Going Back to School: How Writers Benefit from Classes, Conferences, and Trainings

It’s that time of year again, when the cold crisp air settles around and the light grows softer. The mornings are get-ups and lunch packing and full backpacks. The wind rustles drying leaves and the echo of everything Pumpkin Spice descends. Fall. Probably my favorite season (minus the Pumpkin Spiced everything). Fall signals the slowing down of the bustling summer, a cooling off (we hope), and a getting ready for the winter ahead. It also reminds us of new opportunities to learn, to gain intellectual ground, and to prepare for the prime writing months coming up.

There are plenty of ways to keep your skills sharp as a writer. Last spring, I covered the conference season and this post will be similar in that I’m going to give you some online resources for improving your writing skill, developing a business or marketing plan, and helping to boost your creativity. Just like conferences, a writer can easily blow their budget by trying to train themselves into success. My goal is to offer you a spectrum of options with the caveat that classes can show you how to write better, give you pointers on the business side of things and offer marketing advice, inspire new ideas, and improve your editing. About the only thing they can’t do is write your book for you.

The Long Haul:

MFA/MA Programs: These programs (Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts) are advanced, graduate degrees that can help to help your overall exposure to the big picture of writing (MA tends to focus more on Literature and less on writing, MFA can be broken down into Creative Writing, Journalism, Linguistics, etc). In these programs you will learn pretty much everything, from plot and structure, to dialogue and character development, to grammar and editing. It will take two years at least, and the cost averages out to about $38,000, not counting room and board. You’ll read an enormous amount of material. You’ll probably complete a novel or collection as part of your Thesis. Not a horrible way to go, but studies are showing that the cost of MFA programs are often not paid back in employment afterwards so–carefully think through that one.

Online Writing Courses:

A number of reputable online courses and classes are now offered through various writing groups, professional/successful authors, and university departments. The courses are less intensive than a MFA and can often be done at your convenience. They cost a lot less (some are even free) and you can often pick and chose the ones that will benefit you the most. Here’s a small list courtesy of softwaretestinghelp.com:

  1. Wesleyan University Creative Writing Specialization
  2. Gotham Writers Online Writing Classes
  3. Reedsy Learning Courses
  4. Udemy Creative Writing Courses
  5. edX Creative Writing Courses
  6. FutureLearn Creative Arts and Media Writing Courses
  7. OpenLearn Creative Writing
  8. SkillShare Online Creative Writing Classes
  9. Emory Continuing Education Creative Writing
  10. Universal Class
  11. Writers.com Online Writing Courses
  12. Masterclass Creative Writing Classes

Conferences, Seminars, Retreats

Feel free to refer back to my older post on conference (you can find it here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/04/01/a-word-or-several-about-writing-conferences/)

For this area of your continuing education I’ll ask that you explore seminars (mini conferences, or a series of five or more classes on one topic, like Novel Writing) and retreats in your area. I’m sure there are beautiful, far-flung retreats in tropical islands that are also available, but with travel restrictions, lack of funds, and a busy life outside of writing, those may not always be attainable, so do a little research closer to home. Some of my favorite retreats and seminars have been offered through Northern Colorado Writers at a very fair cost and are conveniently located. It also helps my sense of altruism to know I’m funneling my money into a local organization that turns around and helps other writers in my area.

Retreats tend to fall into two categories, those with classes/seminars and free-write time, and those with simply free-writing time, punctuated with social hours. You may wonder how effective three or four days, stuck in a lodge, with nothing but time spent writing can be as beneficial as say, a whole weekend of conference classes. Well, young writer, let me elaborate.

Classes, conferences and seminars are excellent resources for enhancing your writing and helping you learn technique as well as opening up your mind to the business side of things–just like I mentioned above. And, just like I mentioned above, they can’t write a book for you. Only you and time can do that. As a mother of two busy kids, with a couple of side gigs, and a whole household to run–I don’t always have time to write. Somedays I’m lucky to get 20 minutes in. So to have four days, uninterrupted by children, husbands, dogs, laundry, volunteering, teaching, or grocery shopping, cleaning, and yard work, just focused on my writing is priceless. I’ve finished novels in that time. I’ve written four months of blog posts and edited entire series. I’ve barreled through plot holes that I thought I could never find solutions to.

The truth is, when there’s nothing else to pull your procrastination strings, you can get some shit done. PLUS, its immensely helpful to be surrounded by other writers while they’re “in the zone”. There is an inexplicable energy that catches you up when you’re surrounded by other souls and brains focused on their art and passion. Plus there’s usually some socializing/decompression hours at the end of the day to give yourself respite.

Okay–that seemed like a lot of info and I don’t want to bore you to tears. Check out some of the ideas above this week for taking yourself back to school. When we invest in our writing, it becomes less the pipe dream, and more of an attainable goal. Good luck out there, writers. Keep me posted on your progress or if you’ve found some great retreats, classes, and resources yourself!

