August 15th, 2018

Are You Riding the Horse, Or Is the Horse Riding You?

Margie Lawson

Are you in control of your life? Or do you let life control you?

You may have expected a blog on writing craft from me. But this time, I decided to use my psychological expertise to help you take charge of your writing life.

Many people let the negatives control their lives. They take their black cloud of doom with them everywhere. You know those writers. Shh… No names.

              drawn by Dana Summers

The horse is riding them—and they don’t even try to climb back on and ride that horse.

They think that due to negative circumstances, they can’t reach their goals, can’t have writing success.

Others realize they are in charge of their lives, in spite of the negatives. They ride the horse—take the reins, control where they are going.

I’m awed by Helen Keller. How many of us could face severe adversity with such courage and grace?

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Helen Keller.

One cannot consent to creep when one has an impulse to soar.

 Wow. Talk about riding the damn horse.

 How can you ride the horse?

Your life consists of what you do each day, each hour, each minute.

When you put yourself in charge of chunks of your day, you’re in charge of your writing life.

Consider my Winner and Super Star Lists.Cue the drum roll.


 Keep reading. No skimming!

My Winner and Super Star Lists are way cooler than To Do Lists.

Creating WINNER and SUPER STAR lists every day will boost your productivity and boost your mood.


WINNER LIST items are things you know you can complete in the block of time you have available that morning, afternoon, and/or evening.

They are DOABLE in the time you have allotted. Doable.

Don’t go all delusional. Don’t load your list with things that would take eight hours and expect to accomplish them in two.

You can’t put everything you need to do, or everything you want to do, on one Winner list.

For a 3-hour block, my WINNER list could have these two items: 

But – Super Star items don’t always move to the Winner List right away. It depends on deadlines and priorities.

It’s important to keep assessing your needs. Do what needs to come next, not what you’d rather do. 

If you have several chunks of writing-focused time in your day, make a WINNER list for each chunk of time. Revise as needed as you go through your day.

Did you quit your writing task to answer the phone? Make a call? Do laundry? Declutter a room? Check e-mail?

Did you waste 25 minutes supposedly fixing a cup of tea, but you really did five other housey-things or time-wasters too?


 SUPER STAR LIST items are the things you’d like to do AFTER you’ve completed your WINNER LIST.

If you complete your WINNER list in less than your allotted block of time – you have the remaining time to start a Super Star item.



Here’s where people set themselves up to fail. They make awesome lists, then item-hop, or list-hop, or never look at the list again. 

YIKES!  They do what they’d rather do instead of what they need to do to succeed.

You may make WINNER and SUPER STAR lists for your week or weekend also. I call those long ones Master Winner and Master Super Star lists.

But always make a short WINNER list for each block of time. Blocks can range from a half hour to three hours.

Winner Lists keep you accomplishing your goals. You succeed. You stay motivated.

If you create a 53-item mega-list, you may be so overwhelmed, you lose your day to NetFlicks.

Other items will try to sneak on one of those lists.


Do not go on autopilot and slap it on a WINNER or SUPER STAR list. It may belong on one of those lists, or not.

Maybe it belongs on a third list–the MAYBE List.

MAYBE you’ll do it, MAYBE you won’t.

 No snickering.  This is an important list!

Put that item on the MAYBE List. You won’t lose the idea.

MAYBE you’ll put it on one of your real lists (Winner of Super Star) the next week.

MAYBE you’ll look at that item next week and realize it should be on a list for three months from now, after your book is completed.

Start that AFTER MY BOOK IS COMPLETED list. Don’t lose a good idea.

Creating Winner and Super Star Lists should become as automatic as buckling your seat belt.

Create those lists every day, and you’ll be in control of your life. You’ll be riding your horse, and you won’t get thrown off.

I’ll digress. But the story below is all about staying on track.

My husband’s a private pilot. Years ago on a family vacation in Florida, he broke some ribs surfing. But we had to fly out the next day. A hurricane was expected to strike the coast that afternoon.

