Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I was just thinking about some of my favorite opening lines in novels, and one of the first that comes to mind is Vladimir Nobokov's Lolita:

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo-lee-ta."

It's poetic, don't you think? It's got rhythm, alliteration, sensuality, a certain playfulness... before you know who she is, or who he is, you want to be her, or him. Which is what, I think, makes it a great start. Today, think about some of your own favorite openings. Figure out what it is that draws you in and makes you want to read on. Then try to use those qualities in a start of your own.

Monday, January 30, 2006


It means "in the middle of things." If you're looking for a way to engage your reader quickly, it helps to start in the middle of something. Today, instead of explaining background information to the reader, begin right in the middle of an argument or meal or checkout line. Then resist the urge to backtrack -- just keep pushing forward.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Readers want to see not just contemplation, but action. This is true even in poems. Readers want to know what did the speaker/narrartor do? To strengthen your writing, don't bore the reader with long section of exposition. Today, spice things up by including more dialogue, more movement.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Be back Sunday!


They say letter-writing is a lost art. Yet Sue Walker, Poet Laureate of Alabama, has written an entire book-section of poems in the form of letters to an imaginary brother named Martin. The book's title is Blood Must Bear Your Name. Today, write a letter. Or write a poem that's a letter. Or have a character in your story write a letter. You get the idea. :)

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Sometimes you can save a piece of writing just by changing point of view. When you want to build a climax and compress time, use an omniscient point of view. When you want to move in a little closer and make things more personal, switch to 3rd person. When you're feeling really brave, try 1st person, the point of view for character-driven stories and often the most challenging simply because it narrows the focus so dramatically. Today, experiment with point of view. Change an existing work to a different point of view, or write from a point of view you don't usually use.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


One of my favorite poets, Jerri Beck, has given me permission to share two lines she has never been able to find the poem for:

Come and listen to the wind
as it plays the night in a minor key.

Today, let Jerri's false start jumpstart a piece of your own.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I just received my SCBWI Bulletin yesterday, and at the top of the page that lists all the members' recent writing accomplishments, there is this great quote:

"Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardon da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein."
- H. Jackson Brown

Today, create the time you need to write.

Monday, January 23, 2006


This one's for Anna:
If you write, you are a writer. It's that simple.


Editors complain that sometimes we writers don't know when to start a story -- we give too much background information. Editors call this the "Front Porch. " All the experts say to start a story or poem with action, something to immediately engage the reader, THEN go back and give some background info. However, experts also say when writing for children, don't use flashbacks, as kids respond more readily to a story that is chronologically straightforward. (Are you as confused as I am?) Today, write something that gets right inside the front door. I'll meet you for iced tea on the front porch later. :)

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Good stories involve making choices. Sometimes these are clear right/wrong issues, but real life is often more complicated. Rumi wrote "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." Today, use that quote as a jumping off point for a story that involves making choices that are more muddled and complex.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


When I was in high school, I co-wrote an article with the above title for our school newspaper. The article was about all the kids in our graduating class who had earned academic scholarships. It applies to writing do: you just can't give up. And eventually, all your effort will pay off. Today, remember the dream only comes true if you keep chasing it.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Like many kids, I was brought up on Dr. Seuss. Horton Hatches the Egg has always been my favorite story. But Dr. Seuss isn't just for kids; check out this great-for-all-ages quote: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." Today, remember this applies to your writing, too.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


I read somewhere that the holy trinity for writers is Write, Network, and Promote. Most of us do okay with the Write part but have more difficulty with the Network and Promote. Writing we do because we love it, or because we can't not. Those other two? They require getting out of the bathrobe and putting on a happy face and are therefore slightly less appealing. Today, do what it takes. Put some energy into Network and Promote so that your words will have the audience they deserve.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Today, write something that involves an elevator. This could mean anything: ups and downs, feeling stuck, trying to get somewhere, or it could be an actual elevator experience you've got tucked away in your psyche. (If you don't have an elevator story, just make one up.) Or, if you're writing a longer prose piece, get to know your characters better by putting them in an elevator. :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


As I have been struggling through a ms revision, I have been reminded of how many of us have this idea that when we become successful writers -- meaning, when we get published, get paid, etc. -- we will no longer be plagued by the self-doubt that plagues us now. The truth is, no matter how successful, writers are simple human, and self-doubt is a part of the human experience. Today, remember that doubt is natural. The key is learning to live with the doubt and to keep writing anyway.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Ever heard the difference between story and plot? I heard it explained like this: In a story, you get "The king died. Then the queen died." If you've got plot, it goes something like "The king died. Then the queen died of grief." So to thicken your story, add plot, which is basically just a cool word for feelings, depth, and motivation for why the characters do what they do. Today, look at your own work and see if you've got plot.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


