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Guest Blog – ‘Tis the Season – By Sharon E. Cathcart

We all seem to be rushing around doing our holiday shopping, making lists and checking them twice. Naturally, as an author, I would love for you to buy my books — or work by another indie author. I highly recommend books by Jaimey Grant for the Regency romance lover in your life, and T. E. MacArthur for the steampunk lover.

Sharon E. Cathcart

However, there are a lot of people out there in desperate need. Your local food bank could use a donation, for example. Ditto your local animal shelter.

I am still running my charity drive via Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, an organization that helps people living with this illness in all 50 states.

I am also donating ducks again via World Vision. So many people in developing nations have lost their livestock and livelihoods due to flooding. Ducks help solve that problem. They provide eggs for food (and sales) and ducklings can also be sold for extra income.

Perhaps instead of rushing around to big box stores and standing in insane lines for the latest electronic gizmo or game, a smaller sum can be used to provide help to those in need. Just a little food for thought during this season of giving.

About this author

Books by internationally published author Sharon E. Cathcart provide discerning readers of essays, fiction and non-fiction with a powerful, truthful literary experience.

A former journalist and newspaper editor, Sharon has been writing for as long as she can remember and generally has at least one work in progress.

Sharon lives with her husband and an assortment of pets in the Silicon Valley,California.

What’s Your Why? A Guest Blog by Darlene Foster

 I found this fabulous article on Lynne Klippel’s Business Building Bookssite and just had to share it.

Written on October 13, 2011 by admin in Author Inspiration, Writing

Kathleen Ragan, a stay-at-home mother, loved reading stories to her young daughters. She took them to the local library every week to pick out fresh books and made story time an important part of every day.

Kathleen began to notice a disturbing trend. All the books she was reading featured male heroes. As she began to study childhood classics by Dr. Seuss, she noticed the only female characters were negative ones – lazy mothers, gossipy women, or colorless sisters who had no dialog. She then started to study fairy tales and other popular children’s books. There were few featuring girls who were brave, intelligent, or leaders. Instead, the books featured princesses who required rescuing, were evil step mothers, and were wicked witches.

These were not the role models Kathleen wanted for her daughters. She began an exhaustive search for folktales from around the world featuring female heroines. It took several years of exhaustive research including reviewing more than 30,000 stories.

This research led to her book Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters, published in 1998. The book features 100 stories from around the world with female heroines and are ideal for reading aloud to children.

Why is this story important to you?

Writing a book is a big job. It requires an investment of time, energy, and effort. In order to finish a book, you must have a passionate reason WHY you are writing that book. That passionate Why will pull you forward and give you the energy you need to complete your book.

Kathleen was passionate about providing inspiring stories for her daughters. Her passion propelled her to do whatever it took to create her book and share it with the world.

What about you?

Use these questions to measure your passion for your current writing project:
1.Do you enjoy learning about the topic of your book?
2.When you have extra time, does it feel like a treat to work on your book?
3.When you share your book idea with others, do you feel excited and exhilarated?
4.Have you clearly identified WHY you are writing this book?

If you notice that you are not feeling passionate about your book, don’t give up right away. You have two options. You can decide to select another topic which feels more exciting. Or, you can make your current topic more enjoyable to write by adding stories, fresh research, or taking a bolder stand.

One of the quickest ways to increase your passion for your book is to have some conversations with your ideal readers. Discover their needs and determine how your book can serve them. Reconnect with your passionate heart for helping others and you’ll find you’ve

Darlene Foster is a Self-employed writer from Delta BritishColumbia. In her words:

“I am a writer, traveler, and dreamer. I am lucky to have a great family and wonderful friends. I believe “a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.”

Writer’s Block – Myth or a Real Condition?

Writer’s Block – Myth or a Real Condition?

Writer’s block is generally recognized as a serious condition among professional writers. Not just novelists, but journalists, performers, songwriters, copy writers and others who write creatively  all fall victim from time to time.

First recognized in 1947 by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler, the term refers to a “condition” that can range from a complete lack of ability to write for years on end to a temporary inability to be creative to one’s satisfaction.

Writer’s block has been described in screenplays, novels, the news and in blogs.

Novelist Stephen King used it as a lynchpin in “The Shining.” Main character Jack Torrance was paralyzed by writer’s block, which eventually led to madness. Or did it?

