Book Review: A Devil in Winter

Book: A Devil in Winter

Author: Lisa Kleypas

Recommendation: Worth a Listen

I haven’t listened to audiobooks in years. I live to close to work, so it’s not worth queuing one up for the short commute. However, we’ve recently been struggling with a toddler who can climb out of her crib, and who will the moment she’s laid in it. As we’ve been working through these nightly issues, it has meant a lot of time in a darkened room.

I decided to borrow an audiobook from the library, and this was one of the few available in the romance genre. I’d picked up two other of Lisa Klepas books in the past, and I didn’t get far in either of them as I didn’t much like the characters. I hated the heroine in one and the hero in the other.

But a bad book was better than no book, so I borrowed it without much hope.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The narration was quite good. It took me almost twice as long to listen to the book as to read it, but as speed wasn’t a concern, I was okay with it.

Plot

A wealthy heiress is desperate to escape her horrible relatives. They beat her, starve her, and otherwise abuse her. She has no recourse as she’s a woman and cannot control her fortune herself. As they plan to force her to marry her abominable and disgusting cousin,  she takes action. I overlooked the absolute heartless family. It’s such a trope in books, that you find it even in modern classics like Harry Potter.

The heroine (Evie) steals out of her house and manages to get to the house of one of the most notorious rakes in London. And, one who is about to have his debts called in. So desperate to find an heiress to marry, he had actually tried to kidnap his best friend’s fiancee. (I assume this is all in another book).

Evie proposes to him. Sebastian St. Augustine marries her, gets her fortune so he gets out of debt, and she gets her freedom. She knows he doesn’t love her, or care about her, so she will be able to come and go as she likes.

He agrees, and the rest of the story revolves around them going from a marriage of convenience to one of love, and all of the changes that both of them undergo for that to happen.

 

Characters

There are lots of characters who make an appearance that I believe are from previous books. If I’d read those books, it probably would’ve meant more to me. I didn’t, and it didn’t detract from the story.

Overall, I was pleased with the characterization. Both Evie and Sebastian had upbringings that shaped them. The reconciliation between the two as they fell in love was real. The emotional distance real. This wasn’t something a 5 minute conversation was going to fix.

Evie needed to come to terms with how her own family had treated her and her ability to care for another. Especially a man with such a jaded past.

Sebastian had to come to terms with the abandonment he’d felt as child, and how he’d responded to it.

 

Steamy Scenes

These were quite good. If I had the book in kindle form, I would go back and reread them. Study them for ways to make my own writing better. I may yet open up the two books from this author I have and find the steamy bits.

 

All in, I am glad they had the book at the library and that I gave the author a second try. I may even go back and take a look at the two books of hers I have.

Six Things I’ve Learned from Strength Training

So, I’m a couple of weeks in on strength training. And, it reminds me that I’m not twenty-seven any more.

There are things I’ve struggled to do, things I’ve had to ease back on to avoid injury, and days where my body just aches.

I usually walk one-and-a-half miles a day with some pretty impressive hills, but strength training is very different. After being away from it for eight years, it’s reminding me of how very different. Here are some of the things it’s taught me so far.

1. The Hunger Eases – I was achingly hungry for a few days after my first session. But it eased, and it hasn’t really returned.

Now it’s like half a pizza.

2. Need for More Hydration Doesn’t – I never quite jumped on board the water-toting culture. Yes, I have a water bottle at my desk, but that’s more to keep me from spilling it all over. Still, after three weeks in, I am way more thirsty than I ever was before.

3. Sleep Hard – I put my head on the pillow these days, and I’m asleep in less than ten minutes. On an actual training day, usually less than two minutes. I also find myself waking up less at night, and even when I have horrifying dreams (the one the other night was about the onset of nuclear war being the diversion used for someone to abduct my children, and then me having to go through a nightmare fun house to get them back), I can get back to sleep.

