Stepping Stones (Part 3)

Today’s blog:   Following the Footsteps

“The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.”

– Michael Jackson

Master Class Question:  Which modern writer…

  • Was sent to live with a ‘rather cold’ uncle at age ten because his parents died?
  • Went to medical school to appease his uncle although he preferred writing?
  • Published his first novel by the time he was twenty-three?
  • Was a WWI spy for Great Britain before moving to the United States?
  • Worked in Hollywood with an enormous itinerary output consisting of plays, short stories, essays, and twenty novels?

(Hint: He wrote the famous novel, Of Human Bondage.)

If you guessed William Somerset Maugham, you are correct!

Give yourself a big hand!     

British writer, W. Somerset Maugham, is the highlight of this week’s post in “Stepping Stones (Part 3)” featuring excerpts from William Cane’s Fiction Writing Master Class.  Maugham’s writing style and technique are presented in such a way that you not only gain a better understanding of the craft, but improve your writing ability.  After all, “the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement,” – Helmut Schmidt.

“Write Like W. Somerset Maugham”

Choosing Characters

“The characters a writer chooses should not be picked at random.  The key goal when choosing characters is balancing character types so that there are contrasting personalities.  Woody Allen’s favorite book on plotting, Laios Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing (1960), suggests that characters must be orchestrated. ‘If all the characters are the same type-for instance, if all of them are bullies-it will be like an orchestra of nothing but drums.’ Variety for the sake of variety is not the goal, instead you are aiming to achieve the kinds of differences that will lead to interpersonal conflict.  Maugham is a master of orchestration.”

“In Of Human Bondage (1915), the hero, Philip Carey, is a doctor and a sensitive young man.  Maugham based the character on himself.  The other major character, Mildred Rogers, is the opposite of Philip.  Brash, wanton, and cruel, she is in constant conflict with him. ‘They seemed to be always on the verge of a quarrel.  The fact was that he hated himself for loving her.  She seemed to be constantly humiliating him.’ Two characters have never been so perfectly orchestrated because they are always annoying each other…Can you honestly say you’ve achieved similiar contrasts and opposites? Only when the answer to that question is ‘yes’ should you feel satisfied enough to stop tinkering with your characterization’.”

Organizing Chapters

“One of the most overlooked technical devices is the alternation of fast and slow chapters.  It stands to reason that putting all the action chapters first followed by all the analytical chapters can lead to an unbalanced effect.  By alternating dramatic material with thoughtful sections you’ll produce a more pleasing reader experience.”

“Maugham alternated fast and slow material in all his work.”  This “alternating technique can be found in Of Human Bondage. Philip takes Mildred to the theater and then walks her home.  He pines for her…Then she snubs him and they part with Philip in despair. These dramatic scenes are followed immediately by an extended section in which Philip mulls over the whole affair and feels lonely.  Then, like the beat of a heart, the end of chapter fifty-nine plunges us once again into a dramatic scene in which Mildred humiliates Philip. ”

Making Narrative Flow

“One way to make narrative flow is to put characters into situations where they must make difficult decisions.  Readers will naturally want to know what happens next.”

“In addition to putting characters in a position where they must decide what to do, narrative can be made to flow more quickly by piquing curiosity about future events and setting up expectations by ‘advertising’ what is going to happen. At the start of The Moon and Sixpence the narrator tells us that he knew Charles Strickland intimately and that he discovered secrets about him when he happened to visit Tahiti during the war…What are the obscure details that the narrator knows? What revelations lie ahead? When will these gossipy tidbits be thrown our way?…This promise of gossipy revelations is one of the things that keeps us turning the pages.”

Creating Surprise

“Surprise is a key ingredient of storytelling.  Writing is a game of revealing only so much of the story as is necessary and holding back other events that will ultimately surprise the reader.”

Read pages 78-80 for more insight on creating surprise like Maugham.

Putting Yourself Into Your Work

“Maugham was fond of putting himself into his work…It is widely know that Of Human Bondage is a closely autobiographical novel, following the life of a medical student whose personality and escapades are patterned closely on Maugham’s own life.”

“All writers base various aspects of their stories on their own lives, but some writers rely more heavily on their own experiences than others. What lessons can be learned from Maugham’s practice of putting himself into his work? One thing to note is that Maugham did not…distort his experiences or exaggerate them; instead, he rather faithfully transformed his life into fiction.  The trick when doing this with your own work is, of course, to avoid libel suits from others who might recognize themselves in your pages.”

