About Joe Moore

#1 Amazon and international bestselling author. Co-president emeritus, International Thriller Writers.

TKZ Celebrates 12 Years!

The Kill Zone blog makes its debut on 08/08/08. We’re an exciting group of thriller and mystery authors. Stay tuned!

By Joe Moore

That announcement was made 12 years ago by a small group of professional writers with the mission to share our knowledge and talents with others. The goal was to help make everyone that visited TKZ a better storyteller and reader. The original group included its founder Kathryn Lilley along with Michelle Gagnon, John Gilstrap, John Ramsey Miller, Clare Langley-Hawthorne, and myself. Not bad for a starting team!

Twelve years is a long time for a niche blog to exist on the Internet. Twelve months is a bit more like it. Group-writer blogs have been formed by many authors; most eventually running out of things to say and falling by the wayside. But TKZ is alive and well, garnishing numerous awards including the coveted Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers 6 times.

How has TKZ prevailed? Of course, great writing tips and advice from successful authors are givens. Lots of blogs to that. We took it a step further by offering original ideas.

In 2012, we came up with the concept of First Page Critiques. Anyone can submit the first page of their manuscript anonymously. In return, they get an in-depth critique by a top-shelf author and additional feedback in the comments section of the post. And unlike other critique services, our First Page Critiques are free. You can review all the FPC at First Page Critiques.

We featured “Killer Sunday”, hosting some of the best mystery and thriller guest authors to be found including Alafair Burke, David Hewson, Cara Black, Michael Palmer, Tosca Lee, Hallie Ephron, Robin Burcell, Steve Berry, Sandra Brown, and so many other generous writers who shared their talent with our visitors.

If you’re looking for help with a particular issue, there’s TKZ Library covering topics such as Indie Publishing, Revision & Editing, and Developing Author Voice among many others.

Our list of emeritus bloggers that have been a part of TKZ team over the years is beyond impressive: John Ramsey Miller, Kathleen Pickering, Michelle Gagnon, Boyd Morrison, Jodie Renner, Nancy Cohen, Larry Brooks, Robert Gregory Browne, and Jordan Dane.

Bottom line: TKZ is the Fort Knox of writer’s information. No matter where you are in your career as a novelist, you’ll always come away with a little more knowledge than before. TKZ is a value-added resource that has been here for 12 years. Take advantage of it. And raise a toast to at least 12 more years of sharing the art of writing.

Long Distance Death

By Joe Moore

Dear friends and blogmates. Today I am retiring as a regular TKZ blogger. After 8 years of posting writing advice and tips, I have run out of things to say—you now know as much as I do about the mysterious black art of writing novels. It’s been a good run. I’m happy to announce that my friend and TKZ emeritus, John Gilstrap, will be returning to take over my slot every other Wednesday. John is a great thriller author with tons of advice and insight to share with all the Zoners out there. I wish John success and I thank all of you for the kind words over the years. Keep writing and keep coming to TKZ.


I’ve killed a lot of people. I’ve shot down a fully loaded commercial airliner, set Moscow on fire, infected thousands with an ancient retrovirus, massacred an archeological dig team in the Peruvian Andes, assassinated a Venatori agent, killed a senior cardinal along with a Vatican diplomatic delegation, murdered the British royal family, and even brought down the International Space Station. I know I’m responsible for more deaths–I just can’t remember them all.

So I confess, I’m a killer.

It’s not always easy. Some of these people I really cared about. The dig team members were likable folks except for the chief archeologist who got on my nerves. I didn’t mind seeing him bite the dust. I really grew to like the Venatori agent, but he wasn’t doing what I wanted him to do, so he “slipped in the shower”. And the British Royals? Well, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But being a killer comes with the territory when writing suspense thrillers.

In real life, death is serious. Whether it’s by natural causes or violence, it’s not to be taken lightly. If the deceased is a loved one or friend, the emotional impact can be staggering, even debilitating.

But there’s a different level of death that we all come in contact with every day that rarely causes us a second thought: Long distance death.

Several hundred passengers drown in a ferry accident off the coast of India. Thousands are trapped in an earthquake in China. Millions starve in Darfur. A Russian jet crashes and kills all on board.

