if you can use them.
Don’t edit while you write during Nanowrimo, she said. Just get the words down. The first draft is always bad. Editing comes later, but writing so quickly during November will give you a good start to your novel.

Do the best that you can and have a critique group of someone else read your story, comment on it and then make any last minute changes you feel are necessary before publishing.
“When you push that button to print, you open yourself up to criticism,” she said. “Don’t sweat it.”

Sharon was raised between Monkton, Maryland and Chincoteague, Virginia. She uses details from those locations in her books. Each book addresses a social problem, she said.
Her first novel was Murder at Swan Cove. The fictional murders in this book revolved around child sexual abuse.

The idea for another book, Witness to War, was based on stories her great grandmother used to tell. “I am sorry we caused the Civil War,” Sharon remembered her great grandmother saying.
Years later she discovered that was at least partially true. It started when an escaped slave fled north to Pennsylvania in 1881.That action led to Pennsylvania’s Fugitive Slave Act.
You will have to read her book or do some research to learn more. The social problem in Witness to War is mental illness.

Her newest book, Middle Plantation, will be coming out soon. The social problem in this book is connectiveness and the difficulty of getting unconnected.
You can find more information about Sharon’s books through Goodreads and Facebook. Also, if you are interested in National Novel Writing Month, check out

Friday, October 7, 2016

Autumn Inspiration

Temperatures have dropped, leaves are turning, pumpkin pie and apple cider are on the menu. It is Fall.
Opportunities abound to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and festivals.

I love Westminster’s Fall Fest, the Eldersburg Apple Festival and the Carroll County Farm Museum’s Fall Harvest Days, as well as others. One of my favorites is the Autumn Glory Festival.

Garrett County, Maryland’s fall foliage has been drawing visitors to the area for more than 50 years. I have been to that event numerous times and am never bored.
For locals the festival starts on Wednesday night with a Chamber of Commerce dinner. Other activities begin on Thursday. Chief among these is the Firemen’s parade and Octoberfest in downtown Oakland.

The entire weekend includes musical entertainment, plays, quilt, craft and antique shows, art exhibits, yard sales and turkey dinners. There is something for everyone in this small town of Oakland and surrounding areas.
Saturday afternoon there is another large parade with area marching bands and creative floats. My children marched in this parade carrying wooden leaves to emphasize the autumn theme.

You can enjoy the beauty of Maryland’s mountains and Deep Creek Lake while in the area.

Nearby are other festivals in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I particularly like the Kingwood, WV Buckwheat Festival. Lots of fun and lots of buckwheat cakes in those wild, wonderful WV mountains.
Friends and family enjoy fall’s corn mazes, pumpkin chuckin and apple dumplings .

If you want to recommend other fall festivals in the surrounding area, please do. I always like to explore.

Below are a few poems I wrote while I lived in the mountains.

(These and others can be found in my chapbook Mountain Musings, available on

by Jo Donaldson

The streets are empty now,
waiting for the rhythm of the marching bands.
The sidewalks soon will have little room
where anyone can stand.

The merchants busily arrange
their seasonal wares,
While the trees flame briefly.
before winter strips them bare.

Jo Donaldson

The mountains are on fire, autumn's fire.
The trees flame with color.
They burn into my soul,
Scorching me with their beauty.


when winter's barren landscape follows,
with snow to soften, or ice to reflect,
that flame will still burn.
Autumn's fire, branded on my memory.

Autumn’s Glory!

By Jo Donaldson

A brilliant flash of color
 before the barren landscape of year’s end.
  Reds, golds, yellow, oranges,
    among the brown and still green garments of mountain life.
     an extravagant coat to catch and please the eye.

The mountain dresses in her finest
  to dance in the cold autumn breezes,
    before winter snow and ice blankets her,
       bidding her  sleep until Spring.


Friday, September 30, 2016

Toby Devens research

“A writer is a witness to the world,” said Toby Devens, Penquin Random House author, at a recent meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers Association. “We see connections.”
Speaking about reseach, she mentioned details, such as Old Bay seasoning and seagrass, early in the story to set the mood for her newest book, Barefoot Beach, which was just released this spring.

The book is about women finding themselves, the immigrant experience, and friendship.

Editors and agents like to see books that are well researched and offer one or two interesting new insights, but facts must be authentic to the genre. Readers are willing to suspend belief (especially with science fiction and fantasy), but incorrect facts in any genre, can stop a reader cold.
When writing, you can weave what you learned from your research into your story.  For one of her books, she talked to a gynecologist about details and then attended a surgery, so details in the book were authentic. Readers must be able to trust what is in the story, but it may take a lot of research.
To Toby, research is fun, an adventure.

I agree, to a point. I love to learn new things and meet new people. That is what I liked about being a reporter. I made sure my facts where correct and tried to give my readers description and emotion. I don’t think I like research as much as Toby, but do find it fun if the subject is interesting and necessary to the story.

Back to Toby’s recommendations, details make a story more interesting, but not too many. You don’t want to stop the eye of the reader. If adding facts, that add texture to the story, make sure they are correct. even the smallest error can cost you credibility.
For a book that included Korean/Americans, she read blogs and spoke to people to get the accent, words and traditions are correct.

One fan wrote and told how much she enjoyed the book and so did her mother.  But her mother said that it included too much insider information for the author not to be Korean. They both loved all the specifics about Baltimore.
You need to make an emotional connection with the reader, she said. A book may be fiction, but first, it must be authentic and accurate.

