By Rory C. Keel


At one end of the street three bodies lay in the dirt, at the other end smoke drifted from the barrel of a pistol that a man in a trench coat held in his hand.

Who were these three dead men? Why did they challenge the man in the trench coat? What was this gunfight about?

The first few sentences of a piece of work should draw the reader into the story and cause them to read further. A good introduction may tell the reader what kind of story it will be and help them decide if it’s their kind of story.

Listed below are five basic opening techniques

  1. Picture or unusual image
  2. Dialogue
  3. Action
  4. Question
  5. Interesting fact

Try using each of these in your writing and see which one creates the greatest interest in your opening paragraph.

Hooray for Banned Books

Hooray for Banned Books

By Natalie Bright

Children’s Literature celebrated Banned Books Week Sept. 21-27. Hooray for that because I’ve discovered many wonderful books from these types of lists. Take for example the news that a large school district in Texas has banned The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Written in first-person “diary” format, it’s the inner thoughts of a teen so it’s raw, realistic, inappropriate; just like teenagers. The main character faces bullies, alcoholic parents, racism, abusive adults, sex, cuss words; just like life.

It’s written for YA (young adult) audience which means this is a story for older teenagers. As the mother of two teenaged boys, I absolutely believe in the power of parents to control the materials our children have access to. (What parent hasn’t cringed at the mention of internet?) I understand how inappropriate teenagers can be and how shocking some of their questions are, but they’re also funny, charming, and crazy smart. Kids today continually amaze me. It doesn’t mean every teenager is into any of the topics covered in a YA novel. Sherman Alexie’s book doesn’t promote a certain kind of life style. These topics exist in our world, in a teens world. This book is for high school aged teens and, in my opinion, should not be in grade school or Jr. High libraries.

Based on the author’s own experiences, THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN is about a main character who leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white high school 22 miles away. It’s a story about following your dreams, finding acceptance, facing adversity, and coming through as a winner. It’s a story with loads of HEART. I loved this book.

Opinions are subjective. For as many people who hate a book, you’ll find just as many who love it. I’ve discovered so many wonderful stories through these kinds of lists, so hooray for banned books! Let’s work together to promote the joys and privilege of reading a great story. Let’s broaden the world view for our children and open the dialogue. Let’s do more talking, reading, learning, and less judging.

Writers Take Action:

1) Post an online review of one of your favorite stories from childhood. Ask your kids what’s one of their favorites. Post an online review of that book too. By promoting each others work, we’re also promoting the joys of reading.

2) Choose one book from a Banned Books List and read it.

Post Cards


Post Cards

By Nandy Ekle


The muse is traveling again. I’ve gotten several post cards that I will share with you, my readers.

  1. What if . . . you go inside your computer and live invisibly?
  1. What happens if . . . the clouds in the sky begin to spell out words, and those words begin to read like a message?
  1. What if . . . a young woman is the maid of honor at her best friend’s wedding, and she and the groom have been having a secret affair for a year?
  1. How about a family of serial killers?
  1. The girl behind the counter at the convenience store. She sits on a stool chewing a wad of gum and reading a romance book. She has a little bruise on her shoulder. What do we know about her?
  1. You look down at the carpet while praying at church and you see a skull in the knap. When you come back later, it’s gone.
  1. A spooky old house, a favorite book, and all the paper and pens in the world.
  1. You go see your doctor. He brings into his office and tells you that you have cancer.
  1. Driving to work one morning, you are rear-ended.

10. You are visiting a dear friend and he looks up into your eyes and says . . . what?

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

High-five’s and Hugs

Outtakes 168

High-five’s and Hugs

By Cait Collins


Sometimes adults forget just how little it takes to make a kid feel like he’s worth a million bucks. Young people thrive on a little attention, mixed with encouragement, discipline, and appreciation. This was made apparent to me a couple of weeks ago when my congregation hosted the area-wide teen jam.

