We Are the Magic Makers

The painter uses paint. The writer uses words.

Since we are tasked with presenting a story primarily with words, conveying enough information to create a scene in the reader’s mind is an important skill to develop. When done well, the story feels like a portal to some other place. You’ve got to make it real in the reader’s mind for there to be that *magic*.

So how do we do that? That’s a huge task! And it sounds kind of intimidating, not gonna lie.

To quote Steven King, “Telepathy, of course.” In his book, “On Writing,” this is his definition of “what writing is” (103). And he presents this paragraph as proof:

“Look–here’s a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage with the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In it’s front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.”

King, 105

Do you see it? I can. And we probably see something roughly similar.

This is how you draw your reader in. Giving them something vivid to “see” makes them feel like they are IN your story. Developing your telepathic writing powers takes practice, like most things. I sometimes find myself bogged down in plots and characters’ thoughts when I am writing, and I have to remind myself to continue setting the scene so the story continues to have someplace to exist.

It is important to not overdo the details, but to also do enough. This is part of the skill building part–knowing how much is the *right* amount. Just like spices in your favorite dish, if you put too much of one thing, it’s not going to taste right. It’s all about the balance.

Photo by Juany Jimenez Torres on Pexels.com

Telepathy Exercise: Photo Observation

The basic gist of this exercise is to look at a photo and describe what you see. You are trying to get the reader to see roughly the same image. Use language that pulls the image into the reader’s mind. Try to hit at least five details. Now, imagine the sounds and scents. What does the weather feel like?

And then, try moving further into your imagination. What is this place? What is around the corner? Who is that lady? Who is that other person farther away? Who is behind the camera?

If you are working on a current writing project, perhaps do some research and find a photograph that applies to your story for this exercise. Or work this image into your story, somehow. Is it a memory? Down the street from the protagonist’s office? Where she’d meet her grandmother for brunch?

An additional facet of this exercise could be having someone who hasn’t seen the photo read your work. Then show them them photo and ask how closely they got to *this* image.

Good luck sharpening your telepathy skills! Let me know how it goes.

Citation: King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2010.

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The Wedding Cake Was Where Now?

There once was a writing challenge that became a book. Back in the early 1990s, this book landed in my hands. It was “The Wedding Cake in the Middle of the Road.” Each author was challenged to work that image into a short story in some way. If you can find a copy, give it a read.

I think the compelling aspect of this challenge is the clash between object (the wedding cake) and location (middle of the road). Putting them together in a scene surely spells out calamity. It’s something of a surprise to see how each author handled the mission in vastly different ways.

The Challenge:

I thought it might be fun to pose a similar challenge to you. The wedding cake challenge presented something lovely and carefully crafted into a place it does not belong. Perhaps equally compelling might be something awful in a lovely place?

Here are some options with the “nice” thing in a bad place AND the “bad” thing in a nice place. I couldn’t decide on just one. Disclaimer: I know “nice” and “bad” are totally subjective, but I wanted to pose relatable objects.

Pick one of these to fit into your story:

  • The iphone in the fountain.
  • The spider at the makeup counter.
  • The stilettos in the subway.
  • The rotten potato in the baptismal font.

Or if you really want a challenge, put them all in your story!

Classroom Option:

If you are ever in a workshop or classroom setting, it can be interesting to have the students each write down two or three objects on slips of paper, as well as two or three places. Encourage creativity! Put the slips in two different grab bags, and then have each student draw one object and one place from each bag. I think I did a version of this once before in a class, and I got “the smelly sweatsocks in the refrigerator.”

At any rate, I hope one or more of these options inspires an idea and gets your writing going!

Let me know how it goes!

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Back at the Desk Again!

Hello from Austin, Texas!

Alright. I apologize. I just sort of left without saying anything. Things got complicated way back in…what was it? November 2014?! Almost SEVEN years ago?!

Geez. We’ve seen some things in seven years. I have an almost 5 year old now. I have moved houses, graduated 3 step kids from high school, said goodbye to three beloved doggos, changed jobs three times, and am much closer to 50 than 40. I also lost my mom last year, and even though she was ill and it was not unexpected, it was still a life-changing event that threw me for a loop.