Since my husband was in pain from his broken ribs, it was up to me, non-pilot me, to do some of the easy-breezy flying from Florida to the mid-west while he tried not to move.

I’d flown single engine planes before for hours at a time. Flying was easy and fun. I maintained speed and altitude, switched fuel tanks every 30 minutes, checked for air traffic, and followed a railroad track.

I was happy about following a railroad track. So much easier than navigating with the fancy avionics.

I told myself I could fly the plane. I enjoyed flying. It was a fun challenge. And — I didn’t have to land.

I didn’t focus on the negatives. I didn’t catastrophize.

If I needed help, I had the expert sitting next to me. He could take the controls anytime I woke him up. 

I had fun flying and followed the railroad track. No problems.

A couple of hours later I read a water tower that named a town I wasn’t supposed to be near. I was 200 miles off course.

I’d followed the wrong railroad track.

Follow the right tracks. Don’t get off course.

Winner and Super Star Lists help you stay on track every day. Keep your Winner Lists doable for that block of time, and you’ll accomplish your daily goals. And weekly goals. And monthly goals.

You’ll ride that horse, you won’t let it ride you.

 Hello Blog Guests:  Thanks for being here!

 If you’re considering Winner and Super Star Lists – JUST DO THEM!

 But commit to doing them daily for 21 days.

 You’re nodding and smiling. Right?

 It takes three weeks for a behavior to become a habit. Do Winner and Super Star lists for 21 days and set yourself up for success.

FYI: If you want to learn more ways to take charge of your writing life, check out my Lecture Packet on Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors. It’s loaded with goodies!

 As always – A Big Lovey THANK YOU to the WITS gals for hosting me.

 Post a comment. Share your time-wasters. The things that keep you from staying on track.

 Post something — and you have two chances to be a winner!

 You could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Lawson Writer’s Academy– September Courses

  1. The Sizzling, Scintillating Synopsis
  2. Empowering Characters’ Emotions
  3. Creative Writing Weapons
  4. Story Structure Safari
  5. Giving Your Chapters a Pulse
  6. Crazy-Easy Awesome Author Websites
  7. Editing Magic: Work with a Professional Editor
  8. Two-Week Intensive: Your First Five Pages, Reader Glue

 If you’re considering doing the two lists, let us know!

 I’ll draw names for the TWO WINNERS Thursday night, at 9PM Mountain Time, and post them in the comments section.

 Like this blog? Please, please, please give it a social media boost. Thanks sooo much!  

Margie Lawson PhotoMargie Lawson—editor and international presenter – teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.

She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.

To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2018, in Phoenix, Denver, San Jose area, Dallas, Yosemite, Los Angeles, Orange County, Atlanta, and Down Under in Sydney, Melbourne, and Coolangatta, Australia, and on Cruising Writers cruises), full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit:


August 13th, 2018

Why Writers Need Confidence—5 Ways to Boost Yours

Colleen M. Story

I attended a week-long writing workshop once that nearly destroyed my confidence as a writer. Though workshops can be very helpful, it depends on the teacher, and this particular one didn’t know how to guide and motivate writers.

There are many times in a writer’s career when something happens to zap our confidence, and that’s not good, because self-confidence may be the one thing that separates successful writers from those who never reach their goals.

The question then becomes: How do you get that confidence back, or find it in the first place?

What Kind of Confidence Do Writers Need?

First, it’s important to know what kind of confidence we’re talking about here. This isn’t about inflating your ego, bragging, or believing you’re special. In fact, these types of beliefs—often associated with the high “self-esteem”—can actually be detrimental to success.

In a 2013 study, psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues examined the results of the “American Freshman Survey,” which asks students to rate how they measure up to their peers. Results showed that over the past few decades, there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who think they’re “above average.”

These students are also more likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, interestingly enough, even though objective test scores show that actual writing ability has decreased since the 1960s.

