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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 168

Updated on September 18, 2017

The Leader of the Band

“An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker's son

His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay”

I’m going to borrow those lyrics from Dan Fogelberg’s classic tune, “Leader of the Band,” because it seems fitting as we begin another Mailbag for writers. Great description of writers, don’t you think, even though those lines were written about musicians?

We are a different breed, aren’t we? I’ve tried to explain this obsession for writing to other people and I can’t. I can’t even adequately explain it to my wife, and I certainly can’t explain how it all works, this creative process.

I’m just glad it does!

Welcome to the Mail Room!
Welcome to the Mail Room! | Source

More on Contractions

From Michael: “Ah, CONTRACTIONS! using them actually one have to be born and raised in English speaking environment. Finally you gave me approval to feel “comfortable” using them as you’re doing, liberated from the solely “royal English’’.Thanks my friend. PS(what about this type of corresponding “ C u - or see you - I see you anyway)”

Michael my friend, what you are referring to is a form of shorthand. We see it quite often on social media. If one were writing a book, I don’t see this type of vernacular used unless a character was repeating something he had read verbatim, as in . . . “The note he left said ‘c u down the road. Will be waiting for u.’” Then I can see the purpose of using it. I certainly wouldn’t use it in a novel as dialogue . . . there would be no purpose for doing that, and it might end up confusing readers who don’t understand that particular shorthand . . . like me!

Great question, my friend!

The Publishing World

From Joy: “Any good suggestions for learning about steps to publishing a novel and also networking? My novel from last year's NANOWRIMO is languishing. I've done as much revision as I can without having someone who I think is objective read it. I finally have one person who is willing to take the time to do that. I feel like I should be ready to go with whatever the next steps are once I get her feedback. But I have no idea what's most important to start with. I've had several suggestions for online courses in publishing, which seems like a good idea, except they are usually expensive and most aren't upfront about what they are covering in these courses. It sure would save some time though, if there was a good one. Searching the internet seems like a bottomless pit. I want the nitty gritty practical stuff. Most of these writers' courses are all about overcoming writer's blog. I feel like they can leave that to me. I just need to find out how the publishing world works, so I can make an intelligent decision about what to tackle myself and what parts are better done by a professional. Your thoughts?”

Joy, I don’t think you are alone at all with this question. I’ve heard it from several other people over the years. No, I would not take an online course. I personally think that’s a waste of money, simply because you can learn everything you need to know on your own.

I’m assuming you are talking about self-publishing, so that’s how I’ll answer you.

I always refer to my “Publishing Bible,” namely the book “A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon” by Chris McMullen. I’ve found it to be detailed enough to cover everything I need to know, and yet simple enough for me to easily understand. It is a book that covers every nut and bolt you need to know about as you take that particular journey. It will walk you through all the steps, from formatting to the final publishing and everything in-between.

If you do not want to get that book from the library, and I can’t imagine you not wanting to do that, you can always skip the book and simply self-publish on a site like CreateSpace. The formatting is explained to you on that site…they take you through every single step of the publishing process…and you can sign up for professional help on that site if you choose to do that, although I would suggest saving your money and wading through it yourself. It really is an easy process.

Of course, there are other avenues to take, and perhaps one of our followers will suggest what they have tried. I’m simply telling you about the two things I use and have found helpful in the past.

Good luck!

Describe this scene!
Describe this scene! | Source

Making Your Writing Visual

From Dee: “The fluff is what I am having to go back and insert into my writing. Thank you for the tip. Also, people today are so visual. How do you best put that into writing?”

Dee, I don’t think there is an easy answer to your question. Charles Dickens was so very good at this. One of my favorite writers for description is James Lee Burke. Here is an excerpt from his novel “Bitterroot:”

“”The wooded hills above the Blackfoot River where Doc had bought his home were still dark at 7 A.M., the moon like a sliver of crusted ice above a steep-sided rock canyon that rose to a plateau covered with ponderosa. The river seemed to glow with a black, metallic light, and steam boiled out of the falls in the channels and off the boulders that were exposed in the current.”

The key is in writing to the five senses. The writer must tell the reader what he sees, smells, hears, feels, and tastes. To what degree you do that depends on your style as a writer. Even the best at doing this do not do it the same as their peers, so develop your own style and never forget that your words are the window to the scene.

The lady in question
The lady in question | Source

IMAGE

From Venkatachari M: “I am late here. But, the mailbag is as interesting as always and I could never afford to miss it. It gives me much to learn and much to enjoy also.

“Very nice answers to equally nice questions. I would like to ask a question about that image of social media tool above there. I find it in many of your posts and it fits well with all of your posts. But, whom do you highlight in that image? Is it that lady who is the icon for social media selling her products? I like the image very much. Thank you.”

