Free Writing Assistance

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This is how I imagine Cinnamon, my golden retriever, is when left alone with my work-in-progress.

Sometimes my grammar stinks.

There. I admitted it. No matter how hard I strive for flawless grammar, sometimes I goof. I might confuse which with that, end a sentence in a preposition, or the very worst thing ever – use passive voice.

I know, right? Every time this happens I cringe. Every freaking time.

Why can I spot flaws in other’s writing but miss it in mine? WHY is that?! It drives me nuts!

Writers need thick skin. In a perfect world, writers would sport the skin of a rhinoceros or crocodile. In reality, writers sport the skin of a Giant Day Gecko, fragile and easily torn.

When I first co-founded The Mountain Scribes, a writing group serving West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, I had a bad habit of submitting my first draft for critique from other members.

Boy was that a rotten idea! I quickly learned to read through and fix as many mistakes as I could before submitting to the group.

Thankfully friends like author Laura Emmons, who I met through my local NaNoWriMo group, suggested tools that helped them polish up their literary works. Here are my top three free, cloud-based editors, and best of all, they’re free!

  1. Hemingway App – The Hemingway Editor not only polishes up your writing, but it also allows you to format the text, import text from MS Word files, and export it as HTML right to your blog.
  2. After the Deadline – This was the first service I used. It’s also cloud-based but unlike the other two apps listed here, it only offers the bare basics. The one thing it does better than the others, in my humblest opinion, is find passive voice. It may hate passive voice more than I do.
  3. ProWritingAid – While you can get a premium membership, the free service reviews up to 3k words at a time, giving you 19 different reports in return. The reports range from diction checks to sticky sentences to overused words and a lot more.

Have you ever used these apps? Are there any in this list you haven’t used? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Why I Kissed Blackbeard Goodbye

Here’s a plot twist I never saw coming.

During the 2015 MAFWI conference, I attended a workshop led by Jim Rada, an author who hails from Pennsylvania. He stressed the importance of research when writing historical novels. This is also important, however, when writing any works that mentions a real person, trademark, or other type of brand.

I knew this would mean quite a bit of rewriting for HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, my collection of 13 strange and inspired by true stories, but surely I’d be smart enough not to let it happen again. Right? Absolutely!

It was more like absolutely not. It started when I read How to Use Brand Names in Your Fiction (Just Like TFIOS), a guest blog article written by Kathryn Goldman on the Better Novel Project blog.

Imagine my dismay at realizing the way I displayed Blackbeard in my book could bring up some serious issues. The fictional character based on the real person didn’t show in the best light. There was only one thing to do.

I kissed Blackbeard goodbye.

Then I went in an exploration into the past to find a new pirate. Hours later, when complaining about the dilemma to my husband, he asked, “Why don’t you just make up a pirate?”

Excited, I returned to my research. Because I’m only about 1/3 of the way into my book, I don’t need to rip it out and start over. And because my new pirate is a fictional female with a sweet back story, I won’t feel obligated to force my plot to follow someone else’s facts.

I’m more excited about my book every day, and can’t wait to share the final product with you all.

Top 5 New Years Resolutions for Writers in 2016

You don’t have to be a writer to think, “Someday I’d like to….” Well stop putting it off! There’s no time like the New Year to make resolutions that you have a chance to keep.

Stop smoking? Lose weight? Find your soul mate? Pfft. If you want a real challenge, check out my Top 5 Resolutions for Writers in 2016.

1. Write a book. I don’t mean start writing a book. Anyone can start. Write a full book from start to finish. NaNoWriMo is a great place to start. Don’t wait for November. They have camps in both April and July that can help you kick off your next novel.

2. Join a writing group. This will help a lot with the first resolution in this list. My writing group not only helps me stay on track with my writing goals, but they also challenge me to write outside my comfort zone which improves my writing. Check on sites like Meetup, or if all else fails start your own.

3. Attend a conference. If possible, attend with members of your writing group. You will learn a lot and it will give you something to bond over at future meetings. You will also get the opportunity to network with other people (both authors and readers) in the writing industry. Two of my favorites are the MAFWI conference and Bouchercon, which is geared toward the mystery genre.