A related study showed there has been a 30 percent increase in narcissistic attitudes over the past few decades. Unfortunately, despite popular belief, the “self-esteem” movement that encouraged parents and teachers to tell children to believe they were great no matter what, has not been found to lead to success.

Students who were struggling with their grades, for example, who received encouragement aimed at boosting their self-esteem, were actually found to perform worse. Scientists believe these types of interventions removed the motivation to work hard, which is always necessary for true success in anything.

Instead, the way to bolster achievement is to nurture a form of self-confidence called “self-efficacy.” This is the belief that you can succeed in a specific situation or accomplish a particular task if you set your mind to it—you can finish that novel, self-publish your book, recover from that scathing critique, or create a successful launch.

“You need to believe that you can go out and do something but that’s not the same as thinking that you’re great,” Twenge says. She suggests you picture a swimmer attempting to learn a new skill, like turning quickly. Self-efficacy means the person believes she can obtain that skill if she works hard enough. Self-esteem is the belief that she’s a great swimmer, regardless of whether she learns the skill or not.

Self-efficacy is the type of confidence we need as writers.

Why Writers Need Self-Confidence

Self-efficacy (or self-confidence) effects a number of things that determine whether or not we reach our goals, including one super important thing—how well we learn.

Learning is a huge part of a writing career. Not only are we continually learning how to improve our skills as writers, but we’re also learning about publishing, self-publishing, marketing, building a platform, and more. With each change in the industry or new technological wonder, we have to go back to being students, just to keep up.

Self-efficacy also determines how well we respond to the inevitable difficulties that crop up. In their findings, Tuckman and Sexton (1992) suggested that participants with higher self-efficacy were better at searching for solutions to problems and were more persistent when working on difficult tasks—qualities that writers definitely need. People with low self-efficacy, on the other hand, were more likely to give up more easily. 

Albert Bandura, psychologist at Stanford University, wrote in a paper on self-efficacy: “Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave.”

Note the huge implications there – self-efficacy effects how we:

  • think,
  • feel,
  • motivate ourselves, and
  • behave!

And isn’t that everything that’s involved in writing? If any of these things are off, don’t we falter in reaching our goals?

Says bestselling author and speaker Margie Warrell, “It’s been long established that the beliefs we hold—true or otherwise—direct our actions and shape our lives. The good news is that new research into neural plasticity reveals that we can literally rewire our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behavior at any age.”

That means if you don’t feel this type of self-confidence when facing the page, or considering any other move in your career, you can change that.

5 Ways to Boost Your Writer’s Self-Confidence

There are several practical, realistic ways you can boost your writer’s confidence. (Find more in the free report, below.) Here are five ways to get started.

  1. Don’t Give Up On Yourself

As noted above, those with low self-efficacy give up quickly, while those with high self-efficacy—or self-confidence—continue to work to find solutions. We often put limits on ourselves in terms of how much we can learn—when things don’t go well the first time, we tend to think it’s hopeless.

“[The learning curve] is really steep initially,” says professor and study author Darron Billeter. “There’s some pain associated with it, but we’re actually improving. You’re going to be better than you think you are and are going to learn it quicker than you think you are.”

Here’s where you need to be your own best cheerleader. Tell yourself you can do it, and keep trying.

Here’s another tip: talk to yourself in the third person. Research has shown that you can motivate yourself better that way!

For example: “Eileen, you can finish this novel. Just keep going.” Or, “Adam, just because your first self-publishing attempt didn’t turn out as you hoped, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it better this time.”

  1. Remember that Actions Lead to Results

Too often we think we’re just supposed to “believe in ourselves,” but in truth, it’s when we take clear, concrete action that we boost self-confidence.

Typically when you start anything new—whether that be writing, publishing, or some other related activity—you’re likely to feel unsure about it. Your confidence may be low, and your fear may be high. The important thing is to act anyway. The moment you do, your energy and motivation will increase, which will help you keep going.

Then, with every action you take, your skills will increase. You’ll learn something, and that learning will boost your confidence. So don’t let fear stand in your way—just do it!

