Tag Archives: Humour

Writing a Book Made Simpler in 1-2-3

This book writing stuff. It’s really hard.

My novel has been a work in progress for a good year and a half, and I wish I could say it was almost done. I realized, however, during three days of writing workshops at the Philadelphia Writers Conference that I have much to do before calling it a day.

Book writing isn’t just the writing.

A key part is the planning, the structuring. There are mechanics to novel writing that can not be ignored. Each character, for example, must have a story arc comprised of the situation, the spark and the conclusion. A character must have a goal and obstacles that must be overcome to reach that goal. And once that is established, the character’s arc must intersect with the other characters’ arcs.

Dialogue needs a context and a subtext. Dialogue must be authentic but not mundane. It can be reported or condensed, and it needs to propel the action.

I could have done this differently.

There is another way, a better way, that writer and editor Stuart Horwitz presents in his new book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love it, the third book in his Book Architecture Trilogy.

Writing: Finish Your Book in Three Drafts

Horwitz is the founder and principal of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence, RI (www.bookarchitecture.com) whose clients have reached the bestseller list in both fiction and nonfiction.

I was fortunate to meet Horwitz at last year’s Philadelphia Writers Conference, and his keynote was one of the highlights for me, so much so that I approached him after his presentation to tell him how much I enjoyed it. Not only is Horwitz a smart guy, he is down to earth and has a great sense of humor. As a writer, he totally gets the frustrations we writers experience with endless revisions. He’s been there himself.

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts gives writers, fiction and non-fiction alike, a practical way to get through the revision process with minimal consternation. Horwitz proposes that a book can be completed in three drafts:

  • The messy draft: which is all about getting it down.
  • The method draft: which is all about making sense.
  • The polished draft: which is all about making it good.

“I think about the people who don’t publish their books, and too often it’s not because they lack the writing skills. It’s because they got lost along the way. One draft isn’t going to cut it, but neither is twenty,” Horwitz says. “All you need is three drafts, and the tools to know where you are in the process.”

What’s more, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts is interactive. The book is nicknamed “3D” because it contains nine stop-motion videos that bring the concepts to life through the use of action figures, and nine PDFs for when you want more detailed information and instructions about topics such as “How to Find Your Theme,” “The Five Definitions of Scene,” and “How to Construct Your Book Proposal.”

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts is available in both print and digital editions from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

I’m taking a look at my novel through a different lens now, and it is so worth the extra time.


I received a copy of Finish Your Book in Three Drafts for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.


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My Bra-mance with Erma Bombeck

Have you ever laughed so hard that you had to clutch your gut and gasp for breath?

For three days straight?

Thank you, Erma Bombeck.

That was me and about 350 others last weekend at Destination Hilarity, formally known as the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, a veritable laugh-in and love-in for humor writers (mostly women). With so many giggles, guffaws, belly laughs and woo hoos, my stomach muscles are still crying for mercy.

Spend three days surrounded by awesome comedic talent and a bundle of good cheer and this is what happens. While your stomach is in stitches, you fall in love.

My Bra-mance was Kindled.

My bra-mance with Erma and all the Bombeckians took flight, like lovebirds soaring, and I am still swooning.

Now, I didn’t expect the tone of this conference to be serious. Of course not. But I couldn’t have imagined being thrown into paroxysms of glee for three days straight. I think I was even chuckling in my sleep (my room mate Lois Alter Mark can attest to that).

The quality of the workshops was amazing. We learned about writing and editing and publishing, about finding your voice and writing concisely and perfecting your words until they gleam like polished silver.

Erma was all about finding the humor in everyday life. She found a treasure trove of material in her very own household. This was the lesson echoed by every presenter: the source of your material is right there. You just have to condense it into a nugget, and make it sing.

Laughter and Tears

There is nothing in life that can’t be massaged into a piece of humor, keynoter Lisa Scottoline told us, and regaled us with so many funny stories about her family.

