Book Writing Webinar

Guys, a quick heads up.  Jeffrey Davis is doing a webinar about writing a book on Wednesday and there are only 50 spots available. So if you're at all interested, get on it.

Here are the details:

THE BOOK DIAMOND: The 4 Essential Elements to Create a Book That Matters

A free webinar with Jeffrey Davis

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 Noon-1:30 pm EST

There's room for only 50 people.

Register here now.

Jeffrey is doing this webinar as an introduction to his upcoming Your Captivating Book Mentorship Program which I am promoting. You're going to be hearing more about this program from me in the upcoming weeks and I want to tell you why I've chosen to promote it.

1.  Most importantly, because Jeffrey is a writer, creative consultant, and knowledgable person about all aspects of writing and the publishing industry.  He holds the creative process in profound awe and communicates that reverence to everything he does.  Jeffrey is a man of passion and integrity, two of my highest values.

2. I'm rethinking and changing the way I do things.  It is not at all clear yet what that will look like (though rest assured this blog is not going anywhere), but for now I am not planning to offer any classes or programs until next fall at the earliest(I do still offer one-on-one services).  So when Jeffrey invited me to promote his program, I leapt at the chance.  It's a way to offer you guys group mentorship with a friend I deeply believe in.

Your best intro to Jeffrey is to grab a spot on this webinar.  Look for his guest post soon, but in the meantime, you might want to sign up to hear more about him.

And have a great weekend.

Report From AWP 2014

If you were on Twitter this weekend, you probably saw #AWP14 trending.  If you were on Facebook, you no doubt noticed a lot of photos from Seattle (the Space Needle! Chihuly Glass! Pike Place Market!) and people quoting various writers.  And if you read last week's newsletter/most recent post, you know that I was one of the many writers who attended three full days of panels, readings and an enormous bookfair at AWP in Seattle.

When I say many, I mean many.  I heard estimates between 11,000 and 13,000.  The official AWP website says "over 10,00" and also that it is the largest literary conference in North America.

I believe it.  Events were held at the Sheraton (the official conference hotel, where I stayed, one of a gazillion hotels that housed us), the huge convention center and the convention center annex.  I've never been on so many escalators in my life.  There are events all day long and into the evening at these venues, as well as numerous off-site parties, readings, and get-togethers at night.

AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and the organization is comprised of 50,000 writers, 500 college and university programs, and 125 writers' conferences and centers.  (I'm quoting from the website.)  Many of these programs and centers exhibit at the conference, along with numerous literary journals and small presses.  The Bookfair is unbelievably huge and I've learned over the years not to buy or collect too much, or the tote bag you get upon picking up your badge will not fit in your luggage for the return trip home.

The schedule features panels, readings and, if you're a really big author, an interview or discussion about your work.  But most of the day is taken up by panels of three or four writers plus a moderator. Any member can submit a panel (I've got a group in discussion about submitting for next year and have been on a panel in the past).  The subjects vary wildly, from topics on craft, to pedagogy, to trends in publishing, to information on how to create a winning reading.  Anything related to literature might find a home on an AWP panel.  As a wild guess, I'd say there are upwards of 30 panels and readings at each time slot during the day, of which there are six, and then there are two time slots for readings in the evening as well.  The selection is, to be honest, overwhelming. And it's a crap shoot as well, with the panels varying widely in quality (which is why there's no stigma attached to arriving or leaving in the middle of a presentation).

AWP is about as literary a conference as you're going to get.  (Some might same that a few panels even lean toward the arcane.)  You don't attend expecting to hear the latest bestselling romance author speak, that's for sure.  And it is a stronghold of writers from traditional university programs with legacy publishing house contracts.  Which is why it was so interesting to me to see Amazon all over the place--as sponsor, exhibitor, and host of two panels.  Indeed, Jon Fine, director of author and publishing relations at Amazon, joked that he used to feel he should wear a Kevlar vest to protect himself at such events, though things have changed in the last year or so. (I meant to write more about these panels in this post but since it is already getting so long I will save that info for another day.)

I gotta say, being around this many people for several days is wonderful--and also a bit much.  I think of myself as a balance between introvert and extrovert.  I crave time alone spent writing, but at the end of the day, I'm ready for human contact.  This year at AWP, I realized that maybe I'm more on the introverted scale than I thought.  I'm actually very outgoing and easily strike up conversations with strangers. But, after a couple of panels and a stroll through the bookfair, I needed to go back to my hotel and get some downtime.

A non-writing friend asked me if I was meeting new people.  Yes, and no.  Mostly I hung out with my dear friend Diana, which was the best treat ever.  (She has an amazing new book of poems just out called Lust, which I highly recommend.)  Diana's son Josh runs a hip literary journal called The Newer York Press and it was fun to meet him and the people who work with him.  I reconnected with old friends from my MFA days and that is always a pleasure. I had some entertaining brief chats with other writers. But the conference is so big and overwhelming that it is not conducive to meeting new folks. (The place where I did meet people was on the train.  My seatmate on the way up was also attending AWP so we chatted happily off and on from Portland to Seattle, and the woman I shared a cab with from the station to the hotel was also from Portland.  Turns out we are pretty sure we used to know each other when we were both active with a local writing group.)

To me, attending AWP is acknowledgment that there is a huge like-minded community out there that cares about the same things that I do.  It's fun to wander around town and see other people with the tell-tale lime-green lanyard attached to their badge and feel a connection.  It's thrilling to walk the street from the hotel to the convention center in a throng of writers.  It's amazing to come home with your head buzzing from all the information it has just absorbed--and also to feel energized and excited about the possibilities for putting words on the page.

So, if you get the chance, attend AWP some time.  You don't have to be affiliated with any university or writing program, all you have to be is interested in writing.  Next year the conference will be in Minneapolis in April.  I'm pretty sure I'll be there!

What's your favorite writing conference?  Do you make it a point to attend conferences regularly?