As for writing, I still try to bang out something during NaNoWriMo, but I have come up woefully short every year. But…that’s okay. No more feeling bad about that. I journal a lot, but my fictional creations live mainly in my head. That’s really frustrating for me, so I am hoping that dusting off this blog will help in getting back into the process. I need to start putting the words on the paper again. And THEN I need to get the words off the paper and into some sort of structure that can become a “thing” I can share with people.

If you’ve been coming here looking for more writing exercises, well, the long, long wait is over! I am here to help you as I help myself.

If you are anything like me, the pandemic has disrupted your life in innumerable ways, but not always in a way that is conducive to making anything (yes, yes, I know lots of people learned to make bread and masks, macramé and Tiktoks, pottery and sweaters et cetera ad nauseam). I find that being in a state of anxious worry is not good for my creative mind, so I didn’t do much past the bread and the masks. I did find genealogy as a lovely way to distract myself, but that’s another blog.

For writing, though, I was only ever able to just dump my thoughts, close the notebook, and walk away with a little bit lighter weight on my heart.

If you haven’t journaled lately, get out your journal! I know you have one. And if by some fluke you are lacking one, I give you permission to write on whatever paper you can lay your hands on. I want you to do this ON paper, not on your computer. Find a good pen or a few well-sharpened pencils, and just write whatever you want for 15 minutes. Set a timer and everything. Go do that now!


If you haven’t finished what you were writing, keep going, but do it on your computer. I know this is a weird exercise, but just do it anyway. Humor me. Set the timer again for 15 minutes.


Now, I want you to go back and read what you wrote on paper versus what you wrote on your computer. Time for the old compare/contrast exercise from high school English class, but applied to your own work.

What is the difference between the two?

When I do this exercise, I write about the same number of words regardless of paper or laptop, so the speed of typing doesn’t help me write more, really.

I think my hand-written work has more depth and is more thoughtful and interesting. I would say it has more “soul” in a way that makes the story feel richer. I may be more sentimental when writing by hand, which could be good or bad, depending on the content and purpose. It’s much harder to “delete” whole portions of work when you are writing it out, meaning you can easily salvage something if you decide it wasn’t so bad.

My typed work moves more quickly, covering more ground in the story. The sentences are more staccato and conversational. Perhaps that’s due to our social media culture that forces us to be brief. I don’t get “bogged down” in details as much. I tend to create a lot of lists to paint the scene when I am hand-writing, but I do this less frequently when I am typing.

Both of my exercise samples need editing, but I feel like my handwriting needs clarification, while my typing needs to be rounded out more to feel like a “real” story. For whatever reason, at least when I did this exercise, the typed half felt more confessional.

Mashing these two approaches together is probably my personal best method of getting the stories out of my head. Handwriting is my preference, where transcribing becomes the first pass edit. But, when I get into transcribing, I see places to add more and can take off into new writing without a lot of pondering and wandering around in the story.

Which works best for you?

Happy writing!

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I’ve got the NaNoWriMo Blues…again

I probably have my priorities screwed up in this month of no shaving and writing novels and thanking veterans and giving thanks…

Because here I am again…two weeks into NaNoWriMo, completely behind the word count goals, and pining for the freedom to spend all day writing.  But, given the chance, I am still not going to steal away and write to hit a word count mark.  I end up singing the blues for the “woe is me” situation of my writing practice, because…

See, I’m what they call a “long-hander.”pen and paper

I write on paper.  Preferably with pencils, but also with pens when there is no sharpener readily handy.  I write fiction this way, because I write crap when I don’t.  There is something too easy about typing directly onto a screen.  Stream of consciousness exercises are better with a keyboard, true, just for speed, but I have a direction and characters and a world I am crafting, and to do that I, personally, need to get my hands into it.  I feel a stronger connection with my story when I am scratching it out by hand than when I am typing.  I must have some better hand/mind connection when I write this way, because I feel like what gets crafted directly into a computer is kind of…soulless*.  And forcing the soul in there after the fact is ever so much difficult for me.  Surely a creator must start with a soul, right?

*Disclaimer:  I am not saying that all people who write on computers are writing soulless stories…this only applies to me, as far as I know.  Maybe you can relate, though. Maybe?

