Guest Post by Jo Parfitt!

Five rules for Writing Life Story
by Jo Parfitt

I have written 26 books, worked as a features journalist, written columns, a blog, memoir, fiction and non-fiction and I cannot think of many writing genres where there is no need to write life story.

If you write a self-help book, for example, such as a book that inspires others to find their passion, start a bed and breakfast, move to France, beat smoking or whatever, then the facts and information you include will be enhanced by the addition of case studies about others who have done the same thing as well as stories from your own life.

manuscript pic

Columns are personal pieces and focus on the things that happen to you, the writer, as well as the lessons you may have learned or the insights you had along the way.

A blog, like a column, very often will focus on the things that happen, to you, the writer.

It goes without saying that a memoir is filled with incidents that happened to you. In fact many claim that a memoir is made up of a collection of your stories that are connected by a ‘red thread’ or common theme.

And fiction, of course, is filled with stories, inspired by real life, with plausible characters, emotions and incidents. Writing your own life stories can be the perfect warm up for writing compelling fiction.

So, have I convinced you that everyone needs to write life story?

The good news is, that like many forms of writing, there are a few rules to follow. And once you follow those rules you will find it much easier to feel confident about what you are writing. Here they are:

Five rules for writing life story

  1. Write about incidents, things that happen.
  2. Set the scene. Let the reader be able to picture the location your story takes place. Add specific details – don’t say ‘it was beautiful’ or ‘there were lots of trees’ – name the trees, describe what you saw.
  3. Put people in your stories, people with character and who move and talk. Let the reader ‘meet’ those people and feel he can picture them and hear them speak.
  4. The best writing comes from a place of pain. Be vulnerable. Be honest and share your emotions.
  5. Show, rather than tell. Avoid tell the whole incident in reported speech. Instead of: he told me he had borrowed his friend’s bicycle, for a few days write “Hey, Dad, come outside and take a look at my new Raleigh!” Will exclaimed, hopping madly from one foot to the other, so that his straight brown hair bounced up and down. “It’s bright red and Harry just lent it to me for the whole weekend.”

I believe that applying these rules will ensure your stories are interesting, not just to your own immediate family and friends, but to complete strangers. The best life story writing should be written like fiction, with plot, pace and believable characters. If you think you are the kind of person, like Cherry Denman, author of her recent memoir Diplomatic Incidents (UK Edition) (John Murray), who is “happening-prone,” then do your happenings justice by following the five rules for writing life story, above.

In May 2010 Jo Parfitt launched a home study program, comprised of video, audio and workbook, based on her popular Write Your Life Stories workshops. Find out more at

Have You Gotten A Spoofed AW Domain Email?

I’ve posted a warning on the forums, and I wanted to give you guys, here, a heads-up as well.

If you get this email, pretending to be from, it’s NOT from us. It’s a phishing scam spoofing an AW email address. Do NOT download anything. Do NOT open the attached file.

I’ve gotten dozens of different versions of this, yesterday and today:

Re: account notification

Dear Customer,

This e-mail was send by to notify you that we have temporanly prevented access to your account.

We have reasons to beleive that your account may have been accessed by someone else. Please run attached file and Follow instructions.


For the record, we will NEVER ask you to download anything, and we will NEVER ask for a password or login information.

Also, my spelling is generally at least a little better than that.

Friday Linkage

Just a couple of things I wanted to point to, before I go play hooky in the sunshine for the rest of the day.

It’s day two of the auction to raise flood relief funds for Nashville, over at Do The Write Thing. Agents, editors, and top professional writers have donated manuscript critiques, tee shirts, consulting phone calls, signed books, and other swag to help raise funds for Nashville.

Do the Write Thing
Writers pitching in for Nashville

If you’ve been wanting to help, not sure how or where to participate, or even if you just want to throw your support behind this amazing community of writers, stop in over there and take a look at all the stuff up for auction. This is a great opportunity to make some friends, meet some other writerly types, and Do the Write Thing for Nashville.

Meanwhile, YA writer Corrine Jackson posted an interview with yours truly over on her blog, where we explore some of the obscure and funny details of what it’s like to run Absolute Write and AW’s Writers Forum. It was great fun to get to visit with Cory, so you should stop over and tell her hello!

Finally, if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you might consider the Write to Publish open house event in Portland, Oregon, where Chuck Palahniuk and Ursula K. Le Guin will be talking about writing and publishing on May 23rd.

Just A Reminder

If you’ve been thinking about attending the Backspace Writers Conference, they’ve got a very few spaces left—you’ll want to secure your spot ASAP. The Agent/Author Seminar is May 27, 2010, and the Writers Conference runs May 28-29, 2010, at NYC’s Radisson Martinique on 32nd and Broadway.

