The Nose Knows: Infusing Scents and Smells Into Your Writing

Happy Halloween! It's an incredibly busy day today, but here's something I was thinking about yesterday, which ties in to a classic post you might have missed. Have a great day!

It's been said that the sense of smell is most closely tied with our emotions. That for a dying patient, hearing and smell are the last to go. But which sense is most commonly left out of writing? The sense of smell.

It made me wonder: why is this sense so vital to our memories and experiences?  I did a little poking around and found several people who know so much more than I do. Check it out.

If you're wondering how a smell triggers memories in a reader's brain, check out Beth Groundwater's post, Smells for Thought. The mystery writer explains how smells can trigger emotions and memories, plus affect behavior. 

Chip Scanlan's article, Writing With Your Nose, contains details explaining the sense of smell as a place, character trait, mood, and culture. He adds a four-point exercise for writers documenting smells.

And Jessica Lawson at Falling Leaflets put up a fascinating post called Smells Like a Novel, where she talks particularly about using smells to enhance the description of food.

If you want a blow-by-blow list of how to describe smells, there's a detailed one at WikiHow. And if you need to jog your memory of certain aromas, there's no better place to land than The Bookshelf Muse's Setting Thesaurus. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have compiled a fantastic list. Need a reminder of how a bonfire smell tickles your nose? How about the scent of a barn, a casino, or a daycare? The Weather Thesaurus will remind you of the scent of rain, or the damp smell of fog. They've posted a ton of entries, and more are added all the time.

After all, it's likely that each of our readers comes with a working nose. Why not capitalize on the sense of smell? Think about it. What smells could affect your main character?

Join now! Operation Agent Ink

Fantastic things are going on over at Ink in the Book, and it's not too late for you to join in. It's called Operation Agent Ink, and it's a great way to work on your WIP and possibly nab an agent, too!

The event runs from November 1st through February 8th, with breaks for the holidays. It's a workshop-style event, and culminates in February with a pitch session with some amazing agents. Best of all, you'll know what the agents are looking for.

Check out all the details of what Operation Agent Ink will do for you so you can decide if it's a good fit for your needs. It doesn't matter if you're starting a new novel, in the editing stage, or all finished.

The workshops running through the event include:
Novel Writing From the Beginning
Novel Writing: Wading Through the Middle
Creative Inspiration
Revisions and Edits
The Submission Process
Agent Interviews and Thoughts

Check out the links to workshop downloads and a list of literary agencies already committed to participate.  And here is the first wish list from some of the participating agents.

If you're interested, you can sign up now, until November 7th. Only those who sign up will be able to pitch to the agents in February. This is a great opportunity that goes hand-in-hand with NaNoWriMo, for those participating. Since it's spread over several months, it won't eat all your time.

Are you up for Operation Agent Ink?

Calling all nosy writers!

 I'm a nosy writer. Are you? I love to hear more about what other people are writing, how they got their ideas, and what inspires them. I don't generally do memes, but I haven't really written much about my own WIP, so I figure it's time to share (Plus, it's a snowy day here in the mountains!). And I hope some of you share back with the link at the bottom.

I was tagged by Australian Trisha, and Canadian S.M. Carriere. Check out their contemporary and fantasy books. It's so interesting (and encouraging) to see the vast differences in the time frame different writers take in their creative process. 

 1. What is the name of your book?

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?
Believe it or not, from a contest prompt (more details in question 9). But I love the idea of imagining "the rest of the story". In this Sleeping Beauty retelling, the princess is not so nice. Think about it. Growing up with a curse on your head isn't ideal, but it hasn’t done much for the princess' personality. Just ask her long-suffering chambermaid.

3. In what genre would you classify your book?
SpindleWish is young adult historical fantasy. It's set in medieval Croatia. If you're curious as to how this came about (and you want to see some amazing pictures), I wrote about my journey to this setting, and how it did wonders for my plot.

4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?
My characters are drawn from people I've met, or photos I find online. For this book, one of my daughters (see photo) and my sister's daughter play two of the main roles. Another character, a fascinating peddler, was put together through internet research. I shared some great links to where I found him in this post about describing characters.

5. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.
Waking after a century, Sleeping Beauty’s chambermaid vows to find the powerful blood-tipped spindle before it can be used to destroy the remaining faeries. 