Nothing mysterious about that lady in the image you refer to. She was a woman selling composting toilets at a street fair I attended. I found her smile captivating so I took a picture of her. I do that often. She just looked like a person I would love to know more about. Call it my writer’s inquisitive mind.

MORE ON SHORT STORY CHARACTERIZATIONS

From Zulma: “Thank's for the advice on characterization for short stories. So you're saying that the characters need to describe themselves to the readers as opposed to us doing it for them. I supposed dialogue and actions would do that, yes?”

Zulma, that is exactly what I’m saying.

Short stories are tough with regards to extensive characterization. The writer simply doesn’t have the time to do an adequate job of it directly, so he/she has to use the indirect route. The old saying “actions speak louder than words’ works for what you are talking about. We can learn a great deal about a character from his actions in a story. A character who runs into a burning house to save a small child has told me a great deal about himself; as the writer my work in characterization is pretty much done once my character crashes through that front door and the flames greet him.

The same can be accomplished using dialogue, but it’s a bit trickier in that case. The general rule concerning the use of dialogue is to make it necessary to the telling of the story. Random dialogue for the sake of dialogue is the mistake of many writer wannabes. J If you are going to reveal something in a short story about your character’s character using dialogue, you better be a damned good wordsmith. It’s not impossible to do but it is difficult.

Book Sales From Facebook

From Mary: “I see a lot of activity of sharing, retweeting but I don't see many people getting book sales because of their presence on Twitter. Do you see sales because of your presence on Facebook?”

Mary, the short answer is yes, I do see sales because of Facebook. That and my blog are my two main marketing sites, so my followers and loyal buyers do react when they see on Facebook that I have published a new book. I’ve even picked up new followers and buyers, people I did not know prior to Facebook, who have purchased my books.

AND HIS HEART WAS KNOWN TO NONE

That’s what this writing journey feels like to me, like no one except another writer (or musician or artist) can understand what it is like to be me. I see things others don’t. I feel things, hear things, taste things, all through the consciousness of a writer. My muse is always on my shoulder whispering to me. At times it’s like I’ve checked out from reality and entered an imaginary world of my own making.

We spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years practicing a craft with no promise of any reward. In fact, we are virtually guaranteed anonymity, and yet we continue.

God bless the artists/writers of the world!

We are writers! Hear us roar!

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Lawrence, great advice, and I, too, recommend the King book. I found it very helpful.

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      Lawrence Hebb 2 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      Sorry I'm late here, it was the last comment you made spoke loudest to me, I mean let's face it, the storytellers will tell the story, even if no one listens, and it's simply because that's whom the good Lord made us to be!

      By the way, the one piece of advice I have for the lady struggling with the 'nuts and bolts' of writing the novel is read a few books by gifted authors on the subject, see what they all say, and just write the story.

      One that helped me was Stephen King and his book on writing, especially how he dealt with the rejection letters, then one day, he got a call!

      Keep going bro!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for your thoughts,Gilbert! I do believe a short novel would be best.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 7 weeks ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Bill, I can envision scene passages in novels, situations characters in the story exchange social media short hand, and the form is illustrated in the novel. I wouldn't bet against you that an author would write a humorous novel including it throughout the whole story, but I don't think it would be everyone's cup of tea. A short novel or story might work out.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Gilbert, I hope it never is, but I wouldn't bet against it, not in this society today.

      Thanks for being here.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 7 weeks ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Bill, it's good to hear social media short hand is not a trend for writing novels.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 8 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Shaloo! Blessings to you always.

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 8 weeks ago

      A very informative post as usual. I get to learn so much from this series. Thanks!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Dee! I'm glad you found the answer helpful.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 months ago

      Thanks, Bill, for answering my question. You hit it right on. Write with all your five senses to keep people visually connected. Your statement "your words are the window to the scene" is priceless!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad you found it useful, Jo! Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Alyssa!

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      Jo Miller 2 months ago from Tennessee

      Thanks again, Bill, for useful information. I'm going to revisit this hub to listen to the video on self-publishing. Have a good day.

    • Alyssa Nichol profile image

      Alyssa 2 months ago from Ohio

      Another great installment! Thanks for the advice! :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      All great advice, Nadine, and I thank you for it. Experience is the best teacher, and you are the voice of experience.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      And I am very grateful, Devika! Thank you!

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      Nadine May 2 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      As always when I read your mailbag articles it feels as if I was standing next to you. Your information about publishing must help many new writers. I often do say to new authors that getting a book published and available on the Internet alone is often more work than writing the book itself. As publishers the work that is involved having a new book and ebook on much more online platforms besides Amazon takes time. Then the marketing, that is another story.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Questions answered and satisfied. I find your information most helpful.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks a bunch, Larry!