If you’re thinking about it but still dithering, you might consider browsing their FAQ to see whether or not this is a good fit for your current writing level, goals, and needs. Or take a look at some of the scheduled events, and the list of agents attending the May Backspace Writers Conference.

The Backspace Writers Conference is one of the handful of events I’d recommend without hesitation to anyone who has reached that writing level where they’re ready to take that next important networking step.

Talking Shop

One of the best things about the Internet is the expanded opportunity to find a community of people who share your interests, to whom you can relate.

After you find such a community, there are a couple of challenges to keep yourself in balance. First, you have to figure out how not to spend all your waking moments online. Second, you have to keep stretching, reading beyond your comfort zone, and interacting in situations where you might not always be entirely comfortable. There are a number of reasons to push yourself that way, not the least of which is that you keep learning, and broadening your own perspective and understanding, and polishing your communication skills and your ear for language. That can help make you a better writer.

To that end, here are some of the terrific places I’ve been browsing this week, offered to you as options to visit, read, comment, interact, and learn:

And finally, YA writer Emilia Plater posts a charming send-up of a bunch of agents and YA buddies, on Punk Writer Kid:

Selling First Novels

Hello, AWers! Sorry about the long silence. I’ve been a bit buried, and didn’t even realize it had been so very long since the last post. Here are some of this week’s stories, interviews, and trends in the writing and publishing world that I think might interest you. I’d initially thought to do a generic links round-up, but then belatedly realized that all the links I wanted to share have to do with getting an agent, and ultimately selling that first novel to a commercial publisher.

One of my favorite new blogs to follow is OPWFT, a group blog run by denizens of the Old People Writing For Teens thread on the AW Forums. Here’s a terrific round-up of what NOT to do in your query, collected peeves from lots of different literary agents.

Speaking of blogs for writers of Young Adult fiction, YA Highway just posted Kody Keplinger’s interview with  agent Kathleen Ortiz (@KOrtizzle on Twitter.) Kody chats with Kathleen all about the road to becoming an agent, hot trends, how much they both love slush, and what Kathleen would most love to see in her submissions pile:

KATHLEEN: I’m open to all types, from dark and ‘edgy’ (sorry Kirsten) to light and funny. What would I love to find? If a well-written romance with the male point of view and a great voice fell into my lap, I think I’d record a YouTube video of my very embarrassing happy dance. I’d also love to find both a creepy YA thriller that makes me not want to sleep when I’m done (then I know you’ve done your job as a writer) and a steampunk with fantastic world building. As far as chapter books/middle grade goes, I’m all about finding the next RAMONA or MANIAC MAGEE.

And I don’t know how on earth I missed this interview back in October, but Realm Lovejoy’s interview with Kody Keplinger at The Blog Realm is another one of the best writing-related interviews I’ve read in a long time.

I have a huge soft spot for excellent YA novels, anyway, ever since devouring all the S.E. Hinton novels I could find, as a tween. So I’ve been watching with mingled delight and admiration as the current YA Renaissance builds steam. There’s an exciting smorgasbord of books for young readers, written by people who’ve managed to capture that lighting-on-a-keychain feeling so unique to young adults.

I’m very much looking forward to reading Kody’s first novel, The Duff, when it’s released, in September. Kody blogs, too—just be warned there’s embedded music on her blog, if you’re browsing from the office or have your sound turned way up. You can find her on Twitter, @kody_keplinger. She’s asked for reader input about the ARC cover (posted above) to help her publisher, Little, Brown/Poppy, evaluate the design for the final HC version. Comment there, not here, about the cover, though!

Congratulations to AW’s own Houndrat (Debra) who just landed an agent! You can read what it’s like to get that phone call, and a bit about her journey as a writer to reach this point, all on her blog at

Me: *ponders, tells herself not to say something stupid. Says something stupid anyway* But, are you sure?

So the next time someone tells you that first-time novelists don’t get agents unless they’ve already got an offer? You know where to send ’em. Debra is writing about characterization, this week, by the way:

Characters need to have layers, and almost more importantly for me—they need to have flaws. I’m sorry, but being that I’m about a bazillion degrees away from perfect myself (shocking, I know), it’s really hard for me to relate to flawless characters. You know, the ones that are beautiful, rich, have superpowers, get the guy, and gosh darn it, are just flat-out nice. All. The. Time.

And finally, Jim Hines has collected a lot of deeply interesting information from over 200 writers about first novel sales, and he’s posted part one of the survey results.

For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more. This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers. No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.