6. Is your book already published? Self-published or traditional?
Nope. I'm finishing the last of it, then I'll work on querying agents. I'm not ruling out self-publishing, but I really believe the querying process can help motivate me to make my writing stronger. 

7. How long did it take you to write your book?
I began in late 2009, but I've taken some long breaks! Probably a year, total.
8. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?
I love the stories of Shannon Hale, Donna Jo Napoli, Juliet Marillier and Robin McKinley.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The Enchanted Conversation was holding a submission contest. The topic was Sleeping Beauty, but writers had to imagine what life would be like once the palace woke up from 100 years of sleep. Once I came up with the idea that the blood on the spindle was the critical issue, plot ideas started popping up and away I went. I never did submit to that contest.

10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book.        
 I loved exploring the theme of discovering inner strength through this book.

Now it's your turn to inspire the rest of us. Write a post with answers to the same (or similar) questions. Then come back here and share the link. I'll leave the link open for a week (till midnight on Nov. 2nd). I'm looking forward to finding out more about your stories.

What authors need to know about libraries

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 Whether you're aiming for traditional or self-publishing, libraries are one of your best friends. Where else will you get the kind of treatment you wish you got at the big bookstores? Open arms for a book reading? Or folks willing to not only read, but recommend your book?

It pays to develop a relationship with your local library. But it's also beneficial to understand how libraries work, so you don't accidentally step on toes. I've browsed and collected several articles that should help you navigate the world of the library.

The absolute best article I found was on Seekerville (an excellent group blog). You may not have pondered the advantages of having your book in the library. In fact, you might question if it's necessary. Read through the do's and don'ts of the library world for some eye-opening ideas. 

Fern Reiss goes into detail on five ways to sell more books at libraries. Her advice is not difficult, but I doubt I'd have come up with all of these on my own. Especially her tips on library-friendly website design.

Patricia Fry with Small Publishers, Artists, and Writer's Network (SPAWN) shares more insider pointers on selling to libraries, and includes multiple links to help you get started.

How to sell your book to libraries gives practical directions for authors to describe their book in a way that librarians will understand the benefits to their constituents.

And finally, here's a post from a librarian, explaining why they love your books: Hey Authors, Wanna Hear a Secret?
If you've sold books to libraries, leave a note in the comments sharing your experience. Have you tried doing a workshop or a reading?

Get Productive for #NaNoWriMo

With NaNoWriMo bearing down on us, I've got time-management on the brain. I thought about it more when I read literary agent Rachelle Gardner's post titled, How productive are you? Gardner mentioned a product called Rescue Time that can help users figure out where their time is spent while on the computer.

It sounded interesting. Rescue Time has a free version and a paid ($6 per month) version. The paid version is capable of blocking distracting websites, and can even give you an alert if you've spent too much time on --ahem, Facebook or Twitter. There's even a way to track offline time, like meetings and phone calls. Compare the services between the two versions.

And now, Rachelle Gardner has posted that Rescue Time is offering its pro version free to writers during NaNoWriMo. Check out her post for the link to sign up. You probably want to add her blog to your reader, if you don't read it already.

Would a service like this be likely to change your writing/working habits? Is it only for writers with a certain personality, or could it be helpful even for free spirits?

When you hate your novel...

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When you've discovered a brand-new, shiny idea for a novel, you never think it will come to this: the point where you're ready to pitch the thing out the window. Or press the delete button.

New love is a powerful thing. We fall in love with our characters, our story world, our plot. Life is full of rainbows and fairy dust. But a few months (or years) later, we become convinced it's stale, trite, overdone. 

The best medicine for this kind of despondency is to realize it will probably happen to you. Expect it. Prepare for it. And get past it. By making yourself keep writing, no matter how bad it sounds even as you type.

The other cure is to realize it happens to others. Not just other writers, but other published writers. Bestselling writers. If they go through it, then it must be part of the journey, right? And multi-published author and former agent, Nathan Bransford says that means you're almost done. His brief post on revision fatigue could be the shot in the arm you need to keep going.

I remember feeling this way multiple times, but the most recent was after the summer, and I hadn't been writing very much. Without my head in the story, it was easy to listen to the negative comments in my head, and consider just starting on something new.

But I did two things. I started mapping out the plot, to see where I might be missing things, and I began reading a few scenes. It's not perfect, by any stretch, but I began to remember what it was I loved about this story. And it made me want to fight to finish it.

