Your First Draft ~ Getting Started or Unstuck


The hardest part of a first draft for me – you too? – is getting started. The second hardest part is hitting a wall or being stuck. Here are eight tips for writing the first or next paragraph, page, or chapter that helps me to keep it moving.

1. What is your story?
To get started, jot down what your story is about. You need only a few words, and the notes are just for you.

Examples: Power grid goes down; counterfeit drugs; smuggling; murder and a second murder.

2. Who is your main character?
Name, age, what does he or she look like? What are their good points? Bad points?
Example: Maggie, 20’s, short, slender, dyed gray hair. Smart. Literal. Lies.

3. When and where does your story take place?
Current or future? Real or fantasy world? Urban or rural location?

4. Who is your main character going to talk to?
Give your main character someone or something to talk and react to – a dog, person, dragon, or other.

5. What happens next?
Keep the plot moving, but not necessarily in a straight line! When something bad happens, how does the main character fix it? When the main character does fix a problem, what happens to make it go wrong?

6. Make up the story as you go along.
Many people work well with an outline, but others don’t. Outline or no outline, the purpose of the first draft is to get the story out of your head. Fix the holes later.

7. When you are stuck, take a break.
Do something active or go outside. Run, plant a garden, pull weeds, play tennis, or watch birds. Take a walk and think about chickens. Or goat yoga.

8. Superstuck? Cantaloupe.
If you’re superstuck and can’t think of a word or what happens next, type a code word that wouldn’t appear in your story. I use cantaloupe. And move on. Go back days later and search for cantaloupe. You’ll either forget where you were going and fill in something else, or you’ll fill in what you were trying to think of in the first place. Either way, you win.

Your turn – What helps you get started or unstuck with writing?

Create Your Author Identity ~ Part 2

Refine Your Author Identity in Four Steps

First, we created, and now we’re refining. There are four steps because some of them are a little harder. But take heart. Gold and silver are refined by fire. You’re up for a challenge, right?

Heart of Fire

1. Define your goal as an author.

Is your goal to make money, entertain your friends and family, gain personal satisfaction, or achieve recognition as a best-selling or award-winning author? Or another goal? When you understand your goal, you can focus on it and measure your success in your own terms.

Knowing your goal helps with other decisions: traditional or independent publishing or the amount and where to budget for expenses, for example.

2. What is your primary genre? Your secondary genre?

If you write romance stories or historical fiction, your genre is probably clear to you. If you write mystery, suspense, action and adventure, thriller, paranormal, science fiction, urban fantasy stories, you have the opportunity to hone in on a primary genre.

Pick two or three genres where you think your book fits. Start with books you like to read. Do you see a pattern? How would your book fit in? Perfectly? fairly well? not even close? Read books in another genre. When you’ve come up with two fairly well genres, look at the covers of the books. Which genre does your book cover best fit in?

Every genre has loose “rules.” Find the rules for your primary and secondary genres. Do you break most of them or a few of the cardinal rules? Not a good fit. Only some of them and none of the cardinal rules? Might be a good fit.

What if you decide on a genre and three months later realize you made a terrible mistake? Change it.

3. Author Photo

Did you add a photo to your Amazon Author Page and your Goodreads author profile? Are they the same pictures or different? Now that you’ve settled on your genre, does your author photo support your genre? A romance writer photo may look different from an urban fantasy or steampunk writer photo.

You won’t go wrong with a headshot photo with your face and eyes visible, and you don’t have to have a professional photo. Cell phones do a great job these days. Don’t include your partner, dog, cat, or snake. And not a selfie.

Use the same photo everywhere – the back covers of your book, your website, your online profiles. Only change your photo if there is a drastic change in your appearance – like you lose thirty pounds. Otherwise, let it be.

4. Author Tagline

This might take a little more time. We writers love to highlight our stories and our characters, but ourselves? An author tagline gives readers an insight into your perspective and your purpose. A tagline is short, precise, and simple. The tagline is about the author, but with the reader in mind. What is unique about you that you want the reader to remember?

You might put your tagline on your business card, your website, and your promotional material. My business card says My imaginary friends love my stories. My website says My imaginary friends love my stories and laugh at my jokes. My banner and promotional material say Let your imagination fly. None of these taglines match any rules. I’m still testing to see what fits.


Judith A. Barrett

Got imaginary?

JudithABarrett Website

Create Your Author Identity in Six Steps ~ Part 1


Whether your first book is published by you, an independent publisher, or a hybrid or traditional publisher, your Author-Self pops into existence. Ready or not, you have an Author Identity. An internet search on how to develop your author identity or author brand yields hundreds of articles with advice on what to do. Confusing?

Here are six practical steps that you can do yourself at low or no cost to get you started.

  1. Author Email

Create an email address for your Author-self and use it for all your author communication. Consider using your first and last name and the word author. For example,

  1. Amazon Author Page – a Built-in Website

Rather than creating or paying for a website, create your (free) Amazon Author Page. The Amazon Author Page gives you a built-in web page where readers can find you.

Amazon has an in-depth help article.,have%20a%20pen%20name%20listed.

