Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Waiting for your book to be chosen

By Dennis Mellersh

If you are planning on writing a book or are in the process of writing it, it’s important for you to realize that you no longer have to depend on other people to validate and market your work.

Many new writers understandably want to have their writing efforts endorsed by having their book, for example, being chosen for publication by a third party person and/or organization, such as the submissions editor at a publishing company.

That is the historical and traditional route.

But these days, if you are writing a book and want to see your ideas and concepts alive in the hands of an audience, you can personally take charge by self-publishing and self-marketing your work through a variety of contemporary platforms and marketing/communications media.

The trend to writers  going the self-publishing route is part of a growing movement among creative people to manage their own destinies – by not only being creative in their work, but also by being innovative in how they get their creative message out to a target audience.

Why wait to be chosen or picked  by a third party when you can choose or pick yourself  and be more in command of managing the spread of your ideas and concepts?

Marketing and creativity expert Seth Godin has done a several excellent posts on the importance and advantages of choosing or picking yourself. One of his latest and best articles on this subject (and the spark for my article above) is on his blog at the following URL:


Godin throws more light on this same topic in his follow-up post at:


Monday, April 29, 2013

Learning how to be a professional writer

By Dennis Mellersh

There is a distinct technical difference between learning (1) how to write professionally; (2) learning how to be a professional writer and (3) being or becoming a professional writer.

In the first case (1) you will be learning how to write as well as a professional writer; in the second example (2), you will be learning how to make money through your writing after you have learned to write well enough; and in the third example (3) you are earning money through your writing.

The novelist and poet Margaret Atwood compares the difference between a professional and non-professional artist to singing. Many people can sing songs in a pleasing manner, perhaps even sounding “professional” but they cannot call themselves professional singers unless people are paying money to hear them sing.

In the case of writing, you can learn to write well through a combination of formal writing courses, workshops, self-study, and a lot of practice. And, you can learn enough about the craft of writing (again with a lot of practice) to be able to write as well as a professional writer.

But you will not technically be a professional writer unless you can make a living or a portion of your living by means of your writing. To paraphrase Atwood, you will be a professional writer when "an informed audience" is reading your work and you are being paid for it.

Many of the people who earn their living through writing are journalists who work as employees of publishing companies. Others have developed their writing skills to the point where they can be independent professional writers and make money as freelance writers who are paid for individual writing assignments or projects.

In nearly all cases, writers who are employees of publishing companies are writing non-fiction.
In my own case, for example, for the first part of my writing career, I was an employee with a major national business-magazine publishing company and progressed through various stages of responsibility from writing articles and news stories to being the editor and editor/publisher of a number of magazines. In the second and current part of my life as a writer, I have worked independently as a freelance writer and editor and that is how I have earned my living to date.

Professional Fiction writers and poets (novels, short stories, poems) such as are discussed often on this website, are in virtually all cases, writing independently from an employer and are earning money through their fiction as independent authors. Similarly, in most cases, writers of non-fiction books are not employees of the companies that publish their work, but are independent authors.

As discussed earlier, you can learn to write professionally, in a professional manner, or as well as a professional writer, but technically speaking,  it is misleading to call yourself a professional writer unless you are making money with your writing.

However, don`t be surprised if you work hard at learning the craft of writing and also practice a lot, that at some point someone will tell you: “Your work is very professional.” If that person also pays you for your work, you are then entitled to call yourself a “professional writer.”

Regardless of these technical differences however, you can call yourself a “writer”, if you are seriously learning how to write fiction or non-fiction and are also actually writing a reasonable amount of fiction or non-fiction.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

When should I edit the draft writing of my book?

By Dennis Mellersh

A common question of new writers is: “When should I edit and review what I am writing for my book?”
The answer is that you should edit your draft writing at a number of different stages. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Edit as you go during your writing session for that day, using a spell-check and grammar program and checking yourself for obvious mistakes
  2. Review what you wrote that day at the end of the day checking your writing for clarity and logic
  3. At the end of the week, when you will have a fresh perspective, review that week’s input to see if you think any major revisions are required
  4. Finally, when your entire book manuscript is completed in draft form, do a full edit which can include significant rewriting, structural changes, and possible additions and/or deletions to your draft manuscript


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to write with originality and creativity

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the surest ways to ensure that you write without originality and creativity is to imitate your favorite writer(s).

For the new writer, such imitation is usually not done consciously but happens because of admiration and fascination with another writer’s ideas and their way of handling language in their work.
In biographical material about famous and successful writers and authors such as novelists, short story writers, and poets, we will often find admissions by those writers that they went through a period in their work where they were imitating writers they admired.
Once they dropped imitation, or being derivative, they found their own voice, their writing ceased to be derivative, and it became more original and creative.
If you do not think you are particularly original or creative, remember this:
  • You are a unique being
  • You are an original
  • You are creative (whether you realize it or not)
And no-one looks at the world and reacts to it exactly the same way you do.
So, do the rest of us a favor, and write in a way that allows us to hear your voice, your uniqueness, your creativity, and your originality.
Not somebody else’s.


