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Have you ever had a great line that you had to pull from a piece because it just didn’t work? Did you save it? I usually do. I have a pile of great lines and paragraphs left over just waiting to be used. Try pulling those out and re-inventing them into something new.

English muffin

Just yesterday I had some a little bit of chili, a lone English muffin and a hand full of shredded mozzarella. These leftover scraps came together to make a tasty lunch. In the same way, your cast off lines or dialogue snippets can come together to start a great new work. Give it a shot this week and see what you come up with.

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21 Moments Writing Challenge with Christina Katz


As writers, we can never get too much encouragement and inspiration. Even the most seasoned writers still have a brain and imagination that need to be continually stimulated in order to produce good work. Such assistance need not take much time or money, however. That’s what I love about the 21 Moments Writing Challenge with Christina Katz. I recently signed up to participate, and am thoroughly enjoying the process so far.

Here what it involves, in a nutshell:

Over the course of one month, participants write 21 “moments,” which are brief but well-written scenes, vignettes, or whatever else they choose to write. Each day for three weeks, starting on the first of the month, Christina–an author and writing instructor–sends an e-mail with a sample text, and then the writer gets to work. The writer works on his or her own schedule, since there’s an entire month to complete the 21 moments. At the end, the writer will polish one of the moments and send it to Christina to review.

What’s so wonderful about this process is that the goal is to write for oneself, not for publication. Christina encourages writers to enjoy what they do and to just focus on writing the best they can. I’m using this challenge as a way to build up some content for my book, and I can already imagine taking part in the challenge again and again. It’s a little like NaNoWriMo, in that there’s a time-based challenge to it, but for this rather than NaNoWriMo, the focus is on quality over quantity.

If you’re interested in learning more or signing up for the “class,” head over to Christina Katz’s website.

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Capturing Holiday Moments

Ethan's ornament
Ethan’s ornament

The holidays are full of friends, family and precious moments that you’ll want to remember.  Having a camera at hand is the perfect way to record those times. But what if there’s a moment that the camera missed? Painting word pictures to capture what the camera couldn’t is a priceless post-holiday gift.

Writing a descriptive account of a holiday moment not only helps to beef up your albums, it can also make for a very special thank you note or end of year letter. Look at the photos you’ve taken so far, write the moments in between and enjoy reliving your holiday memories!


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Thanksgiving writing

Thank you!

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks and what better way to do that as a writer than in a well composed thank you note?

We thought it would be nice, on this day of all days, to revisit the age old tradition of writing a personal thank you note. There are many occasions that call for a note of gratitude, such as, when you receive a gift or are treated to some kind of hospitality or kindness.  In every case, the following are some basic elements to include for a well rounded, thoughtful thank you note.

1. Depending on how close you are to the recipient, open with “Dear [name]”, then continue the letter by thanking them for the gift, hospitality or kindness offered.

2. The second sentence or part of the letter should give some elaboration of your enjoyment or use of the gift.

3. If you’ve been out of touch for a while, it could be nice at this point in the letter to share a little news. This is not a necessary part of the basic thank you note, but close family or friends who live far away and don’t hear from you all the time might appreciate a short update.

4. A strong closing sentence or paragraph should include a sentiment of looking forward to seeing or speaking to the recipient, especially if a reunion or holiday is approaching. Mentioning “thank you” again is also nice to emphasis the point of the letter and bring it full circle.

5. End with a personal phrase like “love”, “best wishes” or even “thanks again”. Try to avoid closing with “sincerely yours” as it sometimes comes across as too formal.

With that, here is our thank you note to you. We really wouldn’t be where we are today without you. So thanks again and have a Happy Thanksgiving!


Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for stopping by and reading our blog. Your comments and feedback are so encouraging and much appreciated! We are very touched that we can share our passion for writing with you and that we can grow together in our craft. We look forward to sharing more with you as we continue to learn and explore the writing life!

Thanks again and we’ll talk to you soon!

Sarah & Daytona


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Have you ever had so many things to do that you didn’t know where to start? Lately that’s been happening to me in terms of writing. I’ve had so many ideas swirling in my head that I just didn’t know what to write down first! I felt literally paralyzed.

Earlier this week I decided to grab my notebook and pour my brain out onto the page. It was hard. I stuttered. I strained. Finally, I had a list started. Why was that so difficult?

