Tips for Writers Working at Home, But Not Alone: Part 1

Beth Fowler headshot by Beth Fowler






When you sit down to write, does it seem as if family members conspire to prevent you from writing, and as if domestic duties scream for attention? Well, if you cave in and put writing aside, you won’t make money from what you didn’t write. Right? Here are techniques you can use to find writing time in your busy days.

  1. Build respect. One writer bribed her kids with ice cream bought with money she hoped to earn from articles. Not good. Healthy relationships are built on respect, not on bribes. Writers can say, “Writing is important to me. It would help if you didn’t disturb me for the next three hours. Can you do that?” Then stick to the agreement.
  2. Share enthusiasm. Encourage your family to write a neighborhood newsletter, a cookbook, a letter to an editor, a journal. Once they’ve seen their work in print, they’ll understand why you like to write. It’s rewarding.
  3. Compromise. Jolyn’s mother interrupted his writing by asking for rides to town. Jolyn chauffeured his mother for a ten-minute errand, which expanded to one hour. Jolyn and Mom could compromise: “Mom, I’ll take you to town at three o’clock. Until then I need time to write.” Mom agrees. But at noon she asks: “Can we go to town now?” Jolyn used to give in. Now he says, “You’ve interrupted me, even though we agreed I’ll take you to town at three o’clock. I’ll take you at three o’clock.” After all, compromise means vow together.
  4. Educate non-writers. When I told ten-year-old Christopher that I write at home, he said, “Oh, you don’t work.” Because I don’t pack a briefcase and commute daily to an office, I didn’t fit his idea of a legitimate worker. Had I explained that his favorite author J.K. Rowling began like I did—getting rejections, honing skills in relative anonymity, writing and rewriting (and re-rewriting) Christopher might have agreed that what I do is work, even if I’m not famous. Like all artists, writers serve apprenticeships too.
  5. Nurture important relationships. Screenwriter Tim Burton (“Beetlejuice” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) said that his “interiorizing” separated him from people. He added, “It makes you think you’re crazy.” Before everybody goes crazy, set aside time to nurture friendships and family ties.
  6. Empathize with non-writers. We writers are consumed with twisting our tales or creating zippy dialogue. How do others perceive us? Dusty Wesker is married to Arnold Wesker, author of 30-plus plays. She said, “Living with a writer and a writer’s ego is incredibly difficult. We’ve had a wonderful life together, but there have been ups and downs, but I’m resilient.” Resilience on everybody’s part is vital for every relationship’s longevity.
  7. Create a workspace. You’ll be taken more seriously if you create a permanent writing center. You’ll take yourself more seriously, too. Organize your filing system, install a shelf for reference and resource books, use good equipment, go to writers’ group meetings.
  8. Write in a healthy environment. The work center shouldn’t be tucked into a murky corner. Select a place that inspires productivity. Scientists believe that plants in an office improve productivity, lower energy consumption, reduce noise levels and are, of course, aesthetically pleasing. Choose a place with good circulation. Built up dust, pet hairs, traces of cleaners, mold and carbon dioxide can cause headaches and allergic reactions.


ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.





Oops! Avoid Career-Killing Writing Mistakes

error-101409_150  You’ve seen those inset boxes in publications that say, “Correction” or “Retraction” or “Oops, we goofed!” And you wonder, “How can I avoid a slipup like that?”

Correction notices diminish an author’s credibility and future job prospects.

While even the best writers occasionally misreport information, novice writers are more vulnerable to making unintentional mistakes. Sidestepping booby traps requires knowing where they’re hidden and doing the homework.

 The Becoming-a-Mouthpiece Trap

Example: A journalist writing a feature about a new medicine contacts the company that patented the drug. The company’s public relations weenie Fed Ex’s glossy brochures and factsheets sprinkled with Latin terms and charts highlighting the drug’s development and its manifold benefits to humankind. The journalist writes his article incorporating info from those documents.

Homework: Research multiple sources. The journalist must uncover facts the PR rep doesn’t want divulged to the public. (Every closet contains a skeleton or three, otherwise there’s no story.) In journalism this is “balance.”

Our journalist needs to check out Who has something at stake? (Stockholders, the drug company’s competition.) Whose experience or perspective might be different? (Lab employees, people who trialed the drug, natural therapy advocates.) Who has info, but wasn’t asked for it? (Medical writers, pharmacists, doctors, peer reviewers, government agencies.) Who parroted “party line” responses and can be probed with deeper questions? (The PR rep, the CEO.) Researching information from adversaries, skeptics, watchdogs, regulatory agencies and nitpickers leads to balance. Click for “How to Research Medical Literature.”

The Ignoring-the-Moneybags Trap

Example: Researching material for an article about bread, I found this assertion, “Dr. Graeme McIntosh says, ‘We ought to be eating wholemeal or high-fiber breads with every meal, about four to five slices a day, besides our breakfast cereal.’ “Sound the alarms. Who funded Doc’s studies?

