Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 17, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-17-2017

Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | August 16, 2017

Visiting my muse again

Last week I had a business trip to New York that took place in the Times Square area. While the business at hand was time consuming and kept me very busy, my mind wanted to be involved with anything else.

My favorite muse settings are crowded metropolitan areas, with transportation terminals and coffee shops a major plus. I don’t know why or how I am influenced this way, perhaps it’s something to do with the vibe of people. Or maybe it’s the physical scenery itself, and seeing new imagery pulls me into it like some extremely detailed painting. I am hit with a strong desire to imagine and dream when I’m in New York. I could walk the city streets and let the people I see influence the characters I’ve yet to write about. Or maybe I have already written about them and the passing scenery is just influencing their continuing journey.

Anyone who knows me knows of my love for Chinatown, in whichever city there is one. New York’s Chinatown is larger than others that I’ve been to and it was the first time I’ve ever had the time to truly explore it. I spent two nights in a row there, eating small dinners so I might be able to visit more restaurants.

I told a coworker of mine that while I enjoy exploring different cuisines and knowing the differences between them, there is always a drive towards authenticity that I think has several meanings. There is the authenticity of a country or culture’s cuisine itself, particularly if the cuisine is dependent on food products that must be imported. That can often become mixed with a much higher priced restaurant which isn’t always necessary to express from an authenticity point of view. When I’m in Chinatown, NY, and I see 3 or 4 older guys hanging around a bunch of dirty boxes in a narrow, cobble-stoned alley slurping away at their containers of soup with noodles, I see the biggest display of authenticity I can imagine.

I guess that’s the sort of authenticity you might expect from a writer exploring their muse. I cannot help but to see the stark difference, and value the realism in the folks living their lives and living, eating, and sharing a meal together.

New York’s Little Italy happens to overlap parts of Chinatown. I realized this by accident and was pleasantly surprised by it. These are two intense culture centers and I loved seeing them right next to one another. Of course, back home in South Philly I see various cultures represented in food and shopping all the time, often on the same street. The next thought is to compare the two or imagine some new characters doing it from their point of view.

My point of view was busy enough. 🙂

Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 10, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-10-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Mid-August fast approaches, and here are some steaming hot links for you!

Harold Evans staunchly defends the English language.

Love libraries? 10 quotes about libraries, because they’re truly the most magical places on Earth.

Janalyn Voigt tells us how to make the most of your writing retreat.

Jeff Goins advises authors: Learn to love the work, or do something else (and other lessons on enduring greatness).


We all start with an idea. Larry Brooks shows how to elevate your novel by infusing your premise with something conceptual.

There are many overarching elements in a story that writers have to juggle. Dawn Field looks at pace, the engine in your book; Jami Gold examines the subtext of tropes, and Aden Polydoros shares great tools for establishing setting.

Characters walk and talk and power your novel. Janice Hardy explains how to write characters who don’t all feel the same, Hannah Heath has 10 tips for writing socially awkward characters, Kristen Lamb defines an antagonist, Harrison Demchick shows how to write your character’s actions with clarity, and K.M. Weiland lists 5 types of clunky dialogue.

Once we’ve got that first draft in hand, we need to fix it up. M.L. Keller discusses how to evalute writing feedback, Kristen Lamb gives us 6 simple reasons our story sucks and how to fix it, and Janice Hardy lists 7 words that often tell, not show.

We can learn a lot from other writers’ experiences. Jennifer Kitses shares what trying to finish a crime novel taught her about writing, Ali examines how you can keep writing if you work long hours, Tal Valente practices good writing habits with help from Habitica, and James Scott Bell warns us to resist the midstream temptation.


We all know presentation is important in selling books. Damon Freeman has 4 reasons why a great book cover is essential for sales, and Joel Friedlander discusses design for chapter openers and part openers.

Even before the book is published, presentation matters to agents and publishers. Janet Reid shares some tips to make your requested fulls look professional. In other agenting issues, Tamela Hancock Murray gives us 2 questions agents might ask writers seeking a new agent and why, and Steve Laube asks whether authors should send simultaneous submissions or not.

