Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Three Steps to Meeting Your Goals

At the beginning of year, many writers create a list of goals. For the first few weeks we are all gung-ho and working feverishly. Then something happens. Life gets in the way. On top of that, our calendar is filled with unrealistic goals or goals that aren't specific, timely, or measurable enough to accomplish them. We get discouraged.

How do we stay the course? How do we work our goals into our daily schedules and make them happen.

Look at your calendar and find an hour. Maybe it won't take that long, but give yourself time to truly consider the goals you have set. Bring your calendar and your list of goals with you. I prefer to do this outside of my house--libraries work well.

STEP ONE: Review your goals one at a time and make sure they are S.M.A.R.T

In order to move forward, your goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Let's say your goal is to publish your first article in 2019. That's great, but it's too vague. A S.M.A.R.T. goal would look like this: I will publish my first article by the end of 2019; researching my topic and writing the article by February 1, having a final draft by March 1, and performing market research in April to begin submitting to select magazine publishers by May 1.

Why is this important? Deadlines are marks on the calendar. They are dates you can see and shoot for. Just as important, instead of having to wait until that article is published to feel like you accomplished something, you have these targets along the way that keep you motivated.

STEP TWO: Break down your S.M.A.R.T. goals into small tasks.

Now, let's take that S.M.A.R.T. goal and break it down into small tasks. The to-do list to research your topic might look like this: perform online research, set up interviews with experts, conduct interviews with experts, and visit the local library for additional resources. Then you need to estimate the time necessary to complete each task.

STEP THREE: Time block your calendar.

Pull out your paper or electronic calendar. It's time to get serious. The best way to accomplish your goals is to structure your time so you work most effectively and efficiently. Time blocking will help. There are plenty of online templates to make this easier. I prefer a weekly planner in half hour increments.

The first thing you do is plug in all the things you know you can't change: the day job, picking up the kids from school, exercise time, doctor appointments, etc. The empty blocks are where you tuck your small tasks in. Maybe Monday morning at nine you have half an hour to perform online research. Wednesday at noon might be a great time to call or email those experts to set up interviews.

What's the best part about time blocking? It shows you where time is being wasted, so you can reclaim it.

If you want to meet more of your goals this year, create S.M.A.R.T. goals, break them down into small tasks, and then time block your calendar. You'll be glad you took the time to set yourself up for success.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving, and Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Getting Published - 6 Hot Tips

By Karen Cioffi

There are a number of articles and posts discussing whether it’s important to have a degree in writing in order to be successful in your writing career. The articles that I’ve read all agree that it’s NOT necessary. But, there are at least 6 essential steps you will need to take to reach the golden ring of publication.

1.  Learn the craft of writing

While it’s not essential to have a degree in writing, it is essential that you learn the craft.

You can obtain this knowledge through a number of avenues, such as:

a.    Become a part of a coaching program or club. Just make sure the instructor or coach has the necessary credentials to teach or guide.
b.    Research blogs and sites that offer instructional articles on the genre you are writing in. You can also find articles through the article directories.
c.    Attend writing conferences. Even if you can’t go in person, or can’t afford to go, there are a number of free online conferences that offer great workshops, networking, and even pitches to publishers. One such conference is the Muse Online Writers Conference.
d.    Join a critique group that has new and experienced writers. Critique groups are a great way to learn the ropes. The experienced writers will provide a kind of one-on-one tutoring. Through the critiques you receive you’ll begin to notice your common errors and how to correct them. Through the critiques you give, you’ll be able to pick up on errors much quicker. All this will help you to hone your craft and become a confident writer.
e.    Read books about writing, self-editing, and books in the genre you are writing. Study these books.

2. Write and keep writing
 Remember the old expression, ‘practice makes perfect.’ It’s important to make time to write every week, whether it’s daily or specific days, or even if you have to squeeze it into your schedule. The more you write, the more comfortable you will feel about writing.

3. Read your work, proofread your work, self-edit your work, revise your work…repeat

This is where you apply the information you’ve reaped from Step 1. After you think it’s ‘really’ good, submit it to your critique group. Then repeat Step 3. When you think it’s perfect you’re ready for Step Four.

