What happens when you sit down to write? Sometimes magic!

A little over a year ago, I started writing again. Well, English prose, anyway. I had written extensively, as a child, but didn’t find a lot of time for it as an adult. Although I did write a complete TV script for the ’80’s show, Moonlighting, and some travel journals that got published in a sail magazine in the late ’90’s.

Like many writers, I had a story tucked away in my mind. Sometimes, it would surface and I would write down bits and pieces, which inevitably were lost along the road of life. Sometimes, it would fill my dreams.

Early last year, as I toiled on my living room couch, working on creating a small, online fundraising business (in languages beyond English, like python and javascript, which were both new to me at the time), the story raised its head again. I suspect it was my brain looking for entertainment when I had spent too long immersed in computer code. It wouldn’t leave me alone.

So I had an idea. If I just wrote it down, then I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. Instead of writing on paper, I typed it into my computer. Into the Mac version of Notepad.

Well, then something magic happened. Given a vessel in which to dump them, the words wouldn’t stop. When I got up to around eighty thousand, I had a problem. My basic text editor became cumbersome and difficult to work in. And I kept crashing it as I navigated through the work, and cut and pasted, and edited. Not the right tool for the job.

On the suggestion of a close friend, whose wife is an author, I checked out the writer’s tools available for my Mac. I chose Scrivener, which I now happily demo to anyone interested in such things. There are several other good ones, but Scrivener has changed my life (as a writer, that is). With it, I’m able to structure the story, write to scenes, and move sections not only within the manuscript, but to entirely different books (there are now four, with lots of supporting back stories and forward stories). Like I said, the words wouldn’t stop.

Late last year, I realized the first book was way too long, especially for an unpublished author, so I figured out where one of its major story arcs ended and split it into two books. The climax was a part of that story arc I hadn’t yet finished, so that was the first challenge–finding a compelling ending. Then, I cut 35 pages from the beginning. Too much exposition. Then ten more. I think it starts and ends at good places now.

Amazingly, I wrote a book, end to end! I’ve been through it many times to edit and tweak and rip words wholesale from the text. It’s really hard!I love my words!

Part of this process has been reading it out loud. It didn’t take long for me to want to hear it as well, so I’ve recorded myself reading it–twice now, from beginning to end, as well as re-recording if I make changes to the manuscript.

It feels pretty solid to me now and I’ve started sharing it. I’m reading it to a friend, who genuinely seems to enjoy it. I read excerpts at reading groups. I’m going to ask a few more friends to read it and let me know what they like or dislike.

I might even share some of it on this blog.

In November, I joined a reading group, where, once a month, we get together to read to each other from our own writings. There’s no critique. It’s just a chance to share. I like hearing the wide variety of subjects and styles.

I also joined a writing practice group, where we gather to write for forty-five minutes, then read what we’ve just written, in its raw form, to two or three of the others. This is really hard! Sometimes, it goes more smoothly than others. It’s a mature group, having met twice a week at the same little cafe for more than twenty years. The only prompt I ever hear is, “today I’m writing about…” Hearing the other people’s stories is the highlight of the day, and sometimes of the week. It’s been a good exercise for me, and I’ve seen my writing improve, which is gratifying.

The other day, I was at the self-checkout at Fred Meyer. The man at the next station started chatting with the assistant about the weather. When I joined in, he became entirely focused on me. We talked for the next hour. He was a real character and told me tales of things he’d done and still was planning to do. Among them was write a book. One of the things I took from our conversation was, ‘just do it.’

I knew this and was really planning to make more progress in this direction, but having someone say it to me spurred me to action. Today, I set up an email account for the books, a Twitter account, a Facebook page and this blog. I now have a logo and a slogan. Things can move forward if you just get started.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

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Lessons from the Fledgling Author: There Are Places I Remember

A question came up in one of my Facebook writers’ groups today—is it all right to write about a place you have never visited?

