Dec 28, 2010

A New Year, A New Draft

I began this blog as a way of hoping that I could get that certain piece of information I needed to finish the elusive first draft. Starting novels had been easy in 2009, but finishing them turned into something else completely. I began wondering what it was about first drafts that had me so perplexed.

From there, I figured there had to be plenty of aspiring writers out there who were struggling with the same thing. So I began this blog and called out for guest posts to all my author friends.

This year of reading all the wonderful posts about life in the first draft has been inspiring, educational, amusing and so much more.

And, partially thanks to the advice held in these posts, 2010 is the year I completed a novel for the first time in over four years.

Now I have a new focus in mind, though I know there will be plenty of first drafts to come. I need to revise the novel I have written, polish and shape it into the novel I know it can be.

Because of that and all of the other callings in my life, I am afraid that this blog must cease - at least for the moment. I simply don't have the time to be able to do this blog any sort of justice, let alone post guest posts on it. I do hope to take it up once more in the future, but for now things are just too hectic.

So I leave you with an index of wonderful posts full of gems that just might be the answer for the question you have been asking. Read, enjoy and be inspired. Until I can come back to this blog...

Thank you to all the authors who contributed to this blog over the past year:

Richard Arneson
*Writing Humor

Kim Baccellia
*Life in the First Draft

Cheryl Bannerman
*Life in the First Draft

Shobhan Bantwal
*By the Seat of My Pants
*Mining My Heritage

MM Bennetts
*When the Story Truly Starts

Les Berman
*The Power of the Blue Medallion

Bob and Kaye
*Where We Write: Why Where We Write Is the Heart of the Matter
*Why We Write
*Why We Write What We Write

Cherish D'Angelo
*Lancelot's Lady and Life in the First Draft

*Chaos on Paper
*Heart First, Head Second
*What to Do When Writer's Block Hits

VS Grenier
*Tips to Writing a First Draft
*How Do You Begin Your First Draft

Kristy Haile
*Santa Inspired Me!

Susan Haller
*Writing the Music

T.D. Hawke
*One Cup of Inspiration, Please

Lisa Heidke
*Writing Through the Malaise!

Sam Hilliard
*Fire Your Distractions
*Finding the Time for Writing Your Novel

Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein
*Writing a First Draft, Torture Anyone?
*History of a Bad First Draft

Rebecca James
*Life in the First Draft

Jackie M. Johnson
*Write First, Edit Later
*Writing is Like Building a House

Tinisha Nicole Johnson

Daisy Jordan
*Want to know what’s going to happen in my next book? Don’t ask me…because I don’t know either!
*Jello, Lancelot, Friends, Art, Tennis, and My Gray Hoodie

Sandy Kastel
*Finding Inspiration: Delve into your Dreams

Lisa Lipkind Leibow
*My New Year’s Resolution – A Home Office Solution!
*Finding Time to Write int the Midst of Happy Chaos
*First Drafts: Write Drunk

Garasamo Maccagnone
*Writing a First Draft
*Being Unconstrained

Kathi Macias
*Fiction with a Mission
*Keep Your List Uncompromising…but Short

Mary Maddox
*That Magic Moment
*On Inspiration

Cheryl Malandrinos
*Those First Drafts
*From First Draft to Published
*Writing for Children

Mike Manos
*Writing the First Draft

Cilla McCain
*Researching Your Nonfiction Book
*Writing Controversial Books

Brian McClure
*Book Design

Lurlene McDaniel
*Starting Over

Fleur McDonald
*My Outdoor Office
*My Juggling Act

Jaime McDougall
*Finding Time To Write
*It's Okay to Stop
*Avoidance Tactics

Marilyn Meredith
*Beginning a Book
*My Advice About Writing the First Draft of Your Novel

