Tips for new writers

Bonnie King took this photo of me recently.

Bonnie King took this photo of me a long time ago…

Note: this is still under construction, but someone asked me for it. Mostly what’s missing is formatting…

Tips For
New Writers
(A Little Tweaking Can Be A Good Thing!)
Janelle Meraz Hooper


I’m often asked by beginning writers how to get started. I always give the same answer: start a journal! It’s a good beginning for lots of reasons, but what I like best about journaling is it will preserve the memories of your childhood. You may think you’ll never forget the funny school stories, but sadly, you will if you don’t write them down. Keep the journal forever—whenever you need a good laugh, it’ll be there…

Bad Habits

Do you write in English, or do you write in email? Many of us pick up a habit of using abbreviations, codes, and other assorted shortcuts in our emails that can carry over into our regular writing. Watch it! Some people (for instance, teachers and bosses) are not amused!


I like to edit on paper, as my eyesight is poor. That can mean a lot of printouts over the course of a book. Lately, I’ve been printing in draft. There’s not that much difference in appearance, and think of the ink I’m saving! Oh! Don’t forget to change the settings back to normal before you do the final print-out!
What is today may not be tomorrow. My trusty spelling skills are beginning to fail me sometimes. I don’t know if it’s old age or poor eyesight, maybe both! It doesn’t hurt to run your work through spell check. It’s free, and you may have spelled a word wrong for years and have never caught it. Also, sometimes, they have an idea on grammar you haven’t thought of.


Writing is exhausting work. Having enough stamina to go that one extra rewrite can make the difference between success and failure. Do what you can (ask your doctor). Don’t overdo!


The standard page setup for story submissions to magazines is 12 pt. Times Roman, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. Unless you are asked to do otherwise, use these guidelines. Resist using a cool font. Your submission will end up in the round file (garbage!).
Check each story for “which” and “that.” A lot of sentences that use “which” should be changed to “that.”


Are you listening? Really listening? This week, I heard the term “predatory lender” for the first time. I used to have a list of new words and phrases, but I’ve misplaced it. Start your own list! Lately, I’ve heard: Frankenfoods (genetically altered foods), blooks (published blogs), Floodweiser (canned water Anheuser-Busch donated to Katrina victims), Spokesweasel (a public relations representative), more to come…

Listen to the sounds around you. Listen to the sounds a prom dress makes when it dances across the floor.

Talk less, and listen more. Listen not only to what people say, but how they say it.


Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” Jim Ryun

“It’s the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.” Sydney Smith. Writing can be a great tool to get something done!


For weeks, I’ve been thinking about trays that I could use to carry my projects from the office to the living room. Everything I found was too heavy or too expensive (I wanted several). Finally, my husband came up with the idea of using something I already had a lot of: lids on boxes of paper. They are perfect: lightweight, free, available. All right, they are not as stylish as I’d like, but I’m willing to sacrifice style for the other features. Now, when there is a baseball game on, I can load up my box and take it to the living room. During a baseball game, I can do a lot of sorting, accounting, etc. After the game, it’s easy to schlep it back to my office.

Are you driving yourself nuts going between your document and your notes? Try putting your notes at the bottom of your document. Just remember to delete them before you turn the paper in! If you’re working with a paper and pencil, try writing your notes on colored paper–they’ll be easier to find!

Binders are beautiful things. I keep all of my stories in a separate binder. I divide it into sections for thoughts, research on the story, outline, synopsis, story, and marketing, including queries and rejections. Nothing ever gets lost, or mis-filed. If I ever lose my file in a computer failure, I have a hard copy.

The easiest way to keep paper handy for notes when you’re out and about is to keep 3×5 index cards in your purse, pocket, or glove box.