Write non-fiction in your own voice

By Dennis Mellersh

In writing non-fiction, such as a book you may be planning, it can be a temptation to try to write in what you might perceive to be a scholarly, educated or academic voice or narrative style.

However, in writing this way, you will likely be writing your book in a manner that is unnatural, and perhaps worse, boring.

However, by writing in your own natural voice your writing will be more interesting, accessible, and have more appeal to most readers.

Writing in your natural voice (the way you talk) actually makes your writing more authentic, authoritative and credible than if you try to make it sound important or scholarly.

When you try to write in a way that is not natural to you your writing will sound forced, fake, and likely pretentious.

When you try to write in a voice that is not your own, you will essentially not be writing to please yourself.

The result is probably that no-one else will be pleased, or interested in what you have to say.

Do you really want to be a writer: a self-test

By Dennis Mellersh

Many people say they want to be a writer and that they want to write a book; but how many people make the commitment to activate that desire and make becoming a writer a reality?

The prime requirement for becoming a writer is to put in the necessary time and write something every day, or almost every day.

I am not talking about the equally important requirements of taking writing courses, or reading and studying books on the craft of writing, or attending workshops for writers; or doing the research for whatever you want to write about.

I’m talking about sitting down every day with your computer or tablet (with word-processing software) or if you prefer, paper and pen or pencil (if you want to handwrite your draft) and writing a few hundred words every day.

If you are not willing to do that, you don’t really want to be a writer; you really want to find a shortcut that will magically show you how to become a writer in the shortest time possible.

However, there are no shortcuts to becoming a writer. You can write some types of books in a short time (if you already know how to write), but you cannot “become a writer” in a short period of time.

“Wanting to” requires “doing” the writing.

And that’s the self-test. How much have you written each day for the past two weeks?

If the answer is nothing or very little, then you should reassess the strength of your motivation and if you still want to be a writer, make a schedule for writing something every day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

You need to tell a story in non-fiction

By Dennis Mellersh

To write an effective non-fiction book that will hold the interest of your readers, you need to tell a story in your book, just as you would if you were writing a novel.

Research on learning has shown that people will remember the content of any instructional material (such as your non-fiction book) much better if they hear or read a story about it.
Basically, all good writing is, in some way, telling a story. In your case, the “story” is the narrative you construct around the ideas and facts you want to convey to your readers in your non-fiction material.
This does not mean that you need to write your book as if it were a novel or a short story, but it does mean that you need to use a story-like narrative voice in your writing.
This is obvious if you are writing a biography, or a history book, but it also holds true for how-to-do-it books and other instructional books. You need to modify the traditional narrative curve of fiction and use it to make your non-fiction book a more compelling read for your audience.
This might look something like this in order of presentation of the material that your book will discuss:
  • Outlining the main theme of the content
  • Describing briefly the subsets of the theme
  • Your ideas/facts as the main body of the book
  • Review of main principles and conclusion
To achieve a narrative voice, write the content of your book as if you were talking personally to someone who is interested in your ideas and knowledge of the topic. 

Writing like you talk, as if you were telling a story will not only make your book much more appealing to readers, it will also help your readers to better remember the information in your book.
This will help establish your reputation with readers as a reliable and interesting source of material on the non-fiction topics that interest them.

Publisher seeks new romance-novel writers

By Dennis Mellersh

It’s not very often that you will see a major, mainstream book publisher actively seeking and encouraging even beginner authors to write novels for them. But that appears to be the case with Harlequin (Harlequin Enterprises Limited), which has a significant section of its website titled Write for Us.

Specifically, Harlequin says it is looking for writers to author romance novels, and provides detailed instructions in all phases of the writing and submission process. This section of Harlequin’s website has two main sections; Learn to Write, and Writing for Harlequin.

Here’s a sample of the articles on the site that could help new writers both learn to write a romance novel and also learn how to submit their finished manuscripts to Harlequin for consideration for possible publication:

Learn to Write
Get Out and Stay Out…of the Slush Pile
Writing the Dreaded Synopsis
Learning to Rewrite
Do-it-Yourself Editing
Proofreaders' Marks
How to Write the Perfect Romance!
Glossary of Terms for the Romance Novel Novice

Writing for Harlequin
Writing Guidelines
Manuscript Format Guidelines
How to Submit a Novel
List of Editorial Office Addresses
Frequently Asked Editorial Questions
Submission Samples
Quick Query Letter Checklist

I read most of these articles and found they contained much worthwhile information, not just for aspiring romance novel writers, but for anyone interested in learning more about how to write, and how to write a novel. Remember though as you go through the material that the specific emphasis is on how to write a romance novel.

If you review the other sections of the Harlequin site, you can get a good idea of what’s involved in the overall romance novel market.

Here’s a link to the section on the Harlequin website:

Or go to Google and type in: harlequin write for us – the first item on page 1 of the Google page returns links to that section of the Harlequin website.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Can you learn to write a book?

By Dennis Mellersh

For the person interested in becoming a writer, it can be discouraging to hear comments such as, “Real writers don’t write just because they want to; they write because they have to.”

