"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati, Date My Pet, South 85 Literary Journal and other award-winning sites.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Pen & Prosper's 2nd Annual Holiday Gift Guide


Perhaps now more than ever before, we need to celebrate and embrace the good in life.
This year has been a challenging one for many people.
A struggling economy, weather-related disasters, police brutality, political upheaval, personal battles, pandemonium. True?

The good thing about the holiday season is that it offers us peace, goodwill toward mankind, generosity of spirit, and a celebration of Christ and our year-long blessings.
Good grub, family and friends, and a sharing of gifts simply serve as the proverbial "frosting on the cake."

There's no better time to shift our gears and focus our thoughts and actions on uplifting things. To put away the past and shelve our worries.
What better way than shopping... Hello?

With this as our goal, I present to you Pen & Prosper's 2nd Annual Holiday Gift Guide.
These suggestions make perfect selections for you, a loved one, or perhaps a fellow writer friend (hint, hint). :-)



You'll never go wrong with teas for writers. And there are so many options from which to choose. Black tea, Green tea, Chamomile, Earl Grey, to name a few.  And check this out: if you have a dollar store in your nearby area, you can get more bang for your buck! Many carry an assortment of delicious brands and flavors you'll enjoy.


Books are to writers what fuel is to cars. They keeps us "running." They entertain, inspire and inform us. If you haven't already had an opportunity to purchase it yet, may I suggest my new E-book to add to your virtual library? This title goes beyond the lessons I share here on the blog, and is guaranteed to provide a few insider's tips that can save you time and money. To order, simply send $3.99 to PayPal address: Gemsjen@yahoo.com.  And here's the bonus: you won't have to pay any shipping and handling, my friends.  Easy peasy.


For the "wine snob" on your list. Pair it with some nice cheese, or with some lovely, decorative glasses or decanter.


Would you like to take your writing to new levels? Finish a novel? Start a blog? Banish writer's block? Coffeehouse for Writers classes can help you to learn more and earn more! Register today for a better writing future. Visit the C4W site at : www.coffeehouseforwriters.com


The Portable Muse Writing Cards

Saw these recently through the Women on Writing Blog and thought they were a neat idea for stimulating creativity. 30 Creative writing prompts to enhance your productivity.
Get ordering information here:



Simply put: "Nothin' spells lovin' like somethin' from the oven." If this holiday season finds you with a little time to spare, why not "throw down" in the kitchen? For me it's therapeutic and affords another way to express my creativity.
An alternative to making baked goods as gifts, of course, is to purchase some of the nicer store brand versions and put them in a basket with other thoughtful items like a decorative mug, kitchen pot holders, fruit and/or a gift certificate to a coffee shop. My personal favorites are Aldi's Loven Fresh baked goods and Jewel's apple pie. How about you?


I'm a big music lover. And I'm betting that many of you "creatives" are too.
In fact, music serves as the "backdrop" to many of my writing and blogging sessions and helps to set the tone for the day. The above video features a young, talented diva that delivers! Add Andra Day to your playlist for the holidays and beyond. Let me know what you think here.
B/T/W/ Sioux, this one's for you. :-) One good recommendation deserves another.


This concludes today's post and this year's blog pennings for 2016.
At this time, I'd like to thank each and every one of you for the "gift" of your readership, friendship and support.
This would not be possible without you.

Your turn.
Thoughts? What's on your Xmas wish list?
Any ideas you like here? Any that you would add?

Please note:
Pen and Prosper will be on holiday break, while Jen spreads a little cheer, until around January 9, 2017. Have a happy, safe, joyous holiday season.

...Until we meet again.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"Ask the Expert" With Designer David Lange

Image Credit: David Lange

Hi, David. Welcome! Can you share with my readers a little about who you are and your professional background?

I am a self taught graphic designer, artist & illustrator. I've always gravitated towards creative pastimes ever since I was young, but have been working professionally as a designer for the past 7 years both as a freelancer and for various agencies.

Describe a typical day.

Having just taken the position of Senior Graphic Designer at a marketing agency, my responsibilities as both designer and creative director include designing collateral and web pages as well as developing and refining our design and development process. A typical day consists of a little of both. There are usually a handful of design projects in my queue, but my focus right now is facilitating the web design process across various compartmentalized departments.

