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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #348

Our First Snowfall

It began Thursday, continued on and off through Sunday morning, our first serious snowfall of the winter, perhaps our last, and I gotta tell ya, the Pacific Northwest is stunning in the snow, the evergreen trees heavy with white, drooping limbs, mountain ranges in the distance, east and west, their peaks glistening, and the quiet – my God, the quiet, as if the entire city is on mute, peaceful tranquility at night, during the days the silence broken by kids whooping and hollering, squealing with excitement, and the oldsters walk by, gingerly, unsure of their steps, and the young adults with snowshoes, or cross-country skis, down the middle of the roads where cars fear to tread, and even the occasional jogger, in training despite the weather, how they do it I don’t know, but it’s refreshing to see.

I love the snow, always have, but a significant feature of my “love” for the white stuff is knowing it will be gone soon. This ain’t North Dakota or Alaska. Our snows come, stick around for a cup of coffee, and then leave for another twelve months. We don’t do prolonged winter here in God’s Country, just a short howdy, and then it heads east where snow is just a normal part of life.

And I go all reflective when it snows. I start wondering how many more snowfalls I will see in this life. I think of wondrous moments of my youth, and my parents, and my best buddy Frank, and sweet melancholy descends upon me, and that’s okay, comfort always arrives with thoughts of loved ones, you know?

And that’s probably all you need to know about our snow. Let’s do the mail, shall we?

The Mail Room!

The Mail Room!

Character Development

From Mary: “Thanks again, Bill, for your answers. In particular, I like very much the way you view every human, the complications that go with each personality and capturing this is what makes a novel interesting. I notice this complication in your characters and i enjoy it because it is not forced, it sort of happens in a comment or a reaction to an incident. How do you develop this?”

Mary, thank you! My first inclination is to say “I don’t know how I do it,” but actually that would be an insult to the writing teachers I’ve had. The answer is “show, don’t tell,” and it is a key in differentiating good creative writing from average creative writing.

Don’t tell your readers a character is sad; show it. Don’t tell a reader a character is excited or conflicted or ecstatic; show it!

How does a person act when they are sad? How does a person act when they are deep in thought, or worry? What changes in their facial features? Do their movements quicken, or do they slow, when fear descends upon them? This is important. A writer is the window to the action for the reader, and writers must always remember that.

Winter in Olympia

Winter in Olympia


From Ann: “I have a question: How many stories should one put into a short story anthology? I've been juggling with mine for a while and I can't make up my mind about order, nor about the quantity! It's driving me nuts. I've looked at others' short stories and they vary a lot, but as a first, I don't want to overdo it. I have put them into themes, into moods, into styles, and have come to the conclusion that a mixture would be better - then I change my mind! Any thoughts?”

It's an interesting question, Ann, and I had to do some research on this to make sure my gut-reaction was in the ballpark.

The average length of a market paperback is about 60,000 words. Use that as a guide. If one of your stories is 2,000 words, you can plan on including about 30 stories in your anthology.

Other sources suggest between ten and forty stories in an anthology, which really isn’t that much help at all, is it?

I have no thoughts about a mixture vs themes. I think that one is up to you. I know you have done a series of articles on etymology. Perhaps one anthology just on those articles? One about the heirlooms passed down from your parents to you would be another one? I’m just winging it here. I’m a theme fan, but that doesn’t mean you have to do a theme collection.

I hope that helps a little bit.

Re-Reading Old Stories

Also from Ann: “Re-reading old stories at the moment (partly because of the above) and I find some which I much prefer to the ones I write now! Does that happen to you?”

It does on occasion, Ann. I’m such a different writer now than I was eight or nine years ago. There is some of my work from the “old days” which I really like, and some I look at and think “what in the world was I doing when I wrote that dribble.” I also wrote a lot of social commentary stuff back then, and a lot of short stories. I don’t do much of either today and concentrate more on novels. Maybe I’ve mellowed. Maybe my focus has changed. My main goal, today, is to improve my craft. Which vehicle I take for that journey isn’t as important to me as the goal to improve as a writer and to continue to entertain people.