Marketing is a big piece of the author pie these days, like it or not. Rachel Thompson explains the reasons book marketing is exhausting you and how to fix it, Joan Stewart suggests using a sex angle to flirt with media for book publicity, and Janet Reid tells us what to include if an agent asks for a marketing plan for a novel.

Writers have a ton of different marketing options open to them these days, but there are so many details about marketing to learn. Chris Syme discusses how time zone differences affect book marketing, Richard Dee shows how to use leaflets to market your self-published books, Savvy Book Writers extols the benefits of getting your own ISBN, and Angela Ackerman has 6 smart ways indie authors can collaborate when marketing.

Writers have a lot of options, but many are online. Deanna Cabinian shares a detailed analysis of using Amazon ads to sell her books, Scott La Counte explains how to tweet like a best-selling author, The Passive Voice explores if there is anything better than BookBub out there, and Jane Friedman lists the 4 key elements that belong on an author website homepage.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you next week!


Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 3, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-03-2017

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of August! For those writer-parents with young children at home for the summer, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Dana Canedy has been named the next administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, the first woman and first person of color to hold the position.

Although not an author, George Romero inspired many writers. Keith DeCandido shares writers’ memories of George A. Romero.

Andrew Mitchell Davenport discusses Jean Toomer’s Cane, and wonders, “How does this 1920s novel hewn from reflections on racial terrorism remain so terribly relevant, and how do those who worship whiteness continue to sow and feed on fear?”

It seems counter-intuitive, but Millennials are the ones keeping libraries alive. And if you’re in Prague, check out the Clementinum, the most beautiful library in the world.

We all know that reading is good for your emotional health, but here are 11 ways being a reader is super useful for your career, and 7 reasons that being a slow reader is actually a good thing.

Helen Sedwick debunks 5 legal myths writers still fall for.

China is known for censorship, but this time they’ve gone too far. See why Chinese censors are targeting…Winnie-the-Pooh.


So you wrote a stand-alone book, but now readers are demanding more. Ellen Kushner has tips on writing a sequel when you didn’t plan to write a sequel.

Laying the groundwork for your novel is important. One thing to consider are story tropes. Jami Gold looks at whether story tropes are lazy or helpful to writers. Openings cue readers into what sort of story they are in for, so Tina Ann Forkner describes how to make a grand opening.

Once we decide on what story we want to tell, we have to decide how to tell it. Janice Hardy give advice on figuring out the plot, while Heather Webb reminds us that every good book is a mystery—even when it’s not.

Description can make or break a story. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi share description checklists and tip sheets to help you get it right, while Phyllis Richardson takes a look at the real buildings behind Pemberley, Manderley, and Howard’s End.

Characters make the whole story gel. K.M. Weiland has 5 tips for writing a likable “righteous” character, while Jeanne Harrell is all about blowing up your point of view.

Fantasy often relies on Medieval norms, but Oren Ashkenazi looks at 6 ways rapid communication changes a fantasy setting.

Professional opinions of your story matter. Getting manuscript feedback from an agent is valuable—if you ask the right questions. Janet Reid gives us questions to ask at a conference manuscript evaluation. And Steve Laube answers the question: should you hire a freelance editor?

Chelsey Pippin shares 18 things every young writer should know, Sarah Moore has 1 simple technique to improve your writing in 10 minutes a day, and Ruth Harris discusses living with the discomfort of being a writer—and succeeding anyway.

Taking a look inside the lives of other authors can be informative. Rebecca Stott talks about growing up in a Christian cult, while Sue Shanahan investigates the world of William Joyce.


Michele Cobb shares 5 reasons audiobook sales are booming and how you can be a part of this growth, and Angela Quarles tells us how to pick the narrator for your audiobook.

Amazon is able to do its own reader analytics, but most publishers can’t get that information. Enter Jellybooks, who now focuses on reader analytics for their clients.

Ever wonder what it takes to self-publish a literary novel? Nicole Dieker bares all as she crunches the numbers for her self-published literary novel launch.

Beth Bacon pulls back the curtain and gives us an 8-stage ebook project workflow checklist for self-published authors for after the manuscript is done.

