Chrysalis: Emerging Women Writers

September 16, 2011


Filed under: Technique,Writing — Lisa Nowak @ 10:14 am

Here’s a link to some free software that will allow your computer to read Word documents out loud to you. Very cool, very useful in editing. It works with PCs, and while there is a Mac version available, a friend has told me that the free version is limited. I’ve been using this program a lot lately, both to catch typos and missing words, and to check for overall smoothness in my writing. I can’t begin to say how helpful it’s been.

After it downloads, click to install (rather than saving it). Let the setup wizard do its thing.

Once it’s installed you might have to take extra steps to get it to show up on your toolbar in Word. Here is what their FAQ says to do.

I’ve installed WordTalk but can’t see the toolbar in Word 2003

  • (In Word) Go to Tools>templates and Add-ins;
  • Click on the add button;
  • browse to the file in c:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\microsoft\word\startup.

You might also have to turn on the toolbar. Go to “View” then “toolbars” and select “WordTalk.” You can find a key to what the each tool means here:

You can also adjust the voice from male to female. From the Start menu go to “settings” then “control panel.” Double click the “speech” icon. In the box that opens, choose the “text to speech” tab. There will be a choice of at least two voices, one male and one female. Choose the one you like and adjust the speed.

That’s it. Now you can play around with your new toy.


April 4, 2011

Making a Character Collage

Filed under: Technique,Writing — Lisa Nowak @ 10:57 pm

Skeptical? I was too. Forget all that artsy-fartsy stuff, let’s get to the story! But after writing four books with the same characters, I was faced with starting from scratch on my latest manuscript. That left me feeling a little lost. How the heck did I do it all those years ago?

Fortunately, I remembered something I’d seen on Stina Lindenblatt’s blog about creating a character collage. She initially wasn’t so hot on the idea, either, but she said it really helped her get in touch with her characters.

While Stina used magazines, I quickly rejected that idea. All I could find were a couple of those muscle rags they slip in your bag at GNC when you aren’t looking and some Road and Tracks my husband was throwing away. Surely the Internet had something better to offer!

I started out by going to stock photo sites looking for a secondary character. I’d been trying to describe him and realized I didn’t have a good picture in my head. After pouring through tons of photos (i.e. wasting three hours), I found one I liked. I used the “print screen” feature to make a copy. Looking at it compelled me to know more about him, to want to write his story. That got me hooked, and I started looking for others. I realized I wasn’t limited to the stock photos, which you often have to pay for unless you want a watermark smack in the middle of the photo. I also used Google Images and typed in traits like “long black hair”.

Once I identified my characters and touched them up in Photoshop to deal with things like the wrong eye color or those pesky watermarks, I started finding images that represented the characters past, hobbies, and traits. I got a piece of foam core and arranged everything on it. (If you want to be really deep, you can mess around with symbolism here. For example, a cell phone represents a special connection between two of my characters, so I made the image of the phone overlap the photos of those characters.) I gave each character his or her own corner of the foam core, with the protagonist in the middle.

Click to Enlarge


Be sure you lay everything out before you start gluing it down. I realized after I was done that, had I positioned two characters beside each other, one of the items that has meaning for both of them could have been used to join them. You’d think I would have learned from that cell phone….

January 13, 2011

Notes from April Eberhardt’s Lecture

Filed under: Motivations,Technique,Writing — Lisa Nowak @ 11:09 am
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The following notes were taken by  Lisa Nowak and Alice Lynn at the Willamette Writers Meeting on January 4, 2011:

The publishing models are changing.  Power is shifting to the author.

The Big Six publishers are offering fewer books and their share of the market is dropping.  The count of e-Books and self-published books has risen to over a million and that number is bound to increase.  Authors and readers no longer need big publishers the way they used to

At the end of 2010, there were 10.3 million e-readers, up from 3 million in 2009

E-Books comprise 1/3 of all sales now, jumping up from 1/2 of 1%

There are more options now to getting published.  Authors need to make more informed choices and must check their individual goals.  Some options include publishing with Scrib, Smashwords, and Publication Studio, located in Portland. The hybrid models include a sharing of costs and profits between the agent or publisher and the author

The route you choose today can change tomorrow.  You need to stay on top of the latest changes.  But some successful authors are going to self-publishing.