4. Drawn to Healthier Foods –  I’ve actually found myself far more inclined to choose healthy foods. Like, it’s not an effort. And when DH mentioned going out to eat, I sort of shrugged. I’d rather a home-cooked meal I didn’t have to cook (let me know where you can find of those). I’ve wanted veggies and fruit. Meat cooked well without a lot of salt and sauces. We’ll see if this holds…

5. My Body Misses Exercising – I’ve seen this before with walking, so I wasn’t as surprised, but my body genuinely misses working out. I may not be much inclined some days, but when I don’t, I really feel it.

6. Not as Young as I Used to Be – This has really been brought home to me. Recovery time, at least at first, has been longer than it was eight years ago. I’ve also had to modify some exercises. I can’t apply weight to a bent wrist after an injury I sustained five years back. I have to be very careful of certain exercises like lunges on the foot I broke last year. My pride may feel a bit wounded, but better that than an injury.

 

How about you? Have you ever incorporated strength training into your exercise? Do you now? Do you like it? Hate it? Any thoughts for someone restarting it again?

 

The Power of Stretch Goals to Help You Fail

Most of us who have spent any time in corporate America are familiar with SMART goals. Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-Based.

 

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Or to look at them and laugh while you pour yourself a glass of wine

Nanowrimo meets all of these, and many of us writers have adopt this as our goal at least once a year during Nanowrimo.

For those not familiar, Nanowrimo is the month of November and writers strive to write fifty-thousand words in thirty days. There are support groups to help us get there. Most writers ask spouses to help out with more around the house during the month. I’ve even heard of people pre-making suppers for a month so they can focus on writing.

But what about the other eleven months of the year? In Nanowrimo what we should all be striving for? Isn’t the purpose of the month to show us the pace of a professional writer?

Before we all take up the fifty-thousand words a month goal, here are seven reasons why stretch goals can sometimes make you fail:

  1. You don’t consider your resources –  How many hours a day do you actually have to write? If we assume you sleep seven hours a night, that leaves seventeen hours. Most of us have day jobs, that include a commute. That leaves seven hours. Still, sounds like a lot. Until you remember those seven hours also include exercising, helping the kids with their homework, making dinner, showering, spending time with your spouse, etc. Maybe an hour a day is still realistic, maybe it isn’t. But it’s something to think about.

 

  1. Focused on Short Term – You might set a short term goal, like Nanowrimo, but what is the cost of achieving the goal? How is your family going to respond to mac & cheese every night (my toddler excluded)? Once you’ve gone down this route, how long does it take to rebuild support from your spouse? The last thing you want is your cheering section at home to become another obstacle you face. Don’t believe me? Imagine if one of your co-workers came to you and said they were taking on a special project, and as such, you’d be expected to stay and work unpaid overtime for the next month.

 

  1. Focus Exclusively on the Goal –   If you focus exclusively on word count, you can miss other areas that are import. Like editing. Plotting. Character development. Spending a little bit of time on the front end can really help with the story and make the rewriting process a little less painful. And, if the goal is word count, how do you judge editing? Particularly when editing can involve negative word count? Yet, editing is such a vital process of writing.

 

  1. Goal Impresses Rather than Guides –  I’ve seen people like this. “I’m going to do 100 push-ups” is a great goal. But, you don’t go from spending your days playing Mario Kart to doing 100 push-ups. You need a plan with smaller goals. I’ve seen writers sometimes do this, too. The person who is going to punch out as many words a day as Stephen King. Again, maybe that is the ultimate goal, but you’ve got some work to do before you get there. Giving yourself these leads into the next issue.

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  1. Failing can be Excusable – When you set unrealistic goals, it’s easy to excuse not meeting them because, well, they weren’t all that achievable. They were a stretch goal, and you weren’t able to stretch that much.

 

  1. Failing becomes Accepted – Once you can be excused for not reaching the goal, failing becomes acceptable. How many people fail Nanowrimo and are totally fine with it?

 

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All of our bosses have set one of these.
  1. Failing becomes Expected – Once failure becomes expected, well, you don’t really have a goal anymore, do you? I know I’ve seen this in corporate America, in myself, and in other writers.

So, while goal-setting has a lot of positive effects, it has some dark sides that people don’t always consider.

It gets back to the “attainable” part of SMART goals. Not attainable only when the planets align, but attainable on most days if we push for it.

