A Writer Talks About Getting the Work Done

You’ve heard me talk about my 12 Steps to Publication workshop series.  What I haven’t talked about is that I keep track of the writers who attend, and become friends with many of them.  When I see their books launch, I just want to do a happy dance for them.  I’m as excited and proud as they are.  It makes my heart sing to be able to support and honor them for their effort.

I asked one of those writers to share some thoughts about his writing process.  What I wondered, inspires a retired, but still working full-time, man to sit down and write?  With everything going on in his life, where does he find the time and energy?  And from where, I wanted to know, did the ideas and plots for his stories come?

Jim Billman not only showed up (or was represented by his note-taking wife) at every session, but he went home and employed what he learned.  His wife Karen consulted me for help creating his website, something he didn’t have when he launched his previous books.  Jim continues to implement what he’s learned, one step at a time.

He’s a quiet, serious, and private man, but eager to learn, grow, and share what he’s discovered about life.  That probably comes from his many years in education.  Jim is instrumental in the on-going life of the local group of writers who meet each month at the library.  He spends time welcoming and encouraging every writer who drops by or decides to join the group.  And he knows that finishing a manuscript is the first step to success.  After all, no one’s going to be reading a book that’s never completed.  Enjoy this visit with my friend and fellow writer, Jim Billman.

Jim, your book, Dead Man in a Lincoln, is both introspective and universal.  Would you share what sparked this idea that became your novel?

Not knowing at the time whether I would continue to write or not, I had a lot that I wanted to say: as a legacy, historically about my home [state], and critically explain my belief in God. It may have been too much as some of my beta readers have questioned where I was taking the story in the early chapters.


I know you published a non-fiction book in 2009, and have at least two more in work right now.  Those manuscripts are entirely different from Dead Man.  Where do you get ideas and concepts for new books?  (While working, showering, from news reports, etc.?)

Ideas come from entwining a story around my personal convictions. My next book is a coming-of-age story of a high-school student who moves from a small town to a large city. I have the framework for a loose biography of my Mom and Dad, and I have drafted several chapters of my life growing up in the 50’s. I pretty much know what I want to write once I start.


When you sit down to write, are there any rituals you observe to get into your creative mode?  Can you write anytime, anywhere?

I “guilt” myself into it [when I’m] no longer able to stand it after so much time without writing. I can think anywhere but have found that I can write only on my computer at home. Sometimes I take notes on things I want to include in a story.


Do you tend to write in a particular genre?  If so, what draws you to that?

I write historical fiction because it allows me to blend imagination with reality. As slowly as my writing progresses, I can’t write about the present, so I pitch my stories from the past.


Are you an avid reader?  What are the last two books you read and why did you choose them?

Maybe not avid in the true sense of the word, but I read quite a bit. I formerly told my students that a person should read a novel, a spiritual (or self-improvement) book, and a non-fiction book such as a biography on an ongoing basis.  The intent is to keep oneself simultaneously focused and open-minded.

I purchased All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr because it was a Pulitzer Prize winner. The second book was Killing Patton which was a gift from [my wife] Karen.


In which genres do you prefer to read?

Historical fiction, obviously. I read first-time authors to keep my personal fire burning, and mysteries are hard to avoid with their market glut.


How long have you been writing and why did you get started?

There’s always been the need to write well in my mind. In college, a well-written answer to an essay question helped distract from my lack of subject knowledge. As a teacher, I took pride in writing exams [for my classes], particularly story problems. I wrote a weekly column for several years for our local newspaper, a college study guide, and technical writing for the Cargill Company. I published an anthology of my Headwinds columns in 1995.


Which resources have been the most useful to your writing progress?

I rely heavily on Google and Wikipedia, marveling at all that is available from electronic sources compared to yesteryear. There’s always a dictionary, and English sourcebooks at hand, too.


What do you find the hardest part about writing and publishing a book?

Finding time to be creative when I do write versus just writing “filler” stuff probably is the reason I reread and edit as much as I do.  Publishing is the nightmare for me; if not for the diligence and time Karen puts into the effort, I wouldn’t write.


What is the easiest part about writing and publishing a book?

I don’t think there is such an animal. Yin and yang are constant struggles. For example, pride of accomplishment might sound noble, but being egotistical isn’t, and pride is a deadly sin.


