Friday, December 1, 2023

2023 - December - Christmas Greeting Cards


As a writer, have you ever thought about the greeting card market? Here are a few statistics that I found interesting:

Revenue forecast for all greeting cards in 2023 is estimated at over 20 billion dollars. 

The traditional card segment accounted for 75.76% in 2022

The e-Card greeting cards segment is expected to grow at 4.2% during the forecast period from 2023-2030

According to the facts from the Greeting Card Association, Americans purchase an estimated 6.5 billion greeting cards each year

The average spending on greeting cards in the US is $29 per year.

                                           Source: Greeting Cards Market Size, Share & Trends Report 2023, Grand View Research

Another statistic is that the average greeting card writer in the US earns $22.53 per hour. 

Then there are the independent crafters who make and sell their own greeting cards. Although I don't sell my greeting cards, I use my computer to generate the cards I make cards for my friends' and relatives' birthdays and the major holidays. I use my own photographs of flowers and scenery on the cover of the cards. I customize the words inside for the recipient. Although most of the time, I make up the inside greeting, sometimes I use quotes from famous people.

For you, my blog followers and readers, I send good wishes for your holiday season and — 

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Wednesday, November 1, 2023

2023 - November - NaNoWriMo – NoNotMe


I am in the minority when it comes to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

I don't do it. I don't even recommend it. Why? For a few reasons.

The biggest reason I don't participate is that I am a binge writer. I'm also a plotter. When I've got a story outlined in the broad brush strokes of characters and plot, I look at my calendar and see what whole days are completely free to sit at my keyboard and write that story. Most of the time, I write that new story all day (six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve hours worth). Even on days where my schedule is free half a day, I put in a few hours. That story is my top priority, and I do complete the story.

Look at the NaNoWriMo breakdown— 50,000 words divided by 30 days equals 1,666 words per day. How can anyone write all day, every single day in November? What about voting in the elections? What about Veteran's Day and its parades? What about Thanksgiving Day? A funeral? 

For the curious, I do take days off for holidays, doctor appointments, go grocery shopping, attend my embroidery and craft guilds, do sewing, do the newsletter for my medieval group, visit friends, deal with family, celebrate holidays, and handle life's little hiccups and emergencies. Being retired isn't as easy as it sounds.

I was very surprised when I googled and discovered that only 10% to 15% of those taking part in NaNoWriMo actually complete their 50,000 words. Okay, so 50,000 words is the baseline for a novel, but most marketable novels are 80,000 to 100,000 words. When does a NaNoWriMo writer finish the other 30,000 to 50,000 words?

Not doing NaNoWriMo also means I am not under duress and suffering the feeling of being bullied by fellow writers egging each other on to make daily quotas or seeking kudos for achieving word counts. Truth is, I don't need reminders or a cheering section to keep me writing. The story I need to tell is driving me nuts to get it onto the page.

I also like to write as cleanly as possible, which saves on the self-editing and polishing time. For those doing NaNoWriMo, making word counts means speed typing and that proofreading goes by the wayside. And, as the saying goes, one error drags in its wake a thousand errors. Drafts become riddled with typos. Then there are the errors of grammar, syntax, diction, and logic. The plot strays, the characters go off on tangents, and more. No wonder fixing all those errors becomes a nightmare of a turn-off to self-editing for publication.

Be assured, I am not against NaNoWriMo or those that do it. To each their own. However, my curiosity being what it is, I was disappointed when googling anti-NaNoWriMo that I didn't discover a group of anti-NaNoWriMo'ers. Not that I'd join such a group, mind you, but it would be nice to know that I am not solely in the minority-minority.

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Sunday, October 1, 2023

2023 - October - What Scares Writers

Don't miss out on this Mini-Conference for Writers!

 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM 
525 West 38th Street, Erie, PA  16506

      I'll be giving two workshops at this mini-conference. One is on timelines and the other workshop is about achieving rhythm and cadence in your writing. See you at the conference!! 
                                                                 Catherine E. McLean



This being October, the autumn of the year, and the frightful season of Halloween, let's talk about the three top things that scare a writer.