Is your work area cluttered? Clutter confuses the brain. Recently, I took everything off my bulletin board, put it all in plastic pockets, and stored them in a three-ring binder. Then I hung up a beautiful painting in the empty space. Instantly, I felt better. Mostly, the board was littered with take-out menus and magazine articles—stuff that isn’t really important to see every day. I keep my serious stuff on my weekly calendar.

I have a new trick: It’s what I call my string of pearls—and they hang across the top of my computer monitor now. It’s really small pieces of cardstock. At the end of the day, I move them around and put the projects I’m not going to work on the next day at the bottom. I have so many ideas that I tend to lose focus. I figure this will help. Update: the clutter got to me and I couldn’t stand it anymore. Now, the same information is printed right on my desktop background photo. Easy to read, easy to change.
I’m finishing up my latest book and I need lots of room to lay out my chapters. My solution is to use my ironing board as a spare table. It’s handy. It’s free. Its height can be adjusted. And, tee-hee! At least it’s being used for something!
One of the first things I do every morning when I turn on my computer is open a page in Word to use as a scratch pad—I also use it to check my spelling.


Read. Everything. Well, almost everything. Let’s stay in the high end of the IQ and morality pool. Remember the old computer saying: garbage in, garbage out!

Start building a reference library of books. Include books on subjects you’re interested in, and of course, dictionaries and a thesaurus. I haven’t been happy with the dictionaries online, but if you are, use them. These books don’t have to be new. Check out the used bookstores.

I predict the next hot thing in entertainment will be something old: radio! Try NPR (National Public Radio). If you don’t have time to read the new books, at least listen to their reviews!


Doing research? Try using Post-it tabs for bookmarks. They won’t fall out if you drop the book. If you don’t have any narrow ones, cut some from regular-sized Post-its. I put several in the front of each book as soon as I start it.

Everything is research. If you’re stuck somewhere you don’t want to be (a traffic jam, Aunt Zoe’s third wedding, your mother’s company picnic, etc.), make use of your situation. Look around. Observe the people. Listen to how they talk.

Are you buried in boxes of newspaper clippings that are part of your research? For gosh

pages. Please remember to give me credit!sakes, open a file and scan in the clippings as you collect them. Doing it after you have a boxful is frustrating and very time consuming. Do it piece by piece, and you’ll be glad you did when you sit down to write. You may want to keep it on a disk, if you have a low memory problem (on your computer, not your brain!). And always, make a hard copy, for obvious reasons.


Revise! Sometimes, after a story sits for awhile, you’ll see ways to improve it by changing a word here and there. A little tweaking can be a good thing.


Backup your files! And while you’re at it, make a hard copy too. Do it soon! The next virus is just around the corner!


Check each page of your story. Do too many every paragraphs start with the same word? If so, you might want to change some of them. The most common culprits are The, She, He, etc.

Let’s remember the 3 Cs of writing: clarity, conciseness, and content!


Having trouble finding time to read? I set my alarm clock a little early each morning so I can get in some extra reading. Try it! I do this because, when I read at night, I go to sleep until I read “The End.” In your household, it might work better for you if you go to bed early to read.

That reminds me, you do have a weekly calendar don’t you? You can make one on your computer if you don’t. When I was in school, I missed some important dates because I never wrote them down in the same place. I don’t think anyone is that disorganized anymore, but I thought it was worth a mention…

If you’re working on a schedule, remember that time spent on a project isn’t as important as product. For instance, I divide up my yearly calendar by days I’m going to work (usually about 330 days). Then, I factor in the estimated length of the novel usually about 90,000 words—I write short). If the number of words I need to write to make my schedule is 273 words a day, then I write until I hit that number. Just sitting and staring at a blank screen doesn’t count. When my daughter graduated from college, I worked way ahead because I knew the house would be full of relatives, and little work would get done. Weeks before she graduated, I had those words banked so I could enjoy the festivities without guilt. In your case, what if you left a project until the last minute and then got the flu? How miserable would that be?

Writer’s Block

I keep a notebook full of newspaper clippings that interest me. You might keep one of articles that appeal to you. They may trigger a story idea!

