Hump Day Writing Prompt: Visual Inspiration

hump-day-writing-promptToday’s Hump Day Writing Prompt has two parts.

Go online and do an image search for a picture that speaks to you about your story. It doesn’t have to be a perfect fit. Just look around until something grabs you.

Then write the story behind the picture. Think about what’s outside the frame.

My Turn

I came across this picture in a post on Daily Mail about a photographer who documented a Florida roller rink in the 1970s. It made me think about my main character’s parents. Roona is very attached to her roller skates, throughout my story. What if the reason why is that the only picture she has of her father is this one, where he’s at a rink with her mother and they’re young and happy and obviously in love?

Moment in time: Photographer Bill Yates spent from the autumn of 1972 to the summer of 1973 taking snaps inside the Sweetheart Rink

(Like I said, the picture doesn’t have to be perfect. My story happens in Nevada, not Florida. And the people that this picture made me think about weren’t born until the 1980s.)

Roona sat on her bed, wedged in the corner with her knees pulled up to her chin. She opened her copy of The Hobbit, the one with her mother’s name written in pencil on the first page, and took out the picture. She’d had it for almost a year and so far she’d been able to keep it secret. She ran her finger over her father’s face. She knew it was her dad because her mom had written “Curtis and Miranda, 1999” on the back with a marker. She’d never seen her mom look as happy as she was in the picture. If she’d baked cookies that day, good luck and laughter would have bubbled up in anyone who ate one, like ginger ale bubbles.

Your Turn

Find a picture and write about it, then come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.


Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 100

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Ninja Writer Book Club: 3/17/17


Here are some books that Ninja Writers are reading this week. Take a look, add some books to your TBR list. Next Tuesday, come on over to our Facebook group and let us know what you’re reading.

(The links here are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, you’re supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you!)

My contribution to this list this week is Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. It’s a middle grade book about the Holocaust that I haven’t read before, but is a classic. The Giver, by Lowry, is one of my favorites so I’m pretty excited about this one.

I’m also reading The Imagineering Way by the Disney Imagineers. Just pure fun. I think you’ll like this one if your creativity muscle needs a little goose.

And I read a whole PILE of picture books that were required for my MFA. I’m not going to list them all, but I particularly loved reading Skippyjon Jones like a reader. It’s about a little Siamese cat who thinks he’s a Chihuahua. The use of language is fantastic.

I turned in my third packet of my second MFA semester in this week. Two more to go and then I’m half done with this degree. Go me!









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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Make a List


Yesterday I came across this idea online that if you make a list of 10 ideas a day, you’ll turn yourself into an idea machine. (Look out for Sunday’s newsletter. I’ll share that link. If it’s past Sunday, check out the archives for The NW #12.)

That got me thinking. Wouldn’t thinking about our characters’ ideas be a great exercise?

So today’s prompt is to make a list of 10 ideas. They can be anything. Except a to-do list. A to-do list doesn’t count.

Here are 10 ideas for your 10 list:

  1. 10 favorite books.
  2. 10 ways to solve a problem.
  3. 10 favorite cartoon characters.
  4. 10 people they’ve hurt, and how to make amends.
  5. 10 people they’d kiss.
  6. 10 things they could do to fall asleep at night.
  7. 10 crazy inventions.
  8. 10 jobs they wish they had.
  9. 10 dogs they’ve known.
  10. 10 bad habits they want to break.

Really, it can be anything. This should be fun! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

My Turn:

I’m working on a middle grade book called Wonder Roo. The story is told by Gideon, but it’s really about his next door neighbor, Roona. Roona is a 12-year-old girl who may or may not be magic. She believes that her old baby blanket makes her Wonder Roo and that her mother bakes her emotions into the goodies she sells–and passes them on to the people to eat them. It’s hard for Gideon to argue with what he sees.

Here’s Roona’s list of 10 ways to survive middle school.

  1. Keep my blanket in my backpack.
  2. Save some good-mood cookies in the freezer, for emergencies.
  3. Make sure Mom doesn’t bring cupcakes for my birthday. (Especially if the frosting is blue.)
  4. Find the library. Pronto.
  5. Wear striped socks.
  6. Use Wonder Roo in emergencies.
  7. Make friends.
  8. Pay attention.
  9. Join the soccer team.
  10. Be brave.

Your Turn:

Write your character’s 10 list and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.


Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

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Ninja Writers Academy: A is For Active Voice, Action, and Acts

I thought it would be fun to do a Ninja Writer Academy series: The ABCs of Fiction Writing.

Let’s start at the very beginning. With the letter A, of course. And A is for Active Voice, Action, and Acts. Plus, an important little bonus dose of Audacity at the end.

You can follow this series on Medium. Also, if you’d like a PDF of each post in this series, head over to Patreon and support Ninja Writers at any level.

Active Voice

Let’s get the grammar part out of the way.

A passive voice is an ACTUAL thing. It’s when the subject of a sentence is just sitting there (passively) having something done to it.

Here are some examples of passive voice:

Beauty was kissed by the Beast.

Humbert was infatuated by Lolita.

The books were burned by Montag the Fireman.

See how that works? Beauty, Humbert, and the books are the subjects of these sentences and they just sit there being DONE TO.

Let’s make those sentences active.

The Beast kissed Beauty.

Lolita infatuated Humbert.

Montag the Fireman burned the books.

There we go. Now we have an active voice. The previous subjects become the objects and the subjects now are: the Beast, Lolita, and Motag. And they are actively acting.

They can also be present tense.

The Beast kisses Beauty.

Lolita infatuates Humbert.

Montag the Fireman burns the books.

These sentences are technically active, but weak enough to feel wishy-washy or passive-like:

The Beast was kissing Beauty.

Lolita was infatuating Humbert.

Montag the Fireman was burning the books.

Meh. Right? Use a good, solid past (or present) tense verb and most times you’ll have an active voice going on.

Do This:

You can start by searching your whole manuscript for the word ‘was’ and the verb ending “-ing.” Get rid of as many as you can. That will help you make sure you’re using nice strong active verbs.

If you have any actual passive verbs (remember, that’s the subject of the sentence having something done to it) cut that out.


A couple of years ago I went to a conference where the author Walter Dean Myers was the keynote speaker.

First: he was amazing.

Second: the thing he taught that stuck with me the most was the idea of making sure that every scene in your book has an action.

It doesn’t have to be a crazy balls-to-the-wall action. You probably don’t want your entire book to be one giant fight scene, broken up with car chases and skydiving.

But if you’re going to have two characters talking to each other, make sure they’re doing something that moves the story forward while they do.

The action can tell the reader something about the character or the situation. It can move the story forward by solving a problem through action (sometimes a car chase/fist fight/skydive is necessary after all.)

Do this: 

Walter Dean Myers spoke at a conference I went to about how he comes up with 30 key scenes as part of his pre-writing and makes sure each one has an action. It’s a great exercise.


This one is pretty simple and I bet you already know it.

Every book-length story has three acts. Basically: A beginning, a middle, and an end.

I’m not blowing you away here, right?

Usually, the beginning and end of a book are each about one quarter of the whole, and the middle is half of the story that can be divided in half.

That’s right.

Modern stories generally follow a FOUR act structure. We just call it a three act story because we always have, since cavemen pretty much.

Thinking of your long second act as two acts is useful for a couple of reasons.

It reminds you to put a climactic scene in the middle of the book, which helps make sure your second act doesn’t sag.

And it gives some structure to build your subplots around.

Do this:

Go to and read how a bunch of your favorite movies break into three acts. It helps to see how a story you can take in all in a sitting fits into this structure.

Bonus A word: Audacious.

If you spend anytime at all around writers, you are definitely going to hear some variation on this theme: I’m never happy with anything I write.

It’s almost like writers think that to be taken seriously, they have to think they suck.

The thing is though that it’s a long, often lonely road between wanting to be a writer and being published so that anyone other than your mother and your best friend can read what you write.

I’m just going to be very blunt here.

If you don’t love your story, how are you really going to expect anyone else to.

It’s okay (and maybe essential) to know that you’re still learning. It’s fair to understand that you are still a work in progress.

But for God’s sake, if you hate your work, don’t expect readers to love it.

Do this: 

Give yourself permission to have the audacity to believe that you’re talented and that you’re writing a killer story. You’re going to need it.

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

Pick an assignment and do it, then come share your work on Facebook.  It can help to get feedback from other writers.

Come hang out with me during office hours. I’ll be online in our Facebook Group on Sunday 3/12/17 from noon to 1 p.m. PST to answer all of your writing questions.

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link.

If you’d like to support Ninja Writers, check out our Patreon page.

