pin fight way outThey say that beginning is the hardest part, and they aren’t kidding.

Have you ever gotten excited about a story idea only to have your enthusiasm squelched by the blank page? I have. Whether I’m gently cupping the first smoldering cinder of a new tale in my eager hands, or carefully holding the almost-fully realized story in my mind; when I sit down at the keyboard to type those critical first words, I freeze.

The pressure of finding the “just right” way to begin is too much.

We all know how important beginnings are. Those first lines are what will (or won’t) grab your reader. They set the scene and the tone for everything that follows. In short, they can make or break your story.

It’s a lot to ask of a few hundred words.

But here’s the thing – you don’t have to start at the beginning. In fact, most of the time it’s better to start in the middle.

Just because, ultimately, your story will be read in a linear fashion doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Start where you are inspired. You are the writer. You’re in charge. You can drop into your story anywhere you feel like it. You can write it backwards if you want to. (Some people do.)

Often, even if you think you’re starting at the beginning, you will go back to find that your real beginning is buried somewhere on page three, or page thirty-three. Sometimes you have to write that much to figure out your best beginning. By charging ahead, you can take advantage of the chance to do a little reverse engineering and craft a beginning that launches your story perfectly.

Beginnings are hard, so don’t start there. Just start. You’ll get around to writing the beginning … eventually.

Planning A Blog

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog of my own for some time. Now that the current draft of Ellen is on my agent’s desk for review, I’m finally ready to turn my attention to this task.

I have two goals for a blog.

The first is to write about place, a concept that has been fundamental to my life, a tug that pulled me to Vermont thirty years ago, and continues to inform my daily activities (chickens, garden, town politics) and most of my writing. My commentaries for Vermont Public Radio are all about life in Vermont, as are my editorials for the local papers. And all of my novels are set in Vermont. Into the Wilderness, published in 2010, earned a Gold Medal for Regional Fiction as well as recognition from the Vermont Library Association for its sense of place.

The second goal is to stay connected to my audience in the long stretches between novels. Readers are curious about the writers they read, a curiosity that often takes me by surprise. I hope that I can satisfy my readers’ curiosity without compromising my own need for privacy. In fact, I love connecting with readers across the page. I’m still a letter writer, and I’m thinking of the blog posts as letters to my readers.

One of the reasons I’ve been putting off starting this blog is that it requires a long-overdue revision of my website. I’m not exactly a technophobe, but neither am I particularly confident in my design or on-line skills. I do know I learn well one-on-one, so I’m looking for someone who will teach me what I need to know in order to migrate my current site to Word Press, set swimming hole picup a blog, and even expand to other social media. (Gulp!)

I also want to be sure that I can keep up with my blog by setting a realistic schedule, probably posting only every other week – an admittedly slow pace for the blogosphere, where many bloggers post daily. That’s not for me. And frankly, I don’t think it’s right for my audience, either.

I will write at least a half dozen posts to have in reserve before I launch, so I can keep to my schedule, and I will have a marketing plan for the launch, so that I can reach my current readers and introduce myself to new ones.

In order to be successful, I also need to start taking more pictures. This probably means relearning how to use the digital camera we bought three years ago for a trip out west and have barely used since. Hmm.

Finally, by posting my intentions to my audience here, where I’ve been contributing for over three years, I will be held accountable to follow through with my plans.

How have you succeeded – or not – launching your own blog? What advice do you have for becoming a successful solo blogger? Please share your blogging stories in the comments below.

dll2013 Deborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont.

Grammarly (www.grammarly.com) conducted a study with 3,000+ participants to settle an existential question that has been plaguing mankind for centuries (or maybe a few years here and there):

“Which gender has the better writers?”

They published the results to the question above in an infographic (below) and I got permission to share it here with you. I thought it would be fun for some discussion.




The results for characters question splits out equal from both perspectives — I think it’s only natural that we include bits of ourselves in our writing, since that’s a person we know best!

Pronouns & Determiners are pretty evenly split, too.

What do you think about the plot vs character and long vs short sentences? Would you put yourself in the majority in those categories?

I would for the first – I like (try) to develop my characters and have the plot follow. For sentences, I do my best to write short active sentences, but there are times when long works better!


From their website: Grammarly’s online grammar checker is the most accurate tool for grammar correction on the market. 