I use my camera to take pictures of things I want to remember. It’s like taking notes, only with photos. With a picture, I can draw on an experience I had years earlier, and write about it. If it’s a person you’re interested in, be sure to ask permission before you take his picture, people can get cranky! If they say no, smile and walk away, quickly! I did meet a photographer once who softened up his request to take someone’s picture by offering them a Polaroid if they’d pose for him. Nowadays, maybe you could email a photo, or post it on your website. I find that people are most resistant if you point the camera at their children. I can understand that!

Writer’s Tools

The best tool a writer can have is self-discipline. ‘Nuff said.

Quotes from Elizabeth Lyon* :

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” George Elliot
“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

“The more you do, the more you can do.” Thomas Jefferson

“The harder you are on yourself, the easier life is on you.” Steve Chandler, author of Reinventing Yourself

*Elizabeth has some wonderful books on writing—check your library. Also, check out her website:

Other Stuff

Date and keep all of your stories, even if they’re so bad you want to hide them under your bed. This way, you can look back and see how much you’ve improved!

A Little Story…

Are you thinking that English isn’t important because you’re going to be a math major?
I know a college graduate who got his first job as an accountant. His first assignment? Write a manual on what his department did and how they accomplished their goals!
The moral of the story is you can spend the time and master English skills now, or suffer someday when your boss asks you to do something you never thought you’d have to do. Life is that way. Prepare now.

And you English majors…I hear you snickering over there. The same thing applies to you and your math. Master it now, or pay–dearly–later!

Hope this stuff helps! JMH
note: Teachers, feel free to make copies of these

Thanks, Janelle

(Try my books and short stories, they’re a good read, I promise!)




The ladle, a short story


I was washing my ladle and noticed it is starting to show its age after 54 years. I’m reposting this old comment for sentimental reasons.

The Ladle
by Janelle Meraz Hooper

I don’t know why I was washing dishes by hand last night—I have a dishwasher. Maybe it was because our Mariners were behind the Yankees 2-4. Or maybe it was the latest war in the Middle East. Or maybe, it was the sight of our president (Baby Bush) stupidly talking in front of an open microphone and chewing with his mouth open at that big mucky-muck meeting of leaders in Russia (that man is such a hick!). I dunno what it was.
Anyway, there was a soup ladle in my sink, and it brought back a flood of memories (that happens to me a lot—maybe I should seek help). I can remember exactly when I got it. It was given to me at a bridal shower my friends gave me in our college dormitory at Eastern Washington State College (now a university) in 1963. I don’t remember the name of the girl it was from, but I can see her as clear as yesterday. She was so fragile, maybe a size one, with reddish long hair. That year, she’d been working on a student talent show with us, and she’d objected to a poem by Ogden Nash because it had a swear word in it (A strange bird is the pelican—his beak can hold more than his belly-can—in his beak he can hold enough food for a week—but I don’t know how the hell-he-can). She was such a sweetheart.
That ladle has been with me from that first pot of soup until now. It has served delicious soups with beef and pea pods. Spicy, aromatic, Cajun soups with chicken and ham. Sometimes, it has ladled soups that were more frugal. It has even spooned more than its share of beans. It has seen lonely times when my husband was in Viet Nam and happier times when his whole family gathered around our table for gazpacho. It has ladled tomato soup decorated with popcorn into my daughter’s bowl. Soup made with vegetables from our organic garden. Even soup made with leftover salmon (okay, that one was a mistake!). That ladle. That precious ladle.
It is still in good shape, made soundly from stainless steel by a company named Ecko, I think. After all these years, it is in no danger of replacement. How could I replace it? How could I purchase one of those new plastic ladles with lots of color but no memories?
I don’t know what happened to my friend who gave it to me. I hope she is well and happy—and I hope she has a ladle just like the one she gave me, oh so many years ago…
(Try my books, they’re a good read, I promise!)