Distribution is key to selling books. Amy Collins looks at the pros and cons of going exclusively with a single distribution outlet.

Many people have stories to tell that just aren’t commercially viable. Janet Reid has found outlets and purpose for non-commercial memoirs.

It takes a lot to market successfully. Lisa Tener has 9 keys to clarifying the target market, Carolyn Howard-Johnson lists 15 book publicity commandments, Matt Aird tells us why we should market to grow author platform rather than sell books, and Drew Chial shows how NOT to hold an author event.

Your website/blog is your author focal point online. Jami Gold discusses how to make a reader-friendly website, Ben Steele tells how to pitch a guest post to a blog, and Jim Stewart has 5 essential blog foundations for strong SEO.

Social media is a big way writers connect with readers. Savvy Book Writers describes how we can get the most out of social media, Alycia W. Morales has 10 easy ways to promote others and 5 advanced ways to promote others, and Frances Caballo clues us in on some recent social media changes.


Tracy Shapley looks at 7 literary weddings that will melt your bookish heart.

All Jane Austen, all the time: 5 things to know about Bath, Jane Austen’s home and inspiration; follow Jane Austen’s footsteps with this interactive map, meet people in Jane Austen’s worldwide fan club, and read about the word choices that explain why Jane Austen endures.

Maybe the Austen hoopla is because England is putting Jane Austen on a banknote. Here’s 5 women writers the US could put on our banknotes.

Agatha Christie wrote letters to her editor, and they reveal the author’s outspoken temper.

The tides have turned since the Brontë sisters and George Eliot were publishing under manly names: Men are now adopting androgynous pen names to sell psychological thrillers.

Read Granville Hicks’ 1952 review of Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel.

Meryl Cates investigates Zelda Fitzgerald’s “frequently overlooked” obsession with ballet.

An anonymous artist is Photoshopping kids’ books with NSFW titles.

When a New York rivalry over Shakespeare boiled over into a deadly riot.

We all use makeshift bookmarks from time to time. Margaret Kingsbury shares 5 things you maybe shouldn’t use as bookmarks.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Join us next week for more writerly links!

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | July 27, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 07-27-2017

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday of July. As always, the summer is speeding by. If you want to take advantage of the warm weather and are a lover of houseplants, you might want to participate in Take Your Houseplants for a Walk Day. After all, exercise is good for writers and readers (and everyone else).

Readers already know that reading is good for you too, but it’s gratifying to have that validated by research. Rachel Grate shares the great news science has for people who read actual books.

If you’re still looking for summer reading, on BNTEENblog, Darren Croucher suggests 8 female-penned YA science fiction novels, while Kristen Lamb analyzes why speculative fiction matters. If you prefer something shorter, Louis Menand asks can poetry change your life? What do you think?

To writers, freedom of the press is an important right. Novelist Polly Tyer writes about journalists and the First Amendment.

Writers aren’t the only ones who spend at lot of time at a keyboard. If you are someone who does, you might want to take Grace Wynter’s advice about using ergonomics to design the optimal workstation.

The Author Chronicles, home office, desk and books

Photo by Vadim Sherbakov on Unsplash


Without an idea, there is no story. Janice Reid reassures a writer who discovers someone else had the same brilliant idea, while Annie Neugebauer considers thought triggers: the Chekhov’s gun of writing tricks.

Most writers would love to have more time for writing. With ideas to speed your writing process, Candace Granger shares two semi-no-fail ways to fast drafting, one for pantsers, one for plotters, and Jordan Dane offers key resources and tips for dictating your next book.

Looking for tips on creating characters? The Script Lab considers internal conflict and your characters, Bonnie Randall stresses taking a love inventory of your characters, Janice Hardy explains how to write characters that don’t all feel the same, and Kristen Lamb explores the reason shame is the beating heart of all great stories.

Several bloggers delve into the elements of setting and world building: Janice Hardy explores creating the setting and building the world, K. M. Weiland details 16 ways to make your setting a character in its own right, and Kyla Bagnall lays out 5 ways to incorporate multiple languages into your fantasy novel.

Story structure is important for novelists and narrative non-fiction writers. James Scott Bell reminds us that eventually you have to bring order to the story stuff, and Dario Ciriello discusses plotting for pantsers.