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Ninja Writer Book Club: 3/10/17


Here are some books that Ninja Writers are reading this week. Take a look, add some books to your TBR list. Next Tuesday, come on over to our Facebook group and let us know what you’re reading.

(The links here are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, you’re supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you!)

My contribution to this list is Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig. I read it on the plane to and from Nashville last week. It’s a clever, high-octane story, really well written. One thing that was really interesting to me is that the main character, Miriam Black, has Chuck Wendig’s voice. His odd way of cursing. His funny way of looking at the world. She’s Chuck Wendig, if Chuck Wendig was a 22-year-old psychic girl. Anyway, I really loved the book and will definitely read forward in the series.

I was sad to see that the sticker on the front of the book promising a television series to come isn’t true.

I’m also rereading the novella “The Body” out of Stephen King’s book Different Seasons. I forgot how good that story is! As a writer, my favorite part is something that I missed when I read the story the first time years and years ago. There’s a short story embedded in the novella that the main character (who is basically Stephen King) tears apart. It’s fascinating. It’s like King critiquing himself.

I’m still making my slow way through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. I’m really enjoying doing the exercises. I’m thinking about starting up a thing where everyone in the 1000 Day MFA reads a craft book together every month and works on the exercises (if they want to.) What do you think?



Classics + Literary



Mystery + Thriller

Short Stories




Want to support Ninja Writers? Check out our Patreon for all kinds of killer rewards.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Character Fidgets


Last week my husband bought something called a fidget cube. It’s basically just a cube with different fidgety things on each of the six sides. I feel like this is a particularly apt quirk for Kevin, because he’s a craps dealer. He spends a lot of time with dice in his hand.

Image result for fidget cube

So, the fidget cube made me start thinking about character fidgets.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself having EVERY character do a lot of shifting weight from foot to foot or nodding or pacing or smiling. My characters smile a lot. When they’re happy, when they’re sad, when they’re nervous. They’re smiley people.

So smiley that I have to search for smiles in my finished manuscripts and tone them down.

Everyone has a fidget. Something they do when they have to do something. I spin a pin between my fingers. I know a girl with the (terrible) habit of chewing on the ends of her hair. My husband, when he isn’t fidgeting with his new cube, rubs the bridge of his nose, even though he hasn’t worn glasses in fifteen years.

Fidgets do a couple of important things in fiction.

They’re beats.

While you want to be careful about having your protagonist bite their thumbnail on every page of your book, a fidget can be a good way to pace your dialogue. It forces the reader to stop for a second, the way your character might.

They provide character insight.

Why does your protagonist rub at their lower back or whistle under their breath? Is it a tell? Maybe they only do it when they’re lying or feeling guilty or hiding a juicy secret.

This week’s prompt:

Write a scene that includes a character’s fidget. It can be your protagonist, but I think that even minor characters can be deepened by having some sort of tell (if it moves the story forward.)

My Example:

(The fidget is highlighted.)

Mom wouldn’t let me leave the house without eating breakfast and she wouldn’t let me go to anyone’s house, not even our next door neighbor’s, before nine a.m. After I got dressed and ate some banana bread, I sat at the kitchen table fully dressed, with my shoes on, drumming at the table with my fingers, watching the clock tick slowly, slowly from 8:34 to 9:00.

The instant it did, I went into my parents’ bedroom. “Can I go to Roona’s?”

“Your room,” Mom said.

“I promise to finish it after lunch.” I looked at Dad. “Please?”

It was his first day at his new job. He was going to work in marketing at a big casino on the outskirts of the most outskirt town in the world. He adjusted his tie and said, “Your whole room unpacked by the time I get home from work sounds great to me.”

“I don’t know about my whole room,” I said.

He held out his hands, like it wasn’t up to him, then pointed his forefingers at me. “It was your plan, Boss. Have fun with Roona this morning, then get to work.”

Mom lifted her eyebrows and I said, “Okay, fine.”

“Can I go?” Harper asked from the bedroom door. “I want to go.”

“No way.”

“Mooom! I want to go with Gideon.”

“I need your help here, Harper.”

Harper pouted and I left while I had the chance.


Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.


Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.


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Ninja Writer Membership Drive


I just got home from Nashville, where I was at a very small and focused writing conference. I spent the whole weekend thinking about what I want for Ninja Writers.

