Creative Writing Advice #11: Cut Unnecessary Description

arrived at the office five minutes late, as usual. She opened the door and walked down the
hall. She put her laptop down on her
desk and sat in her chair. She
double-clicked on her Outlook folder, and brought up her cluttered to-do
list. Stage Directions Blog was written right at the top. Great. She’d been looking forward to this for a long time. But first, she had to do something about
breakfast. It was no good writing on an
empty stomach. She pulled her whole
wheat bagel out of her backpack and unwrapped it. She put a napkin in her lap. She tore off a chunk of bagel and put it in
her mouth. She chewed. She swallowed. Soon, the bagel was gone, and it was time to
write the blog entry. She opened
Microsoft Word (despite the program’s nightmarish incompatibility with Typepad’s
text editor), and put her hands on the keyboard. She began to type.


You follow all that, readers? Or did you scan right down to the bottom,
thinking, “All right already with the napkin in your lap! Get to the good stuff!”

If you answered the latter, I don’t blame you. That paragraph is a living, breathing
specimen of a prose writer’s mortal enemy: Stage Directions.

Any time you narrate a physical action that gets a person
from point A to point B, you’re using Stage
Of course, sometimes it’s
necessary to include some stage directions. But many writers – especially novices – use far too many stage
directions in their writing.

The term Stage
comes from – you guessed it – playwriting, where stage
directions are used to tell actors what they should do with their bodies during
a play. Some plays include more stage
directions than others. The most basic
stage directions provide cues only for when a character enters or exits the
stage. But plays never provide detailed
directions for every single action a character should make during the
play. Why not? Because actors and directors would revolt! “Don’t micromanage me!” they would
exclaim. “I can create my own
interpretation of my character’s actions! Give me some creative freedom!”

Your readers are sort of like these actors and
directors. If a person you’re writing
about goes from the kitchen table to the back door, you don’t need to tell your
readers about how they stood up, walked around the table, walked into the hall,
opened the door to the laundry room, etc. Your readers are perfectly capable of filling in the blanks with their
imaginations. In fact, the process of
doing this is one of the major pleasures of reading. Don’t rob your reader of that pleasure by micromanaging
his or her imagination.

How do you know what
stage directions to put in, and which to leave out? Practice, practice, practice. You might start by putting a lot of
unnecessary directions in, and then taking them out in editing. Wise, helpful readers can help you find
places in your writing where you use too many stage directions. As a general rule, you should include only
those physical actions which are absolutely necessary for a reader’s
comprehension of a scene; and those which
reveal something interesting about your character or his/her situation. If you’re still uncertain, pretend your characters
are capable of teleporting both through time and space. If you can teleport them somewhere without
totally confusing your reader, or missing something crucial in the story, don’t
describe the steps it would take for them to get there.

Now try this on for size:

Melissa arrived at the office five minutes late, as
usual. She glanced at her cluttered
to-do list: Stage Directions Blog. Great. She’d been looking forward to this for a long time. But first, she had to do something about
breakfast. It was no good writing on an
empty stomach. She tried to make her whole
wheat bagel last, but before she knew it, it was time to write the blog
entry. She opened Microsoft Word
(despite the program’s nightmarish incompatibility with Typepad’s text editor),
and began to type.

Writing Secrets

Got a secret I don’t know about? Share it with the world in WEbook
Writing Secrets
. To submit a secret,
email me or visit my profile
and send me a message with the subject line: Writing Secrets. The best secrets
will be published here
and in the WEbook Toolbox. Authors will receive a byline and a bio.

Start Writing Now

Put your secrets to work – sign up for WEbook today.

-- Melissa


Best of WEbook: WEbooker of the WEek

Ladies and gentlemen, raise your hands if you like
things that are the best.

Allow me to present WEbooker of the WEek senoritaburrito.

I love all my WEbookers of the WEek equally, so I’m not
going to claim that senoritaburrito
is the best WoW ever. But she is the project
leader of The Best of WEbook , a two-project series that just might be the best
place to write poetry
and short
on WEbook.

In the Best of WEbook: Poetry
and Short
, writers and readers are held to a high standard of excellence, in
both their writing and their feedback. Participants are required to provide good feedback for at least eight
other submissions before they submit a piece of their own. Senoritaburrito
provides a definition of “high quality feedback” in the project overviews – if you
want even more in-depth guidance on the art of feedback, check out this blog
, part of the WEbook
Guide to Feedback

came up with the idea for the Best of WEbook series when she noticed a lot of
people on the forums
asking for feedback exchanges.  She thought it would be nice to have a
project where these writers could get guaranteed feedback – as long as they
were willing to work for it. So far, senoritaburrito’s
experience has been “entirely positive.” She says, “Everyone has contributed willingly, some even going beyond
their required reviews to help out.  We have some excellent pieces on both
projects. I’m still looking for new
contributors for both of them.  I hope they help out all the aspiring
writers who choose to participate.”

To satisfy your burning curiosity, I asked senoritaburrito
everything you’ve been dying to know, but were afraid to ask.

Q: What's the story behind your WEbook penname?

A: I called a friend Senor Taco one
day.  She called me Senorita Burrito.  I don’t remember why this odd
choice of names came up in the first place.  A few months later I needed a
username for some site and thought of senoritaburrito, and I’ve kept it ever

Q: What is the story of your life, including
your history with writing, and any interesting accomplishments, experiences,
and quirks you'd like your fellow WEbookers to know about?

I moved from Florida to Northern Michigan at the age of
seven, and have been here ever since.  I was homeschooled until eighth
grade, at which point I went to a charter school.  I now go to a community
college part-time and work at a local restaurant. I’m in my second year of college, and I’m
hoping to transfer next fall to the University of Chicago or Lawrence
Technological University. 

