Queries: advice for the searching

I came to the novel writing late in life, having enjoyed what I was doing as a human being. I was satisfied with my life and with an occasional published short story.  I didn’t want to tip the balance. Sadly, the short story market mostly evaporated. I took the plunge and began a novel. Many writers struggle with depression, some of it might be induced by the writing profession itself. After all, only trouble is interesting. Fortunately, my worry-wart grandma along with being a chemist gave me enough lessons in foreseeing trouble.  When I returned to writing, I could do it with minimal disruption to my mental health.

I finished my first novel around the same time as my mom died. The tolling bell of death reminded me of the slippage of time. I wondered if I’d ever live to see the novel published or enjoy a writing career.

You could say I jumped into publishing my novel with death sniffing at my heels. I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, I had publishers willing to take a chance with my work and now, ten years after, I’ve learned a thing or two.

When I took up novel writing, I had no idea how to go about getting my foot in the publishing door. I’m too careless of a proof-reader to go it alone and I like editorial feedback. I read advice about writing a query, done after the whole novel was written. In a nutshell, a query is a letter of inquiry, asking if the recipient would like to see some or all of the novel. It should include these elements:

The title, word count, genre or category, how it compares to published novels.

The pitch or hook which describes the story and the most important aspects of it.  If the recipient is looking for romance, describe the romance for example. This is usually 150-300 words.

A little about yourself to convince the agent or editor you aren’t a one-hit wonder.

Before querying have a polished manuscript ready to go. Until I found a publisher, I paid for both copy editing and proof-reading. You should know what the agent or editor is looking for—their Manuscript Wish List.

You should never have to pay to submit your work.

Author Lauren Connolly advises making a personal connection. She says, “I found attending in-person events helpful. The first year I put a book out, I was focused on self-publishing, but at a romance conference I happened to sit next to a literary agent. And we had a nice chat and she gave me her contact information. A year later when I had a book deal offer, I reached out to her asking about representation. She remembered me, and I think having a face to put to a name was a big help. Making personal connections and showing that you’re ready to put yourself out in the writing world is a good way to show agents and editors the passion you have not only for your writing but also the writing business.

Lauren brings up a reality I had difficulty facing: being an author is a business and you need to be ready to commit to selling yourself and your work. This is tough if you’ve been trained not to bother people or ask for things, as I was at my previous job. She gives another bit of advice, yes you can submit to publishing houses and agents at the same time. Lauren says, “There are plenty of publishers that accept un-agented submissions (like City Owl), and if they offer you a deal you can request some time to seek an agent to represent you. You certainly don’t have to do this, but the fact that you already have an offer makes their job easy, then you have someone to negotiate your contact, and they can shop your future work for you.”

Author Emily Hornburg adds,” Etiquette would be if you get an offer from an editor or publisher, request two weeks before you say yes or no so you can reach out to the other people you’ve submitted to. Email those…you haven’t heard from yet and let them know you have an offer and when you need to know by.”

For my latest query, a new series, I won a query critique from author Em Shotwell. Her advice was this: “The query’s ONLY JOB is to make the reader request the pages. You want to keep it snappy and short—but leave them wanting more.” She helped me with a problem I have with my queries. My books have comic elements, but when I query, I’m business serious. 

Here’s the finished query:

SNAKES IN THE CLASS is a 68K novel and Book One in a series set at Manster College, for humanoid monsters.  I plan to have the series follow the same characters, led by gorgon Professor Gormley Grimn, as they struggle between being monsters, fitting in with humans, pacifying the fickle demigods, and claiming an education for themselves and their students. 

At Manster College, monster professors guide students in the fine art of fitting into human society–easier said than done. 

