Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Happy New Year! Have You Planned Your 2017 Yet?

Happy New Year!

I wish you peace, joy, prosperity and health in 2017!

Also: I wish you fulfillment of all your goals.

Did I mention resolutions? Nope.

I don’t believe in resolutions. Resolutions are something most people make between the countdown to the new year and the champagne they drink at 12:01. Almost no one sticks to their resolutions. I gave up making them more than a decade ago.

Instead, I make goals for the new year. I plan — which is not to say that things never hit the fan and life is golden. Things do happen, and I miss goals, but I generally get more accomplished than if I’d not planned to begin with.

I’ve been planning 2017 for a few months now, both personally and professionally, and made a few decisions about what I’ll be concentrating on in 2016. If you haven’t done any planning yet, use January as your planning month and move forward from there. It’s not too late.

Begin by Reviewing Your 2016
Always review last year (last month, last week) to see what you accomplished and what you could do better. Here are some questions to think about:

– What major events happened in 2016?
     – Finish a book? Publish a book? Attend a convention or writing retreat?
– What big and small goals did you accomplish?
     – Learn how to self publish? Write cover copy? Use a new social media venue?
– What challenges did you overcome?
     – Speak in public? Submit a story to an agent? Finish a short story?
– What could you have done better?
     – Spent more time in the writing chair? Listened to your critique group or editor about something? Concentrate on area of writing: dialogue, grammar, scene setting?
– Have you become a better writer in any way?
     – Finished more scenes? Wrote more words? Took a grammar or spelling class? Studied dialogue?

Even if you’re not a writer, you can use these questions to plan, just consider them outside the writing angle.

If you’re not a writer, consider:

– What big things happened in 2016?
– What large and small things did you accomplish?
– What did you overcome?
– What could you have done better?
– Have you become a better (husband/wife/co-worker/fill-in-the-blank) in any way?

Next, Decide What You Want to Do

Now, consider what you want to be. I know that’s a bit vague, but planning your goals will depend on what you want to be at the end of the year.

– Do you want to be a better writer? If so, what is your definition of “better?” Find your voice? Improve your grammar? Write more words? Accomplish more chapters? Finish more books?
– For non-writers (or, even for writers who want to tackle both professional and personal goals: do you want to spend more time with your family? Lose weight? Improve a particular skill? Etc.

Be specific here. You can’t plan effectively if you don’t have a specific goal.

For example: “Lose weight” is not a specific goal. Instead, consider, “Lose 10 pounds by March.” For writers, instead of “Write more,” try, “Write 10,000 words per month.”

Once you have a specific goal, you can break it down into smaller steps. Work on those steps daily, and you can accomplish great things.

Are you like me? There are too many goals on your list for this year? That’s where prioritizing comes in. I’ll write about that next week…

I hope you’ll plan with me this year. Some of my goals include:

– Increasing my word-count production by 10%
– Writing a non-fiction book (as well as the fiction and short stories!)
– Taking a class on marketing

What do you hope to accomplish this year? Leave me a note in the comments! =)

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Writing Prompt – The Personal Essay

dreamstimefree_63535-eI rarely explore prompts categorized as “personal essay.” I include them in a lot of suggested prompts, but they aren’t often the focus of my blog since I generally talk about fiction.

But personal experiences bolster fiction. It’s these experiences that allow authors to write what they “know.” They lend realism to an otherwise imaginative tale.

When you choose a suggested prompt below, spend some time remembering the details of what occurred or visualizing events or objects before you start to write. Have things clear in your mind so they can be clearly articulated in the writing.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about an event in your life that you considered bad – but turned out to have a good impact. Use a chronological format to pinpoint when your negative feelings turned to positive ones. Spend some time exploring your state of mind and what brought about the change.
  • Write about one day in your life which is particularly memorable: something that is so burned into your memory, you’ll never forget. Tell what happened, but expound on the reasons it’s so meaningful.
  • Have you ever been involved in a discussion or argument where you thought of the most right or perfect thing to say after it was all over? Here’s your chance to change history: re-write the event as it should have gone, if you’d said the right thing at the right time.
  • Write about a time that weather impacted your life. In the essay, include details of the weather by using your senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
  • Write about a family tradition or heirloom. Has something been handed down for generations – or is something celebrated in a distinct or unusual way? Visualize the artifact, or recount the details of the celebration in general, or one in particular. Write a letter as though you were explaining these things to a younger family member. What makes them so important?
  • Write about a day in your life when nothing went right from the moment you got up in the morning until you pulled the covers over yourself in the evening at bedtime. How did you feel? (Frustrated? Angry? Powerless?) Think about one thing which could turned the day around. What would that be? How would you do things differently?
  • Good luck!


