Thursday, December 16, 2010

Coaching Yourself

A good end-of-year exercise! I will get back to GRACE on January 3, 2011.

Ten-Minute Tip: Coach Yourself

by Charlotte Rains Dixon, WordStrumpet

As a precursor to hiring a coach, spend a little time working with yourself. Answer the following questions:

  1. What was your biggest writing success in 2010?
  2. Your biggest writing problem?
  3. If you were coaching yourself, what suggestions would you make to yourself about your writing problem?
  4. How can you put these suggestions into action? When will you put them into action?
  5. What are your three most important writing goals for 2011?
  6. How will you implement them?
  7. If you get stalled on these goals, how will you push forward?
Writer, mentor, and coach Charlotte Rains Dixon is passionate about helping writers, coaches, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals succeed, achieve, and profit in their careers and lives through writing. Visit her for more tips and techniques on writing--and living--at

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Brother, Agents, and Writing in Class


In this one you are with me and our cousins, Hank and John, in Baldwin, on the south shore of Long Island. It’s 1950 or 1951and we are posing at the edge of a canal in the shipyard where Granddaddy keeps his motor boat. We just got back from our annual day trip through Jones Inlet. You and I stand in the middle with our arms around each other and clearly we take care of each other. We are as plain and sturdy as our scuffed Buster Brown shoes.

Hank and John, wearing sneakers, are aliens from Planet Cousin and we have no clue about them. If you are trying to cheer John up with a hug, it isn’t working. We love the person who is taking the picture, probably our mother or father, though John seems more interested in the ground in front of him.

Over the years to come the tides of our lives will pull you and me together and keep us apart, but we will always be Susan and William, Sister and Brother.

In 2001, from the rocky shore of Nova Scotia, I scattered your ashes in the cold waters of St.Margaret’s Bay, where you once took me for a day trip on your motor boat, Seaweed 2.

Now you travel on the tides to all the waters of the world.

Sent follow-up #3 to an agent who has yet to acknowledge. This time I re-sent the whole ms. requested in May.
We'll see.
Meanwhile the ending is nagging at me, as is the idea of pitching GRACE as "edgy" YA.

Writing in class with my students for 10 minutes at a time, 7 times a week, is enlightening. I have 7 classes, each meets once a week.) Twice I write on one topic, four times on another, and once a week a class with its own, entirely different, topic. I have uncovered some startling insights this way. The ten-minute student writings are always interesting. This is the only time everyone tackles the same prompt.

Homework is an "invitation," so any topic is acceptable if the invititee has other writing priorities. I often use my own writing as an example in the Invitations. For example, I used the the meditation on Will (2nd from left in picture above) as an example of writing to a person in a photograph "In this one, you are..."

Saturday, August 21, 2010


This garden’s white and green

Fat with waste-waxed floors

Crisp white machines.

“Good veins,” approves Nurse Thing.

A room with a view of sky.

Last sight; last rite.

This is a garden of wolf’s tongue

And wean balm,

of Queens’ Ears and

Devils’ Teeth.

This is a garden of the sick to death,

A formal garden of the

Never mind.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dog Days and Reliving Your Scenes

OK, they are supposedly called "dog days" because of the dog star but I know better. Saw a mom toting plastic bags of school supplies trailed by two foot-dragging kids in a hot parking lot, 1 p.m. on a Friday in August, all were bored and tried and hot -- dog days written all over them.

Meanwhile, I am inspired by James Scott Bell:
1. RELIVE YOUR SCENES. Not rewrite. Relive.

Have you ever imagined yourself to be the characters? Tried to feel what they’re feeling? Try it now. It’s not hard. Be an actor.

Often, after I’ve written a scene, I’ll go back and try to live the emotions. I’ll act out the parts I’ve created. Almost always what I feel “in character” will make me add to or change the scene.

You can also imagine the scene, step by step, in your mind. Let it play like a movie. But instead of watching the movie from a seat in the theater, be in the scene. The other characters can’t see you, but you can see and hear them.

