Join the NaNoWriMo Train – It Isn’t too Late!

Breaking Free to Write by Deborah Owen

I’ve been wanting to join NaNo for years but never had the time, so why did I wait for the hardest year of all to do it? Which of the reasons listed below is the answer? Guess.

  1. Not too smart
  2. In a weak moment, I decided to give it a try.
  3. I had no idea what I was getting into.
  4. No coffee to awaken my brain on the day of that dreaded decision.
  5. I wanted to help encourage others through Creative Writing Institute next year.

Which one did you guess? Actually, all of these reasons led me into National Novel Writing Month. In a way, I severely underestimated the daily challenge, but in another sense of the word, writing 1666 words a day doesn’t take all that long. You aren’t supposed to edit as you go – which I always do – so not doing that makes the writing fast.

When I first started writing (back when dinosaurs were first laying their eggs), I determined that I would not start a second story until I finished the first and ditto with novels. It took me ten years to write my first novel and I can’t go against my own rules, so I decided to use NaNo to REwrite the novel.

NaNo doesn’t care what you do as long as you write. You can write 50,000 words in a series of short stories, write a novel, or just make a feeble, puny attempt. They only ask that you WRITE.

I am as guilty as the next writer in putting the muse off until it doesn’t come courting any more. Think of your dating days. What did you do to prepare for courting? You got your act together! You put your life in order and you laid time aside to go courting and be courted. Do that again. Court the muse.

I don’t have a clue about the NaNo site and all the things they offer, but I’m making an effort and enjoying it in spite of myself. If you haven’t started with NaNo this year, it isn’t too late. You have until the last day of November to sign up at http://www. It doesn’t matter if you don’t meet your goal, but it DOES matter if you don’t even try.

Let’s make a deal. Try it for one week. Will you at least do that much? I have nothing whatever to gain by your joining NaNo. I’m just trying to help you get the same new vision that I have. It’s exciting! (Did I really say that? Um… I believe I did. I think I’m actually starting to enjoy this. Yeah!!!) Join me!

Huh? You insist on paying me back for this great favor? Okay. Drop in for a ten-second peek at and we’ll call it even. Happy NaNoWriMo!

Is this Public Figure a Charlatan?

Writer Dreads Daily Writing

by Deborah Owen

This is a true story, and you have a right to know about it.

A certain public figure has committed to write 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo this year, but just between you and me and the gate post, she dreads it. She can’t back out because she has made a public commitment. What is she afraid of?

This lady has done public speaking, been published many times, tutored writers, edited books and is a book coach. If she didn’t want to commit to 50,000 words in 30 days, why did she sign up for it? Better yet, why did she make it public? Is she a charlatan?

You would know her name if I told you. You and I have the right to hold her accountable. For that matter, I guess you also have the right to know her name. It’s Deborah Owen, but I’m not a charlatan. Let me try to answer the questions.

I made a public decision to join NaNo this year so I could make Creative Writing Institute a NaNoWriMo headquarters next year. To do that, I needed to know and understand the program, face the same fears and excuses other writers face, and choose a subject worthy of my time, but…

  • I told myself I didn’t have time to write every day.
  • I told myself the book didn’t have to show real effort. Just write about anything.
  • I told myself no one would know if I didn’t follow through.
  • I told myself I made the NaNo commitment in a rash moment.
  • And finally, I told myself the truth. Now I have the responsibility to write at least 1,666 words a day for… *gulp… 30 long days.

Okay, now that I have cornered myself:

  • I will make the time to write!
  • I WILL put effort into what I write because I won’t waste my time doing anything less than my best. This novel is going to be published.
  • Everyone will know if I don’t follow through because I will post my daily record on Facebook.
  • I did not make this decision in a rash moment. I just didn’t see the clock moving it up to my doorstep so quickly… although I knew the day of reckoning was bound to come too soon.

And now it’s time for you to face the truth, too. Why don’t YOU join the NaNoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words in a month?

Huh? Do I detect a flutter in your pulse? A stammer in your speech? Does your Adam’s apple feel as big as a real one when you try to swallow? You were interested in reading about the charlatan woman who had made a commitment she didn’t want to fulfill. Why aren’t you willing to make the same commitment?