The jam is a monthly event with the congregations in the Texas Panhandle taking turns providing a meal, fellowship, and a youth-centered evening service. The ladies prepared a simple meal of Mexican Pile On and dessert. We were still cooking taco meat when 85-95 kids and their sponsors began filling their plates. As we were beginning the clean-up, a young man and his friends came up to me and asked if I had helped cook the meal.

“I did.”

“Give me a high-five. That was really good.”

His buddy hugged me. “Thanks for doing this for us. We really appreciate it.”

Other teens joined in expressing their appreciation to the all the ladies. The hugs and high-five’s and all the smiles made the two hours of standing over a hot stove, cooking taco meat seem like five minutes. Their joy was worth the efforts of our team.

I am not suggesting that writers should take on mentoring a group of 90 teens who want to be writers. But what about one young person? Would it be that difficult to read one person’s work, show him or her the good things in the story and tactfully show the weaknesses? What kind of impact could we have if each writer mentored a young lady or gentleman?

Think about the adults who listened to you, who gave a bit of their time to encourage your dreams. How did you feel when you were told how well you had done on your book report or history paper? Maybe the wow moment came from a short story or poem you wrote for English class. I remember the top of the world feeling. Do you?

There are young people out there who would appreciate an adult just telling them dreams can come true. Sure you have to work for it, but it can happen. Maybe we won’t make millions by helping a kid, but I kind of think we’d feel like a million from all those high-fives and hugs.

It’s all in the execution

A poor plan properly executed, will work. It’s all in the execution.

By Rory C. Keel

As you step out on the stage of becoming a writer, there are many unknowns. Writers groups and conferences are helpful in learning the in’s and out’s of writing and publishing. However, unless this knowledge is put into a plan and executed, it is useless.

Develop a plan

Set short-term goals and long-term goals for your writing and put together a plan to reach them. Write them on paper or log them on a computer where you can physically see them every day to remind you of what you want to achieve.

Finding a topic or story to write about this week is a good example of a short-term goal. Set a daily, weekly, monthly word count to reach and a time management schedule in order to meet them.

Develop long-term goals such as setting a date to finish the first draft of your story or novel, research agents or publishers to pitch your book to or determine to submit your story to multiple markets until someone buys it.

Now execute the plan

You must execute your plan! Good or bad, no plan will work unless you carry it out. When you plan a vacation you use the knowledge you have available and make a plan. If you never move forward, you will never reach your destination.

What if your knowledge is limited or you realize your plan is not perfect? Move forward – adjust. Often we need to reread the map or take a detour to get to our destination, but we continue to move forward. Even a poor plan that is properly executed, will work, but it must be executed to reach the goal.

The Power of Proof-Reading

The Power of Proof-Reading

By Natalie Bright

A relative gave me a lovely picture book that his friend had self-published. The story is sweet and the illustrations absolutely blew me away which is not surprising since the author is an award winning artist. As I begin to read through the book again, with the intention of posting several online reviews, a typo on page one smacked me in the face. My heart sank.

Do You Tell Authors about Their Mistakes?

Do I contact the relative who gave me the gift? Or perhaps send a nice email to the author about the typo? It would be an easy fix, IF, and it’s a big if, a second print run is being planned. How can I recommend this book to the bookstore owners and gift shop managers in my area without damaging the professional relationship I have with them? What if one of their customers sees the typo and complains? Picture books don’t come cheap these days.


Proofreading is an important step that seems to have been pushed aside in an effort to ‘become a published author in 72 hours’. Misprints and typos are not that uncommon in the eBooks I’ve purchased whether it’s by self-published or big name authors, although I understand that funky things happen in the digital process. That’s not to say how annoying it is after paying good money for what you assume will be a quality product. For print books from publishing houses, especially those priced on the high end with beautiful illustrations, typos are even worse but nonexistent. Professional copy-editors do good work.

