Author Archives: SCN Blogger

A Few Reasons Why Writing Just 20 Minutes a Day is Good For You

  1. You will have a chronicle of your daily life, if that’s what you choose to write on. Just a sliver of your life, to be sure, but one that later you will enjoy looking back on.
  2. You will find after a few days that all that difficulty getting words on the page is getting easier, and after a week or so, you’ll be writing as if that sludgy feeling that once plagued you never even existed. In other words, your writing will have greater fluidity.
  3. You will find yourself less perfectionistic about your writing, which is a key to creativity. You have plenty of time to go back and “fix” anything that’s not as you like it, but when you only have 20 minutes to write, you are outrunning that nasty critic that often holds you hostage with ugly words like, “What makes you think YOU have anything to say?” The ability to hold that critic at bay will increase with practice. That’s a good thing.
  4. You will find yourself more observant about the world around you. When you know that you have to come up with something to write every day, then you actually start looking around for something to write about. I often take photos in anticipation of my 20 minutes of writing so I have something to refer to when it’s time.
  5. You will have the chance to write about things that are important to you but that you never actually say to anyone. For example, I wrote about my wedding ring for 20 minutes one day and my grandmother’s rocking chair in another 20-minute session. I was happy to have a place to articulate how I feel about these things, just for my own enjoyment and satisfaction.
  6. You will feel a sense of relief that you’re actually writing if this is something that’s important to you to do. No more beating yourself up with thoughts such as, “I want to write, but just can’t find the time.” When you commit to just 20 minutes a day, you can actually find the time even if it’s in two 10 minute sessions or even four 5 minute sessions.
  7. You will find yourself breathing deeper, feeling more relaxed and having a sense of accomplishment just from taking the time to slow down and put words down on the page. This can also be thought of as meditation time when you refocus your priorities and simply allow yourself to pour out your thoughts on the page. This alone would be worth the effort since there is a multitude of research showing the benefits of slowing down and doing something that is calming in your day.
  8. You will feel that your life has more balance. By taking that 20 minutes, you are whittling a bit of time out of your day that is solely for you. This goes hand in hand with the meditative quality of this practice. You will soon find that you feel better about life in general and your life in particular.

This list is a reminder to you (and myself) why writing 20 minutes a day is much bigger than simply putting words on a page. It is about claiming a bit of your day just for yourself and thinking of this as a meditation practice as much as a writing process. Then your critic really has nowhere to go with complaints. After all, you can simply say, “This is just me noticing more closely what’s happening in the world around me and inside my head. No room for a critic here. I am just musing.”


Visit Len Leatherwood’s blog.

A Little Chat With the Masters at the Tate Modern

In this post, writing coach/teacher Len Leatherwood reflects on some artful lessons she’s learned from masters of their craft.

On our vacation, Ray and I spent the afternoon at the Tate Modern in London.

I go into an art museum with an inquiring mind. I am there to experience the art, but also to learn what I can read about the artist and his/her techniques, point-of-view, historical perspective, etc. Some museums are better at providing this information than others; the Tate Modern is excellent regarding this educational aspect. For example, I wandered into a room where the focus was on the studio of the artist and here are a few examples of what I saw and learned:

Why is this important, you may ask? Because not only do I see an everyday scene from 1915, but I also learn that Bonnard valued painting intimate parts of his life. As a writer, this helps me to see the benefit in writing about the little things in my life, which reflect what is important to me.

Here is another:

Here is Picasso’s studio in 1955. I learned that Picasso created twelve different paintings of this studio over the time he lived there, helping me to see that you can use the same subject matter over and over and view it each time from a different perspective. As a writer, it’s easy to dismiss the idea of repeating a story or a memory because you’ve “already told that one.” Picasso’s repetition of the same material helps me to see that I can learn from looking at a story or memoir piece from different angles to expose other layers of truth.

Here’s one more:

Matisse did this same bronze four times over his lifetime, reflecting his different perspective as he aged. This helps me to understand the value of exploring different parts of my life at different times in my life. What I created at twenty may look very different from what I may create in my sixties. No better, no worse. There is freedom in that realization for me. Sometimes I think, “There’s no reason to rehash that,” which may be true in some cases when the subject feels resolved. However, there are other topics where venturing back down that path may indeed bring fruitful results since time and experience may offer an awareness I previously could not have attained.

These art museum forays are a way for me to commune not just with the art, but also with the artists. To learn from his/her process and to open my heart and mind to guidance that comes from their wisdom. I left the Tate Modern feeling more heartened about my writing than I have felt in a long time. As if I had been given a pep talk by the likes of Bonnard, Picasso and Matisse, only to mention a few.