You’re a writer, aren’t you? Just because you haven’t made a public commitment doesn’t relieve your responsibility to write daily.

  • You’re busy? Me, too.
  • You’re afraid? Me, too. Maybe my book won’t turn out so great.
  • You don’t know what to write? Me neither. I can’t decide between three books.

Quit making excuses. Go to and sign up. Get brave. You expect it of me. I expect it of you! And, hopefully, Creative Writing Institute can be your host next year. Please drop in for a short visit.

Four Sure-fire ways to Reach your Social Media Prospects

Four Sure-fire ways to Reach Social Media Prospects

Art work and Article by Sola Johnson

Are you using the right techniques to convert “likes” to solid leads? Effective social media can be downright frustrating for beginners. Try these key strategies to give you an edge in marketing.

Good Communication: Most brands fail to define the purpose of social media. Don’t be too professional or too novice. Avoid flowery statements. Be brief AND persuasive in every post. Tell your Twitter prospects why they will enjoy your product in 100 characters or less. Give faithful fans the leftover 40 characters to engage and promote your tweets. Quality sells faster than quantity.

Post Frequently: What is your peak time to display engaging posts? Study Linda Ikeji’s blog to see how important it is to post frequently. Notice the placement of pictures and ads. Placing your brand in the public eye shows dependability. Top artists like Davido, Ariana Grande and other entertainers use Instagram to show what they do on their days off. If you are an up and coming entertainer, posting frequently will spur growth, especially when your contact details are open. All social media is good. Young Bieber uses YouTube. What do you use?

Regular posting will keep you on your customer’s mind, but posting too often can backfire and brand you an aggressive marketer. Some years back, studies showed weekly branding failed to engage prospects, but marketing twice a day overstretched their limits. So… how often should you post updates? Experiment to find the answer. Constant changes in social algorithms demand research, tests, and repeated tests until you really know your market.

Be Human: If you are going to use platforms like Buffer and Hootesuite to auto-post daily, do so carefully. Buffer lets you connect social accounts on its platform, but don’t ignore user experiences and customer interactions. According to an in-depth research by Convince & Convert, 42% of Twitter’s customers expect answers to a support request within 60 minutes.

Here’s a tip: Be prepared to hit the pause button. Automated troubleshooting is a bad idea. No one, not even the writer, can stomach conversing with bots and if a prospect sees carelessness in your marketing, you will be saying goodbye to them.

Pictures: A good picture is worth a thousand words, but use some text, too. Inserting a picture in a post is an awesome trick that will exceed the word limits of some social platforms. Imagine a Coca Cola text advertisement on a billboard that doesn’t showcase a picture of the product. Odd, right?  Billboard advertisements hinge on appealing to on-the-move clients, so share this emphasis when dealing with online prospects. Insert pictures to whet your customer’s appetite.

A photo of your employees relaxing, laughing, or doing some community work is a sure-fire way to humanize your brand by piquing interest and engaging minds. Eye-catching quotes and tips are excellent ways to boost online presence. What’s more, you don’t have to be a Photoshop guru to create good graphics. Digital marketers and social media experts use quick, fun tools like Picmonkey, Quotescover and Canva to achieve this task.

Follow @Epjohnson01 on Twitter for more tips.

Learn more about marketing your work at where every student receives a private tutor. Sign up for our newsletter!

How to Win a Writing Contest

Secrets to Winning a Creative Writing Contest

by Deborah Owen, CEO of Creative Writing Institute

Contests are like cars. There are a lot of them and no two are the same, but this is an overview of how Creative Writing Institute judges their annual writing contest. This year, it runs from July 15 – September 1, 2015.

First, the judges do a quick sorting. They place stories that might have a chance to win in one pile and stories that have no chance of winning in another. Needless to say, those in the latter pile hit file 13. Your first question should be, on that first sorting, what are the judges looking for? Among other things:

a. Very poor grammar
b. Very poor punctuation
c. Long, drawn out discourses that make no point
f. Not using the theme line, word for word!