Professor Gormley Grimn didn’t choose the Gorgon life—the Gorgon life chose her…sort of. Born a human, Gormley led an uneventful existence until graduate school, when she was cursed by the jealous fiancé of her study partner. Her only recourse was to leave her behind her husband and son and become a professor of chemistry at Manster College, teaching young Gorgons, trolls, and other monsters. It’s a passionless and secluded life…until she falls into a lusty affair with Dean Ormr Snaakemon—half smooth-skinned man, half smooth-scaled snake, one hundred percent hottie. They tell themselves snakes don’t get attached, but the attraction is undeniable. Besides, Gormley is overdue for some fun—and Ormr is more than happy to oblige. They even start partying with the trolls at the local bar!  Life as a cursed Gorgon finally doesn’t seem so bad.

 A hostile intruder from the Purity League suffers a fatal mishap in Gormley’s chemistry lab. Seeing financial opportunity from an anonymous backer, the President Reaper insists Gormley tutor her Gorgon students in the art of “civil defense”.  There’s a problem. Gorgon powers don’t work as described in classical mythology. Instead of turning instantly to stone, men are more likely to have accidents such as falling onto soda dispensers and getting attacked by stray dogs. It doesn’t matter, anyway—Gormley is far from an expert wielding the ancient powers. And even if she did know how—she isn’t sure it’s the right thing to do. That is, until her long lost son appears. It turns out he is a were-coyote. The Purity League wants to stamp out all monsters. Should Gormley stick with her no-killing-just fit in principles, or join forces with the Knobbers—a group of demigods, including the woman who cursed her? And is Ormr going to stay by her side, or is he a snake in the grass?

Snakes In the Class is playful with a heat level of 4.  Think: The Adams Family with mythological creatures, and an even spicier Gomez and Morticia

 I’m happy to make any changes you find necessary to reach readers. Thank you for taking a look and I hope you enjoy it!

Catherine (Cathy) Haustein

author of Lost in Waste, Mixed In, Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact, and Cleaner, Greener Laboratories for Analytical Chemistry and Instrumental Analysis,  Wrinkles in Spacetime



I’m glad to have the query stage behind me. It took a few jolts of Vietnamese coffee to get me this far. Now, on to write Book 2. And many thanks to my editor, Danielle DeVor.

Inside view of a brief moment of purgatory

This week, I found myself in author purgatory. I’d finished my manuscript and submitted it to my editor along with a synopsis and a pitch.  The manuscript I’d labored over for a year, put my heart and soul into, was out of my hands. It’s a feeling nearly as confusing as empty nest. 

This book, Snakes in the Class, meant a lot to me. I previously published a satirical dystopian series set in what was once Iowa, thanks in part to the governor of Iowa’s shady ways. It sells steadily but not smashingly.  For this next novel series, I moved to comic Dark Academia… similar to Wednesday, but for adults. Since I’d been a professor for most of my life, this book was 100% my mind looking for a meld. How did I get here?

A year ago, my publisher put out a call for their authors to consider writing a monster book set at a college–a mature contrast to the old familiar monsters in high school. I was happy to oblige. Except, this one is told from the professor’s point of view, not students. Is it too dowdy? Not “college” enough when told from a more mature point of view? I worried.

I’d taken other risks including having the leading man be half snake (the bottom half). Thanks to my spring 2022 Short Story Writing class for that inspiration! Is it too weird?

The waiting was torture. You’d think after five novels, I’d be used to it. I’m not.

I don’t have an agent to reassure me or to negotiate my contracts. How did this happen? I was looking for one rather half-heartedly (because I liked my day job and it’s difficult to get an agent) when I saw an advertisement on duotrope.com looking for novels. I sent my first one, Natural Attraction (now out of print) to Penner Publishing and it was purchased in a “nice deal.” Nice deal means an advance of less than 50K.  You need to get an agent for a bigger deal. Here are some truths about getting an agent.

My next novel, Mixed In, was accepted by City Owl Press, sent to them after they opened a one-month window for un-agented novels. How did I find them? On Twitter. They were seeking a dystopia without vampires or zombies. I had one ready—a dystopian satire that’s a cross between Idiocracy and Handmaid’s Tale set in the near future in what was once Iowa. There’s the rub with writing a novel—you write it without any assurance someone will want to publish it. Writing what publishers are looking for is a big advantage but the landscape can shift. Dystopian novels got less popular once Trump was elected. He brought the dystopia. And some of my dystopian novel nightmares are inching towards reality. Despite this, I finished a trilogy, trying for an upbeat ending. Dictators fall after all.

