Friday, July 31, 2020


       “You’re not reading that right!” said a new member of my critique group with dismay sprawled across her face. 
         It might have been me years ago when I first joined them. I was used to other writers silently reading five to ten pages of my fabulous, neatly typed and copied pages of my latest writing project 
       But over the years, I’ve learned there is no right way to read a manuscript. A person can only read what the writer has typed and submitted to the group. If they’ve typed a boring manuscript, the reader will read a boring manuscript. I’ve silently groaned while listening to my words that I thought were perfect.
Try it. During the reading, listen for overused words. Even your favorite, most active verb has a life span. Search for a replacement. Read other writers in your genre. Sometimes I type the paragraph or paragraphs that make my heart beat faster. The simple act of typing forces me to think more deeply about the words on the page.
       If a paragraph or a page makes your heart beat faster, read it aloud and focus on the “how”. Just how did the author bring magic to the page?

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

Friday, July 24, 2020

Best Writing Tip Ever--or What I Learned from Wile. E. Coyote

     I don't know where I picked up this "best writing tip." It could've been in the Vermont College MFA Writing for Children program.  Or at one of the many, many writer's conferences I've attended over the years. Maybe it was in one of the dozens of "craft" books I've consumed. I'm sorry I can't credit this writing tip to anyone specific.  All I know is that isn't mine originally.

So here it is.

Stop writing.

I'm one of those people that can't get started when I sit down to write. I fiddle around. I read my mail. I play an online word game. Maybe two.  OK, maybe more than two. Then I go back to my document screen. Words have not magically appeared while I was trying to get started.

This blank screen (or if you're Old School, blank sheet of paper) stares at me. No, glares at me, in all it's blinding white glory. I can look at the previous paragraph or chapter and tell myself, "Look. You wrote this yesterday. See? This sounds pretty good. You can do it, Mary Ann."

The screen doesn't blink. Still blank.

I get a second (or third) cup of coffee.

Sometimes, with that next cup and a hour or so of spinning my wheels, I might squeeze out a couple of terrible sentences. I keep writing sentences, boards thrown randomly over a muddy patch of plot. The sentences, fuzzy and badly placed, will get me to dry ground. But after I regain solid footing...I have to go back and clean up that rickety word bridge. By that time, I can rearrange those boards into a recognizable narrative. If I don't clean up the mess it right then, I'll have the same problem months later when I revise. So it's writing, re-writing...then three hours are gone, and I have a paragraph.


Who has hours to waste with unproductive writing?

So here's what I do now.

I stop writing.

I don't write to the end of a scene or a chapter. I just stop. Stop in mid-chapter, paragraph or even sentence.


If I write until I run out of ideas, guess what? 99% of the time, when I next turn on the computer, I will still be out of ideas! It's like Wile E. Coyote running to the edge of a cliff, and realizing there is no bridge. Dead end.


...if I stop while I still have the end of the scene, or chapter firm in my head, I can begin the next time, knowing that the next words are already there .  No stalling, no hem-hawing around. The act of continuing what was already in my head, creates momentum.  The physics of writing--A writer in the act of writing will continue to write. Or--A writer at rest will continue to be at rest.  Or something like that. (Physics is not my strong suit.)

When I'm engaged in writing what I already know, most often, my subconscious is "building the bridge" ahead. So, unlike poor Coyote, when I get to the end of what I "know," I will discover that the road ahead has cleared...or a bridge has been built...or fill-in your own simile. And as you merrily make your way down to the road of your story, remember to stop. Stop before you get to the next dead end.

Don't fall off the cliff, like Wile E. Coyote.

It works for me. I hope it works for you, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Wednesday Writing Workout: The Little We Need for Happiness

I’m happy to report that yet one more unexpected Kodak Moment came my way this month, thanks to COVID-19: that of two long-ago high school friends who’d unintentionally socially distanced before it was in vogue, reconnecting gloriously via ZOOM’s technology.
And you, our Readers, get to reap the rewards.
My BFF from the 60’s – Jane Anne Staw, who will always be “Janie” to me - is a TeachingAuthor, too.