There are three publishing choices:

  • Traditional: using an agent
  • Submitting to small and University presses
  • E-Books

Traditional publishing can include not only the big presses (like The Big Six) but also the smaller presses.  However, agents rarely submit to smaller presses.

Traditional Model


  • Someone else does much of the footwork
  • You enjoy the status of being published by a major house


  • Chances of finding an agent are slim
  • The chances of an agent actually selling your work to a publisher are slim and getting slimmer.
  • Advances are shrinking, and in some cases, non-existent.
    • Advances now range from 5,000 to 10,000 dollars (down from the 6 figure numbers of old); Advance are paid in dribs and drabs over a long period of time, like a year, and maybe more.  They stretch it out.
  • It can take up to 2 years (or as long as 4) to actually see your book in print.
  • Even with a publisher, you need to do much of the marketing yourself
    • You’ll need to set up and maintain a website
    • Publicize yourself
    • Pay for much of or all of book tours
  • You lose all your rights; e-rights, movie rights, re-print rights etc.
  • If your first book doesn’t sell well, they won’t even look at your next one.
  • You may or may not make a profit.
  • Big publishers are looking for blockbusters.

Small and Independent Presses


  • You may get a small advance, set up book cover, some marketing
  • Status of being published by an established press


  • You will need to do the research —lots of it—before choosing who to submit to.
  • You may not hear back for two years if at all on submission
  • Competition is fierce
  • Advances are often non-existent
  • If accepted, it can still take 2 years to publication
  • You have to do most of the marketing yourself
  • You probably won’t make a profit
  • Chances of acceptance are small



  • You’re in control
  • You retain all your rights (very important)
  • Once your cost is recovered, you make a profit
  • You can choose, change or redesign your book and/or cover
  • You can do two versions of the same book for different markets (some folks have)
  • You can write in different genres (some traditional publishers frown on this)
  • Relatively easy and inexpensive
  • The web is an easy and cost effective marketing resource


  • There is still something of a stigma to self-publishing
  • There is a public perception that self-published books are second rate, though putting out your best work, carefully edited and presented, will help to dispel that idea; there have been cases where self-published works have been picked up by an agent or traditional publisher and become very successful.
  • You still have to market and promote your book, but you control the expenditures.

Advice about self-publishing:

  • Be sure you have a good story!!!
  • It has to be well written!!
  • It has to be edited; hire a professional freelancer to edit before submission
  • Critique groups and Trade critiques are also good
  • It’s good to have a book that fits in a niche
  • Check out the web and explore
  • Create an arresting cover; even for e-Books. Covers sell!  Get a pro to do it.
  • Tune up your marketing skills
  • You can hire professionals who are out of a job for specialized things like layouts, editing, or cover design and marketing.
  • Network with friends and associates

Check out Publisher’s Weekly.  Sometimes they review self-published books.

Bookstores aren’t really a good deal…although Powell’s carried some self-published work.  A possible way to get your self-published work into a bookstore would be to organize a group of writers to approach them.

Lightning Source (a publishing option) works with Ingrams who will distribute your book to bookstores (of course they get a % as does the bookstore!).

Be active in blog tours; maybe someone will give you an interview in one.

Traditional publishers will usually do a run of 5,000 to 10,000 books for a new author; if they don’t sell, they’re “re-possessed” and dumped in a landfill.  😦

Investment in Self Publishing: About $3,000 includes:

  • Professional editing
  • Proper layout
  • Cover design

Marketing and Promotion

The Hybrid Model of Self-Publishing covers

  • Cover design
  • Layout
  • Editing
  • They develop a website to market your book to a targeted audience

Contact “agent presses” prior to self-publishing.

Marketing through Facebook is also an option

Using your email contacts, send an announcement, a synopsis, a thumbnail of the cover, and ask if they would tell the people they know about your book.

Go to a topic related to your book on the Internet; find site sthat might or would be interested in your book and see if you can link to them and/or advertise on their site.

Google “New Publishing Models”

January 7, 2011

Keeping Track of Time

Filed under: Resources,Technique — Lisa Nowak @ 9:32 am
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It’s important to have a clear sense of the passage of time in your book, but that can be difficult to do from notes. I find it easier to have a visual cue, so I use Excel to create a calendar with squares large enough in which to jot down major plot points. There are calendar-generating programs available as well.

