Newbies: Live as a Writer, Learn as a Writer

It’s a series on Advice to Newbie Writers. This will last a while. Enjoy.

Advice to Newbies ~ Live and Learn

Herewith, a continuation of my response to a Newbie Writer’s concerns. (See the 9/1 post to read her second email. Names are changed to protect the innocent.) This series began back in July, and I offered that Newbie Writer 7 mistakes along with ways to avoid them. August followed with 3 Newbie Notta Mistakes, because everyone with a little sense goes into something completely new with background research. Since she popped a much longer email to me for more information about Advice to Newbie Writers, my response to that one became the September posts … and those responses are continuing here in October.
She sent a third email, which I posted on October 1 (Remember, names changed!).

On Oct. 5, I presented the six basic steps that every writer follows: Write / Covers / Edit / Format / Publish / Market.

On the 15th, are the basic ideas about Write the Novel.

This post looks at that first step without going into great detail.

If you want great detail about Writing the Novel, you can look at Discovering Your Novel, a 52-week slow-burn through the entire 6-step process, needing only a few minutes each day for those of us with hectic lives and stressful jobs.

If you want more detail about Plotting or Character Development, here are two great resources.

Discovering Characters

Discovering Your Plot






The focus of this post is Step 2 :: Covers, 3 and 4: / Edit / Format.


Covers are the reader’s first impression.

In 2013 and 2014, when I was first launching into my indie writer journey, the independent marketplace for electronic books offered a wide range. It still does, but the lower end of the spectrum is gradually going away.

Excellent covers. Cheaply made covers (all words and no images). Horrible covers. That’s the spectrum mark-points.

Whenever you consider the six basic steps (listed above, in bold), you have to juggle what you can do with what you shouldn’t do. One of the decision-making processes is WIBBOW: Would I be better off writing? That should drive the first and strongest part of your decision process.

The other considerations are cost and time.

When I launched, I wanted to spend my time on writing, not learning cover design. I still want that focus.

Looking for a cover designer on the internet would surely not be hard, I thought.

Looking wasn’t hard.

Finding cover designers wasn’t hard.

Finding a cover designer that had a portfolio that fit my own vision as well as one who clearly presented the cover design business as a professional endeavor – extra hard.

Three parts to that one. Did you see them?

  • Portfolio means that they were generating work over and over again.
  • My own vision means that we would have few clashes over aesthetic differences.
  • Professional means … Well, there are more and more horror stories about graphic designers and money down the drain and covers yanked back after they were published and stealing cover designs and not properly licensing images used and on and one. Yikes!

Longer story shorter, I thought finding a cover designer would be easy. Nope. Took 18 months of on and off looking, month after month.

While looking, I managed to write the third book … while holding down a horrible creativity-sucking job … and format the other three books to electronic publishing standards … and even tinker with a few as-yet-unwritten ideas … along with pulling from storage another HistRomSusp but in a different time period. 18 months.

In that time, I also set aside a little bit of money every month to pay for the cover designs of four books.

The cover designer that I found is extremely professional. From the beginning, the designer has used a template that covers all sorts of things about the novel, characters and setting, tone and genre, and more. The designer can do ebooks and paperbacks and social media packages. The company can do book bundles and provides all images in an easy manner.

In emails back and forth, the three project managers (all still working for this small business company) have taught me about branding series and branding for authors and much, much more. Things I never would have considered about graphic design.


Branding is something that every writer needs to consider. Branding your book so that it will standout for its genre. Branding for the series of connected books. Branding your writing self.

Everything that I have learned about branding—basically creating your own Marketing Ploys, I put into a book called Discovering Your Author Brand.

I don’t teach about cover design, but I offer several ways to understand how to develop your cover design—as well as considerations when you are branding an entire series.

I don’t teach about creating your marketing image, but I offer several elements that you might not think of.

Finally, I do teach about how to create a video trailer. People are visual, and people like movement. A video trailer will give readers a moving visual (but not a movie) about your book or your series. Finding places to put your video trailer so readers can find your books—that’s the hard part of marketing that I’m still working on.

Best marketing ploy—word of mouth. Increase that, and your books will fly.



Free Verse: New Masters

Hey! Remember this? We’re looking at the various ways that we classify poetry.