A Little Excerpt: Westbury Falls

Good morning, readers. I was puzzling over what to post about this week and in the middle of editing one series, formatting and finishing a first rough draft of the poetry anthology, and trying to adjust to new school schedules, I thought–what would I like to read? Sorry to say, nothing on editing. I live and breathe that stuff currently. Poetry was last week and again next…I’d like to read something light. Something fun and fantastical. So here we have it. A little book I started (and nearly completed) last November that’s beyond rough but one of my favorite new multi-genre experiments. Think Quantum Leap meets Jane Austen. It is, tentatively titled “Westbury Falls” and, if I have my way will be part of a loosely connected series someday. But only if I get my editing done (You can’t have your pudding if you don’t eat your veg).

So–without further ado, enjoy some “pudding” in the middle of your veg filled life.

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

Westbury Falls

Chapter 1

Lillian Byrne fell face first down the stairs as was typical of her style. She never did anything by halves, be it her dramatic monologues explaining over the dinner table why her history paper had been only partially completed, or the hundred or so accidents she managed to survive in the span of a week.

So, when the toe of her converse caught the frayed carpet on the precipice, of what must have been the fiftieth English manor her mother had dragged her to in the course of a week, she almost expected the epic tumble down all four flights of the narrow and steep stairs. Her brother, no doubt, was laughing his ass off from the top, soon to call down that she was stupid and uncoordinated. Her mother would run to fuss for a few moments before she became engrossed in some placard explaining some little-known fact about Charlotte Bronte’s knickers or Jane Austen’s secret seaside romance.

It wasn’t really her mother’s fault. Being a wall street trade floor manager left very little romance in her mother’s post-marriage life. That’s why they were here now after all. That’s why she’d been on the “Footsteps Through the Past Literary Tour” of Westbury Manor. Why she was sharing a tiny hodgepodge room, filled with antiques and moth ball-ridden closets with her idiotic, ivy-league-bound brother who only feigned interest to gain their mother’s favor.

And this. This feeling of weightless abandon, was probably just a universal decree that she should fall, knees knocking like a leggy foal, tumbling and tangled, down the wooden steps, a mess of human limbs. She hadn’t been concerned until she felt a banister crack her temple rudely, then two balusters after that following suit, smashing against her ribs and back. Her unfocused gaze made out the lace-lined light from the window above her, before the light swelled to gray and an enormous pressure took over her skull. The world closed itself to her like a porthole getting smaller and smaller until a pinprick of light twinkled out and she was gone.

“Miss Byrne, Oh Heavens! Miss Byrne!”

Lillian heard through the suffocating clouds of fluff between her ears. Some attendant must have found her, but her head hurt far too much to try opening her eyes just yet.

“Mom,” she croaked.

“Oh, poor dear… she’s calling for her nursemaid.”

“No…nurses. I’m fine,” Lillian mumbled.

“Poor child, she’s had a right awful fall,” came a muffled cockney reply in the deep accent that Lil was sure was being over done on account of her being a tourist.

“It’s cool, I’m used to falling,” she groaned and tried to rise to her knees but the dress caught beneath her and pulled her back down.

The dress?

Lillian’s head swam with pain and she put her forehead to the cold wooden floor. Maybe she’d accidentally taken a curtain with her or some tapestry had come down and off the wall in her tumble. It certainly felt hot and uncomfortable wrapped around her. She tried kicking it off before steady hands stilled her and held her down.

“Easy now, easy Miss. Your head has a terrible bleed, you need to stay still. We’ve just now sent young Master Byrne to fetch the doctor.”

“Master Byrne?” Lil scoffed, hating but not surprised that her brother had somehow convinced the staff to call him by a title. The floor pressed against her forehead even harder and she felt blood slowly pooling in a warm ring around her cheek and ear.

Mom was going to be overly worried now and probably wouldn’t let her climb more towers any time soon, she thought, before slipping into the darkness.

Lillian was dreaming and woke in the groggy, underhaze of not knowing exactly where she was. She must have been in a hospital, but heard not the raucous machines.

Heard not?

Was she thinking in proper Elizabethan English? She must have cracked her skull harder than she’d thought to be dreaming in Austen-ese. Lillian chuckled and cool fingers came to touch her forehead gently. She closed her eyes and sat back into the pillows.

“Ah, there breathes the angel, in laugher she does beguile me further.” The deep voice was soothing as velvet in the dark room. She must be dreaming. No one ever called her an angel, and certainly no man. What could such a suitor look like? Surely divine in both nature and stature. Lil’s brow drew in. She tried to sort out the confusion of cotton and haze in her mind

Surely poetic musings were a definite sign of a brain bleed.

