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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 263

Updated on July 1, 2019

Misery Loves Company

I drove to the bank yesterday. That’s certainly not an earth-shaking revelation, but I mention it because on the way I passed a bedraggled young man standing on a street corner playing a guitar. He had a tip jar out front, and he was just playing his music to the Music gods, hoping someone would drop a buck or two in the jar, just enough to keep him going for another day.

I understood that man totally, and I’m sure many of you do as well.

That’s what being a writer is like, or you can substitute the word “writer” with artist, sculptor, or anyone else dabbling with The Arts. It is facing incredibly long odds and just not giving a rip; it’s working in obscurity and finding joy with each word written; and it’s going to sleep at night knowing you have done something to add to the education and/or entertainment of your fellow humans.

I applaud that young man, and I applaud all of you. What you do is important. Never forget that fact!

Let’s do this thing!

Welcome to the Mail Room!
Welcome to the Mail Room!

Awe and Splendor

From Eric: “A little long here, patience please. So we have wild quail nesting in a porch rafter. I have no doubt that they are there because "we" scare away birds by play. "symbiotic" kind of. I want to write about this wonderful experience from the trust to the 3 just learning to walk.

“So here is my question: Transition from awe and splendor to blow by blow, or Blow by blow transition to awe, splendor and love. Or should I mix them up?”

Eric, it’s a fascinating journey inside your head, and I say that with all respect. I love the way you worded this question.

Mix them up, by all means! I think the contrast in styles, the back and forth, would be fascinating, and I also think it would be a great way to grab your readers and not let them go, which really is our goal always when writing.

Go for it, my friend, and I look forward to reading about that little quail.

Quail, quail, everywhere, and not a dime to spare.
Quail, quail, everywhere, and not a dime to spare.

Lost Novel

From Lorraine: “Hi Bill, I am devastated right now, because of a computer incident (not sure what really happened) my novel (I was at chapter 8) was totally lost. I am working on getting it back but don't know if I'll be successful. I really don't know what I'm doing. I am not tech savvy so I'm going to have to figure out how to get a backup. Should I not retrieve it what encouragement or advice can you offer. I feel like a got punched in the gut with a two by four.”

Been there, done that, and it is like having your arm cut off.

That might be a bit dramatic on my part, but I do empathize with you.

I read somewhere that nothing on our computers is ever truly lost. I wonder if that is true? I know there are tech guys in Olympia who are quite good at retrieving data. Maybe there are a few in Tacoma as well that you could check out or call.

The solution, in hindsight, of course, is to save your manuscript after every chapter. Save it to the Cloud, or save it by emailing it to yourself, but save it one way or another. That way, and I know you know this now, if you lose it, you are at worst losing just one chapter.

Best wishes, Lorraine. Give those guys a call before abandoning all hope.

Two Questions About Writing a Novel

From Venkatachari M: “While writing a novel, how to distinguish between sections within a chapter (putting some dots or lines, etc). I mean which is the appealing way of breaking sections.”

There are a variety of ways to do it, Venkatachari M. I find just skipping a space at the end of one section is as effective as any. That visual “gap” is a signal to readers that you are moving into a new section. You could also do what you suggested, using some symbol ### between sections. The reader will catch on quite quickly, I’m sure.

And a second question:

“One more doubt is should I mention the chapter numbers or suitable titles to chapters in the novel? How to do it?”

I’m not a chapter title kind of guy, but many writers are. I do use chapter numbers in all of my books. I don’t think there is a solid reason why you really need them, other than to aid the reader with organization and uniformity. That’s one of those things which has just always been done . . . Chapter One . . . Chapter Two . . . and so on.

In my mind, and this is just my opinion, chapter titles are optional; chapter numbers are not!

No chapter titles in any of my books.
No chapter titles in any of my books.


From MizB: “One rule I break, and I guess I’m asking if you do, too, was the rule that the writer must provide a transition for each paragraph. I think this is just a little too much and not only provides a boring regularity, but can actually track the writer off the given subject.”