The implication being that if you have not been obsessed with a compulsion to write since an early age, you are not a “real” writer and it is highly unlikely you will be able to learn to write, let alone become a writer of books.

The other assumption in that comment is that if you have not been writing anything up to this point, you probably don’t have the ambition, or the natural aptitude necessary to learn writing, or to write books.

Well, it’s simply not true.

You can learn to write and you can learn how to write a book.

A person who has been interested in writing and the world of books and who has made efforts towards writing at an early age probably does have a head start on learning to write seriously. But such people are not members of an exclusive writers’ club that no-one else can join.

Writing is a craft, an art, a form of creative self-expression, and it can be learned. The same as learning to be an artist, such as a painter, or learning photography, or learning woodworking – they are acquirable skills.

A huge part of learning anything, such learning as the craft of writing, is having a strong desire to do so; and you have that desire, or you wouldn’t be reading articles on writing such as this one.

Learning how to write well can be challenging and it will take time, but you can do it.

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

Are you writing, or reading about writing?

By Dennis Mellersh

No matter what type of book you want to write, whether fiction or non-fiction, it is important to read instructive material on how to write, and to read books of the type that you want to write, such as a novel or a how-to-do-it book.

There is a danger we all face as writers, however, and that is in becoming so interested in discussions about the craft of writing that we do not make time to practice our writing while we are learning about it.

Practicing our writing is actually an important part of the process of learning how to write a book and the single most important component of becoming a writer. Practicing our writing is largely a self-directed learning activity in which we will gradually see improvements in our writing as we do some writing every day.

Try to keep all of your practice-writing together so that you can review your progress, perhaps at monthly intervals. Review what you have written at the beginning of your efforts and compare it with what you have recently written. You’ll probably notice some improvement.

Overall, read about writing – yes, but make sure your own writing is part of the learning process.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Being blocked with how to start your book

By Dennis Mellersh

You’ve done the research for your book, and you have completed your outline, but now that you have decided to start writing it, you’re stumped and can’t think of what to write. Those few opening words or sentences just won’t come.

This impasse is not writer’s block; it’s normal – and it happens even with professional writers.

But, what to do about it?

The worst approach is to sit there stewing while you struggle to find the perfect and most brilliantly creative way to write the beginning of your book.

Often, your best bet is to forget about trying to write those lead-in words and setences and just jump in with the writing, starting with the very next item on your book’s outline.

Begin writing where you would have if you had already written those opening words. Write the quota of words you have set as your daily goal, and forget about the opening.

Once you get into the flow of the writing and have some of the book written you will often find that some thoughts about how you should start will begin to gel.

It might be a key phrase or thought, or perhaps by completing some writing on the book, the over-arching theme of the book will emerge more clearly in your mind.

That’s when you can go back and write those opening words that first eluded you.

Using index cards to outline your book

By Dennis Mellersh

Sometimes the use of traditional tactile writing materials can help your book writing efforts in the outline and draft stages.

Let’s look specifically at the book outline process, for example.

Although you can write the outline of your book on a computer, it’s not always easy to quickly scan the various thoughts you have written down and see them as a cohesive whole.

And it can be difficult, on the computer, to alter the sequence of your thoughts, to re-arrange your ideas.

What can simplify the process, and/or give you the feeling of  more direct  control of the book outlining process is to use old fashioned (tactile) writing materials such as pens, pencils, paper, and index cards.

As you do your research and are making notes on from the research material, you will start to get creative ideas for the content of your planned book.

Try writing down each of your emerging ideas such as for chapter headings, characters, plot ideas, or subjects to be included in your book, on 3x5-inch lined or unlined index cards. You can get index cards at most places that sell office supplies.

When you have completed the research, you will likely have a good number of ideas for how your book’s content should be organized written on the cards.

You can then sift through and review these cards, categorize them, sequence them, and in general organize them with an excellent overview of the whole picture of your book right in front of you in one visual field.

It can be difficult to get the same type of cohesion if you have to constantly scroll up and down screen after screen on your computer, constantly cutting and pasting.

Sometimes the old technologies for writing a book, such as pen, or pencil and paper (and index cards) can help improve the effectiveness of our use of new technologies, such as computers and tablets.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Your book project: What have you done today?

By Dennis Mellersh

No matter what stage you are at with your project of writing a book, you need to be accomplishing something every day on that project if it is to move forward.

Your book concept might be a novel, or a non-fiction book, or a book-length collection of short stories or poems; regardless, especially in the early stages of writing, a book project is a formidable undertaking.

But if you discipline yourself to do something on your writing project every day you may be surprised how quickly the work mounts up, and before you realize it, you are well on the way to actually completing your book.
So, looking back on today, did you do any of the following?
  • Write a few hundred words
  • Do some research on the subject matter
  • Work on your outline
  • Develop down some ideas on characters
  • Read something about the craft of writing
  • Read some of a novel, non-fiction book, short story, or some poetry
  • Read about the life of a successful writer
You don’t need to do all of these every day, but working on some facet of your book every day, combined with learning something about writing every day, will make the completion of your book easier because your will be “in the creative flow” so to speak, and simultaneously developing your writing skills and becoming a writer.
Trying to cram all the necessary work into one or two days a week is much tougher, and in the long term less effective.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

An apocryphal interview with an aspiring book author

By Dennis Mellersh

Many people say they want to write a book, but what is driving this desire? And, what are such people doing to realize their dream of writing a book, of becoming a writer?