I first started writing at the age of eight or nine, when I got tired of how
limited the plots in most books I read seemed to be.  I came up with
stories all of the time in my head.  I stuck with prose, in a kind of
lackluster way, until I “discovered” poetry in high school through poets like
Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, and William Carlos Williams.  I started
writing poetry off and on.  In college, I started to slack off on the
writing front, but joining WEbook has been an amazing experience to get me
re-inspired and meet other writers.  I feel like I have expanded in my
writing more in the few months that I’ve been on here than in the few years
that I’ve been seriously writing poetry.  It’s given me a lot of
inspiration to improve myself, and I’ve made some excellent writing friends.

My dream in life is to become a wandering hobo and travel the entire
world.  I’d like to experience as much of life as I can before I trip over
the oft-mentioned bucket. 

Q: What is your greatest weakness?

A:  I’m a great fan of procrastination.  I’ve got it down to an art
form.  It is impossible to work on anything at all unless it’s five
minutes prior to the due date.  Panic is the spice of life, eh?  This
has gotten me in some trouble before...but, as Douglas Adams said, “I love
deadlines.  I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”
Sometimes I really wish I were the type of person who does everything ahead of
time.  But somehow, it seems like there are always so many more important
things to do.  Wash dishes?  I’m on it.  Calculus is just going
to have to wait.  I mean, vectors are fascinating and all, but it just
can’t measure up to the joy of scrubbing crusted pots and pans.  Don’t you

Q:  What piece of WEbook writing
are you most proud of?

A: I’m not sure on this one.  There
are several that I like, but none that I am particularly proud of.  They
could always be so much better.  Though I do like my poem “Dreaming
of Zeus

Q: What advice would you like to
give your fellow WEbookers?

A: Always remember to take every review
you receive with a grain of salt.  The reviewer is not the author of your
piece, and when it comes down to it, it is your decision.  Grammar and
syntax suggestions should generally be taken, unless the reviewer rites he’s
revue liek this, but when it comes to opinion issues, remember that you are the
one doing the writing.  And you are never going to make everybody happy
all at once. Satisfy yourself first.  It’s your writing, in the end.
If you don’t feel like you can stick up for it, then there are probably some
flaws in the plan and it would be better to start over. 

Q:  Describe your ideal day, using
exactly 5 words.

A: I have nothing to do. 

of the WEek

Do you have a line on the wonderfullest writer on
WEbook? The fantastickest
feedbacker? Or anyone else who goes
above and beyond to make WEbook the best writing, reading, and publishing
community on the internet? Drop me
an email
or visit my profile
and send me a message with the title “WEbooker of the WEek” to nominate your
favorite WEbooker. He or she will have a
shot at joining the ranks of the immortals – and getting a free WEbook T-shirt
to boot.

Join WEbook Today

Ready to read, write, and get published? Sign
up for WEbook today

-- Melissa

Creative Writing Advice #10: Use Believable Language

by Julian_Finn

Never use language in your prose that's noticeably more complex than your characters.

As writers struggle to find their voices and develop definitive styles, it's tempting to use "impressive" vocabulary -- sort of a textual scream that says, "See!  See!  I English good!"

Instead of focusing on showing off your language chops, it's usually a good idea to use language that syncs with your characters.  If you're writing about gruff, gritty, morally complex characters, make your prose gruff, gritty, and sharp.  Alternatively, if you're writing about pretentious, snobbish characters, it makes more sense to be more stylish and haughty with your language.

This rule is especially true if you're writing in the first person.  It makes no sense for your rude, uneducated doormat protagonist to use five syllable words to describe a tree.

About the Author

Julian_Finn is a Canadian writer and corporate sales professional.  He is currently working on revising the first draft of his novel, There but for Luck.

Got a Secret?

Do you have a writing tip you'd like to share with the world?  Send me an email, or visit my WEbook profile and drop me a message with the subject line: WEbook Writing Secrets.  Keep it practical -- your tip should be something a writer can apply directly to his or her craft.  The best Writing Secrets will be published here and in the WEbook Toolbox.  Contributors will be credited with a bio.

Put our Tips to the Test

Ready to write? Join WEbook today and see Writing Secrets in action.

-- Melissa

Dear WEbook: WEbookers Writing Letters

“Remember the good old days, before
the invention of the obnoxious telegraph, the odious telephone, and the opprobrious
television, when the only way to communicate with someone was either to yell, ‘What’s
up, Earl?’ as you drove your horse and buggy past Earl’s house, or to write a
letter? When the pen was mightier than
the sword? When the written word was the way to express your thoughts? When people cared about writing? Those days are long gone. Right?”

Wrong. Writing is probably a bigger part of ordinary
people’s lives now than at any other time in history – all because of the power
of the internet.  According to a recent study by the Pew Research
, 73% of American adults use the internet, and of those adults, 60%
say they write and read email every day. The Radicati Group estimates that
1.2 billion people sent email in 2007. A
study by the same group determined that 183 billion emails were sent every day in 2006.

“Sure, sure. But kids
these days
just don’t write like they used to.”

Wrong again.  An April 2008
Pew Research Study
showed that 93% of teens say they write for pleasure. If you broaden your definition of writing to include messages on social
networking sites, IM, text messages, email, and a bunch of other stuff I’ve
probably never even heard of, today’s young people are lean, mean writing machines.

is yet more proof. Hundreds of thousands
of WEbookers are working on tens of thousands of writing projects as we speak.

“But…what about letters? No one writes letters anymore!”

Does it hurt to be so wrong? Never mind, I won’t rub it in. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the good old
days of the epistle, check out these WEbook
projects, where WEbookers are writing letters to everything from a pack of
cigarettes to their own past or future selves.

Dear Joe Camel

Ex-smokers, conflicted smokers, and straight-up pack-a-dayers memorialize
their love affairs with tobacco.

“Do you remember the day we met? I
do. I remember it vividly. It was my 16th birthday and you were the most
wonderful thing in the world to me. I'd seen you around of course – everyone had
– but that day you were mine and mine alone. I was so happy that day. You made
me feel so alive, so grown up, and so cool to be able to be seen with you.” – jessideath

Open Letters

Letters to someone in particular. Or no one in particular. Rant and
rave, and get it all off your chest.

