Thursday, December 31, 2009

And Now, for the Peer Review...

No, you're not reviewing a published book. You're reviewing a friend's book - and a friend is reviewing yours.

Welcome to peer review.

Scientists and researchers do it all the time: they hand their raw research articles to publishers and editors, and the publishers and editors hand the articles to the scientists' peers. These peers edit the work, sniff out possible frauds, and send in reviews to make the paper better (or send an order for it to be tossed out altogether).

In this review session, you and your friend will help each other achieve literary greatness. Your job is to pretend to be a mere reader to a writer friend's work. Review that person's work as though it were already out in the bookstore. You don't need to do any editing. Your job is to look through the work, review it, and suggest (VERY GENTLY) how it might be made better - in other words, this is just like any other review that you do, except that you know the author personally and the work isn't out on the bookshelves yet.

In the same vein, be ready to accept suggestions and criticism about your work. Be open to these suggestions because they may actually make your work logical, readable, and - who knows? - publishable!

What a way to end the year!

Good luck, happy reading, and happy reviewing!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reviewing Christmas Movies

Christmas movies are probably either syrupy enough to give ants diabetes, or sad enough to dehydrate the Pacific ocean. Now, it's time to review them, and you may either need to exercise your smile muscles to keep them from breaking, or keep a big box of tissues handy.

Use the same review tools that you would for all your other movies, but this time, try writing two different reviews. Review the Christmas movie as a movie: what are its cinematic merits? How is the acting? The cinematography? The direction? The shot framing? The music? Does everything come together into a coherent whole?

Next, review the Christmas movie as a CHRISTMAS movie. Does it have the spirit of the season that it portrays, or can you move the plot to any other season and still have it work? Does it use the Christmas season to its advantage, or does the movie end up sappy and look like it's trying its hardest best to warm your heart?

This exercise should help you see how your book can be reviewed, too: you can be reviewed in terms of your skill as a writer, and you can be reviewed in terms of your skill as a weaver of imaginary worlds. Both these reviews can exist in one review, but you need to be aware that you also have two major skill sets to develop. Recognize it in another art form, and you can get a greater grasp on how you can improve your craft.

Merry Christmas! Happy watching and happy reviewing!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

"Christmas is the keeping-place for memories of our innocence."

- Joan Mills

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Look Back on Your Year

2010 is coming fast - but don't let 2009 fall behind without looking back at what you've accomplished.

Today, your job is not to soak yourself in Christmas work; you don't need to read writing tips and tricks either. Your job is to look back on all that you've written and ask yourself: how far have I come, and where should I go?

How has my writing improved in 2009? What else should I do to improve my writing?

Are there bad writing habits that I still haven't shaken off? How will I shake them off? What good writing habits have I picked up this year? How will I keep these habits up, into 2010 and beyond?

Writing may be an art and a craft, but it's also a lot of work. See how much you've learned and plodded through in 2009, and you can get a good idea of how good 2010 will be for your writing life.

Happy Reading!

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Triad for All the Shopping!

Do you have the time to write a 300-word story? All you need are the three elements that follow, all of which should figure in your work:

1. candy cane
2. candle
3. wreath

These three things should fit into your story, along with your own plot and characters. Another rule: DO NOT MAKE IT A CHRISTMAS-THEMED STORY. This exercise should help you craft your own story without being influenced by the hubbub and ruckus all around you.

When you are done, post your work in the Comments section, or provide a link to it. Good luck and happy writing!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unblock to Relax!

The holidays can truly be stressful, and you will want to escape the crowds and noise if only to find yourself again. You can get drowned out in the hubbub, but you don't have to; try an unblocker when you find a 15-minute window of spare time.

An unblocker is not only a good way to help you get your writing started. It can also relax you and make you feel that you still own something, that you are not being drawn away by an untamed tide.

Are you ready? Pick up a pencil/pen and paper, or open a blank document on your computer. Use the following sentence as your prompt, and then write on and on and on.

"I would like to get away from all this."

You don't have to turn the entire thing into a story. All you need a few thoughts, and you can simply write until your 15 minutes run out. Don't go back and edit, don't look at your grammar, and forget all the rules of punctuation and spelling. This is no publication quality work; this is an unblocker to help you get the day out of your hair.

Happy writing!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's the What If That You Might Want

December is the busiest time of the year, and it's not just about Christmas. People wrap up work, get ready for travel, close accounts, close books, and, in general, get into a lot of scrapes and messes. But what if it was calm?

What if the world went all quiet in December?

"All quiet" means so many things. It can mean that the malls close and no one can shop, or it can mean that people aren't rushing to get their work done. What it means is up to you. You can choose a plot and your characters, but you can't write anything beyond 1000 words. When you are done, post your short story in the Comments section, or provide a link to it.

Good luck and happy writing!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Complete It for the Holidays!

Here's a questionnaire that you can print out or fill out when you have that little pocket of spare time. Keeping your creative juices flowing can actually make your holiday more exciting. So don't balk at the prospect of working on your writing: you're just taking the humdrum out of your December!

Be as creative as possible when you fill out the blanks:

1. The best gift that I ever received was _____________ from ___________.
2. I think the best gift that I've ever given was the ______________ I gave to ___________.
3. ________ the ___________ with _________ of _________.
4. The ___________ on a __________ symbolize __________.
5. My favorite _________ movie is _____________ and I would love to watch it with _________.
6. If I had a Christmas tree, it would be colored ______________, filled with ___________, and with a __________ on top.
7. I want to get ___________ this ___________ because I can't ___________.
8. When I ___________ a __________, I like ____________.
9. One day, when I __________, I can ___________ as many times as I want.
10. It's fun to ___________ if you're not _____________.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A First Sentence on the Heels of Christmas

The holidays are upon us, and if you aren't careful, you could end up not writing anything and getting into Writing Muscle Atrophy. Make sure that you take time off from shopping and greeting card writing/sending to write just a little bit and keep your creative juices flowing.

You need to write a story now, and you don't have to go very far. In fact, you have only 200 words, and no more. You need to write something on the basis of this first sentence:

This December is going to be hot.

You need to write in first person, and you can have as many characters as you like to people your 200-word masterpiece. When you are done, post your work in the Comments section, or provide a link to it. Good luck and happy writing!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Bit of Holiday Goo!

The holidays are upon us! And they can squash your writing too!

Just before you head off and shop, here's some quick goo that will keep you on your writing toes. Below are three everyday objects, followed by three characteristics of any everyday object. Pair each of the objects with each of the characteristics (making nine total possible combinations). Use all these nine combinations in your very own advertising spree!

You have only 100 words at your disposal to share a story about your experiences with the object (with its assigned characteristic). It doesn't have to be a true story: but it has to be convincing enough to make a sale! This exercise should help you stay alert and still have a great sense of humor, no matter what time of the year.

Ready? Here's your goo!

mug blanket turkey
red warm cheap

When you are done, post your best story in the comments section, or provide a link to your work. Good luck and happy writing!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Take a Rest!!

At last, NaNoWriMo is offer! And at last, you can rest!

What should you do?

1. Do not edit your novel. Step away from it and allow your plot to still simmer in your head. Do nothing with it. Have nothing to do with it!

2. Attend a Thank God It's Over (TGIO) party and share war stories. Get tips from the veterans and mentor some new enthusiasts. Whatever you do, do not write your novel! Step away! Rest!

3. If you can, DO NOT READ YOUR NOVEL. You might think that this will be a harmless process that will allow you to enjoy your month's efforts. It will either force you to edit or leave you going "Huh?" at your story. True, some writers can produce a masterpiece in a month, but some will simply come up with drivel. Resist the urge to read your work because you might be tempted to judge yourself too harshly and too early.

It's time to reward yourself with free time. Rest, and you'll find yourself happy to jump into any kind of fray again.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Not-So-Last Sentence

You have your choice of characters and plot, and you can use as many words as you want. You only need to come to an ending so that your story will end with the following sentence.

"It was not finished yet."

Last sentence exercises always aim to make you focus your story and to find the many ways to reach an ending without looking like you are forcing the words out. Happy writing, and good luck with the story!

When you are done, post your work in the Comments section, or provide readers with a link to it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Love Can Move Mountains (Or Make them Land On You)

Having a love life can build up your writing life or break it down. Your husband or wife can bring you a surprise gift, or they can insult you without speaking a single word. Your boyfriend or girlfriend can be indifferent one day and affectionate the next. You can be on an emotional rollercoaster, and the stories that you tell could be affected by your love life.

