How to Grab Your Dream of Writing a Book

In 2013, the Huffington Post reported that more than 80% of Americans want to write a book–about 200 million people, just in the US. You can Google to find the details, but I'm intentionally not linking, because the statistic alone is discouraging enough. I could go on to list the reasons they don't write, even though self-publishing through Amazon and other venues make it easier than ever before. You know why you don't write, if that's your dream.

Writing a book seems daunting. All that word-wrangling and how do you come up with a plot and do you have to be drunk and do you have to use a computer and I don't have a pen name and-and-and-

Whew. Slow down. Take a breath. Here's some advice on how to make that dream a reality.

What's Your Superpower?

If you've never written much beyond a college paper or high school book report, don't start out with the “great American novel.” Nonfiction is a great place to begin. It's not necessarily easier than fiction, but it's probably closer to what you've already written in the past. The first step isn't to put words on paper, but to think about what you know. Stuck in traffic, scrubbing off in the shower, waiting in the carpool line–seize any moment you're not actively doing something and rummage around in your head for subjects that you know lots about or in which you're very interested. No, it doesn't have to be as huge as “world peace” or “solving the college football playoff issue.” The topics should, however, be broad. In what areas do you give people advice? What seems easy for you that others find challenging? Cooking? Cleaning? Fixing cars? Repairing electronics? Creating web pages? At this point, don't censor yourself (unless it's illegal or immoral, but hey, it's your brain). Let your imagination have free reign. If you're not sure, ask friends or coworkers or significant others what your superpowers are.

Do not, at any point, go to Amazon and see how many books there already are on the subject. Your future book is the only one written by YOU!

Brainstorm an Outline

Once you've settled on a topic, start brainstorming on paper. The purpose of this step is to figure out what subtopics exist within the broader topic you chose. Grab a stack of index cards or pads of sticky notes and your favorite pen. As fast as you can, without stopping to think if it's good or bad, jot down one idea on each card and rearrange them later. If you can't think of subtopics, you should back up and choose a larger topic.

Take those cards or sticky notes and arrange them in the order that makes most sense to you. Think of how you would explain your chosen topic to someone new to the subject–because that's what you'll be doing! Add notes as you see gaps in the process you've outlined. Some areas might be large enough to be broken down further, and that's okay; in fact, it's a great thing.

Make a note of areas within that topic you think should be covered, but you don't know a lot about. Those areas are ripe for research. But don't get too caught up in the research process. That, too, can take much time away from actually writing. Although it's a process I love and adore!

Transfer the notes to your favorite word processing program. Don't worry about the perfect numbering system. A simple 1-2-3 is fine, or go with a more elaborate I-A-1, or whatever works for your brain. You may find that the process of typing the outline reminds you of steps you left out. Add them in at this stage. When you've completed the outline, save it as a separate document.

Here's part of an example outline for a book on creating a webpage with WordPress:

  1. Obtain hosting
    1. Pros and cons of various hosts
  2. Obtain domain name
    1. How to do it
    2. How to choose a great domain name
  3. Install WordPress
    1. vs. self-hosted WordPress
  4. Edit settings

Start Writing!

Start your writing with a copy of your outline, and you won't have to worry about staring at a blank page. Begin with the first topic of the outline and write about it as if you're explaining it to someone new to the subject, as I mentioned before. Spend as much or as little time as you feel necessary to cover the topic thoroughly. Don't worry about using “writerly” prose. Write in a way that feels natural to you. An important part of writing is finding your voice–that is, writing in a way that is unique to you, that allows your personality to come through.

Although I have a hard time following this advice myself, resist the urge to edit yourself as you write this first draft. You don't have to be perfect the first time through. Naturally you want to do your best work, but that comes through each successive draft. For now, focus on getting that knowledge out of your head and onto the pixels.

Let's don't gloss over that phrase “as if you're explaining it to someone new to the subject.” When I'm writing on a technical subject, like creating a webpage, I have to remind myself over and over to explain terms that are normal to me, but may not be in everyone's vocabulary. In the outline above, I used the words “hosts” and “hosting.” For the average person, those words means something entirely different than they do in a technical context. Explain terms in a way that makes sense to a reasonably intelligent person who may not know what a domain name is or understand the intricacies of hook size in crochet. Further along in the process you'll have plenty of chances to fix anything that doesn't make sense to your chosen audience.