Having trouble pinpointing the problem in your book? Dawn Field advises writers to find the center of your book, while Jodi Hedlund lists three ways authors can keep research details from boring their readers.

Writers who learn the basic grammar rules make the editor’s job a lot easier, but even the best writers can make grammar errors. Christina DesMarais points out 43 embarrassing grammar mistakes even smart people make, and Melissa Donovan offers 10 good grammar resources.

For those experiencing difficulty writing, Anne R. Allen considers writer’s block and depression: why writers need to fill the well, Kathryn Craft considers whether a life detour is an obstacle or opportunity, and Bob Hostetler urges writers to write like baseball.

Interested in trying out a different facet of writing? Janet Reid explains how to break into ghost writing novels in the big leagues.

The Author Chronicles, laptop & glasses

Photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash


Here are some insights for those trying to interest an agent or publisher in their works: Jennifer Slattery discusses writing queries that get read, Steve Laube explains what happens in the agency after a writer sends in a proposal or query, and Jacob Warwick explains how to make powerful pitches to large publications.

Three bloggers contribute some tips on self-publishing. Beth Bacon explains how to write a creative brief so your graphic designer creates an amazing book cover, and Nicole Dieker relates her experience in self-publishing a debut literary novel: the actions, the costs, the results. You can also put out your own audio book, but Laura Drake asks: SHOULD you create your own audio book?

Whether you chose traditional or self-publishing, author marketing improves book sales. We found a number of posts that address the issue of marketing. Ryan Holiday writes about the marketing rule you can’t forget, Judith Briles discusses authors and marketing fatigue, Drew Chial examines how hard selling can hurt your brand, and Lysa Grant shares the best free book marketing sites.

Melinda Clayton emphasizes the importance of categories and keywords for your books on KDP, and David Gaughran takes a look at when reader targeting goes wrong.

Are visits to book stores in your marketing plan? Debbie Young considers book marketing: how to get your self-published books into bookstores, while Dana Kaye analyzes whether book store events matter: how to benefit from in-person author visits.

For those active on social media, Nadya Lyapunova explains how to promote a young adult novel on social media, and Frances Caballo wonders if you have seen these changes to Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re trying to improve your blog, Jane Friedman shares WordPress plugins she can’t live without, Kathryn Lilley provides tips for crediting photos used in blogs as well as suggesting sources [we used a source she mentions for the terrific photos in this post], and Jami Gold speaks about blog commenting: building a community.

Have you created an author website? Janet Reid has suggestions for your contact page, while Jami Gold focuses on how to create a reader friendly website.

The Author Chronicles, artist at work

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash


The Guardian‘s Alison Flood reports that Jane Austin’s “Great House,” the Chawton House Library, has launched an urgent appeal to stay open.

Sarah Gibbens of National Geographic writes about the discovery of a manuscript written by the Hippocrates in a remote Egyptian monastery.

Tabatha Leggett shares the BuzzFeed community’s 30 feminist children’s books that every child should read.

Open Culture announces that The British Museum has created 3D models of the Rosetta Stone and over 200 other artifacts which can be downloaded or viewed in virtual reality.

BuzzFeed‘s Kimberley Dadds gives us 22 novels that are crying out to be turned into films. Do you have any favorites that you’d like to see made into a film?

That’s it for this week’s Top Picks Thursday. See you in August!


Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | July 23, 2017


Last week, friends arrived for a long-awaited fourteen day visit. They arrived with two young children, bringing the number in the house up to three. It has been a busy time with trips to museums, parks, tubing on the Delaware, etc. They are active people and it has been very hot so whether we go out or stay home all three children spend hours swimming and by bed time are exhausted.

One of our friends, Anne-Marie, writes children’s short stories and every night reads that day’s story out loud to see how it flows before editing. On a normal night our son can take a half hour brushing his teeth and putting on his PJ’s, but when he hears; “Story in five minutes,” he scuttles off immediately and is ready and waiting within the required time (we do check and make sure he has actually brushed his teeth).