Do we care? Of course we do, but unless those victims were family or friends–unless we have an emotional connection with them–we only care for as long as it takes to turn the page of the morning paper or switch channels.

In developing our main fictional characters, it’s vital that the reader care about them enough to show emotion. Whether they’re heroes or villains, the reader must love or hate them. Neutral is no good.

And that’s a problem I see all too often in books, movies and TV shows. Sometimes I just give up reading or watching because I don’t care enough to care. The characters may be interesting but they get buried in the plot (or CGI effects) to the point that it doesn’t matter to me if they win or lose, live or die. And that’s the kiss of death for a writer. The wheels come off the story and the book winds up in the ditch.

I utilize long distant deaths in my books because I write high concept thrillers that span the globe–what some have called telescope stories rather than microscope stories. I need long distance deaths to support the big threat. But when it comes to the main characters, they better be worth caring about or the wheels just might come off.

Scotty, I need more words!

By Joe Moore

Captain Kirk was always demanding more out of his Chief Engineer on Star Trek by saying, “Scotty, we need more power.” And his response was always, “But Captain, I’m doing the best I can.” Predictable and fun. But what if you’ve finished your manuscript and Scotty-Star-Trek-IV_cleanedsubmitted it to your agent or publisher, and were told you needed more words. You’re under contract to deliver a certain amount of words, and you’ve come up short. What do you do? Do you “pad” the writing—go in and add a lot of stuff just for the sake of word count. Padding usually involves “staging” or additional extraneous actions by your characters as they move around the “stage”. But doing it too much will call attention to the padding and wind up getting sliced out by your editor. Intentional padding is not the answer. But there are some legitimate ways to increase word count without bloating your story.

One suggestion is to build up your story’s “world” by conducting additional research and adding a few bits and pieces of atmosphere throughout. Let’s say your scene takes place in Miami Beach. Your character is having breakfast on the balcony of her hotel room overlooking the Atlantic. Without slowing down the story, add a few lines about the history of the hotel. Since most of the hotels on Miami Beach have been around for decades, certainly something might have happened years ago at the same local that could reflect on or be pertinent to the story’s plot or situation.

Another method is to utilize your character’s five senses. Are you making good use of them? Sitting on that balcony, your MC must be able to smell the fresh sea breeze and hear the gulls calling from overhead. Or she notices the ever-present container ships slipping along the horizon in the Gulf Stream. Could be that she can feel the film of salt coating the arms of her chair. How does her freshly squeezed OJ taste? You don’t want to use all 5 in every scene, but engaging the senses is a great way to expand the prose and take advantage of an opportunity to further develop your character.

The skill in expanding a manuscript is to do so without appearing to pad the writing. And you want to avoid going down a new rabbit hole and suddenly winding up with too many words such as introducing a new subplot. Always consider the two basic criteria for any additional words: they must either advance the plot or further develop the character. Otherwise, they don’t belong.

What about you? Have you ever come up short on contractual word count or just felt your story was too short? How did you expand the story without it becoming blotted or obviously padded?

Empathy is the Key to Emotion

By Joe Moore

If I asked you to name your all-time favorite fictional character, chances are it would be someone that you related to on a strong emotional level. It was a character you fell in love with or one that gave you night sweats, one that you cheered for or one that you cried with. It was the character’s emotions that grabbed you. You empathized with them. Why? Because you’ve felt the same real-life emotions they felt.

The dictionary defines empathy as the “ability to identify with another’s feelings.” I believe empathy is the key to creating memorable fictional characters. It’s not because they’re beautiful or handsome, fashionable or rugged, brave or risky. It’s that they have believable human emotions. Emotions that you have felt at some point in your life.

