"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thought for the Day
"What better occupation, really, than to spend the evening at the fireside with a book, with the wind beating on the windows and the lamp burning bright. Haven't you ever happened to come across in a book some vague notion that you've had, some obscure idea that returns from afar and that seems to express completely your most subtle feelings?" ~ Gustave Flaubert

 "Reading is a dialog with oneself; it is self-reflection, which cultivates profound humanity. Reading is therefore essential to our development. It expands and enriches the personality like a seed that germinates after a long time and sends forth many blossom-laden branches.

People who can say of a book, 'this changed my life' truly understand the meaning of happiness. Reading that sparks inner revolution is desperately needed to escape drowning in the rapidly advancing information society. Reading is more than intellectual ornamentation; it is a battle for the establishment for the self, a ceaseless challenge that keeps us young and vigorous."
~ Daisaku Ikeda

Writer's Resource: Written Sound
At last! An on line onomatopoeia dictionary. Find it here.  Badaboom and a ratatatat.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thought for the Day: "For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it must always be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness." ~ James Baldwin

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thought for the Day:
“Once you discover and become your characters, your story begins to draw itself. If you are true to your characters, they will do only what they would do within the limitations of the story as it builds itself, reinforcing the inner logic. In an almost symbiotic way, they will develop your story for you even as you develop them.” ~ Kit Reed

I hope you all had a grand Thanksgiving. I'll be transforming some of our leftovers into soup later today. One secret to great turkey soup is a bit of curry powder.

For fiction writers I've posted another cheat sheet at my website called Know Your Characters. 
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where I Write # 19
Here's something you need to read from The Rumpus. It begins: "I  write at a desk two gay men helped me pull from a dumpster and load in my truck. The legs are bruised, and its paint’s coming off.
I write in a chair my best friend gave me. Right where my thighs rub, the fabric’s torn and the cushion sticks out.
Stephen King suggested it, so I write in a corner facing a wall.
I also write with music on.
Best of all, I write in my bedroom surrounded by books. Meaning I write inhaling the sweat off the cadence of other writers: blood, tears, and come never hurts either. Sylvia Plath, Marguerite Duras, Lidia Yuknavitch. They took me there, so I write from the edge, sure. Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. It’s more like a little unraveling. Come back down to Earth.
I write from a trailer I bought from the son of a woman who now lives in a nursing home..."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thought for the Day:
"This writing stuff saved me. It has become my way of responding to and dealing with things I find too disturbing or distressing or painful to handle in any other way. It's safe. Writing is my shelter. I don't hide behind the words; I use them to dig inside my heart to find the truth. I guess I can say, honestly, that writing also offers me a kind of patience I don't have in my ordinary day-to-day life. It makes me stop. It makes me take note. It affords me a kind of sanctuary that I can't get in my hurried and full-to-the-brim-with-activity life." ~ Terry McMillan

All night a storm has raged through bringing mean winds from the west. Since my bedroom faces west, I was awakened again and again by the wind lashing against the window. However, the strongest winds are on the coast with gusts recorded at up to 97 miles an hour. Sheesh. I also kept dreaming about my upcoming writing conference on January  28th (Making It in Tough & Changing Times) because I'm finalizing the schedule and calling caterers.  So stayed tuned for information on that.

A few  reminders:Deadline approaching: The Writer 2011 Personal Essay/Memoir Contest
Deadline  is Wednesday, 11/30/2011
Entry Fee: $10 per entry
Prizes: $1,000/$300/$200, plus online classes from Gotham Writers' Workshop and a year's subscription to The Writer for the top three. The winning essay/memoir will be published in The Writer; the top three will be published on WriterMag.com.
Description: Submit a personal essay or memoir of 1,000-1,200 words, any theme. Show us what you can do: Write an essay or memoir that catches our eye, touches our heart, or tickles our funny bone!

Must be submitted online only. See details and rules at http://www.writingclasses.com/essay2011.
Contact Information: contest@writermag.com
Please note "Essay/memoir contest" in the subject line.
The Syliva K. Burack essay contest is now open. The Sylvia K. Burack Writing Award is a writing contest for high school students in grades 11 and 12 in the U.S. and Canada. The award is made in memory of Sylvia K. Burack, longtime editor and publisher of The Writer magazine. Burack was known for her dedication to helping writers and editors.Information is here.

You will also find a column about making time for writing over the holidays here, written by Brandi-Ann Uyemura. She writes: "Holiday lists, deadlines and intense planning may have some thinking turkey time and the pressures of presents, parents and parties. That is, unless you’re a writer. If you’re not getting burnout from doing too much, you’re feeling guilty about not writing enough. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get your writing done and have your turkey, too?"

