Anna Questerly

Anna Questerly
Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pangaea Calls...

I'm in the middle of my first rewrite of Pangaea right now, so taking a bit of time off from Managing Your Muse. I promise I will be back soon, but the sirens of Pangaea won't let me leave them just yet.  In the meantime, feel free to check out my first book on writing, Strategic Rewriting. Would love to know if you find it helpful.

Wish me luck in Pangaea!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Managing Your Muse: Part 6 Communication

Once you have your teams in place. You need a way to communicate effectively with them. These are the two worksheets are what I give to my teams, so we're all working toward the same goal of making my book the best it can be. Would love to hear your thoughts or comments as this is a work in progress.  

Alpha/Beta Reader/Critique Partners

While reading, please look for and comment on the following. Go ahead and notate directly onto the manuscript. Please be sure note any additional concerns or questions you may have while reading. I realize this is more like homework instead of a pleasurable reading experience. Please know, your honest feedback is vital for me to make this book all I want it to be and I appreciate you taking the time to do this for me.

Is he or she likable?  Do main characters come across as multidimensional?  Do they have distinct character traits and personal history?  Are the main characters' goals well defined?  If he/she acts out of character, is there sufficient motivation?  If historical novel, are actions consistent with social norms of the time fully or if not, have they been supported/explained? If fantasy/sci-fi are actions consistent within magic/technological boundaries established within the story? Are his/her motivations believable? Do you care about him/her? Were you able to see character’s growth throughout story?

Is he/ she unlikable enough?  Is he/she well-developed and multidimensional? Does he/she have distinct character traits and personal history?  Does he/she have a well defined goal?  If he/she acts out of character, is there sufficient motivation?  If historical, are actions consistent with social norms of the time, or if not, are they fully supported/explained? If fantasy/sci-fi are actions consistent within magic/technological boundaries established within the story? Can you understand what makes the villain bad? Is he/she believable?

Other Characters
Do secondary/tertiary characters contribute to and support the plot without being detracting from or diminishing the importance of main characters?  Can you tell characters apart? Are their voices unique enough to tell who is speaking in dialogue? Do the supporting characters contribute to storyline and setting?

Are all characters described through a balance of action, dialogue, and narrative?  Do you care about these characters?  Are conflicts between characters well defined?  Do they have sufficient challenges/obstacles in the quest for their goals?  Do they react appropriately to new situations or challenges? If Fantasy/Sci-fi/Time Travel, do characters react to new time/place appropriately or appear either too blasé or too overwhelmed?

Relationship and Conflict
Are the-conflicts, both internal and external, believable and well-motivated?  Are relationship and conflict components of the story properly balanced?  

Do characters exhibit a range of emotion shown through character interaction?  Do emotional scenes evoke the intended response from you? Do emotional scenes develop forward momentum of the story? Do you get the humor? Did you notice any unintended humor?

Does dialogue effectively develop characters, express emotions, and advance story action?  Is dialogue stilted or overly narrative in style?  Are transitions between dialogue, action, and narrative smooth?  Does each character have a distinct voice so his/her personality comes through? Are there scenes of only talking heads or can you see conversation unfolding within a setting with the characters acting believably within that setting?

Are descriptions of characters, clothing, scenes, etc., adequate for you to visualize?  Did I balance the use of all senses?  Did I use dynamic description instead of halting the action for long narrative descriptions?  Are mood and emotion part of the descriptive process?  Are descriptions handled through a viewpoint character rather than author-intrusive narrative? Can you see the people and places and understand how the viewpoint character interprets both?

Did I  make changes from one character viewpoint to another smoothly and clearly without jarring you? Is there a viewpoint missing as a reader you’d like to see?

Does the opening put you there? How long did it take you to become settled within character’s viewpoint or attuned to narrator’s voice?
Does the opening scene fully convey the setting and include character description and character interaction?  Does it set up or introduce the major conflict?  Does the opening hook you as a reader?

Writing Technique, Style
Does important action take place on stage?  Is background information woven in at appropriate times, when it will have the most forceful impact?  Did I set up clues/complications to keep you interested?  Did I make transitions between scenes/chapters smoothly and effectively?  Does story progress at engaging pace?  Do I have a distinct voice?  Is style suitable for intended market?  Did I demonstrate skill with language/mechanics?  Does research appear to be accurate?  Are story components necessary to the story included? Are there excesses that could be cut and not affect outcome/motivation?

Is ending satisfying to you? Was it expected? Is it fair? Did it seem to be the inevitable outcome with hindsight? Were elements important to the ending foreshadowed throughout the story? Does ending resolve all major issues? Is it believable?  Any major holes or unresolved issues?

Does manuscript tell entire story (beginning to end), including necessary background information?  Does it define major conflicts (internal and external) and the resolutions?  Does it show a coherent, believable plot line?  Is  setting an integral part of story?  Does story develop through interesting series of events in a logical progression of cause and effect motivations? Did you notice any continuity issues? Any questions the manuscript didn’t answer. Would you have been happy if you’d purchased this book? If you didn’t know me, would you recommend this book to a friend?

Line Editors/Proofreaders
Please look for the following and mark errors/concerns directly onto the manuscript. Feel free to notate additional concerns you may have as well. Thank you for taking this time to help me make my book the best it can be.

The basics.