Was it the lack of ability to write or was the sheer isolation of the Overlook Hotel that led Mr. Torrance to kill? Or, was writer’s block just another bit of fiction employed by King?

I feel that writers too often use writer’s block as an excuse for not doing what, at that moment, does not come easily. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of putting down one word at a time and allowing yourself the freedom to write badly until your muse comes to the rescue. At least this way, you have some material to build upon.

Yes it’s true, finances, family and spousal relationships, the wrong environment and other factors can affect your ability to stay focused on your work as a writer. But if every writer waited for  inspiration before putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard –  there would be little in the world to read. (And a lot of us would be very hungry!)

When I posted my opinion about writer’s block on Facebook and LinkedIn, I received a lot of feedback. Here’s some of what other  writers had to say about it.

“If inspiration doesn’t come to me, I chase it with a stick”

 “I think writer’s block is a genuine experience. Although given such a label makes it sound like some kind of affliction. I have it myself from time to time … usually when I am stuck on the direction my plot should take. It doesn’t last long. I never stress about it. I write around the problem and return to it later.

 “I write full time, everyday, but there was period where I would go to my studio and literally just couldn’t find the words, or a plot to put down. The more I tried the harder it got. I didn’t believe in the existence of writer’s block until then. It ended the same way it began. I went to my studio and just started writing and completed my usual two-thousand words per day.”

“Neurology has proven that when an individual is stressed or threatened, a part of the brain stem called the Reticular Activating System will shift control from the cerebral cortex to the limbic system. Without significant input from the cerebral cortex, the individual is temporarily deprived of the ability to perform nuanced analyses and creative thought.  Moreover, the individual is rarely aware of this shift and often attributes the resulting inability to perform her or his usual creative thinking as lack of willpower, character or ability.”

There is definitely a thing called writers block, but I believe that something in your life causes it. I have writers block, and mine is caused from someone close to me, offering his opinion on my grammar, and English – Over and Over again.”

“I was full of creative ideas and was writing so good. I slowly began to think about my grammar, and correcting it, and finally, all I could think about was my English and Grammar so much, that I had no room in my mind to create a new novel. I now have writers block. “

“Discipline makes me write – sans the mood. Pen to paper and everything turns out alright.”

 While I do not claim to have all the answers, I believe that those who stop writing because of  “writer’s block” are left with only blank pages, rather than material to improve upon. Some of my best wok has occurred when I have forced myself to pluck out one word at a time. When I find my writing not up to my standards, I rewrite and rewrite until I am satisfied. Giving in to any temptation or excuse not to continue will only leave me with nowhere to go when I return.

For those who suffer from writer’s block, I sincerely wish you all the best. I encourage you to persevere and not give in. Imagine all those who go through life each and every day with physical and mental disabilities. They often overcome their handicaps, and I wish you Godspeed in overcoming yours.

The “Right” Way to Write

We all have our own way of doing things. As authors we have our own creative streak that we bring to the table when we sit down to flesh out our tales. For some, sticking to the rules we were taught in our composition classes in school is difficult at best.  We have all memorized the rote rules: “I before E except after C” and the like. My spelling was so atrocious when I was in school that my composition papers looked like they had the measles, there were so many red marks on them! Spelling aside, is there a “right” way to write?

I have been doing a little reading on Linked In, Twitter and Facebook; looking into groups and reading blogs and posts. I have noticed that some people are sticklers for the “rules” and some are not. So when we break the “rules”, are we not “good writers”? Is writing about following the conventions or about setting down what is in our hearts, even if that means that we use language in unconventional ways? Every writer has a different approach to writing; in my opinion, rules are great, they give us a guideline to go by; but sometimes, rules were meant to be broken. There are times when we just need to express ourselves in ways that go against the grain of traditions and there is just no reason to hold back or try to make what we want to say fit into someone else’s idea of what is right and what is wrong.