She also shared with us that her mother had gone into hospice, suddenly, and Lisa was cutting her time at the conference short so she could go home to be with her.

And that was the other piece of this conference: pathos.

Amid the laughter there were tears. For Lisa’s mother. For Erma Bomeck’s untimely demise, which Phil Donahue described so eloquently. For Mary Lou Quinlan’s moving tribute to her mother, her greatest cheerleader.

I am still processing everything I learned, all the emotions I felt. And I can’t wait to apply all of it to my writing.

Takeaways from the Erma Conference

10.  It is good to have cake at every meal and snacks twice a day. And the Marriott and University of Dayton get (gluten-free) brownie points for trying really hard to please those of us with food restrictions.

9.  Erma keynoters rock. Each one was funny, warm, polished, and down-to-earth. And good looking, of course.

8.  As a newbie, I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in. Can I tell you that this was the nicest, friendliest group of conference-goers I’ve ever been with?

7.  Generosity of spirit and wisdom. That pretty much sums up every presenter.

6.  Watching others pitch their books filled me with admiration for their talent – and the chutzpah it took to get up there in front of the crowd. I will try to do this at the next Erma conference.

5. The message that Erma said turned her life around: You Can Write! Erma went through the same self-doubts of most writers, but she took these words to heart.

You Can Write! Erma Bombeck Writers Conference

4. Phil Donahue set the tone for the conference with his warm and funny tribute to Erma. Phil looks the same, talks the same and was total perfection.

Lois, Phil Donahue and me

3. Just as I thought that nothing could surpass Phil’s extraordinary keynote, along came Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serratella, blowing me away with their wit, writing smarts and sheer likeability.

Lois, Lisa S and me

2. The presence of Erma, as each keynoter and presenter kept her spirit alive in their comments. There were references to her throughout: her comic genius, how she blazed a trail, and as Phil said, “She wasn’t the first. She was the only.”

erma sign

1.  Meeting new friends I have gotten to know online – and reconnecting with those I’ve met before – priceless.

Erma Bombeck Writers ConferenceErma once said, “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”

Erma, you were with us every minute. You would have been proud. Thank you for showing us the way.

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This I Believe

There are many things that inspire me: the beauty in nature, the athletic prowess in a five-set tennis match or a basketball game in double overtime, a wonderful sense of humor, a perfectly turned phrase. But many years ago I stumbled upon a quote that spoke so meaningfully to me that I adopted it as my own personal philosophy.

“The three grand essentials to happiness are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

I have seen the quote attributed to both Joseph Addison and Allan Chalmers, so I can’t attest to its true origin. To me, it is brilliant in its simplicity about what is really important in life.

Something to do isn’t just the job you perform during the day or the errands you run on the weekends. It’s having a purpose, making a difference, maybe not making the world a better place, but trying to make both yourself AND your little corner of the universe better. It’s having an agenda that matters. What do I do? I eat vegetables I volunteer at a homeless program, I weed my garden, I donate pretty decent clothing to Purple Heart, I wear sunscreen, I say thank you excessively, I support animal rights, I cheer on the home team, I take long walks with my dog.

Something to love, well, I interpret that very broadly. I am lucky to have a family and a circle of friends to love. What else do I love? Broadway, animals, the smell of salt air and suntan lotion at the beach, old photos, movies accompanied by popcorn, Thanksgiving, reading hard-to-put-down books, the aroma of bread baking in my kitchen, high school reunions, singing along with the radio, speaking French, yes, I love all those things and so much more.

Something to hope for: in times of distress, I tell myself that things will get better, and they do. Getting through a rough patch is tolerable because I know it won’t last forever. Hoping for things is not to say that I’m dissatisfied with what I have, but what do I aspire to? And what do I wish for humanity? What do I hope for? World peace, a cure for terrible diseases, a strong leader for our country, my children’s fulfillment in whatever they do, a pair of jeans that fits well, my unwritten novel will someday be written, health and happiness and many years of life for everyone I love, and the opportunity to keep learning and keep giving back as long as I can.

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