The Muslims and our Constitutional crisis

statue of liberty

The Muslims and our Constitutional crisis

Janelle Meraz Hooper

I make very few comments about political events on my blog. Not because I don’t care but because there are so many good writers all over the country who are much better than I am about analyzing what’s going on and what it all means to our country and the world. With this comment, I’m going to break that pattern.

I don’t know how we’re going to fight our way out of the problems our new President has created for our country in just a few days. The man still thinks he’s running a television game show and is shooting from the hip, making arbitrary Hire! Fire! decisions with no knowledge of law, history or the facts. Long after I’ve forgotten the complicated details of our president’s betrayal of our Constitution, I’ll carry with me little mental clips of what I saw and heard:

On TV news, during this time of our Constitutional crisis, I saw the ACLU lawyers who flooded our nation’s airports that were so crowded they had to sit or lie on the floor in their suits. They held handmade signs that said (I’m paraphrasing): Are you Muslim? Have you been denied access to our country? Talk to us. We can help you. We are lawyers. Many other lawyers, all over the country, signed up to be called, at a moment’s notice, if they were needed. Even more got out and marched. This is my America!

I heard the chants in front of our local detention center that rang out loud enough for the people inside to hear: SAY IT LOUD, SAY IT CLEAR, REFUGEES ARE WELCOME HERE! DO NOT BE AFRAID! This is my America!

The Chinese say it is the year of the Rooster, but in my mind, it will forever be the Year of the Marches. We’ve had marches for women’s rights, marches against the Muslims being detained, marches by scientists defending our EPA regulations…and there will be more. This is my America!

When I read that Trump was quietly signing legislation at 1:00 AM while we slept, I got a vision of what he reminded me of: the Wizard of Oz fumbling and mumbling behind the curtains. Recklessly pulling levers and pretending he knew what he was doing. Like Oz, he is just as clueless.

But, most of all, I will always carry in my heart the quote from Madeline Albright, President Clinton’s Secretary of State, who came to this land as a Czech refugee as a child. She said, “If Trump has a Muslim registry, I will sign-up.” I hope we all sign up. During World War II, the Nazis occupying Denmark ruled that all Jews would wear a Star of David on their clothing, so the Nazis would know who they were. The next day, in protest, the streets were filled with Danes wearing the Star of David on their clothing. They showed us how to play this deadly game…and win.

God Bless America!

Check out my books and short stories–they’re a good read, I promise!

The Slum Resort

9-20-12 Resort Front Cover Final copy

YouTube book trailer: The Slum Resort
Amazon Kindle link
Janelle Meraz Hooper

Novella, suspense, Kindle. Suitable for New Adults and up.

…Henry arrived at the ramshackle trailer park in the middle of the night, thinking no one would notice he was being dropped off by a limousine. They noticed. The other tenants, all connected by recycled CBs, were awakened by the sound of an expensive engine purring outside the manager’s door. They whispered into their microphones to each other: “Who was he?” “Why was he here?” “What did he want with Rodella?”

The next morning, without introductions, Henry was seen fly-fishing in the lake as if he’d been there all along. When he wasn’t fishing, he was inside his broken-down trailer with the curtains pulled running his corporate office in Seattle on his laptop computer he kept hidden. He deleted his personal messages like the one from his ex-wife as soon as he read it. After he hit the delete button, he realized she hadn’t asked him where he was, or what he was doing. Not even a meaningless inquiry about his health. He never asked her about her health. The answer was always too boring. She was well. Spectacular. Well into her sixties, she was still statuesque and able to beat most comers in tennis at the country club. He’d heard through the grapevine the guy she was seeing in California was a real hunk, tanned, personable, and athletic. The complete opposite from him. Good for her. He was happy she had what she had with whomever she had it with. Angela had always liked good weather and good men; she was in the perfect spot to find both…

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