It is like a new breed of writer’s block. For me, in this case, it was matter of organization and worrying about capturing every little thought before it got pushed out by another. I was so afraid I’d forget something that my brain was blocked up with everything trying to get out the door at once.

Shower crayons can be a writer’s best friend.

After I took a breath and looked at my list, I started thinking of ways that might make the ‘un-blocking’ process easier.

1. Talk to a friend. If you are unsure where to start, see what idea seems to be swimming at the surface. What topic do you find yourself talking about the most?

2. Read. Read. Read. Your subconscious has a way of letting you know what is most important. Start reading and as you find your mind wandering, jot down a key word or phrase to capture that thought and get back to reading. Do this every time your mind strays from the text. After you’ve finished a couple chapters, look at your list and see what themes emerge. Pick the primary theme as your starting place.

3. Purchase shower crayons. I love these! You can often find them in the toy or stationary aisle of your local store (or on Amazon of course). The shower is often my think tank and it really helps to be able to write down ideas they second they pop into my head.

4. Go for a walk. Fresh air and blood circulation really help untangle all the ideas bumping around the brain. Bring a notebook of course and before you know it you may be perched on  the curb, jotting everything down.

5. Go somewhere. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting out. At N&C we are huge advocates of finding inspiration in all kinds of places. Check out some of our Destination Inspiration locations for ideas of where to go to unclog your brain.

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Back to basics with Children’s books

I love stories. As a new mom and a writer, I couldn’t wait to introduce my little boy to books. Now my heart swells with joy as I see how he has graduated from chewing on the covers to giggling as he turns the pages and points to the pictures. As I read to him I’m taken back to my childhood with the sweetness of some favorite stories. A mouse hiding a strawberry, a little bear waiting for a goodnight kiss, a curious monkey, a little bunny saying goodnight to the moon, or a boy who becomes king of the wild things.

These stories are simple, sweet and have more in common than just pulling our nostalgic heart strings. I couldn’t help but make some comparisons to see how I might add something to my own writing.

However you feel about children’s books, as a writer they stand as a great reminder that it can be a good thing to scale back to the basics of your story. Here are some tips on plot and structure based on children’s books.

What makes a children’s book a children’s book is the simple concepts, limited characters and usually one main message…oh, and of course lots of pictures!

Several characters, multiple settings, emotional story arcs, messages and themes, layers upon layers of plot and sub plots. Adult reading can sometimes get cumbersome. Here’s a few steps to take it back to the basics:

1. Pick one purpose and stick to it. Kiddos at this age (0 – 3) don’t have the capacity or attention span to follow multiple story lines.

2. Limit your characters. There’s a reason there are only 3 bears. Too many main characters = too hard to follow!

3. Bright, simple colors and lots of pictures! Don’t weigh your story down with text.

4. Everything is black and white. The real world may have grey areas, but not for kids.

5. Bad guys never win.

So here’s what it boils down to, simple plot, simple characters, simple writing. While this may not apply to your current novel (which I assume will have many complex characters and twisty, turny, curvy plots and sub plots), it’s a great way to start the bones of your next story. Before developing your next plot, try outlining it in children’s book form, meaning, giving it a beginning, middle and end and have no more than three characters and one message to start. Once you have the skeleton laid out, you can put meat on his bones with more gown up text. But remember, we all start as babies, maybe it could help to let our stories start the same way!

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Research for Realism

I have done some crazy things in my life – jumped off cliffs, resuscitated a fish, eaten expired yogurt, gotten married (crazy, yes, but wonderful). But some of my craziest moments have been in the name of writing. Because when it comes down to it, there are times when all the research in the world can’t hold a candle to actual experience.

To get the most realism out of your work, sometimes you just have to live it out. Some things you can fake, but other things you need to experience in order to write about them properly. My last writing experiment I’m pretty sure landed me the official title of neighborhood crazy lady.

I had no idea how it felt to be kidnapped and locked in the trunk of a car – a critical event in the novel I’m writing.  So what did I do? Well, I couldn’t kidnap myself (so I had to do research for that), but I could lock myself in the trunk of a small car (with help, of course, to make sure I could get out!).

The Trunk Experiment

I learned a lot from this experience. I figured out how my character felt when locked in a small space, I heard what she probably heard…the muffled hum of the engine, the warmth that gathers in the floor beneath and the claustrophobic feeling of not being able to straighten out your legs. I pulled my hands behind my back and kept my ankles together to test out the positions she would have been able to lay in. (My husband declined to tie me up for fear of what the neighbors might think. Smart man.)