So if empathy is the key to your reader becoming attached to your characters, what is a proven method for creating emotions?

parking_cleanedLet’s say you want your character to be afraid—to experience fear. You could always just tell the reader that he or she is scared. That would mean little or nothing because not only is it telling, it paints an unclear picture in the mind of the reader. Scared could mean a 100 different things to a 100 different people. Now ask yourself what it felt like when you’ve experienced fear. Perhaps you were in a parking garage late at night. The sound of your high heels seemed as loud as hammer strikes. The shadows were darker than you remembered. You could see your car but it appeared miles away. Then you hear someone cough. But there’s no one around. You pick up the pace. Your heels become gunshots. You shift your gaze like a gazelle that sensed a stalking big cat as you hug your purse to your chest. Your pulse quickens. Breathing becomes shallow and frantic. Palms sweat cold. Legs shake. You press your key fob and your car’s lights flash but your vision blurs. You hear a strange cry escape your throat—a sound you’ve never made before. Your car is only yards away but you don’t feel like you’re getting closer. Were those your footfalls echoing off concrete walls or were they coming from the shadows? You reach for the door handle, your hand shaking, fear gripping you like a cloak of ice.

Here’s my point. It may not have been in a dark parking garage late at night but we’ve all felt it. Paralyzing, heart-stopping fear. In your story, you need to have your character feel the same. Describe it so that your reader will empathize. So that their hands will shake and their chest will tighten. Make them sweat, even if it’s only in their imagination. Approach every emotion your characters feel in the same manner. Use your life experience. How did you feel the first time you felt love, hate, jealousy, rejection. If you are honest in expressing true emotions through your characters, your reader will have empathy for them, and very possibly come to list them as their all-time favorite.

OK, Zoners. What technique do you use to impart believable emotions into your characters? How do you get your readers to feel empathy?

When in doubt, bury someone alive.

By Joe Moore

“When in doubt, bury someone alive.” Edgar Allan Poe was purported to have said this as one of his five essentials for the betterment of a story. Although it’s never been confirmed, poe_cleanedeven if he didn’t really say it, he should have. So let’s figure out what Mr. Poe might have been suggesting. My interpretation is that there is always a solution to a writing issue. And one of the biggest issues new writers (and old) have is getting stuck without an idea what to do next. Poe suggests doing something drastic.

I don’t like to use the term writer’s block because I don’t believe it exists. But like most writers, now and then I wind up in a dark room with no doors. Usually this occurs in the infamous Sagging Middle as Clare so expertly discussed on Monday. Whether the idea you thought would work doesn’t or you hope the answer will emerge from the ether, you need a way to solve the problem.

So when you get stuck, what can you do? Here are some suggestions that I’ve used. Perhaps they’ll help you, too.

  • Change your writing environment. I have a home office with a desktop PC. I also have a laptop. Sometimes I need different surroundings so I grab my laptop and move to another room or outside. Just the act of breathing fresh air can fire up your brain.
  • Listen to music. Often I write to background music, usually a movie score (no distracting lyrics). But sometimes setting down in front of my stereo and rocking out to my favorite group can clear my head and refresh my thoughts.
  • Get rid of distractions. TV, email, instant and text messages, phone calls, pets, and the biggest offender of them all: the Internet. Get rid of them during your writing time.
  • Stop writing and start reading. Take a break from your writing and read one of your favorite authors. Or better yet, pick something totally out of your wheelhouse.
  • Don’t decide to stop until you’re “inspired”. I’ve tried this. It won’t work.
  • Open a blank document and write ANYTHING. It’s called “stream of consciousness”. It worked for James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. It can work for you.
  • Write through it. Beginners sit around and hope for a solution to come to them in their dreams. Professionals keep writing. The solution will come.
  • Finally, do something drastic. Bury someone alive. Works every time.

Fellow Zoners, how do you get yourself out of a writer’s corner? What drastic measures have you taken to keep the story moving?

Co-Writing Fiction, Part 1

By Joe Moore

Sue Coletta, a good friend of TKZ, recently responded to our call for blog topics by requesting some discussion on co-writing fiction. Since there are two of us here that collaborate with others—myself with co-author Lynn Sholes, and Kris Montee with her sister Kelly Nichols (PJ Parrish), Kris and I decided to take up the task. I have switched with Kris to start the discussion today, and she will take my slot tomorrow to deliver part 2.

Between Sholes & Moore, and PJ Parrish, we have produced 24 co-written works of fiction. We hope that today’s post and tomorrow’s will shed some light on what is considered by most of our fellow authors as an impossible task.

