National Novel Writing Month – or, That Crazy Writer’s Locked Herself in the Closet Again

Next month is November and the National Novel Writing Month spectacular, aka NaNoWriMo.  Yes, writers are lazy; why type all that shit when we don’t have to?

What is NaNoWriMo?  It’s this crazy idea that in thirty days, you can bang out a 50,000-word novel.  It’s a chance to take that idea swimming around in your head and birth it out into reality.  Not polished perfection, mind you—that takes a much longer commitment.  Since many writers suffer from butt-in-chair deficiency, NaNoWriMo is designed to force you to sit still and write.

To do this, you can formally sign up for the process at the NaNoWriMo site and participate in the contest.  Or you can do it on your own, whatever.   The site has forums, advice, word counters, and much more.

I hate trying to crap out first drafts.  HATE HATE HATE HATE.  I’m considering doing NaNoWriMo informally this year, just to finish something.

I would like to get some voice recognition software and just talk the damn thing out, like “Then Dr. Equate stabs the zombie four times—no, three—and his evil diseased brain cocktail is about to fall into the water supply!  Yeah!  And super spy Dirk Fabulous shows up and forces him to drink it!”  Same process; no hand cramps. I can clean it up later.

The awesomeness of this would be, well, awesome.

Image:  Victor Habbick /

The current WIP is stalled, but I think I finally figured out something that was borking my story.  By borking, I mean it threw up a giant roadblock that effectively killed forward progression.  This has nothing to do with the fact that my life imploded, by the way; it was a glitch in the plot.

If you want to do this, I suggest you take these next couple of weeks to prepare, if you haven’t already.

Do an outline

I get a rough concept of a book and when I’ve thought it out a bit, I write a synopsis and then break it down into scenes.  Later, I use it to organize chapters.  Since I tend to skip around when I write, the outline keeps me on track.

Get your life in order

My writer buddy James Allder recommended that I make sure I’m not interrupted in any way during my NNWM writing time.  He’s got a good point.  A break in concentration can mean death to a writing session.  Shouldn’t be hard, considering I have no life right now.

If you have one, make sure you get extra crap out of the way so you can sit down at the same time every day and work.

Do a few practice sessions

You may already have a set time you write every day.  If so, good for you.

Here’s your trophy, you self-righteous bastard.

Image:  Suat Eman /

If you don’t, I would suggest a practice run.  Take a few days and try it out.  It doesn’t matter if you’re only writing gibberish, just so you get the feel of actually working during that interval.  Mind you, it’s against the rules to work on your NNWM project before the start date.

Remember it’s only a tool

You are not going to produce a complete book in one month.  Let me repeat that, because it’s important:  you are not going to produce a complete book in one frigging month. 

A complete book, ready for publishing, will require at least another few months of editing, rewriting, polishing, submission to first/second/third readers, more editing, more polishing, etc. before you can even think about querying.

Your goal is to finish something, not write a goddamn bestseller.   Use it to get your butt in the chair.  When the month is over, it’s up to you to keep it there.

NaNoWriMo is only a tool.  Its purpose:  to make you WRITE.  In a burst of uncensored, freewriting word diarrhea.   Your brain will open the creativity floodgates and not even the Brain-o-pectate will stop it.  At the end, you will have the bones of a book.

If I do NaNoWriMo—and I think I will—I’ll create a separate category on this blog where I can update my progress and tears.  You may live through the actual process of writing (well, finishing, technically) a book along with me.

Lock and load.

Image:  vudhikrai /


Helpful links:

25 Things You Should Know about NaNoWriMo”  by Chuck Wendig

Chuck is no-holds barred.   If you don’t like me saying goddamn and shit, you’ll hate him.  But he knows what he’s talking about, goddamn it.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo” by Steve Shepard

Some decent tips, even if it’s kind of an ad for the Storyist software.  I prefer PageFour myself.  Plain old Word is fine; you don’t have to buy anything to do NNWM.