Judi Moreo
*My Funky Little Writer Habits

Gary Morgenstein
*Guilt, Guilt, Guilt

Sandra Gore Nielsen
*Getting in the Mood

Fiona Palmer
*Once Upon a Time?
*Typing Time

George Earl Parker

Sarah Parker
*Learning to Plan, Planning to Learn

Stephen Parrish
*The Art of Language

Soren Paul Petrek
*The Race

Gillian Polack
*The Halfway Mark
*Writing Blocks

Leonora Pruner
*Getting Started
*Cross the First Hurdle

Marilyn Randall
*Getting Rid of All the Clutter

Dr. Harry J. Saranchak
*The Writer's Life

Sherry D. Shumard
*Completing the First Draft

Hazel Statham
*Pantsers and Plotters
*Characters Taking Over

Shiela Stewart
*Never Stop Dreaming
*Office Space Wanted

Phillip Stott
*First Drafts Part One
*First Drafts Part Two

Nancy Thayer
*Life in the First Draft

Nicole Townsend
*New Kid on the Block

Steven Verrier
*Life in the First Draft
*Writing Longhand

Anne Vincent
*The Importance of Place
*The Long Road

Tom Weston
*To Outline or Not to Outline, That is the Question
*Building the Perfect Beast

Jonathan Williams
*Just Build the House Already!
*The Red Pen and Purposeful Writing

Susan Wingate
*How My Kitchen Gets Clean

Helene Young
*Finding Inspiration

Vincent Zandri
*The Bedroom (s): Where the Magic Happens!

Dec 17, 2010

The Art of Language by Stephen Parrish

Stephen Parrish’s story “Bridget” was the inspiration for Saying Goodbye, an anthology of thirty-one true stories about “saying goodbye” to the people, places and things in our lives. For more information, visit

The Art of Language by Stephen Parrish

I grew up among artists who encouraged me to draw and paint; my room always smelled of turpentine and linseed oil and my pants were often streaked with charcoal dust. Since I write visually—I first see the scenes in my head and attempt to record them faithfully—it was only natural that I come up with an approach to writing that paid tribute to all those canvases I sacrificed.

First I “scribble” the scene by brainstorming, by slapping words and expressions down and trying to empty the vision from my head:

start with where she lived
then the train station at the end of her street
it was where you last saw her alive
something about the dirtiness of the place, for contrast
cigarette butts, old newspapers
the train emerging from the fog
after a pregnant pause, you’re in each other’s arms
(this can go on for pages)

An advantage of scribbling is that I ensure my purposes are comprehensively addressed; I vent everything that comes to mind. Another is that I get to fill up blank paper at little creative cost. After scribbling I “sketch” the scene, placing elements in the right order, fleshing out, filling gaps:

you start with the street she lived on, how it wound around obstacles long since removed, how the remaining buildings seemed tired, seemed to lean over the sidewalk. at the end of the street was the train station where you last saw her alive. the floor of the platform was covered with cigarette butts, old newspapers, and grime.

as the train approached the station you saw only its distant headlamp through the fog. when she stepped onto the platform the two of you paused as though waiting for enough joy to fill your eyes. finally the joy overflowed and you were in each other’s arms. one last time, you felt her skin beneath your hands.

only time is inaccessible, never place. you can always go back to the place. you write to preserve moments in time.

I write only in lower case, and I use no indentations or quotation marks. Consequently the piece feels like a draft and I don’t have to worry about how it sounds. If you’re a perfectionist like me, this will spare you obsessive tooling. Finally I “draw” the scene; I go final.

I keep a journal. I think everyone should: a journal is to language what a sketchbook is to art. The scribble-sketch-draw analogy has helped me fill quite a lot of empty paper.

But that’s not what this post is really about.

A painting is a window to a world the artist has created. Likewise when we write a scene we attempt to describe a world in a way readers can grasp. The writer needs to provide just enough detail for readers to draw the lines and paint the colors in their imagination. Some details the writer will insist on: the scar was on the left side of the bad guy’s face. It was rain rather than crickets the lovers heard, or rather didn’t hear.

Most of the details, however, the readers must decide for themselves. I have little patience with writers who want to show me exactly what a character looks like, by inventorying traits and dimensions, by scanning figures from head to toe. If you tell me the bad guy has a scar, I’ll fill in the rest. Likewise, if you tell me the lovers don’t even know it’s raining, don’t even notice they’re getting wet, I can pretty much guess what’s on their minds. A visual artist who skimps on detail risks failing to achieve his goal. A writer who is heavy on detail stands little chance of achieving it; the reader doesn’t even make an attempt to engage.

When I paint, I fill my canvas with color. I leave no spot untouched. When I write, I provide as little information as I can get away with; less is more.

Still, that’s not what this post is really about, either.