That isn't to say, however, that every writer has to give up his or her love life for better writing. In fact, you need to think of the exact opposite. A love life - or, for that matter, a real life - can only enrich your writing and make it more poignant, more real to you and your readers.

You can actually take advantage of the emotional rollercoaster that you may find yourself in. Boyfriend not paying you any attention? Write about it. For added vindication, construct an imaginary boyfriend who can teach your boyfriend a thing or two about relationships.

Girlfriend sent you a sweet text message that made your day? Write about it. Better yet, send her a sweet text back.

Husband cooked you dinner? Write about it. Make it a happier occasion by writing an actual novel about the struggles that your husband went through to put the dinner together. Feel free to add fight scenes with other cooking-for-their-wives-husbands and negotiations on vegetable prices that end in cursing and shouting.

Wife didn't kiss you goodbye this morning? Write about it. Get some bigger revenge with a short story about how your day still goes well - and even better than any other day - even without the kiss.

A lot of people will tell you to ignore the emotional rollercoaster. Try riding on it - and you may find yourself rich in more plots, more characters, and more stories.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An Ebay Search Can Buy You a Story!

It's time to get on Ebay and buy a story! All you need to do is follow the steps below.

1. Visit - you don't need to have a log in.
2. Look for the search window.
3. Do a general search: type in the first letter of your first name and search for it.
4. Pick the first object/product that you find. Take note of it.
5. Do another general search: this time, type in the first letter of your last name.
6. Pick the very last object/product on the first page of your search results.

Now, construct a story around these two objects/products. You can pick your characters and plot, but make these two objects/products pivotal to your story. You have only 5,000 words at your disposal. When you are finished, post your story in the comments section or provide a link to it.

Good luck and happy writing!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Back to School!

Raphael's School of Athens is painted on one of the walls of the Vatican Museum. Filled with various characters from history, this painting could well be embedded with stories and legends.

What story can YOU pick up?

Look at all the characters and pick at least 3. Set your work in the School of Athens. What was life like? What are your characters like? What are their motivations? Where did they come from? Where are they going?

You can use up to 10,000 words for your story. Be as true as possible to how the characters appear in the painting, and if you can, do some historical research! When you are done, post your work in the Comments section, or provide a link to it.

Good luck and happy writing!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The NaNoWriMo Plunge!

Life bites.

Writing a novel is difficult enough when you have to do it over a period of years, but when you have one month to do it, it can be disastrous. A lot of writers who do the NaNoWriMo exercise every year will tell you that the best way to write is to lock yourself up in your personal dungeon (attic, basement, broom closet) and stay away from the world.

But how realistic can your novel be when you are cloistered and kept out of reality?

If you are planning to join National Novel Writing Month, prepare yourself for real life. Prepare yourself for the interruptions of school, work, home, and friends. If you are prepared for interruptions, then you may be less likely to respond insanely to a well-meaning friend/family member/boss, and you could successfully juggle writing a novel and your non-novel-writing life.

After all, won't winning NaNoWriMo be even more exciting and rewarding when you get past the 50k word mark, complete all your household tasks, finish up at school, and still keep all your friends without any of them worrying about your sanity?

Good luck with the race this year - and don't be afraid of real life! It may bite, but you can always bite back.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Abridged, The Shortened, the Condensed, Part 1

A few decades back, Reader's Digest decided to put out large volumes of condensed works, where they whittled down novels to their barest minimum so that people could still read the classics without having to sit down for hours (days, months) at a time. But how do condensed/shortened/abridged versions compare with the original?

Your job right now is to read a condensed version of a book that you have never read before, but whose full, unabridged, and complete copy is within reach. The objective of this exercise is to get you to see the difference between the condensed and full version of a book, not just in how the story flows, but what apparently editors hold in higher regard. Do editors go for character development but not the actual plot, or do they go for plots and then leave you to find out the characters' lives and motivations?

Your job is to read the condensed version of the book, and, as you are reading, write your thoughts down. In particular, write how the book makes you feel, how it strikes you, and what you are looking for. What are the questions left unanswered? Which characters do you want to see more of? What assumptions should you be making about the characters or the plot? In other words: speculate.

When you are done reading and taking notes, do not write a full review yet. Keep your notes and wait for the next exercise on book reviews. Good luck and happy reading (and speculating)!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Blog's Disclosure Policy

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Now, for that Horror Movie You Don't Even Want to See...

Not everyone likes horror movies - and even if some people do, there are just horror movies that they avoid like the swine flu. Slasher flicks, zombie movies, vampire tales, and all sorts of creatures go bump into the cinematic night. Are you brave enough to get past your fears (or unwillingness) and watch a horror flick?

Your job is to widen your repertoire to include even films that you may be horrified or resistant to watching. This time, you need to watch a horror movie and tell your audience what you think of it, ABOVE AND BEYOND THE FRIGHT AND GORE. How was the acting? How was the plot? What did you like about the movie? What did you dislike?

This exercise should help you appreciate even the strangest types of art, and to see the redeeming points even in art that is seemingly created for the sake of awakening our basest fears. Remember, if you can awake fear - among other emotions - in your readers, you are a better writer than most. Explore how such a phenomenon can be brought about by other art forms, and you could also enrich your own writing.

Good luck, happy watching, and happy reviewing!

(And don't forget to keep your lights on!)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Is There Really, Truly One Story?

It's time to listen to a writer, and to dig, deep into your soul, to see if you believe in a single story - or your own story to tell. Watch as Chimamanda Adichie talks about opening your heart and allowing your soul to take flight through your writing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Good Tool for Writers: The E-Book Search Engine

A lot of good writers are also good readers: they expose themselves to authors of varied styles, and they know which books to go to for research or improving their craft. But if you're a writer with a lot of work on your hands, can you still find time to read books?

If you're online a lot, you can still get electronic books, or e-books. However, e-books can be difficult to find online if you don't know where to go. Thankfully, you can search pdf files and books through the E-Book Search queen at

You can use your precious time to write more and read more, instead of spending hours looking for a download link that works. All you need to have is the book's author, an extract from the book, or simply the book's title.

The good thing about E-Book Search Queen is that it has books from all over the world. If you love reading fiction from a host of different countries, this is your chance to search pdf files for them. And if you haven't read books from a wider variety of cultures and expertise, now is the time to do so!

Reading books can be both enjoyable and educational. With the advent of the information age, reading books can now be as easy as searching, clicking, and downloading.

Happy reading and happy exploring!

Some posts on this blog have been sponsored by third parties. This entry is one such post. For more information, you can visit this blog's disclosure page.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Special Halloween Triad

Your job is to make a short story out of three elements of Halloween. You should have only 1 (ONE) character. The choice of setting is yours, the plot is entirely your own, and you have only 1,000 words at your disposal.

You also need to incorporate these three things into your story:

1. a pint of blood in a really big mug
2. a tombstone with nothing written on it
3. a white sheet

Whwn you are done, post your story in the Comments section, or provide a link to it so that other readers can look at your work.

Happy Writing, and good luck with your story!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Halloween Unblocker

Unblockers help you clear your head and get you past writer's block. They can also make you aware of things about yourself, and they can uncover a lot about what you believe in, what you know, and what you value.

Here's an unblocker that will help you dig out a few things. Start your work with the following sentence, and keep on writing, non-stop, for the next 15 minutes.

I am most afraid of....

Your goal is to simply write without checking your grammar, without editing your work, and without caring for syntax or sense. Just write and clear your mind. When you are done, relax! You've just written something that you should be proud of - something that you don't need to keep, but something that might allow you to write something else without worrying if you can get past writer's block.

Good luck and happy writing!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's Time for Halloween What Ifs!

Halloween is just a few weeks away, and it's time to get into the Halloween mood. Try out this What if for your short story:

What if zombies ruled the world?
The plot and characters will be your own, and you need to describe the world, in detail, with zombies at the head. You have only 3000 words (or less) to write your story. When you are done, post your story, or a link to it, in the Comments section.
Good luck, and happy writing!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A First Sentence that has enough prose in it...

...for a whole novel altogether.

Your job is to use the following first sentence as the basis of a short story that is no more than 1000 words long (including the first sentence!). The plot and characters are entirely yours. When you are done, post the story in the Comments section, or post a link to it so that people can read your work.

Here is your first sentence:

"There were many ways to get lost at the farmers' market, especially when you had to go through a maze of turnips, eggplant, peas, peanuts, green beans, and lima beans; when you had to listen to your thoughts above the negotiations on prices for gourds, squash, zucchini, mustard, and radish; and when you had to balance a bag of tomatoes and garlic on one hand, and a basket of onions and ginger on the other."