My worry was unfounded! I just signed a contract! Now my editor and I can go through it together as the first step in its journey to publication.  And of course, I need to start on the sequel.

Snakes in the Class is a Dark Academia. Think Lessons in Chemistry plus The Addams Family set at a college for monsters in a small, midwestern town. Out this August—in time for back to school!

Can and should authors avoid sexism?

Cheater man cheating during a marriage proposal with his innocent girlfriend

For quite a while, I’ve gotten incensed at the story of Medusa—seduced or perhaps raped by Poseidon and turned into a monster for breaking her purity vows. It’s an example of an early story promoting hostile sexism. 

As far as ancient stories are concerned, the examples of sexism are endless.

Fairy and folk tales are filled with sexism—from princesses being kissed (or more) without consent to wicked older women jealous of youth and beauty, leaving the protagonists with no female role models, only men to turn to. The stories we grew up with aren’t great examples of how women should be treated in society. Do fiction authors have any obligation to tell different stories?

Internalized sexism teaches us how we view ourselves in the world and it comes from the stories we tell about each other. It can affect academic performance, create shame, make women doubt their competence, and give misogyny a boost.  

I never considered how much we internalize and accept misogyny. It’s so prevalent we can’t even recognize it in ourselves or others. It wasn’t until I wrote two historical novels that I realized how often women, such as Queen Victoria, can be sexist and oppose rights for other women. Author Clare Tomalin does masterful job pointing out the misogyny woven through history in her numerous biographies. Many times, other women perpetuate this sexism.

I can thank a psychology prof for introducing me to the various types of sexism prevalent in society, meant to promote female subordination. 

For those who haven’t recently taken a course, and in case this type of information gets banned politically, here’s a run down:

Hostile sexism has one goal: To keep females subordinate.  Women who step outside this box are resented and punished. Hostile sexism takes the form of harassment and violence against women. Women are seen as beings who seduce and deceive men. (Sirens for example.) It can be seen with sexist insults or comments on women’s sexuality. 

These views are most often held by people with lower economic status and who perform manual labor. Some of this is thought to be because these types of jobs and social circles are less integrated, keeping people uncomfortable and stereotyping of each other. 

This type of sexism can slyly manifest itself in story telling with a lack of female characters. Thus, a good way to avoid this sexism in your writing is to show men and women working together as equals. 

Another common manifestation of this sexism is normalizing rape. Rape happens and we need to talk about it but think twice about having it as part of a plot line aka entertainment. Yes, you want to make your male villains bad but is this the only way to do it? These scenes not only make rape seem normal, they might even encourage it! Try finding another way to spice up your plot. Please stop dramatizing rape.

More socially acceptable, benevolent sexism is defined this way: benevolent sexism is hostile sexism pretending to be nice. It might involve chivalry, comments about beauty, delicacy, and purity. It sees woman as compliments to men (not equals). However, even this seemingly nice form of sexism can undermine female confidence, autonomy, and options in the world. Consequently, it’s also a nearly invisible social force that perpetuates gender inequality

This type of sexism is much less dependent on social and economic factors and is more a result of up bringing. Educated women in particular are less likely to appreciate benevolent sexism. Ironically, boys learn hostile sexism from those around them while girls learn benevolent sexism from their contemporaries. To counter it as an author, mix up the jobs your characters have, show them sharing parenting duties, and add a non-puritanical sex scene here and there.

Ambivalent sexism sees some women as deserving and others as threats. Women who accept benevolent sexism are often “recruited” by a hostile partner. As long as they fit his expectations, they can be safe and even successful. Ambivalent men see women as something you “can’t live with and can’t live without.”

In the ambivalent world, women might be seen as being superior to men (saintly, caring, long-suffering), or in contrast, as too easily insulted. We see this in the anti-abortion movement. Bad woman are irresponsible and have abortions. Good women do not. 