4. Submit your work

In this step you can take two paths:

a.    Submit your work to an experienced editor. This is the path almost all writers will advise you to take. The editor is trained to spot things that you and you’re critique group will not. Yes, it will be an expense, but there are some reasonable and experienced editors out there that you can take advantage of.

b.    If you cannot afford an editor, be sure to carefully read a book about self-editing, print your manuscript out and go over it with a fine tooth comb. When you feel confident that it’s as good as you can get it, start submitting it to publishing companies and/or agents.

5. Read publishers’ guidelines carefully

Along with reading them carefully, you need to follow them carefully. Publishers have more submissions than they can handle, if your submission doesn’t meet their guidelines it would be highly unlikely it will avoid the trash pile.

6. Persevere

It’s not necessarily the best writer who gets published and has a successful writing career…it’s the writer who perseveres. Writing can be a long and arduous road and is usually filled with a great deal of rejection. But, if you work toward your goal, learn your craft, and keep moving forward, you have what it takes to become published.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter, and online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. Check out her middle-grade book, "Walking Through Walls." 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Three Tips on Finding a Critique Group

Critique groups are vital to a writer’s success. Family and friends can tell you they like your story. They might even be able to give you some suggestions on how to improve it to their taste. However, they might not be able to provide the right kind of feedback, or maybe they are uncomfortable telling you something is downright awful.

I’ve been a member of different critique groups for more than a decade. Some have been online or via email. My most recent group meets monthly at our local library. If you’re looking for a critique group, here are some helpful tips:

Decide what kind of group is best for you

This might be tough at first, especially if you’ve never been part of a critique group. Questions you might ask yourself are:

• Would I prefer an online group or a group that meets in person?
• Am I looking for a group where we write to prompt and then read what we wrote?
• Am I looking for a group where members read something they have previously written?
• Is it important to me to be in a group where all the members write in the same genre?

Ask questions

Before joining any group, don’t be afraid to ask questions of them too.

• How often do you meet? If it's an online group: how often do members submit?
• How many members do you have?
• Am I expected to read each week?
• How many pages do members submit?
• How long has your group been meeting?

Sit in on a meeting

If the group meets in person, contact the facilitator and ask if you can observe a meeting. This will give you an idea how the group runs, how the members interact with each other, and what type of feedback you can expect.

As to how to find out about actual critique groups: check out writing associations you belong to, attend a conference or retreat and network with other writers, or check in with your local librarian or bookstore manager. There are plenty of online groups as well.

Critique groups help you see your writing in new ways. They inspire you to continue when you're not in the mood. Consider critique groups an important support team no matter where you are in your writing career.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving, and Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Character Interviews and Questionnaires

We recently discussed that good writing requires engaging characters. In order to create strong, dynamic, realistic, and relatable characters, we must know them in and out. They must become as real to us as our own family members.

So, how do we do that?

One way is to complete character interviews and questionnaires. From physical descriptions to likes

and dislikes, from hobbies to memories, and from pets peeves to quirks, spending time with your characters in such a meaningful way will create the rich, deep, and complex characters readers enjoy.

If you look online, you will find a variety of character interviews and questionnaires from well-known sources.

The Ultimate Character Questionnaire from The Novel Factory

Gotham Character Questionnaire

The Official NaNoWriMo Character Questionnaire

Writer's Digest Novel Writing: 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters

No matter where you start --plot, setting, or character-- taking the time to get to know your characters will build depth and texture into your story.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving, and Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Outlining Method (Are You an Outliner?)

By Karen Cioffi

Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I don’t know if there has been a study of how many writers prefer each, but I know there are many in both camps. You know the saying, “different strokes for different folks.”

But, before I go on, the definition of an outliner is a writer who creates a written (or typed) outline of the plot of their story. A pantser is a writer who creates the story as she goes along – no outline. The story unfolds as she is writing it.

If I had to take a guess though, I’d say the majority of writers/authors are outliners (plotters).

The reason?

Creating an outline of a story before delving into it provides a foundation. It’s something to build upon. It’s like a map. You mark out your driving route. You know you’re going from Point A to Point B. You see the highways, roads, and so on between those two points. And, they’re all written out in your outline.

It’s interesting to know that there are different kinds of outliners. Some create full detailed accounts of getting from Point A to Point B. Some simply have a rough outline of what the story will be about – possibly that John is at A and has to get to B.

Jeff Ayers (a top crime writer), in his article “Doing What He Loves,” in the May 2009 issue of the Writer, says:

“Outlining allows me time to think. Does this ever happen to you--you're in line at the market, some pushy person cuts in front of you, you mumble something ineffectual or stupid, then when you're 10 blocks away the light bulb goes off, and you think "That's what I shouda said!" Well, outlining gives me the 10 blocks to think of something better.”

