Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Space Between Stories


Reprinted from Linda Wisniewski’s blog, February 24, 2018

I’ve heard that writers write to make sense of the world. That’s certainly been true for me. And yet, the world seems to have become even less understandable over my lifetime. Aren’t we supposed to become wiser with age? What is the reason for the interpersonal division in our country? We seem to be on ever more opposing wavelengths. We can’t even talk to people we disagree with without insulting them, in person or online, so we mostly just give up.

Author and speaker Charles Eisenstein says our world looks so crazy because we are in “the space between stories.” The old story said our society was sound, our ecology was fine and our economy was just. But that old story is falling apart, and many of us are afraid. We want to go back , when life was safe, stable. As progressive as we like to think we are, a friend and I recently shared a longing for the “old days” when folks aspired to work in a shoe store or deliver milk on a truck. It feels as if the world is falling apart around us. We feel alienated, unsure of our place. We are in what Eisenstein calls “a period of true unknowing.”

We are between stories.

Who knows what the next story will be? I am hoping for one called “We Are All In This Together.”

Many of us have rejected the old duality of this or that, one or the other, Republican or Democrat, us or them, liberal or conservative, male or female, East or West, cat people or dog people….okay, just kidding. But really, haven’t you noticed the breakdown of the old story? The old roles bind us no more. Women are now empowered in fiction and movies, men in the programs we watch are stay at home dads with real feelings, and even gender can be fluid. Voters give up, feeling alienated from our leaders. Young people are calling BS. We’re all restless, looking for a new story to explain our place in the world.

“We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for,” said the poet June Jordan, the author Alice Walker, and the lyrics of a song by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Looking for signs of the new story gives me comfort. Maybe this is the time I was meant to be alive. What about you? Have you ever felt “in the space between stories?” Why not take some time to write about it, right now?


Linda Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, where she writes for two local newspapers. Her work has been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Sun, Massage, gravel, the Christian Science Monitor, The Quilter and many other places both print and online. Linda volunteers as a docent at the Pearl Buck Historic House and teaches memoir workshops at their Writing Center. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published in 2008 by Pearlsong Press. For more information, see her website.

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.

Checking Our Biases

The name of this blog, “Telling Herstories,” reflects the mission of the organization it represents, Story Circle Network, to nature and support women’s voices and stories. I thought of that mission recently as I followed an email discussion among a group of women writers.

The thread involved a mystery writer who had taken over her father’s famous series after his death. She picked up the thread of his characters and stories, but wrote the new books under her own name and with her own twist. Her tales shifted the point of view of the series by taking a woman who had been a minor–and somewhat cliched character, as one commenter pointed out–and had given this character a starring role. Adding a woman’s voice and perspective changed the voice, tone, and focus of the stories.

Some of the commentators on the list didn’t like those changes. Others chimed in to say they knew mystery writers who had commented negatively about the new additions to the series and thus, they didn’t intend to read them. Still others pointed out negative reviews on Amazon. Several said they had sampled the daughter’s books and been disappointed about the amount of Native American culture in the stories, versus in the father’s books.

As I followed the discussion, I grew uncomfortable. Not simply because the author in question is a friend, though she is; because I felt like a group of women who are writing “herstories” were not reading herstories. By which I mean, I felt as if they were judging this woman’s work against her father’s, instead of reading it with fresh eyes for what this author, an award-winning writer herself, brought to the series.

I thought for a while–I am a slow thinker! And then I wrote a careful comment giving some background on the daughter’s choice to take on her dad’s series, and how hard it had been for her to make that decision given her particular situation. Then I got to the point that I felt was really important:

“I think part of why some people don’t like the books is simply because they are written from a woman’s point of view, not a man’s. We’re used to the way men write, and we sometimes have a hard time shifting to women’s more intimate, “quieter” way of telling stories. Not that these particular stories are quiet; they open with a bang, and move quickly. But they’re different from the father’s.

“Seems to me that [the daughter’s] portrayal of Native American culture and place is just as strong, but it’s the domestic side of that culture, which is subtler, less flashy–more human in some ways, and more focused on family and healing relationships the on the public ceremonies.

“I think the ‘color and flavor’ that [one commenter] mentions missing is just that [the father] was writing about the male side of that culture, and [the daughter] is writing about the more female side of that culture. It’s interesting to think about how habituated we get to one way of telling a story and how hard it may be to change our perspective.”

One of the things I value about this group is that its members think, and consider. Their responses reflected that, including this one:

“The daughter brings new perspective and more dimensionality to the characters. Men are from action-adventure; women are from motivation and psychology, to paraphrase a famous book title, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” That one gave me a chuckle.

And this one from another: “I agree that we do get habituated to how an author tells his or her story, especially if a reader has followed a series. I think that is definitely the case for me with this particular series.”

Another commenter added this thoughtful twist: “You could be right about it being the change in perspective on Native American culture being what I’m picking up. . . . I’ve decided I’m going to keep reading her, not only because I found her books enjoyable, but because as someone pointed out, her perspective shift, while feeling less “authentic” to me (and isn’t that embarrassing–that I, who have known exactly one Southwest Native American, would set myself up as an authority on whether or not a book based in the culture sounds authentic), might be equally valid.”

Another commenter checked the negative reviews on Amazon and quoted this one that inadvertently makes the point about our gender bias relating to how a story “should be” told: “I couldn’t get used to seeing the story unfold through [the new female lead’s] eyes versus that of the main male police characters. But of course [the daughter] is a woman so I will just have to accept it.” Yup. You will….

We ARE women, and we do write from our own perspective–that’s a gift, not a fault. We’re not simply trying imitate men’s ways of writing and telling stories; we’re telling our own, in our own ways. It hurts my heart when we fall into the trap of criticizing another woman for finding her own voice and her own perspective. Seems to me that if we’re going to write herstories, then we also want to be informed readers of herstories, to check our biases, and be supportive of other women’s work.