After the First Draft

When the blessed day comes that you've written your way through your outline, save the document and set it aside for a day or two. Turn your focus elsewhere. The idea is to gain a bit of distance from your first draft before you start editing it. Never assume your first draft is your last. You will have made mistakes, typos, grammar problems and other issues. That's no big deal; everyone makes mistakes. Correcting them and strengthening your work on each successive draft is the mark of a professional writer. But celebrate what you've done. You're already farther than almost everyone who aspires to write a book!

That's all for this post.

Joyous Colors for Your Journal

Today I want to talk about a serious topic I have on my heart: colored pens! Hey, jazzing up your journal is important. Your Success! journal should be your personal statement, full of doodles and patterns and whatever colors you choose. With this goal in mind, I'm sharing three pens I recently acquired in a range of fun colors. (Please note that these are affiliate links, and if you choose to purchase through those links, I'll get a small percentage of the price.)

PaperMate InkJoy Gel Pens

I originally received a blue InkJoy gel pen through my SCRIBEDelivery subscription, and really liked the way it wrote. Very smooth and very turquoise blue. About a week later, I spied this set at Target and had to have it. They're also available in larger packs of colors on Amazon. Unlike what's shown in the picture, the ones I bought at Target are transparent plastic, not soft opaque. While I prefer the softer pens, I'm still using the pack, because the colors are fun and bright: Pink Pop, Red Rush, Orange Rise, Lime Light, Luscious Green, Teal Zeal, Bright Blue Bliss, Slate Blue Spin, Pure Blue Joy, Wild Berry and Jet Black. I tested all three types of pens on both textured and smooth paper, as you can see below. The InkJoy pens didn't perform quite as well on the textured paper (if you look at the larger version of the image, you can see the indentions), but that's because I hadn't picked all the wax off the end of them. The InkJoy pens are smooth, as are most gel pens I've used, and an inexpensive way to have fun with color in your journal. Buy this on Amazon.


Pilot Petit-2 Felt Tip Pens

This pen is another one I was introduced to through SCRIBEDelivery, in black. I liked it so much I've since ordered three more through Amazon. And then I discovered they came in colors. W00t! I was in. What was really neat is they come in a plastic zipper pouch. An added bonus? The stickers on them are in Japanese. I'm pretty much a sucker for “exotic” writing, especially Japanese. (In this case, “exotic” means, in Alabama speak, “it ain't from around here.” Which is a good thing.) The pens are short, about 10.5 cm or around 4 inches, just tucking into the palm of my hand. To use them, you unscrew the bottom, remove the little yellow cap, and shove the top down into the cartridge. Screw the barrel back on, turn the pen tip-down, and watch it flow down into the felt tip. I find it strangely mesmerizing. The flow is lovely on both textured and smooth paper, as you can see on the samples below. I use a black one exclusively for my Plum Paper weekly planner, which has thick smooth pages, and the felt tip works quite well. I'm starting to use the colored pens as well, but I haven't worked out a system for it yet. I find these pens delightful. Note that Pilot makes several kinds of Petit pens, but I haven't explored them yet. The pens are water-based, and refills are available. Colors available in this particular package are: Black, Red, Blue, Green, Lime Green, Emerald, Baby Pink, Pink, Pure Pink, Mandarin Orange, Orange, Golden Yellow, Light Blue, Sky Blue, Blue Black, Purple, Brown Black. Buy this on Amazon.

Platinum Preppy Rainbow Fountain Pens

Kooky story, but the set of Petit-2 pens I purchased recently were the second set I bought. Somehow I misplaced the first set. Amazon is so helpful in encouraging me to spend money; they showed me these fountain pens when I bought the Petit-2s. I adore fountain pens, and pens in color? Oh, yes. The set comes in Black, Blue, Green, Pink, Purple, Red, and Yellow. I haven't used these much yet, but they seem to do best on smooth matte paper. I don't think they'll perform well on shiny paper, but we'll see. These also have Japanese stickers on them, so they make me happy. The color is rich and mostly smooth, although they seem to take a bit of time for the nib to become sufficiently moistened to write well. The main problem I've had in the past with fountain pens is that characteristic ink smudge on the middle finger, but maybe that's just with those that use bottled ink. Buy this on Amazon.