It is certainly best to write what you know, but that is not always possible. In your research of a place, do not forget to understand its geography, what plants and animals live there, and what the climate is like, especially during the time your story is set there. Investigate the local cuisines and dress and other cultural aspects. Then, create a character that is that place (and, now I realize, I should do this). Describe if it is hot or cold, dry or muggy, dusty or moldy, noisy or quiet; how it smells; what colors it is; if the buildings or rocks or whatever are rough or smooth, spiky or rounded. If it is very hot, describe how the air feels entering a character’s lungs, or how their lips dry and crack. If it is very cold, describe how their toes get numb and, the longer they are outside, how the cold creeps across their feet and up their legs. Those are the showing things you can use to describe a place you have never been. It helps if you are describing something you are at least familiar with, even if you have never been to the exact place.

If you have never been in snow, felt it touch the skin on your cheeks, made a snowman, or run outside in your bare feet just to see if you could make it to the fence and back, then you will be hard-pressed to be able to describe it. If you have never tried to sleep when the temperature is 90°F, the humidity is 98%, there is not a breath of air moving, and the cicadas are so loud you can’t hear anything else, it would be hard to pretend you know what that feels like. Your readers who have experienced these things, they will know.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Flash Fiction: What th…

A conversation the other day, with a friend, spurred me to write this. I experimented with writing in the first person, which I have rarely used. Then, I changed the story to present tense. This is even more rare for me. While reading it today at Writing Practice’s monthly Writers Read Out, I found it difficult to stay in the present tense. One line, in particular, came out in the past tense every time I practiced reading it, and again, at the event. “We move our conversation to Messenger.” It was interesting. My brain would not let go of the past tense, and “move” always became “moved.” At 332 words, I am not positive it counts as flash fiction, but I do not know what else to call it.

The day starts out peaceful and calm. The wild wind and rain from the previous day moved on. Even though it is cool—we no longer experience real cold—the bright winter sun shines in my eyes. It turns the fall leaves, still clinging to the trees, a fiery gold. Inside my house, it is toasty. Kano lies on his mat with his back pushed against the heater vent—his favorite spot. Kake sits at my feet.

I try to write, but Facebook distracts me. I get into a debate with a friend about whether anything—health care, taxes, sexual abuse of women and children—is important, beyond the threat of nuclear holocaust or global warming—and which would kill us first.

“You’re too pessimistic.”

We move our conversation to Messenger.

I do not know why I am taking such exception on this particular day, but over the past week, the news keeps getting worse and worse. The sea ice in the Bering Sea is the thinnest—ever—at this time of year. A heatwave over all of North America set record highs—and not by small amounts, but eight or nine degrees Fahrenheit—before moving into Greenland, where rain—rain in December!—is melting the glaciers.

To top that, North Korea shot off another missile a few days ago, and Hawaii is testing its air raid sirens, after decades of not being used. I remember the air raid siren tests each afternoon in my little town when I was growing up. How stupid is that, as if the siren would make any difference? I text my friend, “Sure glad I live in a target city.”

“Yeah. No real chance of suffering from radiation sickness.” Then, my friend surprises me. “None of that really matters. We’ll move on to a better place, beyond the pearly gates.”

“Are you shitting me? We’ll just all be dead.”

A bright light. Time to say, “What th…”—the bright light fades to… pearly gates—“…e fuck?”

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Too Much Hair

I keep reading that I should limit—even severely—the descriptions of my characters. Yesterday, I read a 2001 article in The New York Times by the late author, Elmore Leonard, titled “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.” It was from their WRITERS ON WRITING series. Point 8 said, “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.” It went on to say, “Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ what do the ‘American and the girl with him’ look like? ‘She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.’ That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.” I would guess, you might envision these characters as white Americans, as I did.

I understand this concept. It allows the reader to become part of the creation of the story—to become vested in the characters. I think it might be outdated. When we let readers create their own images of our characters, they will more than likely view them as white, and probably with light hair and blue eyes. In American media, we are completely conditioned to do so—even consumers who are not white.