  1. Be Realistic About Your Abilities

True self-confidence stems from knowing exactly what your skills are, so you can take steps to improve them.

“Exceptional achievers always experience low levels of confidence and self-confidence,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, “but they train hard and practice continually until they reach an acceptable level of competence.”

For a writer, that means getting those critiques, working with an editor, and being open to improvement. Just be sure to guard your creative self when you’re going about these activities.

Your best approach: always get more than one critique. Submit to contests that supply more than one, or ask two editors to give you a sample edit. That way you can compare and contrast the feedback, ignore the subjective comments, and work on those all the critiques have in common.

  1. Imagine Yourself Successful

This is a type of meditation in which you imagine yourself going through all the steps you need to go through to succeed, and eventually succeeding.

Keep in mind—this isn’t simply imagining yourself with your published book in your hands, or your sales numbers rising. It’s imagining the process you’re going to go through and the hoped-for outcome. Imagining each step puts your unconscious mind to work at making sure you follow through on those steps.

If you want to increase those sales numbers, for instance, imagine each task you’re going to complete to reach more readers.

“If you can’t imagine yourself being successful,” says Hendrie Weisinger Ph.D., “confidence will be hard to come by. Confident people have a history of having playful positive visualizations of themselves in all sorts of moments.”

  1. See Failures as Successes

So your agent wasn’t able to sell your first book. You can look at that as a failure, or you can reframe your view of the event—thus, boosting your self-confidence.

According to the authors of the book, Learning, Remembering, Believing: “If one has repeatedly viewed these experiences as successes, self-confidence will increase; if these experiences were viewed as failures, self-confidence will decrease.”

How can you view what seems to be a failure as a success? Write down everything you learned, including the skills you gained, and realize that even if it didn’t turn out as you hoped, you still pocketed the experience. That means you are, essentially, “more experienced” than you were before, and your next attempt will likely benefit from that experience.

By the way, the more difficult the experience was—writing a novel, publishing a book, launching a book, etc.—the more it may boost your confidence. “The influence that performance experiences have on perceived self-confidence also depends on the perceived difficulty of the task,” the authors wrote, as well as on “the effort expended.”

Stay Confident In Your Ability to Improve

In closing, remember this: you can always learn more and improve your skills, no matter what. Have confidence in that.

“There will always be people smarter, there will always be people richer, there will always be people more competent,” says psychologist Audrey Brodt. “The issue is self-improvement, and that will come if you apply yourself and persevere.”

For more information on how to boost your writer’s confidence, get your free report here: “7 Easy & Effective Ways to Increase Your Writer’s Confidence.”


What have you done to shore up your confidence as a writer? What tips can you share? Is there one tip from above that resonates with you?

*  *  *  *  *  *


Colleen M. Story is the author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue—a motivational read to help writers escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. The book was named Solo Medalist in the New Apple Book Awards, Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book, and first place in the Reader Views Literary Awards.

Colleen is also a novelist and has worked in the creative writing industry for over twenty years. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness. For more information, please see her author website, or follow her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story).



Briggs, S. (2014, July 5). Self-Efficacy: How Self-Confidence Improves Learning.

Carroll, P. J. (2014). Upward Self-Revision: Constructing Possible Selves. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36(5), 377-385. doi:10.1080/01973533.2014.934451

Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2012, July 6). Less-Confident People Are More Successful.

College Foundation of North Carolina. (n.d.). – Article.  

Kremer, W. (2013, January 4). Does confidence really breed success

Self-Confidence and Performance. (1994). In D. Druckman & R. A. Bjork (Eds.), Learning, remembering, believing: Enhancing human performance (pp. 173-206). 

Warrell, M. (2015, August 26). Use It Or Lose It: The Science Behind Self-Confidence.  

Weisinger, H. (2015, September 1). The Essence of Confidence

August 10th, 2018

Your Book Isn’t for Everyone

Think for a moment about your work in progress. How should your book be marketed? What kind of reader do you want to attract? Who is your book for?