You can also find calendars for past years online, which can be convenient if you’re writing historical fiction. The website below allows you to create calendars which include holidays and phases of the moon for different years in various countries.

Here’s a PDF of a blank Excel calendar page that you can print:  Blank Calendar

December 28, 2010

Let a Little Physical Activity Jog your Creativity

Filed under: Motivations,Resources,Technique,Writing — Lisa Nowak @ 11:24 am
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When I’m writing I sometimes have trouble getting the words to flow, but I’ve found that a little physical activity will jog loose those ideas. I bought a digital recorder to capture my inspirations, and now I carry it with me whenever I take a walk or a drive. The model I use is a Panasonic RR-US450. It allows you to store up to 99 files in each of its folders, and you have to make a conscious effort to erase one, so you can’t accidentally record over your old thoughts, the way you can with tapes. This machine comes with software that allows you to download your notes to a computer. The voice recognition feature isn’t the greatest, but I understand that you can use Dragon NaturallySpeaking once the files are on your computer. Even without that feature, keyboard commands allow you to stop and start the file so you don’t have to interrupt your typing to pause the recording. In addition, the recording reverses by several words when you resume playing, so if you’re a lousy typist like me, you can easily catch what you missed.

December 8, 2010

Making a Jpg from a Screenshot

Filed under: Resources,Technique — Lisa Nowak @ 11:07 am
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Over the past few years I’ve come up with a lot of shortcuts that help with writing. A blogging friend of mine,  Casey McCormick,  has a Tuesday Tips page which I’ve been submitting these to, but I thought the members of Chrysalis might benefit from them as well. I’ll start posting them here from time to time.

The first one isn’t a writing tip per se, but it is something I find helpful for blogging and other creative endeavors. With a PC there’s a simple way to create jpgs of anything you see on your screen without having special photo software. (You Mac people will have to figure out your own way to do it.)

First, locate the image you want to make a jpg of and bring it up on your screen. It can be anything on the Internet or your desktop, or even in Word (for example, I used this technique to create jpgs of two buttons on the Word toolbar). Next, press the “PrtScrn” key on your keyboard. It should be at the upper right, above the “Insert” key.

Now open a Word document and click “Paste” (or type control “V”). You should see a small replica of whatever was on your computer screen when you pressed the “PrtScrn” key. It may look too tiny to do anything useful with, but we’re not finished, yet.

To edit the picture, right click on it. From the menu choose “Show Picture Toolbar”. The Picture Toolbar should open somewhere on your screen. Click on the “Text Wrapping” tool that looks like a little dog. Select “In Front of Text” from the pull down menu. This will allow you to move the object around on the page independent of any text. It will help in the event that you’ve pasted more than one image into the document.Now click on the “Crop” tool, which looks like a couple of plus signs at an angle from each other. When you hover over the white adjustment squares at the edges of your image, you should see the cropping icon instead of the sizing arrow (if you don’t, click the Crop tool again). By dragging the white squares you can now crop the image.Once you’ve cropped your image, click somewhere outside it in the document to deselect the cropping tool. When you click on the image again, you’ll see that you’re back to the resizing tool. You can now drag the white squares at the corners of your image to enlarge it.

When you have the image formatted the way you want it, it’s time to save it as a jpg. I do this with Paint, a program that comes with your PC. You can open Paint by going to “Start” then “Programs” then “Accessories”. With Paint open, go back to your Word document, select your image, and copy it. Return to Paint and paste the image. (If your image is very small, you might need to reduce the size of the white background so it doesn’t show as part of the jpg. You do this by dragging the corners.)

Once you’re image is pasted to Paint select “Save As” from the File menu. When the Save Box pops up, it should direct you to the “My Pictures” file. If you want your image to go somewhere else, select the appropriate location. Now give the image a name in the “File Name” box at the bottom. Directly below that you’ll see the “Save as Type” box. From the pull down menu, select “jpg”. Now click “Save”. You now have a jpg of your image, which you can use the same way you’d use any jpg. Because you can use this method to make an image of anything you see on your computer screen, it’s a pretty powerful tool. When you can’t find any other way to save an image, this will get the job done. Naturally you’ll want to be aware of copyright law when using other people’s images.

