Monday, June 29, 2015

Janet Fitch's 10 Writing Tips

I found this link on Facebook, via Dylan Landis, and had to share it because the information is brilliant and succinct, Janet Fitch’s “10 Writing Tips that Can Help Almost Anyone”:

 9. Write in scenes What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next. Make something happen.

Also, check out Dylan’s wonderful book, Rainey Royal, now in paperback! It’s a stunner:

“A mesmerizing portrait of a teenager in 1970s Greenwich Village. Rainey Royal’s life is wantonly glamorous, degenerate, sophisticated . . . [Landis] has created a kind of scandalous beauty in her tale of the simultaneously fierce and vulnerable Rainey.”Kirkus Reviews

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How to Fix "Boring" Writing

I hope you’ve never had someone in a workshop or critique group blatantly declare your work “boring,” but as I know too well, there are many ways your readers can say “boring” without using that word: I lost interest here, the pacing is off, we need more tension, I’m not feeling compelled….and on and on. Yikes.

Here’s a great piece written by one of the members of my fabulous neighborhood prompt group, Joanne M. Lozar Glenn, about what to do if you get the dreaded “boring” scribbled onto your manuscript page. After all, we know it’s better to hear the word from a critique group, right, rather than waiting for the silence of the editor’s eyes slipping away, looking to see what else might be in the stack?

Fixing “Boring” Writing

By Joanne M. Lozar Glenn

Has anyone ever told you that something you wrote was "boring"? Did you think the criticism was valid?

That's hard to hear. If and when that happens to you, try this:
  • Look at work you've done that your critic, or others, found engaging. Analyze what you did there that you did not do in the work your critic found boring. That's a clue to what you do well. Do more of it.
  • Remember that writing gets interesting when it becomes specific. Use concrete, specific, sensory (sight, touch, taste, smell, sound) details to make your point.
  • Write about people. Most of us love to peek into other people's lives.
  • When you write about people, write about a particular person instead of people in general. E.B. White once said, "Don't write about men; write about a man." Again--specificity!
  • Narrow your focus. Go deep rather than wide. Write only what you can see through a one-inch picture frame (metaphor courtesy of Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, one of my favorite writing books). Stay in the moment. Use concrete details to illustrate abstract ideas.
  • Edit with copies of Strunk and White's Elements of Style and Gary Provosts' Make Every Word Count nearby. Both authors offer lots of examples to clarify their advice, and Provost is easy and fun to read.
  • Whenever you can, tell a story--even if you're writing for business. Stories make facts and information more palatable. Humans are hard-wired for story. Give them what they crave.
  • When you tell a story, tell the truth. Readers can tell when you're hiding something. Your emotional honesty comes through on the page, and readers will not only find that interesting, but love you for it.

Joanne M. Lozar Glenn is an independent writer, editor, and educator based in Alexandria, Va. She writes and edits content for clients in healthcare, education, and business, and leads "destination" writing retreats ( Her essays and poems have appeared in Peregrine, Under the Gum Tree, Ayris, The Northern Virginia Review, Hippocampus, The Writer, and other print and online journals. She is the author of Mentor Me: A Guide to Being Your Own Best Advocate in the Workplace and co-author of 25+1: Communications Strategies for Business Education and Applying Evidence-Based Laboratory Medicine: A Step-by-Step Guide.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Book Is Now on Amazon!

In the timeline of exciting things that happen when a book is in the pipeline to be published, the day it shows up on Amazon is right up there for thrills. Somehow, everything feels that much more real, seeing the book up on the computer screen with a price (which I assume will be discounted at some point).

And this is its best moment up there, really, before the one-star reviews get posted, berating me for using a curse word or angry because this isn't a book about Heaven; before the used copies show up for a penny each; before I see that readers who viewed my book also viewed some book/author I despise; before there’s a cheesy pedi-perfect electronic foot file ad cluttering up the page—oh wait, that’s already happening, there at the bottom.

Pre-order if you feel inspired to do so, but also feel free to wait and put in a request from your favorite independent bookstore and/or library.  Even better: BOTH!  (But stay away from that foot file…it looks like the thing that buzzes scarily to life in a Stephen King novel!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Redux Open to Submissions July 5 – July 31

Redux, the online journal of previously published work, is accepting submissions of fiction/poetry/essays during an open reading period: July 5 to July 31.  We’re looking for literary work of high quality that has been previously published in a print journal but that is not available elsewhere on the internet.  Our mission is to bring deserving work to a new, online audience.  Preference will be given to older pieces (i.e. published before 2012).

No novel excerpts, poems that appear in chapbooks, or pieces published in anthologies…even if these books are presently out-of-print.

Please read our guidelines for important submission information.  If your work is accepted, you will also be asked to write a short “story behind the piece” essay a la the Best American series. Pieces must be available in a Microsoft Word file.

Authors we’ve published include Margot Livesey, Sandra Beasley, Robin Black, R.T. Smith, Michelle Boisseau, Kelle Groom, Erica Dawson, Catherine Chung, Walter Cummins, Lee Martin, Dave Housley, and Terese Svoboda.

We look forward to seeing your work!

