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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Joy of Writing: How to Keep it During NaNoWriMo

8 Bestselling Authors Share Tips and Tricks for Finding and Keeping Joy in Your Writing

by Ruth Harris

The Joy of Writing? During National Novel Writing Month? You're kidding, right?

A 55K word novel in a month?

You're fretting, nervous, sweaty.

Performance anxiety in excelsis?

Brain block? What brain?

Writing should be fun and NaNo is your opportunity to have a ball. To help get you in the mood, I've asked some experienced writers to talk about the many pleasures of writing.

Grace Burrowes

Grace Burrowes started out as a tech writer, switched to law, but millions of readers know her for her USA Today and NYT bestselling romance novels.

There are so many joys to writing, at least for me. I love—

  • The research, which connects me to people I'll never know in person, but can appreciate even from a temporal distance.
  • The author community, which is full of the most knowledgeable, generous, creative, insightful, interesting people ever to take time from their busy lives to believe in something so much more compelling and rewarding than simple profit for its own sake.
  • The readers, about whom, I cannot say enough good things
  • The keeper authors whose stories have inspired me through so many tight knotholes and six-hankie billing cycles 
  • But mostly, I love the process of creative self-expression. Our culture doesn't make much space for honoring each person's story, but as an author, I get to focus on that story in its fictional incarnations. I can sit with it, shape it, recast it again and again, and then set it free to entertain and be enjoyed by others. I have the best job. I find myself over and over in the context of love stories, and each time, the sense of joy and homecoming is new all over

Joe Konrath

Noted blogger and ebook guru, Joe Konrath has sold over 3 million books worldwide and writes in the thriller, horror, erotica and comedy genres.

  • What I love about writing is the same thing I love about reading a good book; disappearing into the story as it plays out in my head. There is no other media that uses so much imagination, and creating worlds and characters is a reward unto itself. Honestly, if the federal government knew how much fun writing was, they'd tax it or make it illegal.
  • NaNo can be challenging, difficult, and even daunting. But if you aren't having fun, maybe you should spend your time doing something you'd enjoy.

Consuelo Saah Baehr

Multi-faceted bestseller, Consuelo Saah Baehr has been published in hardcover by Delacourt and Simon & Schuster, and as an indie in ebook format. Consuelo is now a Montlake author. (Montlake is an Amazon imprint...Anne)

  • Having a deadline will make you write like a sonofagun.
  • I've become a more facile writer from being a regular blogger. The discipline of making the ordinary sound interesting has given my writing muscles a workout and I'm accustomed to finding the best way to present an idea.
  • Grace Paley once said "If you want to write better, write truer." It works. If you find the truest sentence about a scene or idea, the rest will flow very nicely.   
  • In my current book I had allocated some space for two minor characters. They have insinuated themselves into all the major plot points. They will probably run away with the book without my permission. Sounds crazy. Really happens.The above pushy duo have created intrigue and plot twists I never intended but make for a more interesting book. I, the writer, would never have thought of the things they do.
  • When I need a good idea for a new scene or passage, I ask my mind (out loud) to think about what I need and then present the answer to me. Always works. (Saying it aloud might help).
  • When I'm out of the house and get an idea, I write in longhand on the back of a flyer and get some wonderful and sound writing done. Longhand has a little magic attached to it and also a different locale that is quiet seems to work, too.
  • I've been published by several of the big six and only once did I have a bad editor. I was thrilled to be edited by the smart experienced editors assigned to me. Michael Korda was a great editor. Jackie Farber who edited Daughters was a great editor. A great editor helps you shape the manuscript and focus on the story instead of the writing.
  • It takes a day or two to adjust to good editorial suggestions. Just do the work. They are almost always right. I had a bad editor once and I could not see his point of view. Later I realized I was not alone in this.
  • Getting in the zone takes devotion and time. If you become immersed in your characters and their story for several days, the writing will flow. DON'T let anyone or anything lure you out of "the zone." Any diversion of more than a couple of hours makes you lose concentration and you have to build it up again.

Vanessa Kelly

USA Today bestseller Vanessa Kelly is a hybrid author who publishes traditionally for Kensington and Grand Central, and as an indie. Vanessa, known for her Regencies, is one of the "stars of historical romance" and, as V.K. Sykes, she writes contemporary romance.

The character who comes alive:

  • This happens at least 50% of the time for me, and that particular kind of character is often inspired by a TV show or movie. 