Collaborating on fiction was started in the mainstream a number of years ago by the great Clive Cussler, and soon followed by James Patterson. Their co-writers alone could fill a fancy cocktail party. Nowadays it seems to be growing in popularity. This week’s New York Times bestselling top 20 includes THE PURSUIT by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, THE HOUSE OF SECRETS by Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg and THE EMPEROR’S REVENGE by Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison. I’ve spoken to a couple of Cussler’s co-writers about their technique which I won’t reveal here. But I can assure you, it is NOT the panster approach. I also have my theory why co-writing fiction is really catching on—increased product means increased sales. But that’s just me.

The reason co-writing fiction is looked upon as impossible is because it’s hard. In the beginning nothing exists but an idea in an individual’s imagination. It might be inspired by facts or events, but only the individual has a specific vision of those events in his or her head. So how can two people have a similar enough vision to be able to write a novel?

Lynn Sholes and I have written nine thrillers together because of the following reasons. First, we love the same kind of books—the ones we read are like the ones we write. Second, we have an unquestioning respect for each other’s writing skills and a deep belief that whatever one of us writes, the other can improve. Third, we believe that there’s always a better way to write something. Fourth, we never let our egos get in the way of a good story. This comes from spending over ten years in a weekly writers’ critique group. Fifth, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and are willing to admit them. Sixth, we agree on the same message in each book. Seventh, we believe that we are on the same level of expertise. And last, we believe that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Those points cover the mental portion. Now, how do we handle the mechanics of the job? We talk, and talk, and talk. Once a day we conference call, brainstorming and telling and retelling each other the story. Our two favorite words are: What if? Whether it’s global plot points or an individual scene or character motivation, we keep telling each other the story until that little imaginary movie in our minds becomes as in sync as possible. Then one of us will declare to have a “handle” on the scene or character or chapter, and create the first draft.

We write slowly because each chapter must go back and forth many times for revision. Years ago, when we first started, everyone could tell who wrote what as we tried to finish our first book. It took three years of hard work before we fused our voices. Now, because the process goes through so many revisions, most of the time neither of us can remember who wrote what. We rely on each other so much that we both wonder how it is possible for anyone to write a book on his own.

There are several advantages and disadvantages to collaborating. A disadvantage is that you split the money you make. So you’ll always make half of what you would as a single author. And like any relationship, there is always a chance of a falling out. And something could happen where an ego can become inflated and affect the process.

A giant plus is that we never experience writer’s block. One of us will always have an idea on how to get out of a jam or move the story forward. And unlike our family, friends, trusted beta readers, and everyone else, a co-writer has an intimate, vested interest in the success of the story that no one else could have.

We are approaching the mid-point of our tenth thriller together. We believe that the whole thing boils down to trust. Trust in each other and in the goals we both want to achieve with the story and with our careers. For us, two heads are better than one.

Here’s a list of points to consider when entering into collaboration.

Understand why you think collaboration would be beneficial and share that with your co-author. There are many reasons to collaborate on a story, and only the participants can say what these are. The ideal collaboration is one free of hidden agendas. If you desire something specific from the relationship, it’s best to state it straight out. This can avoid conflict and frustration on the part of one or both writers.

Know the co-writer and his or her work before entering into a collaborative arrangement. If you don’t get along with a writer or the two writing styles conflict, then collaboration may not be the best idea.

Come to the relationship with an open mind and flexible ideas. If you enter the project with set images and plot ideas, then you limit the other writer’s involvement. This can also lead to conflict. If your collaboration begins with something previously written, then there will be constraints, but still be flexible.

Respect your collaborator’s ideas and opinions. Leave your ego at the door. A partnership works because of input from both sides and a healthy respect for each other. There are no stupid ideas. If possible, state your biases up front so that each writer is aware of differences of opinion. For example, one of you might be opposed to first-person stories or present tense. Knowing this up front can help avoid conflicts.

Explore each writer’s strengths. If your specialty is plot and your partner’s specialty is description, then use those strengths to the story’s advantage. The ideal collaboration results in a story that neither writer could generate on his or her own.