The judges’ first scanning is not an in-depth reading. It simply sorts the big pile into a smaller one. There will be at least four full readings of each story by each judge.

You will win or lose a judge’s interest in the first paragraph, so be sure that first paragraph begins in the middle of an ACTION scene. Don’t lead up to the action. You don’t have time for that in a short story. Jump in with both feet. Next, develop that action until it reaches the climax about 2/3 of the way through and use the last 1/3 to form a conclusion and tie up loose ends.

Do all judges look for the same things? No. Each judge is as different as a snowflake. They may look alike on the writerly surface, but their thoughts and interests are as different as night and day, and that is what makes a good judging panel.

Here’s a clue. Our judges are not into romance. Does that mean you can’t enter a tactful romance story? No. Does it mean a romance story can’t or won’t win? NO. It was just a hint.  :-)

Another clue: the head judge would like to see some mystery stories this year. Does that mean the winning entry will BE a mystery story? No, but clever writers will certainly think twice before submitting to another genre (For newbies, genre means division – such as drama, fantasy, crime, etc.). But then again, some judges would prefer fantasy! In the end, the best, most captivating story will win, no matter what the genre.

Creative Writing Institute likes to run “themed contests” where the story centers around a certain phrase. This year’s theme sentence is, “I got more than I bargained for!” (You may choose your own punctuation, but those exact words must be in the story, in that order.) This is a fun theme!

The number one reason for disqualification is NOT FOLLOWING the RULES. Last year we had a winning entry that used one swear word. The judges were so into the story that none of them caught it, but I did and the instructions clearly said, “no swear words.” We even published a brief list of what we considered swear words (much to my chagrin) AND the address of the head judge in case anyone had a question.

Why do we have a “list” of swear words? Because we are an international organization that is based in the USA and even Americans hold heated debates on which words are or are not considered swearing. Why don’t we include swear words from other nations? Because it would be impossible to make a list of every country’s swearing slang.

The next question might be, “Why don’t you allow swear words?” One reason is… swear words are a form of telling instead of showing. (Note to beginners: a technique called Show, Don’t Tell means you should always show an emotion with action instead of description. For example, instead of saying, “Jarod was angry at the little boy and pushed him into a bush,” you could show his anger by saying, “Jarod drop-kicked the little runt into the shrub.”)

Another reason we don’t want swearing is because our anthologies are suitable family material. Believe it or not, not everyone swears!

We have already mentioned following the rules, which you would think would be a no-brainer, but to be sure you have conformed to the guidelines, read every single rule one more time before you submit. If we call for a limit of 2,000 words and you send 2,005, guess what? No matter what the quality of the story, it will hit file 13.

The quickest way to win is to write an original story totally based around I got more than I bargained for. The quickest way to lose (and embarrass yourself) is to pull a pre-written story out of mothballs, insert the theme line where it fits best and submit it.

I speak from experience. I tried this little number on a writing teacher years ago when she told me to write a story and insert a certain theme line. It seemed like a silly exercise to me and I was pushed for time, so I pulled an old story out, dropped the line in and submitted it. (*blushes… in my defense, this was the only time I ever did anything deliberately dishonest.)  I thought I was so slick and so smart, until I got her comment which read, “It almost looks like you used an old story and just dropped that line in. Rewrite it and make it blend.” Well… *duh, our judges are smart enough to figure that out, too!

On rounds 2 and 3, our judges usually grade each story from 1-10 and then they total the points for each story. It takes a terrific story to make it to 8, 9, and 10. By the time the judges get to round 4, bloodshot eyes are crossing, every person answers to any name, none are sure which way is up and the coffee has long ago run out so sometimes the head judge changes the method of tallying to, “This time we will deduct points for ________.”

All entries will be judged on originality, creativity, style and technique.


Plain and simple – how original your ideas are. There are no new stories, but there are always new angles. Day dream a little bit to find something spicy. Keep asking yourself, “What if… ?” That will open dozens of unique ideas.


Creativity is how you express yourself. You might use similes, metaphors, emotives, or all of the above plus a whole lot more.