Why, it’s for everyone! you exclaim.

After all, who wouldn’t want to read your fabulous plot, compelling characters, and engaging writing voice? Perhaps a few doltish persons on the fringe, but anyone with good sense and a love of good story would like your book.

Photo credit: ©annems

Sorry, but nope.

Some people won’t want to read your book. In fact, some people might hate your book. And that’s a worthwhile reality to consider when we writers send our manuscripts into contests, open ourselves to outside critique, and read through reviews. Sometimes you’ll get feedback that you can simply shrug off with, “My book wasn’t for them.”

It isn’t personal (even though the comment might sting), but rather a mismatch between author and reader. We simply can’t write a story that every single person will adore. Your book, and my book, is not for everyone.

Yet that simply puts us in good company. I like to turn to the world of authors and see what wisdom they can offer. Check out these reviews, followed by the book that sparked them.

“…no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…” – The Chicago Tribune

“…an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” – The Saturday Review

THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“…no better in tone than the dime novels which flood the blood-and-thunder reading population… his literary skill is, of course, superior, but their moral level is low, and their perusal cannot be anything less than harmful.” — in The New York Times


“The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. [The main character] who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him.” – The New Republic


“These are one-dimensional children’s books, Disney cartoons written in words, no more.” – The Guardian


“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery.” – Graham’s Lady’s Magazine


“the plan and technique of the illustrations are superb. … But they may well prove frightening, accompanied as they are by a pointless and confusing story.” — Publisher’s Weekly


But you know what? Just take that last one. Sendak didn’t write this book for everyone. It found its way into the hearts of children, of all ages, over the years.

Here’s how the Library Journal described it: “This is the kind of story that many adults will question and for many reasons, but the child will accept it wisely and without inhibition, as he knows it is written for him.”

Knowing who your book is for can help you figure out how to distribute and market it to the right audience, as well as how to handle the negative reviews that inevitably come in. When that happens, remind yourself that you’re in the same circle with the likes of Twain, Rowling, and Bronte. Not such a bad place to find yourself.

Have you received negative comments or reviews that feel simply like a mismatch between author and reader? Have you read a book others loved that you didn’t, or vice versa?


August 8th, 2018

Start Me Up

James Preston

When I was growing up in El Segundo, I spent a lot of time in the library. If you are a Post-Internet Writer, you will struggle to understand what I say next: sometimes I ran out of things to read. No stack of books waiting to be read. No iBooks with a million free samples waiting. No Barnes & Noble, only a drug store with a paperback rack and the man behind the counter who told me, “Oh, you don’t want that” when I tried to buy a Donald Hamilton thriller called Murderer’s Row. Okay, it had a tacky cover.

That Was Then, This is Now

Times have changed, oh, boy have they changed, not just in terms of what’s available to read, but in another very important way that I’ll get to in a minute. 

The problem is a simple one: so many books so little time. So of course, you read the good ones, the ones you like, the ones that speak to you, the ones by writers you know. And there’s another rub: it is so easy to fill all your reading hours — and none of us have enough — with books by authors you know,  books in genres you read, and books and blogs about the art and craft of our calling. Who wants to take a chance? Don’t worry — I’m here to help.

So, you want to read, and you want to write, the clock is ticking, and I appreciate the time you are taking to read this. Thank you. I have prepared a list of titles that you may not have thought of, and in some cases I have picked works where all you need to read is the Preface or Introduction – the start. I know, I know. Time is fleeting, and madness will take its toll unless you exercise some sort of restraint. 

The Reading

Thomas Harris  Red Dragon.

Well, not exactly. Take a look at the iBook, and the new Introduction called, “Forward to a Fatal Interview,” where Harris talks about how he wrote the book and how he met Hannibal Lecter. Really, that Forward is what I’m putting on this list, but if you haven’t read the book, my guess is you’ll get sucked in.