    Cover of Sky Lit Bargains by Kelly A. Harmon depicts a woman dressed in armor, leaning against a stone wall.

    Have you read Sky Lit Bargains?

    Forced to leave home when her twin sister marries because her new brother-in-thinks he’s gotten a ‘two for one’ deal, Sigrid takes up arms to make her own way.

    Photo Copyright © Randall White | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

© Mariykaa | Dreamstime.comThe Husband of Awesome™ and I closed up the garden last weekend. We wrapped up the delicate figs with blankets, hoping to baby them over until the spring. We gave the lawn a last once over, hoping it won’t need to be cut again this year. I hacked about a bazillion volunteer Rose of Sharon bushes out of the front flower bed.

There’s more to do, fertilizing and getting empty pots back into the shed, for instance. We just ran out of time.

I love tending the garden, whether it’s spring–and the ground is ripe for rebirth–or fall, when blooms are dying off and everything is ready for sleep. I love the dirt. (And puttering is a great time to noodle over plots.)

Gardens are so full of metaphor…and wonderful inspirations for writing.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about the sending down of roots (or balling up of them -if the plant is trapped in a pot). Write about making roots of your own, or pulling up your roots and moving on. Write about severing your roots.
  • Write about a character that’s been transplanted. If you journal, write about a move you made.
  • Write about a garden in the spring, or the summer, or the winter, or the fall. Carefully choose imagery to depict the season. Does a tree look the same in summer as spring?
  • Weeds. Write about pulling weeds in a garden, or culling the weeds from your life. Write about a character living in the weeds. Write about weed. 😉
  • Is former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins correct, “The soil is full of marvels…”?
  • What grows in the garden of earthly delights?

Good Luck!


Image Copyright © Mariykaa | Used by permission.

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Writing Prompt: Exercise and Creativity

Image of a runner's feet:  Copyright: Warren Goldswain I just got a new treadmill, ostensibly to shed a few pounds gained during my two foot surgeries in the last year. I prefer running outdoors, but with winter coming, the treadmill is the best bet to get back on track during the darker winter months here.

A few of my writer friends have turned their treadmills into writing desks, citing all the health benefits of obliterating a sedentary lifestyle. Not wanting to be left out, I’m giving it a try.

The Husband of Awesome™ and I made a trip to one of those lumber superstores and purchased a plank, some eye bolts and bungee cords. In less than an hour, I had a fairly decent makeshift desk on the arms of a treadmill. A ‘breakfast in bed’ lap desk (never used, alas!) and a cardboard riser on top the plank have lifted the keyboard, monitor and mouse to the appropriate level.

It’s fairly comfortable, and I spent an hour on the treadmill Wednesday, after my workout, to read email and work on my WIP (walking uphill at 1.7 miles an hour).

I got a lot of work done!

And it prompted me to do some research on the correlation between exercise and creativity. There’s plenty of research to be found, such as this paper on exercise and creativity by doctors David M. Blanchette, Stephen P. Ramocki, John N. O’del and Michael S. Casey.

They found that, “aerobic exercise may positively impact creative potential, and that these effects may extend for some period of time,” and “results suggest that orthodox aerobic workouts have potential benefits in aiding creativity processes, [and that exercise] potentially provides tangible improvements to creative productivity.”

So, exercise may not only help the creative process in individuals, but it may improve it!