Writing Prompt: What are you thankful for? 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thought for the Day (!):
"Get yourself in that intense state of being next to madness. Keep yourself in, not necessarily a frenzied state, but in a state of great intensity. The kind of state you would be in before going to bed with your partner. That heightened state when you're in a carnal embrace: time stops and nothing else matters. You should always write with an erection. Even if you're a woman." ~ Tom Robbins

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thought for the Day:
"I've gotten convinced that there's something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn't have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent. Talent's just an instrument. It's like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn't. I'm not saying I'm able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art's heart's purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It's got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved." ~ David Foster Wallace

Friday, November 18, 2011

If rejection is getting you down
Check out these letters to famous authors. And look where they are today.
Into every life rejection, refusal, and heartbreak will fall.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have faith
Quick Take:

A plot point is an event in a story, usually a crisis, that pushes the plot into a new direction. Once a plot point happens, there is no turning back to the way things were and there will always be consequences. If you can figure out when and how they occur, you can design a plot.  And once you lay out your plot points, you can also create a synopsis or outline.
NaNoWriMo Writing Tip # 3 is at my website: Make a Scene
Thought for the day:
from Chris Cleave's NaNoWriMo Week Three Pep Talk.  For the full piece go here:

"It doesn’t matter what genre you write in. All literature is transformative. To make people laugh; to tell a light-hearted romantic story; to let intelligent readers forget their troubles for an hour in the absence of the politicians and the money men who make our lives hell – these are some of the hardest feats to accomplish as a writer, and some of the most serious political acts you can perform. You don’t have to be a Serious Writer to be a serious writer. I once read a beautiful paragraph about teenage vampires – teenage vampires, for goodness’ sake – that moved me more than all of Hemingway. You don’t need to be trying to change the world in order to change someone’s world. What you need is to be seriously committed to your work...

Something I’ve learned is that it’s very hard to tell, at the end of your writing day, whether you’ve done great work or bad work. The quality of the writing is hard to judge until you’ve had some sleep and got some perspective on it. Often sheer euphoria at your own brilliance will keep you writing late into the night, and you can hardly sleep because what you’ve written is so damned good. Then you wake up the next day and read it, and you realise it’s a pile of self-indulgent crap. This happens to me two days out of five. Then you get the opposite case, where you beat yourself up because the ideas are coming so slowly and all your dialogue seems timid and pedestrian. A week later you might look back on that day as a pretty solid performance, where your characters were honest with each other and maybe even created a couple of touching moments.

The more I learn about the writing process, the more I suspect that there is no such thing as a bad day at the keyboard. Sometimes you need slow days where you work through a dozen ideas that aren’t destined to fly. It creates a kind of intensity that eventually goads your brain into giving you a good day. Or sometimes, if you keep having slow days, then perhaps the novel really is asking you a deeper question about whether your plot, or your characterisation, or your theory about the human heart really is up to scratch. Experience is knowing when you’re having a slow day, versus when you’re having a slow novel.

The good days are when you perform; the slow days are when you learn to perform better. The only bad days as a writer are the ones when you are too cowardly or too lazy to sit down at the keyboard and give it everything you have.

If you can sit down at the keyboard every day in November and give it everything you have, then there is no writer on earth who is better than you. I hope that it will be an exciting, frightening, weird, joyful, unpredictable, transformative month for you, and I hope that you will produce fantastic work that you are proud of."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


We are pleased to announce the birth of a new poetry publication,
Fault Lines Poetry.  It is named after the Cascadia earthquake fault line that runs from San Francisco all the way to Vancouver, BC.  We hope that its selection of poems will rock your world and make you all wobbly at the knees.
We invite poems of all kinds, addressing all types of themes.

Please participate in this home grown Portland project by submitting your poems to our web site:  www.faultlinespoetry.org.  The journal will be published Spring of 2012 and copies will be distributed to books stores throughout the West Coast. 

We look forward to your submissions for this very exciting poetry project.  Should you have any questions, please feel free to email me at tonypfan@aol.com.

Thank you. 

Tony Pfannenstiel
Publisher/editor in chief

Quick take:
Avoid using these phrases:
each and every
in terms of
one and only
forever and ever
Fog everywhere this morning, so thick the stand of Douglas firs less than a block away look like shadows. November is the month when the most fog rolls in and I love these mornings with their muffled mystery and stillness. Perfect writing weather.  Everything I write when the fog envelops the city seems somehow mysterious, as if I'm searching for lost memories. 