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Sticking to a Schedule

From Rodric: “My question to you this time is how do you get on a schedule to write. I know it is Monday when I see your article. It is like a force of nature. I want to be like that. How do you do it? My issues in the past have been with health, but I have found the will to write and I know I can push content because of the 10 article challenge I did last month, despite being in hospital five days. I need to know how to get on a schedule and stick to it.”

Rodric, living on a schedule is as natural to me as breathing. I need structure or else Bill is a very unhappy and unhinged boy. I’m amazed, quite frankly, that you have done as well as you have with the health issues you have had.

I would start out small if I were you. Dip your toes in the water of scheduling and see how you do. Schedule one hour per day when nothing else happens but writing, or set aside two days per week, two hours per day, and stick with it “hell or high water.” Once you have experienced some positives on a small scale, you can increase your scheduling if you want.

I found this online; don’t know how much help it is to you, but here you go:

  • Understand what you can realistically achieve with your time.
  • Make sure you have enough time for essential tasks.
  • Add contingency time for "the unexpected."
  • Avoid taking on more than you can handle.
  • Work steadily toward your personal and career goals.
  • Have enough time for family and friends, exercise and hobbies.
  • Achieve a good work-life balance.
Soon, very soon!

Soon, very soon!

And Now Our Thoughts Turn to Spring

I know, strange it is, thoughts of Spring in February, but our winters don’t last that long in the PNW, despite what the calendar says. Bulbs will make an appearance soon, within a week or two, and new buds, rebirth giving hope to the shut-ins, one less layer of clothing as we go about our business, and plans for that garden dancing in our heads, a gentle waltz at first, picking up tempo into a full fox-trot before long, and on we go, turn, turn, turn, the Byrds for every season, a salute to summers long ago, and now, and the uncertain future.

Have a fabulous week, my friends. If you have a question for the Mailbag, drop it in the comments below, or email me at

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 22, 2021:

Thank you Manatita! I wish I had the time to go back and re-work many of my older pieces. I know I could improve upon them, but I have so much I want to achieve in the time left, you know?

manatita44 from london on February 21, 2021:

Great questions and answers. Brilliant intro and love to your buddy in Paradise.

My writing is better and yes, I have always believed that practice helps. Yet in Ann's case, what can sometimes happen, is that one can write an inspired piece which remains immortal even 7 or 8 years later. That has happened to me. But yes, some old pieces are almost useless and one can easily see where changes should occur.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 20, 2021:

You do the same, Devika! Best wishes to you, and Happy Weekend!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 20, 2021:

Yeah I understand that is too cold for you and I have had enough of that. Keep safe and take care.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 17, 2021:

Devika, you can keep that minus 6. Much too cold for my old bones.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 17, 2021:

Rodric, my God, I hope your health problems improve soon, my friend. Best wishes to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 17, 2021:

MG, you are always welcome. You tell me when you arrive and I'll be there to welcome you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 17, 2021:

Thank you Ravi! I appreciate your kind words, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 17, 2021:

Bill, not so strange. I suspect I would miss it too if I were in Florida. That's one state I have no desire to ever visit. The whole snake/gator/bug thing would turn me off immediately.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Wrong site, Pamela! Hopefully Mel will see this.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 16, 2021:

Hi Bill we had snow this week and experienced cold down to minus 6. You share good advice to all writers helping writers.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Good morning Alyssa! Who was it I saw use a flamethrower on television to melt snow? Darn it, I just say that. I had never thought of that until you mentioned it. How creative!!! Oh, it was a YouTube video of some guy who has a farm in Vermont. He uses it to melt ice around his gates so he can open them in the mornings. lol

Okay, mystery solved. Well done, your son. I love that he's creative!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Brenda, I couldn't live in Ohio, or anywhere in the Midwest. I don't like the drastic changes in weather and the prolonged winter. It may be dreary here at times, but at least I know spring is coming soon and it is pleasant for five or six months following.