A master storyteller, Stephen King has also written a great non-genre-specific book for writers entitled On Writing. One of my favorite quotes is this one: "Talent is a dull knife." Today, do something to sharpen your knife -- read a book on writing, read a great story or poem, or sign up for a class.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


If only it were as simple as reading a recipe to know when our stories or poems are done! Sometimes we undercook, sometimes we revise so aggressively that we suck the flavor right out of the thing. It's just hard to know. Especially when even published work (eventually) can seem to need a tweak or two. Today, try to see the revision process as one big experiment. Maybe it'll be the best meal ever; maybe it won't. But we all gotta eat.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Friday the 13th seems the appropriate day to address the lottery-like nature of getting published. Published authors will tell you that getting in print is not just about the writing; it's also a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Today, be encouraged by other writers' lucky breaks. Know that someday you'll hit the right numbers.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Think back to a time in your life when you were at a crossroads. (Or think of the last scene in the movie Cast Away when Tom Hanks is looking at all those empty highways.) Where would you be now if you had chosen to go another direction? Today, wonder "what if?" and write about what might have been.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Ever worry that your "style" is merely an imitation of your current favorite writer? Well, don't despair. Reading work that you like then writing work that is similar is a part of the writer's growth process. Just keep at it, and eventually your work will begin to sound more like your own and less like something you just read. Today, be open to the process. Allow yourself to imitate, then allow yourself to move through it. Every step will bring you closer to telling the story only you can tell.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


A friend of mine confessed recently that when she is out of town, she sends herself postcards with inspiring photographs on one side and on the other her own handwritten message: You are a good writer. You tell good stories. You have such good ideas. When she receives them, she feels good about herself, and then she sits down to write. Today, write down an affirmation and post it near your workspace. Or go on a trip and send home a postcard. :)

Monday, January 9, 2006


As writers we all need feedback. And not just from our spouses, children, or best friends, who of course love our work simply because they love us. We need feedback from other writers. Yet it isn't as simple as that, either. There is a certain balance that must be struck between all members -- each must be committed to honesty, openness (by this I mean the ability to take criticism), and respect for all types of writing styles. It's not always easy -- we writers can be picky and defensive and terribly self -centered! But in my experience there is no better way to improve your writing skills than to put your work forward and really listen to the way other writers respond to it. Today, if you don't already have a writing critique group, try to find one. And if you are in one, remind yourself that the point is not to show up your writer friends; the point is to become a better writer.

Sunday, January 8, 2006


That's the way I heard it, but the actual quote from English critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in a 1914 essay On the Art of Writing is "Murder your darlings." Often it's that phrase we are most proud of, that character we have fallen in love with that needs to be cut. It's tough because it feels personal, and indeed, it is a loss. But it must be done. Today, self-edit a piece and be brave enough to cut what needs to be cut.

Saturday, January 7, 2006


Don't you hate it when you read a book that seems all along to have been one long set-up for the sequel? Or worse, an ending that comes abruptly, just when you were really getting to like the characters. And though I enjoy some ambiguity with endings, what about those endings that are so ambiguous that they fail to satisfy? Well, I mention all this because I just received a letter from an editor requesting a re-write of one of my middle-grade fiction mss, and one of the things mentioned was the ending. Today, channel your muses my direction and help me get this one right!,

Friday, January 6, 2006


Remember what Mama told you about men and their "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free"? The same wisdom applies for writing and other works of art. If you make it neat and tidy, if you leave no loose ends or room for possibility, your reader will get fat and uninterested. Today, write something more open-ended, something that gives the reader some credit and leaves him or her with something to think about.

Thursday, January 5, 2006


There seems to be a lot of material out there that is a mere re-telling of actual events. There's nothing wrong with that, except, who cares?! Today, go back to your childhood and pull out some make-believe. Write something we've never seen before.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006


Frank McCourt is one of my favorite storytellers, and he has just written a new book entitled Teacher Man. I haven't read the book yet, but I did have the opportunity a few years ago to hear McCourt speak about his first teaching experiences in America. We've all played these roles: student, teacher, or both. Today, draw from your own experiences to write about an aspect of the student-teacher relationship.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006


We all love to laugh. And many of us write (or try to write) things that make people laugh. Today, think about your favorite jokes. Figure out what it is that makes them funny to you-- physical humor, impossible situations, clever words... then use this discovery to write your own funny joke or skit or scene or poem.

Monday, January 2, 2006


Who would I choose to be stuck on a deserted island with? A writer who has learned how to survive failure. Continuous rejection tends to whittle away our spirits, and some give up. Others like children's author Diane Z. Shore keep on going, and after 8 years and 300+ rejections, finally sell something. Today, remind yourself that failure is an essential part of learning and a huge aspect of being a writer. Expect to fail, and expect to eventually succeed.

Sunday, January 1, 2006


Write more.
Write better.
Be honest.
Take risks.

Happy New Year to all my writer-friends!