Stephanie Nickel

6 Ways to Take Responsibility For Your Writing by Steph Beth Nickel

Some people choose a word for the year. Others choose a theme. My theme for 2015 is The Year of Taking Responsibility.


What does taking responsibility look like to a writer?


Here are six ways we can each step up this year.


  1. Create a list of goals.


Since you’ve signed up for A Round of Words in 80 Days, you’ve likely started on that list. At least you have goals for the next 80 days … and that’s a great start.


Keep in mind the acronym created by George T. Doran: SMART.  Goals should be specific, measurable, assignable (or attainable), realistic, and time-bound.


  1. Schedule time to write.


Of course it is ideal if you can write every day, but that isn’t always the case.


Haul out your day planner or your smartphone. Schedule a regular rendezvous with your pen and paper—or your keyboard and computer.


Except in the case of truly extenuating circumstances, keep every date with your creative self—even when you don’t feel particularly creative.


  1. Participate in ROW80


I know. I know. You already have this one covered.


But to take full advantage of what your fellow ROWers have to offer, check in at least once per week; visit other participants’ sites from time to time; and if you’re so inclined, pop by the FB group and connect with your fellow writers.


  1. Read skills development books and blogs.


If you’re anything like me, you don’t have to look any further than your bookshelves, physical and virtual, for a stack of writing-related books that you have yet to read or reread.


Scheduling specific time to curl up with a good book is a great idea. We all have more to learn, no matter how far along the writing journey we are.


  1. Read other books too.


Read in the genre in which you like to write. Read in other genres.


Read books that grab you by the throat. Read those you think have nothing to offer—you might be surprised.


While you’re reading, think about what the author has done well and things you would do differently. Incorporate what you learn in your own work—the good stuff, at least.


  1. Write. Write. Write. And then, write some more.


We can call ourselves writers if we write. The adjectives like prolific, skilled, and published come with time.


Keep on keepin’ on, my fellow ROWers.


Steph Beth Nickel

The Backdrop of Darkness and Turmoil by Stephanie Nickel

A light, fun, airy, romantic story makes for a great read, but I’ve rediscovered the three-dimensional effect of including darkness and turmoil in my writing.

I entered a contest years ago that won second place. I admit I was confused as to why the Crossings Book Club was sending me a check for $100—until I read the memo line. I’d forgotten entering the contest. I’d also forgotten which piece I had entered.

I found the short story and gave it to my mom. “That was sad,” she said. And yes, it was.

There is a richness to love magnified by loss. And that’s what served as the inspiration for the piece I wrote for the Write to Done Flash Fiction Contest. (Thankfully, I sent it to a few trusted fellow writers and am getting some great suggestions on how to make it better. Seems my protagonist is completely unsympathetic and unlikeable. Perhaps she is a tad too dark. Sigh!)

Even after I tweak this story, it won’t be wrapped in a pretty package. No big, bright bows to tie everything together.  I want it to be raw and real.

In The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth, Ted Dekker says, ““We Christian writers must paint evil with the blackest of brushes, not to sow fear, but to call out the monsters to be scattered by our light.”

No matter what your religious persuasion, I’m sure you realize it’s hard to recognize the light without some concept of just how deep the darkness.

What is joy without gut-wrenching sorrow?

What is elation without emptiness?

What is hope without despair?

When I wrote “Shattered Hope,” my 440-word flash fiction piece based on my novel “Becca’s Journey” it gave me a whole new perception on how I want to rework the entire manuscript. Granted, it will take longer to write. It will take more soul searching, more connecting with my characters and making them relatable if not actually likeable, more bleeding on the page. But in the end, I’m sure it will be worth it.

I very much like the Paul Gallico quote, which long-precedes a similar one attributed to Ernest Hemingway. It reads like this: “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.”

As many of you know, I’m all about relationship, about establishing contact with my readers—and others whose lives intersect my own in various ways.

Here is a brief quote from my flash fiction entry. What do you think? Have I established contact? Is the darkness deep enough, the turmoil palpable enough, to act as a backdrop to the glimmer of hope I sought to include?

“And then it happened, the horrific high pitched whine I’d only heard on television. The straight blue line raced across the monitor. The nurse slipped in, flipped the switch, and disappeared without a word . . . the DNR order taunting me.

“Now I couldn’t tell him forgiveness and love were starting to take hold—but they were.”

How do you incorporate darkness and turmoil in your writing?


Stephanie Nickel

Grammatical Fisticuffs by Stephanie Nickel

I read a meme on Facebook recently that was originally posted by Grammarly. (I love their memes.) I found it to be a humorous exchange between a student and his teacher about the difference between “may” and “can.” Yes, I admit there are things that make me twitch, but this isn’t one of them – and the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           things that do aren’t actually important to “the big picture.”

The thing that really got me thinking was one of the comments left by another reader. She seemed quite offended that someone who was concerned with proper word usage would be called names (pedantic and pretentious in this case). I also know of a writer and editor who feels each time we don’t follow “the rules” we diminish the language. It’s okay. They’re allowed to feel this way.