Happy Tuesday to you, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Jo, our eighteen inches of snow is now a foot of slush, and it is a serious mess for walking dogs. I'm done complaining now, so thanks for "listening." Have a great week!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

I appreciate the question, John! You saved next week's Mailbag, so thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

It does for sure, Mel! It's impossible to live here without being affected by the gloom at times...but then spring comes, and it is magnificent!!! Stay warm, buddy, and thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Mary, I do think it can be developed. For some reason, that development is hard; for others, quite easy. Keep on keeping on, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Most unusual for sure, Peggy, and you have us to thank for it. We sent ours to you with love, so don't try to thank us, we were happy to get rid of it. lol

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Eric, I do think it is a gift of sorts. Some people are just wired this way; others never will be no matter how hard they try. Such is life. One thing we all have access to is love, if we are willing.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Liz, you would feel right at home here in Olympia. Our weather is really quite similar to yours. Some would find it dreary, but I'm sure you would be comfortable. :) Have a fantastic week, my friend, and thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Good morning Sha! I'm running late this week on comments. Sorry about that. Our eighteen inches of snow is all but gone, leaving about six inches of slush on sidewalks. A mess during the walking of dogs, for sure, but dammit, spring must be close, right? Right???

Happy Tuesday to you, my friend! Hugs from slushy Olympia!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2021:

Good morning Dora! We all have demons. I think yours is quite tame comparatively speaking, but best wishes as you prepare to conquer the beast. :) Thank you always!

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on February 16, 2021:

Bill, the advice that you gave is on time. I need to schedule time to write and to study. I need to schedule time to play my games and to sleep. I am so unorganized. I am working on it too. I am starting with my doctor's appointments. I don't see very well anymore. I am hoping that improves, but in case I need to work around that, I have adjusted my computer to dark mode to read. I haven't done a lot of reading lately of articles because of that eye problem, light sensitivity. I cannot walk outside at day. Thanks for answering my question. I hope soon to be able to read more articles.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 16, 2021:

This is an awesome post. I like the snow door though where I am now it doesn't snow at all. But spent a lot of time in the northern Himalayas and subzero temperature at 13,000 feet. You created a great picture of where you stay, hope I can hop in some time and meet you.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on February 15, 2021:

Nicely written Bill. We don't have snow where I live but I can relate to it by having lived in the west for a long time. Another great piece of writing from you.Thanks for sharing.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on February 15, 2021:

That’s quite a snowfall for your area. My brother sent some photos and it’s the same story where they are in Bellevue. It’s been an active winter in western Mass also, although we are currently taking care of aging in-laws down in Florida. Strange thing is I actually miss the snow. Go figure. Have a great week, Bill.

Alyssa from Ohio on February 15, 2021:

It seems like we all have snow, haha! That makes it a little more bearable for me. I still don't have a flamethrower, so my trusty shovel it is! I'm glad to hear you are all enjoying the weather up there in Washington. What an interesting mailbag this week! I've taken your advice of "show, don't tell," to heart and passed that wisdom onto my son. He just wrapped up his LA paper, a short story no less. He's incredibly creative and seeing him excited about this writing project made my heart swell. I also love your tips on staying organized. I have an entire notebook dedicated to my writing schedules and take any chance to work ahead. There's nothing like that feeling of accomplishment when I get to cross off a completed task. :)

Enjoy your winter wonderland! Have an amazing week!

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on February 15, 2021:


I wish the climate here in Ohio was more like yours.

I am already growing tired of this white stuff but here I sit listening to pellets of ice hitting the window with 5 to 8 inches of snow forecast to fall tonight giving us another round of Winter.

Nothing I can do but adore the beauty & try my best to stay inside.

I love that you remind us to show not tell. That is a project I sm trying to get better at.. being descriptive.

As for the book, I can see where a theme might work best.

I am currently pulling my hair out trying to assemble a poetry book for an upcoming contest.

I'm not certain how to group my poems. I am leaning towards section with different themes or attempting to tell a story.

But I must admit I am at a loss...but I will get ur done.

Scheduling time for everything seems to be the constant trick.

Thanks for sharing your article & your thoughts.

Have a great evening.