Your writing style will reveal who you are, how you think, how you express yourself and what voice you use. (Hint: stories written in past tense, third person [using he, she and it] sell the quickest… and win the most contests.)


Writing technique includes the point of view, visualization of scenes and people, style of dialogue, how you write flashbacks (or if you use them at all), red herrings, foreshadowing, etc. It can also refer to the more technical aspects of rhythm, harmony, assonance, alliteration, personification and the like. All of these things equal your technique and the voice that is peculiar to you.

Seldom do we have a clear winner. We have ties more often than rabbits nibble carrots and when that happens, we pass the smelling salts and deodorant around and see how it goes. Under the careful scrutiny of our head judge, Ms. Jo Popek, judges may politely “argue” why “their pick” should win. By the time they emerge with a list of winners, it’s a wonder they are still friends, and an even greater wonder that they will return to the judging panel again next year!

Once you get contesting in your blood, you will have to enter at least two a year. Writing for a contest is one of the greatest, quickest ways to learn from your own writing.

Above all, enjoy the writing experience… and support our nonprofit charity by purchasing our anthology in December.

May the best author win!


Creative Writing Institute’s Short Story Contest

Creative Writing Institute’s Annual Short Story Contest

No Entry Fee

First place: a FREE writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

Second place: $50 Amazon gift card or a credit of $150 USD toward a writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

Third place: $25 Amazon gift card or a credit of $100 USD toward a writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

*Plus, two honorable mentions and TEN additional Judge’s Choice stories will receive publication in our 2015 anthology and Ebook.

This is a themed contest and this exact sentence must appear in the story:

“I got more than I bargained for!”

We would like to encourage mystery stories, but the genre is open. (See   for definitions and complete rules.)

  • Story must be 1000 – 2000 words.
  • No swearing, profanity, explicit sexual scenes, graphic violence, etc.
  • Entry must not have been published before.
  • ONE submission per person, please
  • Accepting submissions internationally from July 15, 2015 until August 15, 2015, midnight, USA Eastern Standard Time.
  • All entries must be in English


The Job that Made me… and Broke Me. My Personal Story of Success and Humiliation.


Win-Win Propositions

by Deborah Owen

Persistence in writing DOES pay off! Win-win propositions pay off, too. Editors love the phrase “win-win,” which means you have a deal whereby both ends have something to gain. I remember the first time I used that term.

The American Legion’s upcoming 75th Anniversary Edition was in preparation and their national office was in my back door. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that soon enough and when I called to ask about a job, the kind editor, Mr. Greenwald, said he had filled all positions.

Somewhere on the path of life, I had heard not to take no for an answer so I called again the next day and said, “This is Deborah Owen again. I called yesterday to ask about a position… “ and the not so kind editor cut me off mid-sentence with, “As I said yesterday, I have no positions available. Thank you for calling.” *click

I didn’t sleep much that night. Instead, I laid in bed and devised a plan whereby Mr. Greenwald would have to hire me. By morning, I was ready. With a dry mouth, I called him a third time and literally read from a written script, faking a voice of bravado and excitement:

“Hello, Mr. Greenwald. This is Deborah Owen again. I understand you don’t have any openings, but I have a win-win proposition you won’t want to pass up. I’d like to treat you to lunch one day this week to discuss it.”

He tried every way in the world to finagle the proposition out of me, but I knew it would be good-bye for the last time if I told him, so I said, “It’s too complicated to discuss on the phone. You choose the time and place and I’ll tell you in person.” He hesitated. [Never get in a hurry when waiting for an answer.] But, sensing he was about to say no, I added, “I promise to be brief.”

I was beginning to feel like I had leprosy when he finally agreed.

We met at his office Friday and walked two blocks to the diner. All the way there he wanted to know about my proposition but I played for time. “For now, let’s just get to know each other.”

I asked how long he had been editor at The American Legion, where he worked before and what his goals were in life. I kept him talking about himself – which is always a great strategy. At the end of the meal he asked about the great win-win proposition. I knew it was now or never, so I waded in and tried to look confident and enthusiastic (best done with a smile on one’s face).