So, perhaps not the Nanowrimo sprint, but maybe a five-hundred words per day marathon. Yes, it’s going to take 3.5 months to get the same 50,000 words, but perhaps that’s a habit you can maintain without your spouse threatening to throw your computer in the front lawn.

 

How about you? Have you ever found goal-setting to be de-motivating? Or maybe you’re just the opposite and goal setting really inspires you. How do you set your goals? How do you measure success?

And Another…

Order from Scholastic Book Club.

Yes, my daughter came home the other day with yet another Scholastic Book Order. These things seem to be quite prolific.

If you’re not familiar with them, this is a pamphlet of books your child gets through school. You can then order your kids books, sometimes at a discount, and the school gets some free books in return.

It’s a win all around. Or, it’s supposed to be.

My house is filled with books. Book shelves are overflowing. Book bins are so stuffed, they are too heavy for DD1 to slide back into place.

Mountains of books.

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Looks about like my daughter’s room. Or my living room some days.

 

So, I inwardly groan when she brings home another book order with half the books circled. Okay, maybe not half, but darn near.

Does she really need more books? Shouldn’t all the ones we have at home be okay?

I mentioned my daughter wanting so many books during water cooler talk at work, and the other parents told me to be happy.

One mom had to force her kid to sit down and read for half an hour a night. Her son hated reading, and it was a battle that she dreaded. He’d actually take most punishments over being forced to read, but she didn’t want him to see reading as a bad thing to be endured, either.

Another mom told me to encourage DD1’s of reading any way I could. It would help her in everything. Her daughter had struggled with reading, and despite tutors and extra help at school, it had taken her to eighth grade to read at grade level.

I felt a little sheepish.

Of course my daughter reading is an excellent thing. I do promote it. And they’re right. I should rejoice when the book order comes home and she’s so excited to read she wants “them all”. The fact that my pre-kindergartner is reading Fancy Nancy by herself is a source of pride. I even let her stay up a little later on nights we open up a new books so she can pour through what we read together and learn the new words in it.

It was a reminder to count my blessings. Sometimes, the glass is half full. And yes, I am going to let her have the books she wants. Most of them, anyway.

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How about you? Did your kids love the Scholastic Book Club? How did you feel when the order form came home? Did your kids love to read? Hate to read?

Chickenpox

Ever have a moment where you felt like your over-protective gene might have been a little worth it?

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Mine seems to be working overtime since we had children, but every once in a while, I feel like it pays off. As we walked into daycare, there was a notice to parents that there had been a case of chickenpox in the center.

The board might as well say, “Guess what’s coming home with your child to infect the whole family!” But this time, I ignored it. Didn’t apply to us because both my children are vaccinated for it.

My oldest daughter sees the sign and sounds out chickenpox. She’s precocious that way, and it means you can no longer spell stuff to get it passed her. Anyway, she then turns to me and asks me what chickenpox is. I explain that it’s a really nasty sickness that some children get, but she won’t have to worry about it because she’s vaccinated. Those shots she doesn’t like getting are protecting her.

She asks me if that’s why I make her get the shots.

I say it is, and isn’t she glad she doesn’t have to worry now.

She nods and scampers off to class.

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If only this was as bad as it got.

I didn’t think much of the exchange until I was driving into work and remembered how bad I’d had chickenpox. So bad they were on my eyelids, in my throat, and covered my back, chest, arms and face. Even my legs were peppered with them.

It was over a week of hell. I itched so bad I hurt. I’d wake up scratching and my sheets would be streaked with blood. My mom got cotton gloves for me to wear while I was asleep. We tried calamine lotion, backing soda baths, oatmeal baths. They helped a little, but the entire ordeal was torture.

About the only time I got a drop of relief was when I stood outside in the dead of January winter. It was so cold and snowy that my skin sorta numbed. My mom wouldn’t let me do that long or often as I was already sick and she didn’t want to make it worse. First time in my life I appreciated living in a cold place.

Once the disease has run its course, the chickenpox scab over and you’re no longer contagious. But, you look like something out of the Walking Dead. Of course, going back to school was such a “joy”. I wore a turtleneck to hide as many of the scabbed-over sores as I could, but I couldn’t hide the ones on my face or hands under a sweater. The kids teased me mercilessly.