History, rules, and more.


More Annoying Online Errors

Surfing around the ‘net, I found another 79,352,863 so-called professional articles online this week with ridiculous errors. Most are homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

I already covered common punctuation errors here, in The Most Annoying Online Errors (formerly called “All Those Eyes.”  Editing is fun!)

Below are more goofs I keep running across, in no particular order.

Horde vs. hoard

A horde is a large group.  A hoard is an accumulation.  ”But,” you cry, “the definitions are similar!”  Tricky? Yes, except a hoard can be small.

Teh vs. the

In LOLcat speak, teh is usually deliberate. The email to your boss is not LOLcat speak.  Often this error is a typo that careful proofreading would have caught.  I see it more in blog posts and comments.


Thx vs. thanks

Unless texting your BFF, write it out!  The more you get in the habit of writing carefully and properly, the better your overall presentation will be.  Save the textspeak for casual encounters.  Or just learn to type faster.

Bare vs. bear

(Naked vs. a large carnivorous land mammal)

I hate this one.

The pain was more than I could bare.

Don’t wear shoulder-bearing shirts in the office.

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear (not a bare).  Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.  Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?

If you tell me this is a bair, I can’t help you.

Image:  APF/Getty

Isle vs. aisle

You were not married on a tropical aisle; it was a tropical isle.  Your grocery cart didn’t lose a wheel in the middle of the isle; you lost it in the aisle.

Gage vs. gauge

A gage is a pledge or the token of a challenge, like the glove a knight throws down to an opponent.  A gauge is an instrument for measuring something.  Guage is just plain wrong.

Hair vs. hare

Come on.  Really?  You can’t tell the difference between an aggregate of keratinous filaments growing through the skin, and a long-eared, rodentlike mammal of the genus Lepus?

What an ultra-maroon!


Juggler vein

Your veins can juggle! Call the news channel! Call Ripley’s Believe it or Not!  We got a medical miracle here!

Leach vs. leech

NO:  The trash leeched chemicals into the groundwater when it rained.

To leach *VERB* means to dissolve out something by percolation.

A leech *NOUN* is a bloodsucking freshwater worm, or that ex-boyfriend who hung around constantly and ate all your roommate’s food.

Accept vs. except

To accept is to receive something—an object, criticism, etc.   Except is a preposition, which leads to an exclusion.

“I’d accept your challenge,” the Doctor said to the Sontaran, “except we are not both armed with sonic screwdrivers.  Wouldn’t be quite fair, would it?”

Run-on sentences

Run-on sentences go on and on they don’t have any punctuation between them and they are very very long the person writing them doesn’t know or care about punctuation oh my God that drives me nuts.

I see these in comments or forum posts the most.   Many times, they lead to an impenetrable wall of text my eyes cannot fathom.

Than vs. then

NO:  He was more handsome thenthe first man we saw.

YES:  He was more handsome than the first man we saw.

Than is a conjunction.  It sets apart two unequal subjects of comparison.

Then is an adverb (modifies a verb, typically) used to denote time and place.

Gandalf leaned over, set the confused Pippin on his feet, then brushed him off roughly. “Fool of a Took,” he muttered, not without affection. 

Subject/verb agreement

Plural vs. singular

The cops ate their donut.

One cop, one doughnut.  His doughnut, her doughnut.   More than one cop, more doughnuts.


Donut vs. doughnut.  Did you catch that one?

Separate, not seperate.

Mischievous.  not mischievious. Also pronounced wrong:  it’s MIS-cheh-vus, not mis-CHEE-vee-ous.

It’s leviOsa, not levioSA, you bloody idiot.



When your name goes on that article, you want it to be your best work, right?  Even if you’re posting anonymously, your online writing represents you, in comments, posts, and even tweets.  Take a little time to check words you’re not sure of.