Divide the workload and agree on it at the beginning. Perhaps one of you will write the first draft and the other will edit/revise the draft. Perhaps one will write the skeleton and the other will fill in the descriptions. There is no single method of collaboration. It is as unique as the two writers who come together to collaborate. But each writer wants to feel involved in the process.

Discuss differences of opinion and employ the art of compromise. Don’t make differences into impasses. Pose solutions with compromise as the goal. Don’t let the differences escalate into dissolution of the partnership.

Allow for an easy, clean way out. In case things don’t work out, and to avoid hard feelings, each writer should have a painless way out of the partnership. Make sure you have agreed on how to divide up the intellectual property before beginning collaboration. The escape clause should be agreed upon ahead of time.

Most important, have fun. Collaborations can and should be fun. If it is not, try something else.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of co-writing fiction with PJ Parrish.

Vonnegut’s Rule #5

By Joe Moore

A topic I’ve seen on forums and blogs is Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 rules of writing fiction. They’re worth reviewing and taking to heart. But his rule number 5 is the one that made the biggest impression on me. Rule number 5 is: Start your story as close to the end as possible. This is relevant for both the entire book and a single chapter. We often hear that the most common mistake of a new writer is starting the story in the wrong place.

Well, it happens to published writers, too. Lynn Sholes and I are guilty of drafting whole chapters that either occurred in the wrong place, or worse, weren’t even needed. Usually they turn out to be backstory information for us, not the reader. We go to the trouble of drafting a chapter only to find it’s to confirm what we need to know, not what the reader needs to know.

So if we apply Vonnegut’s rule number 5, how do we know if we’ve started close enough to the end? Easy: we must know the destination before we begin the journey. We must know the ending first.

To me, this is critical. How can we get there if we don’t know where we’re going? And once we know how our story will end, we can then apply what I call my top of the mountain technique. In my former career in the television postproduction industry, it’s called backtiming—starting at the place where something ends and working your way to the place where you want it to begin.

But before I explain top of the mountain, let’s look at the bottom of the mountain approach—the way most stories are written. You find yourself standing at the foot of an imposing mountain (the task of writing your next 100K-word novel), look up at the huge mass of what you are going to be faced with over the next 12 or so months, and wonder what it will take to get to the top (or end).

You start climbing, get tired, fall back, take a side trip, climb some more, hope inspiration strikes, get distracted, curse, fight fatigue, take the wrong route, fall again, paint yourself into a corner—and if you’re lucky, finally make it to the top. This method will work, but it’s a tough, painful way to go.

Now, let’s discuss the top of the mountain technique. As you begin to plan your book, even before you start your first draft, imagine that you’re standing on the mountain peak looking out over a grand, breathtaking view feeling invigorated, strong, and fulfilled. Imagine that the journey is over, your book is done. Look down the side of the mountain at the massive task you have just accomplished and ask yourself what series of events took place to get you to the top? Start with the last event—the grand finale— make a general note as to how you envision it. Then imagine what the second to the last event was that led up to the end, then the third from the last . . . you get the idea. It’s sort of like outlining in reverse.

This takes it a step further than Vonnegut’s rule number 5 by starting at the end and working your way to the beginning while you’re still in the planning stage. Guess what happens? By the time you’re actually at the beginning, you will have started as close to the end as possible. And you will see the logic and benefit of rule number 5.

Naturally, your plan can and probably will change. Your ending will get tweaked and reshaped as you approach it for real. But wouldn’t it be great to have a general destination in mind even from the first word on page one of your first draft?


tomb-cover-ISFor a limited time, download THE TOMB, #3 in the Maxine Decker thriller series for only 99¢.

What Happens After The First Draft

Sometimes I come across posts on writing blogs that I feel compelled to share with everyone at TKZ. One such informative post deals with what happens once you finish your first draft. With permission from its author, the great writer and teacher, Joanna Penn, here is a repost of her advice on the subject. Enjoy. – Joe Moore


Many new writers are confused about what happens after you have managed to get the first draft out of your head and onto the page.

manuscriptI joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and ended up with 27,774 words on a crime novel, the first in a new series. It’s not an entire first draft but it’s a step in the right direction and the plotting time was sorely needed.