Why did you choose to self-publish?

As I learn more and more in talking to others, finding an agent to represent obscure writers like me is an exercise in futility. Self-publishing is the present wave and the most sensible route available but can be a money pit.


What kind of support system do you have in place for your writing career?

You know how valuable Karen has been to me. [She’s his first reader, typist, note-taker, website creator, and main cheerleader.] You have been a blessing from the first time I met you at [the local writing group] Owensboro Writers Group with your wealth of knowledge and your willingness to share.


Thank you, Jim.  I’m of the mindset that if I know something you don’t, and it’s something you need to be successful, I want to tell you about it.  And the knowledge comes from researching, trying and failing, and doing the work year after year.  You bring your own brand of knowledge to the group, which leads to the next question.

What inspires you to get up each day and keep writing?

I think that the uniqueness and experiences of each of us are worth sharing. Our travails and triumphs as well as our accumulated knowledge is of interest and can be beneficial in some manner that helps us explain and understand who, what, and why we exist. Sounds grand, but that’s my belief.  Some people play golf or fish with their leisure time; I write.


What discourages you from writing and how do you overcome it?

The question of what do I do this for? Why do I beat myself up mentally? What am I trying to prove? What latent failure of my youth am I trying to atone for? (ha.)


I know you write diligently and have a full-time job as well.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I prioritize and do not see myself as a diligent writer because I “back-burner” writing too often. There are household chores, daily life events, and I’m trying to build an addition to our house that currently takes almost every waking moment. And if I’m not working on these, I’m too tired to focus on creating something meaningful (to my mind). It’s a struggle—a real struggle lately.


What do you think makes you unique as a writer?

Nothing really more or less than the gift of humanity that makes each of us unique individuals—our intelligence, our compassion, and our understanding.


How can we find you online?

          Website:   http://www.jimbillmanauthor.com

          Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/deadmaninalincoln/


Is there anything you’d like us to know that I haven’t asked?

One way or the other, I always get around to mentioning stewardship as our responsibility to Mother Earth and to each other as fellow humans.  To paraphrase Grantland Rice: When the One Great Writer comes to write against your name, it’s not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game.

And as always, a big shout-out to you, Suzanne, for all that you do.


I appreciate that, Jim.  It’s such a pleasure to work with writers on their way to success.  Especially those excited and eager to learn more about their craft every day.  Thank you for your time and for sharing about your writing journey, Jim!  You can find Jim’s book, Dead Man in a Lincoln at Amazon.


You Know Them When You See Their Research

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  That’s because I’m gearing up to finish a couple of writing projects before the end of 2017.  It feels so good to be back in the flow again.  And I thought I’d drop in to ask a question.

Do you know the difference between a writer and a psychopath?  Don’t listen to me just because I’m the woman sitting at the keyboard, wearing the “I’m a writer, not a serial killer, despite what my search history may lead you to believe” t-shirt.

In her recent post, Kristen Lamb explains so much more than a single garment can ever express.  I especially relate to Points #1 and #6.

My writing group gets seated in the deepest corner when we meet at our favorite restaurant.  Maybe it’s the conversation revolving around the best way to poison someone without detection, or how bloody someone would be after receiving a beating in an alley.  Perhaps it’s when we move into the territory of Point #11 and talk body parts—attached or otherwise.  Or it could be we just look like the crazed writers we are.  Okay, full disclosure.  I’m the only caffeine-crazed one writing the bloody stuff.  But we do have to discuss it to critique, don’t we?

But, as I said, if you don’t know the warning signs, Kristen’s post explains in depth how to distinguish writers from serial killers, creepy clowns, and other psychopaths.  Or maybe it makes too many connections for your comfort.  What do you think?  Better yet, what’s your family and friends’ reactions when you tell them what you’ve been researching for your latest book?  What’s in your search history?

Savor the Possibilities

Yesterday was Infinite Possibilities Day.


I love that word.  Possibilities.  In fact, it may be my favorite word.  


Doesn’t it just sing of magical unknown treasures and adventure as it rolls off the tongue?


I picture each day as a vast space filled with boxes of all sizes and shapes.  Some are wrapped in beautiful paper and adorned with flowing bows of ribbon.  Others sport brown wrapping paper and countless, messy pieces of tape.