Read Your Work Out Loud

There are things you can do to minimize typos. If I’m stuck on a chapter and it’s not flowing well, I’ll read it out loud. I also read the entire story out loud from beginning to end during the final revision process, after I’ve made edits based on critique group suggestions. Put your work aside and in a few days, or even longer, READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD. You will be shocked at the typos and awkward sentences. They’re an easy fix at this stage in the game. Also, you’ll get a sense of how the story flows from chapter to chapter. Listening to dialogue as you read it out loud will help conversations ring true. And it’s not all bad. You might be surprised at how good some parts are. Prior to your work being officially ‘published’, the editor or publisher will send you a proof to look over. Read it aloud again. For me personally, every single time there have been typos whether it was a big-big-name anthology, freelance magazine article, self-pub novel or eBook. Regardless of the gazillion times I’d already gone over it, there are misspelled words, awkward sentences, missing pieces of chapters before final publication. Every. Single. Time.

Why Settle for Okay?

Many people have dreams and hopes of being a professional author. There are many opportunities today enabling you to realize that dream. And yet, is it so critical that the story be published by  the end of this week?   I’ve been a reader all of my life, and I get giddy buying books with only the click of a mouse. I really do want to discover a great story. I want to post five-star reviews on my GoodReads page so maybe someone I know can discover that good story too.   Help your readers be true to you as the professional author you are. Make it easy for them to become a fan.

Give your story the time and attention it deserves before you share it with the world.

Confessions of a Pantser


Confessions of a Pantser

By Nandy Ekle



First of all, what’s a “pantser”?

In the writing world there are two types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters are those who write an outline, some more meticulous than others. Pantsers are writers who write by the seat of their pants. They don’t do much planning, usually just have a word sketch of a character, a basic thought of a scenario, or maybe they just have a thought, write it down, and suddenly have an entire world and story going on.

I have always prided myself as a pantser. Some of my best stories have come from picking up a piece of paper and a pen (or in today’s world, opened my laptop) and written a killer first sentence. Writing, for me, was like looking into a foggy landscape. I could see dark shapes from a distance, and the closer I got to them, the clearer they were. And I got a thrill as intense as riding a roller coaster.

Lately, however, I’ve had a little harder time getting that coaster car to move. I can walk around during the day seeing the fuzzy dark shapes, but I never get any closer to them. And sometimes they run away before I can get near enough to see them.

So I’ve resorted to some plotting. Oh, I could never be so structured as to make a outline with sublevels all the way down to “iii”, but I have gotten a little more . . . thoughtful, maybe?

So, I have a character. I know the character’s name and some things about her. Mostly I know the stuff that creates the problem. And I have a very foggy situation. Then, whammo! The wall. This is when I have to step back and say, “What is it about this girl that is different? What would make the reader like her? And what does she want bad enough to risk losing everything? And what is ‘everything’?”

This is the basic plot. Your main character wants something so much they are willing to give up . . . everything . . . to get it. And this is the extent of my plotting.

Now I’ve heard plotting writers talk about obstacles and rewards. I’ve heard about the four parts to a novel (alone, lost, help, hero/martyr), and I’ve heard about the story arc. These are wonderful tools. I’ve read books where I can see these things all very clearly and cleverly used. But to sit down and think to myself, “Okay I need an obstacle to overcome” just sucks all the fun out. What I really need is for that roller coaster to fire up and show me the dark shapes in the fog.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.


Dinner Talk

Outtake 167

Dinner Talk

By Cait Collins


Opportunities to learn more about writing are readily available if you just look. Recently Wordsmith Six hosted Western writer, Dusty Richards, for an evening of food and fellowship.

He spoke to us about the road to becoming a recognized writer, writing opportunities, and how we could increase our visibility in the marketplace. By the time the gathering broke up, we had exchanged business cards, discussed our various projects, and upcoming events.

It was a good evening. The cost was the price of the dinners we ordered from the restaurant’s menu. Not bad for a bit of education and inspiration.

As Dusty was on his way to the Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock TX, so he gave us additional information regarding the weekend event and the writers programs. A Friday ticket was $13. Again, a lot of bang for little bucks.

The next event is hosted by Panhandle Professional Writers on October 3, 2014. We will enjoy Dinner with Mark Twain. The cost is $25.00 per person. The profits will go to support PPW’s programs. I love Mark Twain, so I’m looking forward to the event.