Maybe you ‘won’ NaNo or maybe you have the first draft of another book in your drawer, but we all need to take the next step in the process in order to end up with a finished product.

Here’s my process, and I believe it’s relevant whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

(1) Rewriting and redrafting. Repeat until satisfied.

For many writers, the first draft is just the bare bones of the finished work and often no one will ever see that version of the manuscript. Remember the wise words of Anne Lamott in ‘Bird by Bird‘ “Write shitty first drafts.” You can’t edit a blank page but once those words are down, you can improve on them. [More books for writers here.]

editing arkane

I love the rewriting and redrafting process. Once I have a first draft I print the whole thing out and do the first pass with handwritten notes. I write all kinds of notes in the margins and scribble and cross things out. I note down new scenes that need writing, continuity issues, problems with characters and much more. That first pass usually takes a while. Then I go back and start a major rewrite based on those notes.

After that’s done, I will print again and repeat the process, but that usually results in fewer changes. Then I edit on the Kindle for word choice. I add all the changes back into Scrivener which is my #1 writing and publishing tool.

(2) Structural edit/ Editorial review

I absolutely recommend a structural edit if this is your first book, or the first book in a series. A structural edit is usually given to you as a separate document, broken down into sections based on what is being evaluated. You can find a list of editors here.

I had a structural edit for Stone of Fire (previously Pentecost) in 2010 and reported back on that experience here. As the other ARKANE novels follow a similar formula, I didn’t get structural edits for Crypt of Bone and Ark of Blood. However, I will be getting one for the new crime novel when it is ready because it is a different type of book for me.

Here’s how to vet an independent editor if you are considering one.

(3) Revisions

When you get a structural edit back, there are usually lots of revisions to do, possibly even a complete rewrite. This may take a while …

(4) Beta readers

Beta readers are a trusted group of people who evaluate your book from a reader’s perspective. You should only give them the book if you are happy with it yourself because otherwise it is disrespectful of their time.

This could be a critique group, although I prefer a hand-picked group of 5 or 6 who bring different perspectives. I definitely have a couple of people who love the genre I am writing in as they will spot issues within the boundaries of what is expected, and then some people who consider other things.

My main rule with beta readers is to make changes if more than one person says the same thing. Click here for more on beta readers.

(5) Line edits

Editors Notes ExodusLine editor’s notes for Exodus

The result of line editing is the classic manuscript covered in red ink as an editor slashes your work to pieces!

You can get one of these edits before or after the beta readers, or even at the same time. I prefer afterwards as I make broader changes of the book based on their opinions so I want the line editor to get the almost final version.

Line edits are more about word choice, grammar and sentence structure. There may also be comments about the narrative itself but this is a more a comment on the reading experience by someone who is skilled at being critical around words.

The first time you get such a line edit, it hurts. You think you’re a writer and then someone changes practically every sentence. Ouch.

But editing makes your book stronger, and the reader will thank you for it. [You can find a list of editors here.]

(6) Revisions
You’ll need to make more changes based on the feedback of the beta readers and line editor. This can sometimes feel like a complete rewrite and takes a lot of detailed time as you have to check every sentence.

I usually make around 75% of the changes suggested by the line editor, as they are usually sensible, even though I am resistant at first. It is important to remember that you don’t have to change what they ask for though, so evaluate each suggestion but with a critical eye.

(7) Proof-reading

By this point, you cannot even see any mistakes you might have made. Inevitably, your corrections for line editing have exposed more issues, albeit minor ones.

So before I publish now, I get a final read-through from a proof-reader. (Thanks Liz atLibroEditing!) After Crypt of Bone was published, I even got an email from a reader saying congratulations because they had failed to find a single typo. Some readers really do care, for which I am grateful and that extra investment at the end can definitely pay off in terms of polishing the final product.

(8) Publication

Once I have corrected anything minor the proof-reading has brought to light, I will Compile the various file formats on Scrivener for the ebook publishing platforms. I will then back the files up a number of times, as I have done throughout the whole process.