Jo Miller from Tennessee on February 15, 2021:

We have snow also. I ,too, always love it, but this year I am more eager for spring than usual. It's been a long, long winter and our usual amount of isolation has been amplified by the pandemic. It's supposed to be in the 50's and sunny next week. Since we've now had both of our vaccinations, I'm giddy at the prospects of a trip to Lowe's--a real, in-person trip. Can't get our of our driveway right now.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on February 15, 2021:

I loved the questions and answers this week, especially Mary’s about character development and your advice that is in showing and not telling. I wish I could be more organised like you but my writing time is quite random...just where I can fit it in around other things. I have tried to make concrete plans but it seldom works out.

I have a question but it is a little long so I will email it to you rather than here, but I look forward to reading your advice. Enjoy that snow while it lasts.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 15, 2021:

I appreciate this review, Mel. I don't think I will be reading this particular book. i would need a better review. I do like some historical novels however. Thanks for sharing this information.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on February 15, 2021:

I think I landed in one of those places where cold sticks around for the long haul, not just a cup of coffee. It dipped below zero this week. Good thing is that it has inspired some stories that wouldn't have been possible living in sunshine. Location location location works in real estate and fiction. I'm betting the perpetual gloom of your PNW sometimes draws some beautiful gloom from your pen. Great mailbag!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 15, 2021:

Hi Bill. Thanks again for your answers. They are always very enlightening. I realize how how much I need to develop my awareness so that I see more the changes in people and bring those in the characters. Sometimes, I wonder if this is a gift or something one develops.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 15, 2021:

Hi Bill,

We are bathed in a sea of white this morning! It started last night with some sleet, and then overnight came the snow. It is currently 16 degrees Fahrenheit in Houston with a feel-like temp of 2 degrees! We are under a winter storm warning, and people are advised to stay off the ice-covered roads. This is most unusual for Houston.

I enjoyed your mailbag. Enjoy the snow while you still have it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

Rachelle, thanks for the visit on this glaringly white Monday. I appreciate it. I think all of us writers have some regrets about the way we approached this and yes, today is a good time to begin again. Best wishes!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

Pamela, we are into the dirt and slush now with rain falling. We are in for a couple days of miserable slush, I'm afraid. Oh well, spring is coming!!!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

Thank you Chitrangada Sharan! I think looking at snow from a distance is a wonderful way to enjoy it. LOL Have a fabulous week!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

Flourish, honestly, at this stage in my age, I would be quite happy with constant 65-70 degrees. That would seem like heaven to me.

Thanks for the visit.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

I'm with you, Linda. I don't want any prolonged snow event for February. Let's move on!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

Heidi, you can keep it all. We'll just keep sending you feeders storms and let you deal with their wrath. Here the melting has begun, and now we have a foot of slush to slog through. :)

Happy Monday my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

Rosina, I hope one day you'll be able to enjoy the wonders of snow. Go sledding, have a snowball fight, build a snowman...great fun!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

Mr. Happy yes, only Olympia is God's Country. I'm sorry to break it to you, but that's just the truth of the matter. LOL

Gardening....oh my, I so want spring to get here, and the more I want it, the further away it seems. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Have a great week, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2021:

Good morning Ann! You are first on the list this morning, and I appreciate it.

Anthologies are tricky. I think 10-20 is perfect if you consider it to be perfect. This is, after all, designed to scratch your personal itch. :) Do what you feel good about and not one word more.

Have a wildly happy week, my friend.


Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on February 15, 2021:

You know what? If I had addressed my writing here at HP like a professional endeavor from the very start, I would now be very well able to focus 100% of my time herein and on my own blog and platforms. I guess there's no better time for me to begin again than today.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 15, 2021:

Most wonderful from head to tow (Toe?) I wonder if it is simply a gift to watch folks and try to figure out their story and mood. I like the masks. What pattern the wear and what their eyes share with us. I lijke posture and gate also.

Trying to get back into that schedule as I have been on a spiritual retreat of sorts. I can always do with more love.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 15, 2021:

As ever I have learnt a lot from your mailbag. You have covered an impressive range of themes this week. Your climate sounds a little similar to ours. We have had two spells of snow in the past few weeks. Usually we don't get a lot and it doesn't hang around long. With higher temperatures and a little sun today, spring seems just around the corner.

Having read ypur comments about character development, I shall be looking out for how writers show what their characters are feeling.