Homonym abuse
Missing words
Repeated words

Important yet easy to overlook:

Tense errors (past to present, present to past, etc)
Point of View errors (looking for consistency within scene, easily identified changes where intended)
Sentence structure (varied lengths of sentences, long sentences need to be easy to navigate and make sense.)
Fact Checking when needed

I’d also like your opinion on the following:

Font choice (style and size)
Formatting choice (chapter headings, margins, page numbers, space between the lines)
Consistency in formatting
Word Choice (note any preferences where needed)

Was there anything they jarred you out of the story? Were you satisfied with the ending? Did you like the main characters? Would you have been happy if you’d purchased this book? If you didn’t know me, would you recommend this book to a friend?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Managing Your Muse Part 5 Teambuilding

Team Building

As much as it may seem like you’re all alone and on your own at times, in reality, writing a novel takes a team. In this post, we’re going to discuss two very different types of teams a writer needs.

Your first team, we’ll call Team A. These are the folks who will help you whip your manuscript into shape to either self-publish or submit to a publisher. Members will need to fulfill roles as Alpha readers, first round editors, Beta readers, critique groups, and proof-readers. This team helps to make the magic happen. We really should call them the A-team.

Obviously, we’ll call your second team, Team B. These guys and gals take over after you and your Team A members have finished. They will take your novel through to publication.

If you choose a traditional path to publishing, your Team B is already in place. Your editor, layout and cover designer, proofreader, marketing expert and sales team are already on board and know their roles.
If you are planning to self-publish, you’ll need to build or hire your own Team B.

A few other people you may need to include on your team are research sources, illustrators, a literary agent, and possibly an attorney.

Let’s start with you’re A-team; where can you find members and what exactly are they supposed to do?
Your Alpha reader is most likely someone very close to you; a spouse, family member, or best friend is perfectly suited to this role. This is probably one of the toughest tasks to ask someone to take on. The perfect candidate for this job is the one person you’d feel comfortable asking, “Do these pants make my butt look big?”

My hubby is my Alpha reader and he’s great at it. He’s the first to read anything I write. He understands what I need from him, because I’ve told him clearly. His role is not to edit or proofread, although he does mark any obvious errors his finds. His job is much more important.

First and foremost he is to protect my ego, yet not let me embarrass myself; a delicate balancing act to be sure. Again, “Do these pants make my butt look big?” is the perfect litmus test when selecting an Alpha reader. The one who can answer that question for you, will rock in this role.

Because you putting someone important to you, in a vicarious position, it’s vital that you communicate your needs clearly and be open to criticism. In my next post, we’ll go over communication with your team, and I’ll share some tools I use to make communicating more effective.

Then, you’ll need a first round editor. Many new writers lump all editing functions into one big pile. But there are actually two very different skill sets for editors. Your first round editor will be looking at the big picture, some refer to this as “chunking edits.”

Unless you happen to know a professional editor, this is where you’ll want to pay someone to help you. Don’t ask mom to do it. This job is too important to leave to amateurs.

I go into more detail in my book, Strategic Rewriting, but for now, keep in mind; this person is not looking for spelling and grammar errors. You don’t want to waste your time fixing typos when you may have to change or delete large chunks of text (and you will most likely have to, I promise.)

Your chunking editor will point out problems in character arc, plot points, subplots, and point of view issues. Big stuff. Important stuff. This is the person who helps you shape your story. You’ll need someone who first, understands what these things are and how to fix them and second, has a dispassionate eye and can be completely and brutally  honest about what changes need to happen. You’ll need a professional. Your book deserves it. Almost everything else you need, you can beg friends to help with, but please understand how important this round of editing is for your book.

Next, let your critique group have a crack at it. Again, in my book Strategic Rewriting, I’ve dedicated an entire chapter on how to find or create, and participate in a critique group, so I won’t go into it here. Your fellow writers can point out many inconsistencies, problems, errors and more. I’ve always found their input helpful.

At this point, you may want to consider hiring a line editor to go through your manuscript line by line looking for any grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors as well as doing some fact-checking. If you have an analytic and detail oriented friend, they may be able to fulfill this role for you.

Finally, let’s talk about Beta readers. You can have anywhere from one to one hundred, but be aware, everyone has different ideas about what makes a good novel. The more Beta readers you have, the more decisions you’ll need to make and rewriting you’ll have to do.

People who enjoy reading the type of story you are writing make great Beta readers. Don’t ask someone who hates vampires to read your paranormal novel. Ideally, you are looking for the same type of people who would buy your book. For my first book, The Minstrel’s Tale, along with a few trusted friends, I had twenty-five fifth graders and their teacher as Beta readers. Score!

Beta readers also make great proofreaders. With so many eyes on the page, almost every mistake you make will come to light. Almost.

Now that your manuscript has been through all of that, it’s ready for either submission to a publishing house or, after several more rounds of proof reading, ready to be formatted for self-publishing. Which brings us to Team B.

If you’re going with a publisher, you’ll have to work with the team they’ve already set up for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to learn to do it yourself or find someone to help you format your work, design the cover, and proof the final work looking at EVERYTHING.

Ask writer’s groups in your area for references. Before sending anyone money, check out predators and editors at for scammers.

Oh, and one other thing, remember to thank those who assisted you in your acknowledgements before finally publishing. Although your name will be emblazoned upon the cover, remember, your soon-to-be-published work is a team accomplishment.