When did you hate your novel? Or question your ability as a writer? And what pulled you out of the muck?

Guest Post: Journaling Your Business, by Randy Ingermanson

 Gearing up for NaNoWriMo, this article seemed perfect for helping me get more serious. If you're not signed up for Randy's newsletter, it's free, and it's fantastic. The link is at the bottom.

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Journaling Your Business, by Randy Ingermanson

If you're writing fiction and you intend to ever make money at it, then you're in the writing business. It makes sense to behave like you mean business from the get-go. Part of being in business is to set goals and then achieve them. In my experience, one of the best ways to do that is to keep a business journal.

This doesn't have to be complicated. Here's what I do, and it's been working well for me: At the beginning of this year, I created a document in my word processor called "Business Journal 2012."

Every day that I'm working, the first thing I do is to open the document and scroll down to the end. I type in the date and the day of the week in bold print. Then I spend a couple of minutes freewriting about the things cluttering my brain that I want to get down on paper somewhere. Often these are things I'm worried about or dreams I have for the future. Once they're on paper, my brain can let go of them and focus on the task at hand. I normally freewrite for one or two paragraphs.

If it's the first day of the week, I then make a list of bullet points for each major task I want to get done during the week.

Every day of the week I make a list of bullet points for the tasks I want to get done that day. These are
usually baby steps along the way to getting the major tasks for the week done.

I define what success is for the day by adding a note at the bottom that says something like this: "If I get at least five of these done today, then it's a good day."

Then I just start working. When I finish a task, I append the word "Done" after the bullet point for that task and I highlight it in red. The growing set of red "Dones" gives me a psychological boost as I work. The tasks that aren't done at the end of the day will be easy to copy and paste into tomorrow's list.

At the end of the working day, I type in a few notes about what went well and what went wrong. I might also do another minute or so of freewriting on anything that's cluttered my brain while working.

The entire process normally takes about five minutes, and it keeps my day ordered.

It also gives me a very complete record of what I've been working on all year. If I need to know what I was doing in March, it's easy to scroll to March and read a daily account.

Being productive is partly a matter of keeping focused. And you can't focus if your mind is churning with worries, hopes, fears, dreams. Get those on paper and off your mind. Then focus on the task at hand.

If you're going to keep a daily journal, you need to learn how to specify achievable tasks. An achievable task is one you can plausibly get done in the time you have available today.

"Work on my novel" is pretty vague, so it's hard to know at the end of the day whether you deserve to write "Done" after it.

"Spend 3 hours working on my novel" is a lot clearer. Either you worked on the novel for 3 hours or you didn't. If you didn't, you can't write "Done" in red, but you can make a notation that you worked for 2.5 hours and got interrupted by a phone call from Aunt Sally who's hitchhicking across Siberia and needs money. Again. It's not as good as a "Done" but it's partial credit.

"Maintain industry relationships" is a completely useless task for your list because you'll never know
when you're done. "Call my agent and discuss my questions on the Random House contract" has a clear endpoint. At the end of the day, you either did it or you didn't. When you're in the business of writing, you need to constantly be settting goals and achieving them.

If keeping a business journal sounds like something that will help you do that, then give it a try.

If it doesn't, then don't.

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Do you keep track of your writing activities? If so, I'd love to know what works for you.

Tips for Setting in Your Novel

When you're writing a novel, sometimes the plot calls for quite a few scenes in the same location. Say, you're writing a sci-fi novel, and most scenes are set on a starship. Or, your main character is imprisoned in a tower for months. Or, has a dead-end job in a factory. I'm sure you can think of books where one setting recurs often.

How does a writer differentiate the scenes, so it doesn't feel like a continuation of the same thing? Of course, the plot will move things along, and hopefully your character is changing little by little. But here are some other possibilities to add variety:

Change the location. Kind of a no-brainer, but it takes creativity to pull off. You can switch to another character's point of view, and tell what's happening to the main character from a different perspective. This secondary character doesn't even have to be in the "main" location, but can be elsewhere in your world, maybe discussing the MC with another secondary character. Or, you can take your main character out of the  'usual' location for some reason. The hero on the starship can stop to explore a new world, or have to visit a neighboring ship for some reason. The character in the tower can try an unsuccessful escape attempt, or could be brought in for further questioning. The factory worker might need to train in another area, or might be part of a company picnic.