Disclosure: This is an online tool you have to pay for (minimum is $29.95/month); I’m not a subscriber, but it can’t hurt to check it out when you have a minute or two if it’s something of interest — they do offer a 7-day free trial period. Remember to read all the Terms and Conditions!


LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She enjoys sharing writing resources when she finds them. You can connect with her on Twitter,FacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Conflicted. A writer torn between duty and dreams.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

- E.B. White

three geese flyingI love the fall. It is, by far, my favorite season of the year. I love the cooler weather, the blazing foliage, and the return to routine. I love the sense of industry that comes in September, even though I am well past my school years. And, I love the prospect of curling up in cozy environs with a good book and a steaming mug of hazelnut truffle tea. (Fall and winter reading has always held more appeal for me than sticky, sandy summer reading.)

But, most of all, I love this season because, falling as it does at the three-quarter mark on the calendar, it is the perfect time to reflect on the year’s progress and, perhaps, find a new beginning. Autumn’s bittersweet quality brings me a sense of quiet peace and acceptance with a sharp edge of urgency and angst. The column I wrote for my local paper this week reflected on how this season’s inclination towards gentle assessment and intentional redirecting differs from the champagne-sipping pressures and sequin-clad expectations of the January New Year:

September is a much more appropriate time for a progress report. You are almost a year older (and presumably wiser), so you have greater perspective than you did nine months ago. The end of the year is in sight, providing a sense of urgency; but there are still a few months left in case you discover that your best intentions have, inexplicably, come off the rails. There is still a chance for the little GPS-inspired voice in your head to whisper reassuringly, “Recalculating.”

With the happy chaos of summer behind us and the joyful insanity of the holidays still far enough away to be safely ignored, we steal a moment to catch our collective breath. The turning foliage, a subtle reminder of our own mortality, prompts us to consider all the things we have put off for another day.

While no one would blame you for sighing with resignation at the enormity of everything left undone, September’s New Year is not without hope. After all, remember, there is still time before the end-of-year reckoning. You still have a chance to resurrect your resolutions from the rubble. Go ahead – pick up your lucky writing pen, lace up your running shoes, call about that cooking class. Whatever you had hoped to achieve, it’s not too late.

And herein lies my conflict.

Looking back at the year, I am mostly pleased with what I see. My business is doing well. I had a wonderful summer with my daughter and beau. I have done a better job at prioritizing time with friends and making space in my daily rounds for self-care. I have, most recently, taken baby steps towards increasing my commitment to “my” writing (as opposed to the writing I do for my content marketing clients). But, I still feel like I am, as Tolkien describes, standing on the edge of a knife.

Another year has gone by – flown by, in fact. 2014 is winding down and while I have lived a good year, I am really no closer to the Big Goals I set for myself. Though September invites quiet reflection, I also feel an urge to take fierce action – to make an abrupt correction that will send me careening back to the path I envisioned in January. But the risks associated with that kind of move are great. While the impulsive child in me would like to grab the wheel and burn rubber back toward her intended destination, the responsible adult in me knows that a more gradual realignment is a safer, saner course.

I don’t know which one to listen to.

Life is short and time runs fast. How are you feeling at this point in the year? Do you have any desire to do something a little crazy in order to get closer to realizing your temporarily neglected dreams? Or, are you feeling bound to duty and considering a more subtle approach to getting yourself back on track?


What I’m Writing:

nanowrimo shieldMy writing output these days is the usual bill-paying content marketing (websites, and ebooks, and case studies, oh my!), bi-weekly columns (thank the gods for a small, creative outlet), and morning pages. Nothing super exciting, but not too shabby either.

As September draws to a close, however, November and NaNoWriMo loom large on the horizon. A writer friend invited me to indulge in this international month of insanity with her. In the past, I have completed my 50,000 words to cross the NaNoWriMo finish line a “winner.” I have also give up halfway through and refused to even try. Talk about feeling conflicted.

IF I decide to do NaNoWriMo this year, I want to have something specific to work on. In other words, if I’m going to make this work, I need to make some time in October for planning and outlining.

Yeah, I know that kind of goes against the “no plot, no problem” spirit of NaNoWriMo, but if I’m going to invest 40 – 60 hours, I’d at least like to come out on the other side with a sh!##y first draft that’s worth editing.

So – what about you? Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? Are you thinking about it this year?