No matter how they show up, I know there’s something new, exciting, and inspiring in each.  How do I choose which to open?  Must I choose only one?


That’s a decision I can make each new day.  The only thing required of me is to be open to whatever I find within the box(es) I select.  Allowing that flexibility means I may decide to create something unexpected or to go in a thrilling new direction with my work in progress.  And occasionally, the opportunity presented is breathtaking in the scope of where it takes me and how I learn and grow from it.


What was the last possibility you explored?  Where did it take you in your story?  What was the lesson for your writing career?


Are you open to infinite possibilities today?


If you’d like to work with me in 2017, I’m currently setting my editing schedule for September through December.  Email me at Suzanne@TransformationalEditor.com and let’s start a conversation about how I may help you take your writing from idea to signing party.

Editing Reality Soapbox

This morning, I happened across an online group of writers who caught my attention with a particular conversation.


One person asked the group about an estimate from an editor.  He mentioned a dollar figure without details concerning the length of the book or the type of editing he sought.  Then he asked if that was a “fair price” to pay for editing.


One after another the others in the group chimed in to say it was much cheaper to do his own editing, or if he felt he must spend some money, they could give him contact info for someone who would edit his work for “much cheaper.”


I wanted to reach through my monitor and bang a couple of garbage pail lids together to get their attention.


It’s not what it costs for editing that matters as much as what your book and your reputation as a writer gains from professional help.


On top of that, the price quoted in the original question was nowhere near what I would expect to see (or would charge) for editing any book-length manuscript.  Meaning, it was low.  Not “Hoo-boy, I’ve got one of those writer suckers on my scam hotline, Martha” low, but definitely below the norm for a full-length manuscript.


I think there’s some perception within a portion of the writing population that believes if someone can read a book in a day or two, an editor should be able to do her job in that amount of time.  They fail to take into account all the details the professional editor evaluates, researches, and corrects.  Those writers have no concept of the amount of time required to look at every sentence and every word several times over.



Or maybe they don’t believe in paying to have something done thoroughly.  “Why don’t you just look for typos?  Even if they notice, I’m sure my readers will forgive any mistakes I make.  And then you can charge me less.”


Sick at heart, I clicked away from that conversation.  The writer who asked about the editor’s quote will probably follow his compatriots’ advice to self-edit, or he’ll look for someone who quotes the lowest cost.


Once his book comes out he’ll wonder why readers are upset with glaring errors.  He may never relate his lack of success as an author to his decision to forego one of the most important parts of the writing process.


And I’d be saying this, even if I weren’t an editor.  Because I’m an avid reader.  And it matters.  Climbing down now.



If you’d like to work with me in 2017, I’m currently setting my editing schedule for August through October.  Email me at Suzanne@TransformationalEditor.com and let’s start a conversation about how I may help you take your writing from idea to signing party.

12 Steps to Publication – Redux



I’m so excited to present my 12 Steps to Publication workshop series again! In 2014-2015 the Daviess County Public Library sponsored the course for the local writer community. We had tremendous fun working together and supporting each other. Since then, some of those writers have published their books.

This Introduction to the course is FREE and designed to give you a taste of what to expect in the twelve modules. We’ll finish up the series with a Wrap-up session to encourage ongoing mutual support for every writer’s work.

Join me on June 28, at The Yoga Loft, 1722 Sweeney St., from 6:00 pm to  to8:00 pm, and learn how to get started on the book inside you! Go here to tell me you’ll be attending the FREE introductory session.

I’m looking forward to helping more local writers create their dream books!


Writers Make a Fresh Start With Each New Page

One of the biggest excuses I hear from people who say they want to write is that they’re afraid their words aren’t unique enough, brilliant enough, or interesting enough for anyone to read.  Their fear of failure keeps them from getting started.  Then they spend their lives mourning the loss of a dream. 


Each new page is a fresh opportunity to get it right.  If your words don’t make your heart sing with joy, write better words on the next page.  You’ll end up throwing away most of those pages, but you’ll learn something with each one that rolls across your screen. 


Don’t let your fears keep you from becoming the writer you’re meant to be.  In this digital world, you’re not even wasting paper and ink when you write and rewrite a dozen times.  Be bold!  Throw those words against the white page and see what sticks.  The more you try, the more you’ll get right.


Next time, maybe you’ll select an even bigger canvas on which your imagination can spill your story.