Stay tuned: next Sunday, I’ll post the tools I use to communicate with my teams.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Managing Your Muse Part 4: Spreadsheets

Long, long ago I had to take a training class on how to use spreadsheets. Understanding how they worked was one of my biggest challenges; using a word processor came much easier for me. I prefer words to numbers and always have.
Now, I use them frequently, but my spreadsheets for fiction are filled with words. No math allowed. (Okay, that’s a lie. I do use them to track royalties.)
While spreadsheets aren’t strictly necessary; for someone like me, who can’t read her own handwriting after a week or so, they can be quite helpful. I also find them easier to change and to quickly locate, besides they are much neater than my scribbled notebooks.
If your novel features more than two characters, you will find you’ll need something to keep continuity in your story. Seriously, if your character’s eyes change from blue to green, you need a better reason to offer your readers than “I forgot.”
It’s easy to create a simple character spreadsheet. I know authors with more of a tech background who make some amazing character sheets complete with photos. If you have the skills and the time, go for it; I prefer a more minimalist approach.
Across the top, I type my character names, keeping my primary characters in the first few positions, and secondary characters further to the right. Down the left side, I list attributes such as physical features, where they are from, what they like, what they don’t, etc. Then I fill in the boxes, creating characters out of bits and bytes.
This link will give you an example of how detailed you can make your own sheets.
But wait there’s more!
Ever wonder how authors are able to weave subplots into their story? I did too, until I learned a way that made sense to me and, Voila! Another use for spreadsheets in fiction is born: keeping track of plot points and subplots. Again, you don’t need a spreadsheet, you can use a hand drawn chart, which is what I did at first, but those easier-to-read and quicker-to-find issues pop up again.
If you don’t understand the terminology I use in the example below, I highly encourage you to watch Dan Wells five part series on Story Structure on YouTube.
Sorry, I can’t let you can’t peek at mine; it would spoil the story. However, the YouTube link I provided above, gives a great example from the movie, The Matrix.
In your spreadsheet, along the top, place the names of your main plot and subplots. For example; Action, Character, Romance, & Betrayal. Down the left side, list your plot points. Hook, plot turn 1, pinch, mid-point, pinch 2, plot turn, & resolution. As you begin to fill in the boxes, you will see where the subplots, can be threaded through your main plot in a way that makes sense. You’ll be able to watch your character arc build, and you’ll know you’ve given the reader the hints and foreshadowing needed for fair twists and surprises.
Basically, it’s a simple chart, but using it to keep my story architecture in place, allows me to keep track of each scene-block without them crumbling down around me into a jumbled mess.
When you are finished creating your charts, put them in a folder on your desktop  so you can get to them when you need them. You can also print them out and hang them near your desk.
Your critique partners, editors, and readers will thank you for keeping the continuity in your storyline and praise your ability to skillfully pull together your subplots into a cohesive tale.
Oh, and don’t forget to create a spreadsheet to keep track of your royalties. Uncle Sam will appreciate it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Managing Your Muse Part 3 PowerPoint

Managing Your Muse
Part 3


After many years of creating sales and training presentations, I’ve discovered how to use PowerPoint as a power tool for visualization and motivation for my novel, Pangaea.

When I wrote The Minstrel’s Tale, I had the somewhat spooky assistance of the actor, Patrick Stewart’s voice in my head. His voice was that of my main character, Amos Questerly, the minstrel, and he often simply dictated what I should write. I really never saw Amos in my mind, but his voice made him real to me. I knew him as well as a blind person knows someone they may have never seen with their eyes, but nonetheless knows intimately.

I guess that makes me an ‘auditory author’ instead of a ‘visual’ one. I tend to hear my characters instead of seeing them. Don’t get me wrong, I get a general sense of what my characters look like and what their setting is like, but unlike some of my favorite authors, I don’t really see it in my head very well. Instead of blind, maybe extremely near-sighted is a more apt description of my handicap.

This auditory method worked well for me in The Minstrel’s Tale. It took place on Earth. We all know what Earth looks like, so I didn’t really need to see it to tell my tale.

Pangaea is another story. It’s a make-believe world. I had to create it. I needed a tool to allow me to visualize a world that did not exist and channeling Tolkien and J.K. Rowling didn’t seem to work.

I truly wish I could share my slideshow with you, but there are simply too many images still under copyright for me to do that. But worry not! I can explain it how you can build your own.

I knew what I wanted the world of Pangaea to be, but had no visual reference to wrap my mind around. This is a world which exists only in my imagination yet I could only grasp wispy images of what it would look like. I needed something more concrete, something I would be able to describe to my readers so we shared the same vision.

Pangaea is an advanced civilization who has learned to use magic. To get an idea of what I was trying to describe, think Star Trek meets Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

I searched for alien architecture and landscape images in Google and found a few which came close to what I wanted. Then I delved further looking for elven architecture images and discovered more paintings and pictures I could use. Although none really captured exactly what I was going for, they allowed me to meld and merge ideas into what I did want. I was beginning to see Pangaea!

I saved these into a PowerPoint slide show and made that my screen saver. Now whenever I pass by my open laptop, Pangaea beckons me to return. Talk about motivation!

This worked so well, I took it a step further. I searched for images of my fictional characters. Of course, I didn’t find them exactly, but I did hit on a few close enough and, with a bit of imagination, I was able to really see my characters. I added these to my PowerPoint slide show as well.