Fair warning: this is a creepy one. You know The Scoville Scale for pepper hotness, with jalapeño at 1,000? Well, this one’s a Scotch Bonnet, eight to ten times hotter. I went back to the Forward preparing this essay, got pulled into the book, read it, had to read Silence of the Lambs, and now I’m halfway through Hannibal. The things I do for you people! Oh, wait, I loved them all. Never mind. The Introduction to the e-book is a brilliant treatise on the writer’s craft. And parts of it may keep you awake at night. Heh heh heh.

Janet Evanovich, One For The Money

That first line! “There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.” This is an older part of the series that you might have missed. The series is amazing, if for no other reason than she’s kept it fresh for so long. (I know, I know, I want Stephanie to make up her mind about the men in her life.) But it’s worth it to pay attention to how she gets into the story. Look at the first two paragraphs of Four to Score.

Stephen King    Christine

One of his older works. This is the book that gave me the idea for this essay. I’d read it before, but when I went back to it all at once I appreciated just what an accomplishment it is. If you want to see a virtuoso playing with POV, read this book. First, third, back to first, and he makes it work. No, that’s not quite right, it works as naturally as one of our storytelling ancestors sitting around the campfire, and saying, “I went over the mountain and this is what happened.” It just flows.

If you missed it, for an excellent discussion on POV, see Ann Griffin’s “Cleaning Up Those POV Breaks,” in this blog last week.

E. B. Griffin. The Corps, book 1 for historical detail.

One of the knocks on Griffin is that he gets lost in the detail, loves it, and slows down the story. W-e-l-l, yeah, maybe sometimes. However, he makes it work. Personal note: the book is about U. S. Marines in China in the late 30’s. My father was stationed there at that time and he said, “Griffin got it right. That’s how it was.”

And, if you are doing police procedurals look at Book 1 of the Badge of Honorseries. The man does his homework. The man loves his homework. However, IMHO the early books in both series are much better.

Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August.

This one is also for the Forward describing the creation of this masterpiece. Look for how she worked, the number of rejection slips on her first book, and how much time she invested in the first paragraph, then read that paragraph. Oh, don’t miss the mention of Barbra Streisand and Jane Fonda.

One of the comments on Guns of August is she makes it a fascinating subject even when everybody knows how it ends. It’s true, and it’s because of a lot of hard work.

Winston Churchill    The Gathering Storm.

Churchill was big news last year with the release of “The Darkest Hour” and that’s what made me think of this book. Just for the language. This guy didn’t win a Nobel Prize for nothing.

The parts about the rising tide of anger, the waves coming in, receding, but not going back as far. I almost left this one off because his prose is so good that reading it makes me want to close Microsoft Word and devote myself to my new game — American Truck Simulator. Take heart — he’s no longer living. 

Side note and a personal one: if you read the whole book, and if you have seen “The Darkest Hour” note how kind Churchill is to politicians who were knifing him.

For more on reading, see Orly König-Lopez’ Essay in this blog, “The Best Exercise for Writers is . . . Reading.”

As The Beach Boys say on their concert album. “All right, before we all get kicked out of here, we’re gonna do one more for you.”

 Robert A. Heinlein     Have Space Suit — Will Travel   

All right, I know. You’ve never heard of it. It’s old, it’s not well-known, it’s a juvie. Hey, who’s writing this essay, anyway? Perhaps my single favorite book, HSSWT is one of Robert A. Heinlein’s later juvies (Today they would be called “young adult” novels.)

Listen to how it starts: “You see, I had this space suit. How it happened was like this.”

Bam! The storyteller is inviting you to sit down and listen; he’s got something to say. 

This one is worth looking at for a couple of reasons. First, the opening. Okay, I gave some of it away. Second, the female lead is smarter, tougher, and just as brave as Kip, the hero. And this was written in 1958. I said one of the goals of this exercise was to stretch your reading, point you in new directions and this one is it. C’mon, take a look. It’s short, it’s readable. 