Last night I stepped out onto the front porch for air, breathing in the damp, the smoke from a neighbor's fireplace, the quiet. My breath visible in the air. Some moments have such a pause in them. As if you're standing between two worlds, on the cusp of change.

Writing Prompt:
Write a scene or story that beings: The fog began rolling in shortly after midnight.

Thought for the Day:
"I demanded a realm in which I should be both master and slave at the same time: the world of art is the only such realm. I entered it without any apparent talent, a thorough novice, incapable, awkward, tongue-tied, almost paralyzed by fear and apprehensiveness. I had to lay one brick on another, set millions of words to paper before writing one real, authentic word dragged up from my own guts. The facility of speech which I possessed was a handicap; I had all the vices of the educated man. I had to learn to think, feel and see in a totally new fashion, in an uneducated way, in my own way, which is the hardest thing in the world. I had to throw myself into the current, knowing that I would probably sink. The great majority of artists are throwing themselves in with life-preservers around their necks, and more often than not it is the life-preserver which sinks them." ~  Henry Miller, Reflections on Writing  The Wisdom of the Heart

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thought for the Day:
A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure.~ Henry David Thoreau

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thought for the Day:
"I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench. In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand. All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago."~ Kurt Vonnegut

How's that for a palindrome? 
With thanks to Veterans everywhere. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Writer Faux Pas:
"Arguing with editors about punctuation and the minutiae of your writing will not win you any fans. If you honestly believe not a single word can be touched because your manuscript is somehow holy, then we don't want to work with you. Neither will most other publishers. Writing is a process of negotiation (picking the right words, conveying the right meaning, changing the words where the meaning isn't clear) not divine inspiration. You are not a prophet." ~ Adam Lowe
Quick Take:
When you're writing, keep asking yourself 'what does this remind me of?' Comparisons, figurative language, imagery transform sentences into prose that resonates. Here's an example of resonance in this description from Dorothy Allison's Bastard out of South Carolina: " I stopped. The music coming through the cottonwoods was gospel.
Gut-shaking, deep-bellied, powerful voices rolled through the dried leaves and hot air. This was the real stuff. I could feel the whiskey edge, the grief and holding on, the dark night terror and determination of real gospel."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Thought for the Day
Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up. ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Quick Take: A story is based on a series of threats or threatening changes inflicted on the protagonist. The inciting incident, the first threat, sets the story in motion and tilts the protagonist off-balance. This balance of the story world and the inner world of the protagonist is not restored until the end and along the way the protagonist is rarely happy, relaxed, or in sync with his surroundings. Although moments of normalcy are used to control the pacing and make the whole believable, the best parts of the story are where adversity is staged and boiling away. The harder a protagonist falls, the more emotionally charged the story and deeper the reader’s connection to the character.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Thought for the Day:
If you're having trouble getting started, look out the window. The whole world is a story, and every moment is a miracle. ~ Bruce Taylor

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "You can stroke people with words." And I was thinking about this while reading through my notebooks this morning. For the past week or so I've begun my day by combing through old notebooks,  dipping into my personal river of words. A river of possibilities. I've been sitting in my butter-yellow chair in the corner of the living room as the dawn breaks through. This morning I heard a crow outside the window--we have two families of crows living here and remembered how on Saturday a giant flock of more than a hundred crows were swarming from tree to tree. They favor the tall firs. And last I saw them were heading toward the stand of Douglas firs in the park up the street and I was left to wonder about why they were flocking.

But this morning with the gas furnace humming, sipping creamy Earl Grey tea. I cannot express in words how much solace and inspiration this brings me, in equal measure. Keep a writer's notebook. It's your treasure map, your cavern of gold. 

The Story in All  is over at my website here.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

 Thought for the Day:
In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused. ~ Ernest Hemingway

A subplot worksheet is now available at my website  Formatting not gorgeous, but hope you find it helpful.
Keep dreaming, keep writing, have heart

Saturday, November 05, 2011

NaNoWriMo Tip # 2

Outline. The more you know about your story, the easier it is to write. A Quick & Dirty Plot Outline sheet is now posted at my website.