Good luck and happy writing!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Little Storm of Goo

It's time to rearrange the weather and your characters. Your job in this goo exercise is to pair up the following rain variants with a character, and write how that character is affected by the weather. Is the character happy? Sad? How? Why? Elaborate on the character's mood in no more than 300 words.

downpour drizzle hail thunderstorm
professor scientist poet painter

This exercise should help you say the most about your character in as few words as possible. It should also help you explore how your characters can be the product of the weather that surrounds them.

At the end of the exercise, you should have 16 short text snippets. Pick the best one and post it in the Comments section, or provide a link to your work. Good luck, and happy writing!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Last Sentence for NaNoWriMo

Here's a dream sentence for you NaNoWriMo enthusiasts:

"I finished my novel early, and that was that."

True, this is rare, but what if it really did happen? What if you finished your work early? What could have led to your success?

Your job is to use this sentence as the very last one in your short story. You have only a thousand words, at the most, to write the tale. The plot will be entirely your own. When you are done, post your story in the Comments section, or provide a link to it so that other people can read how you achieved your novel writing success.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Be a Stickler for All Things Accurate and Precise

A lot of people might not care about accuracy and precision, especially when it comes to historical or scientific fact. That doesn't mean that you should jump on the bandwagon.

Precision: saying what you want to say; avoiding vague terms that turn your writing into a nebulous blob of "Huh?"

Accuracy: sticking to the facts as closely as you can. You can take some literary license now and then, but when you've taken one too many, you're just one lazy writer.

Be a stickler for precision. Start with grammar. Don't leave your work to an editor who might not catch the spirit of your writing, and who may simply blot out a few words and punctuation marks.

Be a stickler for accuracy. Start with research. Be as accurate as you possibly can, whether it's historical information or jargon, you need to tell a story. Tell it as accurately as possible. True, people will see the truth in different ways, but that shouldn't stop you from doing research! Hit the balance between good grammar and good storytelling; hit another balance between good grammar and good research; and hit the balance between good storytelling and good research. The latter may be the most difficult to do, but with practice (and prudent nitpicking) you can do it!

Last, stamp precision and accuracy on your mindset. When you start concentrating on being precise and accurate in your work, it may soon come naturally to you.

Be the best writer that you can be.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Reminder: National Novel Writing Month is coming!

When November 1st strikes, it's time to start typing!

National Novel Writing Month is coming!

If you still haven't heard of this cool enterprise - comprising people who decide that they want to get carpal tunnel in a full-fledged, 30-day writing party - then you might have been living under a digital rock for the last decade.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it has been fondly christened, is a challenge to writers everywhere. You have 30 days in November to start a novel and get past the 50,000 word mark. Your prize: the fulfilment of having gotten all your words on paper.

This is a month of zero edits. You only need something to work on in the future, so get those words out!

For more information, head over to You can register as a new user - or if this is your umpteenth time to get your word count up, up, and away, log in and register!

Happy writing - and happy researching for your November novel!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Clean Out a Cupboard!

Cleaning up is hard to do, especially when you have so many other things to take care of. But if you do clean up, then it's one less thing to do, right? Today's focus is your kitchen. You may or may not have cleaned it up, but you need to focus your attention on your cupboard - in particular, a cupboard where canned or preserved goods are kept.

Ready? Your job is to get to that cupboard. Now:

1) Pick up a can or bottle at random. Make sure that the can or bottle has nutrition information and information about ingredients.

2) Under the list of nutrients, pick the 3rd nutrient. It could be fat, sodium, potassium, or anything under the sun. Write down what this 3rd nutrient is.

3) Under the list of ingredients, pick the 3rd ingredient from the last. If you have only 1 or 2 ingredients, pick the last one. If you have only three ingredients, pick the first one. Write down this ingredient.

4) Write a story of 1000 words or less about how the can or bottle of food got the nutrient. Was it from the farm that it was harvested from? Was it from the cannery or bottling facility?

5) Write a story of 1000 words or less about how the can or bottle of food would taste WITHOUT the ingredient in #3.

When you are done, post your stories in the Comments section, or simply provide a link to your work. Good luck and happy writing!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Disaster in Pictures: Tales of a Flood

Credit: AFP/Xinua Photos

On September 26th, 2009, Typhoon Ketsana (local name: Ondoy) ravaged the Philippines, pouring down rain for hours. At the end of half-a-day's worth of rain, the Philippines had received the equivalent of one month's rainfall, and was submerged in water. Several areas were flooded heavily, and families were forced to flee their homes.

There are many stories that emerged from the disaster. An 18-year old boy swam to rescue 30 people before drowning in the flood waters. Movie stars helped their neighbors move out of their houses. Students sprang to action, joined task forces, and helped clean streets and gather donations. Aid is pouring in, but with more typhoons coming into the country, aid will never be enough.

Donate to the cause. You can visit for details.

You can also post a creative essay on your blog about the photo above. What might have been going through the little girl's mind? What was that day like in the Philippines? Limit your entry to about 500 words and please repost the picture (along with its credits).

People all over the world need to be aware that so much has happened, and so much help is needed. Your story can be part of the global move to give the disaster more coverage online.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Take a Hike!

There's nothing like a long, quiet walk to get your brain cleared of cobwebs.

There is a time for all things, novel writing included. There is a time to unblock, and a time to sit back and relax. Now is that time for you.

Instead of sitting down at your computer today, walk away, put on a coat if it's too cold, bring an umbrella if it's going to rain, and put on some sunblock if the sun is going to shine. Pack nothing with you, except maybe some money and ID's. Don't bring an MP3 player or an iPod. Don't listen to music, podcasts, or anything that will distract you from the noise of the outside world.

All you need to do is walk.

Walking in silence (or in the noise of the outside world, if all else fails) can actually relax you and keep you away from the storm of words that comes with writing. By stepping away, you can actually see your novel from the outside, looking in. If you don't have an idea for your novel yet, a walk can probably a good way for you to get ideas. You can stumble on a plot as you walk through the woods; you can get one if you overhear an interesting conversation; or you can simply get an epiphany at the weirdest, most unexpected times.

So go. Take a walk. Leave the novel. Take this advice seriously when you're feeling burned out.

Burn bright when the words come; shelter the flame when you lose your writing breath.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Review for Choices

"Choose Your Own Adventure" Books were popular once, before the advent of video games, the Wii, and other things that have torn children away from books. Most bookstores still sell them, however, and your mission is to find one and review it.

The advantage of such books is that it contains a wide variety of plots that can be twisted, intertwined, and mixed up, so that every read could potentially lead to a different story. Such a book is easy to read over and over, but even individual "Choose Your Own Adventure" books can be different in this respect. Some are easy to read, others are dense; some have an amusing sense of logic in their plots, others have no logic at all.

While reviewing the book as a whole, look at the plotlines that you come across. Are they plausible? Exciting? Engaging? Were there plotlines that could have been removed? Plotlines that should have been added? "Choose Your Own Adventure" books can be a lot of fun to review, and they could take you back to a time in your childhood where books reigned supreme, and where one little packet of paper could potentially hold several stories in its few thousand words.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Short Film, a Good Review

Short films, in comparison to feature films, are not only short in terms of time; they need to compress all their main ideas in a short amount of time without appearing rushed, and still getting their story through. Short films, around an hour long (or much less!), can be thought of as the short stories of the movie world: hard to write effectively, difficult to make effective characters for, and of course, difficult to find interesting plots for.

Your job is to review a short film. You can check them out through your Netflix account, download them online, or simply wait for them on your favorite movie channel. Although it may be tempting to get a short documentary, your job right now is to look at a fictional short film. You can check out or for ideas.

The short film can be of any length, and your review can be of any length as well. One main question that you need to consider is the ability of the short film to pack a punch: was it able to use all the time it had for a great story, or did you feel rushed? Conversely, was the story too slow, so that the short film felt like it was much longer? Should it have been made into a feature film instead? Could it have been made shorter? Were there things missing that you wanted to see? Were there things that should have been taken out?

Watching short films should help you understand how difficult it is to distill stories into a small amount of film time - and it should help you feel the burden of being a writer as well. You may write a novel, but you don't have thousands of words to tell your story. The best novels are those that pack a mean story punch in the few words that they have.

Happy watching, and happy reviewing!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Something to Read for Inspiration, Especially Number Plate Fans

Personalised Number Plates can make a story more interesting. Think of James Bond traveling down the winding roads of the French Riviera, his 007 plate shining in the sun. Think of any big celebrity, any holder of public office, and all the names and numbers attached to them. Such plates can define characters and add a wee bit to how quirky or exacting they can be.

