Guest Post & Contest: Jo Grafford

Best 7 Writing Tips for Aspiring Writers

Happy New Year!  Did you ever wonder what inspires your favorite writers? What propels them through the entire first draft of your most-loved novels? How many drafts of that novel they write before submitting it for publication? What about all the tips and tricks for querying and pitching the Holy Grail – that final, highly polished manuscript that has taken months or even years of our lives to write?

Every writer has her own magic formula. Here’s mine:

  • The Outline: Some people hate them. Others love them. I’ve found a traditional outline really speeds up my writing. I start each chapter with a Roman Numeral. Then I hash out (A) Setting, (B) Characters, (C) Main Plot Points (in subsets of i, ii, iii, iv, etc.), the (D) Goal of that chapter, and the (E) Cliffhanger or Transition to next chapter.
  • Character Bio Sheets: I need to know my characters. Think mafia here. “I wanna know their name, where they live, what kind of car they drive, what they eat for breakfast, what color of socks they wear…” So I type up a bio sheet on each significant character.
  • Scrivener vs. Word: Can’t live without either. I write the entire first draft and do all of my initial revisions from beta readers, etc. (prior to submitting for publication) in Scrivener. LOVE how you can take a single file and break it down into chapter segments and scene sub-segments. All of my submissions, professional edits, galleys, etc. are then completed in Word for easier passing back and forth.
  • Auto Crit Editing Wizard: Recommended to me by a successful published author, this program has proven well worth the investment. It highlights passive verbs, clichés and overused words and phrases, grammatical and spelling issues, and many other concerns that agents and publishers would dearly love for us to correct before submitting our manuscripts.
  • This is one of many websites I find useful. Etymonline gives you the origin (including date) of words and phrases. This was critical when writing BREAKING TIES, which is set in 1587. So many of the phrases we speak in modern English were not coined until after the 16th century, and a savvy reader will be quick to point out your dukes and earls should not be saying things like, “Yo, baby” and “That’s how I roll.”
  • Critiques: I cannot rave enough about readers and writers who are willing to critique unpublished manuscripts. They take okay works to good ones and good ones to brilliant ones. I belong to RWA, From the Heart Romance Writers online chapter of RWA, a private critique called the Scribe Sirens, and a local writing group that meets monthly. I also belong to many Yahoo, Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+ groups and loops to learn more about book marketing, the Elizabethan period, and other specific topics. Additionally, I am lucky to have several friends willing to serve as beta readers.
  • Writing Conferences: I would be content to spend all of my time in my writing cave. The hubs, however, insists on kicking me out the door now and then to attend conferences. I’ve attended the RT Booklovers Convention two years in a row. There I met representatives from my current publishing company and signed my first contract a few weeks later.


This year I’m attending my first Author Reader Conference (ARC) in NOLA, and – depending on our overseas travel schedule – hope to attend my first RWA Conference in New York City as well. There are many other fabulous conferences, some targeting specific genres. Pick one and go. You’ll learn so much about the writing craft and meet so many wonderful friends and professional contacts. It can seriously jump start a career!

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14bJo is a mega reader of all genres and loves to indulge in marathon showings of Big Bang Theory, NCIS, and Castle. Her favorite books are rich in Colonial and Elizabethan history, romance, strong women, alpha males, Native Americans, and creatures from the paranormal – an occasional dragon, vampire, or time traveler.

From St. Louis, Missouri, Jo moves a lot with her soldier husband. She has lived in the Midwest, the deep South, and now resides in Bavaria. Jo holds an M.B.A. and has served as a banker, college finance instructor, and high school business teacher. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, From the Heart Romance Writers RWA Chapter, and the Writers Group of Ansbach/Katterbach/Illesheim.

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Trail of Crosses (The Lost Colony Series #2)

Jane Mannering can shoot a rifle and handle a knife as well as any Englishman. However, she is no match for the red-painted warriors who ambush her section of a Colonial caravan the moment she and her comrades reach the shores of Virginia.

Jane plots their escape during a forced march inland, leaving a trail of maltese crosses carved on the trees – their pre-agreed upon signal of distress. All the while, she fumes over what interest their captors could possibly have in a twenty-three-year-old spinster and a rugged band of brick masons, sawyers, and farmers.

When the ruthless Chief Wanchese intercepts them at the crossroads of the Great Trading Path, Jane is shaken to discover their greatest enemy plans to keep her for himself. It’s a pity he’s the only man on two continents who’s ever stirred her heart. Alas, she has an entire colony to save, and capturing his attentions is not part of their escape plan.


July 26, 1587 – Roanoke Island

If it had not been for the barking of the dogs and chattering of the lads who scampered at my side, I might have heard the shot – the low vibration of the string as the thin, wooden shaft released, the faint whistle of the arrow as it sliced an invisible yet deadly path through the air, the scattering of wildlife as the forest itself braced before the world’s most fearsome predator. Instead, I merely felt the gentle lifting of my late father’s top hat as the arrowhead sank into the aged leather and pinned it to the heart of the oak behind me.

The men assigned to guard me fired their muskets wildly into the perimeter of trees. My ears rang with their gunfire and frenzied oaths. Then the slow burn of anger took over.

I pivoted to yank the arrow, top hat and all, from the trunk. Separating the two, I jammed the damaged hat back on my head and tapped the lone arrow against my gloved hand. The miss was deliberate, meant as a taunt. Had the shadowy creature intended to kill me, I would already be dead.

I glared over my shoulder as the gunfire ceased. He remained out there, I was certain. Watching. This was a reminder that he is the hunter. I am the hunted.


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One thought on “Guest Post & Contest: Jo Grafford

  1. Carol L says:

    This is the first I’ve heard of The Lost Colony series. I know I’m going to love it. I look forward to reading it. Thank you so much for the giveaway opportunity. Interesting post.
    Carol L

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