Quick Take:
Scenes require two levels of conflict. For example, I've started watching the new Prime Suspect series. It will never equal the British version with Helen Mirren, but Maria Bello kicks some serious ass in her role. She's just plain fun to watch.  If you analyze most of the scenes you'll see the cops in this New York precinct chasing after bad guys/trying to solve a homicide case as the first level of conflict in most scenes, and the second level of conflict portrays them squabbling with each other. Or one upping each other. Or vying for power. Or Bello being hassled by her man's ex-wife--which is one of the subplots. The strand of subplots that runs through the series are made more oppositional by her status as a homicide detective.  One level of conflict doesn't deliver enough tension, so make sure that your scenes are working double time.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Thought for the Day:
The more you know, the more unflinchingly you deny casual beliefs and Accepted Wisdom when it flies in the face of reality, the more carefully you observe the world and its people around you, the better chance you have of writing something meaningful and well-crafted. ~ Harlan Ellison
Developing Voice
Another NaNoWriMo tip on Developing Voice is over at my website.

Time to start writing again.
You know the drill: keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Thought for the Day:
"Since we lack telepathy, we humans are imprisoned in our own skulls...The only thoughts, plans, dreams, and feelings we can directly experience are our own. It's because this one-viewpoint reality is hardwired in us that fiction is so fascinating. It lets us experience the world from inside someone else's head." ~- Nancy Kress

The Kerplunk Syndrome:
One of my readers, a published author,  who I corresponded with last year after he read Thanks, But This Isn't For Us emailed me the other day with The Kerplunk Syndrome in the subject line. He writes:  "When I had novels published in the mid-nineties, agents and editors had top-secret email addresses. Manuscripts had to be mailed. When a full manuscript was requested, I’d box it up and take it to a mailbox. I would pull down the door and drop the manuscript into the box. The moment I heard the “kerplunk” sound when it hit the bottom, I ALWAYS had a moment of clarity in which I saw every flaw and knew all the solutions. Of course, it was too late for that submission."  

Last year he submitted a manuscript via email and experienced the contemporary version of kerplunk. After he sent it (with a resounding click), he recognized the errors in the story. And since this is a sad tale of sorts, then it was rejected and he went about fixing them. Then a few days ago I suggested here that writers quit using "took a deep breath." After searching his manuscript  he discovered a bunch lurking on his pages.

He then wrote to ask if I'd consider including more of these to-be-avoided phrases on this blog. So expect to see more clunkers that I commonly run across and apply ye olde red ink to. Today's entries: nodded her head and shrugged her shoulders. While I realize that toes or knees could nod to the beat of music, readers understand that you mean head when you write she nodded. Ditto for shoulders.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

NaNoWriMo Survival Tips
We’re talking cold-eyed survival writer friends in order to crank out 50,000 (gulp) words in 30 days if you're  participating in National Novel Writing Month..
  • No matter if you’re an intuitive writer, create a basic outline of the plot. If you don’t know where you’re heading, you won’t reach your destination. 
  • Write a lot in the first week or two when you have the most energy.
  • Inhabit the voice of your narrator or viewpoint characters. Voice creates trust in the readers, but it also creates trust in you, the writer. If you trust that you can hear your character’s voice in your head, then the writing simply flows easier. Voice is the controlling consciousness in a work. In fiction, voice and character are symbiotic. In nonfiction voice suggests the writer's view of the world. In all writing, voice holds/connects the various parts together. 
  • If you become stumped about what happens next type TK (to come) and jump ahead to the next scene you can create with confidence.
  • Write when you won’t be interrupted.
  • Create a productive work environment—right chair, lighting, music, snacks—whatever takes to make the words pour out.  
  • Turn off the internet.
  • Two words: back exercises. Sitting for vast stretches at a computer does not a happy back make. And yes, that sentence was convoluted.  
  • Don’t eat crap. Yes, yes, frozen pizza has its allure, but the brain needs lean protein and veggies to function during this month of brain busting.
  • While you’re at it, take vitamins.
  • Complete at least one household chore each day that makes you feel sane—load the dishwasher, make the bed, wipe down the kitchen counter. Sure you can slack off on the cleaning chores, but if you cannot find your keys or notebook under the piles of detris, then you’re defeating yourself, not gaining time.
  • While you’re at it, water the plants.
  • Walk—it frees the right brain thus fueling creativity and soothes how-am-I-going-to-write-thousands-of-words anxiety.
  • Imbibe in moderation. Alcohol steals much-needed B vitamins from the brain and body.
  • Pay attention to your dreams. This month in particular your dreams might be filled with images and scenes that belong in your story.
  • Shower. Stinky does not equal productive.
  • Feed your pets.
  • Have fun. 
Thought for the Day:
To a chemist, nothing on earth is unclean. A writer must be as objective as a chemist; he must abandon the subjective line; he must know that dungheaps play a very respectable part in a landscape, and that evil passions are as inherent in life as good ones. ~ Anton Chekhov