Intensify the proceedings. Let things happen. Let characters improvise. If you don’t like what they come up with, rewind the scene and allow them to do something else.

Look at the beginnings of your scenes. What do you do to grab the reader at the start? Have you spent too much time with description of setting? Often the better course is to start in medias res (in the middle of things) and drop in description a little later.

Examine scene endings. What have you provided that will make the reader want to read on? Some great places to stop a scene are:

• At the moment a major decision is to be made.
• Just as a terrible thing happens.
• With a portent of something bad about to happen.

• With a strong display of emotion.

• When raising a question that has no immediate answer.

Keep improving your scenes and your novel will soon develop that can’t-put-it-down feel.

From: "5 Easy Tips to Strengthen Your Scenes," Writer's Digest 8/3/10,

Friday, August 6, 2010

Family Time

Great news from Ben-- an agent asked to see more of his novel today. First step in agent search, get pages of the book in his or her hands! The response to his fine query letter came in two weeks. His book is intriguing and well written and I hope she loves it! Good job, Ben!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

QUESTION: How Do You Know If Your Query Is Any Good?

From a great blog:
Jane Friedman: There Are No Rules

ANSWER: Follow the 75% Rule of Marcus Sakey
Key points:
The query letter and novel are two separate things. In fact, they are so separate that it's not even necessary for you to have written a novel to write a fantastic and compelling query letter.

A query letter seduces the agent. Your are showing an agent you know how to tell a story.

The query should be brief and simplistic in terms of representing your novel. (The story hook should be kept to about a paragraph.)

Refer to your protagonist's name specifically, but try to frame everyone else in general unnamed roles.

Sakey said you should send the query out to agents in small batches, maybe 5 at a time, and see what your response rate is. If it's less than 75% "send me something," your query letter needs work.

Other Tips on Getting Published
  • You have to finish the book and put it aside for a while. A month is a good starting place. Then you read the whole thing in 1 sitting. Really mark it up. Then give it out to people. If you keep it to yourself, you're keeping a journal. When you get feedback, don't look at specific suggestions; you will find that they vary. Look for patterns: if four people say the same thing, it's broken.
  • Any book that goes much beyond the 6-figure word count is not marketable. Don't get beyond 120,000 for sure. (Joke made: There aren't enough electrons for the e-books if you get to 130,000 words. Ha!)
  • Every scene/conversation/line needs to progress the plot or the character.Look closely at your really fabulous paragraphs ("the really freakin' gorgeous ones"). Copy that gorgeous stuff into another file, and you can always go back and remind yourself of your genius. But never use it.
  • When e-querying, add the first page of manuscript at the bottom of the e-mail. (Don't attach it.) Of course, it better be a compelling first page. (And it should be a compelling first page no matter what.) Even though this is not a standard approach, if your letter was brief and professional, the agent will think, "Hey, what the hell."
  • Treat querying and submitting (and publishing) like a business, and give it the respect and professionalism it requires if you want to get an agent or editor. Prove your case. You do not have a birth right to have your book published, even if it's brilliant. Writing is all about art. But once you start selling that, your writing is all about business. Anyone beyond you in the food chain looks at it like a business. So you're a salesperson. Do your job. (Nothing kills a good product like bad marketing.)
  • Keep the submission process going and—very important—then start your next project. You don't make your writing life about the submission process.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good Advice from WordStrumpet

Success Mindset
1. Intention, Not Expectation. Set an intention for whatever it is you want to be successful at, but don't have an expectation of exactly how it will pan out. Because, the universe loves to surprise you. This goes for small, daily goals, too. Set an intention to write a certain number of words per day, for instance, but don't have an expectation that you will absolutely, positively meet that goal or else. Set an intention, go for it, and if you don't make it, do better the next day.

2. Just A Wee Bit of Organization. I know, we creative types like to be wild and crazy and free. And organization is a dirty word when you are wild and crazy and free. But a wee bit of it will help you to achieve your success goals. Learn what your maximum mess quotient is and when you reach it, take some time to get yourself organized. My maximum mess quotient is when my desk gets so overwhelmed with piles I no longer know what each pile represents (probably because they are so messy they don't represent anything).