Freelance Writing, A New Publishing Model, and Haiku (Or, What I Learned in Nashville)

VanderbiltYesterday I wrote a post about my adventures in Nashville.  Today, I'm writing about what you really want to know more on, some of the writing activities I partook of.  Wait, that's a poorly constructed sentence, with that dangling participle.  Today, I'm writing about the writing activities about which you want to learn more.  Technically correct, but a bit high-faluting.  Well, let's just get to it.

The Writer's Loft

To refresh your memory, I travel to Nashville twice a year, in September and January, to participate in the certificate writing program sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University, the Writer's Loft.  It's a program modeled on the brief-residency MFAs that are so popular now, and in the words of the Loft's founder, Roy Burkhead, it's "MFA lite." (By the way, Roy's editing a cool literary magazine that I contribute to called 2nd and Church--check it out.)The program offers weekend orientations during which students hear lectures and workshops on all aspects of writing, and meet with their mentors after which, students go forth and do what they should be doing--write.

This year, I presented a lecture at the Loft on Scene and Structure, a variation on one of the sessions of my Get Your Novel Written Now class.  It was an information dense hour and a half, let me just say, so much so that I feared my student's heads might explode.  They graciously refrained from allowing this to happen, however.  I also sat in on a variety of other presentations, two in particular that I want to highlight here.

Freelance Writing

Writer Jennifer Chesak spoke on freelance writing and got me all inspired about it again.  She went through the basics of getting started, establishing relationships with editors, and so on.  Jennifer recommends starting with querying on small articles that would go in the news sections at the front of magazines and working your way up.  When I graduated from journalism school a gazillion years ago, I got married and had babies right away and so working at a newspaper was something that never happened for me.  But I did begin free-lancing and did it off and on for years, until I went back to school for my MFA and began doing more teaching and coaching.  But listening to Jennifer made me want to have another go at it, so I'm now on the lookout for ideas. 

A New Publishing Model

VPWebsiteBannerClassic-600x230Jennifer has also begun an innovative publishing company that intrigues me. It's called Wandering in the Words Press and here's how it works: it's submission-based, so you submit your work and go through a vetting process.  When Jennifer selects your novel or memoir for publication, you pay her for the editing process, either upfront, or through your royalties.  She not only edits, but creates you a website, and assists with marketing.  And the royalties are good--50%.  This is a very similar arrangement to my publisher, Vagabondage, though I didn't pay any fees to them for editing or anything else.  What I like about it is that you get all the benefits of indie publishing but there's still some quality control, which is often lacking in self publishing.  It's worth checking out.


Another one of the workshops which captured my attention was Aaron Shapiro's on writing Haiku.  He went through the rules of writing Haiku, gave us some visual prompts and let us have at it.  Okay, okay, if you insist, I'll share my brilliance with you:

Past his given time Absolutwade_model_wasp_255102_l

Fading days of a short life

A bee in winter.

This was my ode to the bee that appeared in my Portland bathroom at 4 AM as I was getting ready to catch my plane to Nashville.  What I liked about the Haiku writing was the idea that you could play around with it as a warm-up to writing.  Or when you're blocked, or don't know what to write but want to write something.

So that was what I learned in Nashville.  But I also want to give a shout-out to the Living Writer's Collective, this amazing group of writers in Spring Hill, about a half-hour away from Nashville (in which direction, I'm still not entirely certain).  I had the great good fortune to speak to them on Thursday night before the Loft orientation began and I loved it.  What a great group of writers--not a wanna-be in the bunch.  All of them, as far as I could tell, were actually engaged in the work of putting words on the page.  They were a friendly and welcoming group, also, and if you live in the area, check them out.  Thanks, guys, for having me!

And I think that is quite enough from me for the moment.  What have you learned of heard or read about writing lately?  Comment, please.


The top image is one I took on the Vanderbilt campus, which is serving as a stand-in for MTSU.  They are two very different beasts, but oh well.

I snitched the Vagabondage Press image for the website.

The bee is by Mordac.

Stop the Starving Artist Syndrome: Transforming Your Money Story Free Class

Have you ever said (to yourself or someone else) any of the following?

* You've got to be really lucky to succeed as a writer or artist or creative person

* I'll starve if I rely on my income from my creativity

* I'm too tired (old, ugly, stupid, fat, uneducated…) to do what I really love and succeed

* Everybody knows you can't make money as a creative person

* Being creative is just plain hard, and of course you can't make any money at it

Just about every creative person we know struggles with internal dialogue that constantly parrots these thoughts. But guess what? These thoughts are just your story. Nothing more.

And guess what else? This story isn't even true! You've just held onto it for so long that you've come to belief in it. Learn how to change your story into a vibrant, abundant one in our upcoming FREE teleclass!  Announcing:

Stop the Starving Artist Syndrome: Transforming Your Money Story.  A FREE 90-minute content-rich teleclass.

Join me and Gwen Orwiler from Your Strongest Life for this free online class this Saturday.

October 22nd, 11 AM, Pacific time/ 12 noon Mountain/1PM Central/2pm Eastern time

Registration is simple, just email me at and I'll send you the call-in information.

Note: By registering for this call, you are agreeing to receive information from both Charlotte and Gwen. In other words, you're opting into our lists, both of which are chockfull of fabulous information to help you live a fantastic life.

And even if you're already on my list, email me so I can send you the call-in info, okay?  It's going to be a fabulous call with lots of great information.

Writing=Creativity=Play (A Post That Might Make You Nervous)

Dream_feather_blue_266249_l At the fall orientation for the Loft, author Debra Moffitt (Awake in the World) did the keynote speech, which was really a workshop, and a presentation the following day.

She began with a meditation designed to take us into our "secret garden," the place of sanctuary for our spirit and creativity.  And after we had visited, she passed out boxes of crayons and had us draw one aspect of our garden and share it with another person.

I liked the whole secret garden thing.  Mine was actually in a glorious cathedral with beautiful stained glass windows and just as we finished up the meditation, a man swathed in a royal robe with an amazing velvet hat of many colors glided up to me.  Alas, I didn't get to hear what he had to say, as the meditation was over.

