Weeding and Words

I think about my words as I weed my garden. Last weeded 6/11/16; photo taken 6/14/16 at 6 am.

I think about my words as I weed my garden. Last weeded 6/11/16; photo taken 6/14/16 at 6 am.

Sometimes, weeding is the best way to learn how to write.

Thinning plants can be as painful as deleting favorite passages of description or dialogue, and just as essential. If seedlings in my garden are two crowded, none of them thrive; if my page is crammed with too many details, I risk losing my readers’ attention.

Weeding out what’s crowded, stunted, or unnecessary is essential, especially since I always start with more than I need. In order to ensure the hardiest, strongest plants, I sow more seed than I will ultimately nurture. Some won’t germinate, and some won’t grow straight and tall; some will have to be thinned. Similarly, I scatter words profligately, knowing that I won’t keep them all, just the ones that hit home.

I'm committed to keeping my new asparagus bed weed-free. It will take consistent attention and considerable patience before the asparagus are ready to harvest - just like writing a book.

I’m committed to keeping my new asparagus bed weeded. It will take consistent attention and considerable patience before the asparagus are ready to harvest – just like writing a book.

Weeding is good practice for becoming a strong editor. It’s easy to pluck out the weeds that obviously don’t belong: the ones that grow in the pathways and between the beds. Eradicating the weeds from the vegetables themselves is often more difficult. Some weeds hide or become entwined with the plants I want. Some even look like the vegetable plants I’m cultivating, so I have to differentiate one from the other and then tease them apart. Occasionally, I have to transplant a seedling from one place in the garden to another, to give it a better chance of survival.

It’s the same with my prose: I sometimes have a hard time identifying which words don’t belong; sometimes, I have to recast an entire sentence in order to strike the weedy word out. Sometimes, I have to move a paragraph or a chapter to a new place in the work, where it has a better chance of telling the story at hand.

Every year, I have a new idea for the garden: a clear vision of how I want it to look and what I want it to yield. Every year, it surprises me. Last year, it was cucumbers that grew in abundance. This year, I’ve already harvested pea shoots, two kinds of lettuce, scallions, spinach, herbs and tatsoi, but the radishes, which are supposed to mature in twenty days, haven’t yielded anything in over forty.

When I start a book, I also have what I think is a clear idea. But writing is an act of discovery. I cast many seeds onto the page, see what germinates, and then cull the ones that detract from the narrative arc I nurture to harvest.

Some days, I’d rather weed than write. What’s not to like about squatting in the warm earth, plucking weeds from the soil with the sun on my back, thinking about the work on my desk? Weeding the vegetable patch gives me time to think about what I want to say and the courage to go back and hoe my words.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness, a love story, set in Vermont during the Goldwater – Johnson presidential campaign in 1964. She blogs Wednesdays at www.deborahleeluskin.com

How Julie Writes A Book, aka Our Summer Vacation

red-hands-woman-creativeOn Sunday night I had the great good fortune to be a guest on The Writer’s Chatroom, hosted by our own Lisa Haselton aka Lisa Jackson. I loved answering questions about my writing process and the publishing business. Though hardly an expert, I do know a fair amount. Right now I am deep in the weeds of writing book #3 in the Clock Shop Mystery series (working title, Chime and Punishment). It is due to my editor at Berkley on July 15. Book #2 in the series, Clock and Dagger, is coming out August 2. That means I need to get blog posts prepped for guest spots, work on a social media campaign, and possibly plan some public appearances.

I am so, so fortunate to have a publishing contract. But with that good fortune comes the pressure of producing a book a year for three years in a row. Though at this point in the process, the pain of forcing those words out of my brain onto the keyboard is real (my friend Hallie Ephron said it is like putting a log through a meat grinder) I’ve done this twice before for this series, and three times before for books that haven’t been published. I know I can do this. It may not be pretty, and I may not sleep for the next five weeks, but I can do this.

This summer I am going to write about my book writing process. I won’t make it genre specific, though I can write a post about that if it is helpful.  Posts will include how I plot, writing a series, the editing process, pitching your book, and promotion. What else would you like to know more about?

I post every other week, so two weeks from today we’re going to talk about plotting. I am a plotter, not a panster, and I’ll walk you through my process, how it helps get the first draft done, and what’ I’ve learned by putting it into practice.

Your homework, should you want to play along, is to think about the story you want to tell. Think about these questions:

  • Who are the main characters in your story?
  • What launches your story? “A Day in the Life” can be dull. “A Day in the Life After XYZ Happens” is a novel.
  • What is the overall theme of your story?
  • What else happens?
  • Where is it taking place?

Over the next two weeks, mull your story over. Think it through. Write ideas down. We’ll tackle plotting in the next installment of this simmer series.

Happy to hear any ideas you might have!


ClockandDaggerJulianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mysteries. Clock and Dagger will be out August 2.

The First 5 Pages


I find myself in a very interesting situation.