First off, all writing is either  Prose or Poetry.  Plays are either one or the other—with Shakespeare, you sometimes get both.

For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare distinguishes between prose and poetry and between Blank Verse and Pure Verse.

  • Prose: any lines that are just plan fun are usually written as prose, such as the servants’ conversation at the very beginning.
  • Poetry: All other lines follow poetry, with a standard meter (Yss, a few lines are exceptions. Cast back to the Symbolic Numbers blog and consider why a line about Death would have 11 syllables?)
  • Blank Verse: Lines that discuss the feud between the families.
  • Pure Verse: any lines that advance the love story are written as poetry.

R&J is about the only Shakespeare play that is so tightly written to follow this rule. The classic procrastinator’s play Hamlet is not one of his better written works, and the structure of the lines is all over the place.

This is all digression, however, to remind you of what we’re doing.

And we’re focusing on the New Masters of Free Verse.

On the 15th, we looked at Old Masters of the three forms of Free Verse.

Today, the 25th, we look at New Masters of those three forms.


The New Master: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Constantly Risking Absurdity”

Ferlinghetti reminds us that poets are performers, risking their public acceptance just as a trapeze artist does. Both work without a safety net.

Ferlinghetti’s structure mimics the acrobatic performance as the words walk back and forth across the taut lines of verse.


The New Master: Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Pool Players”

Brooks plays with unusual rhyming, but the tight control of her lines lands this poem firmly in the free verse world. She adds in alliteration to keep everything tightly controlled.

Classic Form

The New Master: Arcelis Girmay’s “Elegy”

What to do with this knowledge 
that our living is not guaranteed?

Perhaps one day you touch the young branch 

of something beautiful. & it grows & grows 

despite your birthdays & the death certificate, 

& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful 

or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out 

of your house, then, believing in this. 

Nothing else matters.

All above us is the touching 

of strangers & parrots, 

some of them human, 

some of them not human.

Listen to me. I am telling you

a true thing. This is the only kingdom.

The kingdom of touching;

the touches of the disappearing, things.

Notice how Girmay uses the ampersand, that looping connecter, which stresses that this poem is about connections. She plays with the idea of the catalog, but doesn’t carry it through–that would become too jerky and abrupt for her concept of smoothly curving connections.

Aracelis Girmay, “Elegy” from Kingdom Animalia. Copyright © 2011 by Aracelis Girmay. From Poetry Foundation:

Coming UP

November begins with a third look at free verse before launching into Blank Verse.

Join us.

Newbie Writer & Another Email

So, the September Newbie Writer blogs create the start of my response to a Newbie Writer’s concerns.

I offered her email in the 9/1 post. (Names changed, remember?). And everything is continuing from the Newbie Writer Mistakes that she questioned, which became July (7 Newbie Writer Mistakes) and August (3 Newbie Notta Mistakes). Head back to July 1 for the very beginning.

I’ve spent our summer months sharing with you the knowledge that this old pro shared with her (old in living years, not in writing years).

My response to her second email had to be broken into two parts. Before I had the second part written, she popped another email to me.

Here it is.

I cannot thank you enough for your words! You have said more helpful things to me in two (probably 3 once I get to the next) emails than I have read in a million words about writing! I know this is a lot of confirmation bias for me right now, but I don’t care because it makes me want to keep moving forwards instead of giving up!

No one has mentioned to me the idea of sequencing a series of books by a week’s release date before, but I think that is super helpful … It makes me see more clearly just HOW the 200,000 words could now be cut up where before I was really struggling to figure that out.

Also, I feel the same about the inauthentic nature of a lot of the advice and teaching. I actually say that high school English class ruined me (well, middle school started it) for writing. The after-written application of meaning is interesting but not necessarily useful in helping to create something and often just crushes creativity for some of us, right?

Okay, off to read your next email. Thanks again.

Next Up

The start of my next email, where I begin to answer her specific questions, conveyed to you in the 9/1 post.

Newbie Writer: Revision

It’s a series on Advice to Newbie Writers. This will last a while. Enjoy.

Advice to Newbies ~ Revision

Herewith, the continuation of my response to a Newbie Writer’s concerns. (See the 9/1 post to read her email. Names are changed to protect the innocent.) On 9/5 and 9/15 are my FIRST & SECOND and then THIRD responses. I divided my responses because they cover so much information.