 The most exciting thing was when I discovered two very different pictures of a certain actress. Although this woman didn’t really look like my main character, these two images together, captured my heroine’s character arc perfectly!

I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it was to see the before and after of her right there on my laptop.
By using Powerpoint in this way, it was if I was given a prescriptive pair of author glasses. Now, not only can I hear my characters but I can see them. I can see their world, their homes, their clothing. I can see it all!

Even if you don’t need a pair of PowerPoint glasses, the motivation factor alone is worth the effort of creating your own slideshow. We all know the hardest part of writing a novel is putting our butt in the chair. When your world calls to you from a silent screen, it’s a bit harder to ignore.

My only advice is that you not try to search for exact images. You probably won’t find them anyway and you can waste a lot of valuable writing time sorting through all Google has to offer. Find something close enough, and then add a liberal dose of your own imagination to make it fit. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Managing Your Muse
Part 2

Mission Statements

In the same way a Vision Statement can benefit career ambitions, a Mission Statement can help keep each project on track and in line with your short and mid-range goals.

You know that moment when the kernel of an idea for a story first arises? Whether it’s a character, a setting, a conflict; whatever it may be, that first exciting inkling of “I could write a story about that!” That’s when you begin your Mission Statement.

Jot it down! Don’t wait. Grab a piece of paper, your smart phone, a napkin, whatever’s handy. Don’t lose it. These are the precious nuggets of which great books are made. (Yes, there have been some not-so-great books written too, but since you don’t know which yours will be yet, take no chances—write it down.)

Unlike Vision Statements, your Mission Statement can be as long as you need it to be. It doesn’t need to be typed. Mine are handwritten in my journal and there are more projects there than I’ll ever be able to write in my lifetime.

When I do school visits and the kids  ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I tell them, “From my magic journal.”

Mission statements can be flexible and will adapt as your story dictates. Which means, you don’t need to wait until you have all the plot points worked out, the characters created, or any of those details to get started. You can always update your mission statement.

What’s important to remember is, time changes everything and, if you don’t keep a record, these ephemeral gems will vanish into the ether. I find it comforting to know what my original intent was, even if I decide to change it later.

As important a function as recording your ideas is, the real magic of a Mission Statement is that it engages your Reticular Activation System (RAS). Your RAS is the way your brain organizes the myriad of information bombarding you every minute of every day. Without it, we’d never be able to concentrate on or accomplish anything. It sifts through the ever-flowing river of data and draws our attention to what we’ve told it is important enough to notice.

You’ve probably experienced it often. Two of the easiest examples to cite are when you first buy a new car and then see the same color and style all over roads, or you hear a word for the first time and then, soon after, notice it popping up all over the place. This is your RAS doing its job as efficiently as Google’s search engine.

When you take the time to write your Mission Statement, you are telling your brain that this topic is important to you. You’ve given it more weight and substance than a simple, “Yeah, that would be cool,” passing thought can generate. Your brain responds by drawing your attention to relevant resources. At times, it really feels like magic.

The following is not the only instance when I felt my RAS kick into gear, but it is certainly the most memorable.

When I first began writing my mission statement for The Minstrel’s Tale, I knew it was going to take place in medieval Europe. I knew Richard II would be involved, so I had the time frame narrowed down and had just began my research. It was during this time, before I had written the first word about Richard, when Dr. Brook Ballard walked into my bookstore for the first time. Dr. Ballard was writing a book too, and we began to talk about writing in general. During the course of our conversation, I learned he was a retired professor. His specialty? English Medieval History. Wow!

Of course, I begged him to become my historical advisor for The Minstrel’s Tale, and he agreed, loading me up with source material and even reading through my drafts to make certain I stayed true to the time period. His help and suggestions were invaluable for me to write the books I wanted to write. To make them real enough that readers could escape into my world without blatant historical errors slapping them back to the present.

Would I have had this relationship with Dr. Ballard had I not been clear in how I wanted my book to be? I don’t know, but somehow I don’t think our initial conversation would have played out the same way if I hadn’t been in the writing place I was at the time.

I think that was my RAS at work and I intend to keep it employed by using Mission Statements for all of my projects.

I’d like to share my Mission Statement for this project, Managing Your Muse, so you can get an idea of how to write one. As I’ve said, it’s not complicated or elaborate; in fact, there’s nothing fancy about it at all. (I’ve typed this from my un-edited, handwritten notes, so be gentle in your critique.)

Idea: from Poynter podcast—Writing a Mission Statement for your book or story.

Mission statement…Ugh! God I remember so many of those boring business meetings and struggling through those god-awful mission statements. BUT, I learned a lot from all of that corporate training AND I’ve applied a lot of it in my writing.

Things like using spreadsheets, Powerpoint, Word, teambuilding, flow charts, scheduling, goal setting. Jeesh, there’s a lot!

I’ll bet there are a lot of people retiring from corporate jobs who are thinking of writing a book and don’t know where to start. I could write a book about this. Probably about twenty chapters or so. I think it would help a lot of struggling writers.

That was my initial Mission Statement. Days later, I received an offer from a company who wanted to advertise on my blog. My blog! I haven’t posted on it in months. So, I updated my Mission Statement.

