creative writing

Writing: It’s Not Really About the Money

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Pen When I’m asked how long I’ve been writing, I can say truthfully, most of my life. I was taught to read at the age of four, and by the time I was in third grade had devoured most of the books in the meager collection in my school’s library. I remember being most struck by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the worlds they created between the covers of the musty old books high up on the shelves.

By the time I was in fifth grade, I was making up stories of my own. In my freshman year of high school, when I was thirteen, I entered a Sunday school magazine short story writing contest. Surprise of surprises, I won first place, and it was a national competition. The fact that I was competing with other ten to fifteen year-olds is irrelevant – my name appeared in a national publication above something I’d created. I don’t remember what the prize was – probably just the byline and copies of the magazine – but, I was hooked. I wanted to create more stories, and share them with more people.

From the beginning that was my goal; to share the stories swirling around in my mind with others.

It wasn’t until I’d graduated from high school and joined the army that the idea of actually making money from writing occurred to me. I wrote poems, articles and short stories for publications for free. Then, I submitted an article to a magazine and along with the acceptance letter got a check – I think it was the princely sum of $10.00, which was a lot of money in the 1970s when most publications paid less than fifty cents a word.

Over the decades since, I’ve continued to write articles, short stories, book reviews, and since the mid-2000s full length works. Writing doesn’t pay the bills – it never has, and the odds are it never will. I’m fortunate in having served as a federal official long enough to qualify for a pension that, along with my investments and writing income, provides me with a comfortable living. The number of authors who make a good living from writing, compared to the total number of authors in existence, is a miniscule percentage.

It’s always been that way. There are some people who write books mainly for the money – most of them writing books on ‘how to make money writing.’ I’m convinced, though, that those of us who write fiction, don’t do it for the money. We do it because we love writing. Because we have these stories in our brains, straining to get out and be shared. If we just happen to get lucky and are able to grab the brass ring of ‘best-sellerdom,’ that’s a bonus. I’d be willing to bet that even if Stephen King hadn’t attained mega-stardom with his books, he’d still be writing. I know that’s why I continue to write.Writer

Can writing be a career? It depends upon how you define career. Even though writing doesn’t provide the bulk of my income, I have no problem introducing myself as a writer when I meet people. With 40+ independently published books to my credit, and hundreds of clip sheets of published articles and book reviews, I think I can call writing something other than a hobby.

If writing is your career goal, there are a number of preparatory steps I strongly suggest. Get yourself a good style book and learn the rules of good writing – grammar, punctuation, and word usage. Now that you’ve done that, the next step is simple – sit down and write what’s in your mind, and if necessary, break the rules you just spent all that time learning. But, break them with a purpose. You’ll, of course, need some other source of legal income while you hone your skills – many writers before you have had to do the same. But, never despair. If your lot in life is to be a writer, you’ll know it. You’ll know it because no matter what, the urge to write will be there like that itch between your shoulder blades that you just can’t seem to reach. Most importantly, write, write, and write some more. Write something every single day. I once worked for an old newspaper editor in North Carolina who suggested that I write at least 1,000 words a day as a way of improving my writing skills. I’ve followed that advice, with my own shot of steroids; I now write about 2,000 words a day. Character sketches, plot outlines, research notes all count against that daily quota. When I’m on the road I take along an old steno pad or two, in which I write. I write on planes, in hotel rooms, and in the back of taxis.

That might not be the best way to become a writer, but it works for me.

For another perspective on writing, check out An Ode to Novel Writers at

Review of ‘1,000 Character Writing Prompts: Villains, Heroes, and Hams for Scripts, Stories, and More

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Bryan Cohen, he of the ‘writing prompts’ series of books, is back – this time with 1,000 Character Writing Prompts: Villains, Heroes and Hams for Scripts, Stories and More. I just finished going through a free review copy of Cohen’s latest offering, and, as usual, he does not disappoint.

Included in Character Writing Prompts are enough hints, tips, and starters to keep your writing juiced up with memorable characters into the next millennium.  Just as in his earlier prompt books, Cohen provides just enough to get your brain cells pumping in high gear, and he does it in an easy-to-read style that won’t strain those cells.

Whether you’re a neophyte looking for that first great character, or a seasoned writer looking for a little variety, you’re sure to find something worthwhile here. The neat thing about these prompts is, rather than being just a list of characteristics, they’re given in situations that also help in getting a story line going. Read, and reap the benefits.

Review of ‘Four Seasons of Creative Writing’

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Have you ever sat down to write and found yourself staring at a blank screen – with a blank mind? At some point in our lives all of us who write have been faced with at least a moment in time when we were at a loss for something to write about.

Well, that never need happen to you again. I recently received a free review copy of a book that is guaranteed to fill in those blank spaces in your mind and have your writing machine humming at top speed any time, day or night. Four Seasons of Creative Writing: 1,000 Prompts to Stop Writer’s Block by Bryan Cohen comes four years after his popular 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts. Seasons is as the name implies, a series of prompts tied to the four seasons of the year, beginning strangely enough with summer. It is further subdivided into headings like Weather and Nature or Sports, and is a series of questions designed to jump start your creative writing muscles.

