(Impossibly Condensed) Checklists for Writing a Novel

red pencil bleeding

Last week I taught an all day seminar at Grub Street on “Writing Tools for Beginning a Novel” where I learned how difficult it is to condense the process into six hours . . . and how exhilarating it is to step back and look at the entire process.

At day’s end it seemed as though I’d climbed a mountain where (for a day) I could look down at the forest and also take note of the trees. For those who appreciate concise road maps, my aerial view of writing a novel is below. Note the word “my.” There are as many methods and belief systems are there are writers—this one’s mine.

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Que Será, Será


At first writing seems the perfect job for a control freak. You are alone. At your desk. Making your very own world.These characters you’ve dreamed up, they JUMP when you say JUMP. Okay, perhaps they squirm away from your outline a bit. Or they do that thing where they start musing about the time in high school when they almost dated that awful guy and didn’t he have the worst clothes ever, and you gotta pull them back—but for the most part, everyone know who’s in charge.

Enjoy this.

Make it last.

Do not go to the next step until you are sure you have done all you can to make the greatest book you could dream up, write down, and edit.

Because now comes the part where the control freak in you might just freak out .

Let’s see. Take this simple test to determine how much you’ll enjoy experience of getting published:

1) When I need someone to help me take an important professional step, I like to:

a) Send out endless emails and letters to complete strangers so they can judge me!

b) Conduct extensive research to identify the best 35 candidates, hoping this will ensure a good match.

c) Pick the one person I want to work with based on my carefully formed opinions.

2) After procuring an agent (see above) I want to find a publisher based on:

a) Hey, whoever is willing to print my words is okay with me! Throw the manuscript  out there and see what sticks! My agent doesn’t even have to tell me who is getting it.

b) Work in tandem with my agent, knowing that ultimately she will make the best choices.

c) Tell my agent exactly who I think will do the best by my book and have her write the letter I’ve dictated.

3) After my book is published, my plan is to:

a) Seeing that book out there is enough! I don’t care what anyone says about it, as long as I can hold a printed copy in my hands.

b) Work with my publicist constantly—knowing that I must also work on my own seven days a week for a while in order to get the attention of readers.

c) Have my publicist get reviews in all the major papers and follow up on every lead I suggest.  Oh, and Oprah before she leaves. My book is PERFECT for her. And Terri Gross. And . . .

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Words for Peace

earth chairs

“I speak not for myself but for those without voice... those who have fought for their rights... their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
Malala Yousafzai

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Nelson Mandela

“I am not only a pacifist, but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.”
Albert Einstein

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Oh Santa Baby, I Just Can’t Quit You


Oh, Santa. Baby. How long will our merry go round keep going round? Do  we need couples counseling again this year?

You and I have been in our indescribably on-again-off-again relationship for too long. I’ve been writing about our tortured love for how many years?

In 2011 it was off.

2012, back on again.

In 2013 we acted like friends with benefits.

But it wasn’t enough. Sure I had Adam Sandler for Thankschanukah, but you can’t intersperse dreidels with Christmas cookies and call it one big happy holiday. Thankschanukah is gone, and as my friend’s 3-year-old said as she wept for a Christmas tree (when reminded of her joyous Hanukkah celebration)  “But I’m so over Hannukuh!”

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Five Ways to Give When Gifting


gift collage

Below are five of my most trusted ways to give twice when I gift a friend or family member. From book marks to magnificent jewelry, y.ou can’t go wrong with any of the organizations and sites below

Women for Women International

“Since 1993, Women for Women International has helped nearly 420,000 marginalized women in countries affected by war and conflict. We directly work with women in 8 countries offering support, tools, and access to life-changing skills to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency.

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STORIED RECIPES: A New Cookbook for Cookclubs


Q: What could be luckier than getting to send The Comfort of Food , my limited edition cookbook to book clubs?

A: Having worked with thirteen other authors to bring out a new book club cookbook: Storied Recipes. 

Whether it’s sweet or savory, these are time-tested recipes from fourteen of us, with recipes ranging from  “First Date Beef with Wine”to “Truffle-Studded Chicken” to the vegetarian “Fromage Forte” to “White Gazpacho” — from cherry pie to springerle to chocolate chip elephant ears, the recipes run from the easy to the more challenging, but all come with our cooking, love, or family stories.

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15 Bookish & Arty Gifts to Buy Without Leaving Your Couch

bookish presents

Avoiding malls at holiday time can be your best treat. Small shopping, with artists & small shops—or library shops!—is a treat for all. Below, a sampling of ways to do good, gift friends and family with love, and do it all in your pj’s online.

1) Do you have an ornament lover in your life who is also passionate reader? Combine them with this ornament from the New York Public Library’s gift shop.



2) Reach into the way back machine and find an antique typewriter (or at least vintage.) Hours can be spent searching on Ebay, or it can be done quick by following the link provided.

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Guest Post: Doctors Who Write: Who Owns The Stories?

77384817A GUEST POST

By Kathy Crowley

When faced with the opportunity to read a book by someone who isn’t by profession a writer, I always go for the doctor.” —Stephen J Dubner

(And can I just say here,  Mr. Dubner, doctor-writers everywhere – and their publishers — thank you.)

I write fiction, most of the time, because that’s what I like to write, but also because writing about my work raises all kinds of complications.  Every once in a while, though, I am so moved by my experience with a patient, that his or her story becomes my story, too. Several years back I wrote a piece about a patient of mine. Mr. Z. was an elderly man who bragged about his Nazi past but otherwise kept lots of secrets. He had a family he had driven away from him, a house he wouldn’t leave, a dog he couldn’t care for, and a loaded gun on his kitchen table. (Perhaps because this is real life, Dr. Chekhov, and not one of your carefully crafted stories, the gun was never fired.)

I had been Mr. Z’s primary care doctor for years and had tried unsuccessfully to help as dementia overtook his life.  One day he came into clinic saying he planned to destroy everything in his home of value, then kill his wife and

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The Year Google (and Goya) Saved Thanksgiving


I don’t care how many people shed tears for the good old days, before we were so connected, before life sped before our tapping fingers: Web, thee did save me.

My sister and I may not have grown up rife with traditions–when when Jill and I hung our socks on Christmas eve, the flat unfilled sight of them the next morning may have reminded us that Santa didn’t stop for little Jewish girls–but darn it, we had the stuffing handed down from Grandma Millie. If we were on death row, our last meal would be the stuffing.

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Get a Manuscript Critique and Help Care-Givers: One Stone, Two Great Birds


There is a wonderful Yiddish proverb that describes those carrying troubles: “God gave burdens; he also gave shoulders.” But sometimes those shoulders need help. In the case of this CAREGIFTED fundraising initiative, writers–from world-renowned to beginners–are providing that help as writers bid on manuscript critiques provided by celebrated authors.

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