So, when the doctor asked me if I wanted to vaccinate my kids for chickenpox, I said yes. Even if insurance didn’t pay. I didn’t ever want them to go through that. First chickenpox scare, and neither girl got it.

 

How about you? Your over-protective streak ever save you from something? Maybe your kids? Or are you on the other side, where you’re glad you took a risk and it paid off?

 

Why Disney Needs to Buy MLP

My oldest daughter loves My Little Pony Friendship is Magic. Loves it. I have, unfortunately, seen every episode numerous times.

All in, it’s not that bad of a show. The characters are all ponies, so there are no body issue concerns. The main pony, Twilight Sparkle, is smart and dedicated to her studies. At no point in the show do they have gender issues. Most of the main characters are female, and they always solve their own problems. It shows the ups and downs of friendship, how things aren’t always perfect, and teaches lessons like inclusivity.

There’s even the occasional funny that only an adult would get.

So, why am I saying Disney needs to buy them?

Because I am tired of not being able to get my daughter the toys she wants.

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You want Elena of Avalor? Aisles are full of her. You want Moana? No problem. Every Disney princess back to Snow White in 1937 is available to be purchased at your local Target. Want something a little more exotic? Amazon or Toys R Us has your back.

Want a crystal empire My Little Pony that has been featured in a dozen episodes over several years? Nope.  Not for sale

Want Diamond Tiara, one of the “villains” in the show that starts out in Season One and is a key player throughout the rest of the six seasons (not sure about the seventh yet)? Well, they made her once, in one set. That now sells for $279.99 plus $19.99 shipping. I’ve been trying to find this pony for my daughter for two years at a reasonable price. Can’t find it.

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So not worth $300

Disney would not tolerate such nonsense. You’re willing to give them money for a pink pony with a tiara on her bottom? Here you go, they’ll make a couple hundred thousand. They would way rather take your money than not take your money.

Maybe this sounds like I’m being a little materialistic or driven by consumerism.  And it is, a little. But this is one toy my daughter loves to death. The only show she *has* to see. We gave up cable years ago, and I buy the new episodes for her on Amazon. Way cheaper than a cable subscription, it’s commercial free, and she can re-watch the episodes to her heart’s content.

I’ve learned that the moment I see a new MLP thing in the store, I buy it and hide it away for my daughter. If I don’t, it won’t be there at a price I’m willing to pay. I saw this set with three of the main characters in the show at Target precisely once for $14.99. It’s now selling for $35. But hey, it comes with free shipping!

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Whoever is selling a kid’s toy for more than twice the price, I hope karma finds you.

Again, if Disney saw this selling for $35, I’d expect them to up their price from $14.99 to $19.99 and then flood the shelves with it. Moana came out in 2016. I have no problem getting toys. Why can’t Hasbro up their game? Why do all of their toys have to be like Tickle Me Elmo when they even bother to make them?

I wish I could say it was one or two “special” sets that this happened with, but it’s over and over and over. Go ahead and try to find a Queen Chrysalis. At least they made her. A bunch of the other frequent characters are nowhere to be seen. Discord, Big Macintosh, the changelings in their new evolved state. Where are so many of the characters that make the show interesting?

If you’re Disney, on the other hand, they’ve got you covered. You want Olaf, a troll, or even a snow man made from a sneeze? Yup, you got it!

So, yes, I would like Disney to go ahead and take over the merchandising rights for My Little Pony. Let me be able to buy my daughter some of the characters she loves. I already know she’ll play with them until they are so mangy not even a bath in dish soap will save them. Yeah, that knowledge comes from experience. Who knew plastic could be forever permeated with child fingerprints?

 

How about you? Your child ever want a really hard to find toy? Maybe there’s something you want that you can’t seem to locate? Or perhaps your children are also My Little Pony fans and you can totally commiserate?

Consume vs. Create

It’s so much easier for me to consume than to create.

I think we can agree that it’s easier to sit down to a delicious supper than it is to make one. Easier to wear a clean shirt than do laundry. And it’s easier to read a book than to write one.