I am now back in LA and ready to go to work on my writing.


Visit Len Leatherwood’s blog.

The Gift of Writing Regularly

Never Too LateLately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of writing. Thinking is great. Doing is better. To encourage you to keep writing, I’d like to share a few excerpts from an interview Carol Smallwood did with me about my new book, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62. The title says it all, but the memoir says it in so much more detail.

When I started making notes for the book, while Richard and I were dating, I was filled with “what ifs.”

 

  1. What if this wasn’t the real deal?
  2. What if I lost my identity and my money—not that I had an overwhelming amount.
  3. What if I couldn’t live with 62-years of being alone?

I journaled about these questions and much more. Writing gave me perspective and insight. We got married on February 17, 2012.

Once the book came out, it was time for interviews. Carol Smallwood, a prolific librarian, asked some great questions, and I was happy to answer them. I loved it when she asked, “From working closely with writers, what advice would you give someone struggling with getting started as a writer?

So here are A Dozen Flexible Rules for Struggling Writers:

  1. Write daily. Start by writing for 10-20 minutes.
  2. Give yourself permission to get lost in your writing
  3. Write about whatever you want, and if one day you want to write a list, start there.
  4. Go wherever the writing takes you. No one ever has to read it but you.
  5. When you are done, reread what you’ve written and underline 2-3 places that have energy for you.
  6. Pick one the next day that you really like and start there.
  7. Or write another list.
  8. Or write about whatever is on your mind.
  9. Can’t write? Read a story.
  10. Look at how professionals put a story together.
  11. Go back to your journal and say what you liked about the story.
  12. Let the writing go wherever it wants before repeating Steps 5 & 6.

Start anywhere! Writing daily matters. Your techniques will improve. So will the speed at which you get ideas.

I’ve been writing Monday through Friday for the last 6 weeks or so. Theoretically, I write first thing in the morning—but I usually do some stretches, feed Eddie McPuppers, and pour a cup of coffee before I start. Usually, I write for 10 minutes, but I often go longer. Then polish for another 15-20. I started doing this to help me get back on track after publishing Never Too Late. I don’t consider myself a struggling writer, but this helps so much that I recommend it anytime anyone gets in a slump.

NOTE: If you defy rules:

  1. Quitting is not an option.
  2. Doodling is not an option.
  3. Checking the Internet or my e-mail is not an option.

If I could get going a little earlier, I’d start looking at the flash fiction, flash memoir, and potential for longer stories in this eclectic collection I’m building. You have to have the material before you can start shaping it, and I feel more and more ready to shape and sculpt my stories every day.

As a woman I heard speak recently said, “Write, revise, send, and repeat.” I think I’ve got the first two down. It’s time to start practicing send and repeat, and see where those steps take me.

If you’d like to read Carol’s interview with me and learn more about Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62, go to www.writeradvice.com.


Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com. Her memoir, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 was released in December. She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers and Talent, which was short-listed for a Literary Lightbox Award, won a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and was a finalist for a Sarton Women’s Book Award.

Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers, Hip Mama, Dramatics Magazine, Inspire Me Today, The Sun, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com and many other places. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network, and she is an editor, writer and manuscript coach at Writer Advice.

Remaking Ourselves Through Writing Memoir

“I write to make sense of my life.” John Cheever

I recently taught my last memoir workshop at the Fromm Institute, and I’ll be sorry to leave the cocoon we had created there. For those who aren’t familiar with the Fromm, it’s an institution for older adults and features lectures from outstanding Bay Area emeritus professors on a variety of subjects that include psychology, literature, philosophy, science, theology, history, art, music, politics and creative writing.

This term, I was hired for the writing portion, “Reminiscence: A Creative Writing Workshop.” Years ago, I had taught a weeklong autobiography class for what was then Elderhostel. It was an enriching experience, diving into the past with these older adults and returning with gems from their depths.

The Fromm class has been similar. I’ve structured it so that students who haven’t done much writing can still benefit. There’s a great freedom for them and myself since I’m not grading their assignments. Nor am I focusing on grammar and punctuation errors. Content leads, and their submissions all focus on different aspects of writing an engaging narrative based on prompts that help them focus on important times in their lives.

We’ve looked at character and how to make the people who inhabit our memoirs come alive for readers that don’t know them. But characters don’t live in ether, so my students have also written about places that have nourished them in some way. Neither character nor place would be vivid without incorporating details that appeal to all of our senses. Sensory detail also sets the mood of a writing piece (exciting, happy, cheerful, gloomy, frightening, depressing, suspenseful, calm, peaceful). Since we apprehend the world through our senses, it’s essential that we include the kind of description that evoke them and also capture our imaginations.