Fingers delicately touched her wounded temple, eliciting and incredible flash of pain that should have been dulled by the medication they would have given her. Her violet eyes sprung open and she expected them to be assaulted by the fluorescent lights of a hospital ICU, but only darkness surrounded her. Cool darkness, a canopied bed, and the outline of a golden-haired man coming into focus. He had a strong dimpled chin and beautifully full lips. His eyes searched hers; blue as a Whitby sea on a clear and bright day.

“Ah, the angel awakens. Such a shade of eyes I’ve never been more contented to fall into.” He whispered and his fingers traced her cheek. Lil’s mouth, dry and empty fumbled, lips moving but no words coming. She wasn’t in a hospital; she was surely dead and this heavenly being was sent to take her to the afterlife.

“You are surely mistaken, good sir, for no more a divine face have I ever gazed upon than that which lies before me now,” her voice was husky with sleep, and slipped into an accent that did not feel unnatural. She’d only been visiting the UK for a few weeks; how could her speech have altered so? Maybe she was dead.

“Miss Byrne,” he whispered and they gazed, in equal parts profound wonderment. His eyes closed and he shook his head as if to right his thoughts. “You must not speak,” he said more seriously with the morose dictate of a professional. As if her being awake had changed his whole demeanor. “You have succumbed to a terrible fainting spell, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I did no such thing! I’m not some wilting flower!” Her sudden and strong argument took him back and he sat straighter from her bedside from the surprise. “I tripped. I’m a bold and fumbling clod at best.”

The smallest of smiles pulled at the corner of his beautiful lips and she was determined that she needed nothing more in life than to kiss him.

“You fell.” He acquiesced a compromise.

“I think I’m still falling,” she whispered back and her eyes fell closed to the idea of his kiss against the subsequent throbbing of her head. When she tried to breath in, he whole rib cage felt tight and limited. She placed a hand to feel a secure bandage over the tender ribs. Surely, they had some kind of pain medication? As she fell back into the pillows, she tried to sort out the moment.

Why hadn’t they taken her to a hospital? Maybe the ambulance was still on its way out to the middle-of-nowhere estate they’d been visiting. This overzealous young actor was probably having a hard time getting out of character. She groaned again and put her fingers up to her head where she found a scratchy bandaged secured around it.

“Please. Miss Byrne, please do not touch it, we’ve just now managed to staunch the bleeding. And, I don’t like to praise my technique, but the stitching is quite delicate in order to save you the horror of a permanent scar.” His hands encircled her wrist, and it seemed small between his fingers. His hands were warm, as they paused, thumb to her pulse. She looked out from her lashes and watched him counting the time on his pocket watch to the beat of her heart. The horror of a permanent scar? As if that’s the worst thing that could happen to a girl? She tried to focus on the young actor more closely.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“I’m afraid, we have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. I am Dr. Blackwell—Matthew Edward Blackwell,” he paused to clear his throat, “Junior, of course. My father insists while we practice within the same province that I remind every patient who is the senior, more experienced physician.”

“You’re a—“she paused and looked at the dimple in his youthful chin. “Aren’t you a little young to be a doctor?”

The quick twitch of smile threatened again at the corner of his mouth and she moved her hand to touch it, but he held her wrist fast.

“I am eight and twenty. I’m surprised you would think me youthful.” A new expression passed over his face, perturbed and confused.

“I beg your pardon, good sir,” she said as quietly as possible, falling into the ridiculous speech play that he seemed insistent to keep up. It somehow felt more natural for every moment she spent in what was she assumed was wakefulness.

“I’ve fallen and hit my head and am not to be trusted in my opinion or observations. I meant no disrespect of your position. Indeed, I am most grateful that you are here. It is your youthful and divine dimple that confuses my befuddled mind so.”

His thick throat swallowed as he looked back down to her eyes, falling into them in a way that seemed to cross the lines of good bedside manner into something much more akin to other activities in the bedroom. She sighed. He looked torn, his brow drawing together.

“Your compliments are ill placed, Miss Byrne. I certainly do not deserve such praise from such an—accomplished young lady such as yourself. One, who should, by all accounts and in her current state of mental confusion, should be cautious how complimentary she is. Especially given the promissory nature of your engagement to my cousin.”

Lillian sat up, far too quickly, and nearly startled the good doctor from his bedside perch. She took in a sharp breath and put both hands to her head.

“What the hell are you talking about? I’m not engaged to anyone!”

“Miss Byrne, please!” the use of her swear seemed to amuse him more than shock him, but he looked hither and to, all the same to see who else had witnessed her uncommon outburst. They were alone in the room as the maid had been sent to fetch water and clean cloth for her next change of bandage. “Such language from a young woman of your standing is most unbecoming.”

“Look, pal, I think you’ve taken this act far enough–” the world turned and tipped around her.

“Act? Pal?” the doctor’s voice receded as Lilian felt the world go black again.