Keeping To A Schedule

“It should come as no surprise that Maugham, a medical doctor, took good care of himself physically.  As a result of keeping to a schedule (including waking early and caring for his health with regular visits to spas) he lived to the age of ninety-one.”  Garson Kanin observed that “Maugham carefully explained that he rises at eight o’clock every morning – no matter where he is – has his breakfast and so on, and at nine o’clock sits down and writes for four hours.”

“The regularity of his writing routine never detracted from his pushing himself to have a full personal life. In this he was like Balzac (see Stepping Stones: Part 2), who lived a full life and had intense relationships, but who also kept regular hours for writing.”

“Maugham was also interested in meditation.  One of the techniques of meditation is to meditate while doing daily activity.  Maugham may have transferred this meditation technique to his writing practice, for he said that, ‘The author does not only write while he’s at his desk, he writes all day long, when he is thinking, when he is reading, when he is experiencing…’ This constant preoccupation with writing is a habit than can be cultivated and developed.”


“If you write regularly, you are more likely to be productive and successful.”

“You need to incorporate personal experiences into your work, which means you will need to live deeply and embrace human relationships…like Maugham, reflect upon them and place them into your own work in some fashion.”

“This constant attention to the process of writing is certain to be rewarding for it is the work of the true artist.”

I hope you enjoyed part three in the series “Stepping Stones” with excerpts from William Cane’s book, Writing Fiction Master Class.

Join me next week for the finale of  “Stepping Stones (Part Four).”  If you  purchased a copy of the book, Writing Fiction Master Class, I’d love to know  which author you found most interesting! If  you don’t have a copy yet, here is a list of some authors featured in the book.  Tell me who intrigues you most and he might show up next week!

Author choices:

  1. Charles Dickens
  2. Franz Kafka
  3. William Faulkner
  4. Ernest Hemingway
  5. Stephen King

Until then, keep reading; keep writing; and never stop  following the footsteps of those who paved the way.

To order your copy of Writing Fiction Master Class: Emulating the Work of Great Novelists to Master the Fundamentals of Craft by William Cane, go to: 

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten


Applause GIF courtesy Google Images

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Stepping Stones (Part 2)

Today’s blog:  Light the Way

“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

– Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Master the Craft

Pop Quiz:  In the blog post, “Stepping Stones (Part 1)”, a book is featured as a must-read for fiction authors.  Is it…

  1.  A Book About Absolutely Nothing by I.M. Nobody?
  2.  How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman?
  3.  Fiction Writing Master Class by William Cane?

If you picked number three, then pat yourself on the back. Better yet, applaud yourself for returning to “Stepping Stones (Part 2)”.  Why?  Because this week’s post is the first in a series of  excerpts  from William Cane’s book, Fiction Writing Master Class.  Follow along as Cane analyzes  both the style and technique of several famous authors.  He refers to this method of teaching as “the classical technique of imitation.”  As a professor of English, Cane uses it to coach students.  He writes, “I know these methods work, and by the end of the book so will you.”   Yes, learning from the greats can transform your writing – it can help you master the craft.

Learn From the Best

“Want to find your voice? Learn from the best.”

– William Cane

“Write Like Honore de Balzac”

Chapter 1 of Fiction Writing Master Class  features the great French novelist, Honore de Balzac.  (On a personal note, I really enjoyed this chapter! I chose to acknowledge it first, not because of its place in the book but for its content. I hope you enjoy it, too!)


Balzac was a lawyer who found the profession “unbearably dull.”  Writing, on the other hand, made him lots of money when all else failed.  Cane explains that “Balzac’s clumsy style began almost as a joke at the start of his career.”  Yet, he was not deterred and “set to work like a madman, writing at a furious pace.”  In fact, “he could write as fast as he talked and this was very fast indeed. ” He wrote “in long timeless stretches; he boasted that he could wear out ten crow-feather pens in three days, in his rapid hand that dashed like black rain across the uncorrected pages…It was offal, he said, but it poured out…His mother was horrified. She had been brought up with a regard for syntax and prose style and  his careless cliches shocked her. They got worse as he succeeded.”

Yes, “Balzac was a klutzy writer. His sentences are awkward, his phrasing clumsy, his style unappealing – and yet he was very successful.”


Cane notes, “If you fear that you, too, may have some element of awkwardness in your writing, if your sentences don’t sound musical, if your pose is sometimes stolid and leaden, take heart.  While it is important to try to fix these faults, they should not stop you from writing.  After all, they never stopped Balzac.”