  1. Goodreads

Sign on to Goodreads and create your Author-Self profile. You may have to add your book to Goodreads, which is a good thing because then the information will be correct. Claim your book as the author. If you aren’t familiar with Goodreads, you may want to explore it in more depth later; but for now, when you set up your profile and claim your book, you’ve accomplished Step 3.

  1. Social Media

When you read the words, Target Your Readers, is your first thought: “How am I supposed to know who my readers are?” One purpose of social media for an author is to attract and engage with readers.

You probably already have a personal account on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Etsy, or others. Pick the one that you enjoy and create your author-self. Step away from the temptation to “market” with frequent Buy-My-Book posts or to pick a side in the latest controversy; instead, take advantage of this remarkably easy way to discover who your readers are.

  1. Business cards

Create your own business card with a minimum of your Author Name, the word “Author,” and your author email. You can print them with your printer on cardstock for business cards, or purchase them at a reasonable cost online. Either way is great.

  1. Leave home

Is there a writers’ association with monthly meetings nearby? Go. Does your local bookshop host authors who speak and sign books? Go. Does your library host authors who read from their works? Go. Is there a book conference with 50, 70, or 100 attending authors or a local art festival with three authors selling books? Go. Be ready to listen more than you talk and always have your business cards ready to hand out.

That’s it! Except for one more thing.

  1. Bonus!

Buy an author or writer hat, coffee mug, or T-shirt. You’ve earned it!



Did you already complete steps 1 through 6? How did it go? What did you do next? Would you be interested in Author Identity Part 2?


Self-Publishing: Select a Font in Six Steps

Font matters

A self-published author has two distinct roles: author and publisher. After the author-self has completed all the revisions based on feedback from peers and beta readers and the work has been professionally edited, the author hands the final product over to the publisher-self. For the new publisher, the variety of decisions and choices can be overwhelming.

For example, font selection is a critical decision. A first-time publisher needs a font that is transportable; that is, one that requires fewer technical changes in creating the layouts for ebooks and print books, and one that meets the requirements of major distributors: Amazon, Kobo, Ingram Spark, and others. While it sounds daunting, selecting a font takes only six steps.

Step 1. Serif or Sans serif?

Serif fonts have a decorative stroke to finish off the letter; sans serif, do not. Note that “sans” means without. Examples of serif fonts are Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond, and Baskerville. Examples of sans serif are Arial, Helvetica, and Calibri. The more common type of font for books is serif. Common practice for online viewing is sans serif. Even though ebooks are read on a screen, most publishers select the same serif font for both the ebook and the print book for simplicity in creating the two different layouts and for consistency between the two platforms.

Step 2. Embedded Fonts – What’s that?

The next decision is to select a font that is embedded. Fonts are created by developers. Many fonts are created without the inclusion of the complete technical specifications because system defaults are acceptable replacements for a typical personal or business printer or online. An important exception is the Portable Document Format, PDF, file that requires an embedded font to be truly portable. An embedded font includes its technical specs and is translated correctly by any printer.

For example, Times New Roman and Arial rely on system defaults rather than including the full technical specifications. The resulting fonts are technically different than the original fonts even though they are visually indiscernible. Who cares? PDF does.

Garamond, Janson, Bembo, Baskerville, Palatino, and Times New Roman are frequently noted on the internet as common fonts used in novels. The internet seems to be oblivious of the importance of embedding.

Step 3. Size matters

After narrowing down the selection to two or three fonts, the next step is to pick a font size. Font size is based on the font style, so Times New Roman 10 and Garamond 10 are not the same physical size. Because the font size on a computer screen can be adjusted for viewing, print a page using different fonts and sizes for a realistic comparison for the paperback.

Step 4. Save a File

To save the document as a PDF using Microsoft Word, select Save As PDF and Click on Options. Click the PDF/A box and save.

Save As PDF


PDFA Compliant


Step 5. Check the PDF file

Check your font using Adobe Acrobat Reader. File | Properties | Font

The version of Microsoft Word used in this test does not include the fonts Janson, Bembo or Palatino. The sentences are in Garamond, Palatino Linotype, and Times New Roman. The default font in Word is Calibri.

The results show that Calibri, a sans serif type font, is embeddable.

Garamond, a serif type font, is embeddable.

Palatino Linotype is embeddable as Palatino Linotype-Roman, which is the change the system made. It might be tempting to say that’s not a problem, but the defaults on a different computer might not match the test system’s defaults.

Times New Roman PSMT is embeddable. The system changed the font from Times New Roman to make it embeddable.  Another computer or printer might select a different font to make it embeddable. Times New Roman is not a good choice either.


Embedded Fonts


Step 6. Use What’s Available

A self-publisher with an eye on the budget considers the availability of fonts that are included with the version of software used to create the PDF.  Paying for a font is always an option, but the new publisher may prefer to use a more accessible font. The sample shows that Garamond is the best choice to publish with the installed version of Word. Adobe Garamond is the font for the text in the Harry Potter books, and Garamond is the text font for Hunger Games, so the sample novel is in good company!