Wordsmith Six is planning another dinner event in November. We are on the lookout for other authors to meet with us for dinner and conversation. Seating is limited, so we ask for reservations.

The point is, these small events are available and at a reasonable price. No one has to worry about dressing up, and there’s more opportunity to ask questions about writing in these small groups. Check out writers’ organization websites in your area for educational opportunities. You might be surprised what is available.

Writing Endorsements

Writing Endorsements

By Rory C. Keel

Ask for endorsements from readers that enjoyed your writing. Simply say something like, “Would you provide me with a positive comment I could use as a testimonial for my book?”

Use the positive comments as headlines for your writing on your website and other promotional materials such as bookmarks and brochures.

Take note of unsolicited positive comments and remarks about your writing in e-mails and personal conversations. If individuals say something positive about your writing, ask to quote them.

Collect testimonials in a notebook and you will have them readily available when promoting your writing, stories and books.

Realize that testimonials from your readers will generate excitement and create interest in your work and draw more readers for your material.

Scene by Scene to The End

Scene by Scene to The End

By Natalie Bright


At some point during the process of writing your great masterpiece you’ll have to reach THE END.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird.

That self-editor and self doubt. The need to write the perfect prose. These are the things that will prevent you from ever typing the words THE END.

So stop it. WRITE.

The idea of writing an entire novel is very daunting. I used to tell everyone that I like short stories and freelance articles best because I can see an end to my efforts. But then an idea came to me and I wrote during lunch breaks and when I finally typed The End after several years, my novel went into a drawer. The next idea came to me and after two years of intense work it became a published nonfiction, and a few more finished books followed. And then an idea formed by way of a character to become a story that would not leave my brain. The finished novel caught the interest of my literary agent.

Going back to that manuscript that’s been waiting patiently in the drawer for many, many years, I’ve revived it into the most recent completed novel. The characters are ten years older and their story has changed location, but it’s done. You never know what those sparks of ideas can turn into. Just go with it.

The point being I’ve typed THE END on many completed novels since the time I said I’d never write one.

Finding The End.

So how can you ever reach the end? The answer: Scene by scene. Sit down and write the scene that’s in your head. And the next day, write the scene that’s in your head. And the next day, do it again. Don’t worry that the scenes may not be in order. You can fix that later, but you cannot fix a blank page. Stop obsessing over how long the chapters need to be or how the story will end. You’ll figure that out too. Don’t worry about your process. It’s going to be different for every book.

Just Keep Writing

Write whatever’s in your head, double-double space, type “Chapter Next”, and begin again with the next scene. Even if a bit of dialogue comes to me at the oddest of times, I make a note of it until I’m at the computer again. It might be a visual of action involving my characters, or a snippet of character conflict that needs to be added. I know what you’re thinking:

I can’t type that scene, I’m just on chapter two and that has to happen towards the middle.

I can’t type that character. I don’t even know who he is.

I can’t type that dialogue. It has nothing to do with the scene I’m writing now.

Some people read over what they’ve written to get them back in the story before they begin writing each time. For me, I have to sit down and type new words. If I re-read what’s before, I never get to the new parts because I’m obsessing over editing the words that are already there. Just keep writing, keep adding new words, however you have to make it happen.

Current WIP

As an example, the main character in my current WIP has a confrontation with her mother. The scene came to me out of the blue while I was school shopping with kids. I really concentrated at keeping the scene in my head until I could jot some notes when I got to the car. As soon as I got home, I hand-wrote it in a spiral. As I wrote, I realized this is part of a major arc for my main character and that the scene should probably be closer to the end. But who cares. I’ve got it down on paper. I can figure out where it goes later.

Allow your mind’s eye to see your story, because whether you realize it or not, your sub-conscious is working on that story 24/7. It has to be true. Otherwise why do those ideas come to you at the most ridiculous times. Listen to your internal creative muse and STOP arguing with yourself. As an added note, under Chapter Next, include notes as to what the main conflict or action might be. When the first draft is done, print it out and organize the chapters in order. During the next read through you can fill in plot holes. The good news is you’ve actually got words on paper. Let the editing begin!

Keep writing!