Why not add a little pizazz to your writing life? Visit Northumbria Numbers, a website where you can pick out (and even register!) the plate of your choice. The website is easy to use: when you come to the front page, you can simply type in your name, your nickname, or your car model.

You can also choose to format the plate number in which way you choose. This can be advantageous if you want more flexibility in choosing your personalised number plates, since you don't need to scour through a computer-generated list of possible plates.

You can even sell plate numbers on the website, make your own plate; and, when all else fails, contact the owners. The site can also give you suggestions on which plates might work best for you. This is good on two counts: you are provided with flexibility and the opportunity to automatically register your plate; and you now have a source of information for your lead character's number plate!

This website should part of the entire package that consists in you learning how you can fashion your stories around a single concept. In this case, you can use a personalised number plate to drive your story forward (no pun intended)or add spice to your characters. Some search results that come up, however, might seem unimaginative, but don't let the results stop you. Even ordinary plates can carry extraordinary stories.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chew on this dream...

“Life resembles a novel more often than novels resemble life.”

-George Sand

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's a Salon Triad!

Your job today, dear writer, is to be creative; and today, you are going to the parlor.

Mind you, this is no ordinary parlor! You are going to write a horror story - whether it's a slasher, ghost, zombie, vampire, or whatever story - and you have to set it in a beauty salon/parlor. You have 10,000 words to write your story, and the three objects below must figure significantly in it:

1. a hair dryer
2. a fine tooth comb
3. hair straightening fluid

When you are done, post your story in the Comments section, or provide a link to it if the story is too long. Good luck, and happy writing!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Open Up Your Sense of Smell!

There’s nothing like the smell of oranges. I see orchards, stretching for miles and miles, swelling with fruit, and burnished with the gold of the sun. Light, airy, without the sting of artificial scents, or the heaviness of flowers, oranges can make me feel feminine. Perfumes are meant to enhance an outfit, not cover it up or mask it. Oranges seem to do just that: they seem to call up images of a kitchen bursting with life, clean markets bustling with noise, and a countryside sweet with the sounds and smells of summer. When I smell oranges, I begin thinking of sweet little tales that talk about stolen kisses in the fields, where the grasses run high; or about embraces beneath groves of oak and maple; or sweet nothings whispered in afternoons heady with the sunset.

What is your favorite scent? What does it make you see when you smell it? What stories come to mind when you smell it? Work on this unblocker by either catching your favorite scent, and then writing to your heart’s content; or trying to remember what you feel when you smell your favorite scent. Smells can bring back memories; see if you can write these memories down. For scent ideas, you could also visit Scent.

The key is to keep on writing to remove all the cobwebs in your head. Who knows? You could come up with a great plot for your novel!

Happy smelling, and happy writing!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A What If of Nightmares....

Not everyone thinks that nightmares are bad. They can give you warnings on how you can make your life better. They can prove to be the breeding ground of ideas that could drive your work. In fact, if you can get beyond your fear of nightmares, you could wake up screaming...for a pen and paper to take down your ideas, that is.

You have about 1000 words to talk about the following "What If?"

What if you could never wake up from your worst nightmare?

When you are done, post your story in the comments section, or provide a link to it. Good luck and happy writing!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Complete This Lovey-Dovey Entry

It's time to get some love into your writing! All you need to do is fill in the following blanks: but you MUST NOT be cheesy or mushy. You can be funny or silly, BUT DO NOT BE LOVEY-DOVEY.

This exercise should help you think out of the box, and above and beyond the usual, cliche-ish image of love portrayed in the mass media. Be creative! Be your own person, and have your own voice! Good luck, and happy completing!

1. ______ is a many-______ thing.
2. ______ is all you need.
3. I feel it in my _________; I feel it in my _________; ________ is all around me, and so the ______________.
4. _____ can be better than ______; but ______ is much worse than ________.
5. ______ is ______; ______ is ________
6. If you have no _______, then what good is _______?
7. When I _______ in ______, it will be _______.
8. Wise men say ___________, but I can't help ___________.
9. I wish ______ would not ______ when I ______ the ______.
10. ________ is good.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Some Insects Have All the Fun

You could be reincarnated as the next millionaire, or the next dung beetle. You can be born a pauper or a prince. You can wake up with a silver spoon in your mouth, stuck right there when you utter your first cry; or you can be spanked by your local midwife until you were aware that you would be spanked for the rest of your life. But...

What if you were born a bee?

Write a story of no more than 1000 words. You are in charge of where your plot will go, who your characters will be, and where your story is set. You only need to write in first person, and you have to be a bee. How would your day go? What would your life be like? What would make your life exciting, and what would make your life a living pain in your stinging bottom? This exercise will help you take on the personality of another living thing, which, not being a human, will require you to use your imagination.

When you are finished, provide a link to your story in the Comments section; or, if it's short enough, post it for other readers to read. Good luck and happy writing!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Quick Little Unblocker

It's time for another unblocker, and this time, it will be about one person – and what that one person can do to your head.

Now don't mistake this for obsession. You want to simply start off your unblocker with the following sentence:

He is...

And then, you will want to write more...and more...and more...disregarding all notions of grammar, syntax, punctuation, sense, and sensibility. Moreover, EVERY SENTENCE HAS TO START WITH "HE IS." That is the only rule that you need to follow.

You will want to either have a typewriter by your side as you do this, and a way to get your paper in quickly. Or you can have your pen and paper handy; or have your laptop/desktop computer up and running so that you can burn the word processor with enough words to clear your head. In any case, just write, and don't think. Let the words flow.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

And Now, for Some Food in Threes...

Your challenge for this triad is two-fold. First, you must not set your story in a kitchen, in any Mediterranean country, or in a garden. Second, you must not talk about cooking at any one point in the story. If you still don't get why, here is your triad:


You have five hundred words at your disposal to write an ultra-short story involving these three things. You are in charge of the plot and characters, and you can take as many liberties as you wish as long as you follow the rules stated above. When you are done, post your story in the Comments section, or provide a link to it if you want to take readers to your site.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Not Write Weird

Sometimes, a comma or an apostrophe can make all the difference. You could also change the order of a few words until you’re sure you’ve gotten your point across without your readers first going, “Huh?”

Misplaced modifiers can turn your work inside out. If you say “the purple blouse buyer is here,” am I supposed to expect someone painted violet from head to toe? Look for more misplaced modifiers (and possible remedies) at By exposing yourself to discourse on common mistakes in writing, you could end up a better writer yourself.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Secret to Writing Well

Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret.

- Matthew Arnold

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It’s Time to Review a Documentary!

It’s time for you to look at something from real life, and something drawn from nature. There are many different documentaries for you to choose from. You can stick with nature documentaries and look at your world, from the mountains to the seas, from the smallest insects to the biggest whales. You can cling to your favorite biographies and look at how people live and who they truly are behind the public façade they show. There are many documentary types, so all you need to do is look for them online, rent them out, or wait for them on TV.

When you finally have the documentary on your hands, you can review it as you would a movie. There will be some changes, though, especially where acting is involved. You may want to rate the script that the narrator uses, or you may want to critique how the issue at hand is being handled in the documentary. You might also want to talk about how you could improve the documentary.

By widening your movie menu, you can expose yourself to more cultures. And by reviewing documentaries, you can increase your knowledge base and give yourself a greater bank from which to draw ideas for your novel. Happy watching, and happy learning!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Let’s Try Some Non-Fiction This Time

Non-fiction authors sometimes have an easier time selling their work to publishers. After all, they have a built in audience, and they need only worry about a little more marketing than the average novelist does. This doesn’t make them slackers, though: non-fiction is difficult to write without a great degree of research, and it can be difficult to word non-fiction books so that they appeal to as wide an audience as possible without cheapening or oversimplifying content.

What makes non-fiction books so special? Now is your chance to find out. You have your pick of histories, biographies, true-to-life accounts, inspirational books, and religious books. You cannot use cookbooks, travel guides, or books that do not have a narrative. The key is to review a narrative that is drawn from real life, or that employs little or no fiction.

Critiquing a non-fiction book will also entail asking questions about how well-researched the subject matter is, how logical the book’s flow is, how engaging it is, how much you have learned, the book’s high and low points, the book’s format, and the book’s style. Be sure to write a balanced review, and don’t forget to tell your readers a little bit about the book’s content before you dive headlong into criticizing it.

