Author Archives: storycirclenetwork

What It Takes to Write a Book

by Madeline Sharples

Getting my first novel published just over a year ago was very exciting and fulfilling. That it wasn’t hard to find a publisher for it and that I sourced a wonderful illustrator to do the cover art also were part of that mix.

However, the work leading up to the novel’s publication was hard and long.

I started writing the novel in 2010 at a UCLA four-day workshop called How to Write Your First Novel. I decided to take that class to get away from the frustrations of trying to get my memoir published. I was querying like mad, but nothing was working, so a change in pace was necessary. I already had an idea – taken from the life story my aunt wrote not long before she died in her eighties. She wrote about a young man – actually a teacher – who took her to school plays and concerts when she was a senior in high school. When her brother – actually my father – found out he wasn’t Jewish, he made his family move to Chicago from their small town in mid-Illinois so that she could find a nice Jewish man to marry.

Since she wrote about him with such detail – what he looked like, how he dressed, how polite and attentive he was to her, and that she even remembered his name – so many years later made me think she really must have loved that teacher.  I immediately decided to write a book that would end up with her marrying her true love rather than the Milquetoast man she really married. Though dating a teacher might not have been a no-no in those olden days, in my book I turned him into a college student who directed the senior high school class play.

The people in the workshop thought it was a good idea, so I started. However, almost immediately I sold my memoir to a publisher and had to spend the next six months revising it and getting it ready for publication. The novel went on hold at that point. In fact, it went on hold a lot for the first few years because of all the marketing obligations of a newly published memoir.

Finally, when I could actually spend time on it, I took it through another more advanced novel-writing class at UCLA, a revision class, three groups of outside Beta readers, two editors, and my last reader, my husband, who of course found more things I needed to change. Nine years and ten revisions since the start of that first UCLA workshop, it was ready to see the light of day.


Madeline Sharples is the author of Papa’s Shoes: A Polish shoemaker and his family settle in small-town America, a work of historical fiction, published in May 2019 by Aberdeen Bay.  Her memoir in prose and poetry, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, was released in 2011 (Dream of Things).

Madeline also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, and wrote the poems for The Emerging Goddess photograph book (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have also appeared online and in print magazines, e.g., in the 2016 Porter Gulch Review, Yellow Chair’s In the Words of Womyn 2016 anthology, Story Circle Network’s journals and anthologies, the Best of Poetry Salon 2013-2018, the Vine Leaves Literary Journal: a Collection of Vignettes from Across the Globe, 2017, and Travel Stories and and Highlights, 2019 edition

Her articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, Naturally Savvy, Aging Bodies, PsychAlive, Story Circle Network’s HerStories and One Woman’s Day blogs, and the Memoir Network blog. She has appeared on panels at writers’ conferences and have spoken about and read her work at book clubs, book stores, libraries, churches, writing groups, and on the radio. She also posts about writing on her website Choices.

Wisdom from Brenda Ueland on Writing & Creativity

Sometimes it’s helpful to get a little inspiration from a master. Brenda Ueland, the author of If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit falls into that category. Carl Sanburg, for example, is quoted as saying that Ueland’s book was “the best book ever written on how to write.” I thought I would share a few of Ms. Ueland’s insights for those of us who love writing but sometimes could use a bit of bolstering. I hope you will find her words as inspiring as I have. 

From Brenda Ueland:

“I learned…that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another. ”

“Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his *true* self and not from the self he thinks he *should* be.”

“No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.”

“Yes, I hate orthodox criticism. I don’t mean great criticism, like that of Matthew Arnold and others, but the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery.

…I hate it because of all the potentially shining, gentle, gifted people of all ages, that it snuffs out every year. It is a murderer of talent. And because the most modest and sensitive people are the most talented, having the most imagination and sympathy, these are the very first ones to get killed off. It is the brutal egotists that survive.”

“I found that many gifted people are so afraid of writing a poor story that they cannot summon the nerve to write a single sentence for months. The thing to say to such people is: “See how *bad* a story you can write. See how dull you can be. Go ahead. That would be fun and interesting. I will give you ten dollars if you can write something thoroughly dull from beginning to end!” And of course, no one can. ”

“Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.”

Carl Sandburg knew a thing or two, that’s clear. And when it came to Brenda Ueland, he appears to have known quite a lot.

Helen (Len) Leatherwood has been teaching writing privately to students in Beverly Hills for the past twenty years. She also is the coordinator of Online Classes for Story Circle Network. Len has published numerous pieces in literary journals. She is a Pushcart nominee in fiction. Her work also appears in A Cup of Comfort Cookbook, currently available on Amazon. Her blog, 20 Minutes a Day, can be found at