Tag Archives: writing resources

What I Brought Home from Write Canada 2014

I love going to Write Canada because it’s like three events in one: professional development, a getaway with friends, and a spiritual renewal.

Here are some of the highlights:

The Word Awards Gala: Heaven’s Prey was a finalist in the suspense category, and while it didn’t win, being chosen as a finalist is good affirmation. And I got to cheer for a number of my friends when their work won. (Winners’ list here)

Writing: R.J. Anderson gave me a broader understanding of the ways my individual roots and experiences give a unique flavour to what I write. I’m looking forward to more intentionally discovering my “singular storytelling voice.”

Marketing: Sherry Stahl and a round-table discussion led by Lisa Hall-Wilson gave me some specific tips to help more readers of Christian suspense discover Heaven’s Prey and the rest of the Redemption’s Edge series as those novels are released. Definite homework here.

Friends: It was so good to reunite with old friends and to meet new ones. Some faces were conspicuously absent, since life does interrupt us, and they were missed.

Spiritual: Or is it writing? Or life? Mark Buchanan and Ted Dekker are widely different individuals whose messages overlapped in some key areas. I feel liberated to more fully embrace the gift and calling of writing, to write from a deeper sense of who I am (and Whose), and yet to not tie my identity to writing or to any other aspect of my life.

This and that: I also came home with Aimee Reid‘s new picture book, Mama’s Day with Little Gray (autographed “To Janet’s grandchildren” – not that I’m rushing that event!), a knitting pattern for the little sleeves you put around cups of take-out tea, a little teapot with knitted cozy, and two jars of rhubarb chutney from a friend of a friend.

I am blessed, indeed. For more snippets from the conference, check out my friends’ blogs below. And, in case you’re wondering, a sheep did make an appearance on the final day. Eowyn joined me for a photo-op.

Janet and Eowyn the sheep at Write Canada

Janet with Eowyn the sheep. Photo credit: Susan Stewart.

What other Write Canada attendees are saying:

My Surreal Life Continues

Strawberries and Sandcastles

When is Tension a Good Thing?

The 10 Best Things About Write Canada 2014

Rediscovering the Joy of Writing

Following Up: Victory on the Road to Recovery


A Glimpse Into the Writers’ Life

Memories of My Involvement with Write Canada… 

The Sheep Who Attended a Writers’ Conference

It started as a joke.

One of my sons offered his stuffed sheep as a travelling companion when I packed for Write! Canada in 2012. I have a sheep of my own (named Acton) but he’s big enough to count as carry-on luggage.

Stuffed sheep in a Busy Beads toy

Taking a break between flights in Montreal

Wilhelm, on the other hand, stands maybe 4 inches tall. And he’s cute as all get-out.

He came along. We had some fun on the way.

Then I decided to smuggle him into the first conference session, just so I could say he’d been there.

I listen at Write! Canada. To the faculty, to my fellow attendees, and to God. This theme showed up early: Look. Listen. Recapture wonder and curiosity. 

Look at that face. Could it get more wide-eyed and wonder-filled?

Wilhelm rode in my shoulder bag all conference, peeking out as a visual aid to remind me of the lesson. Unprofessional? Maybe. Quirky? Yup. Conversation starter? Definitely.

We came home with two new books on writing. Have you read either of these? I confess I haven’t read the fantasy one yet, but my review of Unleash the Writer Within is here, and I highly recommend this book.

Unleash the Writer Within cover artThe Write's Complete Fantasy Reference

Advice I’d Give a Newbie Writer

Following the biweekly series of writing-related posts on Ruth L. Snyder’s blog hop, here are my thoughts for new writers:


You are a writer. Don’t wait until you have something published to call yourself one. We tend to be afraid others will laugh at us or think we’re being pretentious, but the truth is, if you write, you’re a writer. Owning that facet of your identity, and giving yourself permission to be that part of who you are, is a step forward, and if you don’t take your writing seriously, no one else will.

You’re not just a writer, though. Don’t neglect the other areas of your life, even if this one’s the most fun.


Take regular time to write. Little bits will add up. If you want to stick with this long-term, learn to write when the muse is silent and when you’d rather be doing anything else. Writing is work.

Keep writing. When you finish a project to the best of your ability, write something else. Don’t tie your hopes to one thing.

Remember the difference between writing for personal expression and writing for readers. They’re both valuable, but if you want others to read your work you need to revise with their interests in mind.

If you decide to self-publish, do the research first. And hold yourself accountable to produce a quality product, including cover art and editing. Don’t sabotage what you’ve written by packaging it poorly.