Anyone who has been moved by a great poem knows the art of language has as much to do with sound and rhythm as visual detail. With rhyme and alliteration. With contrast, the foundation of all beauty. When it comes time to draw, after you’ve scribbled and sketched, there should be only one thought in mind: to push your work beyond what you’ve visualized; to take chances; to wrestle with the fear that no one will understand you, no one will be moved by your words or will share your vision of light and shadow:

You start with the street she lived on, how it wound narrowly around obstacles long since leveled by bankruptcy and wood saw; how it shouldered stayed and acquitted buildings that retained most of their dignity, except now they seemed to cant forward slightly, like opposing rows of aging chess players.

You describe the train station where you last saw her alive. The paint was yellow with age and smoke and the sour smell of unclean men. It peeled in the damp air and fell to join the cigarette butts, the empty bottles, and the foot-trodden newspapers; litter that clothed the cement floor no better than the rags on the men who drank and dreamed there.

The first you saw of the train was its headlamp, floating ghost-like over the fog, then the engine broke from the mist and rumbled into the station where, here, the sun had burned the valley clean and the trunks of the Bruchweide were amber columns of light. When she stepped onto the platform the two of you stood apart at first and let the smile fill your eyes. Like spring-fed wells. Until the wells overflowed and you were in each other’s arms.

The first time was outdoors, as all first times should be. You felt her flesh beneath your hands, soft, pliable, giving, welcoming. The pine needles against your back. Her voice, the rhythm of her chatter, a tonic, the day washed of its drabness. The smell of cut grass, of burning leaves, of moss and humus and primeval soil. A visceral sense of early and distant rain. It’s only the time that’s inaccessible, not the place, not even the person. You write to preserve moments in time. That’s what art is for. You write to capture the love you felt before it broke something inside of you. The volume set too high, yet never high enough. A timeline, a Cartesian grid, curved space, a forest of stars, darkness at night, and an abacus in the hands of a man gone mad.

That’s what this post is about.


Stephen Parrish is one of the contributors of Mike O’Mary and Julie Rembers’ literary collection, Saying Goodbye, by Dream of Things.

Dec 16, 2010

Santa Inspired Me! by Kristy Haile

Writing had always been simply a fun and relaxing hobby to me. I have always enjoyed writing short stories and journal entries about different events that have taken place in my life. None of which had ever inspired me enough to write a book. In fact, writing a book had never even crossed my mind. Being a dental hygienist was my career and I left it at that. I went to work every day, cleaned teeth and every two weeks collected a solid paycheck.

Then came the day my son became Santa Claus. He brought me back to the place of dreaming, imagining and truly believing anything is possible. His stories about the North Pole, the elves and even the reindeers were so imaginative and full of life. I so wanted to keep his stories alive and I knew he couldn’t even write, which is why I began a journal about my little Santa Claus.

My pint-sized Santa had touched so many people’s lives as well as mine. I wanted the opportunity to touch more lives with his story and one day my husband suggested I write a book. At first I laughed, but I looked at him realizing he was serious and writing bug came over me, so I agreed. I kept a picture of my son Ty in his Santa suit with me as I wrote the outline and through the entire first draft of ‘I AM SANTA!’

The picture kept me going, all I had to do was look at it and I knew I could do it. It is faded, creased and looks as if it went through a storm which is all okay. For all I still see when a look at the picture is inspiration to continue believing and dreaming. My little Santa in his suit with a big smile on his face is all it takes.

Because of my Santa, I look at life in a completely different way. Life is about being positive, living life to the fullest and knowing that anything is possible if you imagine and dream. Therefore, my suggestion to all authors is look for what inspires you. When one finds, which inspires them, so many things are possible. You can live a life in which you had never before been able to imagine was possible.



Californian Kristy Haile earned an Associate’s degree in Dental Hygiene from Northeastern University in Boston and then worked as a hygienist in Massachusetts and California. She moved from her hometown of Turlock, CA to Los Angeles, where her two children became actors on TV (The Office, Criminal Minds, Desperate Housewives), movies (Chihuahua: The Movie) and in commercials. At age 4, son Ty came to believe he was Santa Claus. Haile kept a journal of the funny and unusual things her son said and did over the next two years, as well as of people’s reactions to his self-identification as the “new real Santa Claus.” That journal was the basis for her latest book, I Am Santa.
You can visit the ‘I AM SANTA!’ website at to connect with Kristy.