You should definitely go take a look at the results he’s posted.

Until next time, AWers, write like your life depends on it; and live like the writing depends on it.

Requiescat In Pace, Dick Francis

Dick Francis
Mystery novelist Dick Francis

I’m very sad to announce that British mystery writer Dick Francis, 89, has died.

Mr. Francis wrote the first mystery novel for adults I ever read. I was a child who was too grown-up for my chronological age, but I loved horses passionately. I’d read all the Walter Farley books, Black Beauty, and pretty much any other book about horses you can think of. If a book even hinted that it might mention horses, I’d read it. I was also at that in-between age; I was reading widely, but had only just recently made the jump to reading both fiction and nonfiction written for an adult audience.
Whip Hand

So when a book-loving neighbor gave me a copy of Whip Hand, it was like discovering a kindred soul. People wrote books for horse-crazy grown-ups, too! I’ve happily read my way through an awful lot of Dick Francis horse mysteries, in the years since.

Mr. Francis was a renowned jockey, before he became a best-selling mystery novelist.

He’ll be missed.

I.M. Free

By LaShawn M. Wanak

I don’t do much online chatting anymore, which is a shame because I like shooting a quick message to my husband or saying hi to a friend. But ever since I started writing seriously, I just can’t do it anymore. Yes, I understand that IMing during my writing time should be a big no-no. For a stay-at-home mother like me, however, it’s not that simple.

One afternoon, I get a call from my husband at work. He wants to talk about some errands he wants me to do later, then tells me to open my chat program so he can IM me.

“Why can’t you just tell me over the phone?” I ask.

“It’s easier on IM,” he says.

“You couldn’t do this earlier?”

“I was busy. This is the only chance I have to talk to you.”

I glance at the clock. 3:00 p.m. I just put my son down for a nap a few minutes ago. Surely he’ll keep it brief because he knows it’s my writing time. So I click open Yahoo Messenger. We spend about 15 minutes typing back and forth, then, as I’m about to sign off…

Call your dad. Call him. Now.
your sister wants you to call him.
My sister?!?!
she’s IMing me. She says she wants you to call him. NOW!
Why is she IMing you instead of me?
just do it!

I look at the clock. It’s 3:20. I need to start writing, but my sister has a knack for predicting when our reclusive father decides to appear in the land of the living. I sigh and call him up.

“Hey, Daddy.”
“Hey, girl! Your sister wants to get together this Saturday.”
“That’s cool. Where you wanna go?”
“I don’t know. Let me talk to her, then call you back.”

Knowing my father, I probably won’t hear from him again until April 2009, so I tell him to hold on, then I open up a chat window to my sister.

Hey, it’s me.
I got daddy on the phone.
ask him what he want me to bring. ^-^

“You want us to bring anything?
“Are you talking to her now?”
“On the computer?!”
“Ain’t that somethin’!”

After bringing my father up to speed on the miracles of the Information Age, we work out a meeting time on Saturday. My father hangs up, and my sister and I finalize things over IM.

Maybe we should invite some other people to come to. What about Nina?
she won’t come
she’s pregnant again
where have you been? That’s old news.
it happened few weeks ago…

In short bursts of text, my sister and I discuss the merits and pitfalls of our family. Until I happen to glance at the clock and—

Oh crap! I gotta go!
I gotta write!
Okay. Call me later . . .

It’s now 4:15. Any minute now, my son’s going to wake up from his nap. Quickly, I pull up my work in progress and start writing furiously, but then the IM window pops back on the screen.

Did you talk to your sister?
Did you talk to your father?
Yes…yes…can’t talk. Gotta write.
Okay. I

I? I what? I wait for him to go on, but the chat window remains hovering over my writing, still and silent. Come on. Finish the sentence. What are you trying to say to me? I love you? I think you need to calm down? What were you about to say?!

At that moment, my son wakes up, crying.

I’ve since banned the IM program during my writing times. It’s just too much of a distraction. If people really want to get a hold of me, they can leave a voice mail. My husband also knows not to call unless it’s an emergency—now he sends an e-mail if he wants me to do something. In making myself unavailable, I’m sending out a message that I’m taking my writing seriously, so they should, too. It’s beginning to work—I’m finally getting productive work done. The only interruptions I get nowadays are from telemarketers, but I ignore those anyway.

Now if there was a way to insure that my son takes two-hour naps every day until he’s eighteen, I’ll be completely fine.

LaShawn M. Wanak is a stay-at-home mother of a two-year-old boy. She has published short stories, essays, and poetry, and is currently working on her first fantasy novel. Visit her at the Café in the Woods.