There may be some of you who already feel your blood pressure rising. Funny how a discussion about linguistics and grammar can do that to people. 

I heard Ammon Shea, author of Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, on a radio talk show. I learned a thing or two and very much want to read his book.

One of the things that aggravates Shea is that often those who get up in arms when the rules are broken haven’t done their research. These “purists” would have been considered the uneducated ones in the not too distant past. You see, these rules change over time. What was once considered proper is no longer. Shea believes that a language that does not evolve is a dead language.

I use reference books such as The Chicago Manual of Style, but 5, 10, 50 years from now, the edition that sits on my shelf will be outdated. Even now, despite what some academics say, editing is often a subjective endeavour. Just compare one publishing house’s style sheet with another’s.

What is language really and why is it important to learn – and use – the currently accepted rules?

A Means to Communicate with One Another

According to Wikipedia, researchers conclude that less than 35 percent of face-to-face communication is verbal. If we break a rule from time to time, it won’t likely have a dramatic effect.

And when it comes to written communication, for the most part, we have to use language that can be understood by our target audience. Writings for the general population are now at a lower reading level than in days gone by. Of course, neither of these things means we shouldn’t use accepted spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

A Means to Express Your Thoughts and Feelings

Our intention may come across loud and clear if we are communicating face-to-face. However, if our written work is bogged down by errors, our thoughts and feelings may get lost in the muddle.

A Means to Effect Change

If we want to effect change on a broad scale, we don’t want our audience distracted by our apparent ignorance about the language. Whether we consider this distraction their problem or ours is irrelevant. If we want to be heard and know our audience may very well be alienated by such things, we should purchase, read, and apply a book (or two) on the subject. If you do a search for “grammar” on Amazon, you will find 100 pages of books. (This is also a good place to mention that a skilled editor is worth the investment – even for editors.)

A Means to Entertain

Deliberately breaking the rules can have a humorous effect. First, however, you must know the rules. You must also know that your audience will understand why what you say (or write) is funny.

When your humor has nothing to do with linguistics and grammar, it’s a good idea that errors in this area don’t distract from the message. On the flipside, strictly following the rules can be equally distracting—and unintentionally amusing. Consider Winston Churchill’s words: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

An Aside

If you haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves, you absolutely, positively must. It’s my favourite book on punctuation. I howled as I read it while my family was watching TV. They thought I was a little strange, but that’s okay because I am. Using incorrect punctuation can convey an unintended—often hysterical, sometimes tragic—message.

My Personal Philosophy

As an editor and writer, I want to do the best I can to create—and help others create—the most polished, effective written communication possible.

When it comes to reading work created by someone else, I want to be gracious, looking passed the mistakes to the message they are seeking to convey.


Stephanie Nickel

Try Something New by Stephanie Nickel

Twenty-fourteen has definitely brought some brand new challenges my way. The book I co-authored is now available. We’ve had our first book launch and the second is set for the last weekend of April. I also decided to pack up my gear and head for Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s the first time I’ve ever attempted anything like this . . . and the first time I’ve hit the 10,000 word mark in my novel. (It needs a lot of work, but hey, I won’t have anything to work with if I don’t finish my first draft.)

It’s great to edit for several different clients. The work is always new. It’s pretty hard to get bored. This is a built-in way for me to always be working with something fresh—even if I’m doing the same thing.

One of my goals is to get my children’s picture books into the hands of agents and publishers. Because I’m writing for the preschool crowd, each manuscript has a limited number of words. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to fire off, but I should be able to get several written while working on my novel. Perseverance needs to be my theme in this area—and in others.

I’ve gotten away from writing poems. I think I will get back to it. If I write one poem, one book review, and repost the fitness blog I write for Kimberley Payne, I will hit my goal for posts for Steph Nickel’s Eclectic Interests each week.

And sadly, one thing I need to do that is “new” is get back to reading. It’s so easy to veg in front of the TV instead of picking up one of the many books that are calling my name.

If you’re looking for something new to try this round, why not choose from the following list?

1. Choose an age group you don’t normally write for and write a short story or article directed at them.

2. If poetry’s not your thing, look up different poetic forms and dive in.

3. Pop over to YouTube and choose a musical style you wouldn’t normally listen to. Use it as a springboard for a freewriting session. Who knows? You might stumble upon inspiration for a new piece—maybe even a new book.

4. And speaking of songs . . . Choose a familiar tune and write new words just for fun. (If you want to share it, keep in mind copyright restrictions.)

5. Choose a movie or an episode of a TV show and write a new ending.

6. If you’re looking to guest post, feel free to get in touch ( I’m always looking for guest bloggers.

So, how about you? Are you shooting for something new this round? If so, what are you working on?


