Archive for the ‘writing techniques’ Category

This week we welcome guest blogger Nancy Herkness! A multi-published author from New Jersey who grew up in West Virginia, Nancy has a new release hot off the press–“Take Me Home.” I personally can’t wait to read this book since I’ve read all her others and really loved them. Reading, Writing and Ruminations sat down with Nancy and asked her some questions. If you have others, let us know and she’ll answer them!
What kind of romances do you write?
I write mostly contemporary romances with one foray into romantic suspense (Music of the Night). My first three books were set in the New York metro area, but I’ve gone back to my roots in the mountains of West Virginia with my new series. (I love saying “series” since Montlake Romance bought all three of my “whisper horse” novels. It’s my first series ever!)
Do you plot out your novel or write by the seat of your pants?
How I wish I plotted out my novel! But no, I have to noodle around, go off in wrong directions, change characters’ motivations mid-book, etc. I tried very hard to plot a book once but it killed all the joy for me and I never got past the fifth chapter. It has to be a voyage of discovery or I get bored.
So I start with the two main characters, often developing the hero first for some reason. I build in at least one conflict as I flesh out those characters and add other obstacles as I write. Generally, I have an ending in mind and I write toward that.
What I love about my method are the moments of revelation. In my current WIP (nearly finished now), my heroine has led a very sheltered life before she arrives in Sanctuary, WV. I had some superficial reasons why but I was missing something profound. One day I was working on chapter seven or thereabouts when it just burst into my brain. I jumped out of my chair, leapt around my office a few times, crowing at my cleverness, then sat down to rework the prior six chapters to include it.

You have a done a lot of research for your novels—for example, researching meteorites for “Shower of Stars.” Do you do research before writing or while writing or both? Do you enjoy this aspect of the writing process?
Doesn’t every writer love to do research? It’s the best kind of procrastination because you can justify the time you spend on it by saying it’s necessary for the book. I’ve done such fun things in the name of adding authenticity to my books: walking the George Washington Bridge, spending two days in the Smithsonian’s meteorite exhibit, sitting on stage for a rehearsal at Carnegie Hall.
My West Virginia series is a different kind of research: I’m mining my memories of my childhood in the mountains—and layering in a few new additions, of course.
I also do research on the fly when I’m writing. When I decide to introduce a new element into my story, I instantly check it for accuracy before I get too far down the road in the plot. Google is my friend.
Tell us a little bit about your new series—how you got the idea, what you’re most excited about, and your plans for the series!
Oh, thank you for bringing up that word again…and I didn’t even have to pay you! My new series is set in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia where I grew up. The town of Sanctuary is fictional but it strongly resembles my real hometown of Lewisburg.
In addition, I came up with the concept of a whisper horse. A whisper horse is the special creature you can tell all your troubles to so you don’t have to carry the burden alone. You can’t talk to just any horse; there’s one meant for you. A character in each of the books finds her/his whisper horse in Sanctuary at Healing Springs Stables.
The idea came from my real pony Papoose who was my constant companion all through my younger years. When I was upset or angsty, I would pour my problems into his ears. If you know horses, you’ll know their ears are very eloquent, so I felt I had a sympathetic listener.
Right now the series is three books long: Take Me Home (Nov. 2012), Country Roads (nearly finished), and The Place I Belong (merely a germ of an idea). I hope it will continue on past those three, although I’ve nearly run out of John Denver lyrics for my titles.
I’m having a blast revisiting characters from the first book in the second book. As I reader, I’ve always enjoyed that, but I’m finding it even more exciting as a writer. I was delighted when one of my critique partners read a scene from Country Roads in which the lead characters from Take Me Home appeared and commented, “It is so great to see Claire and Tim again! Now I understand why readers get hooked on a series.” Music to my ears!