Debra also talked about the value of using dreams, and gave us a few clues on how to remember them:

  • Keep a pad of paper and pen by your bed
  • Write about the dream as soon as you wake up
  • Write in the present
  • Give the dream a title
  • You can ask a question and put it under your pillow to induce an answer

The whole idea of accessing my dream life fascinates me, and I'm terrible at it.  I rarely write down my dreams and, no big surprise, also rarely remember them.  Do you?

And now for the part that will make you nervous: Debra talked a lot about the value of play.  It can activate our right brains and heighten our creativity.  Hence, the crayons.  And yet play makes us nervous.  So nervous it has become nearly a radical activity in our society.   We're obsessed with work.  And control.  And getting things done.  And sticking to a schedule.  Who has time for play?

I have to admit, I have a hard time with it.  I'll do "playful" activities but they generally have a purpose: knitting, which makes useful things, hiking, which is exercise, gardening, which makes a pretty yard.  I like to paint, and yet I rarely do it.  Too close to play, I suppose. 

It was interesting to watch the reactions of some of the workshop participants.  They were uncomfortable with the idea and in some cases, outright resistant to it.  I get it.  I felt somewhat the same way.  And yet there's value in the idea of play. 

What about you?  Does working with your dreams or engaging in play appeal to you?  And here's a deeper question: would you do it just for sake of it, without knowing it would help your creativity?

*Don't forget to capture your dream of writing a book by signing up for my free Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With a Vision Board.  You'll also receive a subscription to my biweekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer.  The form is to the right of this post.

Image of dreamcatcher by aschaeffer.

The Wonder of a Writing Retreat

LetsGoWrite_logo Writing retreats and workshops have been much on my mind lately, for several reasons:

1.  I've been running around like a nut job, working on classes, coaching, traveling and other fun things.

2.  Among the "other fun things" noted in #1, I've been planning my first week-long retreat/workshop with my biz partner, Debbie Guyol. (Note spiffy logo to the left.)

3.  Doing all of the above has not left me much time to write.

And, let me just tell you in all confidence that the result of #3 is a cranky Charlotte.  A cranky Charlotte who is desperately seeking ways to enjoy a writing retreat.  And so, herewith, my pithy thoughts on writing retreats and how you (and I) might nab one for yourself:

1. Find an organized retreat, where a group of people come together to create time to write. Sometimes other activities are planned and in most cases, these activities are optional, should the writing be going well. I'm the writer-in-residence at one of these retreats in Nashville, Room to Write, held in December and April. You can find others at Shaw Guides, or if you're looking for the best of both worlds--instruction and time to write check out my retreats at Let's Go Write.

2. Band together with a group of friends and create your own retreat, as I have done on several occasions. Going in a group can reduce expenses considerably, and the camaraderie after writing sessions are over is priceless. Some writers like to read their work at night, either what they've been writing that day, or finished work, and some prefer to keep to themselves and ponder the next day's session. You can rent a house, stay in a bed and breakfast, or find a resort. Just make sure everybody is clear on the ground rules from the outset.

3. Design a personal writing retreat. When you're coming down the home stretch on a project, going off by yourself to work on it can help you finish. Hours of solitude devoted only to your writing fuels a lot of inspiration. Find an inexpensive room in a nearby city and take yourself away to work. I have a friend who often takes personal writing retreats at a college town, because accommodations are plentiful. Resort towns in the off-season are also good. Or check out this site for more options.

4. Go to a writer's colony. This is a bit different in that there will be an application process involved. Writers apply for residencies of anywhere from a week to several months, and in many cases, meals and everything you need are provided. Competition is fierce, especially for the most prestigious colonies, such as MacDowell. But there's also quite a list of lesser-known colonies that might interest you. Either google or check them out here.

5.  If all else fails, design your own retreat while you stay at home.  Inform everyone you know that you'll be focusing exclusively on your writing and then follow through--turn off the phone, shut down the email boxes, refuse to answer the door. Because in reality, retreating is a mind-set more than anything else. It is committing to keeping outside influences at bay while focusing deeply on your own work, that which is most important to you. And that can be accomplished anywhere.

What are your experiences with writing retreats?  Have you gone to an organized one?  Created one for yourself?  I'd love to hear about them.

The Writer's Loft at MTSU

The Writer's Loft at MTSU.

That, my friends, is a link to the awesome video that Janet Wallace just made for the Writer's Loft.  (Check out her blog post that also features the video.)

I haven't written about the Writer's Loft in quite awhile.  The Writer's Loft is the distance writing program I co-direct in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (for those of you not from the area, Murfreesboro is about half an hour away from Nashville, the home of MTSU, the largest university in Tennessee, which is where our program is housed).

The Loft is a three semester certificate program in which you work one-on-one with a supportive mentor, who not only reads your work, but recommends books to read and helps to guide your course of study.  As I've noted in this space repeatedly before, there really is no better way to improve your writing skills.  Working one-on-one with a mentor allows you time at home to write while still getting focused instruction.  Our program is modeled on the brief-residency MFA programs that have become so popular, although, as our founder, Roy Burkhead says, the Loft is an "MFA lite" program.

You can sign up for the Loft and complete all three semesters and earn a certificate in writing.  Or, you can take one semester if you need a jump-start on a writing project, or perhaps need guidance to finish something.  You can join the Loft and just continue to sign up, semester after semester, which is what several of our students have done.  They refuse to graduate and we love them for it!

There's been a lot going on in with the Loft lately.  My original co-director, Terry Price, has decided to spend more time on his writing and is now Director Emeritus.  I am pleased and proud to announce that Rabbi Rami Shapiro has stepped up to become my new co-director.  Rami and I have worked together at the Room to Write retreats and Path and Pen workshops.

I've written more about the Loft here, and you can learn lots more about it by going to our website.  For anybody in the area, or even close, think about heading to the MTSU campus on September 17, when we feature workshops that our open to the public.  This semester Whitney Ferre of Creatively Fit and Kathy Rhodes of the journal Muscadine Lines will be doing workshops for us.  The price is $50, and you'll not only have the benefit of the fabulous workshops, you'll get to meet wonderful writers, including moi.  C'mon, I'd love to meet you in person!