“I was going to write you a letter,
but then I realized it was a waste of my time. So I guess you and a letter have
a lot in common.” –

Extraordinary Letters

Write a poem or tell a short story in the form of a letter.

"An open
letter to you all.

I've been here a while

And I'm having a ball.

I don't have no rhyme,

I don't got no reason.

I'm just coming back

From from a long and dark season.” – jamesmcshane

Dear Future

letters or poems to your future.

dear future,

wish you were here.


mitzi” – Mitzi_Hell

A Look at the Past

What would you tell the you of ten years ago if you could?  "Don't get an adjustable rate mortgage!"  Now's your chance to let yourself know all the things you'd wish you'd known.

WEbook Projects

Know a really great project on WEbook? Want to spread the word? Send me an email or visit my profile and drop
me a message to nominate it as a Featured
WEbook Project

Start Writing Now!

Today’s featured letter-writing projects are open to all
writers! To get started, sign up for WEbook today.

-- Melissa

Happy National Punctuation Day!

According to CNN, September 24 is National Punctuation Day, described on the official website as "a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes, and other proper uses of periods, semi-colons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis."  The website features an exhaustive library of punctuation images, along with instructions on their proper use.  You can also get a recipe for the Official Meat Loaf of National Punctuation Day.

Wondering how to celebrate National Punctuation Day?  The holiday's founder, Jeff Rubin, has a few suggestions:

  • Sleep late.

  • Take a long shower or bath.

  • Go out for coffee and a bagel (or two).

  • Read a newspaper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find (or think you find but aren’t sure) with a red pen.

  • Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.

  • Stop in those stores to correct the owners.

  • If the owners are not there, leave notes.

  • Visit a bookstore and purchase a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

  • Look up all the words you circled.

  • Congratulate yourself on becoming a better written communicator.

  • Go home.

  • Sit down.

  • Write an error-free letter to a friend.

  • Take a nap. It has been a long day.

I'd like to add one more item to your National Punctuation Day to-do list:

Join WEbook Today!

Can't wait to start chatting about punctuation?  Sign up for WEbook right this second!

-- Melissa

Creative Writing Advice #9: Story Writing by the Letters

Writingsecrets_c So you want to write a short story, but you don’t know where to start? No worries – today’s WEbook Writing Secret is here to help.

The key to overcoming writer’s block is structure. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, giving yourself less freedom rather than more can help jump start the creative process. Blame it on humankind’s will to overcome obstacles. If you see a mountain, you’ll climb it. No mountain? Might as well stay in bed.

As a writer, you have lots of options for finding structure. Deadlines, contests, and writing classes are all good ways to harness your boundless energy into real words on the page. But even if you don’t have any deadlines, you can give your writing some structure by using the A, B, C, D, E formula. What’s it stand for?

Blocks_2 A = Action
B = Background
C = Conflict
D = Development
E = Ending

By breaking down the story-writing process into five simple steps, you narrow the billions of possibilities for starting and writing your story into just one concrete, practical approach. Of course, it’s called a formula for a reason. Stick to the plan too rigidly, and your story might turn out…well, formulaic. You and your readers will have more fun when you add complications and twists. But, just like a jazz musician, it’s worth practicing your scales before you move onto improvisation.

Here’s how it’s done:

Action: Start your story with a compelling action. This action should raise questions in the reader’s mind. Example: Jack and Jill went up the hill. The reader might wonder, “Why did Jack and Jill go up the hill?” This curiosity gets your reader to turn the first page.

Background: Imagine what circumstances could have led up to the initial action – this is the background. The background should at least partially answer the question posed by the reader in response to the action you started with. Example: To fetch a pail of water.  The background section should not be too long in relation to the rest of the story – otherwise, it might seem as if your story is about what happened yesterday, instead of what’s happening right now. Your story will be most compelling if you can find a way to convey background without being purely expository.

Conflict: Next, introduce the central conflict of the story.  The best, richest conflicts provide a story with forward momentum – they require the character to make an action or choice in the scope of the story, which will have real consequences, changing the character's life or outlook in some way.  The conflict should involve both motivation (the character wants something) and stakes (something is at risk).  Example: Jack fell down.

Development: The longest part of the story is usually development.  Development of what? Of the conflict, of course! This is the “what happens” of the story. As the story develops, the conflict will exert pressure on your characters, and they will make choices in response. Those choices may involve resolution of the conflict, escalation of the conflict, or the introduction of a whole new conflict! Example:  And broke his crown.

Ending: At the end of your story, the conflict must be addressed, if not completely resolved. There can still be a conflict at the end – stories shouldn't all end “happily ever after” – but it should be a different conflict than the one you started with.  Something needs to have changed, whether it's something subtle or something big. Some of the best endings are those that could potentially be the beginning of a whole new story. Example: And Jill came tumbling after.

Ready to give it a shot? Write your own story using the A, B, C, D, E formula and share it with your fellow WEbookers by posting it in this project. Bonus: The first five writers to submit a story will receive personalized feedback from yours truly – priceless!

WEbook Writing Secrets

Improve your writing with WEbook Writing Secrets, featuring writing tips from masters of the craft. Got a secret we don’t know about? Visit my profile and submit a writing tip of your own.  The best of the bunch will be published here and in the WEbook Toolbox. Authors will receive credit, and a link to their personal writing or website.


Start Writing Now!

To try your hand at writing short stories, sign up for WEbook today!

-- Melissa

WEbooker of the WEek Writes the Book on Feedback

I like to think of myself as pretty
hip to the WEbook scene. Every single new WEbooker receives a message
from me, containing priceless pointers on writing, reading, reviewing, and
generally hanging out on the site. I
have like 6 million WEbook friends. (Okay,
more like 552. But you, dear reader,
could make it 553, if only you cared.)  I
spend all day reading WEbook projects, chiming in on my favorite forums, writing
about WEbook on this blog, and singing "Yellow Submarine"to myself at the top
of my lungs.

Still, not even I, professional
super-WEbooker, can possibly have a line on every great project or person on
the site -- which is why I now accept nominations for both featured
and WEbooker
of the WEek
. That policy is paying
off today.