The stories are the nightly adventures of two friends, so while the setting is the same, the story is different. Our son became very fond of the two characters and would wonder during the day what he would hear that night. He found the newness of a freshly-written story exciting.

Our son is used to a nightly story time. Yet these new stories, full of fun and adventures, read by someone who is not a parent while he’s sitting with his friends, will be a time he remembers for the rest of his life.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 20, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 07-20-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday!

Author Sherman Alexie cancels much of his remaining book tour.

Sarah Bolme shares three reasons people buy books, Andre Calilhanna explores reading habits around the world.

Libraries are more than book warehouses. Gordon Wanock has 4 ways libraries expand your reach as an author.

Oscar winner Barry Jenkins is to direct an adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

Sci-fi writer Octavia Bulter forged her own path in the writing world, and now her inspirational notes to herself are on display at Huntington Library in California.

All authors have heard cyber-bullying horror stories. Anne R. Allen discusses publishing cults and cyber-bullying, and has 8 rules to help keep you safe on the internet.


For those with a poetic interest, as writers or readers, Melissa Donovan discusses how to read poetry.

For prose people, Bill Ferris gives “advice” on how to give a literary reading.

We as writers hear so much about “voice”, but defining it can be difficult. K.M. Weiland gives us 6 things we need to know to improve our writing voice.

Meanwhile, Margaret Dilloway tells us how to improve our overall writing with improv.

Writing can feel somewhat like juggling, because there are so many elements to keep in the air at one time. Janice Hardy explains why “start with the action” messes up so many writers, Roz Morris shows how to add suspense to your story, Lisa Hall-Wilson uses personal vows to increase story tension, Tamela Hancock Murray wonders: should I use song lyrics in my writing?, and Kathryn Craft shows us how to raise a question to earn the backstory.

Getting the nuances right is key to creating a compelling story. Laurence MacNaughton lists 7 keys to creating bloodcurdling monsters, and Elaine Viets doesn’t want mystery clichés boring your readers.

Characters drive the story. Tonya Kuper demonstrates how to engage your readers more deeply with your characters, Martina Boone shares her character brainstorming worksheet, Janice Hardy discusses developing your characters, C.S. Lakin explains why your protagonist should have a past “wound”, and Amy Poeppel shows what playwrights can teach us about dialogue.

Writers are a different breed. David Corbett tells us how to nurture the write mind, Jami Gold asks if you have the prerequisites to be a writer, and Kim Bullock discusses motivation and making writing dessert again.

We can always learn from other authors. Penguin Random House annotates Shirley Jackson’s sublime first paragraph of Hill House, and Martha Teichner talks to mystery author Louise Penny.


We’d all like to make money writing. Joanna Penn investigates affiliate income for authors.

But if we want to be successful, Angela Ackerman reminds us that we must invest if we want a writing career.

Audiobooks are a booming market. Roz Morris has tips for narrators, producers, and authors to create an audiobook on ACX.

Also booming: comics. The North American comics market hit $1.085 billion in 2016.

Going traditional? Jane Friedman discusses pitching agents at writers’ conferences. Agent Janet Reid explores possible problems when queries are garnering lots of requests and positive feedback but no takers, and she explains what to do when you write in 2 genres and your current agent doesn’t represent both.

Visibility is key to marketing success, but how do we get it? Rachel Thompson lays out how to create pre-launch buzz for your book, John Doppler shows how to increase your visibility with Google’s Knowledge Panel, Marcy Kennedy has the basics of advertising for indie authors, Steven Spatz discusses book reviews and word of mouth, and Tamar Sloan has the top two reasons a reader will leave a bad review.

Connecting with people on the web is the best way to market these days—but you have to do it right. Sandra Beckwith walks us through naming and claiming your author website, Frances Caballo stresses to communicate—never preach—on Twitter, Bella Pope demystifies how to write a blog post people actually want to read and Darren Rowse shows how to craft an outstanding guest post.

But what if you have no social media presence or don’t want to spend a ton of time online? Jane Friedman tells us what to do if you are an author without a social media presence, Frances Caballo defines a Facebook Profile vs. Facebook Page, and Nicole Avery shows how to reduce your time on social media to increase your blogging (or other) productivity.