Following is a synopsis of a fictitious editor interviewing a fictitious aspiring book author: the editor is on a quest to discover the answers to these questions.

Editor: From the research I have done I believe that you are a good example of the 81% of the North American population that wants to write a book.  So I thought we could discuss your ambitions, motivations, and the steps you are taking to writing a book. Perhaps we could start with your motivation: could you explain why you want to write a book?

Mr. Abookinsideme: Frankly, it’s just a vague, hard-to-describe feeling. I just have this desire, this urge to write a book a book I can call my own. It’s hard to explain in precise terms.

Editor: Is there any particular type of book that interests you; any genre that has more of an attraction than others?

Mr. Abookinsideme:  I’ve decided that I want to write a novel.

Editor: That’s an admirable goal. Are there any novelists that you particularly enjoy reading; authors that you look to for inspiration? Books in your personal library perhaps?

Mr. Abookinsideme:  Well, actually, I’ve only read a couple of 19th century English novels, back in high-school, so, no, I don’t have any novelists as role models to speak of. I took engineering in university, so I thought I might write a novel related in some way to the engineering profession. I don’t really have a library as such, just professional books to do with my job.

Editor: It would probably interest our readers, who also express an interest in writing books, to know what instructional books you have read about the craft of writing, or any courses or writing workshops you might have taken, particularly with novel writing, to help you in this process.

Mr. Abookinsideme: So far I haven’t read any books on the topic or taken any courses or workshops. My thinking is that I have life experiences, and I keep up with current events on the Internet, so I thought I would write the novel based on my experiences with life in general.

Editor: You mentioned the Internet; there are a lot of good websites and blogs and videos on YouTube about the subject of writing. Have you found those to be helpful?

Mr. Abookinsideme:  To tell you the truth, I just don’t have the time to spend on that; wish I did.

Editor: Are there any noteworthy moments or general experiences in your life which you think could be the foundation for your debut novel?

Mr. Abookinsideme:  Not really, but I’m observant, so I believe I can just draw on that.

Editor: Would it be imposing if I asked to see some of your work to date? Some of your early drafts?  I know, however, that some writers don’t like to discuss their work-in-progress.

Mr. Abookinsideme:  Right now I’m not working on anything; sort of just taking things in for when I feel inspired. Then I’ll sit down and start writing my novel.

Editor: Well, I know you are a busy person, so I would like to thank you for taking this time with us. Good luck on your novel.

Mr. Abookinsideme:  Thank you; I’ll send you a couple of copies when it’s published.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dr. Wordsmith visits a patient with writer’s block

By Dennis Mellersh

You are trying to write your book, but for a day or two, the words you need just won’t come. It must be the “authors’ disease”— it’s writer’s block! You panic. “I’d better call Dr. Wordsmith.”

The doctor arrives with his black bag and instruments: He examines you thoroughly; checks your fingers’ for suppleness; inspects your pens to make sure there is enough ink for the words you need; he diagnoses your computer; yes, it has enough memory for your novel and the keyboard is functioning; he checks to make sure you have a thesaurus and a good dictionary; reviews your library and asks,” what have you read lately – anything unusual? Are you reading quality material or too much junk?”

He then moves on to your desk: “What did you write yesterday? Any particularly hard-to-write passages before you noticed the symptoms of writer’s block?”

He asks to see your journals and your notebooks where you write down your ideas and the advice you have gleaned from reading the biographies of respected, successful writers.

Finally he gives his diagnosis: “There is no blockage; it is simply a case of literary malnutrition, brought on by the unrealistic expectation that writing is simply having the  inspiration or desire to write, which is then followed by miracles of narration and dialogue flowing effortlessly onto the paper.”

 “Well, what do I do about it?” you ask.

“Unfortunately, there is no simple and fast cure,” explains Dr. Wordsmith.

“My advice to most of my writer patients is to relax and the condition will cure itself…as long as you read good writing every day, and show up every day and do some writing, any writing.”

“But, call me again if the condition goes on for more than week and I’ll refer you to one of my specialist colleagues, Dr. Persistence, Dr. MoreEffort, or Dr. ReadMore.”

The dangers of writing your book for someone else

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the surest paths to failure with your book is to write it to please someone other than yourself. You are the person you must satisfy with your writing; otherwise your writing will not be authentic.

The novelist John Steinbeck, author of the grapes of Wrath and many other notable works, commented, that, for him, his writing had to be an end in itself. If he wrote to try to please a segment of the literary world, for example, it would be like trying to write with someone constantly looking over his shoulder. He essentially wanted to write without expectation, other than realizing his ambition to do good work.

For you as a person on the path to becoming a writer, to write even with the expectation of being published can color your writing because you will be trying to impress someone such as a submissions editor at a publishing company, or a literary agent, for example. The resultant writing is not likely to be in your true voice.