My characters are predominantly brown. They come from mixed places and cultures—much like our own America. I feel it is important to make it clear that my protagonist would not be played by one of the Chris’s—Hemsworth, Evans, Pine, Pratt. I would choose someone like Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. I do not know how to do this without describing him in vivid detail.

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Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman – Photo: Paste Magazine

In the first scene of “Tishta the Crystal Orb,” Coltan arrives.

“He was a large, muscular man, about the same size as Malcan—but that is where the similarity stopped. His dark walnut hair was neatly cut to just above his shoulders. As he turned, one wavy lock fell over his brow, above expressionless brown eyes. His hand ran up over his head, integrating it into the rest of his hair. He wore a well-tailored black riding coat, and black boots that came halfway up his calves—he looked like a gentleman, out for an evening ride.”

I attempted to do a couple of things here—and maybe it is too descriptive. He is a big guy. Even though he is traveling, he keeps himself neat and clean. But, I also described his wavy, walnut-colored hair and brown eyes. Later, I describe his skin.

An issue one of my early readers had was that I described everyone’s hair in the first two chapters. But that is where I introduced the majority of my main characters, and there are a lot of them—eleven, at least. That was a lot of hair. I have since removed some of those descriptions and put them in later chapters—I still think it is important to note that it is not blond and straight. Well, actually, one of them is currently golden-haired, but I need to make her darker to fit in with the place she is from, as well as make her physically more similar to her cousin, who is another one of travelers.

Even Malcan and Brant, the two fairest among the group—with blue eyes—have dark hair. Brant’s is black. Malcan’s is dark auburn.

My lead warrior, Gillan, and her side-kick lover, Toran, are from a place where everyone is what we would call black. Their skin is very dark, their eyes are nearly black, and Gillan’s black hair is softly curled. How can I not describe at least some of that the first couple of times they are introduced?

“Shortly after the sun passed its zenith, Gillan slowed her horse while she removed the cord that bound her black hair. She shook out the curls before retying it.”

In the same scene, I described the boy, Kano. While he is not black, he is… well, I’ll let you read it.

“She was surprised to find a young boy, no more than eight or nine, sitting in a ray of sun.

His clothing, skin, and even his long, straight hair, so nearly matched the color of the russet and tan stones around him, he almost blended in with them. Laying beside him were a quiver of arrows, a bow and a small pack.”

Again, I think it is very important to describe him in this much detail when he is introduced, and not let the reader envision him as a white boy.

Ever since I first pictured my very large warrior, Toran, I have seen Isaiah Mustafa in my mind. If I was casting Tishta as a film, Mustafa would probably be my first choice, although, he is a little old to play my 30-year-old warrior. One night, a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of eating dinner with Mustafa. Toran embodies a lot of Isaiah—big, handsome, beautiful smile, polite, deep booming voice (not the Old Spice voice).

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Isaiah Mustafa with Michael Rosenbaum at 2015 Echoes of Hope Celebrity Shootout Hockey Game – Photo: Ramona Ridgewell

Interestingly, in all of the early descriptions of Toran, I just discovered I do not describe him beyond how large he is. Now, I wonder if my readers assume he is as dark as Gillan, since they are a couple. And, I wonder if my transposition of Mustafa onto my character made it so I found no need to describe him. Writing about things like this always seem to lead me to some new revelation. I shall undertake an investigation of all descriptions of Toran.

I am interested to know how other writers overcome the assumption of their readers that their characters are white. Let me know in the comments.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Elizabeth Guizzetti’s “The War Ender’s Apprentice”

The War Enders Apprentice (Chronicles of the Martlet Book 1)The War Enders Apprentice by Elizabeth Guizzetti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Guizzetti weaves a delightful tale of wars, politics and intrigue across seven worlds in her new novella, “The War Ender’s Apprentice.” Her characters are engaging and nicely portrayed. I was especially taken with Eohan as he tries to figure out how to exist in his new world as apprentice to a War Ender. I went to bed, but couldn’t put the book down until I finished it. I felt like my child self, hiding under my blanket with a flashlight—I kept expecting my mother to come in and tell me it was past my bedtime. A fun, quick read.