My RESPONSE, based on the 1st paragraph, section D


Here I go quoting DWSmith again. (Really, you need to follow this guy. Take his courses on Teachable. )

He writes one clean draft, gets it proofed, then launches the story into the world. What he means by “clean” is that he doesn’t write gobbledygook like “put something romantic here” or “another red herring here”. He works through the problems as they occur. I am not certain if he starts at the beginning and works to the end.

I think his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes in the bits and pieces, more like a puzzler than a plotter or a pantster, then puts the scenes together. BUT I DO NOT KNOW THIS, so please do not quote me.

Anyone who writes with the puzzler method must have an excellent understanding of the story before starting. A puzzler will write all the interesting scenes first then the next most interesting things and then finally the joining scenes, the ones that aren’t so interesting.

I cannot do the puzzler method, not now.

I have described in my previous response (this will be the 7/30 post at this link) how I struggled with a couple of previous manuscripts. They were the puzzler method.

I never understood how I would get bogged down and never pick something up for weeks and months. Looking back now, I think it was because I had the interesting scenes written and needed to write the less interesting ones. I apparently need the “carrot on the stick” of interesting scenes ahead to get the lesser interesting ones out of the way.

I say all of this for a reason. In my earlier manuscripts, I wrote a little then headed off to a different story and wrote a while and never finished or never finished with a well-written manuscript.

I tried a lot of different methods.

NOW I follow DWSmith—I write one clean draft. I may have to go back and fix things or add scenes as I continue through the story, but I don’t have major revision at the end.

For my first novels, I did have major revisions. The story would change on me.

Revisions now are no longer so drastic. I have my story elements (tagline, character development, and basic story arc [of where I want to take the characters and how I want them to end up]) planned, but I am not chained to the plan. I am much happier now.

In looking at your question #2 (see the 9/1 post … it’s her original email), when you mention that you have 200,000 words—you may have one novel or two novels or three or even four or five. This is a good thing. And it is a decision that you will need to make. Few books in romantic suspense and romantic mysteries run at 200,000 words.

** The beauty of having 200,000 words that you will break into smaller increments is that you have a single character that you are plunging into a series.

** The ugly is that you may have more writing to do.

Having three or more books to launch, one week after the other, is an excellent marketing plan. This means you can have cliff-hangers, and the readers will not become angry at having to wait for the next book.

The more writing that may be necessary will be creating plot threads for each individual book. The series can have an overall story arc—the arc that you have already created. The individual books will need to have their own conflict and culminating climax while also leading to the next book. The finishing climax should be the climax that you have already written.

This may be the reason that your 200,000 words don’t fit other story structures. You may have multiple structures in the one manuscript. Those structures may be lacking their climax and resolution before launching into the next conflict difficulties.

So, look at your 200,000 words.

  • Look at the one giant whole then look at breaking it into three (or four or five).
  • If you break into three, you are breaking at about 60,000 words.
  • You may need to write 10,000 words to create the missing sub-plot structures.
  • Then I would see if the three sections “work” with the coherent individual plot, each with its own climax, and the third with the climax that you have written.

WOW. This is a lot to take in. I’m going to stop here and send this email so I can handle a few things. I will get back to your email, I promise, but these four points will definitely give you a starting point.

PROMO {BTW, I didn’t promo her. Just you all. 😉 }

Discovering Your Plot for plotting

And Think/Pro for the writing stages.

Next Up

We hit October and move past the first paragraph of her email. Whoopie!



Rock Allegory: Lady Fortuna & “Hotel California”

Rock Allegory :: Lady Fortuna & “Hotel California”

For poetry lovers, we have a series of blogs, Poetry Lessons, guest-hosted by emmiD of Writers Ink Books. Visit our page on the 5ths (5th, 15th, and 25th) to see which poem has inspired a lesson in thinking and writing.
Our first allegory was Carole King’s “Tapestry”, way back in April.  Allegories tell a surface story while a stronger meaning lurks beneath the obvious.

“O Fortuna” by Carl Orff seems a strange beginning to a post about the classic “Hotel California” by the Eagles.