And, of course, if you want any more info, just email me.  My address is at the top of this page.  (Top left, I think.  I've been rearranging things.) By the way, Janet Wallace, who made the video, is our new marketing expert.  She specializes in helping writers, authors, and other creative types with their marketing and social media.  Check out her blog here.

Friday Guest Post: Summer Writing Conferences

For this week's Friday Fun, we have another wonderful guest post by my dear friend Linda Busby Parker.  You may remember that Linda recently wrote about the value of networking for writer, which post you can read here.

Summer Writing Conferences Library_legal_bookshelf_238770_l

by Linda Busby Parker

Time to think of summer writing conferences! For anyone seriously interested in creative writing, summer conferences are a must. Many writing groups take the summer off and the members of those groups might feel as if they are wilting in the long, hot months of June, July and August. Summer writing conferences serve as well-springs to keep the writing life flourishing during those dry summer months!

Where can a writer locate summer conferences? A first stop is on-line: SHAW GUIDES TO WRITERS CONFERENCES AND WORKSHOPS.  Any writer will find more conferences there than she/he can possibly attend. Conferences are also announced in POETS & WRITERS, the WRITER’S CHRONICLE, and some of the other writing magazines including WRITER’S DIGEST and THE WRITER. State humanities organization also maintains lists of writing conferences and festivals within individual states.

There are conferences and workshops for every kind of creative writer—memoir, short story, poetry, novel, stage and screen writers, children and YA writers, Christian writers, environmental writers, and so many more. Every conference has its own format. Some offer just a workshop format where writers submit their work for critique. Others offer a combination of lectures, panels, and workshops. Other conferences offer not only the lectures, panels, and workshops, but also bring in agents and editors. Be selective! Choose the conference that’s tailor-made for you at this point in your writing life.

Some conferences are difficult to gain admission. Top on the list of difficult are: Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and Squaw Valley. Workshop critiques at these conferences can be extremely penetrating and caustic. These might not be the best conferences for those writers not open to the critique process.

Conferences can also be expensive. Tuition ranges from $150 to $1500 or more. That’s another reason for reading all information carefully and selecting the conference that’s best for you. What do you as a writer need to get out of a conference this summer? Think about your own writing needs/desires before selecting a conference.

I’ve been to Bread Loaf, Sewanee, the Kenyon Review Workshop, Indiana University Summer Writing Conference, New Harmony Writing Retreat, and several southeastern summer conferences. I’ve never attended a summer conference I didn’t like! I’ve never attended a summer conference that I didn’t come away enriched by the experience! It’s definitely time to start thinking summer writing conferences, workshops, and retreats!

Linda Busby Parker is author of the award-winning novel, Seven Laurels and is a professor of writing at The University of South Alabama in Mobile. She also teaches in a low-residency program in Continuing Education—The Writers’ Loft—at Middle Tennessee State University. Her blog is

Finding Faults

I'm perfect.Sharon's Flowers

I am.  I am poised, intelligent, attractive, talented, funny, loyal, passionate.  Like I said, perfect. 

And, already you are bored with me and ready to go elsewhere to read because who can relate to perfect?  Already you are thinking, well, if she's perfect than I have nothing in common with her at all and what exactly do all those general terms mean anyway?

So try this instead:

I'm not perfect.  I'm way too judgmental, not good with details, have a terrible habit of rebelling against authority just because it is authority, I veer from crazy deep emotion to extreme containment of it, sometimes I lack focus, I eat too fast, I am currently not exercising enough, I get so excited when I'm talking to friends I interrupt...

Now don't you like me a lot better?  And aren't you way more interested in me as a person?  And, not that you are not perfect, but can't you relate to my faults a bit better than my perfection?

In a post I wrote last week, I discussed the Top Takeaways from the Writer's Loft, specifically, the workshop that Richard Goodman hosted.   One exercise focused on making yourself likable as a narrator by sharing a fault.  This, Goodman said, "provides the reader some freedom."  It allows the reader to feel that the writer is like him, and creates an emotional bond.

And, it is a lot more interesting.  Conflict and imperfection is far more compelling than calm and perfection.

Alas, this is why we have wars.

But I'm a writer, not a warrior, so back to our topic.  Goodman talked specifically about finding fault in terms of narrating memoir, but it also applies to fiction.  Think Holden Caulfield or Jean Rhys (his examples).  And think, too, of the memoirs you've read in which you fell in love with the narrator.  Chances are, they had a fault or two. 

During the Writer's Loft workshop, the readings that came out of this exercise were some of the most entertaining all day.  One participant wrote of his fear at facing a roomful of college students he had come to teach, another wrote a humorous paragraph about always getting lost.  We laughed at these pieces, but we also felt a kinship with their authors.  Who hasn't obsessed over having to speak to a group of people, or gotten themselves good and lost?

In my own novel, the narrator Emma Jean is loudly judgmental, thinks very highly of herself, and gets herself into trouble by flinging herself headlong into new things.  People like her because of her faults.  (And, um, she's not based on me at all.)

So if you are writing memoir, share a fault or two with us.  We'll like you lots better.  And if you are writing fiction, give your characters some faults so that we know they are just like us.

Anybody have any suggestions of famous flawed narrators?  Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

***Thanks to Jessica, who left the comment asking for more information on this topic, and thus inspired this post.

And, by the way, the photo of flowers is supposed to epitomize perfection.  Not sure if you would get that or not, so I felt compelled to explain it, which means it is probably not working as an illustration.

The Final Top Takeaways From the Writer's Loft

I've been writing a series of posts on what I learned at the Writer's Loft last weekend.  You can find the links for Part One and Part Two at the end of this post, or just click on the highlighted words.

Today's post is about the lecture that one of our favorite mentors, David Pierce, gave, which he called "Tools for Stories."  I have to give David a huge thank-you, as he stepped in at the very last minute to give this lecture after one of our mentors was not able to attend due to a family illness.