Guest Blog: Nina Naylor

Good morning! Today’s guest blog comes to us from the incomparable Nina (pronounced 9-uh) Naylor. She will be featured in the “Wilderness of Soul” anthology and I’m excited to share her work here with you. Nina has a beautiful approach to the world, writing, and how we all feel as wordsmiths with regards to calling ourselves ‘real writers’.

Here’s a little bit about her:

Nina Naylor is a writer, poet, and essayist.  She wrote her first poem at age 8.  She is a member of Northern Colorado Writers and the Academy of American Poets.  She has had poems, essays and articles published in organizational publications.  


Nina was able to take early retirement and has been focusing on her writing dream.  She is currently working on a poetry book, a book of prayers, and a memoir.  

The subject of her first poem?  A dancing pig!

I spent the last few days fretting about driving down to Denver alone to visit my
granddaughter. The address existed in an area my mind at once equated being outside my
comfort zone. The various degrees of fear rampantly invaded my rational thinking, and my
inner critic flooded my brain with negative outcomes and reasons why I should not go. But this
cannot be the individual I confidently relate to when I envision that person inside me in its
truest form! That woman who embraces all things new and enterprising…who still wants to
experience the exhilaration of adventure – the kind that excites and awakens my soul, that
allows me to explore new cultural diversities in an unbiased demeanor…who wants to see the Divine Light that shines throughout!

This same consternation relates to my internal dance of viewing myself as a writer and
not. To move past the wishing stage and be vulnerable enough in sharing myself with the
world. My writing engulfs me – it lives in my soul and to lay myself open to ridicule, critiques
and rejection seemed incredulous.

Nevertheless, my adventurous soul still burns – aches to be released and my lifelong
dream to write and be published flourishes! Friends and family encouraged my writing
throughout the years, but not until I found the fortitude to believe in myself along with the
willingness of mind, body and spirit did my journey come to fruition. Last year at Christmastime
a dear friend rewarded me with the ultimate gift of support: a poetry book by another woman
who recently found the courage to share her soul along with my friend’s accompanying
sentiment “I’ve been fortunate to hear some of your poems and stories. Now, I want others to
experience the joy of reading them.”

Each year I choose a word to live by and this year my word comes from Debbie Z.
Almstedt’s book Zibu: The Power of Angelic Symbology . My word Rakumi means “clarity of
purpose
” and the accompanying affirmation is “I continue to gain clarity as I listen within
knowing the answers unfold with ease.
” To fully embrace the adventure and accept myself as a
writer opens opportunities each day by being willing to believe and surround myself with
positive motivations. This entails positive friendships, writers’ groups, reading the genre l like to​
write, and sending my work for consideration. I encourage you to seek out what truly fulfills
your soul.

Just so you know, I still can have doubts, but they don’t last. The night before I found
out two of my poems would in the anthology, I had thought to myself, “who am I to think I can
write?!” Believe in yourself…put yourself out there…be willing.

I like to write acrostic poetry and I will leave you with one using my word for this year.

R eceiving
A nswers and
K nowledge.
U nfolding
M yself
I ntentionally.

By the way – the outing with my granddaughter and her boyfriend in Denver? Joyous!!

Finding Sanctuary in Times of Change

Photo by Andrew Beatson on Pexels.com

Times of transition are like hurricanes. Confusing, loud, messy and intense. There is uncertainty and a sense of powerlessness that directly affects our peace and sanctuary. Some of us deal with the changes with decidedly more grace than others. Some are rocked off their foundations, never to be the same again.

The point is that no one is safe from change. And why the hell would you want to be?

Change is the great motivator. It is the one unequivocal trait of the progression of human life. Without it we are stagnant lumps. Change breeds invention and new ideas, it sparks, hopefully, encompassing understanding and empathy. Compassion even.

What happens though, when we have too much change? When we are in a constant state of upheaval. When everything in life is a transition?

It is proven that children who suffer chronic instability (experiencing transitions so often that instability becomes their norm) can suffer from toxic stress.  

Toxic stress increases the risks of several physical and social problems including but not limited to increased risk for cancer and diabetes, heart, lung, and liver disease, increased risk for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression.

While a normal amount of stress can be good (it stimulates healthy growth, promotes resilience, and helps us to learn coping mechanisms), constant stress and insecurity in our lives actually causes the body great physical and psychological harm.

The effects are more pronounced in children but adults are not immune. Just ask the millions of people living with high blood pressure, depression, cardiac disease etc. We are in over our heads.

So how do we balance the change and transition? How do we grow and push our boundaries without breaking apart our safety net?

Balance seems a cop-out idea. Of course balance (*eye roll*). That’s like asking “how do I write a novel” and some smart ass saying “Just sit down and write”.