  • For instance, the heroine of my current WIP is based on a character from the hit TV show Strike Back. She's a total badass spy who is skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and she basically runs rings around her male colleagues. It would be easy to translate that sort of heroine into a romantic suspense or even contemporary romance, but this is for a historical romance. Not too many female spies who knew martial arts in Regency England. 
    So, her insistence on starring in one of my Regencies isn't very convenient. Still, this kind of character can really shake things up, which is certainly the case with my current book. She inspired me to look at the story—and also the hero—in a different way. I ended up writing a 130K first draft in just three months, partly because I enjoyed writing her character so much.

When the idea strikes:

  • Often in the shower or in the middle of the night, which is massively inconvenient. Since I have the worst short term memory in the history of the world, I have to leap out of the shower or get out of bed to scribble the idea down before I lose it completely. 

Getting into the zone:

  • I often do a short meditation before I start writing to clear my head and tap into my creative well. But nothing works better than just sitting down and starting to write. I usually set a goal of hitting at least 1500 words, and I keep at it until I reach it. Even if the words are crap, I just do it. Once you have a first draft, everything gets a whole lot easier.

Khaled Talib

Khaled Talib is a Singapore-based journalist and member of the British Crime Writers Association. Khaled is the author of The Little Book of Muses, a collection of personal muses for writers and aspiring authors and author of the thriller, Smokescreen.

  • Let me start by telling you that I'll never run through the streets naked crying "Eureka! Eureka!" the moment I discover a red herring while writing a manuscript. So what would my reaction be if not like that famous Greek mathematician? 
  • Just between you and me — and this doesn't leave the room — I'll do a happy tribal dance when that compelling moment a plot twist I didn't even see coming pulls the rug out from under me. 
  • The moment when everything falls into place is like getting a sugar rush over and over again. Think a plate of baklavas, chocolates and an assortment of savories at one go. 
  • The excitement just doesn't fade — it gets better. I find myself being taken on a roller coaster ride. The buckling in, the nervous anticipation, the wild wind in my face as I type the words out, making sure every sentence is cleverly executed to catch the reader off guard. 
  • You want everything to be perfect, like a never been done before magic extravaganza. I find my emotions switching from excitement, nervousness to anxiety and back. And then, when I'm done, I smile to myself, amazed by my own accomplishment. Ah… that feeling.

Lindsay Buroker

Lindsay Buroker was a lifeguard, a fast-food-flinger, a network administrator, and a soldier in the U.S. Army before she turned to writing full time and became a bestselling author of indie fantasy and sci-fi romance.

My favorite thing about writing is coming up with fun characters and writing dialogue for them. I love banter. (If my shy, introverted self could have handled Hollywood, I might have gotten into screenwriting.) Everybody from soldiers to sentient swords to dragons get humorous lines in my stories. My readers may joke that I'm known for including lots of action, explosives, and crashes in my stories, but those crazy events just gives my characters more to talk about.

My tips for writing banter your readers will enjoy:

  • Give your heroes some interesting quirks. Not only does it make them feel unique, but it gives other characters something to tease them about! (I have a dragon that eats cheese and a heroic military pilot who won't go into battle without rubbing a lucky charm.)
  • Give your heroes very different backgrounds as that gives them room for interesting misunderstandings and conflicts that go beyond the overarching story conflict (I have an assassin who was raised to be an emotionless killer — those who dare tease him get some great lines out when they're riffing on that.)
  • Create unusual situations for your heroes to endure (imagine two manly men who are always butting heads sneaking into a bad guy's house, only to end up hiding under a bed together)
  • Take stereotypical situations and stereotypical sayings and break patterns for an unexpected twist (Remember that moment in Shrek when Donkey was about to get eaten by a fire-breathing dragon, and it turned out to be a girl dragon who developed a crush on him?)
  • Have fun with your characters and your writing (If you're having fun with the writing, your readers should have fun with the reading!)

Anne R. Allen

My most excellent blog partner, Anne R. Allen

  • There is nothing like being in that "zone" and feeling the story flow through your fingertips. There's no high better than that. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, it makes all the other aggravation worth it.
  • But I also love when that first idea hits. Somebody tells a funny story, or I'm kvetching about something stupid that happened that day, and I'll realize…that's a great opener for a novel! Or an idea will just drift in while I'm reading a magazine. Flipping through magazines while I'm only half-paying attention is one of my greatest sources of inspiration. I suddenly get a little "zing" and know I'm onto something. That is so fun.
  • Or sometimes a scene will just spring into my head. Last night, as I was trying to get back to sleep while all the monsters in my anxiety closet were fighting to keep me awake, I had a sudden picture of my character Ronzo, who's a tough guy from New Jersey totally out of place in a laid-back California beach town. He was reading tarot cards for an ditzy lady in Camilla's bookstore. He turned over the Death card and said, "fuhgeddaboudit." I have no idea what it means, or how that scene going to fit into the next Camilla book, but it will be there. And yes, I finally got back to sleep.
  • I've had characters jump into a story and take it over. That happened with my first novel Food of Love. I needed a hairdresser in one scene. I wanted her to be a little unusual. So I made her bald. I figured a bald hairdresser was good for a few laughs. Then I remembered a bald woman I met once who said she'd lost her hair due to some chemical she was exposed to when fighting in Iraq. So the bald hairdresser went from comic relief to a warrior. I named her Athena and she took over and changed the whole direction of the book. What a thrill it was to meet her and realize what a great character she was.