I think this is an excellent explanation of why writers use the outline method of writing.

In the article, Ayers explains that he spends lots of time outlining. In addition to coming up with ideas, it allows him to get better acquainted with his characters. This more intimate knowledge allows him to bring them to life.

As I mentioned earlier, outlining is like using a map. But depending on how detailed you make your outline, it can be more like a GPS. It can lead you street by street from your starting point to your ending point.

Even if you run into a detour that was unexpected, as in writing can happen, you have a guided system in place to get you back on track. And, if it’s very, very detailed, you even know where the rest stops are, where to eat, where the scenic sites are, and so on. It doesn’t leave much to chance.

Knowing every step, every detour, all the characters . . . there is a comfort in this method.

I’m much more of a pantser, but I have used outlines now and then. And, it certainly does offer a sense of security. But, with that said, I love to watch my story unravel before me. I love to watch characters develop and move forward. This comes with the pantser method.

It seems though that no matter which style you use, it’s not a guarantee of success or failure. Gail Carson Levine has some good advice in regard to this, “Quality comes from word choice, plot, characters – all the elements [of a good story].”

Which writing method do you use?

Outlining vs. Pantsing


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

You can check out Karen’s e-classes through WOW! at:

Friday, January 4, 2019

Character or Plot Driven

 Character or Plot Driven

         In writing circles, the battle rages on: Is a story character-driven, or is it plot-driven? One side states that character-driven writing focuses on the internal change of the character or characters rather than the events that take place. They state plot-driven stories focus on the happenings and external changes. However, how clear-cut are the two types of writings?

         According to the article “Character-driven vs Plot-driven Writing” by Dorrance Publishing,
            Plots that are character driven are commonly referred to as “literary fiction”
            due to the fact that they feature characters that possess multiple layers that are
            exposed as the story develops.
Note the author of this article says “plots that are character driven,” and plot means actions, happenings.

         The article sited above does state both character and plot are necessary for a good story, as does editor and writing coach Jeni Cappelle, “Every well-written novel must have a combination of engaging characters and a compelling plot.”

         Best-selling author and writing expert William Bernhardt takes the battle farther when he states the belief of character-driven and plot-driven being separate entities is a myth. He writes, “All fiction is character-driven.” [Creating Character, p 6] No matter what exciting happenings the writing may contain, it falls flat if the writer uses a flat, boring, or unbelievable character or characters. All good writings require “strong, dynamic, unique characters.” [p 11] As stated on the back cover of Bernhardt’s book, Aristotle wrote, “Action is character.”

         Everyone agrees that one must have both engaging characters and an attention-holding plot Bernhardt writes that combining imagination, insight, and first-rate writing skills creates the best characters. Great writers use the same qualities to develop compelling characters and electrifying plots. Both characters and plot combined take readers into a different world that exhilarates them and removes them from their own existences for a while and leaves them wanting more.

Sources, other than author’s own knowledge and expertise:
1. William Bernhardt, Creating Character: Bringing Your Story to Life.
2. Jeni Chappelle, editor and writing coach, “Plot-driven or Character-driven: Does it Really Matter?”
3. Dorrance Publishing

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Book Reception for Pahutchae's Pouch

Ready for guests to purchase copies

      Saturday, December 15, 2018, at the Edmond Library, a reception to honor vehoae's second book and first fiction novel was held.

      A steady stream of guests greeted the author,  enjoyed the displays, and had books signed. Some guests brought copies they had previously purchased.

      Vehoae put together an amazing display. The three pictures here give the different views of a trifold of some of the real people she used as characters in her novel, fictionalizing them of course.

      Another 4RV author, Kathleen Gibbs, visited with vehoae's brother Kad.


      Moments before guests began to arrive, vehoae paused a for a photo beside the refreshment table.

      Guests waited to visit vehoae and to have her sign their books.

      Vivian Zabel and Jacque Graham manned the book table where guests could purchase either hardback or paperback versions of Pahutchae's Pouch.

      Several photos that included other 4RV people didn't turn out well. My cheap-type camera did the best it could, though.

      Copies of Pahutchae's Pouch can be found on the 4RV Bookstore, as well as through brick and
mortar bookstores or other online businesses.