I’m far from perfect, and if you spot a mistake in one of my posts, please let me know in the comments.  They come to me in email, so I’ll see it. I’ll gladly correct it, publish your rebuttal to something I said (following my Comment Policy, of course), or change it if needed.

Proofreading Your Work

Fact-checking and proofreading seem to have taken a vacation lately.  I’ve seen so-called professional news sites and even books with goofs that made my mouth hang open so long, a wren could have built a nest in it.

A few judicious checks can help you avoid making a big fat mistake in your posts, reports, and other documents.  You can’t afford not to.  Here are some ways to make sure you’re not posting what amounts to a first draft.

Spell Check

This handy gadget in your word processing program (Microsoft Word and Open Office’s text document feature have it) will automatically check your document for spelling and grammar errors, if you have that feature turned on.  It underlines misspellings in red.

If you launch the checker under Review in Word, it will go through and recheck everything.  You then have the option to correct.  Make sure you’re picking the right word!

Spell Check is a first line of defense.  The feature won’t catch everything.  If I typed “Proofreding Your Wok,” it marks Proofreding but not Wok.  The last one is a real word.

A typo I make frequently is form instead of from.  I actually have to search for that one in manuscripts to make sure I didn’t do it.

When you go through your document on the first pass, try to remember what errors you make on a regular basis.  It helps to make a list and keep it handy.  You can also use the Find feature in Word to search for your most common goofs.

Look at it in hard copy

Anne Mini is a stickler for proper formatting.  As she points out repeatedly, the best way to find mistakes is to read your manuscript, OUT LOUD, from a hard copy before you even think about sending it to anyone.

The eye gets tired reading off a computer screen.  It’s much easier to miss errors than when reading a page.  E-readers are a hit because their interface resembles a real page in a book, and it doesn’t give you eyestrain like your laptop.

I recommend printing your copy out, putting it down and walking away from it for a while, the longer the better.  I can’t stay away from a manuscript for more than a week myself.  If you’re on a deadline, try to aim for at least thirty minutes.  Then come back and read it, blue pencil at the ready.

Have someone else look at it

This is especially good for novels.   Once you’ve spent six months with your nose in a manuscript, you don’t see individual words anymore.  You know it too well.  It’s like ceasing to notice that freckle on your lover’s hip.

Make sure you pick someone who can get it done fairly quickly, and is adept at giving feedback rather than criticism.

Watch for unintentionally silly turns of phrase, too.  I saw this sign at the grocery store today:

Juvenile of me to giggle throughout my shopping trip, but it really was funny.


Now that you’ve checked your text, you’ll have to make sure your facts / names / etc.  are correct.

Google it

Ever notice that when you enter something in Google’s search bar it corrects your spelling?  When I typed “evylin woug” it automatically pulled up English writer Evelyn Waugh’s Wikipedia page first thing.  That’s pretty damn good.

Of course, sometimes it gets it wrong.  Try Chrome’s Google page.  If you click the little microphone, you can use your voice to look up stuff.  Your laptop will probably have a mike.   Mumble a bit; the results are hysterical.

Look it up in the dictionary

 Most references are online now, at pages like,, and more.  However, maybe someone gave you a dictionary to use in college.  You may still have it.  Keep it around for when the modem goes out or you just want to feel scholarly.

Use the library

 If you can’t find something online, you can try the library.   There’s bound to be a book or periodical about your subject.  University libraries are often open to residents of the town, or if you’re an alumnus, you may have library privileges.

Haven’t been in the library since grade school?  Did you use the Dewey Decimal system on index cards as a kid?  Never fear, little boomer.  The nice people at the information desk are there to help you.

Check and recheck your work.  You’ll be glad you made it a habit.  It will help you appear more professional, and your readers will struggle less.

Show vs. Tell Revisited

Show vs. tell is one of the toughest things for beginning writers to grasp.   You’d think that exposition would be easy.  It is, when you’re explaining something.  But you can’t do that through a whole book, or your reader will get tired.