Ruth Harris

As for me, when I was a kid, I was a modestly talented but seriously dedicated figure skater who got just good enough to compete in regional competitions. Learning to do an axel and stick the landing was—and probably still is—one of a young skater's milestones.

I spent lots of time practicing in cold rinks, lots of time learning the axel, much of it flat on my butt. The reward of a well-executed axel, though, was the paradox of feeling in complete control at the same time that I was—literally—flying. Writing catapults me into that same joyful zone.

The same word applies to axels and writing: Magic.

....Ruth Harris

What about you, scriveners? What aspects of writing give you the most joy? Is it the first moment of inspiration? When things start to fall into place? Do characters jump into your story and take over? Are you planning to join in the NaNoWriMo marathon, or do you prefer to work at a steady pace all year round? 


Three Fed-up Wives—and only Husband Training School stands between them, murder, and a lifetime in prison.

  • Will Trailer is a super-achiever on the baseball diamond but at home? Not so much, according to his gorgeous movie star wife. 
  • Efficiency expert Howard Hopkins has just retired. His wife married him for better and for worse—but not for 24-hours-a-day.
  • Gordo Canholme would procrastinate breathing if he could, but will he ever get the new baby's room ready? Not without HTS, according to his very pregnant wife.

Ex-Marine Drill Instructor, Robin Aguirre, and her sister, Melodie, run HTS and have been hardened by years of experience. When the three fed-up wives enroll Will, Howard and Gordo as new students, Robin and Melodie are ready for anything the most hapless and hopeless husbands of the 21st Century can dish out.

They think.


The Poisoned Pencil: The well-known mystery publisher The Poisoned Pen now has a YA imprint. They accept unagented manuscripts and offer an advance of $1000. Submit through their website submissions manager. Response time is 4-6 weeks.

Win $$$ and BEER!! SCHLAFLY BEER MICRO-BREW MICRO-FICTION CONTEST  $10-$20 ENTRY FEE. Fee includes a subscription to River Styx literary magazine or one issue depending on amount of entry fee paid. Submit up to three stories of 500 words or less each. All stories will be considered for publication. $1,500 first prize plus one case of micro-brewed Schlafly Beer. Deadline January 1, 2016. 

Open call for the Independent Women Anthology: short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016 with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.

TETHERED BY LETTERS' FALL 2015 LITERARY CONTEST ENTRY FEES: $7-$15 Short Story; $7 Flash Fiction/$15 three Flash Fictions; $7 poem /$15 for three poems. Currently accepting submissions for the short story contest (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction contest (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry contest (maximum of three pages per poem). All winners will be published in F(r)iction. All finalists will receive free professional edits on their submission and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $500 (USD) for the short story winner, $150 (USD) for the flash fiction winner, and $150 (USD) for the poetry winner. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Deadline December 1.

The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

The IWSG Short Story Anthology Contest 2015. NO FEE! The top ten stories will be published in an anthology. (Authors will receive royalties on sales.) Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member (no fee to join the IWSG). The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free. Word count: 5000-6000. Theme: Alternate History/Parallel Universe. Deadline: November 1st

MASTERS REVIEW FALL FICTION CONTEST $20 ENTRY FEE. 7000 word limit.The winning story will receive $2,000 and publication on the site. Second and third place stories will receive $200 and $100, publication, and all story winners will receive a critique. Fifteen finalists will be recognized online and have their stories read by the VanderMeers. Deadline October 31.

Fuse Literary Agency's Christmas Romance Charity Anthology: NO FEE! Short Romance Fiction 5000-8000 words. They're donating 100% of the profits to the UNHCR, the UN agency leading and coordinating international action to protect Syrian refugees. Non-exclusive rights to your story, so you're 100% free to publish it elsewhere if you'd like. If your story is accepted, you will receive a single, up-front payment of $10, They want steamy, winter-holiday-themed romance. Deadline October 31.

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those are all good! And insightful.
I almost never balk at a suggestion from my publisher's editor. Or even from my critique partners for that matter. As long as I know they get the gist of the story and the characters, I am open to all suggestions.
When everything falls into place, it's just pure awesome.