I was tickled pink when MJ_Heiser wrote to tell me of
Julian_Finn, this WEek's
WEbooker. How exciting! I'd never heard of the guy!  MJ_Heiser assured me that,
not only was Julian_Finn
an astoundingly skilled writer, he also gave some of the best feedback on the

I have a serious soft spot for
feedback, so I checked out Julian_Finn's
. Here's what I found: Julian_Finn has submitted
work to five collaborative
writing projects
on WEbook. He's
particularly fond of a short piece he wrote for Fresh Flash, called "A
song for every occasion
," which, he says, "is about the Beatles and the end
of the world."

But Julian_Finn's feedback
really takes the cake. To date, he has
written 162 reviews on WEbook. And we're not talking about the "OMG this is
sooooo graet, lol" kind of review. No, Julian_Finn is such a
fantastic feedbacker, he could write the book on it. (If I hadn't done that already, in the WEbook
Guide to Feedback
.) He digs right
into plot, character, logic, and more, and lets writers know what they're
doing right -- and what still needs work.

Want proof?  Check out Chapter
4, Part 2
of MJ_Heiser's
novel, Turn the Page. Says Julian_Finn about this
piece of writing:

Your prose in
this section is sooo crisp and so clean that I didn't have to pull out my
trusty notepad once. I loved Scott's perspective on Ashley -- great way to have
us see what's going on with her, without maudlin journal entries or stream of
consciousness moping.

With constructiveness and
specificity like that, it's no wonder Julian_Finn is WEbooker of
the WEek. But who is he really? Like a good journalist, I got to the bottom of
things with some tough questions.

Q: Julian_Finn, who are you really?

A: I grew up in Ottawa, Ontario and,
since my 18th birthday, have lived in almost every province in Canada, as well
as six month stints in Malaysia and Thailand during an ill advised
"finding myself" trip. I've spent most of my adult life working a
variety of corporate sales gigs as well as a year spent running my own
promotional marketing firm in Halifax.

Q: How many meals do you eat in a day?

A: Two, and I graze constantly while I write.
Which is a bad thing.

Q: What is your candid opinion on the value of naps?

A: While I love them dearly, I always feel guilty after taking a long one.
Especially when I'm in writing mode, nothing saps the creative juices like too
much sleep. Go for walks instead. 

Q:  What was your childhood bedroom like?

A: Much like my living room as an adult. Superman posters on every wall and
boxes of comic books stacked everywhere. I'm constantly mystified by the fact
that I never outgrew that particular phase.

Q: What's next for your writing?

A: I'm extremely grateful for the help I
received from other WEbookers during the writing process; I'm a big believer in
the feedback process and I truly feel that any writer can benefit from a
critical audience. I just started work
on my next book and will posting the first few chapters on the site sometime
next week.

of the WEek

Do you have
a line on the wonderfullest writer on WEbook?
The fantastickest feedbacker? Or anyone else who goes above and beyond to make WEbook the best writing, reading, and
publishing community on the internet? Drop me an email, or visit my profile and send me a
message with the title "WEbooker
of the WEek
" to nominate your favorite WEbooker and he or she will
have a shot at joining the ranks of the immortals -- and getting a free WEbook T-shirt to boot.

Join WEbook Today

If reading about Julian_Finn convinced you
of the value of feedback, sign
up for WEbook today
and start reading, writing, and feedbacking. If it didn't convince you, I'll eat my
hat. And I don't even wear a hat!

-- Melissa

WEbook Guide to Feedback Now Available

Wondering how to get, give, and receive writing feedback on WEbook?  Look no further.

Part 1:  The Golden Rule
It takes feedback to make feedback.

Part 2:  The 5 Rules of Great Feedback

Want to be a better writer?  Learn to give better feedback.

Part 2.5:  How to Read and Write Poetry
Feedback tips and more, especially for poets and readers of poetry.

Part 3:  You've Got Feedback!
No more curling up in a corner and crying over your reviews.

Not a WEbook Member Yet?

Join today, and start writing!

-- Melissa

Writing about Food – With a Sense of Humor

What’s Van
Gogh’s favorite food?

Why, a
perfectly formed, delicious ear…of corn, of course.

Curious about
what Andy Warhol or Pablo Picasso might whip up in the kitchen on their days
off? How about Mussolini or Kim
Jong-il? Or even Buddha, Moses, or Mary

WEbooker Cahoots is putting together
some seriously comical cookbooks, and you’re invited to join. The Starving
Artist Cookbook
provides recipes based on artists from Basquiat to
Matisse. The
Dictator’s Cookbook
You guessed
it – “Even dictators need to take the time to eat.” The
Religious Iconography Cookbook
is a kitschy collection of recipes
featuring figures from the world’s major religions.  Cahoots
newest project, The Rock Star’s
, helps fans of Elvis, Iggy Pop, and The Rolling Stones find
their way around the kitchen.

Berry Mousse
? Hilarious! But would you want to eat it? Cahoots
assures readers that all entries are completely practical, and adapted from
classic recipes.

It all
started when Cahoots was
watching a news story about a woman who saw the Virgin Mary in a
rotten grape. If people see religious
imagery in food, figured Cahoots,
maybe they’ll have fun making food designed for their favorite religious
figures. The
Religious Iconography Cookbook
was born, and the other projects quickly

Cahoots is well aware that
these projects might touch a nerve for some. She explains: “We assume our
readers are bright and know what we are kidding about.  I find that all
things kitsch are a bit offensive.  1950s kitsch items are usually a
little sexist, but modern women still get a chuckle out of ‘em.  By having fun with all the religions and
making fun of the bad dictators of the world, I believe we are bringing them
all to the same level.  This makes us more human and more able to relate
to one another.  These books are not meant to strike terror in people, or
to bring about theological discussions – they’re strictly for fun.”

The best
part? All WEbookers are welcome to
contribute their own recipe ideas to The Dictator’s
and The Rock Star’s
WEbookers interested
in contributing to The Starving
Artist Cookbook
and The
Religious Iconography Cookbook
can request to join these projects.