20160414_104156(0)I have an idea for a book, it’s a memoir based on the experiences I just went through with my mom in residential hospice. A little bit of magic happened in the 2 months she was there and I want to write it up. Realizing this early on, I took notes, interviewed my mom, and have created an outline and story arc. It’s a middle-aged coming of age story. I’ve already written about half of the book. It wouldn’t take me long to finish. The pitch is still bubbling around, but I was able to capture enough of it to form an informal query which I sent to a literary agent.

The agent is young, she handles new and current books, but I thought I could appeal to her “someday your mother is also going to die fear.” I felt a younger audience would be a difficult sell, which is why I picked her. I wanted to see what would happen.

I wrote the query and emailed it on Friday at 4 p.m. Ahem the Friday RIGHT BEFORE THE MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND – yes, that Friday – one hour before the end of the day on that *Friday.*

Her query guidelines insisted that I include some chapters. My book is non-fiction so I simply pitched the idea (as well as I could) and sent it to her. (I suppose that it didn’t hurt that I’ve recently been reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which is all about “doing” as “opposed to “not doing.”)

I honestly didn’t expect anything, oh sure there was hope, I think I’ve got a great idea and approach, but I wasn’t expecting much. At most, I was hoping for a “this is not for me because…” rejection letter so I could sharpen my query.

Instead what I got was a request for the first 5 pages (luckily I have those ready to go.)

So what is the agent looking for? Let’s take a look about what happens in those critical  first 5 pages of a book.

  • Characters are introduced and relationships defined.
  • If you follow “Save the Cat” there has to be a clear moment when we  start to like the hero through her actions.
  • Pace needs to be set.
  • Voice needs to be solidified.
  • A theme has to be either introduced or hinted at.
  • The main tension or problem needs to be introduced.
  • And there’s got to be a hook. A hook that’s big enough for someone to say “Hey, I want to read more.”

That’s a tall order for 5 pages, but it’s the way it’s done. People are busy, if you can’t get their attention in the first 5 pages, then it’s guaranteed that you won’t in the next 300. Even though I have those pages done, I’ll be editing and revising them until they are lean, mean, and shine with my intention. These are very, very important 5 pages.

If someone asked for the first 5 pages of your work tomorrow, would you be able to deliver?


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.

How Long Does It Take To Write A Book?


These papers have been in a box under my desk for most of a year.

“How long it take to write a book?” my dad asks.

“It depends,” I answer.

“How long does it have to be?”

“As long as it needs,” I reply.

“How long is the book you’re writing?”

“It was four hundred pages.” I say.

“Four hundred pages!” he says. “Wow!”

“But now it’s just two hundred,” I add.

“How long have you been writing it?” he asks.

It’s been in a box under my desk for almost a year.

This makes it sound as if I haven’t been working on this novel since last August, which is not entirely true.

* * *

I think about the book all the time, as if it were some best friend I keep in my prayers while it convalesces from a serious illness. In this time, I have imagined a solution to a major structural issue. I won’t know if it’s the elegant solution I want until I unbox the typescript and bend to the story, and that’s just not on the current schedule right now, because I’m currently obsessed with a piece of non-fiction that I’m hoping to shape into a book.

This new project is about being outdoors and civil discourse and belonging to the land – but I don’t quite know the story yet, so I’m writing around it. I’ve not just been thinking about these ideas for the past year, I’ve also been learning to fish, to shoot, and to read the landscape. And writing about it. As part of my research, I will be hiking the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance footpath in the country, at the end of the summer.

The Long Trail follows the spine of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada. Two-hundred and seventy-two miles in twenty-five days. Plenty of time to think about a story. Meanwhile, I hope to be able to send preliminary chapters to my agent before I leave.

* * *

“My book is just ten pages, and it’s still not done!” Dad says. “I keep starting over!”

“That’s sometimes the way it is,” I say.


Dad at 90

Dad’s referring to the eighth or ninth installment of a collection he started over twenty years ago titled, Reflections of an Old Man. He’s now ninety-one.

The books include a family history, complete with photocopies of photographs of relatives who never came to America; important documents, like my father’s army induction, honorable discharge, and all the citations he received for his infantry service in World War II.

He also wrote A Love Story, which includes transcriptions of all his letters to his then sweetheart, my mother, whom he addressed as “Dear Blondie.” Her letters to him were lost when he was wounded. They wed after the war and were married for sixty-six years before my mom died.

The more recent installments of Reflections of an Old Man are more philosophical. The one that’s giving him trouble now is about religion.

“Writing is hard,” Dad says.

I agree, pleased by his validation.

“So how long does it take you to write a book?” he asks again.

“Each book takes a lifetime,” I tell him, “No matter how quickly you write down the words.”

Tell me, what are you working on? And for how long?

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness, a love story, set in Vermont during the Goldwater – Johnson presidential campaign in 1964. She blogs Wednesdays at www.deborahleeluskin.com

You Want to Make a Living as a Writer? Are You Crazy?