Most importantly, I discovered the key to my main character’s escape: the glow-in-the-dark handle. How was my character able to open the trunk and signal for rescue? There was a handle on the inside of the trunk for emergency (and boy did she need it!).

Of course, not every story will require such drastic measures. The point is, do your research! If you want your work to carry weight, don’t cut corners. Know the world your characters are living in and don’t always just make assumptions. Another scene I’m writing required extensive tech knowledge which, in all honesty, was way over my head. So I consulted the professionals….ok, they weren’t ‘professionals,’ but they knew a lot more than I did about the subject matter. Doing this research gains credibility in the eyes of your readers in the long run. So don’t short change your work by not knowing exactly what you’re talking about.

Another example is from a fellow writer. She has a scene in her book in which her main character walks into the kitchen of her new home and bounces off a tile in the floor and falls. She knew I used to work in the construction industry and asked me about it. I consulted some flooring colleagues and provided my friend with an alternative: Her character could walk into the kitchen and slip on a squishy floor because the refrigerator had busted a water line, flooding the room. Way more accurate and believable, therefore lending credibility and weight to the story and its teller.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to consider writing about something you don’t know about. Use it as an excuse to try something new. Consider parts of your story that were written strictly from imagination. Could you pursue a course of research on that part? Perhaps you are assuming what the cake in that scene tastes like, even though you’ve never actually tried it. (What a good excuse to eat cake, eh?) Would the screen on a computer go blue in a particular situation? What would a policeman say when he caught your character red-handed? Now, I’m not saying you should go out and commit a crime just to see what would really happen, but I am suggesting that you go through the proper channels to ask about it. There’s never any harm in asking.

Some of the simplest touches can make your work pop. Does your character have a signature habit of peeling oranges in one long strip? How might he do that? Go to the store, pick up a couple oranges and give it a try. Does your protagonist spend a lot of time at the horse tracks? Take a trip with some friends and watch a race. Just use common sense, be safe and have fun. It’s all in the name of accuracy to enhance the weight and accuracy of your writing!

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How to Schedule Writing Appointments… and Keep Them!

If you’re going to write that novel (or memoir, or screenplay, or front-page feature), you have to write. Pen to paper, keystrokes to page. Those first words are essential, but they won’t matter if you don’t keep the pattern going.

Last month I gave you four ways to keep your 2011 writing goals; today I’ll focus in-depth on one more: the importance of scheduling writing appointments with yourself. It’s easier said than done, so here are some tips for making it happen:

Schedule an appointment with yourself like you would a hair cut or a doctor visit. Then make sure to organize your time so you won’t be late. It’s easy to let this slide because the only appointment you have is with yourself. If you’re late to an appointment with yourself, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Well, yes it does. It might mean the difference between publishing your breakout novel or never even finishing your first draft. Do whatever you have to do in order to make this happen. Block it off on your calendar in a special color, set a reminder alarm to go off, pretend you’re a famous author and you have a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with yourself, whatever. Just make sure it happens.

Figure out a calendar system that works for you. If you’re going to make appointments, you need a system to keep track of them, whether it’s a planner, a calendar on the wall, or a reminder that pops up on your phone. In my quest for my perfect time management system, I’ve settled on a combination of a tiny purse-sized planner, a weekly printout of a chart I’ve created to help establish day-to-day routines, and the calendar on my computer. It may seem pretty crude and archaic with all the technology that abounds, but it works for me. I’ve discovered that keeping information solely on the computer equals out of sight, out of mind. So having a tangible thing to refer to helps.


Prepare your writing space in advance. Sometimes having to clear a space for writing can be a barrier to entry. Whether your desk is in disarray or you have to use the dinner table as a desk, make sure it’s ready for you to write before your appointment starts. If your appointment is first thing in the morning, clear the space before you go to be the night before. If it’s after dinner, then collect all the materials you need–laptop, notebook, writing book, headphones, etc.–in a spot near the table beforehand so you’re ready to swap the dishes with your writing materials immediately.

Treat yourself to some hospitality. If you were entertaining a famous author (see #1), you’d make him or her feel welcome and at home. You might have a pot of tea ready and some cookies, or a pitcher of water with lemon wedges accompanied by some little sandwiches. You’d make sure your surroundings were orderly. You might have a scented candle burning, or an arrangement of fresh flowers. What can you do to make yourself feel at home in your writing spot? You’re going to be here a while. Make it comfortable so you’ll want to linger.

