Writing Skills

To what extent is your fiction autobiographical? We asked authors -- here's what they said:


Last week, we asked female authors "to what extent is your fiction autobiographical?" 

Here's what they had to say:

Kerri Davidson

With a lead up like that, we had to hear everything!


Go here to find out more about The Chronicles of Henny


Most authors said that every character held a bit of themselves.

TGTerry Gibson writes at my story | our story


VashtiVashti Quiroz-Vega (website) is the author of the Fantasy Angels Series -- The Fall of Lilith and Son of the Serpent (due out late 2018)


RobinlRobin Lyons (website) writes mysteries and thrillers including the School Marshalls series -- Unknown Threat, Unknown Alliance, and the prequel MAC


ShearerTracey Shearer is a new author. With the help of her writing group, we hope to hear about her new book very soon!


How much of your fiction is autobiographical?

What do you do when you have the writing blues? Here's what women authors said:

What do you do when you have the writing blues?

Last week, we asked female authors on social media:

"What do you do when you have the writing blues?" 

Here's what they had to say!

On Twitter at WomenandFiction:

Bethany Crandell @BethanyCrandall said, "Read some of my own work."


Tracey Shearer @TraceyLShearer said, "I get together with writing buddies (in person for the 'great energy'.) Helping them with their work always helps to get me back on the inspiration track." 


On Facebook at Women and Fiction


Amy Spitzfaden Both (website), author of The Fingerprinted Hearts said: "I like to read more lighthearted things, because normally the writing blues come from the regular blues, so I love me some chick lit to relax! Baths and candles are also perfect. For brainstorming I like to go to my mom and sisters, all of whom are also writers."

Bambi Harris (website) (Amazon) most recently the author of the Man in the Morgue (Coma Mysteries) said: "I don't read (I know, there's something wrong with me haha) i don't get stuck often but when i do i let it happen. forcing something is depleting and not productive. When I'm at work or out and about i generally never think about what I'm going to write, so if i sit down to the computer and nothing happens, especially if my energy is low, I let myself have a break watch a documentary or create a cover for my next book (seriously, i find this relaxing haha) I don't try to force a writing idea so i do something other than writing and I've done enough books to know that works for me."

Eve Langlais (website) (Amazon) most recently the author of The Wolf's Secret Vegas Wife: Howl's Romance said: " I start over from the beginning and tighten the story which in turn makes things clearer and I push past that nasty middle."

J.M. Maurer (website) (Amazon) most recently the author of As Right As Rain: "Cry. I cry and tell myself how much I suck at putting even two simple words together. True story. I have learned to be kind to myself.  A whole lot of weight lifted when I let myself believe it was okay that I could not pump out books." 

Tracy Ostwald Koswald (website) said: "I often read in the topic area or genre that I'm struggling to write. It reminds me of what good quality writing looks like, which is encouraging when I open up the laptop and get started again."

What do you do when you have the writing blues?



Wednesday Writing Skill -- 3 ways to manage stress for greater creativity

Stressed out? Too anxious to write?

Listen, uncertainty is coming at us from all sides. From the "what the f*** is it now" sideshow in Washington DC or the simple economic realities of your home town, we are dealing with more and more stressful and uncertain times. If your a writer, you're managing all of the societal stress as well as the never-ending struggle of making a living, selling books, dealing with reviews, and communicating like a human being with your readers. That's stress on steroids!

Stress will kill your creativity.

In, How Stress Assassinates your Creativity, Robbie Blair gives an overview of the reasons stress might give you writer's block,  and will certainly zap your creative energy.  

"Whenever we're stressed, the brain reallocates resources to the primitive parts of the brain, prioritizing primal emotions over abstract thinking and motor control over creativity. When we get behind the barrier of stress, we're locked out of the creative part of the brain at a basic neurological level."

In the article, he goes through the theoretical construct of "evolutionary" brains -- reptilian, neo-mammalian, mammalian -- as well as the research science behind the reduction of creativity due to stress.

Basically, our modern life stress convinces our brains that we are in a life and death struggle. We loose access to the higher levels of our brain (neo-mammalian, mammalian) and thus lose our creativity. If we have early life stressors (basically the shitty early life of most writers), we're more likely to fall through to the reptilian brain in no time flat.

What's a writer to do?

Let's face it, historically, most writers eased their stress through the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs. Hemmingway was a well know alcoholic. James Joyce was, as well. We know that Jack Kerouac took off across the country on a benzedrine fuel trip. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Burroughs were opium addicts. Jack London was a pothead. Of course, we all know about Stephen King's struggle with alcohol and cocaine.