(9) Post-publication

This may be anathema to some, but the beauty of ebook publishing is that you can update your files later. If someone finds a typo, no problem. If you want to update the back matter with your author website and mailing list details, no worries. If you want to rewrite the whole book, you can do that too (although some sites have stricter rules than Amazon around what is considered a new version.)

time and moneyBudget: Time and money

Every writer is different, and there are no rules.

But in terms of time, your revision process will likely take at least as long as the first draft and probably longer (unless you’re Lee Child who just writes one draft!). For my latest book, Exodus, the first draft took about 3 months and the rewriting process took about 6 months.

In terms of money, I would budget between $500 – $2000 depending on what level of editing you’re looking for, and how many rounds. You can find some editors I have interviewed as well as their prices here.

I believe editing at all these different stages is important, because it is our responsibility to make sure our books are the best they can be. But if you can’t afford professional editing, then consider using a critique group locally or online. The more eyes on the book before it goes out into the world, the better.

What’s your editing process? Do you have a similar approach or something completely different?


Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers (as J.F.Penn) and non-fiction, a professional speaker and award-winning entrepreneur. Her site, TheCreativePenn is regularly voted one of the Top 10 sites for writers. Connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn

Zoning in the Zone

By Joe Moore

Someone once asked: “I’ve heard writers talk of being ‘in the zone’ regarding their writing, which I take to mean being in an altered state of extreme creativity. But how, without drugs or other stimulus, do they get into that state?”

In fact, we hear the term in the zone used often, not only with writers, but athletes, artists, and just about any activity that requires skill, creativity and especially concentration.

So what is “the zone” and how do we enter it? Why is it so hard to remain there for extended periods of time?

zone_cleanedBeing in the zone can last for a few minutes, a couple of hours or a whole day. For those that never seem to enter the zone, it might be because they try too hard to do so. Sort of like when we stop trying to solve a problem, the solution suddenly comes to us through our subconscious—what Jim Bell calls the boys in the basement.

Let’s try to define what being in the zone means, especially when it relates to writing. For me, it’s a mental state where time seems to disappear and my productivity greatly exceeds normal output. It might start after I’ve finished lunch and sat down at my PC to work on a new chapter. Without any feeling of the passage of time, I suddenly realize a couple of hours have gone by and I’ve produced 1000 words or more. I don’t remember the passage of time or anything that deals with my surroundings. I only remember “living” or becoming immersed in the story’s moment, having the words flow from a deeper source, and “awakening” from the writing zone as if only a few moments have passed.

I’ve never been hypnotized, but I can assume that being in the zone is somewhat like self-hypnosis. My body remains in the here-and-now, but my creative senses somehow find a hidden room inside my mind, a place normally under lock and key. And I’m able to enter it for a short time to let what’s there emerge into the light of day.

It can also feel like driving down the Interstate on a long trip deep in thought and suddenly realize I can’t remember the past few miles.

I’ve also never been athletic, but I bet it’s a similar scenario: a pro golfer is able to tune out the surrounding crowd of tournament spectators, the dozens of network cameras, the worldwide audience, the cheers from the distant gallery as his opponents make a great putt, and he’s able to enter a place where only his game stretches out before him. The rest slips by in a blur. Personal mind control.

So what is a good method for getting into the zone? Some writers use the “running start” technique by reading the previous day’s work or chapter. It gets them back into the story and hopefully the new words start to flow.

Others listen to music. This is something I often do. Nothing with lyrics, though. I listen to movie scores or piano and guitar solos. I find that it can help set a mood or become background “white noise” that blocks out other audible distractions. That’s because, for me, the biggest obstacle is distractions. It’s important to reduce interruptions and distractions by creating an environment where they are minimized. This means shutting my home office door, closing the drapes on the windows, unplugging the phone, disconnecting Internet access, and most of all, choosing a time to write when those things can be fully managed. Doing away with distractions is no guarantee that I will enter the zone at will, but it does give me a fighting chance to at least knock on the door to one of those dark, hidden rooms upstairs and let my story flow out.

So, my fellow zoners, have you ever entered the zone? Do you have a secret method that you’ll share with us?