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, thank you very much, Dora!

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I will stay tuned, Linda, and eagerly, I might add. Best of luck to you, and thank you for beating back exhaustion long enough to read the Mailbag.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      All right, Rasma! I think I've got it now. Stay tuned til Monday!

      Sorry for the confusion!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Mike! I don't know what to say about the "relaxed" voice. Must be something in the wind. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That says it all, John! Thank you!

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you MizB! Maybe I'm finally finding my voice. :) Now back to my imaginary world.

      My best to you

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

      Helpful as always.

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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Congratulations on your book sales. Thanks for all the valuable help and guidance you give in these mailbags.

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      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I'm more than a bit late jumping in here, but I've been away for a week and (can you believe it?) without internet access. Yes, that is possible.

      At the moment I'm so weary I'm not sure I can form a coherent sentence, but want you to know that I read and enjoyed this mailbag. I knew it would be here waiting for me, and you did not disappoint.

      While gone I had few moments to myself, but in the brief time I had without noise or interruption I started (finally!) writing that book of fiction that has been resting inside of me wanting to break out. Stay tuned.

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      Ann Carr 2 months ago from SW England

      Loved your intro, bill. Such brilliant words. I also always say, 'hear, hear!' to your 5 senses philosophy; 'your words are the window to the scene' sums it up so well.

      I know exactly what you mean about 'his heart was known to none'. How does one explain a deep-seated passion? I chose a book for book-club last month and the rest of the group just didn't get it - it was the Robert Macfarlane one about language and landscape (I did a hub on it). Trouble is, they all think I'm highbrow and a literary snob now! They don't say so of course, because they are all lovely women, but I can sense it. Next time I'll choose 'chick-lit' if I can push myself hard enough to do so! Then they'll think I'm taking the mick; oh well....

      Great mailbag to augment your mentoring!

      Have a wickedly winsome Wednesday, bill!

      Ann :D

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      Gypsy Rose Lee 2 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Another great mailbag. Please help my muddled mind. First of all thank you for your response to my inquiry about a FB page. Further to that I didn't mean I wanted to create a group page I think there are plenty of groups on FB. What I would like to do is open a page where I could put all the poetry I post online in one place. Then once I finally get my e-book of poems published would I then have to open another FB page to promote my book or could I do that right on the poetry page I have opened. As you see I have more questions than answers at the present. Hope you can un-confuse me.

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      mckbirdbks 2 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      I am going to agree with MizBejabbers, your 'voice' in this weeks mailbag seems more relaxed, unrushed.

      The James Lee Burke quote demonstrates the art of writing well.

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      John Hansen 2 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Another fine Mailbag, Bill. I don't really know what else to say except to let you know I read every one. Have a great week.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 months ago

      I'm late, too, in reading your mailbox this week, Bill. This is a great installment with good questions. I really enjoyed the way you put your own personality into this one. I especially liked your quote "At times it’s like I’ve checked out from reality and entered an imaginary world of my own making." Isn't that what we writers do? Have a great rest of the week, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes they do, Linda! It has worked out perfectly for what I had planned, a sharing of information where everyone benefits. Thank you my friend.

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      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is yet another informative article, Bill. I always learn something new or get a new idea from the mailbag, but I always look at the comments, too. Your readers often have some useful information to share.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Chitrangada Sharan!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks a bunch, Bill! Have a great week on the east coast.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      As always, Heidi, useful information and a thoughtful comment from you. Thank you for always taking the time to inform our followers and show me continued loyalty. You are appreciated by little old me.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent hub ! I liked the beginning / the lyrics and how writers are somewhat similar to artists or musicians.

      Your answers are very helpful and a good guide for those who want to self publish.

      Thanks for another great installment and glad to see it approaching towards another century!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great idea, Joyce...start that meetup group and let us all know how it goes. I look forward to hearing about it.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, if I took the week off, I would have to go outside and shovel gravel. LOL I think I'll continue writing, thank you very much. :)

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      Bill De Giulio 2 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Another excellent week for the mailbag. You covered a number of topics this week. So glad to see that the questions continue to roll in. Have a great week.

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      Joyce A Fischer 2 months ago from Thailand

      Thanks so much for this week's post. Your answers to my questions and others were so helpful. I also watched the video of the panel discussion about publishing from Full Sail University. There was a lot of good information there, too. I think I have the information I need to get going now. I think I might start a publishing meetup group here in Chiang Mai. They have several Amazon FBA groups. It seems like we could have one for publishing as well.