David offered the following six tools:  Bookcover

  • Trouble
  • Cause and Effect
  • Reversal and Revelation
  • Expectations
  • Dramatic Irony (when the audience knows more than the character)
  • More Trouble

The important concept here is that these are tools that you can use as you write stories or novels.  Stuck?  Give your character more trouble.  Don't know what to have happen next?  Figure out what a logical chain of cause and effect might be.  The plot just won't budge?  Throw in a reversal or a revelation.  You get the idea. 

I love these tools and can see how truly helpful they are to have in your bag of tricks.  These are real, specific, craft responses to writer's block in fiction--and they probably work pretty well for creative non-fiction as well.

By the way, David is the author of "Don't Let Me Go," a wonderful memoir about climbing mountains and running marathons with his daughter.

As my father would say, thus endeth this series on Top Takeaways from the Writer's Loft.  Here are the links for the first and second parts:

You can read Part One, about social media and Kory Wells, here.

And Part Two, about Richard Goodman, here.

Top Takeaways from the Writer's Loft, Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote part one in this series on things I learned at the Writer's Loft last weekend, and you can read that post right here.  In it, I talked about the presentations by Jimmy Carl Harris and Kory Wells.

Today it is time to turn attention to Richard Goodman's workshop, "5 Things to Learn About Writing in 90 Minutes."  (I also wrote about Richard's book in this blog post before I left Portland.) This was a great workshop that was really inspiring to me--as was his book.  Here are my top takeaways from it:

  1. "If you can focus, you can move the world."  Richard says that focus requires time alone and I tend to agree, though sometimes I can get in the zone writing when I'm in a crowded coffee shop.
  2. Always go for the exact meaning of the word you are using.  Richard talks a lot about finding le mot Juste, about checking the etymology of a word, and about looking up the definition of the word, even when you think you know it.  Because, you probably don't.  And the true definition can be a delightful surprise.
  3. To make yourself appealing as a narrator, share a fault.  (Some of the most entertaining pieces of the day came out of this exercise.)
  4. "At least 40% of really good writing is written by the reader."  Gotta admit, I'm still pondering this one. 
  5. Titles are under-rated.  They are where the book actually begins, how the essence of the book is communicated.
  6. The music of prose is the sound a writer makes on the page.

So, there you have it, good advice all.

Next up is a brief rundown of a talk by David Pierce.  Brief because he came at the end of the day and I was again, doing admin stuff.  However, it will be brief but powerful, I promise!

Top Takeaways from the Writer's Loft, Part One

The Writer's Loft orientation weekend is over and here's a news flash for you:

I survived.

Actually, I thrived.

It was a wonderful, informative and inspiring weekend for writers, if a bit exhausting.  I've been laying somewhat low processing what I heard so that I can share it with you.   Turns out I heard a lot, and that was even with me missing some of the presentations while running around doing admin stuff.

So I'm doing the posts in three parts.  Here we go.


Jimmy Carl Harris started us off with a presentation on structure in short story.  Jimmy Carl is a former Marine, and great with structure.  But I didn't get to sit in much on this workshop, alas.  It was the start of the weekend, and Terry and I had things to do.  However, I do have one great takeaway quote for you:

"There are good stories.  There are safe stories.  There are no good safe stories."

Nifty, huh?  And very true, too.

After lunch, it was my turn.  I did a workshop on Writing Abundance: the Seven Practices of the Prolific and Prosperous Writer, which you can read more about on the Writing Abundance page.  At the Friday night reception, our wonderful student Alberta Tolbert graduated, yay! except we'll miss her.  Except we know she'll be around because all our loyal alumni come around as much as possible.  That night also, Kory Wells read her poetry, accompanied by her daughter Kelsey, who played the banjo.  Great show.  More about Kory in a minute.  Finally, Richard Goodman read from his book, French Dirt, and his soon-to-be-published New York Memoir.  More about him in the next post.

Saturday Morning

Okay, so here's the deal.  First thing Saturday morning, I did a Q and A with Richard Goodman about his books and writing.  It was awesome, and I mean that in the full sense of the word.  All I had to do was toss Richard the merest tidbit of a question and he was off and running.  Very inspiring.  I recorded the whole thing on my new digital voice recorder and planned to post it on this blog and also offer it to Richard for him to put on his website.

Alas, it was not to be.  You'll never in a million years guess why.

Because the dog ate my recorder.  Yes, indeed, it is true.  I'm housesitting at my home away from home, my dear friends' Sue and Walt's house and their newish dog, Gugi, a rescue from Emmylou Harris's pet rescue operation, ate my recorder.  She is such a sweetheart I couldn't even get mad at her.  I keep waiting for her to regurgitate some words of wisdom, but that hasn't happened yet.

So even though I don't have Richard on tape for you, I do have some nuggets from Kory Wells' talk on social media.  Kory is one of those rare birds who seems to be equally right-brained and left-brained.  She is at home in the techy world, which is where she works during the day, and an accomplished poet as well, with a fairly new volume of poems out called Heaven Was the Moon.  The perfect choice to demystify social media for writers.

Here are my takeaways:

  • You control the conversation online and you get to brand yourself.  Because of this, it is vital to pay attention to the profiles you set up on various social media, and the keywords you use.
  • Learn what people are saying about you online by signing up for Google alerts.  I used to do this; got tired of the volume of emails and un-signed up.   Let me make it clear that the volume of emails came from poorly defined search words rather than the fact that a lot of people are talking about me.  At any rate, yesterday I signed up again and it has already paid off.  I've discovered mentions of myself that I otherwise would not know about.
  • Find keywords to use to bring people to your site or blog by checking which words come up when you Google yourself.
  • Many connections can be made through "charming notes."  This is a concept Carolyn See promotes in her book, "Making a Literary Life."  She urges writers to write notes (notes, not emails) to people they admire.  Furthermore, she says to write one note a day.  Arrrhhgggg!  But I think we can pull this practice into the new decade and go for emails, don't you?  Kory told a story about how she found the artist for the cover of her book through a charming email.  So that works for me.