Stranger things have happened.

Just as strange things happen in the Eagles’ classic rock song, which you can listen to at this link, which is of a live performance in 1977. Don’t blow off the guitar solo and duet at the end; that’s part of the charm.

The persona in “Hotel California” seems to relate a surreal visit to a roadside hotel that turns ugly before it imprisons him. However, through allegory, the song relates a pursuit for fame and fortune. These cost more than the persona anticipated and never wished to pay.

“O, Fortuna”

The lady who draws in the persona to the Hotel California is Lady Fortuna, a goddess who rules over fame and fortune, luck and fate.

Carl Orff (a rather uneasy German composer, seeking Fortuna with her sacrificial demands) does not consider this goddess benevolent.

Lady Fortuna’s world is lit by the moon, changeable in its monthly course: “statu variabilis / semper crescis / aut decresciss” (Orff). In our pursuit of her, we must enter her realm. She will first oppress us long before she soothes us. She takes her whip of servitude to our naked backs and punishes us before she rewards us: (“mihi quoque niteris; / nunc per ludum / dorsum nudum / fero tui sceleris”).

When Fortuna grants what we have sought, we discover the additional monstrous price we must pay. And we also discover that fame and fortune are empty achievements, material but not wonderful, a “monkey’s paw” of evil wrapped around good. As Orff writes, life becomes “immanis / et inanis”.

Here is the conductor Andre Rieu’s presentation of “O Fortuna”:

Lyrics with translation are found here.

The lyrics for “Hotel California” are here. You might want to print both of these song lyrics out so you can see how closely they compare.

Let’s play 20 Questions / Answers will Follow

1st Stanza & Chorus introduces the pursuit of fame.

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night.

People in pursuit of their dreams believe that their lives are deserts that they must drive through before they find where they want to be.

  1. Pick three words in the first stanza that represent the persona’s blindness about where he is heading in his pursuit of fame.
  2. What does the “shimmering light” represent?

There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself
‘This could be heaven or this could be Hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say

  1. “She” is Lady Fortuna. Why is she so attractive to people pursuing their dreams?
  2. The “mission bell” tolls a warning. In which line does the persona admit to hearing the warning?
  3. How is the line for #4 a paradox?

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place / Such a lovely face.
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year / you can find it here

  1. How does the famous Californian city that lures people seeking fame and fortune always have “plenty of room”?

Stanza 2 with Chorus

  • Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
  • She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends.
  • How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat
  • Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
  1. What does Tiffany refer to?
  2. Mercedes-Benz is the best engineered, mass-produced vehicle on the roads. What is the point of the pun “Mercedes bends”?
  3. From these two brand references, we know the persona is achieving success, enough that he can waste money. Why are material possessions a waste?
  4. What does the line “Some dance to remember, some dance to forget” mean? (Assuming that ‘dance’ is related to performing the job that is winning fame and fortune)
  • So I called up the captain, “please bring me my wine”
  • He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.”
  • And still those voices are calling from far away
  • Wake you up in the middle of the night
  • Just to hear them say . . .
  1. The wine represents the sweetness of the dream still before the persona. Why has that “sweetness” left him?

To understand the reason that the sweetness is implied to have left music and culture in 1969, you need to know about Woodstock, the Summer of Love, and the change in the music industry:  basically, the music corporations required musicians to “sell out” their purpose in order to make $$ while making music. Musicians who didn’t buy into the industry’s model of success were shut out. The persona feels that he had to abandon his simple dreams for something much more complicated and which twisted his original purpose.

  1. “The voices [that] are calling from far away” have to do with the persona’s original dream. Which line relates that he is stressed about the loss of that dream?

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place / Such a lovely face.
They livin’ it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise / Bring your alibis

  1. Notice the two changes in the Chorus. How is “living it up” a “nice surprise”?
  2. Why does he warn people to “bring your alibis”?

3rd Stanza

  • Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice
  • And she said, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”
  • And in the master’s chambers
  • They gathered for the feast
  • They stab it with their steely knives,
  • But they just can’t kill the beast.
  1. Lady Fortuna tells them they are “prisoners . . . of [their] own device”, or as Orff says, “Sors salutis” and “semper in angaria” :: “Fate is against me” and I am “always enslaved” to her. How is this devastating?
  2. “The beast” is the juggernaut of the now-rolling success. The master is what controls the success: the audience. How does an audience start controlling successful people?
  3. Who has the “steely knives” to kill the “beast”?