Make Your Readers Feel the Pain

I’ve been neck deep in research and editing, enjoying every minute.  And letting the days slip past before I come out of my red-pencil fog to check my deadlines.


I planned to write about layering your characters’ backstories, referencing scenes from the movie “The Homesman.”  In the meantime, I read Sue Coletta’s post over on The Kill Zone blog about researching torture methods.  Coletta is the author of the Grafton County series (Cleaved, book 2 is now available), the Mayhem series, and the criminally inspiring 60 Ways to Murder Your Characters.  This is one author who believes that first-hand experience makes her crime thrillers darker and scarier.  And she doesn’t hesitate to enlist her husband or a neighbor to assist her in the search for realism.


Just reading about her experiment inside an oil drum was enough to make my breath hitch and my ears ring.


Now I’m not saying every writer should bribe someone to bury them in a box with a short hose leading to the surface.  And please don’t play with sharp blades.  You don’t want to end up describing your visit to the nearest emergency room instead of the fight scene you roleplayed.


But don’t allow anything to stop you from getting deep into your character’s emotions and physical responses.  Because in the middle of the action, that’s what happens.  The body responds to physical stimuli while the mind assigns feelings and emotions to those actions and reactions.


Don’t think of the character as a cardboard cutout you’re creating with ink and paper (or ones and zeroes).  Put yourself in the middle of that scene.  Become that character as each word finds its place on the page.


Your knife-wielding assailant isn’t thinking about what he’s going to defrost for supper once he takes you down and saunters home.  He’s thinking about getting in close, sliding his knife-hand under your deflecting arm, and driving his blade into a space between your ribs.


You don’t wish you had worn lower heels.  Your mind is desperately sorting hundreds of ways to survive.  You attempt to grasp one before they all disappear.  Kick your shoes off–turn sideways to offer a smaller target—move into the middle of the street for maneuverability—scream your lungs out to attract attention—run like hell!


Even as your brain processes these commands, your senses pick up the smell of the man’s sweat as he grabs you, the sound of your voice echoing off surrounding buildings, the hot bite of the blade as it slices across your raised hand.


Dive into the experience, and take your writing to another level by increasing the depth of each scene.  And like Sue Coletta’s readers, yours will sleep with the lights on.


Next time we’ll unwrap layers of personality in “The Homesman” characters.


If you’d like to work with me in 2017, I’m currently setting my editing schedule for June through September.  Email me at Suzanne@TransformationalEditor.com and let’s start a conversation about how I may help you take your writing from idea to signing party.

What Language Do Your Characters Use?

What’s the missing ingredient to the story in which every character sounds like the next? It’s the individual’s language of life and personality.


There is a magic in interpersonal communication sometimes ignored by writers. Characters from different backgrounds and life experiences express themselves in unique ways.


A naturopath reminded me the other day that experienced energy healers speak a language of their own. One that those unaccustomed to the art find confusing. The etheric body is as incomprehensible to the initiate as the idea of space travel was to the average man before Da Vinci built his spacecraft between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. His concept inspired the language of science fiction writers.


Doctors discussing the latest medical breakthrough use a vocabulary foreign to their patients. Patients break the news to loved ones in terms used within their familial group.


Musicians in each genre of music have a particular language for the way they coax magic from their instruments and voices.


Lovers speak of inspiration, dedication, and hope found in the presence of each other.


Teenagers use phrases and abbreviations that seem to change overnight in popularity. Parents answer in expressions derided or ignored by the adolescents they address.


Friends converse with the language of past experiences and never-forgotten embarrassing moments. Men use physical manifestations of friendship—the shoulder slap, the fist bump. Women are more apt to be huggers.


Couples often communicate without words, but rather in a ballet of movement, a tilt of the head, a tightening of the lips. A smoldering glance across a room is a language as old as time.


Watch the way people converse in a crowd. Identify patterns of verbal and body language that you can bring to different characters. Build on the verbal and nonverbal signals they bring to every relationship.


How do your characters express their relationships? Why and when did they create their language of shared thoughts and emotions? Are they able to establish a mutual understanding or does the natural language of each build new tension and conflict between them?


There’s no one method of communication that we all share. And our language patterns change as we communicate with different individuals or groups of people. Make your characters vivid and unforgettable with communication patterns uniquely their own.