Change the weather. Throw in a storm, an asteroid field, a drought, an eclipse, a swarm of locusts. It will force your characters to react to the situation in new ways, and might inspire some plot twists.

Change the atmosphere. The mood and tension in your story should never stay the same, even if the setting does. An impending event, a deadline, a major injury, a rejection, a big evaluation, a potential war, a holiday: all these things will change the feel of the story.

Change the participants. Adding a character, or on the other hand, removing a character your MC has come to depend on changes the dynamics in a huge way.  Choose characters that will add either positive or negative tension. Maybe a grasping, conniving coworker for the starship recruit, an abused and rescued dog for the prisoner, and a suspiciously flirtatious new supervisor for the factory worker.

One book that does a great job with this challenge is Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale.

What else would you change in a story with a repeated setting? Do you know of other books where the author has handled it well?

Book Review: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Screenwriters

 I haven't done a book review for awhile, but this one's a fantastic one. And it's free today and tomorrow! Even if you don't catch it when it's free, the $2.99 pricetag is well worthwhile. Here's why.

I wandered over to Alexandra Sokoloff's blog after seeing the title of her latest post in the sidebar of another blog. The title was Nanowrimo Prep: The three-act, eight-sequence structure.

I'm all about getting as prepared as I can for Nanowrimo, so I was happy to read about some practical exercises I can do to get my story idea in the best shape possible to make the writing go faster.

Sokoloff is a multi-published novelist and successful screenwriter. She wrote a book called Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (and Screenwriters). She has a way of explaining concepts that is very easy to grasp, and she follows each one with an exercise or two that cements the new knowledge.

The Amazon page has a copy of the extensive Table of Contents, if you'd like to take a look (it's too long for me to post here). There are thirty-three information-filled chapters. And at the end of the book, she shares complete story breakdowns for four different movies to help readers get a feel for story structure.

This book will help writers understand story structure (by watching movies--how fun is that?) and applying the knowledge to a manuscript. Whether you're starting a new novel, in the middle of one, or tackling revisions, Sokoloff's expertise will help you find holes, discover unnecessary scenes, and place key scenes in the spots they'll do the most good. You'll find out why blockbuster movies get that way, and how to take those secrets and incorporate them in your work in progress.

I spent some time yesterday watching a favorite movie in my novel's genre, and writing down the scenes, while timing when they occurred in the film. Now I've used Sokoloff's index card system to tack them up according to the eight sequences they fall into. (Why eight sequences, you ask? Sokoloff explains the fascinating reason why in the first chapter.) 

My mind is already analyzing what I've written in my almost-complete novel. I know what I've learned in only the first five chapters will help me make some important decisions about what stays and goes. I'm using the book as a course to focus my mind on my Nanowrimo project. And I've also purchased Sokoloff's second writer's book ($2.99), titled Writing Love, which is her techniques geared for romance writers.

Here are the links to the international Amazon sites where you can get a copy:

Have screenwriting techniques helped you as a novelist? 

At home with famous writers

My post is late today, because I've been wrestling with a case of tomatoes.

They started out like this.

Then I had to skin them (requiring both a boiling water bath, followed by an ice water bath), squeeze the juice from them, slice and cook them. Then they looked like this (though my pot was huge!)

Then it was time to puree the sauce to separate out any extra seeds or skin. Leaving a huge pot of this.

So, what do you think we're having for dinner tonight?

(all photos courtesy of Stock.xchng, because I was too messy to touch my camera!)

So there's a day at home with me. And my tomatoes. Which I did not grow. But I don't want to leave you without something inspirational. Here's a link to photos of the homes of five famous writers. Authors like Stephen King, Anne Rice, and several others with amazing homes. I'd show you mine, but there are tomato sauce splatters everywhere. 

Even on the dog.

Would you like your home to appear on a site like this someday?

Free Resources to Help Encourage Writing Every Day

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 This week I've been focused on writing every day. I highlighted two free resources to help: 750Words and Ommwriter. And I really have written every day--an average of 1200 each day. Hopefully, I can keep it up on the weekend!

To close out the week, I thought I'd share what other writers say about writing every day--even one who says it's not needed. Here goes:

Linda R. Young at W.I.P. it shares six benefits of writing every day. I think number three is especially valid.

Joel Falconer at LifeHack has ten more reasons to write every day. I'm partial to number 10.