Dec 15, 2010

When the Story Truly Starts by MM Bennetts

To be honest, a novel starts for me well before I get anywhere near that first draft. It starts life as a series of unconnected scenes and passages of descriptive writing in a notebook or in several notebooks.

I don't write when I feel I have nothing to say. Instead, I allow the first ideas of character, of plot and of 'what-ifs' to develop in my head, to grow there, to ferment.

During this period of time, I'll also be doing large amounts of historical research, and all that I'm discovering will be going into this fictional synthesis in my head.

I always carry a notebook with me. Always. Because I find that walking with the iPod or driving or spending time on a train or in a museum will really get those ideas knocking about--and at that point, scenes and conversations will start pouring out. As and when they pour, I write--long-hand. Rather like a scribe just taking it all down.

So long before I sit down at the iMac to write that first draft, I have a great deal of the action, much of the dialogue, and certainly a strong sense of my characters, very firmly in my head and on the pages of my notebooks.

I create a novel scene by scene and chapter by chapter. Yes, I have the idea of where I want the novel to go, what ideas I want to cover, perhaps a couple of sub-themes which I wish to pursue, but from the moment I start writing at the computer, it's all allowed to grow organically.

So I get writing. First draft will be generally be absolute rubbish.

But I print it out, leave it for a couple of hours or even overnight, read it, take the red pen to it (lots of red pen), cross out, write over, write notes all along the margins, then incorporate all of that into the text. Then I rip those printed pages, throw them over my shoulder, and the piles on the floor begin.

Only when I've got that chapter to the state that I believe is as near perfect as I can make it (and that might be fourteen or fifteen rewrites later), only then do I move onto the first draft of the next scene or chapter.

It's probably not the most efficient way to work, but I suspect that it's down to all those years as a book critic that I don't feel able to allow anything out of my hands that isn't ready for publication at that moment. And it works for me.


Educated at Boston University and St Andrews, M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in the economic, social and military history of Napoleonic Europe. The author is a keen cross-country and dressage rider, as well as an accomplished pianist, regularly performing music of the era as both a soloist and accompanist. Bennetts is a long-standing book critic for The Christian Science Monitor.

The author is married and lives in England.

Bennetts’ latest book is Of Honest Fame.

You can visit the author’s website at

Dec 14, 2010

How My Kitchen Gets Clean by Susan Wingate

When I look at my kitchen after dinner--the pots and spoons, knives and plates, measuring cups and spatulas, all lining my countertop and falling off into the sink--I think "first draft." It takes me a while to scrape off the food into the compost bin and to rinse off all the dishes and utensils but finally, after a good deal of parsing out the mess and then wiping down the counter, my kitchen looks tidy, is back to its original organized state and I can take a deep breath in. It's done. And, isn't it appropriate that I'm writing this article with a kitchen analogy while I'm completing the final book in the Bobby's Diner Series?

But, really, that's what a first draft of a novel looks like to me, a messy kitchen. You know the story is underneath the mess and after a little scraping, wiping and cleaning, it will look polished, it will look clean. So it is with writing. We must clean our novels before we let anyone read our stories.

For my latest release, EASY AS PIE AT BOBBY'S DINER, I had help with cleaning my novel. I would like to call her a maid but I don't think my editor would appreciate that. But, boy oh boy, did she ever work that kitchen! When she finished, she sent me the story with all editions in tow, and together we re-organized the mess. As with any job, it's always good to have help and writing the novel is no different, especially at the end.

Look. Here's what it's like around my house. Everyday I write. Everyday I cook. Everyday I edit. Everyday I clean my kitchen. If you're starting to see a lack of glamour in the writing biz, then bully for you. It's all work, all of the time. Then, after working you have to shop, vacuum the floors and cook dinner... again!

I have found myself getting up earlier and earlier just to get everything done. Writing comes first. After knocking out a couple thousand words, I check my email, check Facebook and any other pressing business that needs attention and then I go back to my writing and look at that first draft mess. Pull out my dusting rags, my scissors and my eraser and get to work scouring my first draft writing.

Do I sound tired to you? I'm thinking I might sound it, but I'm really not. I wouldn't have it any other way. I love my job as a writer. I love being in love with a job! So, excuse me a sec, but I have to leave before my ink dries. It's so much harder to scrub out stains than to simply wipe off a spill.