Get to know other writers online or in person. Learn from their experiences and their mistakes. These are the people who will encourage and understand you, and you’ll do the same for them. Help other writers, with no agenda. Some of it will come back to you anyway. My favourite online writers’ organizations: The Word Guild, InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship, American Christian Fiction Writers.

Connect with other writers, attend conferences if you can. Be teachable, and don’t turn getting published into an idol. Enjoy the journey, and remember that anything worth doing will take time and practice. If you’re good today, imagine how much better your writing will be after you’ve put in your “apprenticeship”.

On conferences: don’t wait until you’ve “earned” the right to be there. The sooner you go, the less bad habits you’ll have to un-learn later. And the more writing friendships and contacts you’ll develop. My favourite conference: Write Canada. Choose a conference based on location but also based on faculty and course options. If you can’t get to one, there are online offerings like WANA International, and many conferences offer mp3s or CDs of their teaching sessions.


As well as conferences, check out books and blogs on writing. A few books I’ve reviewed and recommend: You Are A Writer by Jeff Goins; The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke; Unleash the Writer Within by Cecil Murphey. Blogs I find helpful: How to Write a Story by Valerie Comer; Write With Excellence by N.J. Lindquist; The Seekers (group blog). There are, of course, many more resources. Feel free to leave your favourites in the comments! 


Do your very best. Don’t let fear of imperfection keep you from sharing your work, but remember to make that work shine as brightly as you can. Serve the art. Don’t be careless with it. This goes double if you’re a Christian. Yes, God may have given you the idea. But He gave you the task of presenting it well. He can use poor writing, but good writing gets into the hands of many more people who He may want to touch with it.

The only way to know you won’t succeed is to quit, so persevere.


I mention this last, but if you’re a Christian it actually needs to come first: pray. If God has gifted you to write, He will make a way to use what you write. It may not be what you have in mind, nor on your timetable, but His way is best. Follow His leading, even if it’s into areas of writing that aren’t your top choice. He knows where this will go, long-term.

To read what other writers are saying about this, follow the blog hop: Just click on the image below.

Blog hop for writers

Writing Tools I Use

Why did I abandon mechanical pencils for pens? pen and notes

When I first started writing, I had a thing for mechanical pencils (only the .5mm ones… I was a purist). And I learned to print very small, to cram all the words I could onto a bit of scrap paper.

Perhaps you’ve figured out why I don’t do that anymore… something about trying to see those faint pencil-scratchings while using both hands to type what I’ve written.

Miniscule pen-scratchings, however, are still visible, progressive lenses notwithstanding.

These days, even my first draft is usually done at the keyboard, but devotional notes often come during my morning quiet time with God, and sometimes I write reviews or other blog posts in waiting rooms and such.

On to today’s post: Writing tools. Not resources, because that’s a different post altogether.

Fiction tools, to be specific, because I need more of those.

  • Pen and paper. I don’t leave home without it 🙂
  • Computer, printer, internet, email, Google etc. And backup. Flash drives, dvds, Dropbox for off-site storage.
  • How to Find Your Story and Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist, both from Jeff Gerke. These are interactive worksheets, so I call them tools instead of resources. I bought them together in the Writer’s Foundation Bundle. What I like about these is they walk me through the discovery process and help me think deeper than I might otherwise go.
  • Microsoft OneNote. Those closest to me have heard me rave about the features of this amazing product. I have a OneNote “binder” for online writing and one for each of my novels including the works-in-progress.
  • Scrivener. I’m new to this tool, using it as I revise Secrets and Lies, but as soon as I saw the first video tutorial I was a fan. (Find Scrivener here)
  • Microsoft Excel. I confess I forgot this one until I read NJ Lindquist’s post on writing tools. I don’t use Excel a lot, but as well as keeping track of writing expenses and income for Revenue Canada, I keep a master list of character names in an Excel file. I can sort by first name, last name and by story. That saves me from having too many names beginning with the same letter. Doesn’t help with the more subtle similarities… part of my revisions to Secrets and Lies will be the re-naming of a few individuals. At present there are characters named Hill, Stairs, LaMontagne (the mountain) and Cliff. Wonder what my subconscious was up to with all that!
  • binder and highlighted textHighlighters, pens and binder. Margie Lawson’s online course, Empowering Character Emotions, taught me the basics of her EDITS system, so when it’s final-draft time I print the manuscript and colour-code it to see what still needs work.
  • A program called Klok (I use the free version) that lets me track my time. It helps keep me accountable to actually work, and it lets me see where I’m putting my time. (Find Klok here)

pry bar
These are the tools I use. If you’re a writer, what about you?