I'm currently trying to learn as much as possible about social media, and Kory's presentation was really helpful.

Tomorrow (or as soon as I have time to write another post) I'll cover tidbits from Richard Goodman's lecture, "5 Things to Learn About Writing in 90 Minutes."

The Writing Life: It's Raining in Nashville

When it rains in Nashville, the heavens open in a biblical manner.  If you happen to be caught outside in it, you are soaked to the bone instantly.  Often the rain is accompanied by scary bursts of thunder and lightning.

Perhaps the thunder and lightning is scary to me because I experience it so rarely back home in Portland.  There, the rain is gentle yet persistent.  It is gentle enough that Portlanders scorn umbrellas and really, you can get along fine most rainy days without one. 

Not in Nashville. 

Yet I don't own an umbrella and it certainly never occurs to me to pack one, seeing as how I never use one in Portland.  And let me just say that my fall back position of all-purpose shawl held over my head is a lame attempt to shield myself from the rain.  And so I've been soaked several times now.

But Nashville has other delights and so I forgive it the rain this week.

I arrived last Friday afternoon to take part in Path and Pen, a spiritual writing conference.  What a great weekend.  I presented my Writing Abundance workshop on Saturday morning, and all of us had a blast.  Truly the reason the workshop went so well was because of my wonderful participants.  I got to spend quite a bit of time with the amazing Rabbi Rami Shapiro and also to attend the Greater Bethel AME church on Sunday morning, at the invitation of Kim Johnson, program director at Scarritt Bennett.  I made some good new friends, including fellow faculty members Kent Ira Groff and Dr Sybril Bennett.  Best of all, they've asked me to come back in December to be the writer in residence for Room to Write. What is Room to Write?  It is a two-day writing retreat.  All you have to do is show up and write.  Your room will be ready for you and all meals provided.  If you need advice or motivation or support, I'll be on hand to provide it.  Check it out, it's going to be wonderful.

I've been house-sitting in Nashville this week, spending time with friends, and putting the final touches on the fall orientation weekend at The Writer's Loft.  There's still time to join, either the full semester or the one-day workshops on Friday which are open to the public.  Join us for workshops from poet Bill Brown, CNF writer David Pierce, and fiction writer Terry Price.

Oh, and my friend from Portland, Mayanna is arriving tomorrow, as well as Linda Busby Parker from Alabama and Betsy Woods from Louisiana.  We're going to have a great time and learn lots about writing.

But in the meantime, I think its raining again....

All Modern Contest Continues

A quick note--I want to let everyone know that the All Modern contest, originally slated to end tomorrow, has been extended over the Labor Day Weekend.   My contact at the site is on vacation.  This is good news for him and good news for you as well, because it means more time for you to enter!

Entering is a no-brainer, there's no skill involved, you don't even have to write much.  All you have to do is post a comment on the original post, which you can access here.

The prize is an awesome desk accessory, which I myself covet (no big surprise since I chose it), a picture of which you can see on the contest post.

The winner will be chosen in a random drawing from all those who have posted a comment on the original contest post.

You don't even have to write anything brilliant, just say hi.  Or you can be brilliant if you prefer.  I do like brilliance.

Just remember that the comment has to go on the original post in order to count.

The Dream World

"Imagination is sacred and divine--I trust it implicitly."

So said Andre Dubus III at his Wordstock reading last weekend.  Dubus, best known for House of Sand and Fog, read from his latest novel, The Garden of Last Days, which was inspired by the Florida sojourns of the 9-11 hijackers.  After he read from the book, Dubus talked about writing the book.  He quoted Flannery O'Connor, who said, "writing is waiting," to make the point that even when you are staring at the computer monitor, you are writing.  And then he ripped off this line: "You are summoning, almost like a prayer to an angel, the imagination to give you something."

After hearing that line, I was ready to go buy every book the man ever wrote.  He went on the say that if you summon the imagination regularly it will reward you with things to write about.  Someone in the audience asked him how difficult it was to get inside the head of one of the September 11 hijackers, and he told how he resisted and resisted it, that he had no interest in making one of them a viewpoint character.  But then the novel seemed to sputter and fall flat and he was in danger of losing it completely.  He realized that he had to make one of the hijackers a viewpoint character, so he sat and did nothing but read books about the Middle East for five months.

Dubus quoted Mike Nichols, saying that the charge of the storyteller is to share what it is really like to be in the midst of whatever is happening.  In character-driven fiction, you want to establish empathy for the characters, not sympathy.  As a writer, you do this to the point that there is no other.  What you do in writing is to go beyond knowledge of the other to totally be the other.

Interestingly, this is true in fiction, as well as in many other arenas of writing. When you write a press release, there's a certain tone and style that you emulate.  In a much more superficial way, you're becoming the other--the PR pro who knows what will grab attention.  A blog post sounds different than a web page and an article in a newspaper is dissimilar in tone to a piece in the New Yorker.   In each instance the trick for the writer is to figure out the trops and do them.  Be the other.

I was discussing this with Mary-Suzanne yesterday in terms of ghostwriting.  How does a writer get out of their own skin and into the skin of the person who is supposedly writing the book?  Here are some tips (which are applicable to every kind of writing imaginable):

1.  Get Over Yourself.  Clear the gunk out.  Do it however you like, but I think the best way is to write a bunch of crap down on paper.  Set a timer and write out all the petty judgments and grievances and even all the things that are making you happy.  (You may get some ideas along the way, though that is not the point of this.  As an added benefit, you may also improve your mental health along the way.

2.  Enter the Dream World.  Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, center yourself, do whatever it takes to get yourself calm and zen and relaxed.  Listen to music if you need to. 

3.  Start to Observe.  Pull an image of the person you are melding with into your brain.  What do they look like, smell like, sound like, feel like?   Be aware that in making these observations you are still on the outside looking in.