And the women? -- what women used drugs and/or alcohol for their stress? Sylvia Plath had terrible, blinding migraines which she took a variety of medications for including the antidepressants credited for her suicidal ideation. Elizabeth Barrett Brown was an opium addiction, specifically Laudanum. Ayn Rand was addicted to meth amphetamines. Carson Mc Cullers and Dorothy Parker's alcohol dependence cut short their lives short.

The truth is that we don't know a lot about the substance use of women authors because, like everything female and writerly, the media focuses on men.

The bottom line is that substance abuse is not the answer. Drugs and alcohol steal creativity and cut short your life. They are no answer to dealing with your stress.

3 ways to manage stress for greater creativity

  1. Start each writing session with a few minutes of meditation: The best way to keep stress from invading your creativity is to create a practice in which you take a few minutes to meditate before each writing session. The easiest way to do that is by using a free meditation app such as Calm.com (not an affiliate link)When I was first writing, I would get very anxious just writing. I wrote entire books with the Calm.com ocean beach playing in the background. It helped keep me calm and creative. I often leave my journal out when I'm meditating to capture any stray thoughts that may be running around in my head. 

    I think of meditating before writing as simply "good writing hygiene." It helps you make the transition from the world to your writing life. It can set you up to be ready to get the work done when you have time.

    Would I still meditate if I had only an hour to write? Yes. It's worth it.

  2. Set a timer for 90 minutes. We now know that more than sitting more than 90 minutes at a time is as deadly as smoking cigarettes. Set a timer on your watch, phone, or computer for 90 minutes. When the timer goes off, get up and move around. Do a few jumping jacks. Press out five squats. The 7 minute workout is awesome. Pull up bar, push ups, run the stairs -- just get moving.

    You're thinking: "90 minutes? I'm just getting started! This will make me more stressed out." It does take some getting used to.

    What we know is that by sitting around, the stress builds up in our bodies. A five minute break every hour and a half helps siphon off some of that stress. Practice this for a week. You may just find that your overall stress level reduces. You might even drop a size in your favorite jeans

  3. Stay in your lane. I get it. We're called to show up in so many areas of life now. As authors, we have a broader perspective on the world. For those of us who write international intrigue, the newspapers and social media are literally our research materials. We cannot shut down the world so that we can get some work done.

    You did not come to writing by accident. Most authors feel as if they were born to write. This is particularly true for women because there are so many barriers to our writing careers. 

    If we scatter our energy toward every email we receive asking for help, we will spend all of our time and energy doing everything else but writing.

    We are writers because we were born to do this work. Your greatest impact will always be where from your writing. If you feel called to make a difference, do it through your writing. Try being more honest. Include characters who represent different ethnicities or abilities. Write about situations only you know about. Get real with yourself and your story. 

    Here are three easy ways to cut down on distractions:
    a. Write on a computer that is not connected to the Internet. Yes, it sounds extreme, but you can do research on  your phone. This is also a great way to keep those who hack out of your unpublished work and personal information. 
    b. Use a browser extension that blocks websites. My favorites are the one from Calm.com (this ones brand new) and Block Site. The apps are free tools which block websites where you tend to waste time. You set it up so that you can block out what you need, while keeping the sites you don't need. 
    c. Headphones, baby. Life is noisy. Get yourself a pair of noise-blocking headphones. You can listen to music for focus (search "focus" on your favorite music streaming site) or simply listen to the quiet. People are less likely to interrupt you if you have on headphones. They assume you're on a call or can't hear them. 

With a little bit of prevention and stress release, you will continue a high level of creative work! Good luck!

--Claudia Hall Christian 10/11/2017



Wednesday Writing Skill -- 5 ways to make your fiction more readable for your distracted audience

5 ways to make your fiction more readable

The world has changed. Your readers have ten things they could be doing besides reading your story. Moreover, you're competing for attention from social media, streaming movies, music on multiple channels, 24-hour news stations, and that's not to mention texts, phone calls, or, oh yeah, actual work. To make matters worse, your readers are exhausted from all the reading they do!

It's amazing that anyone ever reads anything for fun.

Whether you like it or not, your readers are tired, distracted, and bombarded by a lot of stories. If we want people to read our stories, we must be willing to write in a manner which engages them.

What does this mean? To better understand readability, let's take a step back to look at the four types of reading:

  1. Elementary reading is quite literally reading that a student in elementary school can understand.
  2. Inspectional reading is skimming or superficially reading.
  3. Analytical reading is thorough reading.
  4. Syntopical reading is thoughtful, comparative reading.

(Don't panic. Shane Parrish does a great job explaining all of this on his blog, Farnam Street. While you're there, sign up for his free newsletter. You won't be sorry.)

Your readers currently read at a fourth grade reading level. In fact, you're probably reading this at a fourth grade reading level.