My first draft of anything is almost always on paper first.  Transcribing my handwriting into the computer is the second draft.  And I am usually happy to share this version with my writing friends, because it has the soul of the first draft and the roundness of the second draft.  It’s my method and it works for me.  It does not work so well for NaNoWriMo, though.  Instead of trying to long-hand write 1,667 words a day, this year, I am trying to transcribe 1,667 words a day–not really true to the spirit of the challenge, but hey, it works for me.  I’ve done a pretty sizable chunk of writing over the summer–everyone in my “Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write” group sort of rolls their eyes at me and my wonky composition notebooks and collection of pencils (I need about 3 sharpened pencils to get through an hour of writing). So what if I’m retro? Does it make me a hipster to write this way?  I don’t really care what other people think of my process.  I have lived long enough trying to do this magical alchemy called to writing to know what method works best for me.

Today’s writing challenge, then, is one focused on YOUR method and finding it.writing at computer

First, pull out some paper and your favorite writing utensil and do some of your work on paper for at least 15 minutes.  Try a stream of consciousness exercise and see where it takes you.  If you are NaNoWriMo-ing, work on your next scene.  For those of you who have terrible penmanship, maybe use this time to block out the next chapter.  Consider the actions your character could take and draw a map.  The point is to just get your hands into “crafting” a piece of work rather than just keyboarding.

Second, find your favorite computer, open a freshly blank file, and try a 15 minute stream of consciousness exercise again.  You may want to pick up where you left off on the last exercise, or start anew.  If you really like what you just wrote, and want to use it, spend about 10 minutes transcribing it.  Spend the next 5 minutes adding more details.

When you are done, consider the two works you produced.  Which method *felt* better?  Which method produced better writing?  Did you like meshing the two methods into a unified piece of work?  Or did you just find paper to be a nuisance?  Did the computer “disrupt” your paper-method thinking?  Did you think about anything in a different way when you were “disconnected” from an electronic device.  Did your writing seem richer in one method or the other?

I know some (most?) of you will eschew the low-techness of longhand writing, but it’s a very green method that requires no electricity, it’s cheap, portable, and incorruptible by viruses or power outages.  On the other hand, you do have to use trees to get paper and pencils, you’ll need to find a computer someday, anyway, to produce the document for professional submissions, and you must be able to read what you wrote.  Try to stay green by using recycled products, or writing on any “left over” paper you can find.  I have a purse full of scribbled-on bill envelopes.

Use this exercise to jump start you on a writing day, or save it for later when you aren’t trying to hit a word count.  Hopefully it helps you figure out your best creativity style and aids you in your next story.

Good luck!

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Go Through Any Door

You were gruff and unapologetic and funny and smart and a spitfire and I admire your moxie. Goodbye, funny lady.

Write Under Your Nose

On “making it” into the world of comedy.

Sage advice from a comedienne who started her career writing bits for a puppet (Topo Gigio on the Ed Sullivan Show).  You cannot afford to wait around for the perfect situation.  Get your foot in the door and then your elbow and then, like the hokey pokey, your whole self.  I’ve been waiting for a very long time for the stars to align, my writing room to be completed, my favorite pencils to be on sale…yadda, yadda, yadda.

Once you have decided that you aren’t going to wait around anymore, be vigiliant for those cracked doors just waiting for you to insert yourself.  You are the only one who puts limitations on you.  And, likewise,  you are the only one who can strip them away.

Get to stripping, do the hokey pokey, and get in the door!

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Making it a Practice

Ever since I left grad school, writing fiction (my favorite kind of writing) has become a thing I do fleetingly–when I can spare the time–when I happen to be inspired–when I have run out of TV shows to watch.  Needless to say, all of my fumbling towards “being a writer” has been more like half-remembered dreams than like a vocation to which I am dedicated and committed.  You know.  Life gets in the way.

But life only gets in the way because I let it.  Because I don’t intentionally carve out time for the writing to happen.  Because I don’t have a set time to write.  Because I don’t have a dedicated space to write.  Because I don’t have a goal or a deadline.  Man, I am lame.

So.  If this business of being a writer is ever going to become something real, it’s time to make a change. And I will be following in the footsteps of many a writer who has had to do that same.

Of John Grisham’s routine (from a San Francisco Chronicle interview): “When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important. The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.”  His goal: to write a page every day. Sometimes that would take 10 minutes, sometimes an hour; ofttimes he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, which he never especially enjoyed.”

So, Mr. Grisham disliked his day job, too.