I’ve been impressed not only by the quality of the writing I’ve seen from these mainly inexperienced writers but also from their willingness to reveal themselves during small group critique sessions. They’ve been generous in their praise of one another’s work and skilled readers, making helpful suggestions for improving the writing. But most important, they have been transforming themselves through recovering these experiences and recasting them. As James Longenbach states in Modern Poetry After Modernism, “…any account of the past, whether private or historical, is an act of personal making.” What a privilege It’s been to be present at all of these mini-births!

Lily Iona MacKenzie, author of Fling! and All This

Lily’s blog 
Fling! audiobook
Amazon Fling!
Lily’s Facebook page

@lilyionamac
Curva Peligrosa, a novel, coming in 2017

Freefall: A Divine Comedy, a novel, coming in 2018


Fictionalizing your life, or how autobiographical is your fiction?

SCN novelist and lifewriter Judy Alter looks back on a book she wrote three decades ago, and finds in it pieces of her autobiography.


I’ve been proofing Mattie, the first adult novel I ever wrote and winner of the 1988 Western Writers of America Spur Award for best traditional novel. It’s been available on Kindle forever and done well at 99 centers–#64 today in Kindle ebooks, Genre Fiction, Medical. I’m going to post it to other platforms and thought after almost thirty years it deserved another proofing.

Mattie’s story is loosely based on the life of Georgia Arbuckle Fix, a pioneer woman physician in western Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century. I didn’t know at the time that Mari Sandoz had also fictionalized Fix’s life in Miss Morissa, and the comparison by loyal Sandoz devotees was not kind to me.

It’s intimidating to re-read something I wrote all those years back. My style is different—the 167-page book is all long chapters and lots of space breaks, and did I really begin every other sentence with “So”? I’m correcting only egregious errors; why mess with success?

The content is more interesting though. I was seven or eight years out of a marriage that started wonderfully and eventually disintegrated. Mattie goes through the same experience two-thirds of the way through the novel; her once-passionate marriage is gradually chipped away until she and her husband, Em Jones, can barely stand each other. Mattie’s retrospective wisdom about the situation struck me—I didn’t realize that I had learned that much from my own marriage, but, darn, sometimes Mattie really seems to understand life. Wish I’d put that knowledge to work years ago

At the time I wrote, I was raising teen-age daughters, with all the angst that involves. The angst is reflected in Mattie’s rebellious daughter, Nora. Only Nora never reaches the wonderful reconciliation my girls did—they are now best friends with each other and with me. When I wrote, we hadn’t reached that reconciliation either, and the angst was much too familiar.

Late in the book, Mattie takes into her home and bed a drifter named Eli, skilled carpenter, a good man, but not one to settle down. I took a week off from work to write the last chapter. The words came in a rush as though someone was channeling me who knew the story. Eli simply rides off after a while, moving on as is his nature, leaving Mattie devastated again—and puzzled. At the time, I was seeing a man I liked well enough to envision a future with him—he liked my kids and wasn’t scared of them, rare in suitors. He was gentle, kind and fun. But as I wrote those last pages, I had a flash of clarity: he too would be moving on. He was no longer going to be a part of my life story. We were together that night—celebrating our joint birthdays, I recall—and I was sad. But I couldn’t tell him why.

Scary thought, especially for mystery writers, if your writing not only reflects your past but predicts your future.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone.


Judy is the author of two mystery series—Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café mysteries—plus the stand-alone, The Perfect Coed. In a long career, she has written fiction and nonfiction for adults and young adults, primarily about women in the American West, and garnered several awards. Judy retired as director of TCU Press, a position she held for 23 years. She is a member of SCN; a member of Sisters in Crime and the SinC subgroup, the Guppies; and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Literary Hall of fame. She edits her neighborhood newspaper and welcomes her fifth-grade grandson every school day. A single mother of four and grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth with her lively Bordoodle puppy, Sophie. Visit her blog and her website.

Where To Submit Your Work

Writing Personal Essays or Life Stories? Here are some places to start your search for the right audience and/or publisher. Click on the link for more information–save to your favorites if the site looks useful.

Chicken Soup for the Soul, http://www.chickensoup.com/ Story Circle Network, www.storycircle.org The Sun Magazine, http://thesunmagazine.org/

WOW: Women on Writing, http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/

TheWriteLife: http://thewritelife.com/19-websites-magazines-want-publish-personal-essays/

Interested in publishing your work yourself?