In addition, “One of the most difficult aspects of writing a novel is getting that first draft done, and on this score if Balzac can’t inspire you no one can. Sometimes a klutzy style will improve over time; in fact, it’s almost inevitable that the more you write the better you’ll write…Get yourself a blog and post your ideas and thoughts, and even chapter drafts so that you can see your work professionally formatted.”

How then did  Balzac compensate for the problems with his prose style?  He  used other strengths.  In his case, Cane refers to Balzac “as a master of emotion, his writing is filled with emotional tags – little references to the feelings of his characters.”  (The book goes into detail on pages 9-12.)

Balzacs Secret Method For Writing

Balzac’s “fixed routine was a large part of his success. He isolated himself from the world so that he could concentrate on his writing.”  He either kept his blinds drawn during the day or worked at night “while the world slept.”  Most successful writers understand the need to distance themselves from the distractions of the everyday world.

Interestingly, Balzac developed a passion for coffee.  He kept himself awake “during the wees hours of the night with murderously black and concentrated and above all thick-brewed coffee, which he made in a big coffeepot and sipped while he worked.”  Balzac confessed, “Coffee is a great power in my life.”

Finally, “Balzac’s ideas were fantasies drawn from his own life…So, the secret for getting ideas and for developing a varied plot – a moving, dynamic plot like Balzac employs – is letting your own fantasy life wander where it will.”

A Quick Summary: Honore  de Balzac

What is gleaned from this lesson about  great French novelist, Honore de Balzac?

  • Do not let awkwardness in your writing skills stop you from writing.
  • Write, write, write.
  • Keep a fixed routine.
  • Do not let distractions interfere with writing.
  • Coffee rocks (Yay)!

I hope you enjoyed these excerpts from William Cane’s book Fiction Writing Masterclass: Emulating the Work of Great Novelists to Master the Fundamentals of the Craft.  Go to and purchase a copy today.

Join me next time for another look at one of history’s greatest authors in “Stepping Stones (Part 3)”.

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten

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Stepping Stones (Part 1)

Today’s blog:  Follow-the-Leader

In elementary school, I remember playing a game called Follow-the-Leader.  Our teacher required everyone in class to  line up behind one player who served as the leader.  Next,  s/he moved around to  music while  the rest of the class tried to copy every movement or action s/he made.  Anyone who did not follow along was taken out of the game.  The last player remaining became the new  leader.

Looking back, it’s apparent that a simple children’s game like Follow-the-Leader does more than entertain.  It  teaches a powerful lesson:  A good follower becomes a good leader.

Stepping Stones

Bottom line,  if you wanted to win, you had to focus.  You had to follow every step closely.  The same holds true for you (and me) as fiction writers. How?

First, writing is a craft – something you learn.  Learning entails study.  Study consists of instruction.  And instruction requires a mentor.  A mentor becomes a stepping stone to guide (or instruct) you on your journey as a writer.  It becomes necessary to  follow-the-leader if you want to master the craft.

In his book, Fiction Writing Masterclass, William Cane dissects the writing styles of twenty-one great novelists including Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King.

He explains:

“You cannot become a terrific writer just – poof! – out of thin air.  It takes something preexisting, some structural savvy, some foundation in technique…”

“And that’s the lesson of this book.  You too can imitate the greats, and in the process absorb elements of their style that will make your writing sing…”

“The ultimate goal of this book is not to make you become a clone of these other writers but to help you learn their secrets so that you can express yourself with confidence, style, and your own unique voice.”

History’s Greatest Authors

The lessons in William Cane’s book, Fiction Writing Masterclass, are invaluable – a must read.  They help you find “your own unique voice” by learning from history’s greatest authors.

In Part 2 of the blog series, “Stepping Stones”,  a novelist will be featured from Fiction Writing Masterclass.  Don’t miss out.  You’ll discover writing secrets and techniques to help you learn the fundamentals of your craft.

Fiction Writing Masterclass: Emulating the Work of Great Novelists to Master the Fundamental of the Craft by William Cane is available on Amazon.

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten


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Turn North

Today’s blog:  Inner Compass

A compass is an instrument used for navigation.  It has four cardinal points: North, South, East and West – North being the most important.  In fact, the compass needle always points north.

A compass  helps you set your course and find your way, and is especially helpful when traveling through unfamiliar terrain.  It keeps you from getting lost.