If you publish your fiction in an electronic format -- online or even eBook -- most of your readers are reading at less than a fourth grade reading level.

Your readers aren't idiots; they are distracted!

You're probably wondering how your adult, well educated readers could possibly read at such a low level. The reason is very simple: being distracted lowers your IQ.

What's a writer to do?

Here are five ways to make your serial fiction readable.

1. Reintroduce your characters: Trust me. There are days when some of your readers will not remember who any of your characters are or how they fit into your story. Don't leave your readers guessing. Give your readers simple reminders. 

For example:

Janice found her boyfriend, Bryce, standing on the other side of her front door.
Rather than - Janice found Bryce standing on the other side of her front door.

"Jeremiah's going to be here for dinner?" she asked. "I didn't realize he was out of prison."
Rather than - "Jeremiah's going to be here for dinner?" she asked.

Regardless of how central you believe your character is to your story, practice reminding your readers who they are. The longer your story, serial fiction, series, or novel is the more necessary this becomes. It's not hard or intrusive to the story to simply add in a few word identifier for characters when they pop up. Your readers will thank you.

It's a good practice to help cement your characters in your readers' minds.

2. Limit your use of pronouns: This feels clunky when you're writing and editing. However, your reader will quickly loose track of the "she" in "she said." Use your character's name.

When we read in electronic form, the last chapter or paragraph is gone from our line of sight. This means that we only bring to each new paragraph that which we remember or have right in front us. In most cases, that's very little information.

Go through your story and replace at least half of the pronouns with the character's name. Your story will read a lot better.

3. Short sentences rule! 14 words.  That's the number of words in a sentence that's understood by 90% of people. 8 word sentences are understood by 100% of people. That's right. You have between 8 and 14 words to get your point across

Short sentence feel weird to write and edit, especially in fiction. Your reader will never notice.

There is a limitation with short sentences if you publishing with Smashwords. There is a bug in the Smashwords "meat grinder" program. The program trips on too many short paragraphs (i.e., short sentence dialogue.) At this writing, they have not found a way to fix this error. You can still publish your work there by post your story in ePub format instead of Microsoft doc format. So if you get a weirdo error, just bump your story up in ePub.

4. Keep it simple. I'm not saying you should dumb down your story. Please do make your story have as many complications, twists, and turns as possible. You simply can't get there all at once.

Keep your individual scenes simple and to the point. You want to get from here to there? Write a scene about right here. The next few scenes should be about somewhere between here and there. And sometime later you'll be there.

Your distracted reader will have a better comprehension of four short scenes than one long, complicated scene.

5. Put the sentence you want your readers to read at the start of a paragraph. Because people read up and down in electronic format, their eyes catch the first sentence of every paragraph. This means that their brains overemphasize the importance of this sentence. This is particularly true for single sentence paragraphs.

This means that single sentence paragraph, like this one, are more likely to be read.

Make sure you use them for what you want your reader to know.

Writing for distracted people takes a lot of intelligence, patience, and practice. If you want to be a successful author in 2015, you need to create readable work for distracted people. Because let's face it -- everyone is distracted now.

-- Claudia Hall Christian for Women and Fiction 

Wednesday Writing Skills -- Multiple Narrators

We're starting a new feature here at Women and Fiction -- Wednesday Writing Skills. Every Wednesday, we'll share an interesting article from around the internet or an original writing article from Women and Fiction. 

Every character wants to share their point of view. Who do you choose?


This week, we share  a writing skills article by Alinda Winternheimer on the topic of Multiple Narrators.

Have you ever been reading along in your book and suddenly noticed a shift in perspective? Who are you following? Who is talking now? This is one of the downfalls of using multiple narrators. 

Ms. Winternheimer outlines four reasons not to use multiple narrators:

This is why most people write with a single perspective. The problem is that some stories require multiple perspectives. For example, sometimes your character is in a coma. If you're only following her perspective, there might not be a lot going on there. If you're writing a classic romantic misunderstanding, you will lose the dynamic tension if you don't include the perspective from both the misunderstood and the betrayed. 

Ms. Winternheimer solves perspective in two ways.

  • First, she encourages you to create a clear protagonist. Make sure your reader knows who the star of the story. When you have multiple points of view, the reader can easily lose the star of the show. 

  • Secondly, she encourages you to create a casting hierarchy. Think of it this way -- who would win the award for Best Actor and who would get the Best Supporting Actor award? Ms. Winternheimer suggests:

    You might decide rank based on:
    • How long the character lasts in the story
    • How crucial a role he fulfills
    • How much readers like, or are expected to like, him
    • How necessary he is to the forward movement of the plot

The hardest thing about this advice is that it requires the author to plan ahead. This is easy work for people who are planners but for people who write by the seat of their pants, it's not so simple. 

