How To Get Started…

People keep asking me how to get started writing, ebook formatting, and copyediting, so I thought I’d do a series. I’m not actually sure how I got started, so I hope you’ll contribute with your advice, as well.

A programming friend of mine says most of the coders he meets, more than those with computer degrees, are either ex-teachers or graduates of the seminary.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Probably the number one skill one needs to start anything is the ability to self-educate. Teachers learn how to teach, and so they know how to teach themselves, and in seminary school, students learn how to question and investigate everything they do and don’t know.

Penelope Trunk, an eccentric blogger who’s made a career of predicting and understanding how each generation works in and impacts the workforce, says that homeschooled kids will rule the world when Gen Z hits the workplace.


Because they know how to teach themselves. They’ll be able to figure out which skill they need to learn next for their career, and then they’ll be able to direct their own education.

Question what you think you know: Better yet, pretend you know nothing. This is probably the most dangerous area to skip, and yet the area people skip the most. Most of the time when people start a sentence with “I remember learning in college,” they are wrong. Often they are correct in the information, but incorrect in the application, if that makes sense.

Search for what you don’t know: The more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn. It’s why I haven’t finished my Kindle Formatting series. It was easy to start when I was a beginner, but now I’ve learned too much. I thought I could explain it all in ten or so posts, but once I got through about five, I realized that to do it thoroughly, I’d need two hundred or so posts.

Keep leveling up: I constantly ask myself what I can learn next. The invisible things you think you don’t really need to know are the things that will take you from competence to excellence.

Get an edge by linking across disciplines: When I was a piano teacher, I studied the Suzuki teaching method even though I thought it wasn’t completely right for piano. (It is for other instruments.) But no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Investigate everything.

I also aggressively studied child psychology, self-help psychology, leadership books, business books, parenting books, homeschooling books, teaching philosophy books, sports coaching books, marketing, peak performance science, language learning, and motivation science.

Know everything in your field, and then link outside of it.

How do you get started when teaching yourself something?

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Do You Use a Recipe?

I was almost coming down with something yesterday morning, so after mega-dosing on Vitamin C, I decided I needed to eat a bunch of garlic. So I made this really yummy spaghetti sauce. It was WOW!

(About 10-12 cloves of sliced garlic boiled in olive oil and butter with a dash of red pepper and a ton of black pepper, then when garlic is softer, add jar of marinara sauce and 1/3 handful of Romano cheese.)

And I was reminded how very much I always enjoyed cooking.

Somewhere along the way, I got this idea that if you have to use a recipe (except for baking), then you’re not really creating it. I love going into the kitchen and getting creative, feeling my way (and sniffing) around to making something yummy.

Even if I make pudding from a box, I have to add my own special twist. (Secret recipe. Yummy. But secret. ;-) )

I was the same way when I learned writing. Some people can write, then edit, then shape it into what it needs to be, considering the acts and the length and whatnot. It’s difficult for me to learn that way, although I go through the process because it’s the way for me to learn how to shape the next book. I had to write novel after novel until I could feel the structure and rhythm.

How do you cook? How do you write? Are you a recipe person?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft |

Getting the Gears Rolling

Before I finish a story, I try to put the next story on simmer on the back burner. Right now I’m a chapter or two away from finishing a novel, and a couple chapters away from finishing a novelette.

So it’s time to set something on simmer.

I’ve been writing in my genre for ten years, and I need a little break. So I’m trying to decide what genre to write next. I’ve got a YA idea, a literary novel idea (*snorts* … I do love genre stuff, but… the keeps bugging me), a mystery idea, and a couple others batting around up there.

And I was wondering…

How do you pick?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft |

Language and Words

I’ve been trying to learn Spanish, and it’s made me notice the little oddities of phrasing we use in English that go against all the grammar rules. And that’s made me realize that correctly learning to use a language incorrectly is a difficult but important thing.

And I’m not just speaking of idioms.

We all have speaking quirks. Sometimes I slip into LOLcat grammar when trying to make light of an emotion I’m feeling. Sometimes I make up words, just for the fun of it. Sometimes I purposely use words incorrectly or turn nouns into verbs (I love doing that.).

It’s as if we each have a language personality, with specific little incorrectnesses (or correctnesses) that make up our writing and speaking personality.

(Do you like how I slipped in two made-up words there?)

I’ve always thought of language as a living, breathing thing. It’s beautiful, really. Every word has a history—sometimes you can almost see the bloodshed behind the formation of a word. Even now, the words of our language are being infused with today’s culture, events, and politics.

It’s like in music… there are these things called overtones. When you play one note, there are actually other, different notes singing too. Unless we’re trained to hear them, we tend not to notice them, but they infuse the notes with a special flavor.