And Alice Munro:  As a young author taking care of three small children, Munro learned to write in the slivers of time she had, churning out stories during children’s nap times, in between feedings, as dinners baked in the oven. It took her nearly twenty years to put together the stories for her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, published in 1968 when Munro was thirty-seven. (From The Atlantic)

This gives me hope and pause, alike.  I am a step mother and wife and all of the chores outside of my “day job” really add up into something like a black hole into which all of my wherewithal disappears.  But if Alice can do it, can’t we?

When I started scheming up this plan to create a daily routine, I thought back to an interview I once read in The Paris Review about Toni Morrison’s practice (forgive the long excerpt):

Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama–and that was always around five in the morning. Many years later, after I stopped working at Random House, I just stayed at home for a couple of years. I discovered things about myself I had never thought about before. At first I didn’t know when I wanted to eat, because I had always eaten when it was lunchtime or dinnertime or breakfast time. Work and the children had driven all of my habits… I didn’t know the weekday sounds of my own house; it all made me feel a little giddy.

I was involved in writing Beloved at that time–this was in 1983–and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.

Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

I found these at Daily Routines, by the way.  It is truly fascinating to see how other people work.

So many authors seem to prefer writing in the morning or mid-day, but I guess I’ve never had a place and time in my “real” life (aka outside of being a full-time student) that I had the luxury to figure out what time of day is the best for me to “make the contact” with my craft.  I’ve always had to beg, steal, and borrow from time I’ve meant to spent doing something else.  But here I am, now vowing to find time everyday to write.  In all honesty, I am not even going to try for the morning.  I am a recovering night owl and sleep has become a friend of mine.  So often, I let work spill into a post-5pm place in my world, but I don’t really have to do that on most days.  So, this week, I am shooting for 5:30 – 6:30 PM as my writing time.  It’s a nice lull in the day when my brain is still “on” but I don’t want to think about work anymore.

I predict the hard part will be pulling myself away if I get in the groove of writing.  But how about dealing with that problem when it presents itself? And if this time ends up not working for some reason, I’ll reassess.

The challenge I’m setting for myself, then, is at LEAST one hour a day, write as much as possible during this time.  I want to have the equivalent of a chapter at the end of every seven-day period (eek!).  No backing up midweek to edit.  Just writing.  I have a plan for a space in which to write, so I’ll try it out and see how it works.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll move.  My first instinct is to just grab a pencil and loose paper and lean against a tall desk and start.  I might need music.  I might need it through headphones, even.  But I’m going to give it a shot and see how it goes.  But it WILL go.  And hopefully this will be a way into the dream.

Set your own daily practice goal and give it a try.

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I Write Like WHO Now?

Okay, writerly types…maybe you’ve already run across “I Write Like” – an analyzer app that scans through some sample of writing and tells you which famous writer you write like (based on the words you use).  But if you haven’t, it’s an interesting exercise.  Go try it.  I’ll wait.

(I’ll just go grab some coffee, brb)

So, are you happy with your results?  Surprised?  Perhaps now a little fluffed up because you write like…Edgar Allan Poe, Eudora Welty, or F. Scott Fitzgerald? Hey–good for you!  It IS pretty cool to at gain a little insight regarding what kind of vocabulary you share with some of the greats (at least in part), right?

I’ll confess.  I was surprised.  And disbelieving. I didn’t recognize the first author, nor the second, but the third was James Joyce.  All three were men.  I was thinking…why are they so different?  Why are they all men?  Maybe because I specifically try to capture the unique “voice” of each character, this may be the reason for the array of authors “I write like.”  Maybe because I analyzed stories that I’ve written across several years?  Puzzling.

So, I expanded this experiment by entering big portions of seven different stories just to see if I got the same result twice. I did not.  Here are the authors this analyzer says I write like:

Harry Harrison, Cory Doctorow, James Joyce, William Gibson, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and Kurt Vonnegut

So.  I don’t really know what to do with this.

I want to call bullshit.  Because I was expecting Alice Munro, or Barbara Kingsolver, or I dunno…at least one woman of seven stories since I, too, am a woman, and I write about them (kindly), and in their voices.  I was wondering if this analyzer is just a misogynist that doesn’t even have females as a possible match for language.  So, of course, I did a little web research, and it seems over on HuffPo it has been reported that even Margaret Atwood writes like Stephen King and just entering the word “not” 20 times comes up with Jane Austen.  So, you *could* get Jane Austen, I guess if you are into using “not” a lot.