Here’s Your Prompt:

  1. Go do some aerobic exercise! Take a run, walk briskly, jump rope, etc. for a half an hour. (Standard disclaimer here: please check with your doctor to make certain you’re fit before starting any exercise program!)
  2. Pull out a creative project that’s been giving you some trouble: a poem where you can’t find the right words, a story you’re blocked on, an art project you just can’t envision, etc. …and give it another try. Or…
  3. Start a project you’ve been meaning to get to, but has seemed daunting in the past. (Perhaps the exercise will help you think more clearly about how to proceed…) Or…
  4. Spend some time on your WIP. Do you have a better idea of how to proceed? A more clear idea of where to incorporate plot points or messages or meter? Perhaps you’ve thought of a new idea to add to the work.

Good Luck!

Image, “Runner’s Feet,” Copyright: Warren Goldswain. Used by permission.

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Blending In

Today’s writing prompt is brought to you by the wonderful cephalopod: the octopus. The video below shows how quickly (less than a second in some instances) an octopus can blend into its surroundings.

Most people try to do the same thing, as first evidenced in grade school: wear what everyone else is wearing, get the most popular haircut, carry the same backpack.

What happens if you don’t? Nothing, if you’re lucky. But if you’re the kid (or the adult, even) who stands out, you often face a boatload of ridicule.

(An aside about ridicule: it’s nothing to be scared of.)

And it doesn’t even have to be your accessories which make you different: did you go prematurely gray in high school? I knew a fellow. Need the first “training” bra? Have ultra-curly hair?

You see where I’m going?

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about a character who needs to blend in: Maybe he’s a detective who’s following a kidnapper. Or someone with a notorious past who just wants to be left alone. Maybe your character is an alien who’s just trying to pass. Maybe it’s a girl in high school.
  • Write the opposite: write about the guy who refuses to conform, fit in, or blend. What kind of abuse does he take? Maybe he’s too touch to be abused. Is he spurned or idolized?
  • If you journal, write about a time you stood out, and really would have preferred not to.


Good Luck!

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Writing Prompt: Preparedness

A cannon with all the equipment needed to prepare and fire a shot. Vintage Civil War artillarySeptember is National Preparedness Month. Since I work for a government agency, we’re getting repeated reminders to:

  • Stay Informed
  • Make a Plan
  • Build a Kit
  • Get Involved
  • …all with the usual hype and rhetoric.

    (I’m all for being prepared, btw, I just don’t think it should be a crazed, one-month endeavor. Shouldn’t you be prepared all of the time?)

    I don’t know if it’s related to Preparedness month, but the local constabulary hijacked our public parking lot Monday morning to hold some kind of drill or training session. Most had on helmets and were holding those clear, riot-control, body shields.

    All I could think of on my way out to lunch was, “Time to speed! Floor it!” With all the local police tied up playing war, there couldn’t have been a better time. I wish I could have laid down some rubber on the way out of the parking lot.

    Here’s Your Prompt:

    • Write a story about someone who has prepared to the nth degree for something, but still failed because he or she hadn’t considered something else.
    • Write about a character who throws caution to the winds, and enters into a situation (or situations) without a thought for preparation.
    • “For all your days prepare,
      And meet them ever alike:
      When you are the anvil, bear—
      When you are the hammer, strike.”

      ~ Preparedness By Edwin Markham. The Gates of Paradise and Other Poems (1928)

    • If you journal, write about a time you prepared for something: an exam, a recital, a race, etc.
    • Or, write about a time when you thought you were well prepared, but weren’t.
    • Write about a time you thought you weren’t prepared enough–but you were.
    • Write about a character that helps another character prepare for something, then have the character utterly fail. Failure could mean the loss of his life, his job, a limb — something totally devastating. Make the story not about the person who failed, but about the person who helped him.

    Good Luck!

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Family Highs and Lows

Two inquisitive ducks - Photo Copyright Peter Elvidge found at Dreamstime Stock PhotosFamily can be the source of great joy, or utter despair.

I love my family. I love getting together and seeing each other and just plain talking on the phone. When I get to yakking with my sister or brother or my Mom or Dad, even my aunt…we’re nearly always on the phone for over an hour. We can’t help ourselves.

This could be because nearly two thirds of my family lives out of state. (Funny that, they’re all from here …but moved away.)

The fact is, I see my out-of-state family a whole lot more than my in-state family. I think it’s because we chat on the phone, we send stuff via snail mail, we make plans…we make the effort, and get together. I invite them, they invite me. The stars don’t always align, but it’s all good.