The real value in this book is that it should also stimulate you to come up with your own specific questions or thoughts, so it, in effect, is many more than a mere thousand prompts (by the way, Cohen doesn’t number his prompts from 1 to 1,000, but separately under each subhead, so I’m taking his word that the book contains that promised thousand). If you want to forever banish the fear of writer’s block from your mind, this is the book you should have right next to your computer – or, if you’re really old-fashioned, your typewriter.

How Long is Long Enough?

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InsecureWritersSupportGroupThe first Wednesday in 2014 was a holiday, so the first Wednesday Blog For Insecure Writers is being done on the second Wednesday. If that doesn’t confuse you enough, read on – I guarantee that my offering on how many words you should write will send you screaming to the liquor cabinet.


There’s this joke; a priest, a nun, and a rabbi walk into a bar. The punch line is ‘it’s not long enough.’ Now, for the life of me, I can never remember what comes between the opening line and the punch line – but, that really doesn’t matter, because thinking of that joke, I started thinking about another ‘joke’ – how long should your book be? Well, that’s not really a joke, is it? I mean, we writers have to think about such things.

Browsing my social media sites for writers, I’ve seen this question come up from time to time, and back in the days before I decided to self-publish, length was a big issue, whether it was writing a book or an article for a magazine.

So, let’s talk about that, shall we? How long should your written work be? The answer is, it depends. If you’re writing an article for a journal, print or online, the publisher will have specified lengths, and if you wish to be published you’re well advised to comply with those specifications. When writing your novel, on the other hand, you’re sailing in completely different waters.

If you research it, you’ll find a number of different views on the appropriate length for fiction (nonfiction as well). Novels, it is maintained, should be anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 words. Some say a novel is 50,000 or more, and others insist that a real novel is 60,000 to 80,000 words. Less than that, and they maintain that it becomes a novella or even (shudder) a novelette.

I have a different view. I hew to the answer to the question, ‘how long should a man’s legs be?’ The answer is credited to either Abraham Lincoln or J.D. Salinger – it really doesn’t matter which said it, but it was ‘long enough to reach the ground.’ And that, my friends, is the answer to how long your story should be – ‘long enough to get from opening to conclusion in a rational manner.’

The length conventions, established by the traditional print publishers, were often based on economic considerations more than anything else. For a print publisher, it is more economical to print a book that ranges from 200 – 300 pages because of the amount and size of the paper used. Of course, for authors with an established track record and audience, exceptions have always been made. Another belief is that readers will feel cheated by a book that is too thin – say under 200 pages.

My own experience has been different. I’ve written books of just under 40,000 words (call them novellas if you wish, I just call them stories) which have done as well as those I’ve done that were over 50,000 – in the case of my historical fiction/western books about the Buffalo Soldiers, better in fact. I just map out the story, beginning with how I want it to end, going back and coming up with an opening scene, and then writing until I get to a logical stopping point. My Buffalo Soldier books come in normally at 45,000 – 55,000 words. I have a mystery series which tends to average 50,000 – 65,000 because of all the plot twists. Using print-on-demand, I don’t have the problem of having to economize on printing costs as much as a traditional publisher who has to establish a print run for each edition, and each book is also available in e-book format where length and thickness isn’t an issue – well, thickness isn’t.

What I’ve concluded, though, is that if the story is well constructed and well told, if readers can identify with the characters, and the storyline is credible, no one complains about how long it is. It’ll be a long time until we’re no longer guided by the conventions of the past, but I’ve noticed more and more independent authors who are following the new rule – make it long enough to reach the ground. Who knows; when the next technological advance once again changes the publishing industry, maybe we’ll be the ones out of step. In the meantime, I’ll just keep writing from the beginning to the end, and stopping.

Review of ‘1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2’

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Every writer or blogger has at some point faced the dreadful situation of sitting down at the keyboard and coming up dry on what to write about. Your muse slept late, or just decided to take a much needed vacation and your mind is as empty as the cookie jar the day after a holiday.

Well, thanks to Bryan Cohen and Jeremiah Jones, you don’t have to face that keyboard completely empty handed anymore. Their 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is the muse that never takes a vacation.

This is a follow-on to Cohen’s first volume of prompts that grew out of his search for a way to make money online. I received a free copy for review of the current volume, and am now searching for number one. After all, who wouldn’t like to have 2,000 little mind-nudges for those times when the idea well seems dry?

Organized into categories, such as Time and Place and People and Creatures, these little memory jogs are sure to help you think of something to write about. That they are subjective is to be expected – we write what we know, and these two are no exception – but, they don’t have to be taken literally. Let your mind roam free as you read, and I think you’ll see the value of this little book. They’ve even kindly indexed the book for those who have a vague idea of what they’d like to write about, and want to look up specifics.

A  helpful little volume indeed.