Number One is Writer's Block, the blank page syndrome, the not-knowing-what-to-write-about.

Since my imagination keeps coming up with new stuff all the time, I have never suffered Writer's Block. Back in 2008, on this blog, I did suffer Blogger's Block, but that wasn't quite the same thing —  and I've not had Blogger's Block since. I have also given writing workshops on how to find ideas to write about (I still offer Ideas for stories - 32 ways to find them as a free Writers Cheat Sheet).

Number Two is Fear of Failure. 

The statistics are bleak— 99% of submitted work to editors and publishers is rejected. Worse, daily publishes 7,500 new eBooks and only 1% make up the cream of the crop. Depressing is that a writer's work must competes with the 12 million that offers. It takes courage, fortitude, skill as a writer and storyteller, and luck to achieve high rankings.

Number Three is Lack of Time to Write. 

Excuses abound why writers don't write. Cited are the lack of time due to making a living,  commitments to family, children, friends, church, organizations, etc. and more. Trite as it seems, it boils down to that old adage of where there is a will, there is a way. Again, it takes courage to make writing a priority. If writing is to be a priority, strive to carve out a writing time and write.

Are there other fears?

Sure. So, which of the above scares you as a writer? Or is it something else and what is it?

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Friday, September 1, 2023

2023 - September - Developing Your Writer's Voice

To quote author James N. Frey: Having a strong voice is as important to you as a writer as knowing your craft.

Oddly enough, the beginning writer may strive to have a strong narrative voice but fail because they don't actually hear the voice that's on the page.

Why don't they hear "the narrative voice?" Because they've been taught to put facts down in a coherent manner and to use proper English diction, grammar, and punctuation. Simple but effective communication, but writing fiction is about emotions generated by a voice that resonates in a reader's mind. That voice will not be the reader's own voice but the actual voice of the narrator or multiple narrators.

Somewhere in my writer's journey, I came across the adage that it takes a million words to discover one's voice. Okay, so there are a few authors who have no problem putting a voice onto the page from the get-go. Unfortunately, the majority of writers will struggle writing those million words, and more, to find that unique voice of a narrator or narrating character and not achieve it. In my opinion, the failure lies in an inability to listen to how others speak and how the very words and the word order those speakers use nets their unique voice.

Another problem with voice is that the characters narrating the story may all sound alike because their voices are that of the writer.

I skipped half a million words getting to voice because I was a secretary who took dictation from many different bosses over the years. I not only put shorthand onto a page of what my bosses said, I also had to transcribe my squiggles. Then came the day one of my bosses said, write a letter telling XYZ the shipment will be delayed. Suddenly, I had to create the boss's voice. That turned out not to be a problem because I had listened to his voice for months. 

When I became a writer, I basically took dictation from my characters and that netted me their voices.

Here's a way to improve your ability to write character voices—  turn off the visual picture on your TV movie and listen to the characters talk. Really listen. You could even pick a TV or movie character that is similar to the one in your story and play the movie several times, intently listening to that particular character's speech pattern. 

Next, write a few pages of your story character's dialogue and narration. Then ask your writing group or partner if the voice coming off the page sounds like the character and not your voice. 

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Screenwriting and Playwriting 101 with author Stephen M. T. Greene, on September 16, from 1-4 p.m. at the Cochranton Area Public Library, Cochranton PA. Free and open to the public. Hosted by Shenango Valley Pennwriters-Craftmasters, part of Flyer/information: 
Permission is given to forward and post on social media. Please tell others about this in-person event.

Monday, August 14, 2023

2023 June-July-August ? What happened

 This is August 14 and I just discovered that my posts to this blog for June, July, and August were not published. I'm working to figure out what happened and hope to be posting again for September 1.

There's nothing like computer glitches . . .  (sigh).

Catherine E. McLean

Monday, May 1, 2023

2023 - May - Blueprint to Story


New writers are seldom aware that a developed short story and a novel, no matter the genre, have a basic structure. That basic story blueprint is "The Hero's Journey" which is also considered "The Character's Journey" and "The Writer's Journey."