True…but too general. Writing, like balance, is not a one size fits all idea. What is balanced for me is way too much for someone else. One woman’s six, 50,000 word romances a year is another’s one 38,0000 word novel every seven.

How do we find our balance? How do we find the right amount of change? I think the answer lies in retaining sanctuary in our lives. Now I’m not talking humpy-backed bell swingers walled up inside the cathedral, sanctuary. I’m speaking of it on a more personal and sometimes mental level.

Are you safe in your own mind? Do you have a place to go, in your brain, where you can let go, remember to breathe, where your shoulders can drop away from your ears and you can feel at peace? Or is it all hell-fire and disaster, 24/7 from the moment you wake from stress-induced nightmares to the moment you’re knocking yourself out with Melatonin just to escape?

We all need peace. We all need change. How much of each is dependent on who you are.

One person may be content taking 15 credit hours, while raising a family of six and working part time for the PTA. Another may be perfectly happy chiming into an online forum on bee-keeping once a week and counting her reading in hours not minutes. One person may be at home living from a suitcase, jet-setting to all parts of the world for a story and a perspective never gleaned. Another may never leave their childhood hometown and yet still maintain contentment in the smaller world around them.

I’m not here to tell you how much change to accept. I’m here to tell you to accept some change. Pursue some change. But if you find that all you do is change, and you can’t recognize yourself or the people you love anymore, then it’s time to come back home.

Use that one word…what is it? Shoot, I’m not very good at this word, though I’m learning to let my lips form it’s simple monosyllabic music…it’s… NO. The word is NO. If you’re genteel you may even tack on a “Thank You” at the end.

NO is a great place to start. No I do not want to go to that party. No, I do not want to volunteer sixteen hours a week when I’m barely getting my chapters written. No I don’t have time to bake seventy-two cupcakes for the basket-weaving club…would you take a donation instead?

Conversely…don’t forget your YES button in the gleeful mania of refusing. Yes, I would love to meet you for coffee, it’s been too long! YES I would love to take a weekend class in basket weaving. YES, it would be an honor to help out for five hours a week. YES, I’ll go to Italy with you, tall-dark-and-handsome stranger…(*guffaw* still waiting for that one to come around).

You know you best. If you aren’t sleeping. if you’ve bitten your nails to the nubs and can feel the bonds of your family life deteriorating. If you’ve sacrificed what you’ve loved to do what you “should” for too long, then its time to take a long hard look at your hurricane and find a graceful exit from the storm.

If you’re still in a dead end job because you’re too afraid to throw caution to the winds of the hurricane blowing outside, do yourself and everyone who loves you a favor and chase that storm. Live a little for goodness sake. We only go get so much time! Don’t waste it wishing for something better, when you are perfectly capable of hunting down the something better and taking it back to your sanctuary.

Guest Blog: Liyona Cicone

Hello writers and readers! Today’s blog comes to us from a winning contributor of The Beautiful Stuff’s 2021 Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”.

Liyona considers herself an “average joe” kind of writer who likes to think about ordinary things and then write them down. Ever since she can remember, she has been rhyming words and creating lyric poems. During her college years, she took a more serious bent toward writing and started to post on her blog, The Life and Times of a Quirky Character (https://liyonadancer100.wordpress.com/category/writing-2/). Currently, she resides on the East Coast of the United States just north of the country’s capital. Liyona’s prose have been published in Visual Verse, Flora Fiction and Spillwords. You can also find her commenting and collaborating as a Barista at the Go Dog Go Cafe.

As you read through this journey of one writer’s process, I urge you to think about your own methods, style, obstacles, and ‘safe’ spaces for writing.

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

Hello everyone, my name is Liyona. I am so excited to be sharing a bit about myself and my writing journey.

I have always enjoyed writing and creating stories. From a young age, I scribbled down notes and stories about fantasy worlds and characters. As I grew older, I found writing to be a cathartic way to transmit my thoughts and feelings and continued to write but through poems and short prose pieces.

My favorite and ‘safe’ space is found in free form poetry where there is no rhyme or meter. In this form, I love to create rhythms and beats that are evident if you read the poem out loud.

Over the past year, I have been challenging myself to submit to online magazines and weekly prompts. This has been an amazing challenge that has pushed my writing to the next level. I find that by working to time frames and prompts I am required to be intentional about word choice and decisive in editing. Usually, I take time mull over a prompt and let it sit in my subconscious for a while. Then, I take only a few minutes to respond to a prompt or to create a new poem. This allows me to release every idea onto the page. From there, I will re-read/edit my work by reading the poem out loud.

The rhythm is very important to me; during this stage I will make changes based on beats and measure, almost like a song. I tend to release a poem and post it soon after it is written. This allows me to keep creating, keep moving forward and continue stretching my writing so that I am able to create new and more interesting pieces. I am very happy to be part of this poetry anthology. It is such a wonderful opportunity to share my work and meet fellow writers!