Perhaps you’ve guessed who the discussion was about, but in case you haven’t and you are curious, we were talking about Anne Hillerman’s books, Spider Woman’s Daughter, Rock With Wings, Song of the Lion, and Cave of Bones. They follow up on her father, Tony’s, famous Chee and Leaphorn series, set mostly on the Navajo Reservation of northern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. Anne’s latest, Cave of Bones, debuted at Number 7 on the New York Times bestseller list, so I’d say she’s onto her own successful series!


Susan J. Tweit • plant biologist and award-winning author, speaker, teacher
Read her work at http://susanjtweit.com
Winner of the Colorado Book Award, the EDDIE, and the Colorado Author’s League Award (five times!)
Fellow, Women’s International Study Center, Santa Fe
Writing Resident, Carpenter Ranch, and Mesa Refuge
TEDx speaker, and past chair of the National Writing Panel for YoungArts

“What we do best comes not from our heads but our hearts, from an ineffable impulse that resists logic and definitions and calculation: love. Love is what connects us to the rest of the living world, the divine urging from within that guides our best steps in the dance of life.” –Susan J. Tweit, from The San Luis Valley

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.

Your Best Writing Year Yet! – The Action Plan – Part 2

THIS IS THE SECOND of a new series designed to help you create and achieve your writing productivity goals. Part 1 showed you how to set your one-word intentional focus for the year and create your “big-rock” writing goal. Part 2 builds on the first, so if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now. Then come back and continue with Part 2.


In last week’s article, Part 1, I showed you how to set your one-word intentional focus for the year and create your “big-rock” writing goal. Part 2 builds on the first, so if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now. Then come back and continue with Part 2.

First, A Word to Non-Goal Setters

I’d like to take a moment to address those of you who feel an aversion to setting goals. (If you’re already on board, skip to the “Moving On” section below.)

Did you look at last week’s article and think, “Goals work for some people but not for me”? If so, you’re not alone. Not by a long shot. Many people don’t like the idea of setting goals for a variety of reasons.

But here’s the thing: a goal is simply a destination. Do you normally just get in your car and drive without knowing where you want to go? Probably not.

So, ask yourself this: Where do I want to be as a writer in 6 months? 12 months?

Lay down your preconceptions of what it means to work towards a goal and trust me. The process I am laying out in this series works. If you really want to make progress in your writing life, re-read Part 1, create your one, big-rock writing goal, then meet us here again, at Moving On.

Moving On

By now, you have your one-word focus for the year and your Big-Rock SMART writing goal. If your goal is an achievement, you will have included your due date as part of your goals statement. For example, “To complete the final draft of my personal essay by March 1, 2018.”

If your Big-Rock goal is to establish a habit, you will have included your start date, how often you want to include this habit, and the date by which the habit will be established. For example: “To write 30 minutes each weekday for 6 months, starting January 2nd.”

You will also have written down your motivation (the Whys) for accomplishing your goal. If you haven’t written your Why statement(s) yet, stop and do it now! This step is vitally important, because when life happens and things get hard you will need to refer back to your Why statements for encouragement and to remind yourself why you began this journey in the first place.

The next step is to break your goal down into small, doable baby steps (tasks), each with its own due date. So let’s get started.

 Your action plan is a living, breathing document.CLICK TO TWEET

Creating Your Achievement-Goal Action Plan

Brainstorm a list of baby steps you can take toward your goal. For example, if your goal is to complete a memoir that you’ve been working on, you might start with a list that includes items like this:

  • Calculate how many words I need to write between now and [due date].
  • Schedule writing time on calendar and set reminder.
  • Outline chapters.
  • Interview Aunt Jane.
  • Read 2002 Journal entries for relevant info.

Next, put your list in the order in which you want to do the tasks and give each task a due date.

You will need to break some tasks into smaller sub-tasks. For example, the task of interviewing Aunt Jane can be broken down into 3 sub-tasks, each with its own due date: 1) Schedule Interview; 2) Write interview questions; 3) Conduct Interview.

Or, you may need to schedule 15 minutes per day for 1 week to read and notate your 2002 journal (or any other research).

Giving dates to your tasks can feel risky, but you can adjust these due dates later if you need to (more on that later in this series), so go ahead and be bold. It’s the due dates that give the tasks their power.

Put each task on a calendar and post where you can see it or set reminders on your smart phone — whatever works for you. I’m going to talk more about task management in the next article.

Creating Your Habit-Goal Action Plan

When establishing new habits, it’s equally important to start with baby steps. AND it’s important to decide what time of day you will integrate your new habit. Use an already established daily activity to spark your new behavior.

If your goal is to write for 30 minutes five days a week, figure out when you will write. Some ideas: upon awaking, after breakfast, before bed, after dinner, during lunch break, after work before coming home, when the kids are napping (though if you choose this one, also choose an alternate for those times the kids are not cooperating!)

Start small. Plan to write 10 minutes a day to start. When you’ve successfully written 10 minutes a day for a week or two, you can increase the time to 15 minutes. You’ll continue in this fashion until you’ve reached your goal of 30 minutes per weekday.

Important! Add the habit to your calendar and/or set a daily reminder on your phone.

What’s Next?

Do the first task on your list. If you can’t do the first task in one sitting, break it down into multiple tasks or schedule working on it a few minutes per day until it’s complete.

When the first task is complete, do the second. Don’t overlap.

Remember: your action plan is a living, breathing document that you will refine and adjust as you work toward your goal.

In the next article in this series, we’ll how to stay motivated and manage your tasks.


So tell us, how will you get started? What’s the first task on your list?


Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at writingthroughlife.com

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.