Sister Mary Elizabeth is applauding from her grave right now, MizB. She pounded that into my head daily. “You need a transition sentence, Bill, or the reader won’t know where you are going.” And my response to Sister Mary Elizabeth is STUFF IT, SISTER!

This is really a great topic, so thanks for bringing it up, MizB.

In novels, where there are chapter breaks, I believe some sort of transition sentence is necessary at the end of each chapter. In truth most writers, with any skill at all, do this naturally without any thought. Our job, as fiction writers, is to lead our readers on a journey, and anytime we come to a fork in the road i.e. a chapter break, we need to provide some sort of road map.

One related thought: if we have to add a transition sentence at the end of every paragraph in a novel, we are doing an extremely poor job of writing . . . in my humble opinion.

Is it any different for non-fiction? I don’t think so. Chapters are a change in direction, and as long as you warn the reader in advance that you are changing directions, you will have done your job.

That was a long-winded way for me to agree with you, MizB. I think it is too much, it does provide for boring regularity, and it can track the whole mess off the given topic. Writing should flow. It should not read like a telegraph message. Those of a certain age will understand that reference.

Back to the Street Corner

Bev and I are suckers for the tip jars you see in front of street musicians. We will always toss spare change in them. I admire anyone who has the courage to put their art out there for all to see and critique, and that includes all of you as well. Imagine yourself standing on that corner, playing your song . . . I am dropping a couple bucks in your jar in appreciation for all that you do.

Keep up the good work!

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)’

Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning Alyssa! Staying cool here is not a problem...70 tops, cloudy morning, perfect weather for outdoor work. Rumor has it we might see summer weather in a week or so. :) As for chapter breaks,especially for a change in pov, I say give the reader a break and make it as easy on them as possible...but what do I know?

      Have a superb weekend, and thank you!

    • Alyssa Nichol profile image


      23 months ago from Ohio

      Hello Bill! Another fabulous mailbag this week. Eric's story about the quails sounds interesting.. I'm also looking forward to reading it. Also sending Lorraine a lot of good luck! Hopefully her chapter can be retrieved. It's curious that transitions, chapter titles, and distinguishing between two sections in a chapter were brought up. I just finished reading Kate Mosse's latest novel and she didn't use any kind of symbol to note a change in character pov within a chapter. It was a little confusing at first, but I quickly got the hang of it as I continued on. I'm currently in the middle of a Ken Follett novel.. he dedicates one chapter for an entire character in this one, and also trying to finish my Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles book -- Margaret George does use symbols within her chapters to distinguish sections, which is incredibly helpful. Happy Friday, my friend! I hope you are staying cool, it's incredibly hot here in Ohio! Have a wonderful weekend!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Happy 4th my friend! Any listener of Bread is a friend of mine. :) Good to hear from you. Thank you!

    • Besarien profile image


      23 months ago from South Florida

      Happy 4th of July Billy! I still listen to Bread. I've gotten to that age when all new music all sounds the same to me.

      I feel for you Lori. I got a computer stolen out of my apartment once back in the nineties and as a result lost some of my writing which wasn't good anyway. Still, that loss hurt more than the loss of the computer did.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I know it's Lori, Lori, but I hadn't asked permission to publish your question, so I changed the name to protect the innocent. :)

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm happy to hear that, Devika! I hope this finds you well and happy.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm very happy to hear that, Mary! You have the talent; all you need now is the confidence.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Shaloo, for looking forward to the Mailbag each week. Yes to your question; more about it on Monday. :)

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Chitrangada Sharan. I'm so happy you found this useful and interesting.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      23 months ago from United States

      Hi Bill, thanks for answering my question. My name is Lori however. No biggie. I lost the novel on Grammerly. You can make documents there and they edit as you go along. I thought it would be safer there but apparently not. They gave me a link to retrieve it but it was gone. I do have the rough draft but I had made a lot of changes. My aunt said maybe it was going in a direction the Lord did not want, or a characer issue. I think she may be write so I am thinking and praying on it and am going to make an outline to make things simpler.