4. Build your social networking platform. If you’re not ready to go public with a Facebook author page, then consider building up your Twitter followers. Develop a routine of following 10 new authors or publishers per day. If 10% of the these people follow you back, then by this time next year you’ll have over 350 new followers! And when you are ready to develop your Facebook account, then you can link it so your posts also show up on Twitter.

5. Hire an editor. It’s the best thing I ever could have done and my first book, a collection of short stories titled HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS is so much better for it. What you pay an editor is an investment. Learn more about my editor, Sheila Haab, on her website.

Here’s to a New Year filled with lots of literary progress!

What are your writing resolutions for 2016? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section!

I Won NaNoWriMo Now Where Is My Book?

Anyone who writes 50k words within the 30-day time period (i.e. the already hectic month of November) is eligible to “win” NaNoWriMo. The site requires you to validate your novel by copying and pasting everything you’ve written into a magical box.

It’s okay. Once your novel’s validated the site forgets whatever it saw, so nobody’s stealing your ideas. Besides, there are no original ideas. I mentioned (the highlighted, glossy parts of) an idea to a couple of friends in front of someone else who said, “Oh! So it’s JUST like Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY?” Um, no, totally NOT like that. Kudos that she knew Shirley Jackson was the author, but I digress.

According to an array of reputable sources, including Writer’s Digest, a novel in the genre of general literary fiction is somewhere between 85,000 and 100,000 words. Depending on your genre and intended audience though, your novel might be slightly longer or much shorter.

If you just finished NaNoWriMo for the first time, then you might be thinking, “But I wrote 50,000 words!” So you did. Good job! And now it’s time to write the rest of the book.

While writing my current NaNoWriMo winner, a cozy mystery, ONE SQUASHED VICTORY, the characters revealed the ending scene, how the book will wrap up, and the plot for books two and three. But I still have about 27,000 words to go before I can say the first draft of the novel is really done.

Even after I write those words, there’s still a lot to go as outlined in “Revisions, Bloody Revisions,” a Midnight Ink blog post by Tracy Weber. Some authors the book, send it to the publisher, and from there it’s on your shelf or e-reader. Tracy uses a 14-step process. Mine is at least 14. (Does she mention drinking copious amounts of wine and coffee while crying on the dog’s shoulder because it’s 3:30 A.M. and everyone else is asleep?)

So there you have it! While finishing up this book, HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS (my NaNoWriMo “win” for both 2013 and 2014) is on the verge of dropping into the hands of my benelovent beta readers. It’s only slightly less terrifying as the day I put my sons on the school bus for the first time. Wish me luck!

Do you have any questions for me? Any comments on this topic? I’d love to discuss them with you in the comments section below!

What Is a Cozy Mystery?

Despite all the cozy series available through both online and retail book sellers, there are still a lot of people who have no idea what a cozy mystery is. Books authored by Agatha Christie are probably the best and most recognized examples of cozy mysteries.

Also called “cozies”, a cozy mystery is a sub-genre of the larger one known as crime fiction or mystery. In a cozy mystery:

  • Sex is all but nonexistent. What happens in the bedroom stays there.
  • There’s a lack of blood and gore. If it does feature, then it’s downplayed.
  • The overall tone is light, if not lighthearted. There might be puns!
  • Crime typically takes place in a community or small town.
  • The sleuth is an amateur with ties to some brand of the law.

If cozy mysteries were television shows, then you’d most likely find them on the Hallmark channel or some equally family-friendly television programming station. Some good examples are Murder She Wrote, Pie in the Sky, the Father Dowling Mysteries, or Matlock, although the latter was a criminal defense lawyer and not an amateur sleuth.

As Lieutenant Columbo would say: Oh, just one more thing….

My cozy mystery for NaNoWriMo is coming along nicely. I’m slightly ahead of the curve as far as daily word counts, and look forward to completing the book so I can move on to the next phase of seeing it in print.

National Novel Writing Month

If you follow me on Facebook, then recently you might have noticed status updates like:

Today I poisoned someone, broke someone else’s leg, and convinced someone to walk off with the keys to a cabinet holding a murder weapon. ‪#‎WriterLife‬ ‪#‎BestJobEver‬

In case you’re worried, I reconsidered the broken leg and gave the person a mild concussion and a bruised collarbone instead. But I digress.

