A to Z blogging Challenge: O is for Outlining



“O” is for Outlining

Are you a plotter or pantser? Or a little of both?

I am proud to be a plotter. And here’s why: story ideas come to me all the time, and I don’t want to lose them. So I write down my ideas and I develop them into the outline of a story later, as the mood strikes.

When I am ready to focus on a particular story, I read the outline I started for that story. It’s usually something basic that doesn’t have all the plot points or development I’ll need.

So that’s my next step. I create character arcs, plot arc, and theme arcs. But I don’t get too detailed, plan every twist, or spend too much time on it. And I leave it all open to change, which inevitably happens as the characters come to life during the writing process.

Moving from a developed outline to writing a story has become even easier now that I use Scrivener. I’ll write more about Scrivener on the letter “S” day, but I love Scrivener’s outlining features.

I am also a bit of a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants. When a scene comes to mind–which often happens on long drives or when I should be sleeping–I will devote my time to writing out that scene so that I don’t lose it. Sometimes a specific mood or scene will come first in my story development, and the outline is built around it.

I developed my story Roland West, Loner around a dream. I stood alone in a deep cave behind a waterfall. Rushing water thundered in my ears, and glassy and white sheets of water tumbled down a few inches from me. Sunlight glistened here and there on the water as it splashed to the pool below. I had a secret that I both wanted to keep to myself and wanted to share, something that had the power to reach deep inside and transform a person.

I wrote that scene and the characters, plot, and theme sprang from it!

Benefits of outlining:

  • It gives the writer a way to organize and develop thoughts about character development, plot, themes, and twists.
  • It helps a writer to focus right from the beginning on the characters, theme, and the story that you are telling.
  • I also believe it helps a person to write faster because you know what needs to happen in the scene!
  • It gives you a clear path from beginning to end, which is very encouraging on the days you struggle to write.

So, writer friends, what are you? Plotter, pantser, or both? What benefits do you see in either method?


Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter H ~ Help!



“H” is for “Help!”

This post in the #AtoZChallenge is all about writing. Regardless of the unique ideas and talent you possess, if you want to improve your writing skills and publish an awesome book, you need to seek help.

Fortunately, you can find help in many ways:


Libraries and bookstores – no matter where you are on the writing journey, there is always room for improvement. Check out a few books on writing. Make them part of your home library and read them regularly.


Online resources – make a commitment to regularly search out writing tips and advice online. Learn from your peers. Learn from the pros. While you’ll often come across people who want to sell you something, a ton of information is available at no cost. And it can transform your writing and take it to the next level.

  • Writers Helping Writers – Home of the Bookshelf Muse. This website offers a variety of helpful information (much of it free) for writers, including writing book recommendations and (my favorite) the Thesaurus Collections. The Thesaurus Collection contains “hundreds of descriptive entries to help you add texture and authenticity to your writing.” These descriptions include colors, textures, shapes, character traits, setting details, symbolism, and motifs.
  • The Snowflake Method – you can do an online search to see if this method is for you. Advanced Fiction Writing describes the method, giving you enough fun information to make use of it. Without buying the book or program, I’ve found it helpful in learning the specifics of designing a scene and overall story design.
  • Novel Writing Help and other blogs also offer an abundance of great information from finding ideas to creating compelling characters and developing plot. And everything in between.


Critique groups and partners – if you are new to writing, this might be a scary step. But you’ve got to do it! We love to hear how awesome our writing is, but we need to hear how to improve. Show other authors your work and get their advice. Your local library might have a writers group. But you can join online groups too. Each group will offer something different.

For many years I was a member of the online critique group called Critique Circle. It is free to join. Here you can exchange chapters with other writers and give and receive advice. This was where, many years ago, I first shared chapters of my stories. My writing was wordy and clunky. My readers couldn’t tell how my characters were feeling. And my critique partners weren’t afraid to tell me so. When I received critiques on the first chapter I submitted, I admit I decided I wasn’t cut out for writing. And I gave up. Of course that is not the end of the story. I got back up, smoothed out the balled up pages of my manuscript, taped the critiques back together, and learned how to improve my writing.