These are only a few things for you to watch out for when you get that non-fiction book for your review. So pick it up from the bookstore, get it from your library, pull it out of your bookshelf, or simply borrow it from a friend. By reviewing a non-fiction book, you also widen your reading base and add to your knowledge. With a bigger knowledge base, who knows? You might write a better novel in the future.

Good luck, happy writing, and happy reviewing!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Having Fun With Your Cover

People think that designing a book cover and a spine before or during your novel-writing process is putting the cart before the horse. However, I have also found that designing my cover is fun to do: it’s a good way to step away from the book for a moment and to relax; it’s also a good way to exercise other creative parts of my brain that don’t require me to use words or construct sentences.

If you’re feeling down and out, and if you’re getting that strange sensation of “I can’t write anymore!” then you might want to try, sit down, and think about your book cover. For one, it can inspire you to keep on going because you have a visualized goal ahead of you. Your book has a cover! Now all you need to do is write the content.

Second, it can be a test of how well you know your novel. A book cover should encapsulate the theme and content of your book, and summarizing your story visually could be a good exercise that will show you how well formed your novel already is.

There are several ways for you to design your cover. First, you can sketch it. Have colored pencils ready for a better novel-cover-design experience. You might want to browse the shelves of your local bookstore or library to see what cover designs are appropriate, especially for novels that have the same plots or are in the same genre as yours.

Second, you can use a graphics design program on your computer. This way, you can also add the summary text to the back of your book, design your book’s spine, and even cook up your own blurbs! You can write little reviews of your work! How’s that for encouragement from your imagination?

Don’t overdo the design process, though. Be sure that you have some time for fun with your cover, and a lot of time for your writing, too. Remember, you may have the best cover in the world, but your novel has to be written well so that people can go beyond the cover and truly remember you as the author.

Friday, August 21, 2009

It’s Time to Go Colorless!

Can you describe a scene without using a single word that refers to color? It’s time for you to exercise your ability to go without color in this photo exercise. You can use similes that refer to other things; you can talk about scenes in terms of smell and sound; but never, ever use color.

The objective of this activity is to strengthen your ability to use a wider variety of words to describe your surroundings. Remember: show, don’t tell. You should therefore be able to call up images of a scene by showing, not telling your audience what the trees look like. It will take a lot of skill, so take your time and be patient. If you like, you can have a thesaurus next to you to help you pick out your words.

You have only 500 words at your disposal to describe this scene:

When you are done, post your “colorless” description in the Comments section, or provide a link to it. Good luck and happy writing!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It’s Time to Google Your Plot!

Ever find yourself scrambling in the dark for a perfect plot? Try this orchestrated search through Google. All you need to do is be creative with whatever is thrown into your lap. Follow the steps below.

1.Go to Google Search

2.Type your first name

3.Search for it. Look at the first entry.

4.Write about how that entry came about. Who wrote it? When? Why? You have only 500 words at your disposal to write the history of the first entry. You can click through to the page to see what it contains so that you can write your story better.

5.Go back to the list of search results. Look at the second entry. Write how it is related to the first entry. Do the people who wrote or designed the web page know each other? Was the writer of the second entry inspired by the writer of the first entry? Think of a creative connection between the two entries. You have only 500 words to write the connection out.

When you are done, post the stories (along with links to the pages) in the Comments section; or provide a link to your work. Good luck and happy writing!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More Than One Novel in a Month?

One year was a double NaNoWriMo novel for me. I took on two novels in one month: I created another NaNo account, kept my two accounts active, and wrote the novels in tandem. Both novels went past 50,000 words.

My reasons were far from vain. I had two plots that I wanted to pursue: one was an Apocalyptic novel that had ghosts taking over the world; another was about my characters’ flight to her home country after a messy breakup with her fiancé. They couldn’t be tied in, and I was hungry to write both. So I wrote both; both are still unfinished; but both passed the required word count.

I’m not showing off. I’m sure there are other people who have done more than one novel for NaNoWriMo season, and for reasons that span the range of vanity and sheer excitement. All I’m saying is that it’s possible. If there are plots that you want to put down into writing and you can’t wait until the next November to do it, then by all means, try your hand at putting two novels to paper.

It’s double the fun (or double the torture, depending on who you ask); when November ends and you win for both your works, it’s also double the fulfillment.

There are a few things that you need to do, however. You need to truly plan both novels out if you are hoping to get them published in the future. The storm and speed of NaNoWriMo are already enough for you to forget who your characters are and what your setting is; don’t compound it by diving into your novels unguided and writing.

You may want to do some planning by sketching your settings, writing about your characters, and keeping a journal. Planning pays off, even in the short term. You won’t mix your characters up between your works and you will end up with strongly established plots for your novels as well.

Try your hand at it one November. Have two (or more) NaNoWriMo accounts, open two (or more) files on your computer, and try writing two (or more) novels for the month. Who knows? You could end up with two (or more) complete, ready for publishing novels when December 1 comes along.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Very Short Last Sentence

Here’s another challenge for you: you need to build your story up to fit a very short last sentence. You need to use only 10,000 words (or less) for your story. You have your choice of style, plots, characters, and points of view. You also need to use this as your last sentence:


This exercise should help you strengthen your ability to write a story that can lead up to a last sentence as short as the one provided. If you are creative enough with this exercise, you can make up your own endings (happy or otherwise) and work your way to the ending that you want.

When you are finished, post a link to your work in the Comments section. Good luck, and happy writing!

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's One Word, but It's All You've Got

Today's first sentence is going to be a challenge for you. Here it is:


You have 10,000 words at your disposal, so don't go way above the 10,000 word mark as you tell the story that starts with one word. You have your pick of characters and plots. You can write in first person or in third person. Whatever you do, start with that single sentence.

When you are done, post your work in the Comments section, or if it's too long to see the light of blogging comments day, post it on your blog or site and provide links to it. Good luck, and happy writing!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Let’s Go to Dinner with Complete It

Complete it exercises are meant for you to distill your creativity to simple (and oftentimes, single) words. You need to make sense by filling in the blanks, and you need to find ways to fit your ideas in without making your sentence sound like it was coughed out by a chimp. In this exercise, you will complete the following sentences by filling in the blanks with any word you can imagine EXCEPT ANY WORD THAT HAS TO DO WITH FOOD, DRINK, OR ANYTHING EDIBLE.

Good luck!

1.For dinner, I would like to put _________ on my table.
2.I always enjoy _________ on the side of my ____________.
3.I like to cap my _____________ off with a glass of ____________.
4.If I go to a local restaurant, I will _________ the _________ on a ____________.
5.When I have more _________, I will buy __________ for ___________.
6.I don’t ever want to __________ a ________________.
7.I should take a friend to _________ with a ____________.
8.I want to ___________ and _________.
9.I know that I always want a good __________.
10.It wouldn’t hurt if I had more ________.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Isn’t “Preparing Your Novel” Wrongly Worded?

If you’ve noticed the tags on this site, you’ll see that anything that has to do with your novel-to-be is labeled “preparing your novel.” You might have thought, “Isn’t this wrongly worded? Shouldn’t I be preparing FOR MY novel?”

First of all, this isn’t a grammatical error on my part. When you say that you will prepare for your novel, you are assuming that you don’t have a novel yet, and that you need to pave the way for it. When I say that you will prepare your novel, I am assuming that you will have a novel soon, and with some preparation and practice, you will finally write your book.

You are preparing that book, not just prepping yourself up for it.

Second, your novel is not going to come at the very end of all this practice. You don’t practice, and then stop everything and just sit down and write. You will be practicing while writing your novel, and you will be editing your novel endlessly.

Your novel is going to be a living, breathing, changing thing. You prepare it because it will be like a long, drawn out recipe that has to be modified to taste great. You, too, will be changing as an author. Nothing will ever be static.

Writing is not going to be easy, and it’s not an isolated process that will be independent of everything else that you do in your life. It will take over your life if you don’t guard yourself; and your life can take over your writing if you don’t make time to write.

Despite all these difficulties, you need to find your balance between your novel and your life. Prepare that novel; don’t just prepare for it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Look to the Weather for Some Goo

It’s time for you to get some goo on your hands. To fix your little mess up, you need to be creative with your settings. You have four seasons and four weather set-ups, all of which are shown below.

summer winter fall spring
snow sun wind rain

You now need to pair each season with each weather set up, and answer the question: “What would my day be like if we got (WEATHER SET-UP) in (SEASON)?” So you can ask what would happen if you had sun in the winter, rain in the summer, snow in the spring, or wind in the fall.