4th Stanza

  • Last thing I remember, I was / Running for the door
  • I had to find the passage back / to the place I was before
  • “Relax,” said the night man, / “We are programmed to receive.
  • You can check out any time you like,
  • But you can never leave.”
  1. Why is the persona “running for the door” to find the “place [he] was before”?
  2. The night man says that “we are programmed to receive . . . you can never leave”?
  3. What does this line means: “You can check-out any time you like”?


  1. Dark, colitis, dim (sight), distance, night
  2. The lights from an arcade promoting a performance. The shimmering would be the action of the neon in the lights.
  3. Lady Fortuna is attractive because people believe that once they are rich / famous, they will have no worries.
  4. “This could be heaven or this could be hell”
  5. #4 contains a paradox because life can be both a heaven and a hell at the same time.
  6. People keep coming, expecting to succeed, only to fail and return, making room for more seekers.
  7. Tiffany is an extremely famous NYC jewelry store. Highly successful, highly branded, over-priced: you pay for the name. Should we want to buy brands? No. We should go for quality that meets the $$ we pay. However, materialism “twists” us to prefer the brand.
  8. The “bends” could refer to driving on a crooked road. The persona does start out on a “dark desert highway”. And the pursuit of fame and fortune requires some bend-y actions that we might abhor in honorable daylight. Or it could be the “bends”, decompression sickness when deep divers come too quickly to the surface. Rising fame could be making the persona sick as he considers everything he’s giving up and everything he’s hurting. Nyah, I’ll sticking with the highway.
  9. Material possessions only temporarily feed our greed and gluttony. They do not help the persona or others. Without giving to others, the persona will never fill satisfied and will always seek more and more to fill his emptiness. This is classic Platonism: attempting to balance the mind, the body, and the soul through equally fulfilling events.
  10. This is the treadmill that the persona is on: the beauty of the work he loves keeps him still performing but the grind of the work wears him down.
  11. The joy of his work has left.
  12. “Wake you up in the middle of the night”
  13. The persona has paid so much sweat and pain that he is surprised when he finally has the opportunity to enjoy the benefits that fame and fortune have finally brought to him.
  14. Alibis are only necessary when criminal activity has occurred and penalties will be adjudicated. Has Fortuna led the persona into evil misbehavior? Obviously.
  15. The evil and the pain are what the persona has brought upon himself in his selfish pursuit of the lady of fortune. He is appalled at his choices, but he still cannot give up fame and fortune.
  16. For musicians, they are controlled because they must keep producing the same things that brought the original success. For painters and writers and performers, they are also trapped, their creativity cast aside so that their work can continue to keep the audience happy. If they do not produce what the audience wants—with just a tiny bit of change to seem “new”, the fickle audience will abandon them.
  17. It’s not the audience. It is the trapped performers, who have come to hate the juggernaut wheel grinding them down and down.
  18. He can no longer accept everything he has sacrificed, all the pain and evil he has endured; he wants to return to the time before fame and fortune.
  19. Success can never be abandoned. Lady Fortuna’s hotel accepts people in, a small funnel that can endure the pain, laps up the evil in a blind acquiescence to the dream, and willingly abandons everything good about the dream in order to achieve wealth and fame.
  20. The only way to “check out” of Lady Fortuna’s hotel is death.

Summing Up & Coming Up

I enjoy the guitar solo and then the guitar duet at the end of “Hotel California”.

a screenshot of the 1977 performance, linked above.

Most people with their “imp of the perverse” (as EAPoe calls it) get focused on the colitas and the lady and the wine and the beast and go no farther.

Understanding the darker elements of HCa doesn’t destroy my enjoyment of the song; I just have to turn off the intellect and dance around to the guitars. Hotel California is not a happy place to visit.

And you don’t get to leave.

In my own blindness on dark desert highways, I have often wanted fame and fortune for myself.

Next up, a lighter work, thank goodness, than “Hotel California”. I promise.

Well, it might be a little dark and a little snide. 😉 grn

Join us on the 15th.