Maybe I can kill a couple of birds here. Maybe I can write it as a series of blog entries and then later, perhaps publish those entries as a book. That way, I don’t have to take too much time away from writing Pangaea, and can still get this done doing just a chapter a week.

I know I really should be using social media more often and keeping my blog up, but it’s just so difficult to come up with good content when I really want to put all of my creativity into Pangaea.

Even so, I think I can do this. I think it can help my career, and help other writers, I love a win/win and it really won’t take too much time away from Pangaea.

After thinking about it for a few more days, I updated it again.

Managing Your Muse! That’s the perfect title. Okay, I’ll do it, even though Pangaea is still my first priority,  I’ll commit to writing a chapter each week and putting it on my blog.
Introduction-why I’m writing this and what it’s about
Vision Statement-career goals
Mission Statement-project goals and RAS
Teambuilding-critique groups, alpha and beta readers, editors etc.
Goal setting and Scheduling
Flow Charts-plot
Spreadsheets-Characters and plot points
Power Point-character arc
There’s more, but that should get me started and I’ll add as I go. Gotta leave room for RAS discoveries!

 That’s pretty much all there is to a Mission Statement. What do you want your next book to be? How will it look? Use this helpful tool to keep you on track, activate your RAS, and keep your idea chest overflowing.
The next time your muse whispers in your ear, write it down. One of the first steps toward managing your muse is to make her feel important enough, she continues to share her imaginings with you. When you think about it, it’s the same common courtesy you would extend to anyone you respected. Respect your muse!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Managing Your Muse: Part 1 Vision Statements

In my previous posting, I mentioned how a Mission Statement was my impetus for this series on Managing Your Muse and we will get to that—I promise, but not today. Today, let’s talk about creating your Vision Statement.
In every leadership class I’ve attended and every business book I’ve read which was published after 1990, creating a Vision Statement was the first priority, and for good reason. A Vision Statement succinctly states why you’re doing what you’re doing and focuses you on your primary goal.
An author’s vision statement encompasses an entire writing career, not just the next book. Think big picture and long-term. What do you want as a writer? What is your dream?
By clarifying what you really want, it makes decision making easier on almost every front, and believe me, you will have more decisions to make while writing than you can imagine.
Should I use a pen name? How will I market my work? What type of writers’ or critique groups should I join? Which genre will I write? What will my covers look like? Should I self-publish or get an agent? Who is my target reader? Just to give a few examples.
Your vision statement will go a long way in helping to answer most of these. Take a few moments to think about why you want to write. What do you want from a writing career? Do you even want a career, or is your writing only going to be a hobby?
There is no wrong vision statement because it’s based on your very personal goals. This isn’t something you have to share or publish, it’s simply a tool to help you focus on what you want to accomplish.
So what makes a good vision statement?
Keep it short, make it memorable, and make it inspire you.

Here are a few corporate vision statements examples to give you an idea of how far-reaching and all-encompassing yours can be.

Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a place to live.

Smithsonian: Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.

Microsoft: A personal computer in every home and office running Microsoft software.

Avon: To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service, and self-fulfillment needs of women.

Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Anheuser-Busch: Be the world’s beer company. Through all of our products, services and relationships, we will add to life’s enjoyment.

Sears: To be the preferred and most trusted resource for the products and services that enhance hone and family life.

Apple: We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in the markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.

Walt Disney: To make people happy.

As you can see with the Apple example, not all vision statements are short but, you have to admit, each of these would help to inspire both employees and customers and, if their leaders adhere to their ideals, would be useful in making both long and short-term decisions.

So what would a writer’s vision statement look like? Unlike corporate statements, most artists prefer to keep their goals private. However, I was able to tap a few of my talented author friends for their vision statements:

Tia Dani: When you read a Tia Dani book…prepare to be whisked away into another world of mystical, magical romance. Places where your will laugh, maybe cry, and when you’ve read the final page, our characters will still live on in your heart.

Kris Tualla: To make Norway the new Scottland!

Just to be fair, I’m happy to share my own humble goal with you.

Anna Questerly: To become an award-winning, best-selling, international author by writing stories into which readers can truly escape.

Yes, I wrote this before I typed the first word of The Minstrel’s Tale. And yes, it’s shamelessly ambitious. But it is my dream. The real questions are has it helped me become a writer? And if so, how?
The answer is a resounding yes, from the selection of my pen name (I wanted premium placement on bookshelves, settled snugly between Christopher Paolini and J.K. Rowling), to working up the nerve to enter a writing contest (The Minstrel’s Tale took first place in a novel contest on—award-winning: check!), to limiting the genres I write to historical and fantasy (pure escapism), to my current project of having my books translated (international—working on it), to motivating me to get my butt-in-chair to write and then rewrite my books, making certain each book was my highest quality writing (in the belief that to one day be a best-selling author it’s vital to give my best efforts).
So many more of my decisions were based on my vision statement, I couldn’t possibly list them all. Each choice is weighed against my vision statement and whether it will move me closer to my goal. My statement continues to inspire me, motivate me, and keep me focused on my dream. Granted, I still have a long way to go, but I’m loving the journey.
Whether your dream is as grandiose or more modest, a vision statement can help you get closer to it. There is good reason why this is taught in every business school in America—it works.
What’s your vision?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Managing Your Muse

Is there a book inside of you? Does it tickle your consciousness occasionally, or pound on the inside of your skull as you try to go to sleep? That, my friend, is your muse trying to get your attention.