You have only 100 words for each of the 16 combinations that you will come up with. You need only describe the setting, and you don’t really have to come up with a story (if you can, good for you!). This exercise will help you stretch your creative descriptive genius, no matter what weather you find yourself in.

When you are done, post your best writing in the Comments section, or give your readers a link so that they can see what you came up with. Good luck and happy writing!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Use Your Powers of Description II

For the second time, you are not going to write a story. You will need to describe flowers. With your powers of description, you should have a wider vocabulary and write creatively, so that you describe your tree without turning your audience off. Unlike many writers who neglect to add description to their work, you shall be different.

In this exercise, you need to describe flowers in five hundred words or less. You are provided with a photo to guide you. When you are done, post your work in the Comment section.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Is This Really a Word?

Is “texting” really a word? Or is it better to use SMS-ing? There are many words that you might encounter from day to day that will make you go, “Is this really a word?”

For more perspectives on new additions to the English language, as well as the different ways that words evolve and finally make it to the official lexicon, visit Whether the word was coined, appended to an existing one, or simply made up, you can be sure that tomorrow’s writing will be chock-full of words that we never even dreamed would exist.

You, writer, are master of language. Learn its origins as you seek to be the best in your field.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Something to Keep on Chewing On

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.”

-Richard Bach

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Breakfast Triad

Hungry for some exercises? Ready for a story? Here's an exercise that's designed to tickle your tastebuds and get your brain working. You need to incorporate the following into your story:

1.An egg

You have only 1000 words to tell your story. You can choose as many characters as you please to put in, but your story must NOT be set at breakfast time, nor should it be set in any dining room, kitchen, restaurant, or diner. Be creative: where else can you find a breakfast combo meal? And how can you keep your word count low?

When you are done, serve your story up in the Comments section, or give readers a link to it. Good luck, happy writing, and happy eating, too!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Speculations: The First and Last Minutes

Here's an exercise that won't require you to write too much, but it will be one that will require you to think a little. You need to find a movie that you have never ever seen before, and then you need to rent that movie, buy it, or borrow it. You also need a stopwatch, pen, and paper. This is also important: You need to NOT know the story of the movie, and you need to NOT read the movie's summary.

You need to watch the first minute of the movie. Time yourself using the stopwatch. Next, fast forward the movie all the way to last minute. You can do this by going to the credits and then backtracking. You can watch the first two minutes or the last minute, since you might not be able to estimate the last minute correctly.

Now that you have the beginning and the end of the movie, you can start speculating. What happened in the middle? How did the movie's beginning lead to the end? Start writing this story out, but take no more than 5 minutes to tell it. You don't have to use the characters' names. You can just say GIRL 1 or BOY 1 or whatever you wish to call them.

Next, you need to watch the movie. Take down notes on the story and try to tell the story in your own words. When the movie is finished and you have completed your story, put your story and the movie's story side by side. Which one is better? How are the stories different? Were there things that you didn't expect to see?

This exercise should help you realize what your own biases might be, and how great a role expectation plays in how you rate or watch movies. This exercise can also help you critique a movie's plot line by concentrating on what happened, how it happened, and what twists the movie's story might have. Happy speculating and happy watching!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speculations: The First Sentence and the Last Sentence

Such is the power of the first sentence of a book: you can hook your readers and reel them in; or you can slap them with enough prose to turn them away from you forever. Such is the power of the last sentence as well: you can create a memorable book that keeps your readers wanting more from you; or you can make readers so glad that they’ve finally finished with you and are ready to never see your work again.

You are now going to try out the power of these sentences. Pick up a book that you have never read before, and get ready to review it on the basis of the first and last sentences alone. This exercise will help you understand what biases you hold and what expectations you have for certain books. It will also, with hope, push you to write better beginnings and better endings for your own book.

Are you ready? Pick up a book, and open it to the first page. Read the first sentence and ONLY the first sentence. When you are done, flip the book to the last page and read the last sentence. Remember what you have read.

Now, get some paper and a pen; or open a file on your computer. Start typing out a review of the book based on the sentences that you read. Still hesitant to make any judgment? You need to be a reader this time, and a critical one at that. Judge the book based on what little you’ve seen of it. Speculate on the story if you want. You need to nitpick with as much energy as you will praise the book. Balance your review. You should take no more than 5 minutes to write the review.

When you are done, close the file or keep your written review in a safe place. Read the book slowly, savoring every sentence. You should take about a week to read the book, or just enough time for you to forget about what you wrote in your very first review. When you are done reading the book, review it as you would review any other book.

Now, look at both reviews. How different was your hastily-penned judgment compared with your new, worked-out review? If they are the same, can you see how powerful the first and last sentences can be? If they are different, can you see how your own readers could judge your book from a few words without even going through the text?

Either way, you should see how the first and last sentences can truly change the course of your writing career. Learn to write well enough to captivate readers from the first word to the very last, and you will be a great write.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Write What You Want to Read

The title says it all: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In the writing universe, write something that you would want to read; write a novel that you would want to buy and have on your shelf.

This is easier said than done, as with nearly everything else on earth. As writers, we often find ourselves so immersed in our stories that we forget our own wishes, our own needs, and our own tastes as readers. When we start reading again, we find ourselves picking up books, reading them, and then exclaiming, “I could have done better than this!”

Well, you can, and you should, dear writer. As you read, examine the words that your eyes gloss over, and critically read what the author is trying to tell you. Is the author doing a good job, or can you do it better? And better yet, how could you do a better job than the author? What would you do? Remember everything that you say as you read and critique a book, because you have to be true to your own expectations and your own promises.

As you write, keep in mind the reminder that you, too, are a reader; and that you, too, want to be captivated. As you edit your work, be critical enough to see if you are reading something that you want to read and lose yourself in. If you want to tear your work to pieces, and if you don’t like what you are reading, then be merciless: edit and hack and pare and cut until you come up with a product that you would love to read.

Write something that you would read. Enjoy what you write. Have a great story. There are many paths to being a great writer, and remembering that you are a reader is only one of them.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You Rule Your Worlds

“The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.”

-William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Just How Many Words Are there in the English Language?

Ten years ago, you would have gotten blank stares if you had said “blog”. Fifty years ago, the “Internet” was not a place that you could go to. A hundred years ago, we had words that we no longer use as much today. Just how many words are there in the English language?

Visit for a new perspective on the matter. English, after all, now has its own little dialects, and you could be speaking a variant of English, writing in yet another, and understanding more than just one kind of English.

Appreciate the richness of the English language, and if you know a language other than English, appreciate its richness, too. You, as a writer, are the master of language, and you need to understand your tool before you can use it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Short, Snappy First Sentence

Sometimes, the best first sentences are so long and flowing, they lull you into the tale and make you believe that you have crossed into another reality. But sometimes, the best first sentences are so short and arresting, they take you by the throat and hurl you right into the book. Here's a first sentence that you should use to start your new story.

“She was surprised.”

So, why was she surprised? And who is she? With 2000 words or less, make a story that is fun, exciting, and yes, surprising. You can use as many characters as you want, and you can use any plot. When you are finished, provide a link to your story in the Comments section, or post it for blog readers to read.

Good luck and happy writing!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Row of Crosses – a Tale?

A somber morning gives birth to crosses stretched across a field. Where does such a scene belong to? Why is this scene even there? What happened before? What happened after?

Write a short story that takes place within the span of three days, involving the information shown in this photograph. You can make the short story as long or as short as you like, as long as it provides insight into why the crosses are arranged like so in the photo given. You are in charge of your characters and plot, as long as you follow the rules above.

Provide a link to your story through the Comments section, or if your story is short enough, paste it there. Good luck, and happy writing!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Exercise at Your Own Risk...

Is there a movie that you deeply dislike? Is there a movie that is a torture to watch? Well, you are OBLIGATED to rent that movie. You have to watch it. You have to look at it for one final, cringing time. And yes, you have to REVIEW it.

This exercise will help you understand what it is that you don't like about movies. As you understand yourself better, you might see how your likes and dislikes make you who you are as a writer. And, if you find something about a movie's writing that you deeply dislike, you can hone your senses on two fronts: you can recognize badly-written work better, and you can change your own writing so that you end up with a masterpiece that even you can appreciate.

Are you ready? Start that movie and have these questions in mind:

1) If this movie could be described in one word that IS NOT a synonym for “bad” or “awful,” it would be ____________.

2) What ONE thing would I do to make this movie better?