Love sci-fi and fantasy? Here are 27 female authors who rule sci-fi and fantasy right now.

A Philip Larkin exhibition in Hull offers fresh insights into the poet’s life.

Excitement as a new Maurice Sendak picture book is discovered.

An astronomer thinks he has pinpointed the “star” mentioned in Lord Byron’s famous poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

If you need fashion advice for a story pre-1992, check out Vintage Patterns’ 80,000+ vintage sewing patterns.

Jared Axelrod imagines the “5 other kisses” mentioned in The Princess Bride.

Revolutionary dirt: John Quincy Adams kept a diary and didn’t skimp on the details.

In our world of instant information, it’s sometimes hard to visualize how slowly news traveled back in the day. Watch this animation of how slowly news of the Declaration of Independence spread in real time.

How the Bowdlers became a byword for censorship, when all they wanted was to clean up Shakespeare.

A new cache of Roman messages has been found near Hadrian’s Wall.

The phrase “smoking gun” is everywhere—but not before Sherlock Holmes.

It’s the little things. How the Calibri font is threatening to bring down Pakistan’s government.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you back here next week!


Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 13, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 07-13-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We are halfway through July, and summer is well advanced. For many people, summer is an extremely busy time, with vacations and kids home from school.

If you are a writer, how can you be productive during these not-so-lazy days of summer? Angela Ackerman discusses how to enjoy summer and still be productive, and Natalie Sylvester shows how to go on vacation and write while you’re not writing.

Read the inspiring story of the effort to rebuild a university library burned down by ISIS in Mosul (and how you can help).

Have you ever wondered how to give away your used books without impacting sales for the author? Janet Reid has the answer.


We usually focus more on novels, but Mary Kole has this to say about picture book writing style.

Need something to jog your creative brain? Melissa Donovan list 12 places to find some awesome writing ideas

Sometimes it’s what the readers don’t see that makes the story strong. Scott McCormick talks narrative structure, Erica Cameron shares a detailed guide to worldbuilding, and Jami Gold has one simple trick to avoid the first page info dump of all that worldbuilding information.

Readers love the book if they love the character. Janice Hardy discusses creating your characters, while Becca Puglisi show how to put subterfuge in dialogue.

Jane Friedman examines the 6 ways we respond to criticism, Debbie Young praises editors, and James Scott Bell addresses what to do when you’ve finished that first novel.


Looking for a new outlet for your work? Take a look at Tapas Media, a serial publisher now open to indies.

Want to get your international and other rights out there, but aren’t sure how? IPR License has a new “Instant Rights” feature to make those rights available easily. (As always, read the fine print in any business deal.)

Ever hear of a literary scout? Me, either. Parul Macdonald opens up the world of a literary scout and international rights.

Can you use those song lyrics or novel excerpt in your own book? Jane Friedman discusses the basics of getting permissions for use, plus provides a sample permissions letter.

If you find yourself sending out a lot of ARCs but garnering few reviews for your efforts, Chris Leippi shows how to manage ARC readers.

If you have old books you want to republish, Melissa Bowersock has tips to help you do it successfully (and without confusing your readership).

Marketing is a big chunk of work for authors today. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explains how to define your target market, Joel Friedlander has the world’s shortest marketing plan, and Sarah Bolme tackles the dreaded “platform”.

Book publicity is a good thing, but hard to get. Dan Smith shares 10 tips for getting book publicity, and Jami Gold examines book promotion and getting the word out.

Networking can be key to success for authors. Savvy Book Writers explains why LinkedIn is a must for writers, and Ali Like tells us how to find and pitch the perfect guest posting opportunities.

If you’ve got a blog, you want to attract a readership. Nina Amir has 8 strategies for writing a successful post, and Joel Friedlander looks at content curation for your blog.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you next week!

What do you do when you encounter a word you don’t know? Most people would answer: look it up in the dictionary. With current technology, looking up a word’s definition is easier than ever, but is a definition enough for a writer?

According to the dictionary with my word processing program [Word Perfect], definition means:

1 a statement of the exact meaning of a word or the nature or scope of something. 2 the action or process of defining. 3 the degree of distinctness in outline of an object or image.