It would be an interesting study to compare early works against later works of some famous and prolific authors.

It seems to me that anthologies come in all shapes and forms, depending on the writer's preferences.

The scheduling tips you found are applicable and useful for us all.

Have a good week, Bill and stay well.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 15, 2021:

Bill, I could feel the quiet you described for newly fallen snow. Talk about showing and not telling!

Yes, Spring is right around the corner. In some parts of the country, snow is necessary to lay the ground for new life. Interesting concept, now that I think about it.

Once again, you've provided us with insight, reflection, and more. So glad this series keeps on giving!

Have a great week, my friend!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 15, 2021:

Thanks for sharing your disciplined, structured approach to your writing. I'm tempted to blame my lack of discipline to the weakness of an aging mind, but you and I are the same age, Bill. I just have to admit that I still have a demon to conquer. You're a leader I do well to follow.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 15, 2021:

I use to love the snow when I was young until about March when it got dirty and slushy. It is beautiful when it first snows, and I use to like the beauty and quiet in the first snow.

The mailbag was interesting as usual. I tend to keep a schedule to, but I don't do very much anymore. I hope you have a fabulous week too.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 15, 2021:

Hello Bill!

Good to know about the snowfall at your place. I love the beautiful sight of the snowfall. At my place, no snowfall, although it’s quite cold, but the entire Northern India, the Himalayan ranges is experiencing heavy snowfall these days.

Thank you for sharing the wonderful set of questions and answers. They are quite helpful.

Thank you for sharing another great mailbag.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 15, 2021:

The snow looks pretty but honestly I’ve had enough of it in my lifetime after living in Maine and Northeast Ohio that I’m done. Let someone else enjoy it. Give me mild temperature fluctuations, maybe a dusting at best.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on February 15, 2021:

Inspiring questions and answers today Bill. Those authors-to-be are revving their engines, and all because of you. As for the snow, OK I saw it. It was pretty, now let's get on with Spring darn it!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 15, 2021:


Okay, let's talk winter. Here in Chicago we got more of the stuff, and will continue to get more of the stuff until probably May. I love snow, too, just not ice. We now have the added bonus of near 0 temps. At 9am we're a 1 and will have a high of 12 today. Not the worst we've had. But hey, it's good to have time indoors to do some work. So I better get going.

Stay safe and warm, and enjoy your snow days!

Rosina S Khan on February 15, 2021:

Interesting questions and answers and certainly a wonderful mailbag.

It doesn't snow in our part of the world but I had seen snow in Germany and Texas when I was there for higher education.

Happy Monday to you, Bill and a good start to the week.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on February 15, 2021:

All that snow looks very nice! We got some the other day but You still have more lol

"We don’t do prolonged winter here in God’s Country" - Is that like a second name for Olympia: "God's country"? Just curious. And would that mean that everything else is not "God's country"? LOL

Regarding anthologies, I have read a bunch when I was younger. As a reader, I would sat anything above 30 would be a bit much. I'd go as far as 26 probably but that's just me.

"Don’t tell your readers a character is sad; show it." - Pretty good advice. Guess that's why You were a teacher lol

"I also wrote a lot of social commentary stuff back then, and a lot of short stories. I don’t do much of either today" - That's alright. That's why You have me around, haha!!

Alrighty, thanks for that garden photo: I for one am looking forward to gardening sooner than later. Gonna build a smoke house this year too. That should be fun.

Cool - have a good one this week! Cheers!

Ann Carr from SW England on February 15, 2021:

I too love snow and the part that I love the best is, as you mention, the silence! That goes with the virgin snow -the pure, untouched white crispy covering that glistens with each facet in the sun.

Thanks for answering my questions. The series part is easy but the short stories are the problem. I think I'll go with 10-20. I don't think I have more than that which are truly worthy of putting into print, those that I'm proud of.

I recently found out that the 'Writers and Artists Yearbook' actually has part of its site which gives feedback to stories and also gives publishing advice as well as publishing in its own right. Shows how behind the times I am; I had to go online to give them a new email address and then I found all those facilities at my fingertips!

Have a wonderful week, bill!


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