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Every year I attend the NJ Romance Writers’ Conference. It’s my very favorite. And, as usual, I just can’t wait!
Writing conference are wonderful and this one–which I anticipate each year–is the best. It’s not just that we get stellar speakers (and this year one of the keynote speakers is Heather Graham, one of my favorite authors). And it’s not just the terrific workshops which feature presentations on the writing craft and the business of writing. There is so much more.
NJRW was one of the first conferences to feature roundtables just for published authors. We can sit back and frankly discuss everything from agents to writing frustrations to time management issues.
NJRW gets almost as many editors and agents as the national conference, so there’s always the chance to meet with an editor and/or agent and pitch your newest manuscript.
There’s also the chance to be involved and give back to an organization that has set so many on the path to success–including me! I enjoy volunteering a lot. This year I’m going to be moderating the “First Timers'” workshop being given by Christine Bush.
Another highlight of the conference is networking. You never know who you will meet. You might be seated next to a big name agent at one of the meals–or help an editor find their way around the hotel. You might hear about a new line of books that a publishing house is opening up.
Most of all, there’s the chance to connect with old friends and make new ones. There are some writing friends I only get to see once a year, since they live far away; but we try to get together at the conference even if it’s just for a few minutes over coffee. There have been times I started chatting with someone, we found out we had a lot in common, and then we’ve stayed in touch and become good friends.
This year, Kate Davison and Christina Lynn Whited will be unable to attend the conference; but I will be spending time with Elizabeth John, and I am looking forward to that!
The conference is officially Oct. 12-13, but I will be there on the 11th to help. I can’t wait!
With eager anticipation,

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Yesterday I had lunch with four of my blog/writing critique/brainstorming partners–and friends!
We try to get to gether once a month although, because of work schedules, not all of us are able to. Some of us also critique by mail with another critique partner, who has also become a friend. But the fours of us who blog together–Elizabeth John, Kate Davison, Chrsitina Lynn Whited and myself–do make an effort to get together for lunch. We brainstorm and discuss the business of writing. Actual critiques are done by email; the precious time we have together is used for conversation about writing, plus other topics.
Our lunches are so stimulating. I come home raring to write and usually with some insight into this sometimes-crazy writing business.
But what has happened in addition, in the many years we’ve been getting togther, is that we have become good friends!
Yesterday’s conversation revolved around helping one of us with a workshop title; discussion of conferences; psychic healing; and chit chat about books. We also discuss our children, parents, and pets.
I value our friendships! We have grown to be much more than fellow bloggers. I look forward to all our lunches.
Do you have writing partners who have become good friends as well?  I’d enjoy hearing about them!

Roni Denholtz

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Ah, the Jersey Shore.  I enjoy it all year round, but now that summer’s here it feels like I’ve traveled to a great destination when in actually it’s only a short distance.  The white sandy beaches, the boardwalks, mini-golf places, and friendly faces are testaments that I’ve escaped to “Vacationland”, and the best part is I don’t have to dig out my passport!

Since I do feel so relaxed here, it comes as no surprise to me that I write more when I’m at the shore.  Whether it’s for the day or a week, my mind becomes free of worry the minute I see the water.  My muscles loosen, my heart beats at an easy pace, and a long sigh escapes from my throat.


I get up early and walk the beach before the crowds.  Everyone says hello, from joggers to fishermen.  We all have the same knowing look.  Yes, we silently say to each other, we’re lucky to be here and it’s a beautiful day in paradise.


This might sound strange, but I swear dogs feel it, too.  I think my dog smells the ocean or the sand way before we arrive and starts wagging his tail in the car.  He struts proudly as we walk along the beach town’s streets.

On the beach, while others are chatting, sunbathing, or swimming, I’m people-watching and taking notes.  Some of the interesting details that I observe will help to flesh out the characters in my books.  In particular, I like the way the cackling, tattooed woman in front of me wears her cowboy hat as she entertains her posse.  The teenage lovers a few feet away sneak kisses on a blanket when they think their chaperoning adults aren’t looking.  Especially sweet is the elderly couple who hold hands as they stroll along.