Join WEbook Today!

WEbook is a great place
to read – and cook! To start
contributing your own ideas to these featured projects, or other projects on
the site, sign up now.

-- Melissa

WEbook Guide to Feedback, Part 3: You’ve Got Feedback! Now What?

Congratulations! You followed the tips in Part 1
of the WEbook Guide to Feedback, about how to encourage fellow WEbookers to
weigh in on your writing. You read Part 2
(and, if you’re a poet, Part 2.5),
so the feedback you gave others was top notch. The
Golden Rule
is working, and you’re starting to get all kinds of feedback on
your WEbook work – and I do mean all kinds.

Now what? Depending on the feedback you’re getting, you
may feel like composing your Nobel Prize acceptance speech – or you may feel
more like breaking every key on your keyboard, burning your notebooks, and
crawling into a dark corner to cry. Heck,
you might feel like breaking every key on your keyboard, burning your
notebooks, and crawling into a dark corner to compose your Nobel Prize
acceptance speech.

Welcome to the wonderful world of
being a writer.

Unless you write only for yourself, or
possibly for a group of people who specifically agree not to provide criticism,
praise, or feedback of any kind, your readers will have opinions about your
work – and, especially if you go out of your way to seek them, by taking a
writing class, submitting your work to agents or publications, or posting your
writing on WEbook, those readers will tell
you their opinions. This can leave you
exhilarated, angry, encouraged, discouraged, irritated, happy, or downright
confused. Often, you’ll get conflicting
opinions from different readers, leaving you wondering how you’ll ever make
every reader happy.

Don’t despair. By following these handy rules, you’ll be
sure to get the most out of the feedback you receive.

The Rules of Receiving Feedback

1)  Know
Your Goals.
Before you can benefit
from feedback, ask yourself: What do I
hope to gain from sharing my work with others and asking for their
opinion? For many writers, the easy
answer is, “I hope to improve my writing.” However, this may not be the goal of every writer who goes looking for
feedback. Often, you may not be looking
for ways to improve your writing – instead, you’re more interested in getting
the encouragement you need to keep going, or a quick survey of readers’
responses to your work. These are perfectly
valid goals. But if you’re not honest
with yourself about what your goals are, you may set yourself up for

If you can
honestly say that you’re looking to improve your writing through feedback,
congratulations! You’ve taken a very
brave step. You may be able to distill
your goals even further – for example, you might decide you want to work
specifically on character development, or sentence structure, or plot – but sometimes
it’s enough to know that you want to make your work better, in general.

Keep in mind that
goals change. Your goal for one piece of
writing may not be the same a week later for a different project.

Warning! Avoid this common goal! I see this goal all the time in requests for
feedback on WEbook – I’ve even fallen prey
to it myself a few times. What is it? “I want someone to tell me whether I’m
good/have talent or not, so I’ll know whether to quit or keep writing.” Forget about it. Even if you spend the rest of your life
writing, and actually get a chance to compose that Nobel Prize speech one day,
no one will ever be able to tell you whether it’s worth your while. And if you really want to write, no one will
ever be able to permanently discourage you. The fact is, talent isn’t set
in stone. “Great” writers write lousy
books – or at least have lousy days – and “lousy” writers have moments of great
inspiration, and, with determination and elbow grease, produce good work. Don’t waste your time trying to determine
where exactly you fall on the talent scale. Instead, figure out what you want to accomplish with your writing, and
try to find ways to accomplish it.

2) Find the Feedback that Serves Your Goals. When you go looking for feedback, you’ll get
all kinds of responses, from all kinds of readers. Learn how to identify the feedback that helps
you achieve the goals you’ve spent so much time identifying. How do you do this? Easy! If you’re trying to improve your writing, ask yourself, “Can I learn
something from this feedback?” If you
still can’t tell, ask yourself a few more questions: “Do I respect this person’s opinion? Does this person follow the basic
rules for quality feedback
? Does
this person understand what I am trying to accomplish with this piece of
writing?” If you’re looking for
encouragement, ask yourself, “Does this feedback inspire me to keep writing?” If you want to know what readers think of
your work, ask yourself, “Do I believe that this person’s opinion is honest and
valuable?” If the answer to any of these
questions is no, ask your personal secretary to file that piece of feedback
under “Ignore.”

3) Never Complain, Never Explain. I don’t think Henry Ford, II was much of
writer, but he turned out a good quote. What does it mean when it comes to feedback?

Never Complain: When you get feedback that doesn’t serve your
goals, thank the feedbacker, get your personal secretary to file it under “Whatever,”
and move on. Remember: By posting your work on an open website, you
welcome comments from all kinds of people, operating at all different levels of
expertise, sensitivity, and even common courtesy. Even when it seems like someone has been
unforgivably rude (“He called my poem crap!”),
you can almost always chalk it up to the vagaries of contemporary internet
culture. Shake your head, allow yourself
one mournful “Kids these days,” and go along your way. There are exceptions – if someone’s feedback
violates WEbook’s site policies, it should be reported to abuse <at>
WEbook <dot> com. How can you tell
if someone’s feedback really crosses the line? Read the WEbook Terms of
(look for section 10), or ask yourself, “If someone said this to me in
public, would I call my lawyer?”

Never Explain: This is one of the most important rules of
receiving feedback. Do not, under any
circumstances, defend or explain your work to someone providing feedback. Your work must speak for itself. If you have to explain what you were “trying
to do,” it’s not speaking loudly enough. If a piece of feedback has passed the Rule # 2 test (that means it
serves your goals, for those of us with short attention spans), and you think your
reader doesn’t “get” something about your writing, this is a problem with the
writing, not the reader. This is
especially true if you hear the same kind of feedback from more than one
reader. Saying, “But I’m trying to make
Maury seem like the kind of guy who would cut up his wife’s underwear with nail
clippers,” is a waste of your time. Any
sentence starting with “But” is a waste of your time. If you really, truly don’t think your reader “gets”
your story – and you really, truly think it’s the reader’s fault – this means
his or her feedback doesn’t pass the Rule #2 test. Thank your feedbacker for his or her time,
have your personal secretary file it under “Nice effort, blockhead,” and go
make yourself a peanut butter sandwich.