As you travel your life’s journey, you learn to rely on something similar – your inner compass.  It is how you orient yourself.

True North

Websters Dictionary explains that finding true north  on a compass is essential for accurate navigation.

For you (and me), there is an even deeper meaning attached to the metaphorical ‘true north’.   It’s knowing and moving in the direction of your story.  It means listening to the voice inside you.

Your authentic self is your inner compass, and when it points true north, you know:

  • why you write;
  • who you are writing for; and,
  • what story you want to tell.

Turn North

“Write what you want to write, listen to your internal voice, and follow the story wherever it leads you…”                                                                                                                                                 – Stephen King

Some days writing comes easy, not so on others.   Some days your characters dance across the page, then mysteriously disappear the next.

Still, you keep writing.

Deuteronomy 2:3 (ERV)  “You have traveled around this mountain long enough. Turn north.” 

Sage advice from a reliable source.

Writing presents its challenges.  Sometimes you feel like you are spinning your wheels…going in circles.  It’s at this junction on your writing journey that you learn to trust your intuition. You listen to the voice inside you – your inner compass.  Turn north: let your story lead you.

“Not all who wander are lost.”

Share how you follow your inner compass.  What is your true north?  How do you keep aligned with your destination as a writer?

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten


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Reaching a Milestone

Today’s blog:  Your Truth

Writing is personal.  It is your journey.  The story you tell is your truth.  Sharing it with the world can be terrifying, yet wonderful at the same time.  It is a moment of surrender – from your imagination to the minds of others.

Writing is Hard

If you have ever started a book, you know it is a grueling process.  Yes, writing is hard.  The hours spent writing and re-writing are exhausting, but the final product makes it worth the effort.  Finishing a book is a huge milestone in a writer’s journey.


It doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your tenth best-selling novel, the fear is the same.  You wonder: Will others like it?  Truth be known, it doesn’t matter.  Someone else’s opinion is exactly that – an opinion.  Remember, it is your story.  Share it fearlessly!

“There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

When Your Heart Comes Home

Today’s post is dedicated to Marilyn Peveto.  Her novel, When Your Heart Comes Home,is the first in her series of the Pine Curtain Chronicles.  Marilyn is a lifelong East Texan from a family that has lived in the Piney Woods for generations.  She shares her story here:,

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten


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Today’s blog:  Momentum

Are you too busy?

Busy is defined as being occupied or actively involved in an activity.  Seems simple enough.  But,  is it possible to be too busy?

Ask yourself, “Am I  fighting for more time?  Do I tell others that I just need more time?” If that’s the case, consider yourself too busy.

Oftentimes being busy is an excuse to avoid the things we find difficult.  Worse, being busy is a lack of self-control (ouch).

If you are like me, you want to control everything.  You want to do it all.  Unfortunately, it’s just not possible.

Being busy – too busy – robs you of life (ouch again).

Newton’s Law

Regardless of who you are, where you are or what you do – you are probably busy.  If you are a writer, you know the importance of a balanced schedule.   Otherwise, creating content for your stories, books or  blog suffers.

Newton’s Law explains that a “body in motion stays in motion.”  When applied to writing, it means once you start a project, you must not stop.  Allowing distractions to steal your attention  is tragic.  You lose momentum  – the force that keeps you moving forward.


The slightest distraction stops you COLD.  All the energy you mustered up to gain momentum is LOST.  If you stop, you must start over.  Unfortunately, that requires a massive amount of energy and time.

Rule #1: Do not stop once you start.

If you keep moving forward, you will make miles of progress with less energy. 

If you want to finish a project in the least amount of time, be unstoppable.

Make Time

In this busy season, time is not only a commodity, but something to cherish and not waste.  Making time for writing projects is not easy, but it can be done.  How?

  • Set aside some “quiet” time to focus without distractions
  • Keep a specific time written into your schedule and stick to it
  • Remember, it’s not quantity, it’s quality
  • Do not mix creating with editing.


Now, share how you gain momentum.  How do you become unstoppable when starting a project, especially when writing?

Meanwhile, know  your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten

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A Single Step

Today’s blog:  The Voice of Direction

It’s the first weekend in December.  I smile as several cars round the curve and make their way toward our house.   It’s the kids and their kids – my children and their little ones.

Dust from the driveway covers their cars.  One by one they  they pull in and  park under a tree.  The sun slowly sets behind them.  Car doors open and they climb out of their seats to stretch.  They look tired, and no doubt, look forward to a few days of  “R and R”.