Later, I leave the beach with pages of notes.  With a cool drink and a content dog at my feet, I find a quiet spot and plug away at my laptop working on my novel as I listen to the nearby sounds of circling seagulls and rhythmic crashing waves.

The Jersey Shore is a wondrous, peaceful place.  I look forward to many relaxing, sun-filled, and productive writing days this summer.




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Every once in a while when my life seems hectic or not going the way I’d like, I take a moment to reflect on why things are not going as I had planned.  Now I know there are some things that are out of my control so I don’t dwell on those.  However, when I feel as if my life is in chaos, it’s usually because I’m stressed, overwhelmed with too many commitments, and in particular, not making time for my life goals.

That’s when I realize it has to be back to the basics for me.

For instance, I’m a stress eater.  When life gets crazy, I don’t have time to food shop or cook.  So what do I do?  Eat crap.  The more I eat of the bad stuff, the more I crave.  Not good.  Of course eating poorly goes hand-in-hand with not having time to exercise.  All this leads to weight gain, feeling gross, eating more, and moving less.   The dreaded vicious cycle.

The good news is that I’m at the point in my life where I recognize this sooner than later.  I begin to simplify.  I force myself to drink more water, cut back on unhealthy carbs, and lay off sugar.  Instead of doing a big food shop, which I never have time to do, I run in for a few items instead.  This works better for me during those hectic crunch times.  I also keep my foods simple but healthy when I don’t have time to plan meals.  Veggies, salads, fruits, nuts, yogurt, chicken, and fish are easy for me to cook or to grab and go.   Last, but not least, I remember to move.  I take my dog Max for walks around the neighborhood, and we are both happier when we return.

This leads me to another one of my goals that goes astray when I’m not paying attention, and that is to keep my house organized.  Writer friends of mine would say it’s okay to have dust bunnies and dishes piling up if that what’s necessary to find the time to write.  I’ve tried this approach.  Over the years I have lowered my neatness standards.  I had to if I wanted to stay married to my wonderful, but messy, husband.

However, when the dishes pile up, or my office is a sty, it actually harms my writing process.  For me, clutter causes chaos, whereas a clean house leads to a clear mind.   I admit to creating  piles that consist of papers, folded clothes, books, magazines-you get the idea, which can be found in various locations throughout my house.  So now what?  Back to the basics.  I attack the dishes.  If the sink is clear, I can breathe easier.  I try to spend a few minutes each day to clear some of the piles.  They still need work, but at least they’re going down.

All this leads to my next goal–writing every day.  I have to write each day or as close to each day as possible.  I wake up at five thirty so I can get in at least forty-five minutes to an hour of writing time before my day job.  This helps keep me in my story.  If I can find other tidbits of time, fabulous.  If not, I have to wait for the weekend to write in bigger blocks of time.  Also, with my back to basics approach, I try to read industry news and writing magazines that I subscribe to but tossed aside in a pile.  I forget that they’re loaded with good information!  Although I love the Internet, all this social media and networking stuff is daunting to me.  I have to step back and remember my goal is to write a great book and not keep up with the latest Internet fad.

When I feel out of sorts, it’s usually because one or all of my goals have been pushed aside, and going back to the basics helps to ground me.

What do you do when your goals take a back seat?  I’d love to know.



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How many times have you heard this? If you’re a writer, probably often enough that your head bobs along as the words are uttered by someone who is trying to guide or mentor us into the next step of our writer’s journey. If you are not a writer, but someone who just loves books…you’ve also probably heard this adage. It’s kind of one of those “universal truths” that get passed around as fact, but has very little practical application while writing fiction.

Yes, notice I said fiction.

I don’t believe anyone in their right mind would disregard this golden writing rule for non-fiction, and I don’t suggest it be attempted. But I digress. But before I upset anyone reading this, let me explain where I’m coming from when I say to throw that old saw out the window.