I see on your site that you also specialize in branding. What are some of the most common mistakes you witness with creative artists and entrepreneurs, when it comes to branding efforts?

A lack of consistency in brand strategy and presentation is probably the biggest. It's tempting and easy to follow impulse but erratic branding dilutes your message and the unique value of your offering. It also hinders brand retention and trust among your audience. This usually occurs because there are no brand standards in place, because they haven't walked the company in question through some type of branding process.

How would you describe your approach to working with writers and businesses seeking graphic design services? In other words, what's your U.S.P.?

My USP is the cross section between my passion as an artist and my hyper analytical instincts. I'm obsessed with making brands beautiful and am an advocate of being truly passionate about your personal brand, but I also appreciate the need to understand the "pain" driving the interest and desire for a particular product or service. I like to at least consider whatever data is available to understand the mindset of the customer and the particular buying process they go through.

Do you charge by the hour or by the project?

I try to stay as flexible as possible to avoid the creative process feeling restricted by cost. I usually quote most anything, but smaller projects are more typically the ones I'm comfortable working on for a flat fee. Larger projects are usually looking at a quoted range with just enough room to accommodate all the various unforeseeables.

A lot of writers are opting to publish ebooks these days. Are covers for ebooks different than hardcopy versions? Or are the design elements pretty much the same? 

The principle would be roughly the same but print is more demanding and restrictive. Print typically has more specifications involved that relate to the output (margin, bleed, print-marks, preferred format, color...). Anything that stays in the digital space is typically a little easier to deal with.

What should freelancers look for in terms of hiring a graphic designer or illustrator?

A portfolio of quality work, relevant to the type of design you're hiring them for. The freelance market is mostly driven by cost though. Design is a complex discipline that's cheapened in the eyes of the average consumer by a lot of temptingly cheap options. Good designers know their worth so be prepared to pay for quality. Going the cheap route can be okay for some things but there are a lot of unseen pitfalls for those basing their decisions on price alone.

Any other special talent or unusual hobby?

I enjoy the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.

What quote or expression do you live by?

I have quite a few that I like, maybe not one in particular. If I had to choose one for the moment: "Work hard in silence, let success be your noise."

Nice. I like that one, David.

How can we reach you?



Friday, December 2, 2016

How to "Make Nice" With Your Muse & Produce More

Whether your goal is to finish a novel, start a blog, or simply cross off more items on your creative “to-do” list, you’ll achieve more inspired results when you can make your muse a willing partner.
A reclusive muse, (A.K.A. a block in creativity) can cause a block in cash flow and derail your goals.

No output means no income. No income can cause stress, which in turn can cause your muse to become even more resistant.

If you’re on deadline with editors, publishers, or clients, it can become further problematic.
Which is why a strategic approach can improve your productivity, your outlook and your bottom line.

But before we address muse management, let’s examine some of the most common reasons it can abandon us when most needed:


  • Stress
  • Deadline pressure
  • The pressure of expectations
  • Fear (of failure or success)
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of focus
Here’s a perfect example that underscores how pressure can create havoc with our muse and cause us to under-perform. Many years ago, I had to complete a timed essay for a college entrance exam. Students got to choose from about 10 topics with instructions to write a persuasive essay. I completely blanked out. Even though I had been writing professionally for many years.
I folded under pressure.

Luckily, with prayer, I was able to focus (after about 20 minutes of staring at that ticking clock) and I passed the test.
Once I regrouped and lost my fears, I was able to gain perspective.

And you can too.

With this in mind, here are 5 practices and principles to “make nice” with your muse and become more productive in 2017.


1. Try a Change of Scenery.

If you’re used to working from home, why not tote your laptop or journal to the local library, coffee shop, or park? Bird watching, star gazing, or simply engaging in conversations with others can often provide information and inspiration for that next chapter of your novel, or next blog post.

2. Color.

Adult coloring books are all the rage. If you’re thinking that they’re just for kids, retrain your brain. According to Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic: “Coloring can help slow down heart rate and respiration, loosen muscles and stimulate the brain.” Many psychologists even suggest coloring as an alternative to meditation.