I am not trying to minimize the importance or the worth of doing paid work (for someone else) as an assignment or as part of a career (freelance or in-house) in working for a media company. Much brilliant and worthwhile writing is being done every day by journalists, corporate writers, and copywriters.

But if you are setting your sights on writing fiction such as a novel, or hoping to write enough short stories or poems that you can subsequently compile them into a book, then you have to write first for yourself, and not for someone or something else.

As a perceptive observer once said, there are few things more sad than to see someone die with their music still inside them.

Writing your book one day at a time

By Dennis Mellersh

It’s a given that if you write a certain amount every day, it will not take long for you to accumulate enough pages of manuscript to have a book. You might call this the one-day-at-a-time approach to writing.

There is also an important psychological benefit for you as a writer in keeping your writing life in day-tight compartments. Writing is one of those professions that can entail a lot of emotion, and it’s sometimes negative emotion.

Some days you may feel that you are failing in your writing objectives and that your book will never materialize. But remember, that’s just how you are feeling on a given day; today the writing may not be going well, but tomorrow could be a day when the words flow effortlessly.

If you read the biographies, autobiographies, and journals of professional writers, or watch their videos on YouTube, you will find that, invariably, they all say that they have good days in their writing and days that are unproductive, when the words just don’t happen. Professional writers recognize that at such times, forcing the writing usually is counterproductive…so they take a break by reading, doing some research, or finding a distraction of some sort to take their minds off their work.

As a writer, you could take a lesson from professional athletes, such as baseball players. They know that they are not going to be 100% every day. If they can have days when they win 65% of the time as a team, they are doing exceptionally well. In the art of hitting in baseball, being productive 30% of the time, or batting for a 300 average is considered excellent.

They key point is to show up every day at your writing place, whether that happens to be on any given particular day a desk in your home, sitting in a coffee shop, a park bench, or jotting ideas in your notebook while waiting for a doctor’s appointment.

Just show up and write, take the good days with the bad or seemingly unproductive days, and you will soon have a book. And remember, even on the “bad” days, you will still be learning something about writing a book. Little “failures” for a writer are lessons in themselves.

It's all part of becoming a writer.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The dangers in imitating other writers

By Dennis Mellersh

In your journey of becoming a writer and learning how to write a book, a habit to guard against is that of imitating, consciously or subconsciously, the writing style of a favourite author.

Although it is important for you as a writer to follow the general guidelines or market principles for the book genre that interests you (writing a mystery novel for example) imitation of another author’s style will hurt your writing and your credibility with your potential reading audience.

One of the reasons that imitation can surface in your writing is if you greatly admire the work of a particular author and perhaps think that if your writing were similar, you could be a successful writer too.

But, it is a dangerous trap.

I recently came across a good explanation of why this is so in a book titled Creative Authenticity (1) written by Ian Roberts. Roberts is a painter, but he explained in his book that visual arts and writing both require authenticity, or speaking with your own voice in your art.

Here is what he says about using the yardstick of comparing ourselves to others:

“We can run into trouble comparing ourselves with another artist’s work when our temperament is completely different from his or hers, which means that we could never do what they do…it is unproductive to compare and evaluate ourselves against someone else’s work. What we’re trying to compare doesn’t. And it can be harshly discouraging to try.”

Developing your own style as a writer will take time – time spent writing every day. By disciplining yourself to write every day, eventually your own style will emerge.

(1) Creative Authenticity, by Ian Roberts, Atelier Saint-Luc Press, 2004

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Some of what you write won’t be good

By Dennis Mellersh

If you’re doggedly going to go down the path of becoming a writer, you will often need to reach for the eraser or the delete button, and sometimes the trash can.

In our work as writers, some of what we produce will be just “good”, some not-so-good, some passable, and some of it just plain bad. Sometimes, a book will “just not come together” and we will need to abandon the concept, regroup, and start afresh with a new project.

After working diligently on a promising idea, you may find, for example, that the idea is simply not big enough or sufficiently important to sustain a book-length project. It might be more suitable for a short story, or an essay, for example.

Or, the idea may excellent but we simply aren’t experienced enough as writers to execute it effectively – the idea is bigger and more complex than our present capabilities as writers. The tool-chest of our writing skills is not yet complete enough.

The sooner you recognize this fact of your evolving life as a writer, the better.

Otherwise you will be discouraged by your unsuccessful writing results and will not be able to feel the joy of work during those times when you are “in the zone” and the words are brilliantly flowing onto the paper like magic.

In the work of virtually all writers who tackle fiction and non-fiction, the writing will vary in quality. Even the greatest writers did not always hit home runs.

For the beginner writer, it is important to realize that over time, writing badly and learning from the experience will eventually result in writing well as we progress on our journey of becoming a writer.

Are you a writer at heart?

By Dennis Mellersh

If you have become discouraged at any time in your efforts to learn how to write a book, here’s a thought to provide some inspiration: the major components of becoming a writer are intention, desire, and inclination.