This basic pattern is what readers enjoy the most. And, yes, this pattern deals with the power of myth in storytelling. Another way of looking at this blueprint is the 3-Act-Play structure. After all, plays came before novels.

The basic story structure, be it called myth-based or 3-Acts has a sequence. The first sequence is the beginning, which is about an interesting character (the protagonist) in an interesting setting (their ordinary world as they know it) and a problem that is either the story's main issue or a scene where a problem is made known and which will lead to the main issue. Keep in mind that a story is about one person's journey, one person facing danger, and only that one person solving the problem at the end of the story.

The second sequence is the "Inciting Incident." This is the point where the protagonist's life will forevermore change because they have come face-to-face with the story problem and must act or there will be consequences. The Inciting Incident is also where the protagonist enters the very scary, unknown new world of dangers and uncertainties.

Next is the middle of the story where, by trial and error, the protagonist tries to solve the problem and fails until they finally understand what it will take to ultimately solve the problem.

Then comes the confrontation, the climax, the do-or-die finale. The protagonist wins, loses, or it's a draw and the problem is solved or resolved.

Some writers ignore story structure thinking that their subconscious, their muse, will create a block-buster novel. In reality, it's important to keep in mind the technical side—the blueprint that underlies a marketable story, a story readers will remember and tell others about.

Here's the thing, a reader doesn't realize there is a structure, but the writer knows it and employs it for the reader's benefit.

If you'd like a recommendation of a book or books on the subject of story structure, let me know in an email to

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Saturday, April 1, 2023

2023 - April - Poetry in your writing?

 April is National Poetry Month. Thirty-one days to investigate and celebrate a type of prose that can enhance fiction and nonfiction. 

With poetry in mind, take a look at this website:

And, in honor of National Poetry Month, I have a challenge for you writers. Go to your WIP (Work in Progress). Find a few long descriptive passages. Turn one or more of them into something succinctly poetic, yet in keeping with the POV-Viewpoint of the narration.

Need an example? How about this improved woodland description from one of my WIPs:

By mid-day, the icy wind lost its breath. The stillness slipped unhindered about the half-naked oaks. My shuffling footsteps now muffled by the feathery, ankle-deep snow . . . 

Poets see things in a different way and condense images into a conciseness that is often envied.

Poetic turns-of-phrases, too, enhance a story. Readers like finding such "little gems."

If you take the challenge, share your findings or share one of your rewrites. You have 31 days to play poet with your words.

Happy Poetry Month!

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

2023 - March - I not I ?

 Over the years, I've addressed aspects of POV-Viewpoint, which are two different things. POV is the who and Viewpoint is the how of a narrator telling the story. This month, let's look at an aspect of the "I" narrator.

Some writers think using the first person "I" narration is better than the other POV-Viewpoint techniques. Trouble is, new writers inadvertently confuse who the "I" narrator really is because there can be two different "I" personalities on the page.

The first "I" is the writer. The second "I" is the story's narrator. When the writer hits the page, it usually becomes an Author Intrusion—which is to be avoided because readers hate them. There are different types of Author Intrusions. The blatant ones go something like, "little did she know what awaited her tomorrow."

Anther blatant type is to get historic facts wrong, like a writer stating Genghis Khan as a ruler when the story was set years after his death and the correct name should have been Kublai Khan.

The more subtle Author Intrusions are harder to locate. These include characters not acting like they should. An example would be a drugged victim speaking with clarity or a street-wise kid spouting Ivy-league words or using their diction or syntax are those of the writer.

The worst kind of Author Intrusion is the writer turning a character into their personal crusader. Yes, a character can be profoundly prejudicial, bigoted, and on a crusade of their own. When the writer steps in and takes over the narrative from the character to expound on a virtue or vice dear to the author's heart, that's what will turn off the reader.