Jane has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Stanford University and for over 20 years at The
University of California at Berkeley Extension, where she was named an Honored Instructor. Most recently, she’s taught for 12 years in the MFA Program in Writing at the University of San Francisco. She’s been a Bay Area Writing Coach for the past 15 years.

Did she and I know, all those years ago, when we worked on Lower Merion High School’s newspaper, the Merionite, or maybe even the school year book, The Enchiridion, that writing, teaching and writers would fill our days and hearts one day?
I cannot say.
But I do so love that we’re both Teaching Authors.

For sure, there were those few photo album moments as the years tumbled by, many captured photographically by Jane.  Shared First Mom experiences when we amazingly discovered each other in neighboring Chicago ‘burbs. Catch-up phone chats once thousands of miles separated us.  Treasured conversations at milestone years-apart high school reunions. Celebrations of each other’s publishing successes.

But no matter. Once Jane clicked on my Zoom invitation and she appeared on my laptop’s screen, we picked up right where we’d left off the last time we’d spoken… and we didn’t miss a beat.
Jane’s latest book is SMALL: The Little We Need for Happiness (Shanti Arts, 2017).
Once I hit “leave meeting,” I visited her blog based on SMALL, immediately subscribed and knew that her current posts were the stuff of a TeachingAuthors Wednesday Writing Workout.

For so many of us, again thanks to COVID-19, engaging our children and/or grandchildren in the learning process has become a part of our days, nights, and often, weekends.
Jane’s July 1 post on her Writing Workshop interactions with her two precious granddaughters both inform and inspire.

Thank you, Janie, for granting me permission to reprint your post as today's Wednesday Writing Workout!

Readers, Enjoy!

And let's keep looking for those – small - Unexpected Kodak Moments.

Esther Hershenhorn
I highly recommend Jane’s UNSTUCK (St. Martin’s Griffin) in case any of you are facing Writer’s Block.

. . . . . . . . . . . .


I began holding “Writing Workshops” with my granddaughters as soon as the Shelter-In-Place orders hit, and have continued this summer, though modified and less frequently. Last Wednesday, for example, we collaborated on writing a “graphic story” on the sidewalk in front of their house, each one of us successively adding a sentence to the plot, as well as drawing a chalk illustration for our sentences. The plot, as far as we got, went something like this: Two sisters were stuck inside the house. They didn’t like being stuck inside. But it was raining so they couldn’t go outside. They were bored. They had nothing they wanted to do inside the house. They were tired of all their puzzles and games.

In addition to the illustrations under each sentence, we created a border for every sidewalk square, framing each segment of the story and its illustration in colorful configurations of lines and curves. We had a lot of fun sitting on the warm concrete, thick pieces of pastel chalk in our hands, collaborating on the plot and the illustrations, the sun shining down on us, neighbors walking their dog, clearing a swath around us and smiling as they passed.

After about 45 minutes, the girls had had enough of sitting mostly still and concentrating, so I decided to shift activities and teach them something about small. I selected one of the flowering plants in their garden for us to admire. Once we had all discussed what made that particular plant beautiful, each of us picked a flower from that plant. “Look at that flower for a minute and notice one small detail you find lovely,” I told them.

“It looks like lace around the edges,” seven-year-old Poppy announced.
“I see a slightly darker blue line down the middle of each petal,” eight-and-a-half-year-old Amelie offered.
“Look at the tiny bulge where the stem begins,” Poppy offered.
“The back side of the petal is lighter than the front,” Amelie observed.
“You know,” Poppy exclaimed, “I thought the plant was beautiful, but each tiny flower is even more beautiful than the whole plant.”
“Yes, and there’s lots to discover about each tiny flower!” Amelie added.