Award-winning author, Susan Wingate, gets a monthly column about writing and the publishing industry in her local newspaper, The Journal of the San Juan Islands. She will also be posting weekly discussions about the writing industry for the regional online newspaper, the site.

You can view Wingate’s discussions by clicking on the “Entertainment” tab and then finding Wingate’s discussions under the “Blogs” section of the Entertainment Page.

Born in Phoenix, Arizona to James & Amie Ajamie (a writer and an artist, respectively), Susan Wingate tried to fly, at age five off the roof of their family house using newspaper, wire hangers and scotch tape. She’s been dreaming of flying ever since. Oh, by the way, she never jumped. Her mother ran out in the nick of time to stop her from take-off.

Wingate realized her dreams when she entered the world of writing. At first, she only wrote songs and poetry but then her writing blossomed when she tried her hand at fiction. In 1997, she devoted her days to writing and in 2004, she began writing full-time. Since then, Susan has written several plays, one screenplay, one short story collection and seven novels with two more scheduled to be written in 2010. In 2008, she started writing a memoir.

A lover of the arts, Susan draws and paints abstracts using oil as her favored medium. She has taken up playing the violin (it’s been a squeakly start) and she loves the theatre. Susan lives in Washington State.

To date, Wingate has written seven novels, two short story collections, a memoir, hundreds of poems, a few plays for theatre and one screenplay.

Her books can be found online and in bookstores across the country and her articles, short stories and poetry can be found in magazines, journals and reviews.

Locally, Wingate volunteers with the San Juan Island Library. She offers workshops, readings and presentations at writing conferences, bookstores and libraries throughout the country.

You can visit her website at

Dec 7, 2010

How Do You Begin Your First Draft with VS Grenier

New writers starting out have asked me this very question and I often share with them that there is no right or wrong way when it comes to writing your first draft or writing in general. What writers must do is find what fits their life and writing style. My writing schedule may not be another writer's ideal schedule. Let’s face it . . . I don’t get to block out hours of writing time. I tend to write in short bursts throughout the day. And each day is very different from the day before.

For some reason, I work better under stress. If I do not have a deadline, then I will put off the task. Therefore, I have to set deadlines to keep myself writing. With that said, the first draft typically takes me about a couple of weeks to type up. First, I do any research if needed. Then I type a loose outline and throw a few thoughts on paper. After all that, it’s time to sit down and write. I have children so I don’t get the opportunity to sit for an hour or more just letting my thoughts flow to the computer screen. I typically get a few minutes here and there. When I do have to get up, take care of the house, and run my children around, I record any additional ideas on my phone voice recorder to type up later.

If maintaining a daily writing schedule has worked for you, then don’t switch to another’s writing habit just because you think theirs might be better. Their writing schedule might not be for you. What I mean by this is I know writers who can type out two to four picture book manuscripts in a day. Others can write a novel in a month. Then there are others who take months and even years to write just one book. My recent book Babysitting SugarPaw first started out as a short story. I wrote the first draft in about a week. Did some revisions and then had a fellow writer/illustrator look it over. It was his suggestion after reading my story to turn it into a picture book. I spent a couple of months trying to write the first manuscript before doing revisions and feeling it was ready to submit to a publisher as a picture book. However, I have other picture book manuscripts where I only spent a week or two writing my first draft. Then there are others still waiting for me on my voice recorder.

The point is . . . one writer’s way is not better than mine, and vice versa. In the end, we both come out with something we are proud of and hope to see published, like my picture book Babysitting SugarPaw.



VS Grenier is an award-winning author and editor who learned how to hone her writing skills at the Institute of Children’s Literature, and has been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI), the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), the League of Utah Writers (HWG chapter), and Musing Our Children. Her works include Babysitting SugarPaw, the Best of Stories for Children Magazine Volume 1 anthology and over 30 short stories, articles, and crafts for children along with newsletter articles for writers.

“Having others read what you have written and giving feedback not only makes you a better writer, but you start to understand how a well written story’s voice captures the reader . . . drawing them into your world of ink,” states VS Grenier.

She is the Founder & Owner of Stories for Children Publishing LLC., and also is a freelance editor for Halo Publishing; in addition, to running her own editorial and critique services. A California girl at heart, she currently lives in Utah with her husband, their three children, and the family’s big fat cat Speed Bump and miniature schnauzer Taz.

You can learn more about VS Grenier at her author website or her company website You can also follow her on The Writing Mama at