Lisa Black On Writing

Today I welcome back to TKZ my friend and fellow ITW member, Lisa Black. I’ve asked Lisa to share her writing techniques with us. Enjoy! – Joe Moore


L BlackI don’t know why we never get tired of hearing about another author’s writing habits, whether we’re looking for that one trick that will make our lives so much easier, or if it’s the voyeuristic thrill of seeing how someone else washes their dishes or packs their suitcase (“You do what? Seriously?”)

At any rate, here is mine:

I am a plotter, not a pantser, so before I start writing at all I have to know how the book begins, how it ends, and the major incidents which will take place. These points begin as amorphous thoughts rattling around in my skull for a day or a few years or a lifetime. I write a series, thus my character tends to be the same—a female forensic scientist in Cleveland, Ohio—so the rest of the book might stem from a new character, a puzzle, an incident or, in one case, simply a snarky comment I wanted my character to make. Most often I start with a building, something visual and brooding and a little intimidating—a skyscraper under construction, a wind-swept observation deck, the opulent and historic Federal Reserve building.

Then a theme: what am I going to be talking about? What new world is my character going to explore? I’ll research, looking for ideas, and come up with things I want to have happen. Then I have to think of links that tie those things together, what carries my character from one to the next.

Eventually I’ll have enough for an outline. It won’t look like an outline, more like a freestyle poem.

This happens
Then this happens
Then this happens and my heroine really doesn’t like it
Then this happens

And penciled in between the second and third line will be scribbled addendums such as “oh wait, this happens too.”

Then I’m ready to start writing.

I have always been obsessed with word count, so I set a daily goal—whatever works for you, whether it’s 100 words or 3,000. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment each day without overtaxing yourself. I’ve done 1,000 words/day, 2,000 words/day 5 days/week, lately I’ve been doing 1000 words/day on the days I work and 2,000 words/day on the days I don’t. I used to write the total down every day so I knew how far I had to write the next day, but for the past few books I’ve made it easy on myself and kept it at a round number. If I write extra on one day, that’s a few less words I have to write on the next. I don’t rewrite until I’m completely done, except for minor fixes or things that I’m afraid I won’t remember if I don’t do them right away. Then I keep going until I have a full length completed first draft, minus vacations and major holidays…I’m not a total slave driver.

(I never take writing on vacation with me. I won’t want to do it, won’t do it, and then feel guilty all week because I’m not doing it. If I don’t take it along, conflict resolved.)

A schedule may not work for you, but unless your system totally rebels, I strongly suggest it. The most important factor is that writing becomes, like death, taxes and aerobics class, not optional. There are authors who write when inspiration strikes, who will then hole themselves up in their room and write for 16 hour days, but they seem to be the minority.

Since I started out writing at (she whispered) work, I’m not fussy about where or when I write. I prefer to write at home when my husband is at work and the house is quiet, but the disadvantage to writing at home is that there are so many opportunities for procrastination—laundry, bill paying, the newspaper, chocolate…. Sometimes it’s better to have laptop and will travel. I have written in restaurants, witness waiting rooms at the courthouse, next to a sleeping hospice patient while the caregiver gets a few hours off, and, of course (she whispered) at work.

When I finish the first draft, I take myself out to lunch and take a few days off before starting the second draft. According to industry wisdom I should put it in a drawer for six months and then rewrite, but who has that kind of time? When that is done I’ll send it to my sisters to read, and then do a third draft before sending it to my agent and biting my nails lest she say “This stinks. Throw it out and write something else.” Which has happened.

revisionsBy this point I’m sick to death of the thing and never want to see it again, but have to deal with whatever changes my agent suggests, and then, when I’m really sick of it and provided she doesn’t say ‘throw it out’, I go through the same kind of round with my editor.

When I’m not writing a book, I don’t write—other than personal letters, which I send out constantly and obsessively (my friends and relatives know much more about the minutia of my life than they care to). I don’t write short stories or blog posts or novellas. I wish I did, but my brain just doesn’t work like that. At this moment I haven’t written a thing in nine months and it’s starting to freak me out.

That’s my system. It seems to work for me. If it sounds great to you feel free to adopt it. If it sounds bizarre than keep doing whatever you’re doing. There are as many different writing styles as there are writers.

And that’s a good thing.

that darkness coverPlease share your writing method with us.

Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.