November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. In 2012 and 2013, I wrote the first and second halves of HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, a collection of thirteen fictional short stories inspired by authentic Appalachian lore.

Writing a Novel versus Writing a Short Story

This year I’m writing a cozy mystery, tentatively titled One Squashed Victory. The story takes place in the fictional town of Treasure Pines, North Carolina, about forty minutes west of the Outer Banks. The characters include:

  • The victim, who steals his neighbor’s gourd and enters it into a contest
  • The amateur sleuth, who by day is a single librarian who isn’t looking for love, but might find it despite her attempts to thwart it
  • The sleuth’s private investigator brother who trusts the local police to find the real killer
  • Their dad, who is accused of the crime of killing his neighbor, the victim
  • A wannabee starlet who dresses as a pirate using eyeliner and his mother’s yoga pants (He’s in his 20’s. It’s not pretty. His day job involves a camouflage tuxedo.)

Writing a novel is different than writing a short story. A short story can let the reader draw their own conclusions about why things happened, or how the plot ends.

Starting the novel was pretty similar to writing a short story. But then I had to keep the momentum going. I’m 14k words into the book and it seems to be going well.

A backstory involving the sleuth and her high school sweetheart tempers the main story line and helps provide some romantic comedy balance to the serious main plot.

It’s Bound to be a Squash-buckling Good Time

Because the murder takes place during Blackbeard Days, there are some puns starting with the title of the book itself.

Those who “win” NaNoWriMo will have written 50k words in 30 days. This is the push many people need to get their novel off the ground. I’ve been kicking this one around since August when I traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to pick up Captain Jack, my crested gecko.

You can read about that in last week’s blog entry, How a Runaway Gourd Vine Led to a Cozy Mystery.

And now here’s a look at the inspiration for the wannabee starlet. Enjoy, and afterward please leave your comments and questions in the area below. I’d love to discuss them with you!

P.S. Thanks very much to my pal Anthony for suggesting the term “squash-buckling” during one of our writing sessions.

How a Runaway Gourd Vine Led to a Cozy Mystery

Where do you get the ideas for your books?

It’s something people ask writers all the time. The answers, in its most simplest form, is anywhere and everywhere. Most of the time ideas happen when we are not even looking for them.

From Mystery Lights to Short Story Collection

For example, on an early fall morning in 2013, I scrolled through my emails while waiting for my husband. He was undergoing physical therapy for a shoulder injury that ultimately ended his firefighter career.

One of those emails was a newsletter from The Moonlit Road, a website that tells “ghost stories, folktales, myths and legends from the dark backroads of the American South.” This particular newsletter featured a story about the Brown Mountain Lights which led to this train of thought:

  • My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Brown.
  • Those Browns hailed from North Carolina.
  • What if this mountain was named for someone in that family?
  • What if the lights are ghost-related?
  • What if I wrote about it?
  • What if I wrote a story for each state in the Appalachians?
  • What if I made them all about women?

With National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) just over a month away, I took the chance to sign up. Two years and over 100,000 words later, I have a collection of 13 short stories in my collection, titled HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS.

How a Runaway Gourd Vine Led to a Cozy Mystery

Sometimes the inspiration is much more literal, which is what happened to me just a couple of months ago. I was in Baltimore, Maryland to adopt a rescued gecko when I pulled over at a fast food restaurant to double check my GPS.

I noticed a zucchini vine trailing out from beneath the fence separating the parking lot from the residents next door. This sent the author neurons in my brain into overdrive. I wondered:

  • Who owns the zucchini who grow on the opposite side of the fence?
  • Is it the fast food company, because the gourds are on their property?
  • Is it the private residence, since the vine originated on their property?
  • What if someone entered a wayward zucchini in a contest and won?
  • What if the property owner lost the same contest because of it?
  • What if the deviant entrant wound up murdered as a result?

The next thing I knew, I was plotting out my next book: ONE SQUASHED VICTORY. It’s my 2015 NaNoWriMo attempt. Follow Becky Muth Author Page on Facebook so you can keep keep up with my progress during the entire month of November.

If you’re a reader, then I’m happy to answer your questions. And if you’re a writer, then I’d love to hear where you find inspiration.

In the meantime check out this video about the Brown Mountain lights during a National Geographic shoot. Creepy isn’t it?