Sexism is behind male rage and behind the anti-abortion movement. It’s linked to environmental destruction. People who don’t care about mother earth are also likely to not care about women in general. These sexist people win elections in my home state. It’s oppressive, which is why I wrote a dystopian series

Sexism is behind how older women are treated by society with “gendered aging” being one of the worst prejudices around.  Getting older in human society gives women a lot of shame and guilt. Loss of looks means lost social currency and 80% of older women are treated poorly at work. Therefore, a challenge for authors is to write older female characters who are taken seriously, enjoy what they are doing, are relevant, and have self-confidence. Stereotypes to avoid include sagging breasts, being wicked, and being self-sacrificing. Keep in mind that older characters have rich experiences and have had time to process them. 

 How much sexism has filtered in to your everyday? Click on this link to take the ambivalent sexism quiz. 

It’s pretty darn hard to shake sexism out of stories. Having it in there is realistic. Sexist characters are bound to pop up in your fiction. My question for myself is: how do I not make them protagonists? How can I move a plot forward without women being raped, rescued, or kidnapped? How can I show men and women working together and women supporting each other? We’ve got centuries of myths and fairy tales to overcome. I’m not sure I can do it (thanks to internalized misogyny) but I’ve got to try. Are you with me? 

Taylor Swift Vs a Robot. Where do you side?

How much of what you are reading and absorbing hasn’t been written by a person? Content can now be created by artificial intelligence. Everything from novels to political speeches, blogs and journal articles, advertising to social media posts, memes, and business reports is being created by A I programs. (How do you think those politicians get identical tweets which sometimes make no sense?)

Perhaps people are coming to like the AI style of repeated words and phrases and short sentences. But writing to create a human connection and stimulate the brain requires more work.

Expressions not meant to be taken literally–figures of speech –add illumination to the written and spoken word. They bring a mind picture by connecting familiar things in an unfamiliar way. Reading a good book is metal gymnastics. Reading and writing from an early age is linked to higher income and better cognitive function and a reduced chance of mental decline during aging.. Good reading material provides these connections. Humans, especially English speakers, use figures of speech to connect the seemingly unconnected and use these to connect with each other.

My students used to recite Taylor Swift lyrics to me and now it seems she is a modern example of someone who is gushing with figurative language.

For those of you seeking a lesson, examples of figures of speech include:

Metonymy—one thing is represented by another thing associated with it ex) the crowns of the Realm

Synecdoche-a part stands for a whole ex) all hands on deck

Personification-bestows human characteristics on something non-human ex) snow waved its white flag over everything (Billy Collins)

Metaphor—a comparison ex) my love is a rose

Simile-comparison using word “like: ex) my love is like a rose

Metaphor and simile bring intensity to the imagery because the reader is asked to equate two things. They challenge the mind and provide satisfaction when the connection is made.

Hyperbole-extreme exaggeration ex-I was quaking from head to foot and could have hung my hat on my eyes, they stuck out so far. (Mark Twain)

Oxymoron two contradictory words joined-jumbo shrimp

Pun exploits to meanings to a word ex—tomorrow, you will find me a grave man

One difference between a writer and an author is that an author is expected to have a unique and personal voice.

“Finding your own voice as a writer is in some ways like the tricky business of becoming an adult…you try on other people’s personalities for size and you fall in love” A. Alvarez

Voice is diction. Vocabulary (words chosen) and syntax (the order in which they are used) help define you as a writer.

Rich vocabulary illuminates while a limited one conceals. In fact, AI has a distinctly limited vocabulary with repeated words.

Run your writing through a word cloud program. Do you see a wide variety of words? Favorite words?

Another thing to do to be as expressive as Taylor Swift is to watch out for cliches and idioms.

A cliché is a word, phrase or figure of speech that is overly familiar or predictable. An Idiom is a cliché so familiar it is part of the language ex) nose to the grindstone, runs for office

Ex) eyes like pools, dark as night

Instead: Try to  create figures of speech that both surprise and illuminate. Pull out a kaleidoscope of heartbeats (TS).