3) Is there anything at all GOOD about this movie? What is it? Why does all the good stuff disappear behind the bad stuff in this movie?

4) How long has it been since I saw this for the first time? Why do I not like this movie?

5) What have my friends said about this movie? How did we agree on it? How did we disagree on it?

6) What have the critics said about this movie? (You may need to do some research for this) How did we agree on the reviews? How have I disagreed with reviews?

7) Is this movie's writing bad? What one line do I absolutely detest? How will I change that line so that it's just a bit more bearable?

8) Write a 500-word or less article on why this is a good movie.

9) Write a 500-word or less article that rebuts the points of #8. You need to be able to debate with yourself so that you can look at all kinds of artistic work, even your own, without forming extreme opinions that could either make you over-enthusiastic about your writing, or a self-flagellating writer. In writing, balance is key.

10) What three things would I tell the director of this movie, if I were given the chance to talk to him/her?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Doing Historical Research for NaNo

Writing for NaNoWriMo is hard enough, and it gets even harder if you choose to do a historical fiction novel. True, you could prepare your novel well in advance by doing a lot of research, but as many historical fiction writers will tell you, you will encounter many difficulties while you write. If you're rushing to write 50,000 words in 30 days, how exactly are you going to maintain historical accuracy without going insane first?

There are a few ways that you can survive the onslaught of work. I've found that these work for me (and take it from me, I did three historical fiction novels for NaNoWriMo, and they were the most fun to write):

1.Don’t be afraid to use the forums! The NaNoWriMo forums are a great place to get information, and there is a forum section for historical fiction writers. You can ask experts to help you, and you can even ask the natives of a foreign country for more information on their countries of origin. Tap these resources. They're free! You have to be prepared to help out, too, so be as generous with your knowledge as possible.

2.Research is key: don’t scrimp on it. NaNoWriMo may force you to rush your work, but that doesn't mean that you should scrimp on quality research. Remember, historical facts and historical accuracy should not keep you from producing quality work; they should enhance and support your story, too.

3.Have books close by. You'll never know when you need to hit the books again and check out your facts.

4.Take down notes and keep them. Aside from having your books close to you, take down notes early on and refer to them when you're in doubt about something in your novel. Read your notes often so that you don't have to keep on referring to them.

5.Keep a journal. You'll never know when ideas will hit you. You'll never know when you might meet someone on your off-hours who could be a good reference for your work. Keep yourself open to new ideas.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Try an Almost-Cliche

Cliches are probably the most irritating thing that you can encounter in a novel. But if you can turn cliches around, then you can make a novel that is not just worth reading, but worth remembering. After all, when you make the familiar unfamiliar, you can take your readers on an adventure that they will never forget.

Are you ready for some creative turning around and somersaulting? Here are a few semi-cliches that you can creatively alter. Fill in the blanks by copying and pasting the following statements into your word processor, or print them out.

1. To __________ is ___________, but you can't _________ a ______________.

2. Being right isn't always _____________, and it's never ___________.

3. ___________ and _____________ will ___________ my ______________.

4. There is nothing to __________ but ____________.

5. If you want to __________ in ___________, you need to be ______________.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A What If That's Weird, Indeed

Many of the what ifs on this blog are fun and strange, but here's a what if that you might have a hard time explaining if you don't have the words (or wit) to do it:

“What if you woke up one day and you couldn't remember how to read?”

You have 2000 words at your disposal, and your choice of characters (aside from you, of course) and plot. You need to tell this story from the first person point of view. You also need to make this story exciting, so get to work!

Post the story in the Comments section when you are done, or provide a link to it. Good luck, and happy writing!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sometimes, Ideas are Born, not Made

A lot of people believe that they can get the answers to their questions if they think about them long enough. They also believe that they can get everything that they want if they work long and hard enough. The problem with both these methods of thinking is that thinking too much and working too much will tire you out, leaving you little time to think and work.

The same goes for writing. Sometimes, thinking of your plot too much simply gets you too deeply embedded in it that you tire yourself out. Think of over-thinking as being stuck in quicksand: the more you move, the deeper you’ll sink. The more you think, the less you’ll accomplish. The remedy is simple: step away. Some ideas are born, not made.

You will get ideas in the strangest situations: you might be mowing your lawn, washing your dishes, cleaning your house out, shopping for clothes, or taking a bath. Ideas will come to you. You need to be patient. If you force yourself to write, you don’t only ruin your writing; you ruin writing for yourself. Let writing be your outlet, however painful it might be to write. Don’t ruin the writing experience by turning it into duty.

Some ideas come from working hard, but don’t overdo your writing or your thinking. When all else fails, get some sleep, step away, and stop. When the ideas come, you’ll find yourself writing once again.

Let's Have a Look at Some History!

Today's historical fiction writers are lucky: they have a lot of sources for historical data, from the Internet to the library; and a lot of the historical information that they need is within reach. But are today’s historical fiction books as accurate as they are engaging?

Your book review this time around is going to help you be more critical of how historical research is employed to move a story and support it. It should also teach you to be more critical of what you read. The first thing that you need to do is to pick a book of historical fiction. You can find such books in your local bookstore, library, or even your own bookshelf.

Read the book and write a review of it; make it a brief review that concentrates on the story and plot. When you are done, do some quick research on the historical background of the book. The book’s author may provide some useful resources for you to check out, but you should go beyond the list and look for your own sources. You can go to websites, get more books at the library and bookstore, or even interview an expert in history.

How close was the book to history? Did the historical research enrich the story or make for a thin plot? Were there inaccurate elements that the author introduced that made the plot better, at the behest of a story that might have been closer to the truth? As you compare the historical accounts with the book, look at your review. Is there anything that you want to change?

Historical accuracy is of paramount importance in writing historical fiction, but there are poorly-defined boundaries between writing a history book and writing a novel; and taking artistic license and wrecking historical accounts altogether. Achieving a balance is what historical fiction writers constantly strive to do excellently.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Some Goo for the Sky

It’s time to write out goo, and this time, you need to be a bird. Pretend that you are flying through the sky at a certain time (4 of which are specified below) and you can see certain heavenly bodies (4 of which are also specified below). What do you see on earth? What do you feel?

Night midnight noon early morning
Stars moon sun comets

You should mix these up to create a total of 16 entries of, at most, 400 words each. What’s it like to fly through a night of stars? A night with the sun? A noon of stars? An early morning bedazzling with comets?

When you are finished, post your best work in the Comments section, or provide a link to your work. Good luck and happy writing!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wildife Triad Fun

It's time to get some animals into your story! You need only 1000 words, and you can't put any people in. You need only the three animals below (and some main players, all of whom belong to Kingdom Animalia):

1. Turtles
2. Snails
3. Whales

Make sure that your story is exciting, and one that can be read by people of all ages. When you are done, post your story in the Comments section, or provide a link to it. Good luck and happy writing!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

And Now, Read About Politics

But not quite!

Are you incorporating a lot of politics and government in your novel? Then you may want to visit World Wide Words and read up on how words as common as poll, politician and election have gotten flak over the years. Did you know that poll comes from an Old Germanic term meaning “head” – so literally, polling is counting heads? And that voting, as it comes from the original Latin, is actually the process of making a vow?

For more information, read You’ll find interesting facts that should show you how words have developed over the years. Yes, politics is just getting dirtier and dirtier.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Use Your Powers of Description

For the first time, you are not going to write a story. You will need to describe an object. This exercise will allow you to expand your vocabulary and exercise your ability to write creatively without losing the descriptive power of your words. For instance, you could say that a log of wood is brown – but what else can you say that would describe the log of wood uniquely and specifically without turning off your readers.

Many writers have lost the power of describing their surroundings. Be different.

Here's a little task for you. Describe a strawberry in five hundred words or less without using the word “red”. You are provided with a photo to guide you. When you are done, post your work in the Comment section.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This Isn't the Matrix, But You Could be Close!

Remember the movie “The Matrix?” Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, found that he could be the expert by simply getting a computer program planted into his head. He could fly a helicopter. He knew kung-fu. This plot ploy, dear writer, is now taken. Perhaps you can make one better than it?

Here is your final sentence:

“He was now the expert – no one was better.”

So, what could someone do to become an expert in something? Cook up the most outrageous, most interesting, most creative story in less than 1,000 (one thousand) words. Show off your work in the comments section of this blog, or post a link to your work. Good luck, happy imagining, and happy writing!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Try a Cliche Today!

“It's strange how someone can take your heart and break it so easily.”

Does it sound like a cliché? Does it feel icky to hear such words? You are now in charge of an almost impossible task: turn a hackneyed sentence into a power beginning for your short story.