Not only was this a lovely lesson in small, it was also an opportunity to bone up on my botany. I googled “Anatomy of a Flower” on my phone, and the three of us were soon comparing the pistils, antlers, sepals and filaments on the rose, fuschia, dogwood and salvia blossoms in the garden.

As we stood several feet apart, masks covering our mouths and noses, outstretched hands cradling petals and whole blooms, I realized that this moment of discovering nature’s infinite beauty had been brought to me—to the three of us–by Covid 19.
                                            # #  #

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Breakout Outline

This writing exercise – one I use in my classes -- is adapted from one of my favorite writing books, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass (2004). Sooner or later, every writer needs to use an outline to help weave together various literary components. This is especially true if there is a large cast of characters or a multi-layered plotline. Agents often request outlines before seeing the full manuscript. Publishers will require them if an option novel is proposed.

There is no magic number for how many pages an outline needs to be effective. As with everything else grounded in the creative, it depends upon your purpose. Many long-winded outlines can be just as useless as those not long enough. I like this outline template by Maass because it sharpens the focus of the narrative. Also, it works very well during the revision process, when you outline your draft to help add texture, sharpen the causal chain, and  highlight  the character’s outer and inner conflict.

Plot fundamentals. Write down the following.

1. Where is your novel set? Who is your main character, and what is his primary conflict or goal?

2. What does your protagonist’s most want and why?

3. What is your protagonist’s second plot layer?  What is your protagonist’s third plot layer?

5. What is the first subplot? What is the second subplot?

7. Who is the most important secondary (supporting) character, what is his primary conflict, and what does he most want?

8. Who is the novel’s antagonist, what is his primary conflict or goal, and what does he most want?

The Middle. Write down the following.
1. What are the five biggest steps toward the solution of the central conflict? In other words, what are the five turning points or events, including the story’s climax, that take place in the narrative?

2. What are the five most important steps toward, or away from, what your protagonist most wants? These steps are consequences of choices that the protagonist makes. This step helps identify the causal chain that creates the plot’s spine.

3. What are the three most important steps (each) toward, or away from, the resolution of your first and second subplot?

4. What are the three most important steps (each) toward, or away from, the resolution of the plot layers?

5. What are the three most important steps toward, and away from, the resolution of each main conflict facing your secondary characters and your antagonist?

Key Highlights. Write down the following.
1. Two moments of strong inner conflict.

2. Three larger-than-life actions.

3. Two moments frozen in time. (For example, Juliet laments over Romeo, as Romeo listens below. Their first kiss erases all the wrongs of the past and ignores all future conflicts. Another example: Eliot says good-bye to ET, and ET responds with a gesture, saying: I’ll be right here.)

4. Two measures of change.

Check out his book for the complete discussion on his outlining process!

-- Bobbi Miller

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Best Poetry Tip Lee Bennett Hopkins Ever Taught Me

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (my poem and the PF link are below)

Perhaps some of you really ARE camping right this very minute! Boy, that sure sounds good now: aromatic pines, refreshing dips in a clear lake, scent of wood smoke and that close-your-eyes crackling as you gather 'round to roast marshmallows and sing...ahhhhh.

This round, TeachingAuthors will each share a favorite piece of  writing advice.

Mine came from Lee Bennett Hopkins, who told me: 

Root out all unnecessary "the"s.

It's such a simple idea, yet it can change a poem profoundly.

Or at least clean it up.

(In the paragraph describing your camp-out above, I deleted four "the"s.)

by April Halprin Wayland

It's a simple word, really,
but you need it?

Watch deer tug a tree
for a banquet of greens...

he steers clear of each "the,"
but devours those leaves.

poem © 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Or, as Laura Shovan just shared so succinctly in the comments below, "every word must earn its place in a poem."

So try Lee's tip...and then report back and tell me about it--I can't wait to hear!

Thank you, Ruth, for hosting a Poetry Friday party at 

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland and Eli, who is tuckered out after this morning's walk:
you can see Eli in the distance

writing poetry can be exhausting!