To show readers something takes more time and more words, but it brings your prose to life.  Would you rather see a movie, or have your friend tell you about it like “And then the Brad Pitt guy took this thing, and he shot this other guy with it, and then the villain—I can’t remember his name, but you would know him—blew up the bridge and they flew through the air—“ et al.

A while ago, I wrote a post trying to explain the difference between show and tell in writing.  Well, I was reading back through some old entries and realized my examples were WRONG WRONG WRONG.

I think I finally get it (let’s hope so).  After doing rewrites of certain bits of my book Rose’s Hostage and forcing myself to take time to read more, I was able to see the concept more clearly.

Telling is just like it says, telling.

Buffy and Xander were terrified of the Powder Demon and its deadly spray, which rendered its victims immobile before their skin dissolved from their flesh.

Yeah, okay, but it’s dull.   Try this instead:

Buffy’s chest tightened, a fist squeezing her throat shut.  Her legs wobbled and she halted.  The Powder Demon hadn’t seen them yet.  She glanced at Xander and saw his eyes roll back in his head, and caught him as he fainted.  Her skin itched as she thought of the poor cop, dissolving like a piece of soap coated with the Demon’s spray.

Nowhere in here do I tell you Buffy and Xander are scared, but you figure it out from the way they are acting.

Please don’t do it with Hollywood dialogue, like this example where Joker tells Batman the incredibly obvious:

“Why, look, it’s the Batman,” Joker whispered, his foul breath drifting into the captured hero’s face.  “You thought you could keep your secret identity a secret, didn’t you? But then you crashed your Batcycle on the slippery oil I poured on the roadway.  And then your wallet fell out of your cape!  Sloppy, sloppy.  I’ve got you now, Bruce Wayne!”


Skipping a scene entirely and telling about it later also works for transitions when:

  • Your character is doing something tedious that you don’t want to waste time on before the next scene. Your scenes should advance the plot, not describe someone’s bathroom routine, unless you’re establishing character.
  • You’re starting a new book or new episode and want to review (re Harry at the Dursleys house in each subsequent Harry Potter book).

In Rose’s Hostage,  I originally had the bank robber musing about his lost money like this:

Joshua had been surprised and shocked when he showed up at Stefano Barbieri’s dry cleaners, one of the front businesses for the money laundering operation and his preferred pickup point, and Stefano told him it was gone.  He and Stefano had gone out back and had a little argument about not checking with him first.  In fact, his knuckles were still scraped raw. 

Dull, boring and blah.

In revision, that ended up as a really fun scene by itself.  I was able to establish a motive for Barbieri to later ID the bank robber and tie up a loose end from an earlier cut.

Heh heh.  Revision is fun.

The best cinematic example I know of show vs. tell is George Lucas’ 1971 science fiction film TXH 1138, starring Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasance.  A dystopian society is revealed to us not through voice-over narration, but through the daily activities of the title character, everyday-type dialogue (no exposition) and setting.  Gradually we come to realize how these people are living.

Showing is easy in film but not so much with prose.  Practice with some of your own work.  Look for examples where you’ve told your readers what you want them to know, and see if you can’t expand a little and show them instead.

A Crisis Can Test Your Characters

The huge, lumbering machine of healthcare has let us down yet again.   At work, we switched over to a new insurance company.  Our old insurance was set to expire, and we were supposed to be in the new system with our cards in the mail within two weeks.

You guessed it:  no cards, no policy number, nothing.   And now no insurance.

In today’s economy, paying out of pocket for healthcare is detrimental to most people’s budgets.  I’m lucky; all I’ll be out is a couple of prescriptions and one of them is only $4.00 anyway.  Unless this nasty cold I have turns into something worse, I should be okay.

Whether it’s a health crisis or something else, adversity reveals character.  People who ordinarily are pretty sweet-tempered can lose their minds over a budget snafu or customer service issue.

Your characters are no exception.  How would they react to the following scenarios?