Learning other languages has always made me notice and love the subtleties of English all the more. It makes writing more fun, too.

I have to admit that sometimes the incorrect use of English can bother me. “Ain’t” never fails to make me cringe. So there’s a fine line between the incorrect use of English as personality and the incorrect use of English as ignorance.

Or maybe there’s not. I suppose the “Ain’t” language is an expression of personality, too, and I’m just too judgmental. I don’t know.

What do you think of language? Of learning other languages? What languages do you speak? Or write?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags:

Too Happy to Write?

So I was a bit bummed yesterday. It’s not my normal state. I’ve worked so hard in this last year to be happy and create a life I’m pleased with. There have definitely been some tough weeks, but I’m pretty happy, on average. Being this age just rocks. I love it.

But wow. Yesterday, I was a little down, and I sure got a lot of good writing done while feeling blue, LOL. It was sooo much easier to write about my characters’ problems.

If I found that I needed to be unhappy to write, I’d quit in an instant. It’s not going to happen. Happy writing girl is fine with me, thank you very much.

However, I have noticed that in years past, I’d be so emotionally involved in my character’s lives, that I would come home from a writing day half-traumatized, LOL. I’d have to talk myself down, remind myself that I had not actually experienced what my characters had just experienced.

Now, I won’t have anything to do with my characters’ drama. I let them do their thing.

And I’m wondering if that’s a good thing or not. I used to easily write 5,000 words a day; now I’m lucky if I can squeeze in 500 words or so.

Maybe this is just a passing phase. I mean, I’ve been through a lot of change lately, so maybe I just don’t have the extra energy right now to indulge in my characters’ dramas. Maybe at some future point, I’ll be able to do expend more energy empathizing with my characters. I don’t know.

What do you think?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings,Writing Craft |

Clumsy in Love

As I was writing the other day, I was thinking of how I’ve never felt that I (or should I say Pseudie?) wrote romance. (I know I posted on the old blog something to that effect.) I do, though. (I do? She does?) Er, we write erotic romance. But even after ten years writing in the genre, I pretty much feel like a big dork when it comes to lurve.

(See? I can’t even say it properly!)

Maybe a year ago, I read an article that polled readers to find out how important it was to them that the hero and heroine said “I love you” to each other. The verdict was that yes, it was important.

I’m all about giving the reader what they want, so in my next story, I had the hero tell the heroine that he loved her.

It sounded like incredibly bad acting! Do people in movies actually say I love you? I mean, they say things that mean that, and they do things that make it obvious, but… you know. The actual words can get kind of corny on the page, don’t you think?

Except for in Fiddler on the Roof. I’ve always found older couples to be incredibly romantic:

My favorite movie when I was younger was Remains of the Day. All that simmering, unspoken passion—great in fiction. There was a great quote in an opera I saw recently: “The joy of love that we dare not declare has thorns, but also has its sweetness.” (Strauss’s Capriccio)


And of course, Immortal Beloved. (Let me just start sobbing now.) Sad endings were so romantic when I was young, but now? They just suck. There’s enough of them in real life; I have no stomach for them in my fiction anymore.


In real life, I generally like the gooey stuff. (I watch Eclipse or Moonstruck at least once a month. THE BESTS!) I love it as much as the next person when someone says “I love you” to me.

But it never seems to ring true in my fiction.

I was sitting here and writing and feeling incredibly clumsy with writing love. That’d make a good title, don’t you think? Clumsy in Love. I should write a chick lit novel with that title. I could write what I know, LOL!

Or what I don’t know.

What’s your verdict on the whole I-love-you thing in fiction? Should the words be said? Do they ring true when you read them? How often do you say it to your partner? Do they really say the actual words in stories and movies? And what’s your number one romantic movie?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings,Writing Craft |

I Died, I Did

I’ve a story in an anthology with some amazing writers, edited by the awesome Mark Terry, and available for $2.99. You can read DEADLY BY THE DOZEN on Kindle, Kindle for PC, Kindle for Mac, Kindle for Android, or Kindle for iPad at Amazon, and Nook for all of the above at Barnes & Noble. (Print coming.)