Here are even more!

Reading a good book is mental gymnastics. Reading and writing from an early age is linked to higher income and better cognitive function and a reduced chance of mental decline during aging. Figures of speech help with these gymnastics.

By the way, an AI title generator suggested the two titles for this blog


What’s in your reading, and writing, isn’t written by humans?


What you’re reading, writing, and broadcasting – it’s all artificial intelligence

One advantage of AI is that it is supposed to generate more searchable headlines and more engagement. What do you think?

What’s your logline?

I got my royalty check recently and I was pleased to see it was over $20! You thought maybe I was getting rich with my stories–think again.

It can take upwards of twenty novels before an author has a chance to make a living from books alone. Some are even turning to AI to help generate books as fast as one a month. I’m pretty sure I’ve encountered some student papers written or at least helped by AI and paraphrase generators. My reaction was to suspect the students had schizophrenia. Not only is critical thinking missing, the lack of figurative language gives it away as being not fully human. I nearly called the mental health councilors until a friend sent me an AI generated short story. Besides having some shorting comings, AI generated content is considered plagiarism

Needless to say, I enjoy writing for other reasons beyond making a living–at least for now. I want to entertain and in a way, teach. As you may recall, fiction is a sort of mental dress rehearsal for bad things that might happen, and if enough people read fiction, perhaps the bad things won’t happen. Reading can give you things the school of hard knocks won’t–such as critical thinking skills and other mental habits. Readers even live longer. As I see it, we are all different and therefore, need a diverse set of authors with a myriad of experiences to help us humans survive.

As a kid, I always asked “what if..”It’s a good skill for both a scientist and an author and much safer in the hands of an author. Being an author has taught me as well. In a way, it’s like putting together a puzzle. The first part is a bit of a slog but when it all comes together, it’s extremely satisfying. It fills my need to be creative and feed my curiosity. Some books can take a huge amount of research in order to be accurate, even if they are a work of imagination.

You might not aspire to write a whole novel but a fun exercise is to write a fictional log line. Or maybe you want to sum up your 2022 by writing a logline for the year.

A log line is like the blurb that tempts you to watch a movie or perhaps a show on Netflix– sentence or two with main characters and what there is to gain or lose (the stakes as we call them in writer lingo)

There are two predominant styles for writing these short, enticing summaries.

Inciting incident + protagonist + action + antagonist


Protagonist + action + antagonist + goal + stake

These are the loglines for books in my series:

Book 1 Mixed In

Catrina uses her scientific know-how to help bartender Ulysses expand his black-market condom business while playing it cool with the authoritarian Vice Patrol, who’d love see her deported and Ulysses executed.

Book 2 Lost in Waste

If she wants to see her genetically modified lover again, Callie must devise a way for a giant lagoon full of hog shit to turn a profit while keeping lecherous authority figures pacified.

Book 3 Wrinkles in Spacetime

Stella helps a resurrected version of Sir Isaac Newton create a homunculus for the authoritarian Cochton brothers, risking her neck to pull off the impossible task. It becomes even more dangerous when she unwittingly uses germplasm from a killer vine to fashion a make-believe baby for each brother.

(I had to get a little advertising in here. I was asked to start a blog by a former publisher and the book is out of print but the blog persists.)

I’ll take a stab at writing a logline for my 2022

Seeking adventure, protagonist leaves the stability of her job, but will $20 be enough to live on?

One thing I like about loglines is the way they condense the essence. Think of them like a game. It should come as no surprise that AI can generate book blurbs and loglines. But let’s not go there. So far, I’m living on the stipend I got for quitting my job so I’m not planning to AI soon. Besides, I want to keep my mind sharp.

If you wrote a logline for 2022, what would it be?

Warm wishes, cheers, and may you be the hero of your tale in 2023!

Writing Towards Theme

Do you remember those high school literature test questions about the novel or story you read for class? Perhaps the most daunting one was, “What was the theme?” You knew what happened and who did it, where it took place and how it ended. But the theme? The “aboutness”? It’s not always easy pick out.