  • Susan’s insurance expired (ha!) and the new healthcare company hasn’t sent her policy number yet.  Both her prescriptions need refilling and her son just fell off his skateboard and broke a wrist.
  • Gary’s mother shows up at his front door, the same day his new internet girlfriend is supposed to visit from out of state.
  • Thomas gets the wrong food order after waiting nearly 45 minutes, and he is late for an important meeting.
  • Nina’s unreasonable boss puts six big fat folders on her desk at 4:50 pm and asks her to stay late, but she has a critical theater audition in an hour.

What they do next will depend on what kind of story you’re writing.  All of these situations are annoying, and at least one has comedy potential.

Take Gary, for example.  He could try to manage the situation by introducing his mother to the girlfriend.  The fact that he barely knows her himself sets him up for another crisis, because she might be a total nutjob.

Or, he could try to hide the two from each other.  Plenty of room for slapstick here.  He better learn something from this.

If characters don’t grow or change, they fall flat.  They trudge through a story while everything happens around them.

  • The character could have an extreme reaction:  external, or internal.  If internal, the other characters might be puzzled by his failure to acknowledge a stressor.  The story conflict could then come from their frustration with him.
  • You’ll have to establish a new trait in order for the character to deal with the crisis.  Someone dropped into a remote wilderness will adapt, or die.
  • If the situation requires heroics, the aftermath can change your character.  Whether for better or worse is your decision.

No one will react rationally to every situation, no matter how self-possessed.  Have some fun with your characters.  Give them more to deal with and you might be surprised at what bravery or cowardice emerges.


X-rated! Is your content suitable for all your readers?

I bet you thought I was gonna write a sex scene here, didn’t you?  Sorry!  Maybe next time!

The Internet is rife with all types of content, some of which is kind of raw for kids.  If you’ve got a wide range of readers, how do you keep your content from offending one or more of them?

Does double-take; is apparently not offended.

The MPAA uses X as a rating for films meant to be seen only by adults.  This is not a designation purely for sex, but also for exploitive or extremely violent content, unsuitable for minors.  The reason people think of it as a sex thing is its heavy use in the pornography industry.  Now they use NC-17 to rate non-porn films that are still too heavy on adult content.

You can use some of their guidelines for your own material.  In books, hey, anything goes.  I wouldn’t expect a nine-year-old to read Rose’s Hostage if (When! When! Not if!) it gets published, so I feel comparatively safe putting some of the old ultra-violence and a bit of in-out in there.

On a blog? Not so much.  Here are my own versions for bloggery.

G rated

A little kid could read the post and not freak out, get upset or go “Mommy, what does ‘in-out’ mean?”  It might be about Hello Kitty. Or my kitty!

PG rated

Using the term “in-out”  makes it PG.  I might run naked through the post, but it would only be played for laughs and my naughty bits would be covered.

PG-13 rated

There will be talk of violence.  I might hit someone.  There may be a slight slippage of my coverage and a flash of nipple.  The subject matter will be controversial, but still okay for people old enough to be thinking about their first prom.  One use of the F-bomb in a suggestive manner would catapult me into an R rating, if I were a film.

R rated

Now we’re getting into the good stuff.  *evilly dry-washes hands*  My post about sex scenes could theoretically be rated R for content, even though the worst thing I said was H-E-double hockey sticks.  If I posted a knife murder scene as an example (and I have two that are very graphic I could show you), I’d have to put a little warning at the top.

NC-17 rated

My niece would not be reading any of these posts.  Think Cannibal Holocaust, Trainspotting, The Exorcist.

X rated

The dreaded X.  Bane of non-porn filmmakers who would like to at least make their money back.

Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion on hard topics.  But before you delve into the waters of controversy, make sure you’re doing it for a good reason.  Is it just to drive traffic to your site, a la shock value, or are you actually contributing a legitimate opinion to the subject?

Take a look at your readership and see who is there.  You might want to warn them if you’re going to do something like review a questionable film or book, discuss something divisive, or run free and naked through your post.