So, is there a way to spot or avoid Author Intrusions and catch those substitutions of the I of the narrator versus the I of the writer? Here are two:

1) Do not edit as you write. Once a draft is done, let it set, step away from the story and characters. Come back to the draft and listen for the voice of the narrator coming off the page. Does it sound like the character or is it different—like the writer's voice? Of course, all depends on the writer's ability to hear the voices coming off the page and to distinguish their own voice from the characters.

2) Know your characters. Some writers use character sketches, character questionnaires, character worksheet on which to delve deep into their characters back story, their personalities, likes, dislikes, prejudices, their moral fiber, their mannerisms, their speech patterns, their motivations, and more. Other writers draft text and, in the revision process, they self-edit. They may also depend on critique partners or groups and beta readers to spot and fix Author Intrusions.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

2023 - February - How-To Books

How-To Books 

If you're writing for yourself, no one will see or care how you write or use words or string sentences along. It's when the goal is to write a story that someone else will rave about or pay money for that the writer must look at what story is and how the patterns of prose and story engage the mind of another person.

The secret to a great story is that they are written and ruthlessly edited so that the words create a movie in the reader's mind.

There's nothing new about the craft of storytelling or the patterns of plot. To write quality stories requires learning those worthwhile story techniques and devices that have been handed down for centuries.

Every day writers go online and read blogs or listen to podcasts on the various aspects of writing. Trouble is, those are only quickie overviews. If a writer is serious about learning to write well and tell a story well, they invariable turn to the proven how-to books that teach a technique, device, or aspect of fiction or nonfiction.

I always advocate that a writer who wants the low-down on a particular aspect of storytelling to get at least three books on the subject, read each, take notes, study examples, and do any exercises those books recommend. And, no, I do not advocate buying the books. I recommend borrowing them from a local library. If one or all three (or more) books prove valuable, then spend the money to own the book and make it your bible. After all, such a book's author is your writing mentor.

I've said it before and I'll say it again—talent will take a writer only so far, it is craft that enhances talent and liberates creativity. Check out the shelves of your local library and consider using the Library Loan System to advantage and write the stories of your heart.

P.S. If you need a book recommendation on a technique or device, let me know.

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Sunday, January 8, 2023

2023 - January - Looking back, Looking Forward


I began this Writers Cheat Sheet Blog fifteen years ago. That's a lot of years, a lot of blog posts, and a helluva lot of words committed to the subject of writing well and telling a story well.

Fifteen years ago, writers were keen to learn the craft of telling good stories and writing using proven techniques for engaging the reader. They waited until they masters the techniques and devices of storytelling.

Not so since and the digital age of self-publishing-and-get-rich. The Internet abounds with quickie information on how to write the novel or short story, fiction or nonfiction, and be an author–and do it in thirty days or even ten weeks. Truth is, it takes years to achieve quality writing and quality storytelling because there is so much to learn about story, about characterizations, about plot.

Yes, templates and computer programs abound to make the story writing quick and simple. But writing is not simple. Telling a story that another person can see as a movie in their mind isn't easy— it's downright hard. 

Getting a story seen is ten times more difficult in today's ultra-flooded marketplace. It's still true now as back in 2007— it seems everyone thinks they can write The Great American Novel. And they write one and self-publish. 

I'm not down on the self-publishing, just on the glut of poor quality and draft reads that are out there. Over the holidays, I spent hours looking for a book to read and finding none I could read from beginning to end. Most I stopped after the first chapter. One I was 60% through when the plot went off on a tangent.

Of course, writing successful, marketable stories takes time and know-how. It requires a commitment to learn craft, to strive to write well and to strive to tell a story well. It's climbing the ladder one rung at a time. There are no swift elevators to the top or to success.

So, as the new year gets underway, it's that time of year to set down, in writing, the New Year's Resolutions. After all, as your desire is, so should be your deed. 

Why write down goals? Because writing the down, committing them to paper is a commitment to giving the writing priority. Writing down goals is one big step in making goals concrete. Writing down goals becomes a contract with the subconscious that shouts "I INTEND TO SUCCEED."

As you aspire to become the author you plan to become, what goals will you strive for that are realistic and achievable in 2023? 

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