Family Day

At least three times a year, we enjoy “Family Day,” a time when everyone comes together at our home – a ranch in the middle of nowhere.  It’s pool parties and basketball, weenie roasts and s’mores.  No cares, no worries – just fun.

I watch as the first car parks. A tiny little girl with pigtails hops out.  She dashes across the grass toward the porch.   I reach out to hug her.  She wraps her arms around my neck as I lift her, and she whispers, “I missed you.”

Suddenly, I have an “aha” moment.   I remember why I started.  Yes, I started my book… for her. 

For two weeks I questioned my journey.  Not anymore. No alibis, no excuses.   She is the voice of direction pointing me back on my way.  I will finish my book for her.

A Single Step

In the stanza, “The journey of a thousand miles…” by Lao Tzu, I am reminded that every journey begins with a single step. 

While I may be moving at a snail’s pace, I commit to finish.  I place one foot in front of the other and remember, “be patient, good things take time”.

I  thank the little girl with pigtails for being my inspiration, my voice of direction, reminding me that, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”   – Confucius

Steven Pressfield

I wave goodbye as the cars pull out of the driveway.  “Family Day” has come and gone.

Meanwhile, I return to my desk.  I re-read a blog from November 29th by Steven Pressfield.  It’s called, “Keep Working.”

And, so I do.

Thank you, Mr. Pressfield.

Your Journey

Share a time when you felt like giving up.  Did you keep writing or take a break?  Who or what pointed you back on course?

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten

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Where Are You Going?

Today’s blog:  Quiet Time

The world is a busy place.  There is noise all around.  The need to find a bit of “quiet time”  – no cellphone, no computer, no other people – becomes essential.

Without “quiet time,” personal goals can be  pushed aside, even forgotten. Without “quiet time,” focus dims.  You need it to reflect on the things that matter most to you.

Finding time alone lets you check direction.  It lets you  determine whether you’re still on course.

It helps answer the questions,   “Where am I right now?  Where am I going?”  Yes, take a moment to recharge.  You’ll see more clearly how to take that next step.

What do you truly want?

When you know what you truly want, set out to get it.  Following a few simple suggestions helps.

See the end goal.  Remember why you started.  Keep focus.

Reflect on the journey.  It’s your story; it’s your journey.  Move at your own pace, one step at a time.

Keep momentum (write every day).  The world is a busy place. Find your “quiet time.”  Then, listen to your heart.  After all, dreams are born there.

Resist. Don’t give up.  Goals whittle away when you stop asking,   “What do I truly want?”

You have a story to tell.  It is yours, and yours alone.  Tell it.

Don’t Quit

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”  – Vince Lombardi

Remember, the world is a busy place.  Don’t let the noise drown your dreams.  Check your course.  Stay focused.

Share how you find “quiet time.”  What do you do to recharge and revisit your goals?

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten

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Falling Behind

Today’s blog:  Accept the distractions

It is November; I am struggling.  

I planned.  I scheduled.  I committed.  Yet, I am struggling.

It is midnight and my  coffee has grown cold.  My head aches;  I am tired.  I am falling behind. 

Lack of  preparation?  Lack of resolve? No; and, no again.

Simply put: time escapes me.

Accept the Distractions

I cannot buy more hours.   I cannot invent new minutes.  I have no choice;  I must accept the distractions.

No, these are not  typical distractions ( internet and smartphones);  but, the kind  that creep up on me this time of year –  cherished visits from family and friends.

As the Dalai Lama explains:

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done.  One  is called  yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.” 

Carpe diem:  Seize the day

Tomorrow is not promised.

Since I cannot save time for another day, I  live in the moment.  Time is not wasted when the distraction strengthens relationships and creates memories, especially when it pertains to family.

Is this true for you?  Share how  you plan for this time of the year.  Are you able to meet deadlines?  Do you change your writing schedule?

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten



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Looking Back

Today’s blog:  Stay Focused 

Three words: “Yes, you can.”

I repeat those words every day, sometimes more than once.

Why?  Because staying focused is not always easy.

Life happens.

Stop Looking Back

You write; and, then you rewrite –  over and over again.

After a while, you realize – you just have to put it out there.

Trust your story.

Stop looking back.

Crossing the Finish Line

Share what you do to maintain focus; how you stay in the race.

Will you cross the finish line?  Will you finish strong?

Meanwhile, know your story matters.

Sunshine and rainbows!

S. Whitten



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