4) Never Take it Personally. This is kind of the same as “Never complain,”
but it’s worth saying twice. Feedback
about your writing is not a personal indictment of your character, your worth
as a human being, or even – get this – your skill as a writer. It is about that particular piece of writing,
period. If a feedbacker makes it personal, have your secretary’s
secretary file it under “Fool, you don’t know
me!”, and start planning your next vacation to Fiji. (Personal attacks disguised as “feedback” are
not even worth your secretary’s time.)

5) Let it Marinate. After you’ve identified the feedback that
serves your goals, and had your secretary or your secretary’s secretary file
the rest, take a moment to let it all sink in. Don’t jump in and start fixing every little thing someone says needed
fixing. Instead, take a nice, long walk. Then come back and comb through all the
valuable feedback you’ve gotten. Classify the advice into broad categories. You’ll have to make up your own, depending on
what you wrote and the kind of feedback you got, but some examples
include: Character; plot; structure;
theme; and grammar and word choice. In
general, you should tackle big issues before getting down to the nitty
gritty. Why make your second sentence
absolutely perfect, if you end up cutting that sentence when you change the
story’s structure?

If you’re getting
continuous feedback through WEbook, you
may find it helpful to set aside a time – say, a week, two weeks, a month, or
whatever – to work on things like plot and structure, then another time for
working on character development, atmosphere, and setting, and yet another time
for ironing out the language. You, too,
can use the feedback field to chime in and let your readers know what kind of
feedback you’re looking for at the moment. If you do receive feedback on grammar while you’re working on the plot, file
it away for later. (Do it yourself –
your secretary deserves a day off.)

6) Know When to Say When. At some point, you may feel you’ve received
all the feedback you need, and done all the work you can. Congrats! Submit your work for
(WEbook’s next voting cycle opens on October 21), and get
started on your next project. If you don’t
get chosen for publication right away, don’t sweat it. You might come back to the project with fresh
eyes in a month or two, and radically improve it. In the meantime, enjoy your accomplishment!

Join WEbook Now!

Ready to get
feedback on your writing? Sign up for WEbook and watch
the comments roll in.

-- Melissa

Just Call WEbooker of the WEek Daisy

At WEbook,
the dude or dudette who starts a project is known as a “Project Leader.” A Project Leader might be writing a
single-author book, with feedback from other WEbook members, or he or she might
invite other writers to contribute to a group-written effort. When it comes to group projects, there are a
lot of good Project Leaders out there – and then there’s this WEek’s WEbooker, JustCallMeDaisy.

As a sign of JustCallMeDaisy’s
dedication to her WEbook project, the two share a name. That’s right – JustCallMeDaisy is the
Project Leader of Just
Call Me Daisy: A Breastfeeding Mother’s
. JCMD (as she shall
heretofore be known in this blog) first came to my attention when she wrote to
me asking what I thought about seeking the support of breastfeeding organizations
for her project. “Great idea!” I
said. “Go for it!”

A few weeks later, JCMD sent me a link to
a website she’d created
to help promote and build interest for her WEbook project. “Holy moly!” I thought. “This chica means

JCMD first got the idea
for Just
Call Me Daisy
after the birth of her second child, in February
2008.  A breastfeeding diary quickly developed into a story, which JCMD knew she wanted to
share with other mothers.  Says JCMD, “I began by selling it on ebay.  Then I found WEbook,
and thought how fantastic it would be if I could publish a collection of other
mum’s true breastfeeding stories.”

This powerhouse of a Project Leader promotes Just
Call Me Daisy
on Facebook, where
she has received “an incredible positive response.” Only a week old, the project website has
already gotten hundreds of hits. The project
is supported by Lactivist, a
breastfeeding advocacy group in the UK; the BreastBuddies support forum;
and the breastfeeding blog One
of Those Women
. As of today, Just
Call Me Daisy
offers stories from nine women, including JCMD. JCMD hopes to continue
to gather stories, and submit the book to an upcoming WEbook voting cycle.

In addition to her work on Just
Call Me Daisy
is a regular gal, complete with useless skills (“answering a question without
actually answering it”), favorite books (The
Time Traveler’s Wife
), and weird dreams (which, unfortunately, she doesn’t
remember in the morning.) She is the
mother of two boys, and a Nursing Student at Nottingham University. She and her partner are in the process of
launching a food magazine, EAT

Projectleader_c_2 Inspired by JCMD’s story? For more tips on how to lead a successful WEbook project, check out the Project Leader’s Guide.

of the WEek

Do you have a
line on the wonderfullest writer on WEbook?
The fantastickest feedbacker? Or anyone else who goes above and beyond to make WEbook the best writing, reading, and
publishing community on the internet? Visit my profile and send me a
message with the title “WEbooker
of the WEek
” to nominate your favorite WEbooker and he or she will
have a shot at joining the ranks of the immortals – and getting a free WEbook T-shirt to boot.

Join WEbook

It’s free to
register, and a hoot to boot. Sign up today!

-- Melissa

Learn How to Get Published and More: WEbook Project Leader Guide

People are writing books on WEbook -- and you could be one of them.  WEbook Project Leaders start writing projects, and invite others to join them -- either to give feedback on a solo writing venture, or to contribute stories, essays, recipes, poems, nonsense words, and more.  (You can also write your WEbook all by yourself, without a word of input from anyone.)  Through WEbook's revolutionary voting process, the WEbook community will choose some of these projects to become published books.

Join the ranks of the published -- or just lead the coolest project on the WEbook block.  Find out how with WEbook's brand new Project Leader Guide, now available in the WEbook Toolbox.  Get answers to all your burning questions about starting and leading a WEbook project.  Recommended for veteran WEbookers and newbies alike!