4.  Become the Other.  Now, go a step farther and sink deeper into the character.  Instead of observing the character, imagine yourself actually going into her head.  What does the world look like from inside her viewpoint?  Where is she sitting?  What is the view outside her window?  What does she do when she first gets up in the morning?

5.  Trust Your Imagination.  Remember, as Dubus says, it is sacred and divine.    All you are really doing in this exercise is imagining life through another person's eyes.   And, honestly, what could be more important than bridging the gaps between us?

Top 5 Ways to Prepare for Nanowrimo

I'm not going to do Nanowrimo this year, because I need to focus on the final rewrite (yeah, right, how many times have I said that) of my current novel.  But I'm a huge fan of it and had a blast doing it several years ago, when I "won" by the way.

(In case you live on Mars, Nanowrimo is short for National Novel Writing Month, a project which encourages people all across the globe to write a "novel" of 50,000 words over the month of November.)

But since preparing for Nanowrimo is much like preparing to write any big project, I thought I'd post some tips.  Here we go:

1.  Set a page or word goal.  I figured to win Nanowrimo I would be safe if I wrote 2,000 words a day.  This allowed for acts of god and trips to LA, when I couldn't write every day.  If you aren't doing Nanowrimo,  you might want to set a page goal.  Three pages a day is good.  Doesn't sound like much but if you write three pages a day at the end of a month you have 90 pages, which is 1/3 of a novel. (God, this is such good advice, why don't I follow it?  Because it is much harder to set a specific page or word goal when you are rewriting--some changes are simple, some lead to many other changes forward and back.  Okay, I feel better.)

2.  Get it done first thing.  I like to get up first thing in the morning and write.  If I get going on the novel first, everything else falls into place.  If I decide to work on some other project, like those pesky ones that pay bills, I'll never get back to the novel.  When I did Nanowrimo, my deal with myself was that I couldn't go to bed until I had my word count done.   If I didn't finish in the morning, I had to keep going back to it until I did.  On the other hand, I know that there are people like my friend Tony who prefers to write from 8 PM to 1 AM. Huh.  A different opinion than mine, imagine that.

3.  Prepare, prepare, prepare.  C'mon, you've still got three days.  That's plenty of time.  Nanowrimo rules say you can do as much preparation as you want--as long as you don't write word one until November 1st.  Make lists of plot points, decide on character motivations, figure out what your characters want and what will stand in their way.  Choose locations and make notes about them.  Think about where your characters live and what they wear. What do they do on an ordinary day?  By preparing to write your novel in this way, you are also prepping your subconscious for what is to come--and trust me, those 2,000 words a day will come much easier.

4.  Tell family and friends to go jump in a lake.  No, perhaps it is a bit too cold for that, so tell them to take a hike.  Or rent every season of Friends, or the entire set of the Lord of the Rings and lock themselves in the TV room.  Or perhaps this is the time to tell your wife to finally read Anna Karenina.  The point is to (kindly) get rid of them.  Let them know you'll need time, space and energy to complete this goal that is important to you.

5.  Treat yourself well.  Now, and for the entire month of November.  Go easy on the alcohol (I hate that part) and eat healthy, natural whole foods. Exercise regularly.  My favorite exercise is pushing myself away from the computer desk.  Kidding.  I love to walk, and walking is excellent for pondering plot points.  Do all the things that you know will create energy for yourself.  You need to be alert and full of energy to write those 2000 words a day during November. 

Here's the bonus tip:  HAVE FUN.  Nanowrimo is a blast, and I love that it gets people writing and also connecting in Nanowrimo meetings.  So enjoy it.  And keep me posted on your progress.  Good luck!

How to Learn to Write

Reading as a Writer

Last night Terry Price and I hosted a dinner for the new students entering the Loft, and, big surprise, the conversation was all about writing.

One of the things that Terry talked about was how, in the past, some of his students would complain that they didn't have time to read, that trying to write took such a big chunk of their time that there was no time left for reading.

This is a shame.

Actually, it is more than a shame.  It is a crime.  Because, honestly?  If you are a writer, you should be reading.  There's just no two ways about it.  Reading the kinds of books that you want to write immerses you in the tropes and techniques and traditions of that genre, whether that genre is the novel, or the short story, or creative non-fiction.  The only way to figure out where you want to go is to look at where others have gone before you.

MFA programs, particularly brief-residency MFA programs, are based on this very idea, and emphasize the value of writers reading to learn how to write.  We emphasize the same thing in the Loft.

Words In, Words Out

I have this theory that, when I'm writing a lot, I need to replenish those words.  Just as when you exercise a lot, you need to drink a lot of water to replenish what you've lost through sweat, so too, with writing, you must restock your words.

Some writers will tell you that if they don't like to read whatever it is they are writing for fear that reading will somehow influence them.  Um, of course its going to influence you, because that is why we read.

Because you know better than to plagiarize, you are not going to copy an author word for word.  You're just going to absorb the way that author writes, note how he uses dialogue, study how she writes description.  In this way you learn techniques you can apply to your own writing.

No Time to Read?

You make time to watch TV, don't you?  You make time to surf the internet.  When you stop to think about it, you can probably think of several time-suckers that you can rid your life of.  Throw your TV out the window.  Will you really miss it?  You'll have more time to write that way, too.


I started thinking about this post last night, when we were all at dinner, talking about writing and reading.  And thought more about it this morning, because I'm going to have a phone meeting with my new student, Jillyn, who is wonderful not the least of which because she is from Portland.  And then I read Basic Ways to Improve Your Writing (its the April 21st entry, scroll down a little to find it) on the blog of the Mad Hermit and that was the final piece.  (By the way, the Mad Hermit is doing some really interesting things in terms of marrying the technology of the internet with literature--video reviews and video readings of poetry and classics.  Really cool.)

So go read.  And write some, too.

Pay It Forward: Birthday Celebration

1007_03_22_prev In the wonderful way that synchronicity often happens, today is my blog's first birthday and I won a contest.  What do the two have to do with each other?  Well, the contest involves paying it forward.  Because I won something, it is now my duty (and pleasure) to pass on a prize as well.  And since it is my blog's birthday, it seemed fitting to combine the two.