What does this mean?  Nothing, really–it’s just code deciphering code by some man-made algorithms. I hope it doesn’t mean that I am hopelessly impacted by the “male gaze” of this society.  Because that’s just gross and hurts my teeth.  Maybe the men above write like women?  Maybe I’m just edgy or used “mud” or “star” or “please” once too often.

But, you know…still go try the analyzer and see what happens.  See if it causes you to reconsider anything about your writing style, or maybe just your own opinion of your writing style.

Personally, I feel like the challenge has been thrown down to see if I *can* write like one of my favorites.  From Flannery to Papa, the gauntlet has been thrown down!

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Finders Keepers

I’ve been dreaming up some writing exercises and trying to suss out which one I want to post first.  And then it dawned on me…what last happened in my own life to make me pick up a pen with a sense of urgency?

It was a found object.  I literally found a ring in the gutter on one of my night-time walks around the neighborhood.  It’s engraved inside and out, and seems to have once been cherished by someone…so what was it doing in the gutter?

I put a lot of internet snooping into finding the owners of the names engraved inside the ring.  As luck would have it, the combination of these two fairly unique names resulted in a couple who no longer seem to be together.  Which is sad, of course… I found a picture of them together.  They might have been high school sweethearts.  It seems that their paths diverged at least four years ago, though.

And then I began to wonder how this ring came to be in the gutter of my neighborhood some four years after these folks parted ways.

So.  I began to write.

It seems like the perfect exercise to me.  What would you do if you found such an item?  What IS the story?  Or, bring your own found object to the exercise and use it as a jumping off place into a new story, or as a character building exercise by writing from the point of view of one of your characters…what would s/he do with a found ring? A found…key, pocketwatch, shoe, sweatshirt, pen?…It can be anything!  OR have one of your characters be the one who lost, threw away, or intentionally left behind this object of curiosity.

So many possibilities!  I might start this exercise over again to go into another story already in the works.  Hm…exciting!

Good luck!

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I DO want what I haven’t got

In the wee hours of the morning, I find myself dreading the workday.  Most days, I wish I could just stay in bed and sleep.  I hit the snooze button too many times for my own good.

But this morning I wished for something else.


I wished for a life that makes me want to leap out of bed and chase after it.  Like a mad woman.  Like a dangerous girl.

And although I haven’t been able to embody a whole lot of the things I have learned in this life, I do know this:  If you want it, you have to go after it.  No fairy godmother is going to come around with pixie dust that will let me grow money on a tree in the backyard or grant me an infinity of wishes.

I can hedge my bets and pursue a new job, or find a way to telework, or move to a new house, or start taking a new class, or any number of things that change my current situation.  But I know that each one of those things will result in the same state of mind in less time than I’d like to admit to myself.  I can use these skills–this ability to write–in a multitude of ways that will afford me a reliable paycheck.  Reliable paychecks are good…they are the stuff of “making a living” and paying the bills and putting food on the table.  Part of me is ashamed to find fault with my fairly blessed life.

But another part of me is not ashamed.  I am not ashamed to dream.  I am not ashamed to want more, to want better, to want passion, to want success doing something I love.  I will hold on to this wish–this dream for a more authentic life–and I will hold on to this job in the meantime, but I promise myself to keep going after the dream.

It’s too easy to give up, anyway.  This life means too much to just sit back and let it slide by.

Don’t let your life slide by, people.  It’s too short and comes with no guarantees, but it does come with hope.  Gather up your wherewithal and go after what you really want.


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Church of the Palomino is FREE???

Well, yes, sort of.  IF you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can download my short story, Church of the Palomino, for absolutely free!

I know.  It’s hard to believe.

And you know what, if you aren’t an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can download it for only $1.29.  I mean, that’s less than a trip to Starbucks!  That’s cheaper than a Coke from the vending machine at work!  And at 28 pages (pretty hefty for a short story, right?), that’s just 4.6 cents a page!  Such a great deal.

Also, don’t be put off by the whole “Kindle” thing.  You can easily download a reader for your smart phone, tablet, or pc.

AND, if you happen to be friends with other Kindle readers you can lend the story to them for free, too.

Come on.  You know you want to.  Everybody loves a stripper!

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