Classical mythology gave us the muses: Calliope, Mneme, Erato to name a few. These goddesses of the arts, these ancient thought-provokers, are as fickle and capricious as the rest of the Parthenon. That time-worn advice still holds, “Beware of gods bearing gifts.”

Muses are notorious for hounding writers with their many fabulous ideas and then, once we actually attempt to capture those ideas in writing, our muse vanishes just when we need her most. Our poor, half-written story then languishes in a drawer or on our hard drive, never to see the golden light of a riveted reader’s lamp. Our dreams of becoming a writer dashed yet again. Our dented ego pulls the covers over her head and hides from the world while those mischievous goddesses giggle.

It doesn't have to be that way. Whether it’s a children’s story, a fantastical wonderland, an erotic love story, or a stunning murder mystery, let me show you how to manage your muse and get that story out of your head and onto the page.

After many years of living and working in corporate America, being subjected to required reading (Remember Who Moved My Cheese?), technology workshops, training classes, team-building exercises, corporate retreats, along with the myriad of management books we read on our own, we now own the skills, not only to run a business, but to make our dreams of authorship come true.

Rejoice! Those boring meetings were not all for naught. We can use these well-earned skills to create characters, plots, settings, and conflict. By applying this knowledge along with our imaginations, we have all we need to write a novel. I know; I've done it and I’m still doing it and, trust me, although it’s one of the most demanding undertakings I've ever attempted, it’s also been a magical journey and one of my most rewarding accomplishments to date.

Over the following weeks, I’ll be posting new ways to modify those boring old business skills to harness our creativity so we can bring those amazing story ideas, dancing around the edges of our minds, onto the page.

My muse came up with this idea while I listened to a pod-cast by Roy Peter Clark author of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer produced by the Poynter Institute’s School for Journalism. Actually, I found many gems in this podcast and I highly recommend it. (It’s free in iTunes University). One of his suggestions was to write a Mission Statement for your work.

Don’t groan; again I say, “Rejoice!”

While many managers and business leaders have struggled and moaned about writing mission statements for boring jobs, writing one for your own novel is an exercise in pure fun. I’ll go into more detail on mission statements, and even give you an example, in one of the upcoming posts to this blog, but for now I just wanted to share how the concept for this series came to be and give credit to Roy Peter Clark for his role in its origin.

The idea for this blog series came when I realized, it’s not only mission statements we can pilfer from our corporate training. Think about all you've be forced to learn over the years and let me share some strategies on how you can use skills like PowerPoint and spreadsheets, flow charts and schedules, team building and goal setting, and much more, to manage your muse and write the book you've always dreamed of writing.

I’ll say it one more time, “Rejoice!”  Dance around the room with your muse because the two of you are going to finally learn to work together! What a team; imagine the worlds the pair of you can build; envision the knowledge you will both soon share with others; dream of the characters you and your muse will bring into the world.

Are you dancing yet?

As we go forward, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences as well (I don’t know about you, but many times I enjoy reading the comments more than the actual blogs), so please feel free to comment.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Perks of Being a Children's Author

I had the greatest time visiting with Ms. DiLiberto's fifth grade class last Friday. The entire class has been reading The Minstrel's Tale for the last few months and they were almost finished by the time I got there. I enjoy school visits, but there's something magical when the class has already read the book, or at least most of it.

Kids that age are naturally curious and it was a treat to answer so many intriguing and unexpected questions! It was incredibly fun to talk with so many young readers, future authors, and future illustrators. They even got it when I passed out stalks of "wizard's weed" to everyone.  Of course, we did NOT discuss the ending, although a few tried to bring it up.

Then today, I spent over an hour answering some of the most touching fan mail I've ever received, most from that same class. This kind of thing makes me happy I do what I do. There really are people who enjoy my work. There's nothing like a roomful of 5th graders telling you they can't wait to read your next book to make me want to sit down and get busy.

Those are only a few of the perks. Of course, the best perk is actually getting to write at all; that precious gift of time, I'm so grateful to have, thanks to my wonderful husband.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Promoting vs Writing or Where's My Magic Wand?

As an author, my job is to write, right? Yes, but it is also my job to promote. Otherwise, there will be no one to read my work. They won't even know about me. Promoting is the way authors connect with new readers, loyal fans, and other authors, but the time spent blogging, Facebooking, and Tweeting takes time away from writing. Where should an author's priorities be focused?

Every author can identify with the stiff neck, sore shoulders, and blurred vision after sitting at the computer for too long. When I'm creating, I don't feel the pain until later. It's probably the main reason we authors have such a difficult time getting our butt-in-chair to write; at least it is for me.

So when I finally do get my butt-in-chair, should I work on my next book, or blog, or post to Facebook, or Tweet?

I wish, once I finished a book, I could wave my magic wand and everyone would know about it and rush to read it. No promoting needed. Of course, I'd still want to connect with my readers, answer their questions, and read their reviews. I truly enjoy that part of it, but I wouldn't need to constantly create content to feed the social media monster just to let people know my book is out there.

That's every author's dream, but you don't get that magic wand until you've become a best-selling author and then you garner all the free media screaming that your newest book will be out next Tuesday. People pre-order your latest novel, stand in line to get their copy, and insist their friends just have to read it.