There’s a wonderful variety of crime stories included, and I’m just tickled pink (and a little embarrassed) to be included amongst these authors. Here’s the list:

cover (2)

  • “A Hard Line Drive to Wrong” by Jude Hardin
  • “I Died, I Did” by Natasha Fondren
  • “Identity Theft” by Robert Weibezahl
  • “Living On The Blood of Others” by Betsy Dornbusch
  • “Indian Summer” by Lise McClendon
  • “Flat-Footed” by Mark Terry
  • “Into Stone” by Keith Snyder
  • “Marigold Mourning” by Merry Monteleone
  • “Little Siberia” by Erica Orloff
  • “A Break In The Old Routine” by Simon Wood
  • “Whereby Ignorant People Are Frequently Deluded and Defrauded” by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer
  • “Plundered Booty” by Travis Erwin

My story, “I Died, I Did,” takes place in Victorian England, back when the Salvation Army dressed up in uniforms and fought the “Skeleton Army” in the streets to feed, clothe, and convert prostitutes. It was a fascinating time, and I might use that time period in my next book. I love this setting—it has so much in common with today, what with the problems of poverty, the rise of capitalism concurrent with the crush of the middle and lower classes, as well as the scapegoating of social woes on certain sexualities and moralities.

I’m getting all excited again. I think this is one of those ideas that’s not going to rest until I write it. Like… NOW.

So how do you find your angle when you fall in love with a setting? How do you choose a genre for the setting? A character? What’s the most favorite setting you’ve ever written a story in?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Books,Writing Craft |

Enthusiasm and Writing

If you’re my Facebook friend, you know how much I enjoyed the Mixed Martial Art event on Saturday. It totally inspired me. Two of the many fighters just loved their sport so much, it was like watching unfettered, pure, and joyful enthusiasm.

(I’ve always felt that way about Taekwondo. Most fun I’ve had in my life.)

Enthusiasm is such a pleasure to watch.

And I thought: Why can’t I approach writing like that?

It’s true that in my first days of writing, I’d just grin at the screen and toy with the words I’d written. I love how each word carries so many nuances and connotations. SO cool. I love, love, love language.

What I think is difficult about writing is that I can’t sit down and be in an enthusiastic and joyful mood when I’m trying to write a gripping story full of conflict. I’m mostly a “Method” writer, so I put myself in the emotional frame of mind (and heart) of my characters.

Given that by necessity, one has to put one’s characters through hell, I’m walking in the shoes of someone whose life is a real mess when I sit down to write. (That sentence makes me laugh on so many levels, that I’m not even going to fix it.) You can’t be feeling all happy while you write about someone’s mother dying.

So I’m wondering: How does one write with enthusiasm? Can you really sit down to write and feel, “I can’t wait to get all depressed about the fact that my mother died and there are werewolves chasing me!”

Is this perhaps why so many writers struggle with procrastination and avoidance? I mean, who wants to ruin a happy mood by going down in the dumps to write a character going through hell?

I can see how one could be enthusiastic about editing, however.

No conclusions today. Just wondering.

What do you think? How do you (can you?) bring enthusiasm to your daily writing?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing,Writing Craft | Tags:

Stop the Presses!!!!!!!

It’s National Punctuation Day! OMG! It’s National Punctuation Day! I had no idea that punctuation had a holiday!

I want to celebrate, but I don’t know how to. I can point to my recent post, The Great Typo Hunt. Or a post a couple years back about Gertrude Stein: Passionate about Punctuation.

image I thought about featuring my very, very favorite writing book: The Art of Styling Sentences, which taught me my very favorite sentence form: A Compound Sentence with Elliptical Construction.

OMG. Just saying that.


*fans self*

Let me say it again.

A Compound Sentence with Elliptical Construction:

A red light means stop; a green light, go.

Just. Look. At. That.

I think we should have a moment of silence for the beauty that is punctuation.

Writing is the expression; grammar, the clarity; punctuation, the art.

Just look at how the punctuation in that sentence renders the meaning of the words so clearly! Without repeating the verb! Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s the height of elegance: so simple, so perfect, so classic.

I mean, wow.

Happy Punctuation Day! What’s your favorite punctuation mark? Do you have a favorite sentence pattern involving punctuation?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: ,

Crazy Ass Shit*

My mind is perplexing. I swear everything I’ve written this summer, I stop and think, “Where the heck did this come from?”

No, that’s not really what I think, but I usually only swear in my mind. And look, I’ve already used two swear words and in a title, no less. I thought about changing it to “Crazy Arse Shoot,” but that’s just silly.

What I really stop and think is: “WTF?

Then I sit there and think, “That’s weird.”

Then I think, “That doesn’t fit the genre.”

Then I think, “That doesn’t fit any genre.”

Then I think, “Normal people don’t go around imagining this stuff. Where the hell are you getting this stuff? What is wrong with you?”

And then I say, “Fuck it.”**

Ever feel like this when you’re writing?

* Sorry for the swear words. It doesn’t happen often.

** Sometimes it takes considerably longer to reach this stage than this post might imply. Sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes months.

PS: Since we’re swearing today, check out this totally awesome song:

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags:

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