However, be careful your book isn’t too realistic. When using details, remember a little goes a long way. Too many can distract your reader from the story or make you look like a show off.
“You are casting a spell,” Toby said, “making a compact with the reader. You want to get it right.”
Her book, Happy Any Day Now, was selected as a New American Library Accent Novel.

Toby was busy this summer promoting her Barefoot Beach, but is already working on her next book.

She also recommended being part of a critique group. Such a group can be helpful, but make sure your group members are supportive of each other. She has been in her critique group for the past 35 years. There are still 11 or 12 active members.

Don’t be unkind,” she said of critiquing the work of others, “but tell what you think is true about the piece.”

“People inspire me,” Toby said. “Usually they are happy to talk to you and help you.” She also likes to help other writers. If you get an opportunity to hear her, take advantage of it. She shared a lot more information than I presented here.

You can find out more about her at her website: .

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pastor writes what he knows

Two pieces of advice writers always receive are:
1) write what you know

2) write about what excites you, what you are passionate about.
The Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association recently hosted John Clark Mayden Jr., a new writer who is following both pieces of advice. He is the author of three spiritual books, including his most recent Breaking the Barriers: Keys to Unlocking Inner Peace.

 Rev. Mayden discussed what you can do after your book is published. First you must determine your goals, the aim of your book and your plans for the book, His goal was to offer strategies that can help people overcome despair and depression.
Breaking the Barriers: Keys to Unlocking Inner Peace is a topical and devotional resource," he writes in his blog. "It is the first of a three-volume series aiming to provide the reader with spiritual keys to help them overcome common barriers that prevent them from experiencing inner peace."

 Next, you need to brainstorm how to promote your book. Starting can be as easy as making a list family members and friends who could let others know about your book and using social media to get the word out.

Rev. Mayden presented
You've Written Your Book,
What's Next?
 Remember to create a budget. How much are you willing to advance for advertising, marketing and purchasing books to sell?

You need to create an awareness of your book, promote interaction and connect with people. Create your own brand. You can use the same text, photos or graphics on posters, flyers, business cards, and your website
Besides knowing your target audience, it is important to know your target area. That is where you want to give talks at schools, send articles to area newspapers and radio shows, produce a book trailer (which he has on his website) and consider other methods of getting information out about your book.

Rev. Mayden talks with members of the
County Chapter of Maryland Writers Assoc.
When speaking in public, have sign in sheets so you can let those interested know about upcoming book signings and when you publish another book. You will want to create a buzz. Also, encourage readers to post reviews at
Rev. Mayden is pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Carroll County, Md.  He also has written Prayers for the People: A Book of Prayers for All People. His books can be purchased at area events or through

For more information check out or email him at

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A book about a book

Occasionally, I am asked where writers get their ideas. There are many answers and I will discuss some of these in future blogs.

However, I learned recently that a friend published a book. It is a non-fiction book about the author (Betty MacDonald) of books she read as a child. Betty, The Story of Betty MacDonald, Author of the Egg and I  is one specific example of where books come from.

Anne had enjoyed the books of Betty MacDonald, who wrote about life in the northwest, particularly in the Seattle/Puget Sound area. Years later, Anne would reread The Egg and I and an idea was born. She decided to look more closely at the writer’s life and a new book was born from that memory.

About Betty MacDonald

In 1932, MacDonald had a story published in the Seattle Town Crier magazine. It would be more than 10 years before her book The Egg and I was published (1945). That book was a lightly fictionalized account of life as the wife of a chicken farmer in the 1920s.

Surprisingly, the book became a success and the story was made into a movie starring Claudette Colbert & Fred Mc Murray. Her Ma and Pa Kettle characters also were used in other movies.

Suddenly the poor, former wife of a chicken farmer and divorced mother of two girls became famous and rich. Her writing continued to provide for a secure life for her and her family. She ran into one problem during this period, because apparently, her portrayal of one set of neighbors hadn't been sufficiently altered and she was sued. However she did win the cases.

With her self-mocking humor, MacDonald wrote about her battle with tuberculosis and life in a sanitarium in The Plague and I, published in 1948. She wrote about job hunting during the depression, (when in Washington state 1 in 4 Americans were out of work). In Anybody Can Do Anything. Her book, Onions In The Stew was about life on Vashon Island during the war years.

Her books give readers a peak into average life during the depression and World War II and vivid descriptions of the northwest.

MacDonald also wrote the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series of children’s books and Nancy and Plum. The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books were illustrated by Hilary Knight and Maurice Sendak.

About Anne Wellman

Anne’s book seemed to start slowly with many details about MacDonald’s early life and that of her unusual family, which I had already read about in The Egg and I. However, the more I read, the more I began to care about these people and the more I became interested in life during those years.

Anne said it took her five years to write “Betty, The Story of Betty MacDonald, Author of the Egg and I.” Her detailed bibliography and references reveal the extensive study she put into this book. She is already working on a book about another author.

Anne has lived in Scotland, Australia, England and the United States of America. She worked for the government for 35 years.This is her first published book, but hopefully not her last. It is available through Amazon.

If you have questions, you can contact Anne at

Books we read as children generally leave an impression and many can remember their favorite books years later. Was it Wind in the Willows, Black Beauty, Harry Potter, Heidi, Treasure Island? Author Lois Szymanski loved Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague and has written a lot of books about ponies, as well as on other subjects. What books made a difference in your life?