You already have the intention to write a book, you have the desire, and you may find, if you look back, that you have exhibited the inclination to be a writer throughout your life.
Some positive or “yes” answers to the following questions can mean that you have an inborn inclination towards the creative process and writing:
  • Do you enjoy reading books about writing, writers, and the creative process?
  • Do you find yourself searching the Internet for information such as articles about writing?
  • Do you like reading about the lives of famous writers?
  • Do you read book reviews?
  • Do you find yourself making notes about books and other informational material?
  • Have you tried writing anything, such as a short story, or a poem?
  • Do you make thoughtful comments on articles on websites and blogs?
  • Do you have a “love affair” with writing materials such as pens, pencils, writing pads, journals, index cards?
  • Do you write down notes about various ideas you have

If yes, and to use a cliché, “you get the picture” – you’re inclined to be a writer.

Becoming a writer in a more formal sense is really a matter of channelling the creative writing energy you already have in a disciplined way to learn about the craft of writing, and then practicing your writing (on anything) every day.

Keep reading, and keep writing!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writing fiction: Listen to your instincts and write in your own voice

By Dennis Mellersh

When taking the first steps towards writing fiction, one of the common mistakes of new writers is in not following their instincts and not writing what they really want to write in their books.

This tendency can manifest itself in a new writer’s novel, short stories, or poems (although poetry is strictly not necessarily part of the fiction category).

This can be the result from at least two factors:
(1) Trying to write fiction in an idealized “literary” style
(2) Being afraid to show your true self in your fiction writing

The effects of this show up in both fiction dialogue and in fictionalized description or expository passages.

With dialogue, trying to write in a supposed “literary” style will result in the characters in your novel not talking like normal people. Simply put, neither the dialogue, nor the character speaking the dialogue is believable.

In description, trying to write in what you might perceive as a “literary” style produces “flowery’, exaggerated overblown writing passages in which it appears you, as a writer, are trying to “show-off” your literary capabilities.

Both tendencies however are a sign of amateurism and will be a turn-off for your readers. Although it is important to follow general rules of grammar and style, it is equally vital to write naturally and instinctively, rather than trying to imitate some sort of writing style that you think you “should” be using.

To some extent, writing fiction has an autobiographical element which the reader associates with you as the writer. If you don't write in your own, true voice, your writing will not seem genuine to the reader. It will ring false.

Writing your novel: Avoid being overly “serious”

By Dennis Mellersh

As you begin the actual work of writing your novel, one common tendency to avoid is that of trying to be deadly serious in getting your “message” across to your potential readers.

Although the readers of your novel will initially be interested in what you have to say in your novel, they will be turned off quickly if your book is preachy, overly obvious, moralistic in tone, and full of stereotyped one-dimensional characters whose actions always appear to embody a “moral lesson.”

It’s fine to have serious intellectual and moral purposes in your writing, but remember that people will not be buying your book to be lectured at.

You need to keep your readers entertained from the perspective of them enjoying reading your book. Otherwise you will lose your readers. So, keep the ethical and moral lessons as subtle and as unobtrusive as possible, if you must use them at all.

Remember, you are writing a novel, not a book on ethics, philosophy, or moral behaviour.

In the words of the writer Frank O’Connor, “A novel is about people, it’s written for people, and the moment it starts getting so intellectual that it gets beyond the range of people and reduces them to academic formulae, I’m not interested in it any longer…you read [a novel] because you enjoy it. You don’t read it because of the serious moral responsibility to read, and you don’t write it because it’s a serious moral responsibility.”(1)

(1) Source: Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How Ray Bradbury created story ideas

By Dennis Mellersh

In the early stages of learning to write a book, and even when you have a good foundation in creative writing skills, you will sometimes need devices to kick-start your imagination and get your writing flowing.

One of the techniques used by the fantasy writer Ray Bradbury was to make a list of nouns and then creatively play with the nouns to stimulate his thinking as a writer and to generate ideas that he could use in developing a story.

In an interview with the Paris Review,* Bradbury noted that, although he eventually would be able to generate story ideas easily, at first, in his early writing career, he needed devices to stimulate his imagination, and for this, he chose nouns.

“…in the old days I knew I had to dredge my subconscious, and the nouns did this…I did it by making lists of nouns and then asking, What does each noun mean?. .. Then, when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer…”

“…I begin to write little pensées about the nouns. It’s prose poetry …I started to write short, descriptive paragraphs, two hundred words each, and in them I began to examine my nouns. Then I’d bring some characters on to talk about that noun and that place, and all of a sudden I had a story going.”

As a first effort in trying out Bradbury’s idea we could modify the process. As a start, you could try writing down a list of six nouns and then writing just a  sentence or two about the noun that could be the lead-in or central idea for developing a story.

Here’s a list of four nouns I chose arbitrarily, followed by a written thought that might lead to a story idea.

“My addiction to constantly chewing bubble gum has caused problems for me, but if it were not for bubble gum, I would not have…”

“I wanted my typewriter to be one of those old-fashioned heavy ones like you used to see in movies about newspapers. I had a uniquely personal reason for this preference…”

“If I had never read that book, my life would have been entirely different…”

“Just a few years ago, I could not write anything even slightly creative without having a specific color and brand of ink for my fountain pen, but now, things are quite different…”

You get the idea.