Balboa Press, www.balboapress.com/

Create Space, https://www.createspace.com/

Lulu, http://www.lulu.com/

Amazon Publishing Services or Barnes & Noble Self Publishing

Here are two hybrid publishers (they do some of the work a traditional publisher does, but not all)

Outskirts Press, www.outskirtspress.com

She Writes Press, http://shewritespress.com/

If you prefer a small press, do some research: Type your genre + “small press” into a search engine. Example: Memoir + small press. See what comes up and follow the directions given. Approach small presses on your own if they say it is okay. You need an agent for the larger ones.

If you are seeking an agent who will represent your work to a larger house, type in “agents seeking” + your genre and see what comes up. Example: Agents seeking romance

Another strategy: go to several bookstores. Find where your book would be shelved. Look in the acknowledgements section of the books there to see who has represented work in your genre and query those agents. Tell them how you learned about them.

There are resources listed quarterly at Writer Advice. Go to http://www.writeradvice.com/cm2. Or go to www.writeradvice.com and click on Contests & Markets. While you are there, go to the home page, www.writeradvice.com, to find out about our current contest. We are known for our sound and solid feedback.

Additional Places Calling for Submissions & Giving Advice:

69 Poetry Contests That Pay Really Well, http://www.ardorlitmag.com/poetry-contests.html

Duotrope, https://duotrope.com/ (You need to become a member)

Funds for Writers, http://fundsforwriters.com/

New Pages, http://www.newpages.com/

No Fee Chapbook Publishers, https://trishhopkinson.com/2015/02/19/no-fee-chapbook-publishers-and-other-chapbook-listings/

Poets & Writers Classifieds, http://www.pw.org/classifieds

Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com/cm2

Writer’s Digest, http://www.writersdigest.com/submission-guidelines

The Writer, http://www.writermag.com/

In case it sounds too good to be true, here are a couple of watchdogs:

This one gives advice about which editors, agents, and publishers to avoid: http://critters.org/c/pubtips.ht

This one warns which Contests & Services to avoid and gives good reasons: https://winningwriters.com/the-best-free-literary-contests/contests-to-avoid

When in doubt, use your best judgment. Weigh the benefits against the cost. Read contracts carefully. Remember that the publishing world is evolving.


B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice . She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) and Talent (Eternal Press).  Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; The Sun; GoodHousekeeping.com; PurpleClover.com; and elsewhere. She is working on a memoir about getting married for the first time at 62.

NaNoWriMo 2016

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, begins on November 1st. On that day thousands of people sign on to the website, nanowrimo.org, and commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. The stated goal is to complete the first draft of a novel. However, many folks work on memoir, essays, maybe even expansion of a work in progress. The primary goal is 50,000 words. That’s what you need to complete to be declared a “Winner!”

Yes, you have understood that correctly. The prize for doing this is a little badge that arrives via email that declares you a winner. That is the prize but the reward is much greater. In my four years of participation I wrote 206,575 words, completed three solid first drafts, and over 40 essay starts!

This will be my fifth NaNo. In the first year I worked on my memoir-in-progress. Yes, I began as a NaNo rebel. That is what they call participants who do not adhere closely to 50,000 new words, on a new novel, with no revision. By doing memoir I was outside those parameters. The second year I did write a novel but with a small twist. I had heard many stories about writers who got their 50,000 words but then never finished their book. So I promised myself that at 40,000 words I would stop and write an ending. My logic was that it would be easier to fill in the missing middle or near end if I knew the ending. My third year I wrote a draft of the follow up book to the first novel. I am thinking series. Last year I entitled my project “Life in Brief.” I wrote essay after essay. When I got stuck I simply started another one. This was golden. Writing while knowing I was not going to revise at that moment really freed me and new ideas kept popping up. I still have more than a dozen essay starts left to mine for future pieces.

This year I am back to fiction and have given myself permission to work on a project I have been wanting to do for a very long time. I am writing a Christmas book. It takes place in the same town as the first two novels and some of the characters from those have minor roles in this work.

The photo above shows my preparation work. I have read Christmas or holiday books by some of my favorite authors. I have been watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. And I have a very cool, mostly instrumental Christmas Collection CD for a playlist. It is easier to write to music if you are not tempted to sing along!

This year I am going to blog about my NaNo process, sharing what works, and what doesn’t. I hope to edit and assemble the blog posts into an e-book that I can share with NaNo writers next year. Click to go to the blog. Please join me and post any thoughts you think might be helpful for the e-book. And if you have never attempted a NaNo project, maybe this is your year!


Jude Walsh Whelley writes fiction, memoir, and poetry. She lives in Dayton, Ohio. This post was previously published on her blog, Writing Now.