When I come across a definition worded like the second one, I feel like pulling out my hair. Using a form of the word to give its meaning is not helpful unless you already know what the word means. The first definition, on the other hand, is clear. While that definition is sufficient for most people, the “exact definition” of a given word might not be enough for a writer.

One important task of a writer is choosing the best words to convey meaning. While this seems straightforward, it can be more complex than people think. Writers can’t always count on readers understanding the meaning the writer intends. Too many variables come into play.

First, the word may have more than one denotation [the direct, explicit meaning or reference of a word or term* — in other words, the definition], so the reader has to rely on the context [the parts of a sentence, paragraph, discourse, etc. immediately next to or surrounding a specific word or passage and determining its exact meaning*] to supply the key to which meaning is intended in that instance. If the context is not clear, the reader may be confused.

I experienced this confusion recently when my critique group met. One of our members used a word with multiple meanings in a sentence without clear context. While the word was used correctly, the first definition that popped into the minds of the other four of us was far different from the one our friend intended — which popped us out of the story when we discovered from context a few sentences later that our first impression was wrong. We advised our friend to either use another word or add enough context to that sentence to make the meaning clear. [Finding such things is one of the benefits of having a critique group or partner.]

Second, in addition to multiple meanings, certain words have a connotation [idea or notion suggested by or associated with a word, phrase, etc. in addition to its explicit meaning, or denotation*] not included in the dictionary’s definitions. Connotations often express either positive or negative feelings or attitudes. For instance, referring to a character as an “intellectual” evokes quite a different impression from referring to the character as a “nerd.” [Making you aware of connotations you may not intend is another function of a critique group.]

If you’re a writer, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard about denotation and connotation. While these concepts are important for writers to consider, over the years I’ve realized that there’s a third part involved in arriving at the exact meaning of a word: interpretation.

Throughout our lives we learn the meaning of words not by reading their dictionary definitions but through their contexts. We hear people (who may themselves have a skewed idea of the meaning) using words in speaking or we read them in print, and we figure out what the word means from how others use it. Thus, we know what words mean — sort of.

How many times have you been asked what a word means and have struggled to put its meaning into words? One of the reasons for this difficulty is that our conception of a word’s meaning is imprecise because we haven’t learned it from a dictionary. In fact, each of us has put together an individualized notion of each word we know. Most of the time our notions aren’t much different from others people’s, but confusion and misunderstanding can result when there’s a sizeable discrepancy between what a writer or speaker means and what a reader or listener understands — something a writer especially must strive to avoid.

We’ve all experienced this kind of confusion. For instance, most of us have family, friends, and acquaintances whose concept of time varies considerably from our own. If one of them tells you they’ll be ready “in just a minute,” that minute may vary in length from your spouse’s actual minute, to your friend’s five minutes, to your child’s “when I finish this game,” to a coworker’s “when I get around to it.”

This was borne into me in recent months as I noticed a huge discrepancy between my surgeon’s** definition of “healed” and my own. My surgeon considered me healed in three months. I disagreed. I’ve had other, less complex surgeries, and it took a lot longer to heal than the two to three months the doctors claimed it would take. I finally realized that the surgeons’ definition for the word “healed” is not the same as mine. To these surgeons, I am healed when the incisions and bones have knit back together. I understand that, but until all the stiffness, discomfort, numbness, etc. has gone away, I don’t consider myself healed.

So, I don’t agreed that the definition really gives the “exact meaning” of the word. The definition gives the denotation, but a writer must also consider the connotation and the reader’s interpretation to obtain the precise meaning of a word.

That said, I acknowledge that if a writer took the time to carefully examine all nuances of the meaning of each word, few books would be completed. So, just write your story. Don’t stress over variations in word meaning while writing your first draft, but keep it in the back of your mind. The revision stage is when the issue of word meaning needs to be addressed, and editors and critique partners can provide help with this.

Writers help writers. If you don’t have a writing group or critique partner, consider finding one. Another person’s perspective can be invaluable.

*Definitions according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition © 2001.

**For more about my surgery, check out my post from May — Inspiration: Celebrate Nature! Celebrate Life!

Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 6, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 07-06-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We hope everyone had a safe and happy 4th of July.