October 20, 2010

Silence That Inner Editor

Filed under: Technique,Uncategorized,Writing — K. @ 8:23 pm

I came across a little trick the other day that I’m pretty sure will help me, and maybe it will help you, too. I am plagued by that awful Ms Inner Editor, who criticizes almost every sentence, sometimes nearly every word I put down in my first draft and wants me to “stop immediately and correct that! Right now, you! Don’t go any further until you fix what you’ve done.”

The effect of Ms IE is that I often will go back over a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph of more, taking out certain words and replacing them, then sometimes replacing them again, until I’m able to move onto the next sentence. This makes writing a first draft extremely difficult and tedious, if not impossible. Yes, I’ve heard that’s the way Dean Koontz does it, polishing each page before going to the next, so at the end of the novel, well, that’s really the end. His first draft, second draft and final draft, all right there and wrapped up neatly, ready to go. I’m not sure if that anecdote is true, first off, and second, I’m certainly no Dean Koontz with a proven track record and miles of printed pages out on the bookstore shelves.

I need every trick I can find right now to just blast through the first draft and get it all down, so I can go back and edit and smooth and make it shiny. So what’s this trick? To get the whole effect, read this blog by Andy Shackcloth. This is just the nutshell version.

So there you are, writing along happily for a few sentences or paragraphs and then ugly Ms IE pops up and says, “Eeeeewwww, that’s not right! Here, let’s fix it before you go on. It’ll take just a second.” Liar! Two minutes later you’ll still be trying to get it just right and the wind will be gone from your sails. You’ll be dead in the water. So try this: Smile sweetly to acknowledge Ms IE  then put a # mark right there where she thinks your stuff stinks. The # is shift+3. Then go and and finish your first draft, using this little # at each spot where Ms IE flicks her long scarlet fingernail at you. When you are done! It’s over! First draft complete! then you can use the search function of your word processing software (for Word, it’s “Find” under the “Edit” top menu) to highlight all those # marks.

Of course, you’ll want to completely edit the whole first draft, not just those highlighted spots, but knowing you’ve marked the troublesome areas will free up your writing mind to keep going. You don’t need to worry about forgetting to fix it later.

So see, Ms IE! I wasn’t ignoring you, I was just saving your Quality Control notes for me to deal with later. So no more nasty looks from you.

Let me know how this works for you. I’ll be trying it during NaNoWriMo when it’s go for the glory, worry about the guts later.


August 6, 2010

Pitching With the Pros

Filed under: Critiques,Technique,Writing — K. @ 9:50 pm

Hi, I’m Kathie and this is my first blog post for Chrysalis. Glad to be here.

This weekend I’m attending my first Willamette Writers Conference. It’s right here in Portland so hard to pass up. I was fortunate to get a tip a couple of months ago (thanks Lisa!) about working as a volunteer and getting in for just the cost of meals. Yeah, I’ll miss a few workshops due to my volunteer assignments, but that’s better than deciding I can’t justify the whole price of admission and not going at all.

Thursday evening was the Open Pitch Practice, free to anyone who showed up. Literature pitches in two big rooms, screenplay pitches over in another area. I sat in on the lit pitches just to see how it all works. I don’t have anything nearly ready to pitch, just barely started, but it sounded like an interesting event and I thought I could pick up some tips from the agents.

The room I was in had three NYC agents on the panel: Paul Levine, Laurie McLean, and Gordon Warnock; and Kristin Sevick, an editor for Tor. Sometimes they all had similar comments on a particular pitch, but each brought their own flavor to the event. Each writer stood up as her name was called and went through the pitch. Then the agents reviewed the pitch itself: what was said, how it was said, what wasn’t said.

Here are my scribbled notes, to keep in mind the next time you find yourself standing around with an agent:

  1. State the title, the genre and word count first off, and say it’s complete. They don’t want to hear that you’re halfway through it or even that you’re making final edits.
  2. Don’t be tentative – have confidence in your work.
  3. Cite similar authors or similar novels.
  4. Don’t give too many details (character names, places, minor subplots) or the agent will get lost.
  5. Have your log line ready. What’s a log line? A simple one sentence summary of your whole novel. One of the agents explained it something like this: Take your synopsis and cut it in half. Take that and cut it in half. Keep doing that until you’re left with one sentence that explains it all. Here’s some info and examples.
  6. Develop various pitches and practice them all. You should have a log line, a 1-minute pitch, a 2-minute pitch and a 3-minute pitch.
  7. You can start with, “It the story of … “
  8. Hit the high points – Act 1, Act 2, Act 3
  9. Don’t read the pitch, and don’t recite from rote. Talk about it. Your pitch should tell about your project but not be a memorized speech.
  10. They know you’re nervous and excited and will excuse most of that, but you need to speak coherently enough so they can follow your plot.
  11. If it’s a memoir, it can’t just be your life story, if you want to sell it. It needs to have overarching themes that everyone can relate to.
  12. Know where your book would fit in the bookstore – where would it be shelved? This was asked repeatedly by one of the agents. “Where would I find your book? Tell me your genre.”
  13. For a first-time author of adult fiction, 80-100k words tops, for reasons of publishing economics. The publisher will want to keep the price point low for a new author. A long manuscript means the publishing would be too expensive and so they will have you cut your MS down a lot.
  14. Be agreeable – the agent is not only considering your work, but also *you.* Does the agent want to work with you?
  15. Don’t query until the work is ready to go – agents only want to see your best stuff, complete and polished.
  16. Tell the agent about your background and any writing/publishing credits you have. Especially if you’re writing a non-fiction book and you have a degree or career in that subject.
  17. If you have to explain your story too much, then it’s not right. Fix it.

Wow, that was a lot of info packed in the two-hour period, and it was really helpful to hear the pitches and then the agents’ responses. The agents were polite and respectful but also to the point, which is the only way to truly give good advice.

So my goal now is to have something to pitch next year. Better get started!

January 12, 2010

The First Step of a Novel: Get ‘Er Down

Filed under: Technique,Uncategorized,Writing — Barb @ 11:50 pm
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Welcome to the new writers who have joined our group.

A frequent question that has come up is: How should I start writing a novel? We’ll answer that question, but first, raise your hand and repeat after me:

My basic goal is to get the story down on paper.

Now for the different approaches:

Let ‘er Rip:

Sit down, tell the editor in your brain to shut up and write. Now is not the time to fuss over the intro hook, a cliff hanger for every scene, and punctuation. Simply tell your story. Yes, it probably isn’t Pulitzer worthy. Then edit it.  Go through it a couple of times, at least. You’ll find the beginning is usually weaker than the ending because you’ve become a better writer by the time you reached the end.  Edit the beginning several times.

You’ll want to make it the best you can before bringing it to critique. Why would you want folks to tell you things you already know how to do? Use the critique time to gain new insights and info into technique.

Let ‘er Flow(chart)

A story proceeds across my wall in sticky notes.  Different characters’ storylines are in colors, while the main story flows down the center. So, I know the plot, character development, and pacing before I start.  I also know how it begins, ends and where the turning point falls in between. Armed with this information, I’ll follow the Let-er-Rip technique and get the story on paper.  Miss editor-in-my-mind will come by later and make snarky comments.

Let ‘er Be Plotted

This includes not only a visual chart of the characters’ development and story events, but notecards.

*Character notecards (color coded) Contain description, fears, relationships, history, family, nicknames, etc.

*Chapter notecards: Goals for each chapter, Action within chapter; notes about foreshadowing;

YOu may even break chapters into scene notecards.

*Pacing Chart. The action of each chapter or scene can be graphed to give you  visual evidence that your story is not flat-lining.

This technique requires a lot more prep, but the benefit is that you’ll have developed your characters so throughly and the story so deeply that writing will go much more quickly (and usually the editing will too.)

When I first started, I just wanted to write. Phooey on all that planning stuff. There are some very accomplished writers who use this technique successfully.  For me, I  ended up editing the manuscript at least 15 times.  It could probably STILL use some work.

That’s okay. I’ve accomplished my basic goal. Little steps.

Get ‘er Down on Paper.

November 11, 2009

From the Beginning…

Filed under: Contests,Motivations,Technique,Writing — Barb @ 12:43 am
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Okay,  Put your thinking caps on.

Your job is to come up with a simple sentence. The beginning hook for a story. It must be based off the picture below. Funny, sad…whatever.

Post your one sentence hooks in the comments. Enter as often as you wish.

We’ll announce the winner in a couple of weeks. I’m not sure what the prize is yet, but you’ll have to come to Chrysalis to get it.

Have fun. Get Creative.

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