      Like you, I have also been working on my memoir. Perhaps I was meant to write that first. We'll see how it all pans out.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      23 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Mailbags have become most popular and you have opened our eyes and minds to another whole new experience of writing and learning in this field.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      23 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks Bill for this very encouraging mailbag. I put that in my mind. There is always someone who would put some spare in my jar. I know I have more confidence now in my writing after all these mailbags so a big thank you.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      They really do, Linda! I hang with some pretty sharp people.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Bill, and a Happy 4th of July to you.

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 

      23 months ago from India

      I look forward to your mailbags every week. There is so much to learn. I know that you have self-published most of your books. Have you ever tried the traditional form of publishing? If yes, what was your experience?

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Heidi, I had no idea people had online tip jars. No chance of me leaving a tip online. There are too many scams these days. I guess I'm just not the trusting type.

      Thanks always, my friend. Happy 4th of July to you.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, it's always nice having you stop by. As for those section breaks from Kindle Direct, that's helpful information. I think I'll check them out, thank you very much.

      I'm all for transition sentences when necessary, but not just for the sake of writing one. I still believe good writing naturally transitions from one section to the next, a subconscious flow if you will.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bronwen. Blessings to you always!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Venkatachari M. It was a great question and I appreciate it.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      23 months ago from New Delhi, India

      The opening paragraph in this mailbag, carries a wonderful message and I loved it. Do what you like, with your heart, and not to please others. If it comes from the heart, it has the potential to reach the hearts.

      The rest of the mailbag has many tips and suggestions for the writers.

      Thanks for sharing another great installment.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      A transition sentence at the end of every paragraph sounds ridiculous to me. There's always something new to think about in the Mailbag. Your readers ask good questions.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      23 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Nothing more frustrating than losing work that wasn’t saved. I think we have all learned this lesson the hard way. Hopefully Lorraine can recover her novel. Have a great week.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Bread... had their albums back in the day. Thanks for the memories!

      Re: Lost Novel. I cannot recommend an auto backup system like Carbonite enough. It backs it up constantly. It'll cost you, but consider it insurance.

      Re: Tip Jar. So much to say. First, I think people are more inclined to leave tips if the artist is providing some entertainment. Panhandlers, not so much.

      Second, artists and writers are attempting the tip jar tactic on the likes of Patreon. Sometimes it's almost painful to watch them ask for sponsorship (tips). "You'll get all this" (which you could get for free elsewhere--almost anywhere--on the web). I realize that AdSense blog ad income continues to dwindle as it has for years. But I don't know if the tip jar is the way to go. I've heard on multiple podcasts how these tactics don't work.

      Back to the street corner, I do think that in a live situation, people are more inclined to leave tips. Online, no.

      Okay, enough ranting. Let's get this holiday week started. Happy July 4th!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      23 months ago from Beautiful South

      Bill, I love your mailbag today, all of it from happy (Eric) to frustrating (Lorraine). I do feel for her. Thanks for your input on my question, and I’m glad you agree. My college writing professor and advisor who was also the department chair (what else could you want in a professor?) insisted on a transition at the end of every paragraph. He wrote the most boring feature stories I’ve ever read. He could make a screaming tragedy into a boring so-so read. One day he criticized my story and said that “I would never be good enough to write for Parade (Magazine). Then he added that he wouldn’t either. I thought yeah, it’s all those damned transitions. I think that if a person writes the right information in each paragraph, one automatically leads up to another in a self-explanatory manner.

      @Marlene: My prof. had the strange belief that the writing didn't flow without the transitions.

      About the section breaks, Kindle Direct has some pretty little symbols the writer can add to section breaks in his or her book. As for transitions at the end of chapters, those are good and can be made very interesting, that is, unless you are one of the new authors who has from three to five different characters or parties pursuing the same end from different directions and change parties with each chapter. George R.R. Martin did that in his Game of Thrones series. I read the books, but I haven’t seen the series.