One thing I want, all the way down to my toes, is to be able to pay some fantastic writers at a decent rate for contributing to our brand spanking new quarterly zine, The NW.

There are basically four pay categories for short fiction.

  1. Non-paying.
  2. Token paying (less than 1 cent per word)
  3. Semi-pro (1-4 cents per word)
  4. Professional (5 cents or more per word)

The first issue of The NW (our Zine) is coming out in April and here’s the deal: I really, really, REALLY want to be able to pay the authors who contribute at a professional rate. They are professional, and they deserve it.

That means paying each one a minimum of $25.

To do that, I need 250 Patreon subscribers. Right now we’re at 187. We can close that gap, right?

(I’m just going to throw this out there: if we can get to 1000 patrons, I can pay those writers $100 and THAT is my pie in the sky goal.)

So . . . a membership drive is in order. Remember those from elementary school PTA? (Am I dating myself here?)

To become a patron, click here and choose your level of support.

I have a couple of rewards that I’m going to give everyone who is a patron on April first.

1. You’ll be matched up with an accountability partner . . . regardless of level. This is usually only offered to patrons at the $10 level and above!

2. You’ll get an advance copy of my new novel WASTED as soon as it becomes available. (In April.)

3. If you become a patron at the $10 level or above, I’ll give you an email address!

4. There will be a thank you page (or two!) in the zine AND in my novel WASTED with every single patron’s name. I would love to include yours!

The only way to actually get a copy of The NW is to become a patron. Every patron, even at the $1 level, gets the digital zine. (Also, I send EVERYONE a little love bomb in the mail with a mini-zine and a Ninja Writer Membership Card.)

The March reward for the $3 level of support was a copy of The Writing Planner, which is a $20 value. Anyone supporting Ninja Writers at the $3 level also get the January reward (The Plotting Workshop eBook) and the February reward (31 Days of Being a Ninja Writer.)

At the $5 (if you live in the US) or $6 (if you don’t) level you get a hard copy of the zine.

At the $10 level, you get all of that, plus you get to be part of The 1000 Day MFA. I can’t even tell you how exciting that group has been over the last month. If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, this is definitely the place you want to be.

And at the $25 level you get all of that, plus access to the A Novel Idea course for as long as you stay a patron. A Novel Idea is a year-long program that will take you through every step of writing your novel.

Here’s the link to check out all of the rewards at every level of support.

There are a lot of reasons why supporting your writing community is important. It lets me keep producing content for you (and for everyone) and it keeps the lights on. It lets the world know that Ninja Writers is important enough for members to put their support behind. And, human nature being what it is, putting a little skin in the game has powerful psychological benefits when it comes to productivity and actually putting your butt in a chair and your words on the page.

If we can get to $1500 of support by April 1, I’ll be able to put two additional stories into the zine and pay those writers at the rate set by the number of patrons on April 10. If we can get to $2000, I’ll be able to publish and pay four additional writers.

I’m so humbled by and grateful for the support and love that I feel just pouring in from every Ninja every day. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


P.S. If you want to become a patron and claim your rewards, just click here. It would be AWESOME if you’d share that link with other writers.

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Ninja Writer Book Club: 3/3/2017


Here are some books that Ninja Writers are reading this week. Take a look, add some books to your TBR list. Next Tuesday, come on over to our Facebook group and let us know what you’re reading.

(The links here are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, you’re supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you!)

My contribution this week is Truman Capote’s iconic, incredible book of short stories: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories. I cannot overstate how much I love this book. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for me, is the ultimate, perfectly written short story (really, a novella.) The movie was my favorite, since I was a teenager, though, and reading the book ruined it for me. It’s THAT good. It’s dark and gorgeous and just perfect. If you haven’t read it, and you have any desire at all to be a writer, I highly recommend reading it as a writer and paying attention to the character development.

I also read Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds. This one’s interesting. I love Wendig and I read a lot of his writing advice. I don’t think I’ve never read a book written by a man before where the female protagonist feels like a Mary Sue, but Miriam Black feels to me like Wendig, if Wendig was a 22-year-old psychic girl with a trucker’s mouth. The story though, is a lot of fun. I’m excited to keep reading this series. And I’m a little sad that the “soon to be a television series” sticker on the front isn’t actually true anymore.

I’m still making my way through Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius and really loving it. I’m working on the exercises as I go, so it’s taking me some time, but they are REALLY good.