You have a thousand words at your disposal, and you can choose which characters and what plot you can use. However, you do need to use the first sentence above and turn a crumbly start into a solid masterpiece.

Ready? Don't forget to post your work in the Comments section, or provide a link to your work. Happy writing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Quote for NaNo Enthusiasts

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

-Sidonie Gabrielle

Monday, June 22, 2009

Is there Anything You Regret?

Regret is not something that you'd like to carry throughout your life. However, it pays to be aware of what you regret. This can allow you to let go of your baggage. This can also allow you to be a better writer, since you know what it is that can drive you (your own past, and your own stories) and can even hold you back (any emotional baggage that is more draining than productive).

What do you regret? Here are a few blanks that you can fill. You can print them out or copy and paste them onto your word processor.

1. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I had instead chosen to ___________.

2. I sometimes regret choosing to ______________.

3. I wish I had more money when I was younger so that I could __________.

4. Now that I am older, I know that ____________ is not as important as ________________.

5. I don't know if I can ever _____________ again, but I know that I can still _______________.

6. I sometimes fantasize about ___________, especially since _____________ is a poor ___________.

7. I sometimes wonder if __________ still thinks about me, but I know ____________ will never _________.

8. It's cheesy, but I think ____________ will always be my __________, while ____________ is my _______________.

9. I regret not telling ___________ that I _____________, because now, I _____________ but I don't _________________.

10. It's hard to be _____________ when you're thinking of ____________.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hunting Out Words, Getting a Story 2: Another Goo Exercise

Remember those games when you were little, when you had to find all the little words that were in one big one? For instance, you could use the word BALSAMIC to get words like lab, balm, balsam, or calm. Or you could take the word INTREPID and come up with words such as dire, pet, ripe, or tepid.

Now, it's time to turn word goo into order. You have one word below. You need to extract 10 words from it, BUT you have to use all those words in a one-paragraph story. This may mean that you need to get 10 related words. It might also mean that you need to get 10 unrelated ones and come up with a really crazy tale. In any case, you need to follow these rules:

1.Your new words must be at least four letters long
2.They must all be nouns or verbs, NOT adjectives or adverbs.
3.Your paragraph must not go beyond five hundred words (and that's a pretty big paragraph right there!)

Ready? Your word is: INSTANTANEOUSLY

Post your exercise answers, or a link to your (most likely) gigantic paragraph in the Comments section. Happy word hunting, and happy writing!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Well Do You Know Your Setting(s)?

It’s easy to get lost in your story: you can forget where your characters are, where your plot is going, and what your locations look like. You might take it for granted that you know your story inside out, and so well that you can write your novel in your sleep. But what happens when you suddenly wake up one morning and forget where the rooms are in your imaginary house? Are you willing to wait till editing to fix everything up? Are you willing to read your work over before writing again?

Save yourself the trouble of wasting time on re-reading your work. Here are a few tips that work for me, especially when I write historical fiction.

1.Have maps ready. Sketch your own maps. Do you have a handy atlas? Keep it with you if you have your characters running around the world (or even around your province).

You also want to have sketches of your locations, such as the rooms in your imaginary house or building; the roads in your imaginary village; or the locations of homes in your imaginary hamlet. Have extra copies so that if you lose or soil one with the endless sketches you make on it, then you don’t have to worry about drawing them up again.

2.Sketch clothes! Your setting is not just about location. Your settings actually affect how your characters dress, and your characters’ clothes can affect your settings. You can’t have big skirted characters in a crowded room without someone toppling something over. You also can’t have characters dressed in ten layers of velvet in the middle of summer (unless you’re trying to make a literary statement).

Remember, your characters are part of your setting, so don’t separate your novel into its elements. Life isn’t about people floating around in a world that isn’t affected by their actions.

3.Keep tabs on your characters: where do they come from? How do they dress? Now that you have your sketches, have mini-biographies of your characters. This will keep you from writing anything out of character. It will also give you a chance to know your characters better.

4.Give “environmental motivations” to your characters. Your characters could act in certain ways because of the weather, how they are seated in a certain place, where they are at a certain time, and who they are with.

When characters start acting independent of your setting, they become the proverbial (and much despised) cardboard cutouts. Avoid falling into this literary trap by keeping tabs on your characters and how they are affected by (and how they change) their environment.

5.Keep a journal handy. You’ll never know what new ideas will pop up when you’re away from your novel!

6.If you can afford it, keep a camera handy. You might find great settings when you’re out on the road. Snap them up.

7.Keep your research handy, and be flexible! You might realize further down the line that your characters are not set in stone, and your settings need to be changed. Don’t stick with your original plans if they’re going to ruin your plans for your story.

Be willing to change your maps, redirect your roads, or redraw your characters. Just document everything so that you don’t end up mixing your old and new settings.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What NOT to Do When Reviewing Books

Reviewing books is not as easy as it sounds. There are things that you should avoid doing if you want to be read at all. Balance is key: you can’t gush all over the book and tell everyone how perfect it is; and you can’t rant and claim how you want to burn it either. Here are a few tips that you can look at and use as your guide while writing your book review.

1.Don't just write a summary. Amateur book reviewers often tell the story and forget to judge the book. If you want to tell the story again, write an abstract. If you want to be a reviewer, you need to provide insights into a book. You are a reviewer, not a parrot.

2.Don't give away the ending! Spoilers abound in many an amateur review. Don’t make yours part of the crowd, even if it seems funny.

3.Tantalize. Don't tell. You may not give away the ending, but you might find yourself giving away plot points left and right. Avoid the temptation to tell your readers all about the book. Aim to get your readers to pick up the book and judge it for themselves, whether or not you actually like the book.

4.Give reasons for your judgment – don’t just rant or rave. You might love the book and you may start whipping out your thesaurus to look for all the terms that mean “good”. On the other hand, you could hate the book immensely and have your temper fiery hot in every single word of your review. Whatever your emotions are, justify them. You need to tell your readers why the book is good or bad. The key word is “why.”

5.Watch your grammar! It makes no sense to critique a book if you can’t write well yourself. Start with basic rules of grammar and work your way into better writing.

6.Always consider the author's background; don’t separate the book and writer from each other. Some reviewers pick a book apart as though it were an inanimate thing. What every author knows is that a book is like a friend, even a baby that you slowly give birth to as you write and edit it. Authors always color their work, so do research on the author before writing your review. This is not to make you pity them and therefore write a good review. This is to help you understand why they write certain things, or in a certain way.

7.Don’t sound like you’re shouting your review out from the ivory tower. Reach out to your readers. Use simple words to describe how you feel about the book. If you start sounding boring and academic, step away, and then edit your work.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pick a Winner...

Whether it’s the Oscars or Cannes, the Berlinale or the Venice Film Festival, award-winning films never fail to make the headlines. It may be their content and their ground-breaking stories, or it may simply be hype and glamour. Which is it? In this review activity, you are going to be the judge.

This exercise is meant to enhance your critical eye, especially when it comes to art that has supposedly passed through the hands of experts and has been deemed excellent enough to be awarded. Does a film always deserve its bevy of awards? Is there something in the film worth exploring above and beyond its ability to gather statuettes? Does a film earn money because it gathered lots of awards; or does it fail at the box office, and often unfairly?

Pick an award-winning film, preferably one that was judged best picture at the Oscars, Cannes, the Berlin Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, or the BAFTA. Watch it, review it, and keep on asking yourself: does this film truly deserve its awards? Why AND why not? Remember, you need to be balanced, and you need to look at all angles of a film to see if and how the film congeals into a coherent whole.

Happy watching and happy reviewing!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Who are Your Neighbors?

The best characters in any story or novel are those that seem so real, you swear they were your neighbors. How can you fashion good characters? By knowing people well, and by knowing and be willing to tell their stories.

So, who are the people that you know? Be creative and put them (among other things) into the blanks below. You can copy and paste the statements into your word processor, or you can print them out. Whatever the case, fill in the blanks and have some fun!

1. The worst person I know is __________ because he/she is a real _________.

2. The world would be better if there were fewer people like ___________.

3. I wish ___________ would disappear.

4. I wish I would never see ______________ ever again!

5. I hope ___________ will understand me one day.

6. _____________ and _____________ should never have gotten married.

7. _____________ is the complete opposite of __________, although they do go well together.

8. I think ___________ is not as ___________ as I imagine, but I know ____________ is inevitable for him/her.

9. When I think of _____________, I feel ____________.

10. No one should be hurt by _______________.