A well-defined and prominently-posted comments code comes in handy.  On most blogging platforms, you can set your comments for approval before they show up so you can weed out people who are obviously trolling or get out of control.



Oh my damn, look at this ugly lamp.

What some people find beautiful, or once did, appears hellish to others.  It’s true of lamps, clothing, furniture and people.  Styles change, preferences shift.

When you see something that strikes you as ugly, your first reaction may be to recoil as though the object is coming at you.  In the case of this lamp, that’s exactly what I did, rounding the corner of the flea market booth.  I believe I even said “Gah!”

It’s fun to walk through the flea market and look for objects that once embodied the finest décor.  My personal preference is nineteenth century, which is a bit hard to find in such humble establishments for an amount of money I can afford.  Would that I could go back in time and purchase them at Victorian prices with my current salary!

Ugly things tell us a lot about ourselves. Why don’t we like a certain fabric, texture, color?  How is it that we prefer blond hair on a guy or gal and find brown or red unseemly?  What makes us decide what ugly is?

Writers like to tell us what their characters prefer.  Heroes and heroines are always pretty people, played in movies by real-life beauties.  How boring and bland that can be.

Why not try making someone a little less than perfect?  Think how much more interesting that character would be.   Case in point: Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s tragic bellringer in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Yes, campers, it was a book long before Disney got hold of it.)

I read a Clive Barker novel, Coldheart Canyon, where the heroine was an overweight, average fangirl who had a thing for the hero, a film star.  I loved her because she wasn’t tall, gorgeous and windswept or named Kate.  She did kick butt when the chips hit the fan.

My bank robber in Rose’s Hostage is extra good-looking, to disarm the captive.  The ugliness comes from the violence of his world.  In the somewhat literary novel that’s bumping around in my head, the protagonist isn’t at all handsome.  In fact, he might be considered ugly, but that isn’t why he is special.  (Can’t tell you; I’d have to kill you.)

Or a character could have a taste for ugly things.  Maybe they remind him of a more innocent time, maybe he’s a complete nerd with a yen for macramé owls.  You decide.  Make the choices reveal something about him.  If he’s repelled by a deformity, the reader will wonder why.

Throw a little ugly in your WIP.  Contrast is a good thing.

Travel Writing

Here’s a destination most people will never see in person.  No, it’s not my picture, darn it.  This is Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.  At 29,035 feet, it’s the highest point on earth above sea level.

Aspiring freelance writers who love to jaunt about the earth may consider travel writing.  Most newspapers have travel columns or will consider features in that vein.  There is one in my local paper every Sunday.  A blog is another place to post articles, with pictures too.  Although there won’t be any pay in the latter, it’s a good place to start.  Magazines, both local and national, publish travel articles all the time.

Effective articles have several elements.  First, they should establish a sense of the place visited, enough to give the reader a glimpse.  Most people want to hear about sights, food and accommodation.  Vivid descriptions and a personal touch help make the writing entertaining.

A good way to make articles unique is focus on less famous elements of a well-known place.  Telling people about restaurants that are off the beaten path, little-known attractions that aren’t in most guidebooks or encounters with locals will give them the feeling they are in the know after reading your article.

Second, the article needs to inform.  Puzzling local traditions or places to avoid aren’t usually known to those checking out a new destination, so they will appreciate your efforts to warn them if needed.  Some places may be tricky to navigate.  Any helpful hints you can include will make planning a trip easier.  Consider a section on what to bring and what to leave behind.

Third, the reader should finish the article wanting to go there.  A completely negative account of a visit might be good for a laugh, or if it’s really awful, can keep someone from getting fleeced or worse.  But most travel articles are meant to encourage tourism, not scare people away.

Keep notes, using a voice recorder if you need to.  Most travelers who write have a journal or take a small computer with them, so they can upload pictures or record impressions at the end of their day.   It’s important to get those down as quickly as possible to retain their magic.