Bonus tool: my absolute favourite non-writerly tool, which I am now honour-bound to include in a novel (and I think I know where… she rubs her hands and cackles with glee) → → →

Reader or writer, if you’re interested in writerly tools, click the blog hop image and you’ll find other posts on the same topic.

Blog hop for writers

Picks from 2013

My favourites from 2013:


Best of the year: also most satisfying series wrap-up:

Most satisfying mystery, and very close to best of the year:

Most can’t-wait-to-read-the-next-one mystery:

Most life-changing (fiction):

Most life-changing (non-fiction):

Most satisfying science fiction (and action):

Most satisfying fantasy novel:

Most satisfying speculative fiction:

  • Mask, by Kerry Nietz

Most satisfying historical:

Most laugh-inducing:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:


Most life-changing posts:

Writing Stick-to-it-ive-ness!

Valerie Comer

Valerie Comer

Writing Stick-to-it-ive-ness! (Guest post by Valerie Comer)

Have you ever wanted something so much that you spent a decade learning how to do it with no guarantee you’d ever be successful. . . whatever that means?

Janet’s theme on this site is “tenacity.” It’s vital in so many areas of life. Sometimes we call it stubbornness, but tenacity and diligence sound so much more positive. Either way, it’s the ability to set a goal and dig your heels in until you’ve achieved it.

In 2002 I decided to learn to write fiction. Hours every day had suddenly opened up with nothing to fill them. I’d always toyed with the idea of writing a novel “someday,” and knew this was a God-given opportunity to take the next step. Actually the first step.

Only, I had no idea what that step was. How-to-write books from the library were of little help, but the relatively new Internet pointed to some sites where I could learn. And learn I did. I averaged one novel a year for nine years before I finally sold a novella (ironically unwritten at time of sale), and I’ve written two more since. Over half of these are unsalvageable drafts with huge problems.

The biggest hurdles for me were two-fold.

1. I had no concept of the over-all process. I couldn’t see the steps. You know the cliché “can’t see the forest for the trees?” Well, I couldn’t even see the trees for the twigs. I got bogged down in the minutiae of writing and struggled to find the horizon.

2. I thought writers were either seat-of-the-pants writers (pantsers) or plotters. It took me a long time to “get” that there was a large middle ground in which most writers live. Thus it took me about ten too many novels to find the best practices for me. Now I know better than to tell anyone “this is the way it must be done.”

This spring it seemed the time had come to pay forward and help other, newer writers develop their craft, so I opened a website, To Write a Story, dedicated to teaching fiction from beginning to end. It seems to me that there are six stages in writing: planning, plotting, writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. My goal is to provide an overview of each stage so that writers can keep the forest in mind while they’re focused on those twigs.

To Write a Story

I’ve chosen a two-prong approach:

1. It’s a blog. I post a helpful article every Thursday on one of the six stages. Most of them are written by me, but I accept a small number of guest posts, too.

2. It’s a course. Writers can sign up in the sidebar for my FREE writing course via email. You’ll get a new lesson every week for the better part of a year, walking you through the process from beginning to end.

If you’ve ever wondered just what all is involved in writing fiction, I invite you to subscribe to the course (and/or the blog) and join the 70+ people (about one a day since I opened the course) who are already enrolled. We’re having a lot of fun and I think you will, too!

Want to learn To Write a Story? Then join in!


Valerie Comer’s life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local foods movement as well as their creation-care-centric church. She only hopes her characters enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.

Valerie writes Farm Lit with the voice of experience laced with humor. Raspberries and Vinegar, first in her series A Farm Fresh Romance, releases August 1, 2013, from Choose NOW Publishing.

Review: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card

cover art: How to Write Science Fiction and FantasyHow to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card (Writers Digest Books, 1990)

In How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy Orson Scott Card doesn’t repeat the writing advice he’s given elsewhere (Characters and Viewpoint from Writers Digest Books). Instead he focuses on the particular attributes needed in the speculative genres.

The book contains five sections: The Infinite Boundary (defining the genres), World Creation, Story Construction, Writing Well, and The Life and Business of Writing.

What makes a good science fiction story? A good fantasy? Mr. Card illustrates the differences and provides an extensive reading list. He says we won’t like everything on the list, but we’ll see the varieties within the genre and we’ll see what works and what’s already been over-done. And analyzing our responses will help us discover the style and approach we want to use in our own fiction.