Why not make up your own list of perhaps six nouns and see if you can develop a micro-story or a poem based on the associations in your mind with each noun on your list.

You may be pleasantly surprised at the results you achieve.

* Interview by Sam Weller, The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 203

You can read the entire interview at the following url:

“I would write a book – if only I had the time”

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the common misconceptions of people not familiar with writing is that it is an inborn ability, and that to write a book, for example, you just have to have some time available, tap into the talent, and then start to write.

However, as someone who is in the process of becoming a writer, and doing the hard work of learning to write, you know how difficult it is
People who think that they would write, if only they could “find the time” would not likely say that they would do the electrical installations in an office building; or build a three-story brick house; or do all the plumbing in their house – if they could just take time off from their busy schedules.

Even professional people with significant technical educational backgrounds have this peculiar notion that they could simply tap their brains and a stream of novels, short stories, or poems would then pour out with ease onto the page.

Yet, a professional writer would never say words to the effect, “Yes, I’ve been thinking that when I have the time between novels, I think I will do some heart surgery.”

The prolific writer Harlan Ellison commented on this oddity of perception:
“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”

Once you progress in your writing and perhaps have had some of your work published, you may wish to disabuse your friends and acquaintances of this popular myth.

Or instead, you might want to take the advice of Ernest Hemingway: “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Avoid clichés and overused expressions in your writing

By Dennis Mellersh

One of the surest ways to ensure that the writing in your book appears non-professional and amateurish is to sprinkle clichés (overused phrases and expressions) liberally throughout your manuscript.

The very commonplace nature of clichés in our everyday speech makes it difficult to avoid incorporating them into our initial writing. So we have to go through what we have already written and edit them out.

The problem with most clichés is that they are often completely meaningless due to their derivation or symbolism being long forgotten, or they are overused business-speak or some other form of jargon.
Here are some clichés, or over-used expressions, that I could use to start my next sentence in this article:
  • The fact of the matter (cliché: what do the words actually say?)
  • In actual fact (cliché: what other kind of fact is there?)
  • In point of fact (cliché and a meaningless collection of words)
  • When all is said and done (cliché – when might that be?)
  • What this boils down to (cliché – what is boiling?)
  • In short… (cliché: why uses these words at all?)
Minus a cliché lead-in, here’s the next sentence in this article:
A lot of clichés are fun to use in speech, but they don’t add to the content of our writing and actually detract from our writing.  An exception might be if we are trying to draw a particular image of a character in a novel or short story and are using clichés in the character’s speech patterns to help establish the character’s personality through their way of talking.
A couple of common cliché’s we all might like to use in our speech: You get the picture; go figure; well…duh.
Cute, but they add little to our writing, and instead diminish it.
Many cliché’s are so old few people know their true meaning, and that’s another reason to avoid using them. Example, He’s still “wet behind the ears.” We know it means somehow that “he” is inexperienced or immature, but how many people know what the words “wet behind the ears” actually refer to?
You might want to check out some of the websites that discuss clichés and have lists of clichés. Just type cliché into Google.

Writing your book: An opportunity assessment

By Dennis Mellersh

In his book Opportunities: A Handbook of Business Opportunity Search*, cognitive/thinking expert Edward de Bono discusses the concept of ‘opportunity space.’

And, although de Bono is not discussing the writing of books within his ideas on opportunity, but rather is focussed on business and industry, nevertheless his ideas can be applied to writing and publishing the book you want to produce.

De Bono sums up ‘opportunity space’ and our ability to seize opportunity as follows:
“If an opportunity is within our opportunity space, then we can act upon it.”

Further, “The opportunity space includes all the changes, decisions, and choices that we can make. It includes all the assets we are using and the actions we can take.”

Let’s make the reasonable assumption that (a) you are capable of writing a book; (b) that there is a market for the book you decide to write and; (c) you have access to tools or assets that can be applied to your writing and to the potential market for your book.

Granting these assumptions, and to use de Bono’s criteria, you (as someone who wants to write a book) have both the opportunity and you have the ‘opportunity space.’

The particular opportunity for you lies in determining where you have some control with your individual ‘opportunity space’ elements.