Until you reach that level, instead of a magic wand, we new authors have only a stick we use to beat the social media monster so we can feed it. We must take the time to promote our work, at least if we're serious about being a full-time writer, or if we're independently wealthy, which I'm not. I don't want to give up my day-job, I have one of the best jobs in the world; I run a bookstore, but I would love to use the time I do have available for writing to write instead of having to split it between writing and promoting.

I believe this is why authors like Nora Roberts and James Patterson are able to write so many books. They don't have to promote themselves. They've earned it and now they've got their magic wand. They get to write, write, write!

So if you're a reader, who has read a relatively new author's book, and you can't wait to read his or her next book, give them a hand with promotion. Help them feed the monster. Tell your friends, post reviews, and let people know about your discovery. You will enchant that author's mundane stick with some of your sparkly, fairy dust to and, after a time, that magic wand will allow them to write, write, write and you will get to read, read, read.

I love a win/win and I've been blessed with a few of these fabulous überfans. I love them.They comment on my blog, leave reviews, tell their friends, and share my posts. As an author, it makes a huge difference to know these folks are out there. I think about them as I write. I write for them. It's nice to put faces to such a thing as an audience. As I wrote my first book, my audience was an amorphous fog, shifting and changing and no help at all. By the time my third book was finished, I knew for whom I was writing. I could see their faces and I knew what they wanted. I believe that's why my third book is my best so far.

Don't get me wrong, I still write the stories I want to read, but somehow just knowing these people are out there, reading and commenting on my book, makes me want to write better for them, tell a more exciting story for them. Readers may not realize it, but when they become part of an author's life, it is truly magical.

To those of you have sent me some of your sparkly fairy dust, thank you so much for helping me promote my work, so I have more time to write for you. Please know, when I see your reviews, your comments, your shares, your retweets I'm grateful each and every time and it motivates me to work harder and write better for you.

If you see your new favorite author spending too much time on promotion or not enough, help them out. Become and überfan for them and watch them blow you away with their next book. We live for this!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cool Tips I Learned Today

I'm reading about writing screenplays now that I've started writing one for The Minstrel's Tale. Screenwriting is different than novel writing, but I did find a few things I'd like to remember to use in my future stories.  For those of you interested in screenwriting, Michael Rogan's How To Write a Screenplay, is one of the most helpful books I've read so far. Check out his website for free tips and tricks.

The first was about dialogue. Don't let your characters say the words they're feeling. Make them dance around it. Let their feelings show instead of having them tell. Genius! More of that show don't tell. (It does seem to crop up everywhere in writing doesn't it?) Not only that, but it allows more room for conflict from misunderstandings.

The second was about pacing. Make each scene count. Critical in a screenplay, but also in a novel. So many times, we writers have a scene in our mind and write it out, yet it really doesn't move the story forward much. But we love the scene; it may have even been the inspiration for the entire book. Stephen King's, "Kill your darlings," comes to mind.

Also I found a great link to setting MSWord up for screenplay format here:

That's all for now. I'll keep learning and writing. Wish me luck in writing a great movie for The Minstrel's Tale.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Critique Groups

A well-managed critique group can help writers improve their work in countless ways. Finding such a group can be difficult. Successful groups are often filled, and when a
rare opening occurs, these groups tend to be selective toward allowing new members to join and usually rely upon member referrals exclusively. If you are fortunate enough to win one of these coveted spots, make sure you follow their rules and play nice. It‘s worth it and you‘ll gain valuable feedback on your work and learn more about writing in the process. Most likely, you will also form a few deep and lasting friendships.

If you are not so fortunate, don‘t despair. You can form your own critique group with
like-minded writers and enjoy all of the benefits listed above. Prospective members can be found by placing flyers in bookstores, libraries, and cafes. Ask attendees at writer‘s groups and workshops. Online sites such as or even may yield people interested in joining your group.

Requesting a short bio from potential members along with a writing sample and clarification of what each expects from a critique group, will allow you to select the best mix of writers for your group and can help the members get to know one another. As always, when dealing with people you don‘t know yet, it would be wise to meet in a public place, such as a bookstore, library, coffee shop, or pub instead of at your home.

Before you invite writers to join your group, you may want to give some thought to the type of critique group you‘d like to have. Successful critique groups come in all shapes and sizes, but you‘ll want yours to reflect your personality.

 Will your group have a leader? Some do, although I‘ve never been a member of such a
group. Many are casual, insisting only on regular meeting attendance, others are more
formal with many rules.

 Will you meet in person or online, or perhaps develop a mixture of both? One of the
critique groups I was a part of, used a private Yahoo group to exchange our work among our members and then met in person biweekly to give verbal critiques. At another, we exchanged our work at each meeting and met the following week to give both verbal and written critiques. I‘ve not been a part of an online group, but I hear they can work well too.

 Do you want your group to be genre specific or more varied? There‘s an upside to each. If you write specifically for one genre, say mystery, you may want to limit your group to
mystery writers who are familiar with the characteristics of successful mystery novels.

 How many people will you allow in your group? I‘ve found a group of 3-5 members
works well for me, but I‘ve heard of groups as large as ten. You‘ll want to keep your group small enough that each member is able to receive feedback at every meeting. Yet large enough that you‘ll receive varied opinions.

How often will you meet? Weekly, biweekly, monthly? If you‘re using your critique group for accountability, you may want to meet more often. Since you‘ll need to be prepared to offer something for the group to critique at each meeting.