The book offers solid teaching on the crafting and writing of a speculative story (world, history, characters, etc). Mr. Card advocates a lot of thinking and discovery before writing, which may frighten seat-of-the-pants writers, but we’re not starting from the known setting of planet Earth. Without the depth of history and background, our story world and cultures won’t feel real.

Other than the World Creation section (the largest part), any kind of fiction writer can benefit from the information in this book. The examples are from speculative work but the principles apply across genres.

The author gives tips on how to develop what he calls a “Wise Reader,” someone who can read your manuscript and give his/her reactions. The aim is not to get advice on what to do next, but to hear genuine audience reaction to your plot, characters etc. This will help you find those points in the story that don’t achieve your desired impact or effect.

There have been changes since the book appeared in 1990, in speculative fiction and in the general world of writing and publishing. Writers can find that information elsewhere, and will still find this slim book helpful.

If you’re going to write (or are writing) in the speculative genres, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy is an essential resource. If not, you’re still likely to find something helpful in the second half of the book.

Hatrack River is the official website of  Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Orson Scott Card (or visit the directory of all his sites).

[Review copy from my personal library. Review first appeared in FellowScript, August 2012.]

Review: Duke the Chihuahua Writes! by Donna Fawcett

cover art: Duke the Chihuahua WritesDuke the Chihuahua Writes!, by Donna Fawcett (Smashwords, 2012)

Duke is indeed a Chihuahua. He’s, shall we say, mature in years. Bee is an adolescent German Shepherd. Donna Fawcett is an award-winning author of fiction (under the name Donna Dawson) and non-fiction, and a former writing instructor. She’s also a speaker and a singer-songwriter.

When Donna began chronicling Duke’s writing misadventures on her blog, they were so well-received that Duke the Chihuahua Writes! was born. As an eager novice, Duke gets himself into some “teachable moments” on his writing journey. Between them, he and Bee encounter just about everything a new writer needs to learn. Duke even tries his paw at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

In 67 short chapters, the book covers the basics that beginners need to know: research, queries, self-editing, managing submissions, handling critiques and rejections, genres, characters, and more.

Duke and Bee make great company through the book, and readers will have more fun learning vicariously than reading a traditional “do this, don’t do that” instructional approach. The humour is appealing, and some of the author’s word choices are great. For example, Duke is a gentlepooch who, although he drinks cap-pup-chinos, leaves the pawdicures to Bee.

The book’s full title is Duke the Chihuahua Writes! A Self-Help and Slightly Crazy Book on How To Write. It’s available as an ebook through Smashwords. You can learn more about Donna Fawcett on her website. For more about her canine writing buddies, visit Duke and Bee Write or check out their blog.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Picks from 2012

My favourites from 2012:


Most challenging:

Most fun:

Most laugh-inducing:

Most satisfying twist:

Most satisfying mystery:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:

Most likely to re-read:


Favourite movie of the year:


Favourite album of the year:

Blogging Book Reviews: Benefits and Tips

If you read books, it’s a natural progression to talk about them on your blog. Here are six benefits, plus some tips to get you started.

1. New Content

Bloggers have an ongoing need of material. You’re reading anyway; why not get some extra mileage from it?

2. Attract Visitors

Some visitors who find my blog for reviews stay as subscribers, and some write blogs that I’ve added to my own reading list.

3. Promote Your Blog

Join a readers’ group on Facebook and post your review link. Tweet the link with an eye-catching phrase and the hashtag #review.

4. Value Added

If you review books with content related to your other posts, you’re providing resources for your community of readers.

5. Help Others

Your reviews can help readers discover books they’ll love, and they raise awareness of authors you like.

6. Free Books

Publishers and authors provide free books to reviewers, and you only choose the ones you want. (I review for Graf-Martin and BookSneeze®, and I’ve just set up with NetGalley. An Internet search will turn up more options.)

Blogging Book Reviews 101

Be yourself; use your regular blogging voice. Start with a book you think your readers might appreciate.

Keep it short, 300-400 words. Write a brief description (no spoilers!), tell what works (or anything key that doesn’t) and share your personal reaction. Include cover art if possible and a link to the author’s website.

If you didn’t like the book, think twice about reviewing it. Don’t turn it into a personal attack on the author. Be  professional.

If you decide to make this a regular feature, don’t schedule it so tightly that you turn reading into work.

If you were given the book for review purposes, or if you’re using Amazon (or other) affiliate links, include a disclosure to that effect.

[This post originally appeared in Carolyn Wilker‘s monthly newsletter, FineTuned, October 2012 edition.]