But first, let me tell you about what I won and where I won it from.  One day I discovered Too Cute Pugs and spent quite a bit of time there because it is the diary of pugs Pearl and Daisy and full of wonderful pug photos and pug banners and all things pug.  Since I am of the firm opinion that the world would be a better place if pugs ran it, or at least if everyone on the planet owned a pug, I was entranced.

Pugmama (Okay, her name is Sue) at Too Cute Pugs was running a Pay it Forward contest and all you had to do to win this adorable tote bag that she had painted was to leave a comment.  Since I was planning to leave a comment for her anyway, this was a wonderful thing.  And guess what?  I won!

And now it is my charge to continue to pay it forward and offer prizes on my blog.  Since I have absolutely no talent for anything besides writing (well, knitting, but I never finish anything so I'm not going to offer a half-finished scarf) all of my prizes are word related. So, are you ready?  Here we go:

The first three people to leave comments on this post will receive:

1.  A one-half hour coaching session to kick-start you in your writing.   We can talk about frustrations, fears, lack of time, goals,  how to establish a regular writing practice, whatever your little heart desires. I love coaching and helping to get people back on track with their writing.


2.  A manuscript critique of up to 20 pages of writing.   I also love reading and critiquing.  Fair warning: I'm not offering line editing here, but more big-picture type stuff, with thoughts on story and character and so forth.

PLEASE NOTE: Due to a pressing deadline, I will not be fulfilling these prizes until after April 15th.  But then I'm all yours, baby.

So leave those comments for me and I'll post the winners whenever I feel like it all the prizes have been claimed.

Photo from

More About the Writer's Loft

I wrote about my new gig as co-director of the Writer's Loft in Tennessee on Friday, and I thought it would be good to post a bit more about it.  For the record, its a great writing program, and has proven to fill a need.  Say you are a busy professional who's always had the writing bug but been forced to put it aside for those nagging little needs like career and children.  But now you're ready to get back to it--except you really don't have time to attend a class once a week. 

The Loft model works great in such situations, because it is focused one-on-one program that you can do anytime--at 6 in the morning when you awaken, late at night when everyone else is asleep, or in those stolen moment at lunch or on a coffee break.  It has also proven to be a great boon to people who want to apply for a MFA program but need to get their skills up.  Or maybe you just love to write and would like to have someone look at your work and advise you on it.  The Loft is a flexible program that suits a variety of needs. 

Here is some more information on it, and if you are interested, email me for info on when the next program begins and prices and all that. 

The Writer’s Loft

The Writer’s Loft is a low-residency certificate in creative writing program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.    The cornerstone of the Loft is the student-mentor relationship, which offers the writer the chance to engage in focused, critical study of his or her work.  The program also features a weekend orientation with lectures and panels, periodic tele-seminars, and other opportunities to build community among writers.  Currently, a Writer’s Loft certificate can be earned in 18 months if each semester is taken sequentially or longer if the writer decides to take breaks.   It is also possible to sign up for the course on a semester by semester basis, and the aspiring writer who does not want or need to earn a certificate may find this option appealing.  While most of our students are in the mid-Tennessee area, we will also be starting a component to serve those in other regions of the country. The mission of the Loft is to develop the student’s maximum skills, style, and voice as a writer in a supportive, encouraging, and open environment.  The goal is for the student to become the best writer that he or she can be at this point in his or her development.  To this end, the course of study is set through meetings between mentor and student, in which the student’s goals and current level of achievement are considered. 


The Writer’s Loft functions as a low-residency program.  What does this mean?  It is an increasingly popular style of teaching writing, with many MFA programs offering a low-residency option.  In a low-residency program, the student attends courses on location several times throughout the year and then returns home to complete the rest of the course assignments.  This works particularly well for writing, because the best possible way to learn writing is to spend as much time as possible writing.  Writers learn by writing, not by sitting in classrooms listening to people talk about writing.  Yet because writing is generally done alone, writers also crave community.  Low-residency programs address this need and also telescope writing instruction into one or more highly focused days. 

The Loft at a Glance

• Weekend Orientation with workshops, panels and other learning opportunities

• Focused one on one instruction

• Most course work completed at home on your own schedule

• Opportunity to be a part of a thriving writing community

Excellent News

Well, the meeting about the ghostwriting may have been a terrible debacle but I did get some excellent news yesterday.

The writing certificate program I teach at in Nashville (actually it is part of the Continuing Education Department at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro) has, of late, shall I say this delicately....well, it has of late been the poor orphan child of the department.  As in, totally ignored.

However, my fellow mentor Terry Price and I have long cast covetous eyes on the program, thinking if only we could get our hands on it, we could build it back up and make it into the writing program it deserves to be.

Well, folks, the time has come for us to quit casting and start acting because as of today, Terry and I are now the new Program Directors of the Loft. 

This is all new and it is so new that we don't even have a website to point you to.  More information will follow as it develops--I'll be putting up a page on this site to let you know all the details.  What it means is that from now on, except for existing students and online classes to be developed in the future, all my teaching will be through the Loft. 

For those of you in the Nashville area, we'll be holding orientations and other local events.  But there will be a component for people who reside elsewhere (after all, I live in Oregon) which may include teleseminars and so forth.  Or, you might want to just have the option of working one on one with a mentor, which is a powerful way to learn and the heart of the Loft program.  This can be done no matter where you live.

Additionally, I'm now going to start taking advantage of the fact that I am a certified coach and focus attention on coaching writers.   What's the difference between coaching writers and mentoring them?  I'll be writing much more about this on my new coaching writing website, but for now think of it this way: if you like to write but have a lot of questions about how to write, you probably need a writing mentor or a writing class.  If you've been through all the classes and know your stuff pretty well, but can't seem to find a way to get yourself to write, you need a writing coach. 

As always, email me if you are interested.  There will be much more information on both the Loft and the coaching to come.