October 25, 2015 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I think one of the keys is not to think that the writing is crap because you wrote it fast (and this ain't fast; it simply means you are spending more time writing). If you start out thinking the story is crap, that's going to rip the fun of writing away.

Fast writing does not mean poor writing; slow writing does not mean great writing. It's the writer's skills that makes that difference.

October 25, 2015 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Alex—D'accord! "Awesome" is the word!

October 25, 2015 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Linda—You're so right! Fast can, in fact, be really good because you're not taking the time to second guess yourself. Suspending the inner critic is key. Thanks for an astute observation.

October 25, 2015 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Phyllis Humphrey said...

Have never entered the NANO, and don't plan to this year. However, I thought the goal was 50,000 words, not 55,000. And in only 30 days. It's hard enough as is.

October 25, 2015 at 11:55 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Phyllis—Always more than you think! lol

October 25, 2015 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Amber Polo said...

Any month can be your own NANO!

October 25, 2015 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger Consuelo Saah Baehr said...

Linda, thanks for the reminder. Fast is often very good. Just a minor clarification. My imprint at Amazon is Lake Union. Thanks Ruth for including me. This kind of input from fellow writers is always helpful.

October 25, 2015 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger Sarah Brentyn said...

Not participating in NaNo but this is wonderful and I will pass it on. Have a great week!

October 25, 2015 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Jesse Magnan said...

I liked it because it pushed me to have a deadline I would not normally have given myself. I liked it so much that I gave myself a daily word limit.

October 25, 2015 at 1:06 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Amber—You're absolutely right! :-)

October 25, 2015 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Console—Couldn't agree more about "fast". Gets the job done and often results in exciting break throughs! Thanks for the correction. I appreciate it—and you!

October 25, 2015 at 1:24 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sarah—Thank you for the kind words—and for the pass-along. :-)

October 25, 2015 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Jesse—Creative thinking at its best! :-)

October 25, 2015 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

I wrote Consuelo and I mean Consuelo! So take that, stupid autocorrect. :-(!

October 25, 2015 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Jan M. Leotti said...

I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, but I promote the event and cheer on the writers. I love the idea, and anything that gets writers writing is great. Passion is key to finishing a novel, especially a first draft. Your passion shows through in later drafts, so writing wildly through my first draft is the best part of writing for me. Good luck to everyone who is participating this year!

October 25, 2015 at 2:13 PM  
Blogger Jan M. Leotti said...

Thanks again, Anne and Ruth, for a wonderful, inspiring post!

October 25, 2015 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

I'm with Ruth. It's the magic.

October 25, 2015 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Jan—Thanks so much!

October 25, 2015 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

CS—Yep. Magic. When you create it, you feel it!

October 25, 2015 at 2:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jan--I feel the same way. I could never do NaNo because my body couldn't take it, but I think it's great! Especially for new writers who need to get that stuff on the page. And some have the stamina to do it every year!

October 25, 2015 at 3:09 PM  
Blogger mindprinter said...

Hi, Ruth, I've only done NANO once. And it's the only one of my books that didn't sell at all. Hmmm. Should tell you something. I just wanted to ask you if you ever wrote a book with a character who loved to skate? I bet you did. As for the magic, for me it's all in the preparation, the planning, the plot point figuring, the research. I'm not in any way comparing myself to Hitchcock but that was his high as well. The planning. He very seldom looked thru the lens, at least this is what I read time and again in bios about him. My best, Paul

October 25, 2015 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Thanks Ruth, this is a happy post and had me smiling. Now, to work!

October 25, 2015 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

So interesting to read other authors experiences with the craft. I have many of the same. My favorite thing about writing is the not knowing. Being surprised by one of my characters; not knowing what is going to happen next and letting the story take me there. So fun! Thanks, Ruth!

October 25, 2015 at 5:02 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Paul--haven't written about a skater. Yet. :-)
Interesting that for you the magic is in the prep. For me, it's in the actual writing. Different strokes.

October 25, 2015 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Wm.---to work with a smile is just the best. Enjoy!

October 25, 2015 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Christine--isn't that the best? When the characters you create just go off and do something that totally surprises you? IME those moments are actually thrilling!

October 25, 2015 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger Nicole Montgomery said...

This was great! I've decided to do it this year for the first time - mostly because I'll keep messing with my outline until the next century without some sort of external goal. I'm hoping it will get me in the habit of more structured and faithfully-followed writing times; I'm very bad about giving in to other demands, saying I'll "make it up later"...

Thanks for this!

October 26, 2015 at 2:22 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Nicole --thank you. Whatever gets you to the next step is key. Good luck with NaNo!

October 26, 2015 at 5:21 PM  

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