Homework: Further research revealed that the Grains Research and Development Corporation—surprise, surprise—provided dough for the studies. Published in Australia’s New Vegetarian and Natural Health Magazine, my “Bread: The Staff of Life?” quoted Dr. McIntosh, named his funding source and included support for opposing opinions that Western diets contain too much bread. Follow the money. Be wary of biased bucks.

The Repeating-What-Everybody-Knows Trap

Example: Everybody knows that Linda Eastman-McCartney was heiress to the Eastman-Kodak fortune just like everybody knows that the Great Wall of China is visible from outer space. Right?

Not quite. Rigorous checking reveals that Linda’s family isn’t related to the camera entrepreneur and images of The Great Wall of China were acquired by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) onboard the space shuttle Endeavor. That’s not peering out the spaceship porthole and seeing a wall down there. Visit for cock-and-bull stories caught parading in truth’s clothing.

Homework: “Errors are repeated in newspaper articles for months and years; cuttings are such a convenient source of information and deadlines can make checking less rigorous,” cautions Brendan Hennessy in Writing Feature Articles. Sidestep error hazards by researching info from the original source or as near to the horse’s mouth as you can get.

The Playing-Loose-with-Numbers Trap

Example: “Youth want William as next king,” declared a Reuters headline from London. The lead said, “Britain’s youth believe that dashing young Prince William should be the next king, a survey published yesterday showed.”

In the third paragraph, readers learn that 46 percent of the surveyed population thinks William should be next monarch. Hmm. Forty-six per cent is not a majority. The headline could’ve easily and more accurately declared, “Youth don’t want William as next king.”

Homework: Get the original data on which someone’s interpretations have been based. In the case of the future king, diligent researchers would find out how the survey questions were phrased, how many youths were surveyed and what ages constitute “youth.” For technical writing, find out how long trials were run, if double-blind controls were run, if previous trials were proved correct or false and other factors important to validating data. Even when numbers are correct, check for other facts and figures that put the numbers in context and might influence interpretation.

Check it One More Time


Check your final draft critically. Does researched info support the manuscript’s purpose? (Some awesome, hard-won facts mightn’t illuminate theme.) Do facts and data flow naturally within narrative? Did typos creep in? Did facts and data change between researching and finishing the piece? Did you avoid emotionally laden words?

Materials that organizations, agencies and institutes pass out can contain misspellings, grammatical errors and other bloopers. Verify. Correct.

List resources at the end of non-fiction work, and if appropriate, of fiction. Editors might want to re-check facts and you might need the same sources for other projects.

Make sure copyrights aren’t infringed upon. (Read up on copyright fair use at Generally, ideas and facts (like those in encyclopedias, dictionaries and reference books) aren’t copyrighted. Give sources for figures. Acknowledge sources from which you’ve borrowed heavily.

Check your homework. Gain credibility. Make sales.

And may you never be responsible for an “Oops!”


ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.




“Frugal Book Promotion” tips

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and author of the award-winning series of How To Do It Frugally books, shares tips straight out of her book, The Frugal Book Promoter ( :

  • Send a chatty note about your book or its review to the people in the groups or forums you frequent.
  • Do the same with all the people on your personal e-mail contact list.
  • How about your list of media contacts–especially the ones who edit blogs and Web sites. They are always in need of material.
  • Write up a release and place it on a news disseminator like or You’ll find a list of these disseminators on my site at Click on the Resources for Writers page and scroll down. Take your time learning to do this. It will be well worth it. For more, step by step information on writing and disseminating media releases go to your e-copy or hardcopy of The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t.
  • Do you put out a newsletter or e-zine? You probably should! Tell your subscribers about this success.
  • Put a link to your book and its reviews up on your Web site. This makes you look credible to your readers.
  • Of course, you’ll want to tweet and blog about it.
  • You can even include the news and a link in your Christmas letter!

Also check out the Resources for Writers pages at

Carolyn adds, “There’s tons of good information on getting reviews and hundreds of other promotion ideas in my The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t.”


ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.




Housebreaking Pet Words

Every writer has pet words. Tabitha King’s pets in The Trap are hooked and hauled, as in “She hooked off her socks,” and “He hauled his boots on.” Strong verbs used in unconventional waysare refreshing until they’re overworked and become annoying to readers.

Pronouns, one breed of pets, are especially vague. “I hate and mistrust pronouns, every one of them as slippery as a fly-by-night personal-injury lawyer,” writes Stephen King in ­On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And in The Book Alan Watts refers to the pronoun it is a spook, as in “It’s raining outside.” What exactly is it?

King, Watts and other successful authors use it when it’s unavoidable or natural sounding. Character dialogue, for example, sounds natural with a sprinkling of the neuter, singular pronoun.

Read the rest of this blog Housebreak Pet Words


ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.