View all my reviews

Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Beginning of the End

It has been two great weeks. I am up to nine Beta Readers! Yay! None of them have finished yet, but I am really looking forward to their comments, insights and criticisms.

Two weekends ago, I had the good fortune to be invited by Joe Follansbee to his “Carbon Run” book launch. I had never attended one before, so it was good to see what kinds of things one would expect from such a party. I will be presenting one soon. There were several published authors in attendance. While I did not meet everyone, I was introduced to K C Blackbyrn who recently published her first novel, “Stirring Power.” We had a great discussion about editing, editing, editing.

The best part of the afternoon was reconnecting with Elizabeth Guizzetti, author of “The War Ender’s Apprentice” (new on Kindle), “The Grove,” “Other Systems,” “The Light Side of the Moon,” and “Famine Lands: The carp’s eye.” I know her from Two Hour Transport, where she occasionally reads, and many writing panels she has been on at various conferences around Seattle. Much to my surprise, she offered to read Tishta and provide critical feedback. She followed through during the week. This week, I have been reviewing great feedback to incorporate into the book. I cannot thank her enough.

Some of the feedback from Elizabeth confirmed what I already suspected: the beginning moves too slowly, indicating there are scenes that should be cut; I describe where people are looking far too often; I overuse certain words, like just, up, down, and very, to name a few—for some of the ones Elizabeth pointed out, I have already made edits to cut back on them, but apparently, even what is left is overdone.

More importantly, she pointed out how obvious it was that I did not invest myself in the character who dies. I think I did not want to deal with the grief I knew would come if I let myself love her. One of my new tasks is to write her backstory, and learn to love her. Then, I will be prepared to rewrite her story in Tishta.

Elizabeth also helped me see where my story falls into stereotypical female responses under stress. I have some changes in mind to fix that for some of the things my lead warrior, Gillan, does to respond to her grief. I think this will greatly improve the story and the character.

In the mean time, two more beta readers joined my group. Maybe at least a few of them read the book and give me some feedback. I am hoping to garner more insight into the story and the characters. I gave my readers a deadline of Thanksgiving to return feedback. My plan is still to publish by the  end of the year. It will be a tight schedule to review the feedback and re-edit the book in a month, but I will give it my best shot.

I think this last month away from the book has been a good thing. Hopefully, I will read it with fresh eyes when I again dive into editing. It has been hard not to do this, especially after receiving the feedback from Elizabeth, but I think it is important.

I have been researching how to self edit and publish online. One video by Ellen Brock suggested that, even if you do not write from an outline, it is a good practice to outline your story. She says it will assist in finding the scenes, or even chapters, that do not move the story forward. For every scene, she looks for the Goal, the Conflict and the Outcome. Every scene. I am going through my book to create this now. Fortunately, Scrivener has a synopsis built right into the editor—and they show up as cards in the Corkboard view—so, I am writing these notes in the synopses. I am already finding a lot of scenes where I cannot define the Conflict. I think this technique will be invaluable in discovering the scenes that can be cut, especially from Parts One and Two.

I am really looking forward to this next edit. In the meantime, I have gone through the book to document how far the group travels. My first shot at drawing the world—beyond the rough sketches I needed to try to keep track of them—has shown me places where the world is either too big or too small. I will make adjustments in the story to accommodate a more perfect world. The other part of drawing my world is ensuring the places they do not visit fit in to my vision for the rest of the complete story arc, which is spread out over at least four more books.

In completing this first book, I have been forced to include many of the elements I will need from this story to support the following stories. It has made writing this book take longer, but I believe it will make the entire story arc more consistent, and the following books easier to write.

I should return to doing my book things now.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Making Notes with iBook

I wrote about making and exporting Notes from a Kindle (on a Mac). In this blog, I will explain how to do that on an iBook. Interestingly, this is far more straightforward on my iPhone than on my Mac—just the opposite problem from the Kindle.

