The Writer’s Desk: Nevertheless, she persisted

When Jordan Peele said, “It’s impossible to work in this industry without having scars.” Peele was referring to the film business, but the same principle applies to book writing. Every successful (and unsuccessful) writer carries scars from criticism, rejection, bad reviews and failure. The odds of getting work traditionally published are staggeringly low (6,000 to…

The Writer’s Desk: Say it loud, say it proud

Epic Group Writers recently hosted an in-person celebration for winners of its annual contest, and the finalists read their entries out loud. As an audience member I took pleasure in hearing their poems and stories. Perhaps I enjoy being read to because it takes me back to when my parents told us bedtime stories. In…

The Writer’s Desk: Repetitions of a theme

French impressionist Claude Monet is known for painting the same subjects over and over, such as his more than 30 versions of haystacks at different times of days and seasons. Monet’s obsessions led him to dig deeply through texture and light to reveal all aspects of an ordinary haystack. Series writers are similarly obsessed with…

The Writer’s Desk: Prepare to Celebrate National Poetry Month

In Ray Bradbury’s Zen in The Art of Writing, he asks,” What does writing teach us?” “… [writing] reminds us we are alive ….and writing is survival…while art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.” What Bradbury confirms…

The Writer’s Desk: Tips for making the most of your writing

I love films about writers. A good indie movie, The Magic of Belle Isle, is directed by Rob Reiner and stars Morgan Freeman as a writer who has stopped writing. Freeman’s character, an award-winning Western writer named Monte, tells his nephew, “Drinking is my full-time job now, and I can’t work two jobs.” I like films…

The Writer’s Desk: Lights, camera, epic fail

During my teaching career, teachers were expected to operate under the mantra Failure Is Not an Option. This always struck me as flawed because how do we learn if we don’t fail? Writers fail, and fail often, yet our failures make us better. Right now, I’m teaching myself screenwriting in order to adapt portions of…

The Writer’s Desk: Yes is better than no

Rejection is part of writing. It hurts when you open that e-mail or envelope and read, “Sorry…we don’t have a place for your work.” It takes elephant hide and steely nerve to be a writer, and yet you’re not a real writer until you have been rejected. Some rejections are downright rude, like the one…

The Writer’s Desk: 25 ways of looking at a sentence

EPIC Group Writers recently hosted a workshop on “The Magic of Great Sentences” taught by Anne Elliott. Elliot’s thesis is the sentence is infinitely elastic, and writers make thousands of conscious and subconscious micro decisions to make music of the prose, reveal subtext, illustrate voice, and illicit an emotional response from the reader. Ultimately, well-crafted…

The Writer’s Desk: Adding details to strengthen scenes and sentences

I’ve heard it said when writing a book, you’d better like your story because you’re going to reread it more than a hundred times. That may be an exaggeration, but if you want to get the words right, you’ll need to refine it over and over. In my July column I discussed how it takes…

The Writer’s Desk: The world built in the reader’s mind

By the time my first novel was released in 2016, I’d had many stories, poems, and essays published, along with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I’d also been attending or presenting at writer’s workshops and conferences since 1989, yet it wasn’t until 2017 that I heard the term ‘worldbuilding.’ Fantasy, sci fi, and historical fiction…

The Writer’s Desk: What looks like dawdling may be hard work

Recently I got distracted one morning by scrolling through social media (when I should have been writing) and an illustration of a man standing inside an empty pool and staring off into space popped up on my Instagram feed. The caption read, “Sometimes this is writing, standing silently in an empty pool like a psychopath,…

The Writer’s Desk: How many drafts do I need?

Recently I attended a workshop by Allison K. Williams on writing powerful sentences. You may recall my previous column on sentences and correctly assume I’m a bit of a sentence freak. What makes a great sentence? Her answer is, “Words in combination with each other and their layout on the page.” Before I reveal more…

The Writer’s Desk: The right words in the right order

Poets and musicians know the importance of cadence, yet music of the line is equally important in prose. In drafts, where you’re pounding the story out quickly, sentences will be comprised of weak verbs, wordy construction, and poor cadence. One of my critique partners pointed out how this passage in my current manuscript, “lacks oomph….

The Writer’s Desk: Pay attention to your sentences

Recently I participated in a workshop on Writing Great Sentences conducted by Geraldine Woods, author of 25 Great Sentences and How They Got That Way. I’d been trying to sign up for the workshop for two years and always ended up on a waiting list, but this time I made it in. Why would I,…

The Writer’s Desk: A great cover can’t disguise poor storytelling

A review copy of a writer’s debut novel arrived in my mailbox. The cover has a pleasing aesthetic with a balance of primary colors and a promising title. Its premise sounds intriguing: A young man feels guilt over having bypassed two tragic events, 9/11 and the Asian tsunami, by convenient circumstances. A blurb from a…

The Writer’s Desk: Why you should enter writing contests

Over the years I’ve entered and won or placed in several writing contests, but mostly I’ve lost. But “winning” in a contest isn’t about scoring the grand prize. Much can be gained by taking a risk. I talked to local author and writing instructor Mindy Halleck about winning a Writer’s Digest Your Story contest. The prompt…

The Writer’s Desk: Four self-care tips for writers during a pandemic

Writers tend to be isolated, more so now that there’s a pandemic. How do we keep our minds and bodies fit in order to facilitate our writer’s brains? Take a walk Exercise is proven to help writers work out ideas, but the cold, rainy season in the Pacific Northwest isn’t always conducive to taking a…

The Writer’s Desk: It takes a village to write a novel

There’s a universal image of an author sitting alone, fingers tapping on a keyboard or handwriting on a paper tablet as she writes her book. For the most part, writing is a solitary experience. At least in drafting the story one needs a room of her own, yet if we expect to get our work…

The Writer’s Desk: Off-beat advice to improve your writing

Happy New Year. Hopefully you’ve adjusted to the new normal, found your rhythm, and are able to write again. Below are some uncommon tips I use when the words won’t flow. Look for ideas on Post Secrets In order for a story to captivate your audience the stakes must be high. Everyone has secrets, and…

The Writer’s Desk: How to make revisions, part 2 — micro

The Writer’s Desk is a new monthly column providing tips for fiction and memoir writers. You can read the previous column, How to make revisions, part 1 — macro, at this link. “Successes are revised mistakes.” — James Clear The title of this article says part 2, yet revision is an ongoing process. Every time I…

The Writer’s Desk: How to make revisions, part 1 — macro

Welcome to The Writer’s Desk: a new monthly column providing tips for fiction and memoir writers. This month I’ll feature part 1 on revision because many of our readers participated in National Novel Writing Month and are anxious to revise their 50,000-plus-word masterpieces. Revision is a lengthy endeavor and every writer has their own process….