You’ll note from the number of book reviews lately that I’ve been doing a lot of reading. As a writer, you’d think that would be a good thing. Maybe it is. Or maybe it’s a symptom of a much nastier beast.

The decision to consume someone else’s work rather than make my own. And, I’ve been consuming a bit of it lately. Some of it’s good, some of it’s not, and I have been trying to make a point of figuring out what works in the different novels I’ve been reading. That’s one of the reasons I write the reviews.

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I’d love to say that while I’m reading, I’m also taking time in the same day to edit. But that’s not true. I have a limited amount of non-work, non-kid time. If I’m reading a lot, you can guarantee its cutting into my writing time. Or devouring it altogether.

I could say I’m toying with ideas. That would be true. I have ideas for two more stories percolating. But that’s not what’s consuming my time.

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I could say I’m listening to my muse, studying steamy scenes, or any number of other things. But, they’d be lies. The truth is that I really don’t want to edit my story. The POV edit for a book is brutally hard. Harder than any other edit I’ve done, except the last POV edit. Does it need to be done? Probably. I mean, yes.

And maybe therein lies part of the problem. While my brain knows I need to do the rewrite, my heart is a little bitter. I still read authors who write with the POV I did on this novel, but they’re best-sellers, and I’m not. They get to do it, and I don’t. So does it need to be done? Yes. Do I want to do it? No. And there’s the difficulty.

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If we boil it down, it sounds an awful lot like procrastination dressed up as research. Because of course I have to read books in my chosen genre to become a better writer when I should be editing.

Yup. Procrastination.

Sneaky little sucker. Apparently, the brain can trick you into procrastinating, making you think you’re doing something else.

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But, this rewrite won’t write itself. I’ve already put so much into this book, I can’t leave it as electrons in my machine. The hero is one of my favorites I’ve ever written, and he deserves his story told and his happily-ever-after.

Back to the grindstone. Giving myself a deadline on Crowned Prince (possibly renamed to Dracor’s Chosen) really has helped. Perhaps I should draw a line in the sand and say I’ll have Knight of Valor’s POV rewritten by September 1st. There, I said it.

*gulp* Time to edit. Right after I finish Dracor’s Chosen. Still have until the end of June…

 

How about you? Ever had procrastination hide as something beneficial? Or do you always know when you’re procrastinating? Do you find it easier to consume than create? Maybe you like editing more than I do?

 

Book Review: To Charm a Naughty Countess

Book: To Charm a Naughty Countess

Author: Theresa Romain

Recommendation: Skip It

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Premise: A duke who is deep in debt due to his father’s indulgences needs a wealthy bride to save his lands when creditors come calling. He offers one of the most exalted titles in the land in return for a rich dowry. A rich widowed countess offers to help him. It just so happens that these two are still in love with each other even after the happenings of eleven years ago.

Plot:  Wait, there is one? Oh yes, they love each other. She’s rich. He’s titled. And…it takes a whole book for them to admit to each other their feelings. Yeah, there’s some filler as to why they can’t. Frankly, I started skimming sections looking for the plot. There was none. No murder that needed solving, no werewolves skulking around, not even a previous jilted love interest. Literally, just the two of them getting around to admitting their feelings. For the whole book.

Characters: I didn’t really see any character development on either the hero or heroine’s part. They do eventually get around to admitting to themselves and each other their feelings, but there’s no real driving factor to this.

Romance: The characters were in love with each other at the beginning of the story, though they didn’t yet know it. Or they knew it and wouldn’t admit it. This was fine, but as this was the entire story with no other plot to back it up, it felt thinner than it otherwise would have.

Steamy Scenes: There were two in the whole book. One about half way through, the other at the end. They were good, not enough to save the book, but good.

 

Overall, not a terrible read, but not one I’d recommend either. With all of the romance novels out there, you can find one with more of a plot, or more steamy bits to keep you engaged.

8 Things I've Learned About Being a Writer

The one thing about us writers is, well, we write. I’ve been writing on-and-off since I was twelve, but I’ve been known to put it down altogether for long stretches.

Perhaps you’ve even put it aside from time to time, too.