Ah, Buckle This…A Pantser’s Guide to Buckling Down and Plotting

They say we are divided, us wily writers. Those creative fluffs that let the words burn through them and damn the story arc consequences until the laborious editing process. Those starched-collar spreadsheet architects that engineer the life out of a story until it can be laid out like a mathematical equation. Two ends of a long spectrum encompassing how we all go about writing our stories.

Whether you’re on your first novel, your seventieth short story, or your tenth attempt at nailing flash fiction, we all have a style that suits our particular intelligence. When I use that word, intelligence, I’m not talking IQ scores or any other accepted standardized measure of smarts. I’m talking about the way we each learn and create. Some of us are spacialists. Some of us are naturalists. Some of us are mathematicians. Some of us are socialis–uh…well not ‘socialists’ in the negative way that gets a bad wrap these days…social butterflies? We all have strengths in different areas of “smarts”. (pssst–check out the cool infographic from blog.adioma.com–based on Mark Vital’s work. If you have an extra minute, look through it and see where your head’s at)

HOWEVER, each one of us–and I’m making this assumption because you’re reading a writing blog–are gifted with some level of literary intelligence. Storytelling. Weaving words. Building worlds with letters. So let’s start on that common ground and get to know why plotting out your story, no matter how fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-writer you are, will help free up brain space for better writing and save you a literal shit ton of time in editing.

I’m a pantser. I’ve always been that way. It’s a creative deluge in my brain on many days. Hundreds of thousands of words, hundreds of characters, plots galore. ALSO– at least six unfinished nearly full length novels, countless ‘story-starts’ as I call them, and plots that have fizzled simply because the fire burned itself out when it hit the cliff of not having a plan.

If you are on my side of the spectrum, how do we avoid the graveyard of fizzled projects, laying stagnant on our lap tops?

Well, we simply need to learn to buckle down.

OK, OK, COME BACK!

No one shuts off Billy Idol

Jesus, I’m not some pastor dad from a bad 80’s movie, trying to tell you to shut off the Billy Idol and get a real job.

I’m just saying, as we mature as writers we can still have fun, and be responsible (I feel like a More You Know, after school special moment coming on) to our stories and characters.

When I say buckle down, I’m thinking more in terms of a roller coaster. The buckles keep you secure while the ride still thrills and delights.

Here’s how I balance out my willy-nilly need to write untethered and the reader’s need to have structure (yes–reader’s need structure…what happens on the roller coaster is fun, but they don’t want to fall to their deaths on the first loop-d-loop)

  1. When you get your idea (character, plot, situation etc): Write the hell out of it. I always think of them as scenes. I imagine situations or characters that play out in my head and I just write without self-editing the movie in my head. this can be a couple of pages, up to even 10-15 pages of material. Once I feel, like this story/character has potential and I want to know more about them, that I want to invest book-length time and effort into them, I then…
A River Sleeps Through It.
  1. Create a loose story-line. Usually on an informal notebook page, turned sideways. Some people use graphics and spreadsheets. I know myself. If I started doing that it would turn into flashbacks of Anthropological Research Methods and my only C paper…ever… ew, statistics David. That would take all the joy from it for me. Like strapping into a roller coaster with seven belts and having the cart inch along at a safe three-mile-an-hour speed. Don’t fence me in, Excel.
  2. The story line doesn’t have to be crazy detailed. But it should have an act structure. Sure, I could dictate (*snicker* dic-tate) that it be a hard-line three act structure with appropriate crises and resolution points. But some stories require more, (rarely less). If you went through step one above, chances are you have a pretty good idea of at least the beginning and end. You know what your character wants and if they get it or not. The tricky bit is in the center and that brings us to this…
  3. Plotting is important because it will help you get through the doldrums of the middle, where most novels go to die. Having some definite ideas about how crisis points build, where and when they come to a head, and how your character changes afterwards will help you know what to write next to keep the story moving in the right direction. Within that outline, is still a great abundance of wiggle room, so don’t get caught up in specifics when you draft your outline.

Well, I think that that’s all I’m going to torture you with today. You might find, by starting with this simple diagram you feel more comfortable elaborating on it, adding plot points, character transition moments, and secondary or series arcs into it. Good luck out there, pantser. Buckle up, writers. It’s one hell of a ride.

Photo by Dana Cetojevic on Pexels.com

Poetry Guest Blog: Lauren Newman Lipp

Good morning, all. Today’s beautiful contribution comes to us from a tremendously talented, kind-hearted, and all-around stellar human being. I’ve known Lauren for over five years now and every single time I get to talk with her, she just makes me feel like the world is a better place to be in.

The poem below, as well as two other, equally moving pieces, will be featured in “Wilderness of Soul” later this year!