You actually will have significant control.
Your particular areas of ‘opportunity space’ control are yours alone, but here are a few general examples I can suggest:
  • You decide the type of book you want to write, whether it is fiction, or non-fiction and you decide the specific writing format your book will take; a traditional approach or something experimental. You can control/decide the way your book is written and presented to a given reading audience.
  • You make the decision on what your book will be about: the subject matter, theme, and the ideas that will be presented in your writing efforts.
  • You control whether your book will be traditionally published in a print format or whether it will be an e-book. You decide how it will be designed, marketed, promoted and sold, if you make the decision to self-publish your writing.
  • You decide when you will do your writing in terms of scheduling, and you decide where you will write your book – home office, library, coffee shop. You decide when you can afford to take some time off from writing to recharge your creative batteries. You also decide on the way you will write and the materials you will use:  pen or pencil on paper, dictating, computer or tablet.
  • You have the choice and the ability to let your individual personality and the originality of your personal ideas come through strongly in your book.
There are many additional areas of control in the ‘opportunity space’ of writing and publishing your book that I could list here.
But now it’s up to you to analyze your particular circumstances and desires and see where you and your book fit in to this picture of opportunity and ‘opportunity space.’
* Edward de Bono, Opportunities: A Handbook of Business Opportunity Search, Penguin Books

Monday, April 1, 2013

Try a change of pace to unblock your writing

By Dennis Mellersh

If you’re having trouble trying to figure out the “right” words in your writing efforts, and your book seems a too-distant goal, try a change of pace. Write something just for practice to get the words rolling.

Following are a few suggestions:
  • If you’re writing on a computer or a tablet, trying writing with a pen or pencil on paper instead. Or if you already write in longhand on paper, try working on the computer.
  • Instead of working on the particular writing that’s causing you problems, write down a few sentences on what kind of a day you are having. You could even write about your writing block and why it bothers you.
  • Or instead of worrying about the book you’re trying to write, perhaps write down some of the reasons you want to write a book. If it’s going to be fiction, write about why you like fiction. If non-fiction, write on why you like that literary format.
  • Start a journal or a diary. The entries can be about why you enjoy writing, your plans for your book, or just the everyday events in your life. The novelist John Steinbeck often wrote in a journal each day before starting  the day’s novel-writing because he found that it warmed him up and helped him to write more freely.
  • Watch a news program for a few minutes and write down your reactions to any particular story. Or take a different approach in writing the lead-in to the news story you watched.
  • Grab one of your favourite books and copy a few sentences or paragraphs from a passage that you like. Write this in longhand, just to get moving with your writing.
  • Open your dictionary and write about the first word on the page, or the last word, or on any word in between. Write anything that comes into your head.
The point of the above suggestions is not to try to write something of importance, but just to write, period. Often by just “doodling” with some writing, you will get in the creative frame of mind where you can re-start the more serious type of writing that you want to do for your book.

I want to write a book but I don’t know what to write about

By Dennis Mellersh

Sometimes the desire to be a writer who wants to write a book is just a vague emotion, inclination or desire. There isn’t necessarily a concrete idea of the specific book we want to write in our minds, we just have this urge to write.

For beginner writers this often can be summarized in the statement/question: “I want to write, but I don’t know what to write about.”

Having the freedom to write anything we want can be limiting or constraining, because in the early stages of learning to write, having this freedom of choice can be paralyzing – writer’s block in effect.

The successful children’s book author and writing instructor Judy Delton stated this problem well in her book, The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

Delton related a situation in which she became aware of a university student taking a creative writing class that she was struggling with. The problem is that in the course, for some of the assignments, the students were told they could write about anything they wanted to. The student said she found this “intimidating” and had trouble writing anything at all for the assignments.

Here’s what Delton explained about the challenge of not having a specific topic to write about:

“Everyone needs limits. If I say in a class ‘Write about bubble gum’, or ‘ink’, or ‘your vacation’, the whole class is writing in a moment. But if I say, ‘Write about anything in the world you want to’, they sit and look stumped. It is inhibiting. So set some limits for yourself, something not too big, and give yourself permission to fail.”

She also suggests that beginners in the process of becoming writers should realize that in the learning stage they don’t need to write about something “important.” The purpose is to get used to the habit of writing, by practising writing.

Worrying about the topic you are going to write about will interfere with your creativity.

Is fear preventing you from writing your book?

By Dennis Mellersh

Fear, and particularly fear of failure, can be a major roadblock in realizing your desire to write a book.
You are taking the steps to learn about how to write a book, and you want to start practising the knowledge about writing that you are acquiring through your studying  and research.
And yet… you feel it is still too early to start writing.
It’s not too early.
Learning to write is a progressive activity; writing is not a skill you learn by studying and taking instruction in every conceivable aspect of writing, and then at some magical moment, setting pen to paper and starting to write.
Rather, you need to be practising your writing at each stage of your learning process.
Mostly what holds us back in our writing efforts is fear:
  • Fear that our book will not be good enough in the eyes of others
  • Fear that our writing will not meet our own expectations
  • Fear that “the publisher” will reject our book
  • Fear that the critics will think it is no good
And the list of writing-based fears goes on…
Throughout history such fears have affected many famous writers who worked work in different genres:
  • The renowned poet Emily Dickinson kept most of her poems in a drawer and the poems were not discovered until after her death
  • The brilliant naturalist Charles Darwin withheld his seminal work on evolution  for decades, largely due to fear of the anticipated public and scientific negative reaction
  • Some well-known published novelists, with an initial successful book to their credit, “dried-up”, sometimes due to a fear that they would not be able to repeat their earlier success
Fear is normal. But giving in to fear can prevent you from becoming a writer.
The key is to recognize the fear for what it is, an emotion; and to have the courage to discipline that emotion and write what you feel despite the fear.