Questions: reduxlj AT gmail DOT com

Monday, June 15, 2015

Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography with Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield, who is one of my favorite people—and a hell of a teacher—is offering this workshop near Philly…maybe you’re looking for a short writing getaway?

Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography
July 5-9, 2015
A short course with Dan Wakefield
 338 Plush Mill Road
Wallingford, Pennsylvania
@ Pendle Hill, a Quaker Study, Retreat, and Conference Center

Visit, or call Ext. 137 at 610-566 4507 or 800-742-3150 (toll-free in US)

Travel: Pendle Hill is just fifteen minutes from Philadelphia International Airport, and twenty minutes outside the city. The campus is near the Wallingford train station. Take the SEPTA Media/Elwyn line from Philadelphia and call for a pick-up.

Evocative exercises and group sharing in a nurturing setting allow us to remember and write about the most meaningful parts of our life’s journey. Re-experiencing events from our past, we gain fresh perspective and appreciation for the richness of our lives. We will write of our experiences at crucial turning points and share our stories in small groups. Come with openness to the process, and leave with stories of your spiritual journey and appreciation for the sacred work of writing and sharing them.

Dan Wakefield is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter, whose best-selling novels Going All the Way and Starting Over were made into major motion pictures. Bill Moyers called Dan’s Returning: A Spiritual Journey “one of the most important memoirs of the spirit I have ever read.” Dan’s The Story of Your Life: Writing a Spiritual Autobiography and Releasing the Creative Spirit are the basis of popular workshops he leads throughout the United States and abroad. Visit his website for more information:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Digging Up a Name: Using Obituaries as a Writing Source

by Rebecca M. Thomas 

I love thinking about names.  I’ve named all my cars, the dog’s array of toy animals, the four little bronze sculptures on my desk, every character in my as yet to be published novel.  Right now, I’m ruminating on names for my cello, but I can’t decide if I’ve got a girl or boy instrument. (No, please, let’s not go there.)

Anyway, names and naming are always fun, but finding just the right name for a person – or a place – can sometimes be challenging, if not downright frustrating, or even crucial to a specific text. 

So, when I want to get past the baby name books and websites, I turn to one unfailing source not only for naming ideas but also for story ideas and historical detail – the newspaper obituary column.  That’s right.  All kinds of fascinating, useful, and inspirational names and information lie buried (sorry, couldn’t resist!) on these pages. Here you will find hundreds of names each day.  Names of the deceased, of course, as well as the names of their many and varied relatives and the places they have lived and worked.  And you’ll read their life stories, which are a mother lode of accurate historical data, detail and tidbits that could enhance a multitude of writing projects.

This is what you’ll discover:

·       Names suggesting specific time periods
·       Names reflecting ethnic or national origin
·       Common or fairly straightforward names
·       Names derived from everyday words or objects (You’d be surprised what words turn into names!)
·       Unusual names; obscure names
·       Names so intriguing that they can evoke their own story
·       Names that trigger your own memories, possibly leading to important additions to your writing
·       Names conducive for naming fictional towns, streets, neighborhoods, undiscovered planets or  worlds
·       Names of cities, counties, countries ... both known and obscure…or possibly defunct
·       Endless list of names of places where people worked—places still here and those long gone
·       Descriptions of real people’s involvement in historical events, with levels of detail and trivia footnotes found nowhere else
·       Photos of people from many times and places, offering an abundance of inspiration

If you’ve never thought of an obituary as a source for your writing, I encourage you to give it a try.  I guarantee it won’t be wasted time.  Above all, your most important takeaway will be the sense of carpe diem you experience.  After all, these stories are already finished.  There’s still time to tell yours.

ABOUT REBECCA M. THOMAS: Formerly director of field services for several Washington, DC-based national associations, followed by years of freelancing as a health writer with publication through multiple venues including The Washington Post and, Thomas now works part time as a personal trainer while developing a book based on growing up Southern Baptist in the 1950s & 60s.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Read More Poetry, Starting with Sandra Beasley's New Book!

I’ve been thinking about poetry quite a bit lately, in awe of what poets do. (It certainly helped that I was recently at the Converse low-res MFA 10-day residency in South Carolina where I heard MANY amazing poets read their work, including faculty members Denise Duhamel, Albert Goldbarth, Richard Tillinghast, Suzanne Cleary, Rick Mulkey, and—our incredible visiting poet who left an entire room of people utterly mesmerized—Yona Harvey.)

Closer to home, on Sunday I went to Politics & Prose to see my friend Sandra Beasley read from her wonderful new book of poems, Count the Waves, which received a glowing review in the Washington Post today:

Beasley presents romance and desire as challenging, sometimes dangerous and fraught with emotional distance... Beasley, who lives in Washington and has published two previous poetry collections and the memoir “Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life,” uses humor and surprise like a scythe, cutting to the root of a matter in ways that may make some chuckling readers think, “Did she really say that?”

And read more poetry! What takes me 300 pages to get to, these poets can cover in 14 lines. Reading poetry will help any writer learn to be more compact, think about music and rhythm and language. Reading poetry will help any human learn to feel and observe and connect with life. Plus...something else on my mind lately: reading poetry is low-cal, no-carb, and even gluten-free!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.