What I’m Reading:

book toujours provenceAfter recently re-read (via Audible) Peter Mayle’s wonderful A Year in Provence, I found I was reluctant to leave the south of France. I returned, again via Audible, to indulge in more culinarily inclined essays in Mayle’s follow-up collection, Toujours Provence. The duplicity of the season may cause my heart and head to dance back and forth between the shoulds and wants in my life, but plugging back into Mayle’s world of pastoral scenery, five-course lunches, and gastronomically experienced neighbors reminds me that what really matters is living in and savoring the moment.

book lord lady bunnyMy daughter and I also finished reading another follow-up book, this one from Polly Horvath. In Lord and Lady Bunny Almost Royalty, we once again get to ride along as the intrepid Mr. Bunny and ever-stylish Mrs. Bunny journey from their home in Canada to the realm of Queen Elizabeth. As with the first book, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire, this tale is a fun read aloud with characters who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. I especially enjoy the good-natured ribbing between Mr. and Mrs. Bunny (or, perhaps, I should say, “Lord and Lady Bunny”).

book empowerFinally, I also read a few short stories from a couple of anthologies on my Kindle. The first, Empower: Fight Like a Girl is a collection of short stories by women TV writers. As its title suggests, the book’s theme is about empowering girls and women. I discovered the collection via Kam Miller’s (one of the contributing writers) and am enjoying doling out the stories over time. Though the genres (supernatural, crime, horror) are not my usual fare, it’s been fun to see how each of these writers chose to embody empowerment.

book irregular creaturesNext, I read the first story in Chuck Wendig’s Kindle Single, Irregular Creatures. I’ve been reading Wendig’s blog, terribleminds, for a while. I am by turns fascinated, impressed, and offended. Wendig is not the type to pull punches. His style is in-your-face and completely unapologetic. I bought Irregular Creatures after reading his blog rant titled, A PSA About Nude Photos. Though it is rife with, shall we say, colorful language, I thought it was spot on and passionate and worth the read. It made me want to support him as a writer, to learn more about the kinds of characters and stories that might come from such a mind … so I started small with the $0.99 collection of short stories. So far, I’m enjoying it and already considering additional purchases from his impressively prolific pen.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin reading quiet

Here’s to hoping you find your own quiet time to accept the season’s invitation to stop and muse a while, to get all introspective, and to look ahead at the next adventure. Happy writing and happy reading. See you on the other side! 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.


Quote sourced from The New York Times on the Web

Friday Fun — Chores

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: What chore do you absolutely dislike doing? Conversely – do you have a chore that you absolutely enjoy?

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I absolutely hate housework. All kinds. (and if you walked into my house it wouldn’t come as a surprise.) It’s not that I don’t like living in a clean and tidy house, I do, it’s just that it can be so bone-crunchingly frustrating to spend time cleaning up an area and then have the rest of the family walk through and drop things here, leave dirty dishes where they had last used them, and not pick up anything. And the stuff that comes into a house when 8 people live there, it is often overwhelming and it seems to spontaneously grow. I mean why even bother, right?

I’d rather be writing or reading.

I suppose this is the universal cry of all mothers, but I also think that this is what drives my desire to live in a tiny house by myself someday (you can visit, you just need to knock first.) I just want my things in the places where I expect them to be.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I put off cleaning as long as possible. For me, cleaning is like shopping — I really need to be in the mood for it. (Yes, I’m a woman who doesn’t enjoy shopping – for anything.) Once in the mood, I love to clean — what’s not to love about making dust, grime, and ickiness into shiny and bright, right? But it usually takes me a while to get into a mood to clean. September and February are cleaning months for me – Sept because I feel it’s a time of renewal and I enjoy swapping out regular sheets for flannel sheets – February because by that time of year I’m ready for winter to be over and warm weather (and color) to come along. I don’t need to dust or vacuum or do anything else on a regular basis since my cat really doesn’t care how the place looks. ;)



Susan Nye:
Love to cook … hate to clean.




headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: My favorite chore is laundry because it mostly does itself. Sure, I have to put forth a little effort to load the machine, separate the dryer-safe items from the drip-dry ones, and – eventually – fold the clean clothes; but – overall – it’s a chore that requires comparatively little elbow grease. Scrubbing the bathrooms, on the other hand, is the epitome of an elbow-grease job. Yuck.

Still, although I always feel WAY behind in my domestic chores, I actually enjoy doing them when I have the time. There are few things more satisfying than making our little corner of the world extra cozy by spiffing up and straightening, freshening and brightening. A little spit and polish goes a long way to bringing me peace and contentment.