In either case, the key is to think about what makes for the best, most dynamic story. That can require setting aside the manuscript for a while. After a month or so, you'll have fresher eyes and be able to think through things like what is your casting hierarchy.

If you'd like to learn about becoming an author, there's a lot of great practical "How To" articles at K. M. Weiland's site Helping Writers become Authors. Alinda Winternheimer is a writing coach. She can be found at her website or at Twitter

In celebration of Dorothy Parker's birthday, here are five of her quotes about writing.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was and American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist. She was best known for her sharp tongue, smart wit, and prolific output. She had a particular eye for the odd and magnificent of the 20th century. She was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table

Dorothy Parker on writing:

1. "I hate writing, I love having written."

2. "If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy."

3. "I'd like to have money. And I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have money."

4. "To me, the most beautiful word in the English language is cellar-door. Isn’t it wonderful? The ones I like, though, are 'cheque' and 'enclosed.'" 

5. "I'm never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don't do any thing. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don't even do that any more."

Happy 124th birthday, Dorothy Parker! 

Around the Web: Interesting links about Women and Fiction (July 20 2017)

We start the week with a look at punctuation and end the week with the oldest doodle. Sounds like Women and Fiction! Right?

If you haven't had a chance to listen, Amanda Cochran Helstrom-White blows us away in the podcast. You can now listen her and all of the podcasts at iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, SoundCloud, and (coming soon) Google Play. Catch up with us on our social media accounts -- (Facebook, Twitter, Google+)



J.K. Rowling. Photo Credit: Andrew Montgomery; Telegraph UK
JK. Rowling encourages women: "Don't fight alone"
. She may be one of the most successful authors in the world, but the notoriously private JK Rowling also manages to find time to share her innermost thoughts. She's a great person to follow on Twitter as she's inspirational and genuine. Here are thirteen times she's encouraged us all. 


Jr.,'sThe US President's son has been in the news a lot lately and the copy edit banchees have been arguing. In this article, the New Yorker took the time to settle the dispute. Please note that the only politics we care about here at Women and Fiction is the politics of correct grammar. 


The world's oldest doodleWhat's the earliest known doodle in a book? I'm glad you asked. Historians have finally agreed that this odd in drawing of a pipe smoking person holding a flower is the oldest doodle. Does this change your mind about writing in books? 


Leave a review - give them 5 stars!
Want to support the authors in your life?
 Steph Post at Lit Reactor finds 13 free ways you can help your favorite authors continue to write. Of course, the very best way to support authors is by taking five minutes and leaving a review. Even one line can make the difference of an author's work showing in a search engine. 


That's Women and Fiction this week. See you next week! 



Around the Web: Interesting links about Women and Fiction (July 14 2017)

Every week, we post three interesting articles about Women, Fiction, Tools used, or other Women and Fiction related topics on our social media accounts. (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) Here's a more detailed review of our links: 

is the debate over the Oxford Comma resolved?

Do you use an Oxford Comma? It's not something I thought of before becoming an author. My introduction to this controversy came from a British Editor. He was a stickler for all things stickler-ish. We stuck to the Chicago Manual and the Oxford Comma. In this article, the Write Life declares the debate over siting the use of the Oxford Comma cost a dairy $10 million dollars in a lawsuit with its drivers. Is the question of the Oxford Comma resolved for you? (This link was shared in a previous week. We'll include these posts until we're caught up.)


Yoga Nindra
Yoga Nindra:
A lot of authors use it to calm their inner dragon critic and get working on their projects. I have a dear friend who uses it to connect with her company inspiration. This article reviews what Yoga Nindra is, how it works, and ways to use it. Remember, you don't have to take a class. Audio tracks of Yoga Ninda abound on the Internet. Find one you like, settle in, relax, and connect. This should get your brain popping again. 


Top 20 female mystery authors
Mystery Tribune put together their list of the top 20 mysteries written by women (link). 
Oddly, Agatha Christie -- the best selling author of all time -- is not on this list. We can only assume that everyone has read Agatha Christie. Do you have other favorites? If so, leave them in the comments!


Ruby Warrington
Writing fiction is a revolutionary act.
 We are spiritual activists by creating entire worlds which shine a light on various aspects of the world. This article from Numinous founder Ruby Warrington is a positive, thoughtful article for every creator in 2017 -- which ever side of the political, emotional, or social economic spectrum. There is no more important time to create than right now. There's no question that it's harder to write now than it was even a few years ago. The rage brigade is on fire. This only means that your work is more necessary now than ever before.

Let us know what you think. If you have a link you'd like to share, you can submit it in the comments or send us an email at: womenandfiction@gmail.com.