      Kind of blah weather here right now, but after our exciting floods, I’m ready for blah. Wishing you and Bev the same kind of blah, my friend.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      23 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      Love reading your cheery messages and thank you for your encouragement. I can relate to the feeling of panic when something important simply disappears. Keep up the good work!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for confirming that, Flourish. I'm sure they could help her too.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning Melissa! I hope July 1st is treating you well, and your summer is a good one so far. Virtual tip jars...I like the sound of that. :)

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      23 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Thank you, Bill, for answering my questions and clearing the doubts. I come across those section breaks in some of the novels that I read now and then. So, I thought of putting them in mine also. I agree with you to mark the chapters as Chapter One and so on.

      Your opinion about that drop in the jar is very nice. I am also accustomed to gifting people like that.

      Thanks for this wonderful mailbag.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      23 months ago from USA

      I have lost unbacked-up data and most of it was able to be recovered by a local shop I trust. I hope she can find someone with similar results.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 

      23 months ago from Minnesota

      Happy Monday Bill! Nice variety of questions in the mail bag today. So many artists rely on those tip jars these days to earn a little income...The virtual "tip jars" will need to become even more prevalent and easy to use, now that everyone can post their art online..

      Have a great and productive week!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      And bless you, Dora! If you are ever in Olympia please give me a call. I would love to meet you in person.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Pamela. I hope Eric is paying attention. Popular demand is calling for that quail story.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh my God, Verlie, NO! I have what, over 1,400 articles. I'm breaking out in hives just thinking about the time it would take for me to do such an index. It's a great idea, my friend, but one I should have considered seven years ago. :)

      Have a great week, talented lady!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great suggestion, Linda. And I,too, love Eric's mind. As for the 4th, I wish we could skip it. Our dogs will be hating every minute of Thursday.

      Enjoy the weather, my friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You are funny, Marlene. Thanks for the chuckle on this lovely Monday morning.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Pop. That's what friends are for.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine! Happy Monday to you...Happy Summer to you!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks so much, Liz. Great advice? I hope so. I try to give common sense advice based on my experience. If I don't know I'll say so in a heartbeat. :)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      23 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Bill. The drop in the jar is usually few and far between. Second timers are also very rare. Bless your understanding heart!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      23 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I like the analogy of the street musician to the writer. It makes sense, and I am a sucker for those guys also.

      I think a quail story for Eric would be very interesting. I am always interested in any bird as I feed them and keep water available. I enjoyed your mailbag questions and answers. Have a great week!

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      23 months ago from Canada

      Morning Bill, Your weekly mailbag is always so friendly, and helpful. Have you considered creating an 'index' so we slow readers could leaf through on a subject to subject basis? There's so much valuable information to glean. And it just keeps coming, (keep it coming!).

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      23 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Bill, and good questions (and answers, of course). I really hope Eric does the quail story. I love how his brain works anyhow (he gives me a real mental challenge).

      I have a suggestion for Lorraine once she finds her manuscript (and Goodness, I hope she does). She could save it on HP as a draft which, of course, is in the cloud and that storage is free. It won't be published as a Hub but why not use the resource? The formatting won't be the same but at least the words are there.

      Have a great (and quiet, I hope) 4th my friend.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      23 months ago from USA

      As all the others, this is a great mailbag. STOP. Enjoyed it very much. STOP. That's just my way of saying, I totally agree with you that placing a transition sentence at the end of every paragraph truly would be a distraction for the reader. Just let it flow.

    • breakfastpop profile image


      23 months ago

      I appreciate your opening comments. In fact, I am going to print them and keep them near me when I write. Thank you so much.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      23 months ago from New York, New York

      Aw, what great inspiration for all of artists and creators alike. So thanks for that and more always, Bill. That said, Happy Monday and week ahead now, my friend :)

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      23 months ago from UK

      Thanks for another encouraging and helpful hub. I like the way that you take the man with the guitar and link him with writers and other artists. It's a great comparison. The quail topic sounds like a great story in the making with no right or wrong answer to the writer's dilemma. I totally sympathise with Lorraine. It's bad enough to lose a chunk of a hub text capsule, but 8 chapters of a novel is gutting. I regularly save after each paragraph now in a hub capsule and try to back up as much work as possible onto a hard drive. But the cloud is probably the way to go. You give great advice on chapters and transitions.


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