In 2015, an estimated 12 million adult coloring books were sold in the United States.

3. Take a Break.

That’s right. Though this may seem counter-productive it actually works. Scheduling some “down time” helps to relax the mind, rejuvenate the spirit, and “unplug.” Make it a part of your regular routine to break the monotony and to break through to new levels in your writing.

4. Dabble With Creative Prompts.

Creative prompts serve to jump-start the brain, ignite the imagination, and get those creative juices flowing. They usually consist of 1-4 opening lines, and are also commonly used in creative contests as story starters.

Here are a few sites you’ll want to check out to get going and to give you some practice.


5. Read.

When we open a book, we open ourselves to a world of possibilities. Reading helps to broaden our perspective, expand our knowledge base, hone our craft, develop our voice, escape, and understand the needs of an audience.

To quote Dr. Seuss: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
The next time you’re stuck, simply reach for that book on your night stand or coffee table, and your muse will appear before you know it.

Though writing is said to be a solitary profession, you don’t have to go it alone. Let your muse inform, engage and guide you.

Follow these five timely tips for greater progress, peace and productivity in the months ahead.

Your turn. Thoughts?
How do you make nice with your muse when you're creatively stuck?
Let's share ideas here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

3R'S Series Delivers Recommended Reads & Leads!


Things you Should “Unlearn” to Become a Smarter Writer!

How I Handled When Someone Stole my Ebooks


40 Bloggers Talk About Their Biggest Challenge


How to Reward Yourself for NANOWRIMO


Tips to Becoming a Good Writer and Blogger


6 Ways to Overcome Your “Perfection Obsession”



End your writing year on a high note. Learn more, earn more. Classes offered daily online for writers of all levels and genres. Register for a class between now and December 31st to get a $10.00 discount. Sign up today at www.Coffeehouseforwriters.com/


With the holiday season at our doorstep, many will be seeking ways to entertain family and friends, and provide appetizing dishes and desserts. And let's face it: shortcuts can help us to go the distance and preserve our sanity.
Which is why I recently purchased a Sweet Potato Pie from Walmart, (instead of making my own), baked by one of my favorite singing divas, Ms. Patti Labelle.
Although is was a tasty treat that saved me time and money, unfortunately it didn't "make my heart sing."  I would give it *** stars. 

Your turn.
Thoughts? What's your favorite "R" of the 3R's series...the recommended reads, resources, or reviews?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Using Emotional Intelligence for a Competitive Edge

Knowledge is power.


We've all met someone who was "smart as a whip" but lacked certain social graces or was "clueless" when it comes to understanding how his words or behavior impacts others.
You know: the scholarly neighbor who bombs out at cocktail parties due to off-color remarks or jokes told in poor taste, to the alienation of others.

Or the successful business executive who publicly berates his restaurant waiter for his order, not recognizing that what he could potentially be "served" once his plate is returned from the back kitchen might be even less appetizing.

Or the writer whose published blog rant comes across as immature, irrational and irrelevant to his readership.

Truth is, although Emotional Intelligence is a very important type of "aptitude" it's sorely lacking in far too many folks. Which is why learning to cultivate it can give writers a competitive edge and help to make "smarter" career choices.


The concept was introduced by psychologists Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey in the early 1990's.
Essentially it involves, "recognizing, understanding, and influencing the emotion of others."
It also entails recognizing and governing our own individual emotions.

The English Oxford Living Dictionary Defines it as : “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically:
emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success.”
Whether we realize it or not Emotional Intelligence impacts many areas of our work and ultimately our bottom line.
With clients
With editors
With readers
With buyers and customers

 In fact, research from Harvard Business School demonstrated that EQ counts for twice as much as IQ and Technical Skills in determining who will be successful!


Based upon my professional experience and myriad roles in the creative arena, (columnist, former senior editor of a regional magazine, long-time blogger, board director of a prominent arts organization, and community based arts organization founder), here are some characteristics and common practices of  Emotionally Intelligent people, I strongly believe.