The in-state side of the family: they’re a little more insular. They prefer to stay in their own neighborhood, where church and close-proximity friends take precedence. Travel is anathema. They live over an hour’s driving distance away, and that feels like such an effort to overcome, apparently. (I drive that distance every day to work and back: it’s a nuisance, but certainly not the great divide.)

But those in-state folks are a whole lot more tech-savvy, I have to admit–always have been. We communicate via email and Facebook and occasionally, Skype. Though it’s all very metaphorical distance-making: family through the telephoto lens. (But still family, even if they keep the rest of us out of their neat little box.)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Make a list of the three best things about someone in your family: these traits could come from a single person or three different family members. Do the same for worst traits. Now, build a composite family character using those traits. Introduce this character in your work in progress as an impediment to the hero getting his way.
  • Similar to above: write an essay about how your family gets in the way of your dreams.
  • Write about a time when your family came to your aid unexpectedly.
  • Write about a family betrayal.
  • If you’re a poet, write a poem about growing up in your family. Describe a singular event that epitomizes what it was like.
  • Describe “the most perfect family.” Write a story about someone who has no family at all, and dreams about being in this perfect family. Does he or she achieve this dream in the confines of your story? What happens?
  • If you journal, write about how you are like your mother or your father. Or, write about how you are unlike your mother or father. Skip the obvious physical distinctions, instead pay attention to opinions, mannerisms and thought.

Good Luck!

Photo copyright © Peter Elvidge | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Writing Prompt – The Eyes Have It

August is National Eye Exam Month.

Coincidentally, I just had my eyes examined. This year, the doctor took photos of my eyes to check for abnormalities. It was a completely painless – and quick – procedure, but anxious-making if only because it’s considered a “medical” test and had to be scheduled outside of the regular eye exam.

And after the exam, which meant the doctor saw something she didn’t like.

What she saw, if unchecked, could result in total blindness for me. (I’m safe, by the way. But it’s still something the doctor wants to watch.)

But the process reminded me of a question someone asked me once: would you rather go blind or go deaf?

I apologize if I’ve offended any of my deaf or blind friends with this question, but I hope you’re agree that it makes for an interesting discussion–if just in the abstract. The point is: what type of major loss–perhaps something you take totally for granted–could you live without the best?

It’s still an awkward question, I know.

My answer: I’d rather go deaf. Tough choice for me, really, but those of you who’ve ever visited or driven in a car with me know: I’ve got music blasting all the time. It’s a major part of my life. Music is pure emotion without any words.

(Song writers, I promise you, are geniuses.)

I think living without music would kill a little part of me. If I couldn’t be a writer, I’d definitely be a musician. But still, I’d rather go silent then dark.

I think I could remember the music better than I could remember sight. Memories fade–images fade–but I’m not certain about tunes. Then again, maybe it’s me.

Try this experiment: picture in your mind the face of a relative long gone. Describe their features, exactly how you remember. Now find a photo and compare. How accurate were you?

Next: try to sing an old nursery rhyme you learned as a child. Can you do it? Maybe Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star or the ABC song… Try one you can’t remember the words to. Can you still hum the tune?

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write: would you rather be deaf or blind?
  • Sit for one minute with your eyes closed in a busy or semi-busi location. After a minute or so, write down the sensations you had, the things you noticed with your other senses: touch, taste, sound, etc. Now try the same experiment with your eyes open. What’s the difference?
  • Find someone who won’t mind you invading their personal space. Now, look into his or her eyes. What do you see there? (Do you see something you haven’t seen before?) Is this the first time you’ve been this close? Eyes are supposedly the ‘windows of the soul.’ Write about your friend’s soul.
  • Write about a memory “through the eyes of a child.” That is, exactly how you remember feeling as a kid about it. Now try writing the same scene as “through the eyes of a stranger.” How do the perceptions differ?

Good luck!

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Writing Prompt – All in a Day’s Work

Backhoe digging dirt in a field.Most people work to earn a living.

So, unless you write about fabulously wealthy people all the time, I’m going to assume that your characters are working-class folk.