Here’s a little about her:

Lauren Newman Lipp is a typical millennial that loves Harry Potter, early 2000’s emo music, and writing passionate pieces that reflect everyday life and struggles. She’s been expressing herself through the written word since her favorite teacher, Ms. Cowdry, taught her how to write in Kindergarten. Since then, she’s explored many forms of writing and loves the mighty power a pen can hold (although she sometimes ditches the pen for a keyboard). She earned a Bachelor’s degree from CSU Fort Collins in English, and her claim to fame is writing an A paper only hours before it was due in class. She has read “Othello” more times than she can count and loves to discuss the many complexities of Iago’s character. She spent some time teaching Language Arts and trying to pass along her love for reading and writing to 6th graders. These days, Lauren spends her time trying to make her husband laugh, playing with and chasing her toddler, and working on a novel about werewolves.

And now, Ladies and Gents; the incomparable Ms. Lauren:

Glug-Glug Lullaby

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Staring into my pre-portioned glass of red wine,

5 ounces exactly,

I beg for a revelation to fall over top of me.

To crumble over my shoulders and open my eyes wider.

A light to burn out the dark.

But instead, 

I just feel my edges fuzz, and my insides warm

And I do realize something.

Only one thing:

That I could

Dump the rest of the bottle into my glass,

Indulging in the “glug-glug”

That plays while pouring

Too fast with no control, no remorse…

And then just sip away

Till my eyes grow heavier and my edges blur.

But the idea that I could, scares me

And brings me closer 

To the mother I don’t want.

I am also brought closer 

To  feeling empathy for her

Understanding, and now knowing 

How soothing

That “glug-glug” could sound

Inside my ringing ears. 

Poetry, Humanity, Gravel and Gold.

Listen Kids. We’ve been going hard at it now for the past few months all about writing theory, types of writing, how to write, what to write, and on and on and on and on…

Today is the last Thursday before the election and it has been a crazy past few months. To that end, I would like to offer you a little bit more of the Beautiful portion of The Beautiful Stuff.

There are no exercises to do, no work-in-progress to compare and tweak.

No Bullet Lists

Just a poem or two I wrote while camped out in the Rocky Mountains for a few days, re-evaluating my writing and, in part, my life.

I hope you find repose in the next week or two. I hope you weigh what is good, and just, and right for all of our citizens. I hope you vote with the conscience of someone who cares for their fellow human beings and all of our quality of life. I hope you vote.

When it’s done I hope you can let the last few years of hatred and divisiveness go. Put it down. Reach across the chasm that was created by small-minded men seeking to destroy unity and human decency. Those who grew their power by pitting us against one another.

I hope you can find rest. I hope you can find beauty. I hope you find your voice and you use it to stand up against injustice, stand up for your fellow human beings, and stand together against hatred.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Here it is. Poetry

More Gravel Than Gold

I hope that heaven’s streets,

are more gravel than gold.

That the armaments are granite peaks

and the angels’ song,

quaking aspen.

I hope that heaven’s throng is more full

of friends than the righteous.

That the memories of Grandma’s hands

will be photos regained in focus.

I hope that heaven is made of home

more porch swing and creek than opulent spire.

That they’re waiting to hear my tires in the driveway

and they’ll rush out with soapy hands

warm hugs

and how was the drive?

I hope that heaven’s streets

are more gravel than gold

And we’ll meet there together

on the porch, beside the hush of river,

telling tales of the journey in.

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #22: The Ugly of Starting Over

Hey Kids. Listen, last week I got on a soap box. I’m not even slightly sorry nor is this an apology, but I understand that the purpose of this blog is mostly about writing with a little bit of “living with beautiful intention” sprinkled in. Last week was more about living with beautiful intention and we can all use more of that in this day and age.  

Now, back to writing. Full disclosure: Inappropriate language will follow, so hold on to your knickers.

I’ve been working on a novel (to be honest, I’ve been working on about six of them because I have a problem seeing things through to the end six times out of ten). But this one in particular, I wrote, edited, re-edited, edited again, rewrote, edited, and re-edited all 97,000 words multiple times, always adjusting it with every rejection letter and well-deserved bit of advice. A month ago I wanted to throw it into a dumpster and burn the mother fucker to the ground. I wanted to delete it from my hard drive, the cloud, completely wipe the piece of shit off of the face of the earth. After all those years. After all that work.

It made me so mad that I couldn’t get it right and that it always felt lukewarm that I wanted to quit novel writing all together.

So I killed it. I put it in a file that, I shit you not, I called “The Piece of Shit Series That Will Never Get Published Because It’s Fucking Awful” and left it for a few months while I figured out how to rent a dumpster and get my hands on some gasoline.

Then, like any good writer, I stewed. I festered over it. I fumed.

I hate wasting time. I hate wasting words and effort.