Daily Writing Tips posts how to write every day and why you should. I like her tip on ending in the middle of a scene. I did that last night, and it did two things. Kept me thinking about my characters in a perilous situation, and made it easier to pick up the scene today.

 Jeff Goins in why you need to write every day, explains what makes a real habit, and how to learn to fail. Both great lessons.

Jessica Strawser at Writer's Digest asks the question: Do you really need to write every day? Maybe you'll find a system that works better for you.

You might have the thought like Ali Luke at Write to Done: How much should you write every day? I like her no-guilt approach to determining the best goals.

And if you need an angle from the opposing point of view, check out Nathan Bransford's opinion in It's not necessary to write every day. He writes on the weekends only. Find out how that's working for him.

How about you? Are you (or do you long to be) an 'every day' writer? Or do you have a system that fits your schedule?

Write every day with Ommwriter

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The other day I featured a free site called 750 Words, where writers can find the motivation to get in the habit of writing every day. But sometimes, I don't want to be connected to the internet to write. It's far too easy to click over to Facebook or Twitter or a friend's blog.

So here's another option, for those who want to write unplugged. It's also free, but you download it to your computer for use any time. It's called Ommwriter Dana. Like the name implies, Ommwriter is a product designed to foster peaceful writing without distraction.

The program can be used with a Mac, PC, or iPad, and uses a full-screen mode that keeps writers from being distracted by the buttons at the top of the screen. A peaceful picture and soothing music (enhanced when used with headphones) keeps the focus on writing, not singing along.

Writers can choose from several fonts and sizes, and can fade the photo to a blank screen if they find it easier to write with no visual stimuli. Once writing is done for the day, the text can be exported as a .pdf or .txt file to your hard drive.

As with many free programs, Ommwriter offers a paid version, as well. Version I, which is free, comes with three audio and three visual 'experiences', while the paid version (suggested price $4.11) offers seven audio and eight visual experiences. Each audio and visual effect is selected for color and sound to "promote tranquility and stimulate creativity".

I've used both Ommwriter and 750Words for several days now, and I like them both. I appreciate the 750Words email I get each morning, reminding me to get busy, and the way my points add up when I am consistent. Ommwriter, on the other hand is nice to use when I'm trying to focus in a busy environment. What I've done is use 750Words to empty my brain in the morning of extraneous ideas and thoughts, and then switch to Ommwriter for working on my manuscript. 

Two other posts with links: combat distractability in writing and more distraction-free writing resources.

Which program do you think would help you more?

Write every day with

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Gearing up for NaNoWriMo, I'm working on getting back into the habit of writing every day. After a busy summer, and a crazy fall so far, my writing has gotten more or less sporadic. Sometimes I wish there was someone to give me a push.

Well, I've found one.

The brainchild of Buster Benson, a Seattle-based writer, is a site to get your creative juices running freely.

Unlike a blog, what you write is completely private. Unlike writing on your computer, you have some accountability.

Here's how it works. Users set up an account, and a blank screen pops up where you can write your 750 (or more) words. Your writing gets auto-saved every minute or so. When you reach 750 (about 3 pages), a pop-up box will let you know you've hit your goal.

Benson was inspired by the advice in The Artist's Way to write "morning pages".  These pages (either longhand or on the computer) can be about anything that enters the writer's mind. There's no pressure to be creative, just to empty out concerns, ideas, and extraneous thoughts. The process can free writers to tap into their creativity by emptying out the static. Benson calls it his daily brain dump. He explains more of the reasons for trying it on his blog.

Benson's site gives you the reminders and the motivation to actually write morning pages. You can choose to get an email (at the time of your choice) with a gentle reminder to get it done. Writers who use the site get points for 1)writing anything, 2)completing 750 words, and 3)consecutive days of writing. Users receive animal badges for achievements like writing quickly, or without distraction, or for multiple days of success.

If that's not enough, writers can sign up for a monthly challenge. Completing 750 words every day for a month gets your user name on the "Wall of Awesomeness", while slacking off tags you on the "Wall of Shame".

For the more nerdy writers, you'll find stats on how fast you wrote, a computer-generated rating of the mood you may have been in while writing, and all kinds of other information. However, what you wrote is still completely private.

I've tried the site for the last couple of days, and it's been very motivating to me. On Wednesday, I'll highlight a similar site to this one and let you know how it compares.

Would something like this make you more likely to write every day?


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