There are numerous wi-fi connections around Everest, so if you’re climbing (I hate you) you can even report from the summit.  I can’t afford it and don’t know mountaineering (yet), so I have to settle for this:

Click this to be amazed.  Do it full screen for even more fabulousness. 

Yes, those are clouds below the photographers.  An awesome sight.  Travel writing can be rewarding on its own, and you may find unexpected inspiration in the nooks and crannies of the earth.

If you could go anywhere in the world and cost or training and equipment were no object, where would YOU go?  Would you write about it?  Share in the comments.


Rain rain, go away...I need to mow!

In meteorology, saturation is a state of 100% humidity, when the air cannot hold any more vapor.  Chemistry is the same, a solution so completely imbued that nothing else will dissolve into it.

We experience saturation on a daily basis when the Internet brings us more information than we can possibly digest. With so many writers putting so much out there, how do you grab the attention of a reader who might have already seen the same kind of material several times before he gets to you?

Interesting Headline

  • Your headline has to be an attention-getter.  One way to do this is to put in words that engender controversy or a difference of opinion:

Should Indoor Cats be Declawed?

Maybe only cat owners would be interested in this, but there are thousands of cat owners all over the country.  People with a strong opinion on the subject will be drawn to the title.  Make it even more “WTH” by twisting it a bit:

Should All Pet Cats be Declawed?

*Disclaimer: I am against declawing and this is just an example, so let’s not get into an argument over it.

  • Another way to do this is to offer a solution to a problem, or useful information. People love lists, so a number is a good attention getter.

4 Ways to Keep Your Cat from Killing your Computer

Potential reader?  Anyone with a cat who has stomped on a keyboard or knocked over a drink!


Good lead paragraph


  • It needs to let your reader know he has come to the right place, and promise more.

Look at these posts on wiseGEEK and Suite101.  The first starts with an answer to the question, followed by more in-depth information.  The second identifies the problem and then promises a solution.  Both paragraphs summarize the post, but they have a sentence that is designed to make you read more:

“ICE agents have a wide variety of duties under the law…”  Hm, what duties? You could stop here, but if you want to know what those duties are, you have to keep reading.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make your cat’s trip in an airline approved pet carrier more comfortable.”  Ditto.

  • Like the twist in the headline, you can make your lead paragraph a little WTH to get people in.

So starting with the headline:

4 Ways to Keep Your Cat from Killing your Computer

Your cat just plopped down on your keyboard, erasing the last twelve pages of your novel!  Why does he do that? To get your attention, of course.  You love him but now is not the time.  Below are four ways to train your cat not to touch your laptop.  Some of them require YOU to change your habits.

Now, put in four ways you can get your cat to stay the hell away from your computer.  They better be good, because your reader may be just inches away from calling Animal Control.

Use keywords

  • Scatter them throughout the article, making sure to get one in the headline and the lead paragraph so the reader will know he has come to the right place.

I’m not fond of blog posts that use tons of keywords, because they often end up looking like this:

Fatal Cat Diseases

There are many types of cat diseases that can be fatal.  Some of the most dangerous cat diseases are rabies, feline leukemia and feline infections peritonitis. Your vet can advise on the best way to prevent these cat diseases.  Owners of cats with cat diseases need to take special care of them. 

Keywords are useful for search engines, so when the reader Googles “cat diseases” your post will come up.  But you don’t want so many that it makes the copy hard to read, or sounds like you’re trying too hard.

Examples, comments, stories bring the post to life

  • If you want people to come back, make it personal.

Obviously, if you’re writing content for pay you’ll have guidelines that may not allow for this.  In your own posts, you can do whatever you want.

4 Ways to Keep Your Cat from Killing your Computer

Your cat just plopped down on your keyboard, erasing the last twelve pages of your novel!  Why does he do that? To get your attention, of course.  You love him but now is not the time.  Below are four ways to train your cat not to touch your laptop.  Some of them require YOU to change your habits.