  • Emotionally intelligent people realize that karma can contribute to success as much as talent.
  • They balance "Freedom of speech" with cultural sensitivity, fairness, sound judgment, and a sense of responsibility.
  •  They think before they speak; whether it's verbally, in a blog post rant, or via social media.
  • They use proper discretion.
  • They are receptive to learning from others.
  • They understand the dynamics of reciprocity.
  • They don't make pre-judgments based upon race, religion, age, creed or status.
  • They can empathize with others.
  • They "know" without being told. Call it intuition or common sense.  
  • They don't burn professional bridges unnecessarily.
  • EI people recognize the importance of good manners. Like saying thank you and please, or responding to emails from fellow writers and bloggers. 


Knowing your client's bottom line objectives, how to appeal to their core needs in your language, tone and approach. Understanding what motivates them to buy, and demonstrating your understanding of their particular "pain points". According to Michael LeBoeuf, Ph.D., author of "How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life: "Despite all of the untold millions of products and services for sale in today's market place, customers will exchange their hard-earned money for only two things:
good feelings and solutions to problems."

Choosing your battles wisely, not engaging in word wars with others, being perceived as a credible resource, demonstrating an awareness of proper protocol in public forums, not "oversharing."

Understanding why people visit your site (i.e. for inspiration, to be empowered, to be informed or entertained) and creating quality content that addresses their needs and interests. Creating a community of inclusiveness in your content and comments.

By not personalizing rejection, by striving to take criticism constructively, and asking the right questions to improve future performance and dealings.


Curious about your Emotional Intelligence level? Interested in improving?

Here are a few quick quizzes to help you assess:



(I was happy to discover that I scored "above average.")

If your objective is to take your career to new heights in 2017, increase your Emotional I.Q. to increase your fan base and your bottom line.

Thoughts? Agree or disagree?

Pen and Prosper will be on break for the holiday until December 2nd.
Join me then for more opportunities, markets, and fun ideas to explore.

Have a safe, blessed, bountiful Thanksgiving! 

   Image Credit: Man with chest Freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to Negotiate Great Perks for Your Work!

Raise your hand if you've ever had to turn down a creative gig because the client couldn't afford your going rate. It's happened to me more times than a few.

But what I've learned is that pay should not always be the determining factor in whether or not to accept a potential client or assignment.

Here are some other factors to consider:
  • The mission or associated cause of the organization (.i.e. domestic violence, Cancer awareness, education reform) and whether it is in alignment with your belief system, interests or leanings
  • The initial chemistry with the client
  • Your future goals
  • How much work is involved or the hours required to fulfill the position
There is great validity to the expression, "Money ain't everything."

Accordingly, here are some other perks that you can negotiate to provide for a great "compensation package" in the future.

If you can't receive the compensation you feel you deserve, at least strive to get it in your hands sooner. In other words, ask to be paid upon acceptance as opposed to payment after publication.

A cash-strapped client may have limited funds, but they may have other goods, products or services that would be beneficial. For example, one client seeking to hire me, allowed me free membership in one of her membership organizations for writers. This saved me hundreds of dollars over the year.

I tend to be a pretty prolific writer. I'm rarely without a W.I.P.
So, for me it saves time and mental wear and tear if I'm allowed to choose what I write about; as long as it fits the clients' needs and profile.

Which can often be used to promote your products or attract new clients. This can be done through links and mentions to your other sites in your Bio.

With some of my clients I have as much as a 5 day gap in when the final work is due each month. In cases of emergency or illness, this can be a big blessing.

An impressive reference or testimonial can go a long way in gaining future business. It's a great form of "social proof." Ask and you shall receive.
Here's an example of some of mine.


As a business grows, or a client is able to become more profitable, often there is the possibility of a  future pay raise. Sometimes it's six months after the sign on date or maybe a year. It's always worth discussing as an option, to sweeten the deal.

These are just a few ways to create work arrangements that put you in the driver's seat and that enable you to be "enriched" regardless of pay.
Make sure to consider them, (and when possible to include them) in your contract negotiations with clients for 2016/2017.