3. Use the Power of Your Subconscious. Put your brain to work for you. Your subconscious can be noodling away on your creative projects while you are doing other things, like dishes, or vacuuming or carpooling. You just need to give it a little nudge. And that's easy to do. Read over your notes before you leave to do errands. Glance at a page or two of your manuscript before you go to sleep at night. Or sit in front of your latest painting and ponder it before you leave for work. You can also tell your subconscious directly what you need, such as, "I'm looking for Claire's motivation for leaving her husband." And don't forget to carry a small journal with you wherever you go so that you can jot down ideas as they come. Because they will come.

4. Process, not Product. Don't put yourself into the mindset of product creation. Instead, remember that it is all about the process. Yes, you are indeed creating a product, whether that is a novel or a painting or an EBook. But focusing on the end product results in perfectionism, and panic. Instead, stay in the present and think only about the process. Be in the process. Product follows.

5. Transcend Judgment. This is a biggie, and a difficult biggie at that. You need to be able to transcend judgment of the product you are creating until you are finished and need to be critical of it. But beyond that, you need to transcend judgment of yourself and other people (which is really just judgment of yourself). Stifle that negative voice that loves to hear you tell critical stories. You'll be amazed at how much space opens up in your brain. And you can then use that mental space for, oh, I don't know, rewriting a novel?

6. Ask For Support. But seek it from the right people. I adore my family and my non-writing friends, but I don't let them in on the process of trying to get my novel published much. Why? Because, wonderful as they are, they just don't get it. If I mention I have an agent interested in my work, they'll be asking me constantly how it's going. My writing group, on the other hand, offers concrete assistance that I can take to the computer and use immediately. (And no worries, there will be a huge celebration with my beloved family when the time comes and I do nab that agent.)

7. Know You Can Do it! Because you can. We all can. We all can accomplish our goals if we just give ourselves a chance. Or a pep talk. So good luck cultivating a success mindset and go forth and accomplish your goals!
Reposted with permission:
Writer, mentor, and coach Charlotte Rains Dixon is passionate about helping writers, coaches, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals succeed, achieve, and profit in their careers and lives through writing. Visit her for more tips and techniques on writing--and living--at

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Backspace Conference

It was all I hoped it would be. Lots of interest in Grace, four agents asked for the MS. Donald Maass's talk about writing the breakout novel was to the point for me. I have been upping the tension prior to hitting "send."

Bravo Backspace!
Thanks to Backspace and Colleen Lindsay for the original query contest last fall that I won. The prize was free attendance at the conference. I also thank Backspace for giving me a rain check when I couldn't attend in the fall.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Encouraging Words

Finished part 2. Really great! Lots more tension and the story is tighter. Great stuff with Diver.

Revising: Down to the Wire!

New Title for Part 2 of Grace ( fits new plot)

Bellhaven, Long Island
June 1970

Casualty: Any person who is having been declared dead, duty status-whereabouts unknown, missing, ill, or injured.
—Department of Defense, Dictionary of Military Terms

Acid is not for every brain.
—Timothy Leary

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Yay, Backspace!

Won query letter contest back in October, could not claim prize (attendance at Backspace's Nov. writer/agent conference in NYC) due to illness. Sponsors have graciously extended prize to cover 3-day conference in May in NYC. GRACE may not have an agent yet but it's a winner! I'm thrilled.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Figured Baby Out!

I know! I'll write a letter from Worth to me explaining everything, no holds barred.
His words will breathe air into the story and it will expand, rise, and soar. No stopping!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Back to the Future

Opening Grace's file and moving words on pages. Again. It wasn't finished, just resting. Used Goldilocks and the Three Bears again as a story example in two classes. Apply to revision? Grace as Goldilocks?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Keep It Going!

A fire of change is now lit under Grace. Good ideas for tightening the plot; it evolves. Teaching is a spur to good writing; students are so talented, eager, willing to share, and, word of the day, brave.