Classic + Literary



Mystery + Thriller



Short Stories



Don’t forget to go check out the Ninja Writers Patreon page. Your support means so much to this community. (The March reward just went live: every patron at the $3 and above level gets a copy of The Writing Planner.)

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Ninja Writer Book Club: 2/24/2017


Here are some books that Ninja Writers are reading this week. Take a look, add some books to your TBR list. Next Tuesday, come on over to our Facebook group and let us know what you’re reading.

(The links here are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, you’re supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you!)

My contribution this week is Steel: And Other Stories by Richard Matheson. I really love mid-century science fiction, and this collection of stories is that genre at its best.

I’m also reading The Great Gatsby, after binge watching Z: The Beginning of Everything on Amazon. Both are amazing. I had no idea how much Fitzgerald took from his wife. So interesting. I’m writing a story using the same narrative structure as The Great Gatsby (my book is narrated by someone who is not the protagonist), so I wanted to take another, deeper look at it.

I have an assignment from my MFA mentor to read some picture books for this packet. I was super excited to come across a copy of Skippyjon Jones at a thrift store this week. I saw the author and artist, Judy Schachner speak at the SCBWI conference a couple of years ago and she is fantastic. She talked about how she makes a journal before every book she writes. She brought one to show and it was so inspiring to me. I actually came home from that conference and started my own journal for the middle grade book that I’m just getting around to writing now. There’s a picture in there of a little girl standing in front of a completely chaotic kitchen that changed the whole trajectory of my story. She talks about her pre-book journals in this video.

The first full week of The 1000 Day MFA finished last weekend and lots of Ninjas shared their short stories. We’re having so much fun with this program. Having a structure for reading and writing has been even more helpful than I expected it to be. It’s set up so that anyone can join us at any time, so if you want to come be a part of it, we’d love to have you. (Just sign up at Patreon at the $10 level or above and you’ll get a link to our private Facebook Group.) Try it for a month. You can stop anytime. (But I don’t think you’ll want to!)


Children’s Books

Classics + Literary


Mystery + Thriller



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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Home Base


Did you ever play tag when you were a kid?

Remember how there was always some spot that was home base? A tree. A bike. Someone’s mom.

If you got home, you were safe.

For today’s writing prompt, think about the concept of home–deeper and bigger than a house. (Although, where they live might also be their home base.)

If you really want to dig into your story, do this assignment for your hero AND your antagonist. Just think about where they’d run to, if they were being chased. It might be somewhere internal. A memory, maybe? It might be a person. It might be a physical place.

Write a paragraph or two describing your protagonist’s (and antagonist’s if you have time) safe place. Use all your senses.


I’m working on a middle grade story right now called Wonder Roo. My narrator is a boy named Gideon. He’s telling the story of his neighbor, though–a quirky girl named Roona.

Roona’s home base is a thing. Her baby blanket. She believes that being wrapped in it during a house fire when she was a baby saved her life–and that when she wraps it around her neck, cape style, it turns her into Wonder Roo.

It’s a very plain blanket. Soft pink, lightweight cotton with an open weave and a satin binding. After twelve years of all kinds of use, it’s very worn. Her blanket is also her only real connection to her father, who she believes joined the Air Force soon after the fire when she was a baby. She hasn’t seen him since.

Here’s the scene where Roona first shows up in the story, with her blanket:

What caught my attention though, and yanked me right out of my sourness, was everything else about her. She wore cut-off jeans and a white t-shirt. Pretty standard stuff.

She had rainbow-striped socks pulled up to her knobby knees and roller skates that looked like blue and yellow running shoes strapped to her feet. And over her clothes, she wore a red swimsuit with a stripe running down each side. She had something tied around her neck, flapping in the hot, dry breeze as she skated in slow circles on her porch.

“What in the . . .” Despite myself, I was curious enough to open the car door and step my first foot in Ne-va-da.

“See, there’s a kid next door,” Dad said, rubbing my head as he passed me. “You’re going to be fine.”

This story doesn’t have a villain. The antagonist is Roona’s mother–more specifically her mental illness. Or the way she is now. Her home is an activity. Miranda Mulroney is a baker on a soul level. Roona believes that her emotions get baked into her cakes and pies and passed on to the people who eat them.

When things get hard for Miranda, she bakes. She stays up all night losing herself in her ability to turn out perfect cookies or scones. It’s the thing she turns to when nothing else makes sense.

Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.


Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.


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