Not a WEbook member yet?  Sign up now, and start your very own WEbook project.

-- Melissa

WEbook Guide to Feedback, Part 2.5: How to Read and Write Poetry

If you read and write poetry, I have a treat
for you.  After I wrote the second
of WEbook’s 3-part blog series covering the ins and outs of giving and
receiving feedback on WEbook, I realized
that I had lots of good advice for how to give great feedback to non-fiction
and fiction writers – but when it came to poetry, I was a bit in the dark. I tried to remember what I’d learned in my
freshman literary analysis class years and years ago, but all I came up with
was something about scansion. So I called in an expert.

William Roetzheim
is the founder
of Level 4 Press, and the project leader
and editor of five WEbook  poetry anthologies. (Read about how to publish poetry in one of
the anthologies here.) He graciously agreed to write a WEbooker’s guide
to critiquing poetry, drawn from his many years of experience as a poetry

The first
in the WEbook feedback series dealt with the golden rule of feedback:
Give, and you shall receive. The second
taught you how to give great
feedback.  Today’s post is designed to
supplement Part 2, with advice on reading and critiquing poetry. Part 3 will tackle the tricky business of how
to respond to the feedback you get.

How to Read and Write Poetry

by William Roetzheim

are several types of poetry, each with a different purpose and a different
intended audience.  If the purpose and audience of a poem are not matched,
the resulting conflict is detrimental to the poet.  It is the
responsibility of the poet to be clearly aware of the type of poem he or she
writes, and to match that poem to the appropriate audience.  Let's look at
some types of poetry, and the intended audience for each.

Journal Entry.  The purpose is
to record thoughts, emotions, and events – either because it is beneficial to
vent them (writing poems can be wonderful therapy), or as a diary that the poet
might want to refer back to later in life.  The intended audience is the

Letter.  The purpose is to
communicate with a single recipient.  The communication desired might be
to express feelings, to influence this person in some way, to thank a person,
to make the recipient feel a certain way, or to entertain the recipient.
The intended audience is the recipient.

Song.  The purpose is to enhance
music and to communicate a simple message over the background communication of
the music itself (which often requires extensive repetition).  The
intended audience is someone who is listening to the music at the same time.

Performance. Conceptually, this is
very similar to a song.  The purpose is to provide a script that will
enhance the vocal performance and to communicate relatively simple messages
over the background of the vocal performance itself.  The intended
audience is someone who is listening to the performance.

Note that song and performance poetry will be somewhat effective even if they’re
delivered in a language you don't understand, or in an acoustic environment
where you only understand some of the words.

Literature.  The purpose of these
poems is the same as a very short story.  The poem must offer the reader
something in exchange for his or her time. This is the bargain between the reader and the author.  It might
entertain, inform, or even persuade.  In many cases, it will do more than
one of these.  The intended audience is the world, and these poems might
be found in books or on the sides of buses.

You critique should
vary based on the purpose of the poetry. For the first two types of poetry (journal entries and letters), the
only valid critique is encouragement. You might kindly point out minor improvements that may be easily
made. For the second two types of poetry
(songs and performances), it’s difficult for even the best of them to work well
on the page, so you can only really critique them if you hear them in context –
either sung or performed.

The last category
(literature) is the only one where detailed analysis of the poem is warranted. For poems written as literature, it’s helpful
to know something about the craft of writing poetry. There are far too many aspects of poetry
craft to cover in this short write-up, but let me go over a few of the most

1) Make it new. Good literary poetry tells the reader something significant that they
didn’t already know, or tells them something that they did know, but in a
unique and interesting manner. Everyone knows
that spring is great, love is wonderful, God is great, and so on. Great poetry tells the reader something
significant and new, in a unique and interesting manner.

2) Cut it down. If there are any parts of a poem that can be removed without harming the
poem – even a single word – the poem is too long.

3) Understand rhyme. If a poem is written in rhyme, the poet must thoroughly understand meter. The entire poem must be written in accordance
with the rules of meter in poetry. For
today’s poetry, rhyme must be achieved without unusual or inverted word
order. Many poets have neither the skill
nor the patience for meter, and they may find that they write more effective poetry
if they don’t try to make it rhyme.

4) Avoid abstractions. Say it, don’t show it. Avoid
preaching. Avoid clichés, including
images as clichés and concepts as clichés. Sunsets and sunrises are examples of clichés in poetry. There have been dozens of wonderful poems
written about sunrises and sunsets. Unless you find a way to do it better or different, don’t write about it. As a general rule, if someone else has
already written a famous poem about something, don’t write about the same thing
unless you can do it better or different.

5) It’s all about sound. Good poets pay attention to sonics
(the sound of their words). End rhymes
are “in your face” and must be used with caution. They seldom work anymore in serious verse,
although there are exceptions. Obvious
end rhymes (e.g., the classic moon-June syndrome) should be avoided.

6) Read, read, read. To write poetry as literature, or to critique poetry as literature, you
must also read poetry as

WEbook September Newsletter

So long summer, welcome fall. The kids are back in school, the leaves are thinking
about changing color, the days are getting shorter, and it puts one in the mood
for cozying up with a good read or, even better, sitting down for a bit of
writing on WEbook. Right now, WEbook
is ripe with more ways than ever for you to take your place as the next great
writing talent or one of the talent scouts helping to discover the next great
writer at

Three WEbooks Get the
Green Light
for Publication

We heard the voices of thousands of WEbookers, who helped vote for
their publication choices in the inaugural voting cycle this summer. WEbook writers placed more than 200 titles in
contention, and community votes elevated 22 finalists into the top 10%. After careful consideration, WEbook is thrilled to announce the next three
published WEbooks, written by more than 30 contributors on

Things Every Man Should Know How to Do

fighting a bear to buying a used car, from cooking a steak to stoking her fire,
from the simple to the scandalous... this is the "How-To" guide your
father forgot to give you. 101 Things promises to be a hit among
men looking to expand their skill set and women eager to impart those last few
secrets to the near-perfect man in their lives. 101 Things is the ultimate
grab-bag manthology, capturing the very best tips for every facet of the male
persona: Manly Man, Tricky Man,
Resourceful Man, and, last but not least, Impressive Man.