To Return to Our First Observation

So, how else have times changed? Easy. Writers in the Storm exists. We have somebody to talk to. We’re all in this together, and now it’s your turn. Think about a title, or an essay, that’s important to you, that might help another writer, and that is not on standard “So you want to write” reading lists. Share it. One more time: we’re all in this together. 

Writers in the Storm is about writing (and, hence, about nothing less than life itself but that’s a subject for another day), but it’s more than that. It’s more than that because it’s two-way. If I were a betting man, and I am, I’d wager that every reader of this essay thought, “Well, that doesn’t belong on the list, but this does.”

So cough up. Reading is important to us; stretching that reading is also important. So, what would you suggest? Something that is off the radar for most genre writers, a title that readers will look at and think, “Never heard of it. Maybe I’ll take a look.”


“You’ll still be studying the day you retire.”

Robert A. Heinlein, Space Cadet 

“I’ll never stop.”

      — The Rolling Stones

About James

James PrestonJames PrestonJames R. Preston is the author of the award-winning Surf City
Mysteries. Last year he branched out and launched two novellas, Crashpad and Buzzkill. These short thrillers are set on a college campus in the turbulent sixties. He can be reached at, on Facebook, Twitter, and at His next release will be Remains To Be Seen, the sixth Surf City Mystery.


August 6th, 2018

The Perk of a Side Writing Project

Tasha Seegmiller

If you took a brief glimpse at my life, you would see that I’m the kind of person who wears many hats. In fact, when I describe all the facets to my day job, I usually just end up calling myself a bridge, because I cross over into several different areas. I usually have an audiobook I’m listening to, a hard copy book I’m reading, and a digital book I’m reading (they are never similar in story though).

Yet, for some reason I thought I could only write one thing at a time. And that project I’ve been working on has been a beast. Life hasn’t helped, but it has taken me longer to draft this novel than anything I’ve written before. I keep trying, I’ll get 500 words one week, maybe that the next, but really, the thought of writing it feels too big. I have told myself, of course, that this means it’s the story I’m supposed to write, but it got to the point where writing at all was daunting.

Dear writer? That’s not a good place to be.

This book isn’t under contract. I don’t have a deadline for it. If I did, I’d probably push through because I hate letting people down.

I tried imposing my own deadlines, but that didn’t help. And a backhanded slap from my mental health during all of this did me absolutely no favors.

So, instead, I started researching, you know, on Pinterest. Because I like to dabble in a little bit of magical realism, I glanced through lores and myths, through the meaning and healings of different times of days, of crystals, of various herbs. I let myself imagine a story with something like that in them, saved some ideas to my secret research board, where ideas are safe to marinate without expectation or judgment.

One idea in particular kept visiting, inspired by a place I visited in Europe last year. There was finally enough that I wanted to put pen to paper, to see if I had a character or a setting, which are the two elements that usually come first in stories for me. And soon enough, I had a paragraph. Then two. Then an epiphany of where the story could really start, and where it could maybe go.

This is my new treehouse story. 

You see, when I was younger, I would climb trees during my free time, always taking a little snack and a book with me. In that tree, I could forget about the real world and get lost in a story. I never had a proper treehouse (I still covet the one in Swiss Family Robinson), but that idea of a place where I can go to get lost in a story allows me to get the body and the brain writing again.

This is a lot like how I warmed up for practicing the piano – there were the pieces that got the fingers loosened up, that signaled to the mind that it was time to make music. Having a side project that is fun and developmental lets the fingers and brain transition into writer mode, and, for a while, the fun that was started when I was playing with my treehouse story trickles into the one I need to finish. This kind of exercise is quite a bit like visual artists who carry a sketch pad everywhere – it’s a low cost way to nurture their creativity. Playing with our art allows us to better tap into our art.

Obviously, I do NOT recommend developing a treehouse story to the point where it’s at the same hard to write part as the other story. That’s a dangerous practice (and another article all of its own).


Have you ever played with a treehouse story?

Other suggestions for when the writing just doesn’t want to come?


Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity, is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association,and trusts in the power of Diet Coke. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.