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      Heidi Thorne 2 months ago from Chicago Area

      Late Monday check-in to the Mailbag.

      Re: Contractions, Abbreviations, or Slang? I don't consider "C U there" type abbreviations as contractions. More like shorthand slang and/or insider code. And, as you note, it should be called out as dialogue. These definitely "date" any work that uses them, making the work seem passe.

      Re: The Publishing World. Yes, I agree that one can learn about the self publishing world largely on one's own. I did with some suggestions from friends who had done it before. If asking about the traditional publishing world, that's another story altogether. As a side note, while I understand the motivation behind efforts such as NaNoWriMo, I don't think they address the "nitty gritty practical stuff" of being in the writing business. So I don't even bother with them. Just because you finish a book doesn't mean you'll sell the book, either to readers direct or agents/publishers.

      Re: Facebook and Twitter Book Sales. Because of my business focus, Facebook just isn't a good place for me. Tried paid ads which didn't do much. Plus, selling using a personal account is a violation of Facebook's Terms of Service. So you have to use a business page. And good luck with getting exposure and sales through that without paying for ads! Twitter is very difficult to tell if book sales actually occur. I have done some promo tweets and there didn't seem to be any significant sales resulting (sometimes zero).

      Well, hope all is good. Drought situation here in Chi-town. Doing rain dance. Have a great week!

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      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      Thanks for your response. I will just keep plugging away at it. Another mailbag full of interesting questions and answers.

      You've covered grammar, marketing, publishing, inspiration, and characterization.

      Phew, take the week off. LOL

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Sparrow! Blessings to you always!

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate you, Venkatachari M, and I thank you!

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      rdsparrowriter 2 months ago

      A very informative article :) Whenever I read your articles I always learn something new from you :) Keep being a blessing :)

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting questions asked here. Your answers are very insightful and smart. Thanks for answering my question about that image.

      I learned some good tips about visualization in writing and the story characterizations. Thanks for sharing many intelligent tips through these question-answer series.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Nothing at all, Pop! It is a high without the aftereffects of drugs. :) Thanks always!

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      breakfastpop 2 months ago

      I understand you billy, and I appreciate and marvel at your talent. I feel so alive when I am writing. There is nothing like it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning, Melissa...always nice to hear from you. Thanks for that link. Hopefully some will try it out and then comment on it when they have finished the course.

      Have a great week, my friend, and thanks again!

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      Melissa Propp 2 months ago from Minnesota

      Happy Monday Bill! Lots of interesting questions today. In regards to the online courses, I know there are a lot out there and most don't do a lot...but there is this course (50 hrs total worth of video) that takes you thru from beginning to end--done by a quite successful author which is completely free, and no upsell at the end...like so many do. It is A to Z self-publishing by Iain Rob Wright. I think this link will get you there: http://azofselfpublishing.teachable.com/p/self-pub...

      I have not gone through all the videos because I'm not ready yet...but I did enjoy what I've watched so far. So, just want to throw that option out there.

      Have a great week!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It's a fascinating question, Eric....let's see what I come up with on Monday, shall we?

      Go get one more hug from that boy....we always can use an extra hug.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You made perfect sense, Zulma. Hopefully my answer next week will as well. Thanks my friend and Happy Monday to you!

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric,good morning...that's how I go out to feed the chickens, in a robe and slippers. LOL Have one heck of a great week, my friend.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Happy Monday for sure, Janine! Let's do our best work ever this week, okay?

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      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Oops, my boy got up and needed our morning hugs and a short prayer to start our day and so I forgot to ask my question.

      This is in the category we most often refer to as Muses.

      I have come to the conclusion that every piece of art here among us people's has already been done. However those spiritual creatures in the netherworld need it to be made by and for man. So they enlist us and touch us to do it. The writer has such a connection. And not doing it is wrongful.

      I am confident you have insight. What do you think? Or maybe feel is a better word?

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Fantastic. I love being one of the first on the block to go out and get my paper in the driveway with just my wool robe and cozy house slippers. I almost always can feel more than see "the dawns early rise"

      Thanks friend.

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      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for your response, Bill. I'm not sure if this particular equine is truly deceased so I'm just going to poke it a little and see. With regard to dialogue, does adding adverbs like 'he said, warily' or 'she simpered' and anything as far as the characterization? I like writing dialogue but feel compelled to offer some indication of character's reaction.

      I hope what I just wrote made sense. lol

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 2 months ago from New York, New York

      Love that description above and we are a different breed, but still so happy to be of this breed myself. So, I wouldn't have it any other way. Happy Monday now, my friend and as always thanks for your Monday writing advice here always :)