I love me a good book recommendation, so when a fellow writer Facebook friend (hi James) let me know about a memoir that he said was teaching him how to write his memoir by its example, my ears perked up.

walkingnatureBut what really made me pay attention was when the author joined in the conversation and left these remarks about the art of memoir writing.

It’s what you’ve learned from your life, not so much what you’ve done. A well-considered life is often more compelling than a dramatic one….


If I had to define the art of writing a memoir in a few words, I would say it’s in the reflection and storytelling. Memoir translates what you’ve learned from life into a story so compelling that it inspires even those who had no idea they would be interested in what you write about.

Twins daughters from different mothers. That author, Susan J. Tweit managed to say so clearly what it is I have been trying to say for years –

A memoir is not about climbing the mountain. It’s about how you climbed it, the stumbles along the way, and what you learned when you finally reached the top.

I ordered Susan’s book Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey and started reading.

Walking Nature Home is the story of a woman who, diagnosed with a non-specific connective tissue disease, was given 2 to 5 years left to live. The book tells of how she connected (intentional pun) with her body and nature to get the strength to move on with her life. Susan’s story is uplifting and it gives hope to others who might be in similar life-challenging situations.

My Facebook friend was right. Susan does a masterful job of keeping a solid theme running through her book, the red thread of her life that begins in childhood when her father taught her about the constellations and ends with her gazing out a skylight at the stars content with her life can so clearly be followed throughout the book.

Each chapter is centered on a major star constellation which is introduced with the stars’ history and mythology. These stories of the stars are then personified by Susan’s life experiences and insights.

The organization and woven structure of this memoir is a tapestry to behold. It’s one of those stories that becomes a meditation in reading. Never once does Susan veer from her stated theme of nature, in fact, she keeps it as deeply ingrained as her breathing is to her body. Like meditation, Susan constantly comes back to her breathing- her connection with nature, the reason for her being.

If memoir is your genre (and even if it’s not), I highly recommend taking a look at Walking Nature Home, both for the inspiring story, as well as its brilliant memoir structure.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.


I think I may have found the answer to my day planner woes. It has been a long search throughout the years. I have invested in several paper systems. I have done trial periods on several web-based systems. Recently, I even devised a system using 3×5 cards with different colored tops. All of these have failed for a number of reasons. Too cumbersome to carry with me all the time. Bits and pieces that were easily misplaced.

And the digital systems? I love technology, and am a proud Samsung Galaxy Note 3 user. I am all in with Google. And I have discovered a number of systems that could work. But there is something about writing down tasks, highlighting an event, or taking notes during a meeting that is deeply satisfying. And also works the way my brain works, with lists, arrows, circled items, and references to other notes.

Last week a colleague told me about a system she had just discovered, the Bullet Journal. The tagline is that it is an analog system for a digital age. It uses a blank notebook with grid lines, though you could use any type of notebook. You create a index page, a monthly layout and monthly task list, and then daily journal entries with tasks, events, and notes. Every entry is a line that can be expounded upon later, but for the daily entry, is just a line. Many systems work similarly.

But here’s the difference. Within the bullet journal, you can write longer entries as needed. And keep track of them on the index for future reference. It is the perfect system for a writer. Need a list of books? Keep one. And add it to the index, so you can always find it. Working on notes for your story? Write them in the journal. Have a few minutes between meetings? Daydreaming during others? Use the same journal for it all.

I find that fall is a time for change for me. I am thrilled to discover a new system, one that works with a Moleskin, that may keep me a little more organized. Given that I am plotting book #2 in my series, working on a couple of website projects, and planning a writer’s conference this fall, and a theater conference next spring, I need all of the organizational tools I can find.

How about you, dear readers? Do you have a organizing system that works for your entire life? And, do you also feel like this time of year is actually a new year?

Here’s a video about Bullet Journal.


J.A. (Julie) Hennrikus is the Executive Director of StageSource. Her short stories have appeared in the three Level Best anthologies, Thin Ice, Dead Calm and Blood Moon. She tweets under @JulieHennrikus, and group blogs on nhwn.wordpress.com and with the Wicked Cozy Authors (wickedcozyauthors.com). She is the 2014 President of Sisters in Crime New England, on the national board of Sisters in Crime, and a member of Mystery Writers of America. As Julianne Holmes, the first in her Clock Shop Mystery series will be published in 2015 by Berkley Prime Crime.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 47,710 other followers