The Legend of
Vinny Whiskers

Animal Farm meets the modern realities
of overpopulation and climate change. It’s War and Peace meets The Rats of NIMH. In this engaging fantasy novel – inspired
by real events – you’ll find a zoo gone wrong!  Animals attacked in their
own cages!  And one prairie dog to save them all. 

Shirt for Dessert

Barley sucks on her clothes. Why does she do it? No one knows!

beats creative problem solving when attempting to balance the scales of a
child's diet. This rhyming tale is sure
to captivate toddlers and new readers.

WEbook is signing
publishing agreements now with the authors, and these three WEbooks will be
released in the coming months.

So You Think You Can

official!  Shirt
for Dessert
and 101
Things Every Man Should Know How to Do
have gotten the green light for publication.
Now, WEbook is conducting a search for illustrations for these books, tapping
the extraordinary WEbook community to crowd-source those contributions. Naturally, selected illustrators will enjoy a
share of the royalties from sales of WEbooks.  To submit illustrations to Shirt for Dessert,
click here.
Things Every Man Should Know How to Do
, click here.
Details are included in the book info for each project. For tips on uploading
images into your WEbook submissions, check
out the FAQ.

Here Comes Election

After nearly two years of campaigning, you
might have heard that there is going to be an actual election in the U.S. What better reason for WEbookers across the
globe to get those vote-casting fingers ready. Starting October 21, WEbook will
begin accepting submissions of complete, book-length works for voting and
publication. On November 4th, the day of
the U.S. presidential election, drop by WEbook
to vote for the next hit book. (We’ll
give you two weeks – until November 18 – in case you’re too busy on the big

Thinking of submitting to WEbook’s
next voting cycle? Drop into the
and swap tips with other writers about preparing
for publication.

An Island of Democracy
in a Sea of Democracy

WEbook is all about
democracy. Now, with our new discussion forums,
you have one more place to turn your me
into WE. Have a question about the
nuts and bolts of writing
? Want to
connect with other novelists,
book writers
, or avid
? Need help getting over writer’s
? Or just
want to vent
about the guy who sits in the cubicle next to yours, whistling
Bolero all morning long? There’s a place for everything in WEbook’s brand new, re-designed forums. Take moment to read our guidelines, take a look
around, and join the

WEbook Tools Now 300%

WEbook veterans are
familiar with 911 Writer's Block, the nifty tool that gives stalled writers 12-volt blasts of
energizing settings, endings, verbs, and more – even ideas for how to kill off
a pesky character! Now the WEbook Toolbox tab offers two brand-new tools
to help you get the most out of your time on WEbook.

Thinking about starting a WEbook
project? Check out the Project Leader Guide for
tips on making your project that biggest, best, and all around baddest book on
the block. And if you’re looking for
ways to take your writing to the next level, visit WEbook Writing Secrets, an ever-growing
collection of tips for writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and everything
in between.

We look forward to seeing your writing, rating, and feedback
on the site. And, as always, we love
your feedback. Please feel free to drop
a note anytime to info [at] WEbook [dot] com with your thoughts and ideas on
these emails, the site, or anything else you would like to chat about.

Happy WEbooking!

Team WEbook

Got Writer’s Block? WEbooker of the WEek Can Help

“I try to write everyday... even if it’s just utter crap. Aim for a
hundred words a day – could be anything. But force yourself to write something.
Nobody has to see it so it can be as forced and as awful as anything. You'll be
surprised how this can inspire plot ideas or character ideas. Also you might
just write one amazing paragraph that you decide has to be in a story – then construct
the story around that one paragraph.” -- Lallybell

If you hang around the 911
Writer’s Block forum
, you may have noticed WEbook’s
newest WEbooker
of the WEek
, Lallybell,
dishing out advice on breaking writer’s block. Whether you haven’t
written for a year
, like RiSkyBiZ13,
or you need to get
the ideas flowing for your big mystery novel
, like sarazzi, Lallybell is on the
case. She’s been writing for a few
years, ever since her English teacher told her she had real potential, and her
writer’s block wisdom comes from talking to other writers, learning about
writing on the internet, and, of course, personal experience.

Like most WEbookers
of the WEek
, Lallybell
is no one-trick pony. According to her profile, her goal is to write
and publish a novel in every major genre. On WEbook, she’s starting with a
psychological romance, Save You,
which follows the relationship between a clinical psychologist and her troubled
client – who happens to be a blockbuster movie star whom most of the world
believes to be dead. The story is right
up Lallybell’s alley – she
hopes to get a degree in psychology and criminology, and one day work as a
forensic scientist.

To find out more about the real Lallybell, I asked her some
tough questions.

Q: What's the story behind your WEbook penname?

A: As a toddler I insisted on
calling myself Lally ( my real name is Lauren), so my mum's nickname for me is Lallybell.

Q:  How long have you been on WEbook, and what's it been like so far?
What's the main thing you hope to get out of your time on the site?

A: I’ve been here for about a
month. I wanted somewhere where I could get feedback on my work from people who
also enjoy writing. I also like reading the amazing unpublished stories on this
site – and I like helping out my fellow writers.

Q:  If you could be a famous writer, a rock star, or the elected leader of
your country, which would you choose? 

Prime Minister of United Kingdom would be good.  I'd like to have a go at sorting out the
problems without party politics being involved.

In addition to writing, Lallybell
enjoys swimming, history, and Formula 1 racing.

of the WEek

Do you have a line on the wonderfullest writer on WEbook? The fantastickest feedbacker? Or
anyone else who goes above and beyond to make WEbook
the best writing, reading, and publishing community on the internet? Visit my profile and send me a
message with the title “WEbooker
of the WEek
” to nominate your favorite WEbooker and he or she will
have a shot at joining the ranks of the immortals – and getting a free WEbook T-shirt to boot.

-- Melissa


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