So instead of sending it out yet again to die in some slush pile…or deleting it completely, I started a new document called “What I hate about this book” and I sat on the proverbial therapists couch and let loose all the things that I knew weren’t working and all of which were my fault as a novice writer (I started this thing even before my Fixing Destiny books). I ripped it apart, above and beyond what I heard from outside sources.

Then…at the bottom of the page I wrote, “Is it even worth saving? Is there anything about this story that you love? If you could rewrite these characters, if you could change this plot now, knowing what you know, living what you have lived, what would you make different?”

The next two pages I laid it out. If I had free-reign (ha ha ha, silly writer, that’s your piece of shit you DO have free-reign!) I would change that girl so she wasn’t such a sniveling idiot. I would make her stand up and leave. I’d give her a bigger threat to face on her own. I’d make her tougher. I’d make that boy of hers not be such a fucking mess. She’s already had to clean up enough messes.

Etc.

Now, I’m starting to like these characters. They’ve gone from wet mops to warm bread dough, bubbling with potential and depth…but still not as formed as I would like.

And here’s what I discovered after getting real and hard with myself (whoo…that sounds naughty). I can write and edit a piece of…er…work… a million times, but if I don’t really love the characters, the story won’t follow. I have to believe in them. I have to love and hate them. Not just have them on a page to hold space while the weak plot tries to build a book around them.

This week, I encourage you to take a scene that’s not working, a novel, a short story, a poem…whatever it is that’s sticking in your craw lately, and get brutal. Be fucking horrible to the work and to your part in it. Own your shit-fest and stop tip-toeing around it. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The next step is tearing it down to the foundation of what you’re trying to do, and building it up better, stronger, more beautiful.

Don’t be afraid. You have free-reign writer, to change, to destroy, to rebuild. And if you find, after tearing it apart that there is nothing that can save it, that you don’t have any love for the idea or characters, get yourself some gasoline and a dumpster. Because those horrible little projects that we don’t love enough to stick with will only serve as anchors that tie us to mistakes we need to move past.

Re-write or destroy, but don’t stay stagnant with your writing, or it may just cripple your creativity until you never pick up a pen again.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #18 Writing Challenges: Why Word Counts and Time Limits Work

Today’s blog will be short as I’m embarking on a new writing challenge brought to me by the fantabulous people over at Zombie Pirate Publishing. Not only is it a genre that I have yet to dabble in, but the subject has to involve a planet I know relatively little about.

What madness would possess me? Well…I don’t like boxes. I don’t like to be put into one, and I don’t like to contain anyone else in one. I think we were gifted free-will for a purpose. I also believe that it’s a lot more fun to participate in life than it is to sit on the sidelines, stuck inside some box somebody once, a long time ago, put you in.

So while I’m busy researching space travel and alternate dimensions and typical characteristics of rebellions, I encourage you, sometime this summer, to find a writing challenge that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and into that strange and beautiful place of self-awareness.

You see, until we’re faced with a challenge, we never really know what we are capable of. If we are always comfortably in our box, we assume those lines around us won’t bend; that the walls can’t be broken. Challenge brings change, and with it a casting off of limits. When we break through walls/limits we come to understand how amazingly capable we really are, and then realize how much our excuses have held us back.

I believe in every single one of you. I believe you can write 15,000 words in seven days, edit it, and submit it for consideration in a publication. I believe you will finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. I believe these things because I’ve seen it happen. Because I’ve done it. And I’ll keep doing it, especially in times when my tank is empty and I start to question my worth. Because I know I am capable…deep down. I just need reminding. We all do.

Writing challenges not only force us to sit our asses in the chair and knock our procrastination methods to the curb, they also show us how much we can actually write when we focus. Sitting for thirty minutes on a good stint will sometimes give me 1,500 words. (This doesn’t account for the editing which probably will drop a third of that). The point is, when you know you don’t have the time to second guess or organize your sock drawer, you give yourself the freedom to just write the damn book.

And, sad as it may seem, sometimes that’s all we need; permission.

Go and write. Look into the Zombie Pirate Publishing site, check out local groups in your area. I did an amazing one a year or two ago for the Rocky Mountain Writers that lasted one weekend and garnered 12,000 words. One of the most fun novellas I’ve ever written and my first foray to action/spy-fi (yes…spy-fi. It’s a genre I just now made up. Copyright.)

That’s it…that’s all I’ve got. No fun pictures or anything. I’m on a mission now, I ain’t got time for that. I gotta make up some swinging character names and decide how genetic mutations might let someone breath H2 and He.

Go find a mission. If you can’t find one, make one. Give yourself a time limit, and a word count and make it a little more than you think you can handle. Hell, make it a lot more than you think you can handle and watch how you surprise yourself.

I’ll be back next week with a full report of how often I found myself crying in the closet and banging my head against the wall for comfort.

Until next time, kids, happy writing.