I am a big proponent of reading. I believe if you want to be a writer, you first have to be a reader. I encourage people I know to read everything and anything they can in order to better learn to express themselves.  Does that mean that our styles have to match the styles of the greats in our field? In a word – no; I don’t believe that we need to match ourselves to anyone, as a matter of fact, in our field, originality is what counts. Now, that is not to say go completely off the deep end and write in a disorganized, fragmented way. Our goal is to express ourselves, but it is also to get published and gain readers. If you pick up a book and have to work to understand every single sentence the author wrote, how long do you think you would be reading that book? Clear and concise are good guidelines to follow, unless you are trying to portray a character who is confused or you are purposefully trying to be ambiguous for the sake of your storyline.

Another practice that I feel needs to be touched on is whether or not to outline. Some authors say you must outline your entire novel before you  begin, others suggest outlining a chapter or two at a time, while others feel that outlining spoils their own sense of discovery and suspense. In my opinion, everyone is right; no one is wrong. What is important is following the path that works best for you.

I have seen posts where people will comment that the advice given is not the “right” way to write. I am not pointing fingers at these individuals; they are entitled to their own style. What I am saying is that we authors should have our own styles and not have to count on the approval of others as to whether or not we have “done it right”. There is no one “right way” in creative expression. Learn from others, read what you can, and then write from your heart. A good place to learn more about others’ styles and to grow in your own style is in critique groups and at writer’s conventions. Listen to what other authors are saying and writing and take from it what you want; discard what you don’t want. One person’s garbage can be another person’s treasure, as the saying goes. Not everyone is going to like your style and that is ok, as long as you like your style. Of course if your publishing company, editor or agent asks you to change something, you would be wise to consider it, but that does not mean that you have to take every suggestion. If you know that the story would lose some of its effect if you make the change, then stand up for your story.  Conversely, really listen to and consider what you are being asked to do. Sometimes we are too close to our own work to truly see that another way may be more effective.

Don’t worry about convention, about right and wrong; just worry about expressing yourself in the best way you can and painting a vivid picture with your words. If your story comes to life for your readers, you have done your job as a writer. What I have learned from my experience is:  break the rules when necessary, listen to and discern the useful from the not so useful advice, and be the writer you are meant to be.  What is one thing your experience has taught you?

Publishing Options

We labor over our books, our stories; our fertile imaginations sowing the seeds deep within our subconscious, and we labor to bring forth our characters so they can tell their stories. Once we have given birth to this masterpiece and raised it to be the best story it can be, it is time to send it off into the world. The burning question at this point is…to whom should we send it? Should we send it to one of the big six traditional publishers, where we will definitely need an agent?  How about a smaller, Independent Publisher, which may or may not require an agent? Here, our book may or may not be wanted or could get lost in the slush pile. An agent or publisher must love (not just like) our book in order to sell it. Maybe we should send it to a small, vanity printer, which may cost more money than perhaps we can afford? How about sending it to a POD publisher where we know it will not be rejected; where it is definitely wanted since POD publishers make their money by publishing rather than selling books.  Or, worst case scenario – we lock it up in the attic to mold and mildew in the hopes that some future relative of ours might discover it and read it and actually enjoy it.  So my question to you is….what ARE you going to do with the fruit of your hard labor?

The traditional publisher route is an arduous journey for any writer. The big publishing houses seldom accept unsolicited manuscripts.  On the off occasion that they do, unless we have made a personal connection, the manuscript will be among the masses and masses of those being flung onto the desks of the assistants to the editors whose job it is to wade through the slush pile and pluck out what they feel the editor would want to see.  That is not to say that it is not possible for a story to make it through to the correct editor who will read it and be completely blown away by the brilliance of the author; but those are tough odds. In a traditional publishing setting, the manuscript you labored over may sit in the slush pile for months waiting to see the light of day. Once the first assistant has read it and loved it, it goes to an editor, who must get fellow editors to read it, love it, and support it for publication at an editorial meeting.  On the more positive side, without new material and new voices publishers would cease to exist. They are always on the lookout for a good story.  If this is your goal: Don’t give up.  Go for it!

Another route to go is to send your work to an Independent Publishing house.  Independent Publishing houses are smaller than traditional houses and may accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, most prefer agented material. When an author sends a manuscript to an Independent house, it is much more likely to be read by an editor and it is more likely that the response will be more than a form letter. The difficulty with a smaller house is that the number of manuscripts accepted is much smaller and most have limited funds for author promotion. However, since the larger publishers spend 90% of their PR dollars on 10% of their bestselling authors, a new author must do most of their own promotion. On the plus side, small publishers generally are more nurturing with their authors. The competition is just as fierce, but there will always be a market for a great story.