So I return to Grace pencil sharpened; no regrets.
Brave heart.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

High Praise and More Work

This just in from a knowledgeable commentator:
".... I was impressed by the narrative tension you created over and over again. Grace is a beautiful, complex character, I think the reader ends up feeling very deeply for her by the end.
"That being said, I'm afraid I just wasn't won over by Worth's downward spiral into mental instability. It's not that you didn't manage to capture his thousand-mile stare and inability to come back from the jungle, because I think that was all handled quite masterfully. My concerns were in the plot surrounding his character transformation."

This touches on something I have thought about. I worked hard on these characters and it's always great to discover they spoke to someone else memorably. But the plot concern is definitely something to tackle.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Individual Artist Award in Fiction

Thanks, Grace! After submitting pages from Grace at War in July, I heard today that the Maryland State Arts Council has found my work to be of artistic excellence, and worthy of a cash award to be spent by June 30, 2010.

Grace has now won two contests (well, the second was a query contest) and now a grant. Time for an agent!

I am thrilled!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

In Progress A Five-Year WritingPlan

By December 31, 2014 I plan

to be a writer-in-residence at a writing conference or college
to have sold 3 novels, the 2 I completed in 2009 and 2010 as well as the one completed in 2011
to have sold a how-to book based on my class assignments
to have attended the opening night of my first play
to be marketing novels written 2012 - 2014


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lost in a Book

In sixth grade my favorite book was Storm Canvas, a sea story set in the War of 1812. I wanted to run away to sea to be a cabin boy, but since thatwasn't in the cards, I jumped aboard the book and sailed away.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Creative Writing

I wrote this to read at my Creative Writing Class's public reading on 1/28.

Creative Writers

We fill our cups with each other’s words until they run over.

We fill picnic baskets, trunks, silos, freight cars, and hay barns with our words. Every one a gift.

Listening to each other’s words is as pleasurable as eating watermelon on the porch steps (with comments launched like watermelon seeds into the back yard).

Our words interlock

like the strands in a multi-colored braided rug.

Our words blend and sing harmonies.

Our words pluck long-forgotten chords in each of us.

Some words grow in neat rows, willing to be weeded and watered.

Other words escape and tangle into briar patches, resisting and drawing blood when we try to pick them.

Some words roam wild and free on the high slopes and have to be chased down and forcibly corralled.

Other words are as docile as sheep waiting to be penned.

As writers, we have to be

…as persistent as prospectors panning for word nuggets that will assay into stories. faithful as fishermen, patiently casting into a pool of words to see which ones will bite, taking the keepers home to fillet and fry up as stories and poems.

…as tough as tight rope artists, walking the wire of writing and step by assured step bridging the gap between inspiration and story.

I celebrate the writers who have read their work tonight!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quick to No

Okay, first query sent off in 2010, response in 4 hours, "No."
Impersonal response reminding me it's better to "know" than wait for a personal gentle let-down.
Hmmm. Not sure about that. The limbo of querying, in which all is possible for weeks until the reply comes back, was truncated today. After 4 hours, Grace was back in my court.

Time to serve an ace.

This is why having 10 queries out at a time is such a good idea.

Friday, January 15, 2010

5-Year Plan

New Year's resolutions are not enough: I am formulating a five-year plan. I have given myself to the end of January 2010 to design it. I plan to buy a Levenger (great notebook source) 5-Year Diary, so every day will show me not only where I am but where I'm heading.

My last 5-year plan (1980) had a single goal "get a job in the fire service." I accomplished that one in 4 years. Published a book on arson in 1982, joined the Bellport Fire Dept. as a volunteer in 1982; became an editor with the NY Fire Dept. --temp, 1983; full-time, 1984.

What does a five-year plan have to do with Grace at War? Everything! For 2010: have at least 10 queries out at all times; sell the book. See it in print by 2012. Meanwhile, get the new novel ready to send out before November 2010.

I'll post my progress!