1. Unplug the computer!  I discovered my cat loves to nap on a warm, plugged-in laptop.  He’s not as likely to do it when it’s cold and dark.  When I’m not using it, it goes off.  Saves energy too.

2.  Use aversion training when the cat approaches the computer.  Don’t let him come up on your desk; make that a no-fly zone.  I used a little spray bottle of water or an airhorn.  These work  well to discourage a cat if “No!” isn’t doing the trick.   No hitting or screaming, please. 

3. Give them plenty of distractions.  Gently remove them from the area and give them a box of tissue, toys or a paper bag to play in.  It’s much like distracting an infant from something you don’t want him to have. 

3.  Establish an alternative area for loves and pets.  The couch is a good place.  When you sit down to watch television, the cat will associate the couch with attention and will seek it out there.  Pay more attention to the cat when you’re not working. 

With time and patience, you can teach Kitty to stay off your computer. 

Got any tips to catch a saturated reader’s eye?  What makes you skip a post?  Share in the comments.

Lilacs Make Me Smell-ancholy

Today is the 146th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, and the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic.  RIP. 

Here’s another flower picture, but it has a purpose beyond making you wish you had a pretty garden, I promise.  My lilac bush would probably have bloomed more if I had remembered to deadhead it last year before it made seed pods.  And it’s tall and skinny, more like a tree.  I’ll have to encourage the suckers at the bottom to make it fill out.

Lilacs are the best-smelling flower in the world.  They have a sweet, powdery scent that somehow manages not to be cloying.  They smell purple, the way that peonies smell pink and roses smell red even when they’re not.   It’s so sad they don’t last very long.

Smell is the most powerful of all the senses.  Olfactory memories stored in our brain can be accessed instantly by a wafting, familiar odor.  The lingering smoke ghost on an old coat tucked in the very back of the closet, a whiff of your grandmother’s perfume in a crowded department store, the deep richness of freshly turned earth that catapults you back to your first garden.

Once, in high school, my drama class attended a speech tournament, and we found ourselves in a hallway at a college student union, near the cafeteria.  The short space had an attic smell, of dusty wood and old fabric, which smelled exactly like my great-grandmother’s house.  I stopped dead and just inhaled, while my classmates yelled at me to hurry up, come on, we had to be at the next event.  No really, you go on.

So many writers choose visual terms to describe things, probably because we’re seeing the action in our heads, like watching an internal movie.  It’s easy to forget that characters have other senses.  They will perceive the world through other means:  sound, touch, taste.

At one point in Rose’s Hostage, Libby is blindfolded and handcuffed, and she can only listen and smell.   She catches a bit of someone’s body odor, hears trains rumbling when they change getaway cars and the thud of her fellow hostage falling when they get out of the vehicle.

Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is all about smell.  The protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is born in mean circumstances with a gift:  an incredibly powerful sense of smell.  Alas, he has no scent of his own, and people react to him strangely.  He drifts through a world of odors, both putrid and sublime, and learns to hold them through the art of perfume-making.  Trouble starts when he finds the scent of a virgin girl enrapturing and desires to capture that.

The book is unique because it contains almost no dialogue.  A decent film with Alan Rickman was made from it.  Usually narration doesn’t work in a movie but it does here.  It’s impossible to translate the scents visually, and it does lose something when you can’t imagine them as in the book.  Smell-O-Vision would have been great for this one.

In prose, the only thing a reader has to go on is your description.  Mix it up a little by including smells.  Maybe your protagonist can walk into a bakery and smell a cinnamon bun that reminds him of the neighbor kid’s mother, the object of his most exquisitely tormented adolescent longings, who used to bake them.  He turns and sees a pale reflection that looks just like her in the shop window.  But it couldn’t be her; she died in a boat accident twelve years ago.

Write a scene using just sight.  Then rewrite it with just smell, then sound, etc.  See where your other senses lead you.