A Gallery of Writers’ Journals

RamonaGravitarYesterday, Literary Mama, an online magazine for the maternally inclined, published my guest post, “What in the world is a  sprint journal?” The post appeared as part of LM’s After Page One blog series.

After Page One posts are intended to motivate, encourage and inspire writers on their journeys as mothers who are also write. In addition to its articles and stories on motherhood, Literary Mama offers numerous craft pieces that would aid any writer.

My piece revealed how I–a person who never could keep a diary–learned to adapt a journal to meet my very specific writing needs. In this case, I needed to focus precisely on what to write during my daily one-hour writing sprint.

This, for the visually inclined, is what a page from my sprint journal looks like:

journal - sprint

My sprint journal is neat, orderly, spare and precise.

Check out the contrast to this, which is my book bible. Check back to this blog in a few weeks, when I will post about book bibles:


A step forward on the messier scale would be my short story draft journal. My writing process for short work is to write a quick first draft in longhand. As you can see, neatness is not important to me at this stage:

journal ss

For someone who never kept a diary and could not embrace journaling, I do seem to use a number of journal-like tools in my writing, don’t I? I am not alone. I asked a couple of writers friends to share what their journals looked like.

Edith Maxwell’s writing journal (pictured both closed and opened) is below. Edith is the author of the Local Foods Mysteries (Kensington Publishing), the Lauren Rousseau mysteries (as Tace Baker, from Barking Rain Press), and award-winning short crime fiction. Edith also blogs every week at Wicked Cozy Authors, a group blog featuring cozies with a New England accent.

This lovely cover…

Edith journal 1

…opens to reveal this:

Edith journal 2

 Another journal is from my Pittsburgh friend, Martha Reed, who writes the Nantucket Mystery series. Martha also she serves on the Board of  Sisters in Crime National. She is Chapter Liaison and a very useful person to know. This is what Martha’s writing journal looks like:


Martha journal

Clearly, there is no one way to keep a writing journal.

Do you keep a writing journal? Is it neat or messy? A collection of organized thoughts kept in orderly lists, or a jumble of arrows and highlighted sentences? Somewhere in between?

7 Maladies That Will Sicken Your Writing

RamonaGravitarThe body is a temple, a key to the soul. In fiction, a character’s body can reveal emotion and habits, but this can go awry. Below are seven body functions that can creep into writing in clichéd, ineffective, and colorless ways to weaken your prose.

  1. Respiratory Problems: Does your character take a breath before he performs a mundane activity, such as make a phone call, answer a question, or walk out the door? Does she release a breath she’s been holding, but never knew she was holding it? Does she take a deep breath before a more stressful activity, as if you are telling the reader, “Yes, she’s going to run into live gunfire, but she took a deep breath, so don’t worry, she’ll be okay!” Deep breaths are not force fields, and breathing is not a telling activity. The only time breathing is interesting is when a character stops.

  1. Heart ailments: Does your character suffer a pounding heart, a racing heart, a hammering heart, a squeezed or broken or weary heart? Does his heart leap into his throat or drop to his feet? In a moment of tension, does it beat so loudly, the character can hear it in his own ears or, worse, be certain everyone in the room can hear it? Like breathing, the heart is most interesting when it ceases to function. If you are considering a malfunctioning heart to demonstrate your character’s emotional state, consider The Telltale Heart. Can you top Edgar Allan Poe? The heart has reached its pinnacle in storytelling. Allow it to rest, and beat, peacefully there.

  1. Disembodiment: You’re sitting at a coffee bar. The love of your life from high school walks in. You are so excited, your eyes race across the room….What? Your eyes are racing across the room? Well, don’t just sit there, run after them! Oh wait, you can’t, because you can’t see, because your eyes jumped out of your head and are now running around….If you write that your feet carry you across the dance floor, would you also write that your legs walked you across the road? A character’s extremities or organs don’t perform activities independent of the rest of the body. Eyes stay in heads. Legs are not escorts.

  1. Hyperactivity: Your character nods, shrugs, wriggles around, and says, “I guess so.” Go ahead: nod, shrug and wriggle at the same time. Does this feel natural? Or, visually, do you look like you’re on speed? If a character is nervous, you can show that with a shaking foot or a twitch. However, if after every line of dialogue, the character performs a small, meaningless action, the reader has to stop listening to the dialogue and process that action, go back to the dialogue, process more action, and so on. It’s like watching a tennis match, only one side keeps missing the ball, so the game stops after each serve/line of dialogue. Don’t disrupt the natural flow of speaking with meaningless or too many actions.

  1. Attention Deficit Disorder: Officer Malcolm asks, “Ma’am, where were you at ten o’clock, when the deceased expired from a hammering heart and racing eyeballs that even deep breaths could not help?” Your character Louanne responds to this direct and simple question with…an internal soliloquy–Ma’am? He doesn’t remember me? We were together down at the crick, me in my first white bikini and Malcolm wearing that tie-dyed Speedo. We were sixteen that summer, the same summer the Serial Killer of Our Hometown made his first appearance, and now he’s back—and fails to answer the question. Police officers don’t like it when, instead of answering their questions, your mind wanders into an info dump.