If you have a passion for writing and have non-creatives in your life, you have probably heard some form of this mantra for years:

No one can make a living writing; find something practical to pursue. 

What’s ‘practical’? What makes sense if your passion is for words? Fitting the square peg into a round hole never works, does it?

The comfort of working for yourself

The comfort of working for yourself

It helps to be a little crazy when pursuing something many people can’t relate to. But if you want to make a living as a writer, there are a few skills that can help you succeed.

  • Passion for words – I believe you need to have a yearning to learn about words, to want to play with words, to strive to get sentences just write, to want to share part of yourself through written expression. You want to make an impression on your audience in some manner.
  • Confidence – Believe in yourself and in your passion to write. Take pride in every piece of writing you create; in every story your muse delivers to you. Every new piece of writing is more experience that helps you grow, expand, and refine your skill.
  • Discipline – this is such a big deal! You absolutely have to be able to set a schedule and stick to it! Writing only when you’re in the mood will not help you make a living as a writer at all. Take writing seriously – get your butt in a chair and your hands over the keyboard – and write! Daily!
  • Training/Education – Take some writing classes (online or in person), practice writing and submitting to contests that offer feedback, join a critique group. Practice different types of writing to discover what you enjoy most – also learn about what pays well — you want to make a living as a writer! (this helps build your confidence and discipline too)
  • Marketing – as a solopreneur writer, you have to not only create, but you have to advertise – let people know you have the talent, time, and ability to deliver on their writing needs. Marketing takes time, isn’t easy, but is absolutely required in order to make a living as a writer. If people and businesses don’t know you exist, the money will not come.

To make a living as a writer, you must have business skills. There isn’t any way around it — other than hiring someone to manage the business side of the writing life — but even then, you want to have an understanding of all that is involved.

The writing life isn’t something to jump into – take the time to honestly assess your skills, passion, and interest in words.

If it’s truly what you want – go for it! Being a little scared and unsure is natural – it means you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and there’s never anything wrong with that. Ever. (in my humble opinion)

Do you have what it takes to make a living as a writer?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Motivate Yourself by Submitting to a Writing Contest

Today’s post is as much for me as it is for you. You see, I’ve been quite lethargic about writing fiction lately, as my business has been so pleasantly busy that I don’t have time to write for fun.

I put don’t have time in italics, since, we all know that we make time for what is important to us. I do have time. I have the same amount of time as everyone else and if I truly want to write fiction, I will find a way.EnterWritingContests

Today’s post is my self-motivation for finding that way.

Submitting to contests is a great way to be inspired to write, to actually write, and to actually submit. I’ve done it. I know it’s always fun and challenging and a unique way to get the must to come out and play.

My all-time-favorite contests are the quarterly 24-hour contests by WritersWeekly.com, where you register in advance (this is for the July 9 contest) and pay the modest $5 fee, then on the date of the contest, you receive the writing prompt, the word count, and the guidelines. You have 24 hours to write, polish, and submit a short story.

It’s up to you if you want to pay a fee or not. $5 is the most I’ve ever been willing to part with to enter a contest, but there are all types of contests available.

Here are some contest lists to get you started

I hope you try a writing contest, or two, to shake off cobwebs, exercise the muse, or to have some plain old fun for no other reason than you want to!

Deadlines are a great incentive in themselves, but you could win a prize (money, publication, or some type of gift), improve your writing and editing skills, and even give your self-confidence a boost — which is where I’m at.

Feel free to share your thoughts on contests, and if you have a favorite, please share!

(I’ll talk about contests from a judge’s perspective next week.)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Grammar-ease: Proved vs Proven

Today is for those times when you’re not quite sure if you want to use ‘proved’ or ‘proven.’

ProvedBoth prove and proveare formed from the verb prove. Here are the usage variations:

  • Present tense: prove
  • Simple past tense: proved
  • Past participle: proved
  • Irregular past participle: proven

Correct usage examples:

  • He has proven his case.
  • He proved his case.
  • She proved he was wrong.
  • She proved she can beat the competition.
  • She has proven she can beat the competition.
  • The competition proved they weren’t quite a challenge after all.
  • That band has proven to be a crowd favorite.
  • That band proved to be a crowd favorite.
  • The attendees proved their love for the acoustic group.
  • My parents have proven they can’t be trusted to remember to lock the door.
  • My parents proved they can’t be trusted to remember to lock the door.

As you can see, either variation can be used. However, (there’s always, a ‘but’, right?) two well-used style guides – AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, recommend avoiding “proven” as a verb, but it’s one of those cases where the line is becoming blurry and both variations are becoming mainstream.

(Using proven as an adjective preceding a noun is acceptable all around. For example, a proven theory; proven right; proven innocent; proven track record; and so on.)

If either can work and you just can’t decide, read it out loud and select the variation that sounds best  — unless there is a specific style guide to follow, then, as always, follow the client’s wishes and follow the style guide!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.