A Subsidy Press or Vanity Publisher is yet another choice. With a Vanity Publisher, an author can expect to pay for services such as editing and cover design, and is unlikely to receive any help with marketing or promotion. This is an expensive alternative but can be worth the expense depending on your purpose. This also includes a subset of Print On Demand Publishers who will only print a copy of the book if it is ordered. The price is generally higher than printed books.  These alternatives will not lead to a spot for your book in a large bookstore such as Borders or Barnes and Nobel, since booksellers do not stock book that are not returnable. Many POD companies offer a paid returnability option. However, I have found (particularly in this economy) booksellers still fail to order these books. Not only have they have gone through no selection process; they must be paid for up-front.  It is wise to research any publisher well, but when it comes to the above it is imperative. Do not be taken advantage through lack of knowledge or research. There are several with excellent reputations but it takes some research to find them.

A Partnership Publisher shares the expense of publishing the book with the author and receives a piece of the profit in return. They may pay for services such as editing and cover design as well as distribution, marketing and promotion. Usually there will be a creative director who will help assess what services are needed most and how much money needs to be allocated to which service.  This type of publisher also tends to be an expensive alternative with up front, out of pocket costs, but again, it is worth it depending on your purpose and your financial situation.  Reputable partnership publishers who produce quality books are highly selective~they publish only what they feel they can sell since their major revenue is derived through the sale of books not the printing of them.  Because of this selectivity, they have an excellent reputation with booksellers and their bookstore distribution is excellent.

Self-Publishing is fast becoming a popular choice as competition in the big publishing houses gets more intense. With Self-Publishing, the author does everything him/ herself. The author must find a professional editor and cover designer. They must develop a marketing plan, get their books input into the on-line bookseller locations, and find a distributor if they want their books in the book stores – it is all in the hands of the author.  If your do not desire to be a publisher as well as an author, there is an alternative to going it all alone. You can hire a book shepherd.  A book shepherd has experience with the publishing industry and can help guide our courageous, creative genius through the details that he/she doesn’t really know about or want to get involved with.  A reputable book shepherd can save an author time, money and frustration by guiding him/her through the publishing process. However, these services do not come without a cost.

There is also a lot to be said for the new opportunities available for E-Book publishing, but that is a whole different subject. Jerry Simmons covers this type of publishing in depth at

As the saying goes: “different strokes for different folks”. There is no sure-fire road to success when it comes to the publishing industry. The best bet for any author is to be knowledgeable about the process and to surround yourself with supportive, helpful people who have a desire to see you succeed. Go to writers conferences and join writers’ organizations. There is a lot of help out there, and I have found writers to be a generous group who do their best to help each other. Don’t let rejections get you down; most of our bestselling authors have a drawer full of them. If their story was compelling, their manuscript well edited and still they were rejected, it may have been that they hit the reader on a bad day, it was not that readers cup of tea, they had read or published something similar recently–a whole host or reasons. Few authors succeed the first time around. However, the only way to fail is to not try or to give up.

Suggestions: A wonderful  gift for any aspiring writer this Christmas could be  Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published, in which Maralys Wills gives a candid view of the road to publication with her  multi-gene books.  She brings writers in the picture and suggests what to do and things to avoid.

Don’t put it off for tomorrow, be a writer today!

How many times have you said to yourself or someone else “I’ll write when my kids are older” or “I’ll get to that next chapter tomorrow” or “If I could just find the time, I could be a writer”? This particular question comes in many different incarnations, but it is always the same message; you want to be a writer, but you “can’t” find the time to write. Even if you have a full or part-time job, small children or an ailing relative to care for . . . if you want to be a writer, you must carve out time to write. The only way to be a writer is to write. There is no way around it. You must put your fingers on that keyboard.  If writing is truly your passion, you will make the time.  So how do you make the time to write? Good question. How would you feel if I left off right here because I had something else to do? Let’s take a look at a few ideas for time management for writers.