I currently belong to a critique group in the Catholic Writers Guild. No matter how great you become at writing, I recommend always being part of a critique group. Critique partners can help ensure a scene or character is coming across the way you intend. My critique partners are awesome and indispensable! And it’s helpful to have critique partners that write in your genre too.

Writers Digest has an article about finding the right critique group for you. Check it out.

Beta readers – these indispensable people can make your story stronger, catch plot holes and other inconsistencies, and so much more. How do you find them? You can find them on Facebook or the other social media platforms you frequent. I recommend choosing from avid readers and/or writers. They will be able to give you the best feedback.

More suggestions: Don’t send a first draft to the beta readers. Give them your very best.  And go ahead and ask them for specific feedback. You can even create a checklist of questions that you’d like them to answer or things you’d like them to look for. Be sure to thank them when they’re done and try to return the favor!

Everything that I suggested in this blog can be accomplished for free. You don’t need to spend money to grow in your craft. But you do need to be committed to it, determined to be the very best and to continually grow.

Happy writing!

I would love to hear about your favorite writing books and online resources! Please share in the comments.



Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter E ~ Editing


“E” is for editing!

If you are a writer, you know how important the importance of editing your work. But when and how do you tackle this?

The temptation to edit strikes a writer from the beginning–chapter one, page one, line one. I suggest that you ignore your editing instincts as you write that first draft. Get your story out while the ideas are fresh in your mind. Step into your protagonist’s life, focus on his or her goal, gaze in horror upon the conflict that stands in the way, delve into the emotions and stress, and write that story!

I recommend this, but I don’t always do it. I am tempted to edit as I go. I often stop in the middle of a sentence and search my mind or a thesaurus for that perfect verb so I can cut an adverb or a weak “to be” verb. Or I want that perfect metaphor or symbol to capture emotion better. But those ideas can come later. In fact, you don’t even need to be actively writing your story to get those ideas (how do you like the weak verb and adverb in this sentence? I’m letting it go).

Step 1: write that first draft! Jot down the symbolism and ideas that come to you while you’re driving or in the night, but don’t slow down to work them into the story at this point. Crank out the story!

Step 2: with the first draft complete, it’s hammer time!hammer.jpg

The first stage of editing begins. It’s time to go back through and hammer out those weak verbs, cut weak phrases, reword those awkward sentences, and add the cool metaphors and symbols that you thought of while walking the dog, taking a shower, listening to your spouse, or navigating through traffic.

Step 3: now it’s time to exchange chapters with your critique partners. Critique partners go in close. They get to know your characters and story line chapter by chapter, and they offer suggestion for strengthening one chapter at a time. My critique partners are amazing and my stories would not be as strong without them. I continue to learn so much about writing, both from their excellent advice and from critiquing their chapters.

Step 4: your manuscript is on its third draft by now, but you may have missed some important elements. So it’s time to release the kracken!



Oh, I mean, enlist the help of a few beta readers. These indispensable people read straight through from beginning to end and often find plot holes, weak character arcs, dangling threads, missing setting descriptions, and other elements critical to good storytelling.

Step 5:  once you’ve made changes based on your beta readers feedback, you might want to go through the story one more time. And then it’s ready for professional editing.

Step 6: if you plan to self-publish, consider having a few more people proofread for typos before you share that bad boy with the world. Otherwise, get cracking and find that agent or publisher!

Looking for a good editor?

Elizabeth Breneman – She is an NCSU graduate with a degree in English. Her passion for the English language has led her to edit a variety of documents, including novels, academic papers, and her college newspaper. Using her background in technical and creative writing, she currently works as a bill proofreader for the NC General Assembly and does freelance editing in her spare time. Contact her via email: ebrenneman93@icloud.com

Michelle Buckman – She is an author, speaker, and editor. Her specialty is content/line editing, but she does copy editing too. She can be reached at: MichellePBuckman@gmail.com Her website is www.MichelleBuckman.com

Lisa Nicholas with Mitey Editing – Lisa has a background in writing, teaching, editing, and publication design and can provide a range of services from developmental editing through proofreading, formatting for ebook publishing and layout design for print production. Stop by her website.

Barb Grady Szyszkiewicz – Barb is an editor at CatholicMom.com, a writer for Today’s Catholic Teacher, and a member of the Catholic Writers Guild. She is also a freelance writer and editor. Check out the editing services she provides on her website.