“I’m a published freelance writer but I have yet to work inside a magazine. I understand the importance of a deadline and I’m never late. I’m meticulous in researching, and I was once a secretary for five men so I have good office skills. I’m a touch typist and a quick learner. Here’s my proposition: I’ll work for you free of charge. I’ll research, write, edit, or sweep floors if you’ll just let me work on the 75th Edition with you. Teach me. I want to learn. I’ll be the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. No matter what job you give me, you can count on it being done well. Now if that’s not a win-win proposition, I don’t know what is.”

With a smile, he answered, “Let me give you some advice, Mrs. Owen. Never offer your services for nothing. Someone may think they aren’t worth anything, and everyone is worth something. I’ll see you Monday morning at 8 am… and I will pay you a salary. I met you because I was curious, and I hired you because you were persistent. Persistence is a good quality. You’ll intern directly beneath me and you can have the desk right outside my office.”

I earned over $400 as I researched original WWI history and drafted 37 articles. No other job taught me so much in such a short amount of time. This is where the story should end on a high note, but there’s more.

One day Mr. Greenwald sent me to see a woman who was a higher up in the American Legion Auxiliary. In front of a third party, she lied to me to my face and I called her on it. I told Mr. Greenwald about it immediately (to build some insurance, in case he heard about it later). Three weeks came and went and I forgot about the incident, but the lying shrew didn’t. Mr. Greenwald called me in and said orders came down from way over his head. He had to fire me, as she was calling for my job and nothing less would please her.

“But I told you what happened,” I said. He lectured me on the urgency of good politics. So there I was. Out of the best job in the world.

The highs of digging through authentic files as direct intern beneath the American Legion’s National Headquarter’s editor was too high, and the low of losing that job was too low. I didn’t even know how much of my work went into the edition until it came out. ALL of it went in, and the “I Remember” section was completely my work, including the idea for it. Still, I couldn’t pull out of the depression, so I did the worst thing possible. I dropped completely out of writing for ten years. I let go of writing, but writing wouldn’t let go of me, so here’s the lesson:

When the doors don’t open easily, take a crowbar! Know what you are going to say. Practice saying it out loud (in front of a mirror), and then go for it! What do you have to lose? Groom yourself properly. Dress for success. Greet the editor with a strong handshake and take him out for lunch. And by the way, don’t leave your wallet at home (like I did) and… lastly… learn when to button your lip.

Editors want to hire writers who practice tactfulness, not brazen personnel that casts their magazine in a bad light. Writing persistence and “win-win propositions” will take you far but in the end, it depends on how much guts you have.

Mr. Greenwald was one of the main stepping stones in my writing life. If not for him, I wouldn’t have founded two writing schools later. The future is exciting!! If you could only see it. Every single day, you are affecting your future… so go after it, and swing by on the way.

While you’re there, check the guidelines for the writing contest now in progress!

Continue reading The Job that Made me… and Broke Me. My Personal Story of Success and Humiliation.

Creative Writing Institute’s Annual Short Story Contest


No Entry Fee

It’s exciting! It’s titillating! Join the fun! See if you can place in the top ten in our International Short Story Contest. Winners will be published in our 2015 Anthology.

First place: a FREE writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

Second place: $50 Amazon gift card or a credit of $150 USD toward a writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

Third place: $25 Amazon gift card or a credit of $100 USD toward a writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

This is a themed contest and this exact sentence must appear in the story:

“I got more than I bargained for!”

We would like to encourage mystery stories, but the genre is open. (See   for definitions and complete Rules.)

  1. Story must be 1000 – 2000 words.
  2. No swearing, profanity, explicit sexual scenes, graphic violence, etc.
  3. Entry must not have been published before.
  4. ONE submission per person, please
  5. Accepting submissions INTERNATIONALLY from July 15, 2015 until August 15, 2015, midnight, USA Eastern Standard Time. No early or late submissions will be accepted so check your calendars.
  6. Entries will only be accepted by posting entry at
  7. As you go through the submission process, there will be a space for you to copy and paste your document.  Do NOT send attachments or emailed entries as these will NOT be accepted.

Direct your questions to Ms. Jo Popek, head judge, at

See the FULL set of directions at