First, I will talk about the iPhone, since it is the easiest to use. Download the .ePub file. I think it automatically opens into iBooks. You’ll have to scroll back to see the title page, copyright, beta readers’ notes and, dedication. Otherwise, just start reading. When you find something to comment about, select the text. Above the selected text, a menu should appear with “Copy,” “Highlight,” “Note,” and and arrow to the right. Select “Note.” Then, type in the comment.

Click “Done,” at the top right to get back to the book. Keep reading. Add another comment. If you just drag you finger over a block of text, it automatically makes it into a Highlight to which you can add your comment. Sorry, the top-level menus don’t get captured in the screenshots on iPhone.

When you are ready to export the Notebook, click the Menu icon at the top left.

Switch from “Contents” to “Notes.”

Click the Upload icon at top right. Select “Edit Notes.”Then, “Select All” at the bottom left of the page. Then, click “Share,” which is at the bottom in the middle. This will pop up the option of where to share it. If you choose email, it puts the notes into email.

As you can see from the email I received (at the right, above), I did not get much context on where the comment occurred. Be sure to include enough of the text to make it easy for me to find it.It would also be nice to know the Chapter and Scene.

For exporting Notes on iBook on a Mac, the only method I have been able to find—so far—is covered on this YouTube video. The gist is that, when you are ready to export the comments: open the Notes panel by clicking the third icon in the top menu; expand all of the chapters to see all of the comments; select all the comments and copy; paste into email. It’s pretty ugly, but it works. Let me know if you find a better way to do this.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Making Notes with Kindle

My writer’s journey has led me to figuring out how to get feedback on my first novel, “Tishta the Crystal Orb,” prior to its publication. Over the course of the last year, whenever I talked to people about the book, I asked them if they would become Beta Readers. I ended up with a list of around two dozen friends and acquaintances, as well as a few strangers. Over the weekend, I felt ready to share “Tishta” with other people, so sent out an email explaining what I was requesting of them. To my happy surprise, seven of them have agreed and taken possession of a beta copy of the ebook and provide me their thoughts about it.

One of the complications is how to communicate the feedback. I knew that in a Word document, you could take notes, embedded in the text. This is how my editor, Anne Bean, provided feedback on the first draft of “Tishta.” Recently, I discovered you can make notes in both iBooks and Kindle. This blog tells how to do it for Kindle on a Mac. A following blog will include iBooks instructions.

First, download the .mobi file. If you double-click it, Kindle will open into the book. This can be pretty slow, so be patient.

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You’ll have to scroll back to see the title page, copyright, beta readers’ notes and, dedication. Otherwise, just start reading. When you find something to comment about, click the “notes” icon—at the bottom of the menu on the left side.

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That should open the Notebook panel.

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Next, highlight the text you want to attach a comment to, and click “Add Note.”

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This should bring up a pop-up dialog where you can type the comment.

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Click “Save.” The highlighted text and the comment should show up in the Notebook.

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Keep reading. Find another place to note.

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Click save. It will show up beneath the first comment in the Notebook.

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One note about text selection: Always select more than one word, otherwise, there is no highlight to go with the comment. It will be easier for me to match up the comment with the text if I have some context to go on.

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Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 14.59.29

When you are ready to export the Notebook, click the upload icon at the top of the Notebook panel. Click OK on the warning. Then save it somewhere that you can find it.

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This generates a .html file. Here’s what it looks like.

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I haven’t figured out how to import the .html yet so I can apply it to my own copy of Tishta, but I think this will be a workable option.