Stephanie Nickel

12 Tips For Having A Great ROW Round by Stephanie Nickel

  1. Post doable goals. Some ROWers post only a handful of goals and focus on them throughout the round. Personally, I love lists, so my goals are extensive. (That said . . . I don’t mind bumping incomplete goals to the next week—or even the next round—as necessary.)
  2. Don’t be afraid to change your goals as needed. After all, A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that does acknowledge life happens.
  3. Check-in regularly. We love to know how things are going and how we can best encourage you.
  4. And speaking of encouragement, even if you aren’t a sponsor, pop by other sites and see how your fellow ROWers are doing.
  5. We can all learn from one another, so take the time to not only read but comment on a number of posts published by others. You just might make some new friends.
  6. Researching. Editing. Submitting to agents and publishers. Reading (especially skills development books). They’re all important, but this is a writers’ challenge, so don’t forget to set aside time for writing. As we all know, it’s too easy to let it slip.
  7. Include “writing” on your daily agenda. Make an appointment with yourself and keep it. (Make sure it’s written in ink.) Even if you can’t write as long as you would like, making it a daily habit will help keep the creativity flowing.
  8. Keep a book of writing prompts by your desk. If writer’s block comes calling, take the book off the shelf, open it to a random page, and just start writing.
  9. If you like to tweet, don’t forget the #ROW80 hashtag. See what your fellow Twitter-loving ROWers are doing.
  10. Some of us hang out on Facebook. Come join us.
  11. If increased fitness is on the agenda, we’d love to have you join us on Facebook at ROW80 Fitness.
  12. Setting a daily word count can help a lot. I know it keeps NaNoWriMo participants on target. All the best for those who will sign on this year. One of these years, I’ll actually join you.


Stephanie Nickel

We Can Do This by Stephanie Nickel

I thought I’d write a poem for you,

Something brief to get you through

Those days when all seems strange and dim,

Thoughts evade, ideas slim.

The cursor taunts you from the screen,

The page all shiny, bright and clean,

The words aren’t coming; that is clear,

The dreaded nightmare causes fear.

Will I ever write again?

Pencil, marker, crayon, pen?

Grab a sandwich or a walk,

Call a friend to talk and talk,

Plant a garden, sing a song,

Take a break, but don’t break long.

For words are buried deep inside,

Set them loose: free, untied,

With the cobwebs blown away,

You can write most every day.

We can do this; yes, we can,

Young or old, woman, man,

And on our journey, we will go,

Come on fellow ROWers, row!


Stephanie Nickel

Facing Challenges by Stephanie Nickel

If you follow my check-ins over at Steph Nickel’s Eclectic Interests, you’ll know my interests and endeavours are all over the map.


This past weekend I attended a Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals conference. As you may know, I am a recently certified labour doula and have signed up for the Pregnancy Fitness Educator course. At one point I considered midwifery. One thing led to another, and now I’m on a parallel path.


Family is incredibly important to me and I realize more than ever that I have to make spending time with them a priority. My hubby was able to join me and we added a couple of vacation days to the time in Ottawa. I’m glad for the time I can spend with our two kids who still live at home and the FB chats I have with Son #2. It isn’t as easy to spend time with family who live far away, however, but I look forward to seeing a number of them at Christmas time.


Life is challenging for all of us and finding that balance between our writing and all the other areas of our lives can seem overwhelming.


For those of us who aren’t full-time writers, we have to steal those moments – and maybe even an hour here and there – to pursue this facet of who we are. I find entering online challenges keeps me plugging away. I signed on for OctPoWriMo and have written 28 of the 31 poems I promised myself and my fellow poets I’d pump out this month. (Thankfully, they don’t have to be spectacular literary pieces – or even “good.” Whew!)


If you follow my blog, you might have noticed that I signed up for PiBoIdMo again this year. The object: come up with 30 children’s picture book ideas before the end of November. Writing picture books is one of my I-hope-to-do-it-someday goals.


Many of you already know the benefits of accepting a writing challenge. Does the phrase NaNoWriMo mean anything to you? (grin) One year, I’ll jump onboard – Lord willin’ and the crik don’t rise, that is. (I guess I shouldn’t kid around about the crik risin’ with Hurricane Sandy having its way with several communities. We’ve only had a little rain and some gusty winds. Okay, so while I was re-reading this, the wind started to pick up. I’m very thankful for a warm, dry home in which to take refuge.)


So, my fellow ROWers, dive into NaNoWriMo, sign up for PiBoIdMo, or scout out another challenge better suited to your interests and your writing style. I’m sure there are countless writing challenges floating around cyberspace.


And if you don’t want to commit to anything formally, well, you always have ROW80. That’s really what we do when we declare our goals and put them out there for the world to see. We’re challenging ourselves and inspiring others to commit to this craziness called writing.


Our dreams and aspirations are as varied as we are. Our motivation – to use a cliché – extends from the ridiculous to the sublime. I look forward to meeting even more of you as the final round of 2012 continues.


Happy Writing!


Stephanie Nickel