Establish rules with your family. If you’re writing at home and tend to get distracted by your spouse, roommate, or children, remember, it’s their home too. No matter how big or small your space may be, you can find solutions. It may take some creative thinking, but in the end it will be worth it. Maybe you designate a room as your writing space during certain hours, and keep a sign-up sheet on the door so they know it’s your spot for a certain amount of time (if that’s the case, a friendly do-not-disturb sign might also do wonders).

If you don’t have an extra room in which to write, is there a way you can cordon off a part of the living room as your writing spot, maybe with a screen or clever arrangement of furniture and noise-blocking headphones? If that’s the case, and the TV is in the same room, you may have to negotiate when it’s TV time and when it’s writing time. Tip: try working your writing time around when you know other members of your household will want to watch the TV; your flexibility could pay off when you need it.

And, of course, there will be times you just need to get out of the house. Maybe everyone is home on a Saturday when you’ve scheduled a writing time, and they’re having so much fun that you can’t help but join them. Go to a nearby coffee shop. Or if the weather is nice bring your notebook to the park or out to the garden.

Reward yourself. Rewards are always a good incentive. Tell yourself that if you keep all your writing appointments in a set amount of time–a week if you want to start small, or a month if you’re ambitious–you’ll treat yourself to something special, such as a new journal, a writing session at a favorite Destination Inspiration location that’s usually too far to travel for your regular writing times, a relaxing bath with a glass of wine and a good book, or whatever else that feels like a treat to you.

What are your secrets for keeping your writing appointments or writing goals?

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4 ways to keep your 2011 writing goals

Welcome to 2011. I’m resisting the urge to ask about your New Year’s writing resolutions, because to be honest, resolutions just don’t work for me. Instead I create goals, dreams, wish lists, or whatever you want to call them. In short, it’s my collection of things to strive for, such as books to read, new skills to learn, writing goals. I give myself the freedom to dream big, and therefore also permission to fall short. It’s a vision, a direction in which to head, and it sets me on a course I otherwise probably wouldn’t find.

Whether you create resolutions or prefer another form of goal-setting depends on your personality and work style. What’s important is sticking to it. The new planner and the clean slate never fail to inspire creativity and aspirations, but the demands of day-to-day life often wear through the strongest resolve. Here are ways to keep your 2011 writing goals.

  • Decrease your time online by subscribing to 5 websites or blogs. The internet is full of valuable writing tips and instruction, but how often have you caught yourself getting distracted and eating up precious writing time? Increase your productivity by selecting a few favorite writing websites and blogs, such as Nooks & Cranberries, and subscribing to them. Getting their updates by e-mail or RSS feed–and resisting the urge to peruse additional pages–will give you ample daily inspiration and plenty of extra time to write.
  • Create a game in which you make up the rules. A friend once told me about a tip she heard from a comedian. That writer–I can’t remember his name–would put pen to paper every day and reward himself with a mark on the calendar. Those marks became a visual chain, and he wrote every day so he wouldn’t break it. It’s a simple yet clever game that’s worked wonders for me. Whether you try this tactic or another one, you get to make up the rules: your word count or time spent writing, whether you write seven days a week or just on weekdays. It’s up to you. Just make it work for you.
  • Tell the world about your project. Once you start telling people you’re writing a novel or working on a query to a major magazine you suddenly have a network of unofficial accountability partners. You won’t want to give up because they’ll be curious about your project’s status. Don’t just depend on them, however; also find another writer and pledge to keep each other accountable.
  • You have a calendar, so use it. Set a weekly or monthly recurring appointment with yourself. Use that time to evaluate your writing goals and what you’ve achieved so far. Are you on track or have you fallen behind? Do you need to reset your goals for a period of time? Maybe you have family staying with you for a few weeks but have a free schedule afterward; consider scaling back your goals during that time, then scheduling additional writing time for those free days. There’s no point in keeping unrealistic expectations that will only frustrate you rather than keep you motivated.

The start of a new year is a great time to work toward new goals or renew old ones. Make 2011 your year as a writer by starting strong and keeping your resolutions or goals. Finally, what tricks do you use to keep your writing goals? Please share them with us here.