By profession, I work in the health care industry. I’ve done so for about 20 years. There has been a lot of things I’ve seen in my time at the bedside that have blown my mind, made me scratch my head, renewed my faith and left me speechless. It’s an interesting and rewarding career to say the least. Helping people is both noble and affirming. Though some of the nights I’ve worked have been stress-inducing walks through hell, I wouldn’t change a moment of it. It’s taught me so much about the world and my place in it.

There are many people who write about what it is to work so closely with the sick or infirm. Hats off to you, folks, but I could never do it for an entire book. That’s not to say my characters do not end up in hospital, or have catastrophic injuries to overcome during their time on the page, but it is usually not the entire plot.

I’ve had many friends and family members, even patient families ask me over the years why it is I don’t write medical-inspired novels and the answer is simple: I live it I don’t want to write about it. Writing for me is as much as any escape as picking up another author’s book and reading. I get to become my characters as I write and live their profession, see into their worlds and do things I normally would not attempt here on earth.

My other pseudonyms write sci-fi, futuristic, fantasy, and paranormal. If I only stuck to writing what I knew, there would be no FTL drives, alien worlds, dragons, or alchemists in my life. And it would be a much sadder existence for it.

Not writing what I know allows me the opportunity to explore areas I’m interested in, to break out of my mold as healer and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. To me writing what I don’t know opens more doors than it closes windows. It gives me the opportunity to exploit the details of a profession that I might have chosen had my life gone differently.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Next time you hear someone suggest to write what you know…tell them thanks, but no…you’d rather go exploring.


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All right, here it is the last step right before sending in a submission: the dreaded synopsis.

Ask most authors and they will tell you that writing synopses are the most despised part of the entire writing process. Why is this do you think? I know for me it’s very difficult to condense a 100K word novel into five pages or less and still include the GMC for the main characters, internal and external conflicts, and the rousing conclusion. I can tell you with all honesty that I know I’ve had books rejected on the weakness of my synopsis alone.

I know…bad, huh? But I do acknowledge and own the fact that I could write them better, add more tension and/or excitement, explain the conflict and resolutions with greater clarity. Well, I need to do the entire process better. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter which way I approach the process, either by pantsing or plotting, compressing facts into such a compact document is difficult.

My writing process has changed a great deal over the years. I used to be a complete and utter plotter. I’d have outlines that broke down each chapter, the action, general tone and major plot point. Sounds like a very structured environment, right? Well, sort of. I found if I actually wrote like that, my characters always had their own ideas and it did not allow for me to follow those lovely tangents that are part of the creative process, the little side streets and back alleys of the story I never knew were there until I got submerged into the middle of it. I love those. I exploit them. They make a story so much richer than going off the outline. So my plotting became a sort of amalgamation of both plotting and pantsing, something I called, plotsing. Now, the evolution has come to a 180 degree mark and I’m pretty much pantsing everything I write. Oh, I know the beginning, middle and end…or something just the beginning and end…but the books still get written and with much more joy than when I plotted them to death.

As with any metamorphosis, there is a learning curve involved to get to know the new form. For my new way of writing, the aspect that took the greatest hit was the synopsis. Without having an outline to refer to when sitting down to write one, I was floating along in a sea littered with the word debris of what to add and what to leave out. It’s never a fun place to be when you think you’re drowning in ineptitude. When every word put on the page seems lackluster or uninteresting. Enter my saving grace…

A few years ago, I had the privilege to meet and talk with author Patrice Michelle at an RT Conference. What a sweetheart! The woman saved my sanity with her easy-to-follow guide to writing synopses. You can find it here on her website:


The worksheet makes the job not so scary, if still a little daunting. I mean the author is still required to fit x-number of words into 2-5 pages and make it interesting. It’s enough to make a grown author cry…just not so hard anymore. It’s nice to have a framework to follow. The tension seems to just melt away.

*happy sigh*

In the interest of being helpful, what are some of the techniques you use to get synopses written. Please comment, I really would like to know.


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