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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

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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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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Go Through Any Door

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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