First things first: Writing is a job; you have to treat it that way. It is not something you can just do when you feel like it. If you can write only when you are inspired, be sure you are inspired each day. And if you are serious about becoming a successful writer, take out your calendar and write down the time you plan to commit to writing just as you would any important appointment (doctor, dentist, etc).  Don’t tell yourself that you don’t have the time.  Take a good hard look at how you spend your time–discover what is eating up that time. Do you surf the internet? Do you watch TV? Do you spend a great deal of time on personal calls? Why let those distractions get in the way of your writing time? Turn them off! Tune out! Don’t spend time, even on the worthwhile social media sites, when you could be writing!  Turn your attention to the task at hand. Take the telephone off the hook, or record a message on your phone announcing that you will not be picking up the phone between _________since you have reserved that time for writing. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with a little mood music in the background, but if you find that limited time makes writing a challenge, there is really no room to be watching Days of our Lives while you could be writing. Treat your writing like the job it is. Create a workspace that is organized and free of clutter. There is no bigger time waster than searching through a pile of papers for the notes you made on a character or scene and can’t seem to find now.

Once you have established that this is, in fact, a job–the job you have chosen– and you have organized your workspace, it is time for the next step. It’s time to set some goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Be realistic here; don’t set the goal of writing the next blockbuster. You may actually do so, but try to stay on this planet for now. Make your goal measurable; “I’m going to write for an hour each night, each morning, or whatever works best for you” is a reasonable goal. Be specific with your goals. “I’m going to spend half an hour on research and half an hour writing dialogue” is specific.  So remember, measurable, realistic and specific goals.

Now it’s time to prioritize. Some successful authors write down everything they need to do and everything they want to do. Decide what is most important to accomplish and create a tracking system. There are several good recommendations for tracking systems. One is to use a poster board with 3 columns. The columns can be labeled anything you want so long as they reflect the order in which you complete your tasks. You can use such titles as: Due now, due by: and waiting list; you can get more creative if you like: this ship has sailed, ship departing, ship in port; however you like it, the message is: this is important, this is coming up and this can wait.  You might use sticky notes for each individual task for ease of rearranging. Another tracking system a friend of mine uses is to keep work in a plastic drawer system. He labels them: research, in progress, editing, ready to submit and submitted. You can also keep a notebook of each of your writing projects with details on where and when it was submitted and when you expect a response. Any way you skin this cat, the point is you need to prioritize your tasks and you need to keep track of them.

Next, it is time to make a schedule. Once you know what you want to accomplish, map out the time to do it. The first step is to find out where all your time goes. Does this sound familiar? You had all these plans to get your writing done, you had your goals set out and then the next thing you know, it’s time to hit the hay. Not only did you not get your writing done, but the laundry is still in a pile and the dishes are still in the sink and you feel like you accomplished nothing. So what happened? This is the time to tune in. Write down everything you do for a few days. EVERYTHING. The cup of coffee with a friend; picking up the dry cleaning; taking the kids to school. Write it down; write down how long it took. You will be surprised at how much time you actually waste.  You can’t see it until you write it down. Once you see it, you will be able to streamline your day. While you are setting your schedule, make sure you set aside time for yourself, time with your family, time for your daily chores and time to write. It’s important to take time for yourself to reenergize and also to take time to spend with your family so that when you do take the time to write, you won’t feel guilty closing the door on them.

Your response might be, “I do all of this and I still can’t get to my writing!” Are you letting your insecurities keep you from writing? If you don’t finish your novel, it can’t be rejected, right? Is it better to be a wannabe than a failure? The only failure in writing is to stop trying. If you are still reading at this point, you must want to be a writer.

My early education came during the short lived phenomenon of sight-reading.  Without the aid of phonics, my greatest creativity was in the area of spelling, which was not greatly admired by any of my teachers. All my creative writing papers (sprinkled with red circles for spelling errors) appeared to have broken out with the measles. However, with my passion for the stories I wanted to tell, my fear of the written word vanished. Do not let the fear of failure prevent you from fulfilling your dreams.  Give yourself permission to write badly at first. When I have been forced to abandon my writing for any period of time, such as when I am on a book tour, when I return, I write pure garbage, and yet through that process, I find my muse has returned and I’ve given myself something to work with.

The only thing barring the success of anyone with the passion to be a writer is giving into the obstacles rather that overcoming them. If I was able to become an award winning author, so can you.