Thoughts? Agree or disagree?  Which is your favorite?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review for Nonfiction Writers


by: Noelle Sterne
Most of us have heard of or have read, and probably crave to get published in, one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul (CS) books. They follow a successful formula. Each has a specific theme with stories by contributors, writers at all levels, of their experiences and insights. The stories are about 1,200 words long, easy to read, with one or more life lessons, and most often a motivating lift.
Simply Happy, though, is a hybrid, the first of its kind in the series. Amy Newmark, the author, has been the peerless editor of the CS series for eight years and has produced over 100 volumes during that time (an amazing feat). In this book, Amy has accomplished what she has long desired to do (sound familiar?)—write a CS book of her own.
She follows the formula—sort of. Short chapters, each with a lesson and inspiration. But the differences are what make this book unique—and the book provides not only life lessons but writing lessons, especially for nonfiction authors.
Writing Lesson 1: Your Point?
Newmark’s purpose is telegraphed in the subtitle: “A Crash Course in Chicken Soup for the Soul Advice and Wisdom.” No guessing about her point. It’s clear and promising. For your own self-help book, practice writing out, and refining your main point.
Writing Lesson 2: Attention-Getting Titles
Each of the twenty-six chapters has catchy, funny, or provocative titles. Chapter 2, “A Smile Is a Boomerang”; Chapter 12, “My Mother Is an Alien”; Chapter 19, “The Power of No.” Like the other CS books, we can scan the table of contents and flip to whatever appeals or meets our need at a given moment. As authors, we can hone our chapter titles for wit, creativity, and similar reader captivation.
Writing Lesson 3: Take It Away
Extremely appropriate in a nonfiction self-help book, in Simply Happy every chapter has a direct takeaway nugget (and a handy recap in the “Afterword”). For Chapter 2 on smiles: “”They’re free, they’re easy, and they change your whole day.” For Chapter 12 on questionable motherhood: “Dare to be different when raising children.” For Chapter 19 on no-ing: “De-clutter your calendar and home to make room for what matters.” We can quickly seize such forthright directives, one lesson at a time, and start or continue to change our lives for the better. In your book, what are the nuggets you want your readers to take away?
Writing Lesson 4: Give Credit
Newmark doesn’t just sermonize, though. She gives credit for reaching her own greater insights. This too sets her CS book apart. Within every chapter, she relates stories from previous CS books that have moved her and she has learned from. She names names, reprints bios in the back, and generously praises other authors. (Disclaimer: She alludes to one of my stories, about friends and frenemies, and I am thankful.)
Writing Lesson 5: Honest Sharing
Combined with what Amy has learned from others, her transparency is unflinching. In the context of each chapter, she shares her life, humanness, and frailties: her acknowledged one percenter status living in a “pretty fancy town,” her messy clothes closet, mistakes raising her children, her “normal” marriage (she doesn’t reply to her husband’s questions until he“’needs to know’ because he won’t listen to my answers anyway.”). What can you share with your readers about yourself?
Writing Lesson 6: I’m Like You
Amy’s tone is of mutuality. We may not have a swimming pool like she does (a to-be-envied rarity in the Northeast). But she shows us that, whatever one’s “privileges,” we all need goals and meaning. For her, the meaning is in the CS books and “changing the world, one story at a time,” as the website proclaims. She also shows us that she gives back. She volunteers in neighborhood activities, opening herself to criticism from other demanding one percenters.
As readers and writers we can identify with Amy’s passion, goals, dedication, hard work (few weekends off), and absolute caring about the written word. She also expresses great generosity and gratitude for others (good reminders to us)—her husband and family, friends, CS team, and business experiences. Express your gratitude to the people and events who have helped you grow and are now sharing in your book. Everyone wins.
So, I recommend Simply Happy—it’s a great gift for yourself and for others. Personally, you’ll learn a lot, will be encouraged to reflect on your own life, and gain tips and ideas for greater satisfaction and even happiness. Professionally as a writer, you’ll become more aware of the ingredients for a truly helpful, popular, and successful nonfiction book—and you may be inspired to start this book you’ve always wanted to write!
NOELLE STERNE Author, editor, writing coach and soother, dissertation nurturer, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne publishes writing craft, spiritual articles, essays, and stories in print and online publications. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle assists doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, her current handbook addresses these students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties. Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). In Noelle’s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she helps readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com
Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net