  1. Stuttering: If one character bumbles and mumbles when he speaks, that may be a personal condition. He/she has my sympathy. But if every character begins dialogue with, “Well…ah…um….” and trails off at the end, that’s not a personal condition. That’s a writing habit. Stuttering is not contagious. ONE character can be the guy who can’t articulate his thoughts without ahs and ums and wells, but if all of your characters do this, the manuscript will suffer from All Characters Sound Alike Syndrome.

  1. Premature ejaculation: Excitement is building. Tension is ramping up. Your readers’ hearts are pounding as their eyes race across the words. (Ha ha.) Your readers are turning pages as quickly as they can read them. At the climax, when the heroine finally opens the door to the tower/basement/lighthouse/ballroom, you read, “And what I saw on the floor changed my life, and the lives of all the clan members, forever.” Well…darn. That tells me a great big bowl of nothing. Instead of climaxing, you forecasted. I still don’t know what’s behind the door, and you jumped out of the scene at the very peak of action. My interest, rather than be aroused, is deflated. I wanted to see what was on the floor. I wanted to decipher its meaning. But you had to rush things. The leap ahead, and out of the scene, came at the moment I wanted to be most in the scene, and in the moment. Maybe you couldn’t help yourself, but still. Thanks for nothing.

Is your writing suffering from any of these ailments?

50 “How To” Writing Posts on Craft

RamonaGravitarIn May of 2012, I announced a blog project for the coming month: I would post a How To craft post every day for the month, Sundays excepted. My month of blogging resulted in 27 posts about writing log lines, avoiding typo blindness, breaking the that habit, curing overpopulation, introducing characters, writing thematic statements, and so on.

Eventually, I put together all of those posts in a How To collection, which can be found under the FOR WRITERS tab. I continued to write How To posts in a more sporadic fashion, when the need or an idea arose.

Last week, I wrote my 50th How To post for this collection. All are available and tagged in one spot, so help yourself!

Writing a blog post every day was a fun, albeit crazy-making, challenge. I’ve thought about,and talked about, doing it again, but I usually talk myself out of it. I do enjoy writing about craft, and will continue to do so, but I think I’ll break from the How To approach for a while, and try a couple of others.

So, in addition to announcing my How To collection has reached the ripe old number of 50, I’m going to continue to write two types of instructional–and hopefully helpful–blog posts: the List and the Why.

I have already posted a few of each type:

12 Ways to Improve Your Writing

10 Things to Check Before You Hit Send

12 Terrible Ways to Open a Novel

9 Ways to Open a Blog Post

and for the Whys:

Why Your Mystery is Like a Lost Puppy

Why Your WIP is Like a Train

Thanks for reading! Please note that there’s no Donate button on this site. I’m happy to share info and advice for free. If you like what you see, please send to a friend, re-blog, follow me on Twitter or like my FB Editor page.

And as my Southern relatives would say, be sure to stop by and visit again – Ramona





17 Ways to Mess Up Your Murder Mystery

RamonaGravitarBeing an editor is a non-stop education. With every manuscript I read, I learn as much as I correct, suggest, or guide. After years of reading mysteries—from idea to first draft to revision to published book—I’ve learned to recognize flaws that can weaken an otherwise strong or promising draft.

A murder is an unnatural event. It throws chaos into a community. The point of solving a fictional murder is the same as a real one: to find justice for the victim, and return safety and order to the story world. If you treat your characters as you would real people in a real world murder situation, you may avoid some of these habitual boo-boos:

Continue reading

How to Write a Protagonist of Interest

RamonaGravitarPerson of interest:  a person who is believed to be possibly involved in a crime but has not been charged or arrested – www.merriam-webster.com

 The above term has been used in law enforcement since 1937, according to Merriam-Webster. I don’t know what—or who—happened in 1937, but more recent examples of “person of interest” are Richard Jewell (innocent), Scott Peterson (not innocent), Andrew Cunanan (also not innocent), and  James Caviezel (fictional).

Continue reading

How to Use a Sprint Journal

RamonaGravitarLike many writers, I keep a notebook called a book bible. The book bible for my current WIP, a novel written in the episodic style, is a beat-up, bright green notebook with fraying pages, a precarious spiral spine, and an array of Post-its in various shapes and colors poking from the edges.journals

A book bible is used to record ideas, changes, concepts, goals, for a work in progress. It’s a planning aid. This post, however, is not about book bibles; I am introducing the book bible idea to get it out of the way. What I want to discuss today is my Sprint Journal.

Continue reading

How to Make the Most of a Writing Hour

RamonaGravitarIn October, I participated in a workshop series at the Havre de Grace, MD, public library on preparing for NaNoWriMo. A month of intense writing with a high word count goal can’t be undertaken willy-nilly. My talk covered the range from psychological pep talks, the mid-month slump, and learning to love your crock pot.

Writing for an hour a day may not require the extremes of November, but if you are carving out a new hour in your day, your daily schedule will shift. If you have the hour available without much pain to the rest of your life, great. Either way, today’s post will address how to best use the hour once you’ve found it.

Continue reading