Likewise, you can write the first draft of your story and then sit back and wonder: what’s this really about at its core? Most authors start out with a nebulous idea of the theme of their tale. Yet, rewarding fiction has a theme without shouting about it.

So, what is a theme and how do authors work with theme?

In “Notes on Novel Structure” Douglas Glover says,”Theme as a general usable statement of the author’s belief about the world and human nature. A theme is usable if it incorporates a statement of human desire and a further statement about how the world works to thwart or interfere with that desire.”

John Gardner, one of the best authors to write from a monster’s point of view, gave this sage advice in The Art of Fiction, “Theme, it should be noticed, is not imposed on the story but evoked from within it—initially an intuitive but finally an intellectual act on the part of the writer. The writer muses on the story idea to determine …why it seems worth telling to achieve art—fiction as serious thought.

You don’t start out with a theme necessarily but one will bubble to the surface. How can you as an author determine what your theme is?

Consider this–

•What is my story about? Can I think of a word or idea—like forgiveness, innocence, power, struggle, love, betrayal—that might sum up the story’s “theme?

•Why should readers care about this story? What does it offer them that touches on universal experience?

•What does the story have to say about the central idea?

•What attitudes or judgments does it hint at? What is it saying about how the world works?

Few authors begin with the solid theme. Most begin with a character, a setting, a plot.

One thing I grapple with is helping my publisher convey the spirit of my books. They deal with serious themes–struggle against authority and science for good vs evil. But they poke fun at the absurdity of them.

I’m pleased about the icons in the newer versions of my novels because they are cute and help convey theme.

For example, Mixed In is about autonomy–scientific, cultural, and reproductive. Here’s the icon:

It’s a condom. But it also is a bell jar, smothering the leaf.

Lost in Waste is about work and consequences of scientific expansion without responsibility to the environment. It’s about greed, pig sh** and pollution and the overcoming power of love.

A pig, but a cute one.

Wrinkles in Spacetime is about identity–scientific and personal– across time, space, and society.

A broken doll, representing identity broken by change.

A theme helps hold a story together, but does it matter if a reader catches the theme? I once had a student who claimed you couldn’t go wrong in Poetry Class by saying the theme of a poem was either sex or death. Another time, I thought the poem Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening was about a busy person taking a moment to see nature’s beauty but the teacher claimed it was about suicide. Clearly, a theme doesn’t need to hit the reader over the head, be noticed by the reader, or agreed upon by different people. Readers can make their own themes, which is some of the beauty and mystery of great literature. But if you, the author, write towards theme, it will help focus your work of art.

As I ramp up getting ready for the release of Wrinkles in Spacetime, I’m having a prize giveaway over on Facebook. Do you ever go there? Here’s the link:


I’d like to thank Amy Hassinger for being an excellent teacher in a workshop about writing towards theme.

Why Write?

One of the very weirdest things about being an author is spending a year or more writing a novel and not being sure anyone will want to publish it or read it. You’ve got to wonder why a person would ever do such a thing.

Why write?

Telling a story seems to be part of being human. Our brain edits our experiences to create logical interactions for future reference. We think of ourselves as a hero in our own narrative and one reason to write is to share what we have experienced so others can learn from our mistakes and successes. One reason to read is to learn about the world from the safety of your own chair.

Story is the language of experience. To be honest, being older and an author is not a bad thing. You’ve overcome a lot. But anyone with an experience can share it in a story. Tales of love, adventure, and triumph or defeat evolved to help us explore our own mind and the minds of others. Story is a dress rehearsal for the future that might come. (Mine in particular take this direction.) Stories introduce us to issues we might face someday and the outcomes of various strategies comfortably at home. Stories allow us to explore life and its complexities, to understand yourself and others. Stories help us feel less alone. They can also foster social relationships and give us a window on cultures, promote civic responsibility, and share information. https://education.uic.edu/profiles/rebecca-woodard/

Most importantly, stories entertain. Being entertaining has always been one of my life goals. I started out as a kid writing tiny books for my siblings. Most of them ended with everyone dying. Endings are hard.