And even if you write fantasy, your character is going to have to make a living somehow–whether it be by herding sheep or in the castle guard–so I think you might find this useful.

For most people, work defines who they are. When you meet someone at a party, you’re inevitably asked, “What do you do?” We’re slotted into pigeonholes at first meet: he’s a computer programer, she’s a lawyer, he owns a plumbing and heating company…

This works for fabulously wealthy people who spend their time on good causes, too: She does books for a soup kitchen, he’s a doctor at a free clinic, she reads to the blind.

And like it or not, what we do for a living–or to fill the time–shapes us. We spend a huge amount of our time in pursuit of it: exposed to the politics, embroiled in projects, learning our pecking order, gaining experience both good and bad.

So knowing what your character does for a living is important–even if it’s never mentioned in the book. Because what he learned on the job is a takeaway to his life. Keep this in mind when creating new characters.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a scene or a story about an important event in a person’s life…but come at it from the perspective of work: you can only reveal things as they are happening on the job.
  • Write a story about a person who keeps making the right decisions at work, but keeps landing in deeper and deeper trouble for them.
  • Write the scene (or an entire story) about a bitter person who’s got the dream of a lifetime–her dream of a lifetime–and how it ruined her.
  • Go large on the work idea: write a story that takes place at a business. The characters can only be seen as how they act on the job – no scenes away from the workplace.
  • Write a story where your main character is having trouble keeping his job. This difficulty can be central to the story or not.
  • If you Journal…
    • Write about the loss of your job.
    • Write about all the summer jobs you’ve had, or about your favorite summer job.
    • Write about your Worst. Job. Ever. (Or worst boss!)
    • Have you ever been profoundly effected by someone else’s job — or job loss? Write it.

Good Luck!

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Writing Prompt – How Do People Travel?

Airplane on the RunwayI attended Balticon this past weekend. (Had a terrific time, as usual.)

Balticon takes place at a hotel in Hunt Valley, Maryland and gets booked solid by the time the event rolls around. On the opening day, the hotel entrance is over-crowded by folks who come from all around loaded for bear with all the things they can’t live without for four days.

It’s amazing to see what folks travel with, and how they travel: like the eight folks that traveled together down from New York in a single car, but got separate rooms because they needed the space.

Then there’s the dichotomy of those who will travel as light as possible, forgoing even a change of clothes (I hope they brought their toothbrush!) so they’ll have room in the car for all the treasures they’ll take home; and those who travel with trunks filled with costuming gear, and you’ll see changed several times a day.

I’ve seen folks come in with several coolers and (little red) wagons loaded with food so they never have to leave the hotel in search of a less-expensive meal. (And NOT at Balticon, I’ve seen these same folks pull their wagons and coolers up to a gaming table so they can play all night without having to leave their chair!)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Make a list of things your characters absolutely can’t live without when they’re traveling. And/or, make a list of things your characters can’t live without when they’re just “about town.” Now: lose those items.

    Write the scene where your character needs those items and discovers that they don’t have them. What happens? How do they work around the loss?

  • Send your character on a road trip. Have the car (train, bicycle, airplane — not in the sky!) break down. What happens?
  • “THE silent room, the heavy creeping shade, The dead that travel fast…” — Fabien dei Franchi, Oscar Wilde.
  • Write a scene about how the travel (the view, the journey, the people met) affected your character in a life-changing way.
  • Put your main character in a situation where he or she has the opportunity to embark upon an affair. The setting is a country he’s never been to with a language he does not comprehend.
  • “How heavy do I journey on the way When what I seek, my weary travels end, Doth teach that ease and that repose to say, Thus far the miles are measur’d from thy friend! — Sonnet 50, Shakespeare
  • If you journal, write about a time you traveled that had some profound affect on you. Did you make a promise to live life differently after that? Have you kept that promise?

Good Luck!


Cover of Sky Lit Bargains by Kelly A. Harmon depicts a woman dressed in armor, leaning against a stone wall.

Have you read Sky Lit Bargains?

Forced to leave her home when her twin sister marries, Sigrid takes up arms to make her own way.

$2.99 – Kindle | $4.99 Paperback | $2.99 – Nook

Photo Copyright: © Clarita | Dreamstime Stock Photos