There is definitely a way to make notes on Apple devices—specifically, my iPhone—that is similar to the steps above. It appears to be complicated to extract/export the notes from an Apple device. It might be possible to sync up to your Amazon account, but that might not work for a local copy of a book. I don’t see the export icon that some of the how-to blogs talk about. One talked about a new email option, but I can’t find that, either. If someone figures this out, let me know and I’ll update this blog.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Beta Version Ready for Readers

Since the last time I wrote, I poked around a little more, doing a few edits here, ensuring some things I was concerned about were being addressed there, and generally feeling uncertain about whether or not this is a good time to engage with Beta Readers. Even though I have some story points to cover that will ensure things are set up for following books, I decided it is the right time.

I sent the initial email to my list of about two dozen volunteers this morning. I know at least a few of them are definitely going to do it–I’ll find out soon, how many others want to dive in.  I am excited and nervous, at the same time.

This is an enormous step forward for me. It makes me feel like I am almost done. I am sure there will be many things I did not anticipate to slow me down. I have maps to draw, one more story arc to add, a cover artist to locate, audio to record, and edits, edits, edits, but I am optimistic about publishing before the end of the year.

If you know of a good cover artist, please refer them to me at TheWolfDreamBooks@gmail.com. Any other advice you have for a first time author would also be much appreciated.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Another Quick Edit

In my research, I found an answer to something that has been nagging me. In the very first draft of “Tishta the Crystal Orb,” I put a line with a centered tilde between short scenes within scenes. By the time I finished the last major edit of the second draft, I had removed all of these. At times, I thought the leaps between the sub-scenes were too jarring, so would likely confuse my readers.

A few days ago, I found some words about switching between the points of view of different characters within a scene. The strong recommendation was to avoid it, pretty much, at all costs. This was food for thought. There are so many characters in Tishta that it is difficult to avoid doing it. The second bit of advice was, if you must change POV, put a blank line between the sub-scenes. As with all writing advice, once I understood why the advice was given, I could see lots of the “bad” writing behavior in my own words. I sighed and dove into the book, yet again.

What I discovered was enlightening to me. A lot of the places I was already uncomfortable with were exactly those place where I was changing POV—or the timeframe or location. With “permission” from the blogs and posts I had read, I added line feeds between the sub-scenes. What a relief.

A secondary benefit was realized. Just like when I broke up my paragraphs to make them contain single character/actions, I edited the transitions to make them cleaner. Things read more easily now.

As I went through the scenes, I took notice of places where I was “in the character’s head.” I removed a lot of these, trying to ensure the scene or sub-scene was from the POV of a single character. I decided many of them were extraneous. With others, I changed the line or lines to “show” the same thing without simply having the character thinking about it—which is really telling, not showing.

A nice thing is, the word count, again, went down—this time by 150 words—although the page count went up, with all those additional empty lines.

While I’d really like to get this draft of the book into my Beta Reader’s hands, I found something else out today, as I was preparing for open mic at Two Hour Transport tonight. (Two Hour Transport happens each month on the fourth Wednesday at Cafe Racer. Host Theresa J Barker keeps the atmosphere warm and nurturing—a great place to practice reading to an audience, to share your stories, and to get to know other writers in the Seattle SciFi and Fantasy community.) I mentioned in prior posts that I have not recorded the scenes after this last major edit. I recorded a couple of scenes that I might read tonight—to make sure they would fit into five minutes or less; to practice; and so I could listen to them. After speaking, and then hearing, the words out loud, I made several changes to both of the scenes. It makes me uncomfortable releasing the book without first recording and listening to it. I will be debating with myself over the next several days about this.

Right now, I am inclined to just send it out. The sooner I get some feedback, the better. It does not need to be perfect at this point. I have about two dozen people on my list. I have collected a list of focus points and questions for my readers. I need to compose a letter; figure out what format to create the book in; maybe create a Facebook group. I feel very close.

If you have ever sent your book out to Beta Readers, what advice do you have for a fledging author?

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Common Misspellings

I just heard someone say, “admittably,” in place of “admittedly.” I’m calling it out because this was a new one on me. One of my pet peeves is “supposably.” I think these kinds of mistakes are due to never using them in writing. I can’t even figure out how to spell them. Auto-correct doesn’t like them. It’s a strong case for having students write more.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.