For me, the longest I stopped writing was when we decided to start a family. There was an amazing amount to do to get our lives ready and *so* much to read.

Why don’t babies actually follow what’s in the books?!?  Do you know how many times I showed my infant what the “experts” had written as she continued to never sleep unless she was being held?

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Even with all this preparation, we were totally unprepared for the realities of being parents.

I fell into the routine many new mothers do and spent very little time on myself. If I wasn’t at work, I was with our little one.

After my second daughter was born, I watched a lot of TED talks. They were interesting, and they didn’t mess with my new-mom emotions. This one by Larry Smith , convinced me to start writing again. I literally got an old notebook that afternoon and started jotting down ideas.

I attempted to write that story. I mapped it all out, complete with plot and character outlines, applied bottom to chair, and churned out 50k words in five months.

Then shelved it.

The characters weren’t working. The plot was there but forced, even though I’d diligently followed my outlines.

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Except, you know, when they don’t.

I tried revising it, but my hero would’ve rolled his eyes at me if he could. It wasn’t his story. I’d been so busy sticking to my plot-points and outlines that I hadn’t listened to the characters.

I gave up and started a new novel. I plotted nothing. I let the story unfold as I wrote it. I completed the first 50k draft in three months. It was a rough first draft. Very, very rough. But it worked, and I loved the characters. I wanted to see them get together.

I still remember the climactic ending coming to me as I was driving to work after dropping the kids off at daycare, and I had to pull the car over and write it down before I forgot it. That’s when I knew the story was really working.

I’ve managed to write three more full novels in the year-and-a-half since, in addition to my full-time day-job, blogging, and two small children. Here’s what’s worked for me:

 

  1. Write Every Day – I’d originally thought the more I wrote, the more burned out I’d get. Not true. It’s amazing how creativity inspires more creativity. Writing is a skill, just like anything else. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. Sure, I can still get on a bike and pedal it, but teaching my oldest child to ride a bike made me realize that the elliptical machine does not keep you in shape for bike riding.

 

  1. Carve out Writing Time and Defend It (Even from Yourself) – My spouse has been amazingly supportive of me getting back into writing, and he’s agreed to be the primary parent for an hour each night after the kids are supposed to be in bed (yeah, you other parents out there know that’s a big “supposed to”). But if I spend that hour surfing the net, I’m stealing the time from my writing as surely as my daughter is stealing my patience when she comes out for her third cup of water.

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  1. Keep a Notebook – my mind does amazing things while I’m walking, driving, or when I first get up in the morning. But those thoughts will dissipate like fog in the noon sun the moment I get back inside, the engine turns off, or I swing my legs out of bed. I need a notebook to write these amazing bits of creativity down. My phone works well for this, too.

 

  1. Perfection Is the Enemy – get that rough draft down on paper. If you want to make changes, make a note of it and keep going. You can polish a rough draft. There’s nothing you can do with a blank page. Finish the story. Crappy is still done and gives you a place to start rewriting.

 

  1. Give Yourself a Couple of Months Before You Edit – This is one of the biggest things I learned with my first completed story. I was too close to the characters, the plot, and even the writing itself. I spent a lot of time “editing” that was really just patting myself on the back for what I’d written. When I went back and looked at it two months later, I had a much clearer view of what needed help.

 

  1. Find a Good Beta Reader – a good beta reader is worth their weight in Starbucks. They’ll help you see plot holes, character issues, and other things you’re too invested in your book to see. If you’ve got a good beta reader, of course you’re going to follow their advice even if it means a painful rewrite.

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  1. Read, but Read Critically – Lots of writing advice says you have to read a lot to be a good writer. I think this is over-simplified. Reading is helpful only if you take the time to figure out why one author engages you but another doesn’t. Why do you like a character, hate them, or think they’re too stupid to breathe? Why are you on the edge of your seat reading this thriller but not that one?

 

  1. Take What Works for You and Toss out the Rest. Writing is a creative endeavor. What inspires my muse may drive yours away. Some writers swear by an outline, whereas it brings out my type A personality.

 

 

How about you? Any good writing tips you’d like to share? Anything that’s worked for you? Anything that hasn’t?