Do you feel the need for each member to sign a non-disclosure agreement? Although, I
don‘t believe it‘s necessary, some writers may be concerned about putting their work out
there. This may make them more comfortable sharing with a group.

 Do you want your members to all be at the same writing level? Maybe you only want to
work with published authors, or will you be open to new writers as well? Although many critique guides suggest writers be at the same level of skill, I‘ve found the views of new writers offer fresh suggestions. Keep in mind, writers are readers, and will still be able to offer valuable feedback even if they don‘t know what Deep Third Person POV is yet. Personally, I like to have varied levels of skill in my own groups.

 At which point in the process do you want this group to focus? There are many types of
critique groups. Some meet solely to discuss plot. These groups tend to meet nfrequently
and operate more as a brainstorming session. A writer brings their summarized plot and asks members to help with certain issues, or to point out holes they may have missed. By the way, these are a lot of fun.

 Others meet to critique a final draft just before publication or submission to an editor of
a publishing house. These tend to focus more on proofreading and polishing. 

Still others work on the first draft discounting punctuation and grammatical errors concentrating more on character development, story arc, and larger elements. 

You may even consider forming or joining different critique groups for each stage of the
writing process.

 Now that you have an idea of the type of group you want to join or form, please, pick up a copy of my newest book, Strategic Rewriting, to find out some essential traits that all successful groups share and require each of their members to exhibit.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

3 Indispensable Tips for Authors with ADD/ADHD

This was a post I wrote for Caris Roane's Wicked Writing Skills blog. For daily writing thoughts and ideas, this is a great blog. Check it out when you get a chance.

3 Indispensable Tips for Authors with ADD/ADHD

For many years I tried and tried to write a book. No matter how committed and determined I was in the beginning, I soon found myself distracted and onto something else leaving unfinished novels scattered about my desk, stuffed in drawers, and carpeting the bottom of numerous closets. I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which means I get distracted by bright, shiny objects, or almost anything else, easier than most people.

I cannot remember where I picked up the following tips, but without them I am certain I would have never been able to finish my first book, which means I wouldn’t have completed my second or third either. If you have ADD/ADHD or just find it hard to get that novel inside of you onto paper, take heart and read on.

The first tip is to know the ending before you begin to write. I realize many successful authors don’t know where their story is going or how it will end, but for me and my wandering mind, I needed to know the ending and it had to be exciting enough to hold my interest throughout the entire book.

My problem with writing fiction isn’t trying to think up plot twists and conflicts to include. My dilemma is what to leave out. I have to remind myself to ignore the hundreds of ideas hammering and yammering to sneak into my story.

Now I’m not suggesting you need to outline everything that happens in your story and plot the entire book before you begin, but if you are ADD/ADHD, try at least to know the ending.

Think of it as a road trip –I love road trips— let’s say we’re driving from Phoenix to Washington, DC. As long as we keep heading east and north, we’re going to get there eventually, and we can stop along the way and see the world’s biggest ball of string, maybe visit Graceland, and even board a paddle boat on the Mississippi River in honor of Mark Twain.

If we didn’t know we were heading for D.C. We may have already been to Disney, maybe on up to Maine to check out Stephen King’s stomping grounds, or perhaps decide to cruise across the Atlantic and visit the castles of Europe. (We’ll assume we have an unlimited checking account, or won the lottery, or a rich aunt left us a huge inheritance, or – see what I mean? I need to know what to leave OUT.)

Many of those trips would most likely lead us down dark alleys or leave us stranded alongside of the road, or drifting in the ocean with no idea how to get going again. My point is, we never would have made it to our nation’s capital, and we would probably run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

Although I have to know where I’m going with my story, I don’t want to be so boxed in and tied down to a full-blown outline where I can’t explore and have some fun along the way, which is why I prefer road trips to flying.

The knowing keeps me focused, but it’s the unknown that holds my interest as I puzzle out how to get from here to there. That’s the kind of challenge I enjoy. Foreshadowing and clues aren’t just dropped into the story. Instead, they develop organically as part of the plot, creating – as one of my readers graciously said – a sneaky, clever ending.

The second tip I received was to set a deadline, actually two deadlines; one for the first draft and another for the final manuscript. Of the two, I think the second is the toughest to meet. We usually know when our story is over, but I don’t believe there is a defined end to the editing process. Every time I reread the story or, ask someone else to proofread or critique it, I discover changes to make.

With my books, I chose my children’s birthdays as my final deadlines. I worked hard to make the stories the best I could right up until that day. Otherwise, I’d either still be editing the life out of the books or, more likely, I would have grown bored and moved onto something else and they’d never have been published.
Are my books perfect? No, but it’s okay; remember I have ADHD not OCD and I can live with having written an exciting, readable story with a few commas out of place.

By far, the best tip for me was to get a button chair. I wish I could remember where I first read about the button chair. Every writer needs one. In fact, it’s impossible to become an author without it. You can write, albeit slower, without a laptop. You can write without an office – J.K. Rowling used a coffee shop. You can even write without joining a writing group (although, a good group – such as RWA— may help you become a better writer). You can’t write without a butt-in-chair.

I’ll leave you with the good news for the ADD/ADHD author: When you do finally finish a book that can hold your shifting interest, you already know it’s going to keep your readers’ attention until the very last page.