One of the fun parts of being an author is watching your book come to life in the hands of skilled professionals. Here’s a peak at the novel coming out this month, Wrinkles in Spacetime.

Picking art work for chapter headings was a fun task. How do you like the broken doll? What does it mean? More about it in a future post.

In celebration of my upcoming release, I’ll be writing about the author life this month and how you, too, can enjoy it and get started on it yourself, if you haven’t already.

How to be an author from Octavia Butler

Rule #1: read everything you can get ahold of.

Octavia Butler wrote one of my favorite short stories, Bloodchild, about insect-like aliens which use humans as hosts for their eggs. Each human, most often a male, is united with an alien in a form of marriage. The human is totally dependent on the alien for survival. If the alien doesn’t removed the maggots once they hatch, the human will be eaten alive!

Butler, a black woman who spent most of her life on the west coast, did not see Bloodchild as a tale of slavery. It was about botflies. But many readers will relate to the social hierarchy of the story and the stress which comes from being the one who must do the dangerous task of childbearing.

Butler wrote fourteen books and was known for lean, calm prose touching on social issues. As I fine tune my latest book, nearly two years in the making, I’m reflecting on her advice to aspiring writers.

  1. Read. Read about writing, read fiction, read non-fiction, listen to audio books. “Ponder use of language, the sounds of words, conflict, characterization, plottings, and the multitude of ideas…”
  2. “Take classes and go to Writer’s Workshops. …you need other people to let you know whether you’re communicating…in ways that area accessible and entertaining” and “as compelling as you can make them.”
  3. Vocabulary and grammar are your tools. Make sure you can use them effectively.
  4. “Revise your writing until it’s as good as you can make it.”
  5. Submit your work and learn from your rejections.
  6. “Forget inspiration Habit is more dependable.” Forget talent. You can learn to improve your work. Forget imagination. “You have all the imagination you need.”
  7. The thing you must do to be an author is persist. Stick with it. Persist.

Butler was not a flowery writer. Her writing won’t knock you off the page. What will is her observations and ideas. At times, I struggle with my Midwestern taciturn prose. Butler is evidence of the power of the ideas behind the words. Take her advice. Persist.

Writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut

House where Vonnegut lived while teaching in Iowa City

Write what you care about.

Do not ramble.

Keep it simple.

Free write but then have the guts to cut. Vonnegut said, “Kill your darlings.” Although this has been misinterpreted to mean including murder and sacrificing main characters in order to generate emotion, what he really meant was to avoid being so in love with your own words that you can’t trim your prose. Kill your conceit.

Say what you mean to say.

A writer is foremost a teacher. Make sure the reader can learn a little useless tidbit here and there.

Pity the Reader: Don’t be boring. Stick with one point of  view. Don’t hold back information for the sake of surprise. Take out deadwood such as boring exposition. Keep readers turning pages.

Sound like yourself, even if it’s Midwestern speech aka “a band saw cutting galvanized tin.”

Remember, you’re in the entertainment business.

Writing is difficult .”You have to sit there. It’s physically uncomfortable, it’s physically bad for someone to sit that long, it’s socially bad for a person to be alone so much. The working conditions are really bad. “


These are some of Kurt’s many observations and words of wisdom from a new compilation Pity The Reader, On Writing With Style. I’d characterize this book as being more an emotional support book and collection of inspirational reminders than a beginner’s guide on how to write a novel. However, a movated beginner would glean much wisdom from it.

For teaching beginners, I use Wired For Story. which covers the basics of storytelling. For more serious beginners I use, Writing Fiction, which could be a self-study course and is focused on craft. Pity The Reader is the book I’d use for an advanced course–if I ever get to teach one. It’s been described as “illuminating”, “a love song for the writing life,” and “a breeze to read.” For the moment, I’ll use it as therapy, and so should we all.

My Kurt Vonnegut “prayer” candle in the early winter light.