In the spirit of celebration, here are some excerpts from Thomas Jefferson’s last public letter, written on the 50th anniversary of the 4th of July.

Small libraries are all the rage now. Check out this Detroit Doctor Who fan who built a replica TARDIS library for his neighborhood.

Looking for good reads for these long summer days? Tobias Carroll recommends books that combine horror and history, Oprah’s new Book Club selection is Imbolo Mbue’s novel Behold the Dreamers, and librarian Nancy Pearl gives us her Summer Reading List.

Jeanne Kisacky poignantly examines the heavy burden that is the weight of the undone.


Nathan Bransford asks: when did you start writing?

Susan Donovan shares the not-so-funny truth about writing humor.

When we start writing, we have to figure out how we’re going to get from idea to final product. Clare Langley-Hawthorne takes us from idea to novel, Becca Puglisi shares her 3-step plan for outlining a novel, and K.M. Weiland explains flat plots.

Jeff VanderMeer has 5 writing tips, while Anne R. Allen reminds us to write for the 21st century reader.

Oliver Thiermann explores how to create immersive worlds for science fiction and fantasy, while Hye-Young Pyun discusses the role of suspense in storytelling.

Characters carry the story, but how do you get the readers inside their heads? K.M. Weiland has 6 questions to help you choose the right POV, Thelma Adams asks what’s the point of point of view, and Jo Eberhardt examines the power of the unlikeable protagonist.

Revision and editing make our rough drafts into polished gems. James Scott Bell recommends listening to your book, Shannon A. Thompson tackles rewriting your first draft, and Ellie Mass Davis discusses book editing, writing style and writer intuition. Janice Hardy opens her biannual critique group or partner match-up.

Creativity is the nectar of writers, so how can we get more creativity when we need it? Joel Friedlander shares his top 7 tools for creativity, Drew Chial talks about what happens when more than one writer has the same idea, and Jessica Brody shares a science secret that gets you quickly into the writing zone every single day.

Rachel Thompson has 4 top tips to overcome your fear of writing, Jami Gold tells us how to reconnect to your storytelling passion, while Jane Friedman wonders if the advice to follow your passion is all it’s cracked up to be.

For creatives, art infuses every part of their world. Katherine Boland compares the arts of painting and writing, Sherman Alexi discusses life as the Indian-du-jour, and Elizabeth S. Craig shows how to find the art in the everyday.


Sometimes writers need guidance for the business side of publishing. Justine Clay lists 7 things to consider before hiring a career coach.

You’ve got your book all ready to go. Steven Spatz examines when is the best time to publish your book.

We all know how important customer reviews are for selling our books. Kathryn Brown looks at the value of editorial book review for indie authors.

Is it worth it to go to that writing conference? Tamela Hancock Murray lists the intangible benefits of attending a conference.

Janet Reid discusses the advisability of giving agents “exclusive” reads on your manuscript, and also gives advice on how widely you should query when your book may be seen as niche.

Interacting with our readers is a way to build audience and keep them interested between books. Joan Stewart suggests using cheat sheets and checklists to entice and engage readers, Maria Salomão-Schmidt shows how to grow a loyal fan base the LOFABA way, and Janet Reid talks about self-publishing short stories to grow your audience even before seeking an agent.

Social media is the main way writers and readers connect. Roz Morris has 2 reasons to use your official author name on Twitter, and Penny Sansevieri shares what you need to know for successful Amazon ads.


Ellie Bates compiles 33 little things you may not know about J.K. Rowling.

A new museum exhibition looks at the whimsical chameleon figure behind the myth of Sylvia Plath.

Brooke Hauser looks at the feminist legacy of The Baby-Sitters Club series.

Book lovers, here are some “weird” book quirks that are actually quite justified.

Language is always evolving—from pictographs to alphabets to emojis. Can emojis help start the conversation on topics that are often uncomfortable and sometimes actually taboo, such as menstruation? One group thinks so.

In 1838 Salem, a Southern gentleman sought an elusive Nathaniel Hawthorne—or did he?

That’s it for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you next week!

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