I plan to try these Preppy Rainbow pens out in my CreativeLive and Craftsy class notebooks. For some reason, I decided to use a fountain pen for taking notes on online courses, specifically the Pilot Plumix Refillable Fountain Pen. I adore this pen, and have purchased refills for it. It comes in various colors of barrels (black, turquoise and purple), but ink choices seem to be limited to black and blue. Buy this on Amazon.

Writing Samples

textured paper

I thought you'd be interested in seeing how these three pens write. The sample on the left is on a notepad of textured paper, with quite a bit of tooth to the surface. The fountain pen didn't do as well on that surface. The other two were fine on it, although the Petit-2 was superior, as you'd expect from a felt tip. The InkJoy pen took a bit of time to get going, but to be fair, I had not written with the blue or the orange before.

smooth paper

The sample on the right is from a long, skinny notepad of thick, smooth paper. All three pens performed well on it. The Petit-2 really grabbed hold, and the color is much more vibrant on smooth paper.

I hope this review has helped you discover or share in the joy of colored inks on paper.

Remember, your success in your control!

D is for Donna: #atozchallenge2015

Here this year's first post in Alexandria Publishing Group's A to Z Blogging Challenge:

D-is-for-DonnaAlexandria Publishing Group is a wonderful circle of very talented authors, and I’m privileged to be one of them. My name? Donna K. Fitch (please don’t forget that “K”—I’m particular about that), illuminator of alternate realities, at your service.

My fiction writing always has a heavy dose of the supernatural in it, whether that’s a life-altering curse in Second Death, excursions into the aether and frightening killing ability in The Source of Lightning, or psychic prognostication and quasi-time travel in The Color of Darkness and Other Stories.

The gaming books I’ve written are firmly based in alternate realities. Sahasra: Land of 1,000 Cities is a d20 roleplaying book about a fantasy analogue of India, while Imperial Age: Faeries (written with Scott Carter) is about playing faeries in Victorian England.

I was an academic librarian for twelve years, and wrote several peer reviewed articles during that time. I even edited the manuscript for my late stepfather’s magnum opus, The Thematic Catalogue of the Musical Works of Johann Pachelbel, published by Scarecrow Press. I don’t think any of my academic publications have fantasy in them.

My latest venture is my business, Maximum Author Impact. I believe the web is about relationships. I help indie authors connect with their readers through beautiful WordPress websites and other marketing tools and training resources. Stop by and see how I can help you.

I live in central Alabama, work at a university as a web designer, sing in the church choir, play Dungeons and Dragons as often as I can (at least once a month), and live with my husband and three cats.

Comments are welcome below! Thanks for stopping by the Blogging A to Z Challenge!

H is for Horror: #atozchallenge2015

dark-graveyard-background_MJAFJu5uAlexandria Publishing Group is participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge again this year. Here's one of my posts:

Horror is an emotion shared by everyone who’s human. The horror genre explores that emotion in all its forms—subtle, graphic, and all shades in between. Horror doesn’t have to mean blood and guts and chainsaws. One of my favorite horror writers, Charles L. Grant, is known for his “quiet horror.” I was excited when I found his work, because his approach to horror mirrored my own. Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series is horror every bit as much as Stephen King at his creep-crawliest. Zombies, serial killers, paranormal spookiness—all horror.

Horror as a genre has made a renaissance of late, and like science fiction, can be used as social commentary as well as straightforward story. The Horror Writers Association (HWA), premiere professional writers association, doesn’t define horror narrowly, but includes dark literature and dark fantasy within its purview. And it isn’t just for adults; HWA recently began a blog aimed at writers of young adult horror.

Here are some horror/dark fantasy books and stories written by Alexandria Publishing Group members:

Valerie Douglas – Shades

Donna K. Fitch – The Color of Darkness and Other Stories, Second Death, The Source of Lightning

Terry C. Simpson – The Arcanus Archives: Shadeborn (Bk 1)

Kai Wilson-Viola (as Sabrann Curach) – Footnotes to a Lesson, Litanies, Pillow Talk


Explore the world of horror!

Interview by Gudrun Frerichs

I had the privilege of being interviewed on the subject of writing in general and Second Death in specific by Gudrun Frerichs. Here’s the audio: