Saturday, March 13, 2010


Prompts on the Brain

By Jill Earl

Here’s are a selection of prompts to try, courtesy of A Working Writer’s Daily Planner 2010.

For this first one, ‘Travel’, you begin by cutting out pictures from the travel section of a newspaper such as the New York Times. Lay them out and imagine a trip for your character. Write about what they did and saw, anything that comes to mind---and if the character has left anything behind at home. Perhaps having your character get away from it all can help you get away from that writer’s block.

Next up, ‘Mirror Image’. Think about the kind of life you’d have if you had a double, not a biological twin. What would they be like? What kind of life would they lead? Write a scene where you meet them. What if you had a third self, one you wouldn’t want? Last thing---how about all three of you going out for lunch?

Here’s the last one. Find a story that intrigues or fascinates you. Try writing yourself into it as a character. Oh, the places you could go with this one! (Thanks, Dr. Seuss!)

So if you find yourself hitting a wall in your writing, think about using prompts. Perhaps having ‘prompts on the brain’ can help keep your writing fresh.

And keep those submissions going!

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Saturday, January 30, 2010


The 'Luck' of a Writer

By Jill Earl

"Luck favors the prepared, darling."

These words were uttered by intrepid inventor Edna Mode to Helen Parr/Elastagirl, of Disney’s ‘The Incredibles’. Here are a few definitions of ‘luck’, according to

1) the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person's life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities.
2) good fortune; advantage or success, considered as the result of chance.
3) a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person.

There are those who believe in luck, but I’m not one of them. My problem with the concept is its implication of a chance occurrance, a randomness. There’s no concreteness about it. For me, if you want something badly enough, you got to work for it. This certainly holds true for writing. For every ‘overnight sensation’ or ‘wonder writer’ that appears on the scene, rest assured that that person spent years at the craft, and will continue to do so.

“Luck favors the prepared, darling.”

Let’s take a look at what had to say about ‘prepared’:

1) properly expectant, organized, or equipped; ready.

The way I see it is that in the process of actually writing, reading, researching markets, taking classes, networking with peers, and doing other writerly things equips me with the skills I need to accept any opportunity that comes my way. I don’t see any randomness here, do you?

“Luck favors the prepared, darling.”

I love Edna, but I think she missed the mark somewhat. Luck won’t make you a writer, diligence at the craft will. That starts with butt in chair and fingers at the keyboard typing out your tale, poem or article, if you will. And with time, those opportunities will come.

And you can quote me on that, darling!

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Does Reading Have A Place in Your Writing Goals?

By Jill Earl

In a ‘Muffin’ post from a couple of years ago, Are You An Intentional Reader?, I wrote of being inspired to develop a reading plan from an article by author Bob Hostetler. His annual plan includes reading a wide variety of authors and genres through the ages for pleasure and to enhance his writing skills.

At the time, I hadn’t thought about how reading intentionally could help in making one a better writer. Intrigued by the notion, I set about creating my own plan.

That first year’s attempt was a washout, simply because I just threw a list together. Last year’s was much more successful, with more thought going into it. Poetry, children’s books, memoir, new fields/disciplines of interest, authors I’ve never read, books I want to re-read, and so on. I’ve included the same categories in this year’s list.

Why do I do this? Well, I’ve always gotten great pleasure out of reading. With the turn of each page, my horizons expand as I learn more about my world. In addition, studying the varied writing styles of new, well-known and favorite authors, then applying what I learn will improve my own work. One of the goals we writers shoot for in pursuing the craft.

This year’s list will focus on more intercultural/multicultural, photography, travel, filmmaking and memoir, since these are areas I specifically want to pursue in my writing. I also want to include more poetry and biography too. And there will be more children’s books, so I’ll be looking for ‘Uncle Wiggily’, my favorite bunny rabbit gentleman to return for a visit.

You can check out the link to Mr. Hostetler’s article ‘The Intentional Reader’ here.

So in between assignments, my favorite book nook awaits, because reading definitely has a place in my 2010 writing goals.

Does it have one in yours?

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Saturday, January 02, 2010


In the Market for Food Writing?

by Jill Earl

This year, one of the markets I’m pursuing is food writing. In the course of research, I’ve found a couple of markets that have whet my appetite, which I share below.

First up is Gastronomica, published quarterly and billing itself as ‘the journal of food and culture’. Their content encompasses the myriad ways food touches our lives, ranging from historical articles to interviews to essays. In the Fall 2009 issue, I was intrigued by Andrea Broomfield’s examination on how even the meals on the ill-fated Titanic fell along class lines. I traveled along with photographer Ahahita Avalos viewing images of ‘Al Mercado’, the Mercado Pino Suarez, the central market in Villahermosa, Mexico. And Adela (Mary) Blay-Brody shares memories of the role of hot peppers in Ghanaian cuisine and offers a rich pepper soup to top off her essay, ‘Rx. Pepper Soup’.

Articles should generally not exceed 7,000 words. See submissions details at their site online.

More creative offerings are found in Alimentum, ‘the literature of food’. Issues are released yearly in the winter and spring, and they accept fiction, nonfiction, poetry and book reviews. The Winter 2009 issue featured an enlightened interview with Alan Richman, whose work appeared in magazines including Conte Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit and GQ, and is Dean of Food Journalism at The French Cullnary Institute of New York. ‘Useful Kitchen Knots’ was a hilarious piece complete with sketches that gave a new tongue-in-cheek perspective on knots. And for reviews of the latest food-oriented books, click on the ‘Goodies’ heading online.

The submission period runs from September to March and more information can be found at their site.

So if you’re in the market to pursue food writing, give these journals a closer look. They just might be the recipe needed for a new direction in your writing this year.

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Friday, November 06, 2009


Mining My Mind for Inspiration

By Jill Earl

I was pleased that this year’s Muse Online Writers Conference offered a workshop on pet writing. I appreciated the brainstorming assignments the instructor gave, where I could dig into some of those dusty memories. And since I belong to an online critique group, I’ve got a great way to shape them into submission-ready pieces.

So what am I working on? My time at a now-defunct pet store in a local mall, where animals ranging in age from a few weeks weaned to about a year old. Pair that with on-the-job training for very green employees (except for the managers) and workdays were seldom dull for this former kennel and bird technician.

For instance, there was Harry the mynah bird, who we discovered could tell the difference between human males and females. A male would walk by and the bird would call out a cheery, “Hello! Hello!” When a female walked by, she heard, “Hel-LO!” in a definite ‘come hither, baby’ way. Nothing like being hit on by a bird!

Then there was the time when a know-it-all new employee refused to heed advice on cleaning birdcages properly. A cockatiel escaped one day and shortly after, we heard a series of screams as women in various stages of pregnancy flew out of the maternity shop next door. That day, the new guy learned the joys of netting a frantic cockatiel.

We had killer hamsters too. They delighted in leaving---umm---souvenirs of their victims in their tank for us staffers to deal with. I leave the rest to your imagination.

Many more memories lie in wait for me to excavate and take note of, and my draft folder’s filling up with ideas ready to be worked on.

So when you’re at a loss for what to write, try a little mining expedition. You’ll soon be unearthing your own writing treasures.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Writing Is A Cop-Out

by Jill Earl

It’s said that Monica Dickens, writer and great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens once declared, “Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasyland, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head. Very selfish.”

A rather interesting view on a negative term. I recall once of those ‘selfish’ incidents in high school, where I majored in art and English. In one particular class, I was so bored as I stared out of a window, I pulled out my sketch book and began drawing.

My teacher’s exclamations roused me as she reached for my pad. After the encounter, I slumped in my seat, apprehensive about the after-school meeting. Peeping into the classroom, I found her engrossed in the drawing I created: a pair of daydreaming teenaged aliens staring out the window of their classroom.

Her comment? “You definitely don’t see the same things we see when you look out the window, do you!” My sketch book was returned and I escaped with a warning, along with a promise to keep her updated on the exploits of my teen aliens.

I admit to extended stays in the fantasyland Ms. Dickens mentioned earlier. I’ve delighted in directing the ‘products of my head’ as I’ve created radio drama scripts, articles, the (very) occasional poem, short stories, and the like.

Visits to this enchanted place will continue as I grow in my craft. I guess I could be considered a cop-out, and I think I’m okay with that.

What about you? Do you think writing is a cop-out? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009


Family Circle Fiction Prize

August 31st is the last day to submit entries for the Family Circle Fiction Prize. Must be an amateur writer 21 years of age or older, and a legal resident of the U.S. and the District of Columbia.

To enter, submit an original fictional short story of no more than 2,500 words in length. Prizes include cash, publication in Family Circle Magazine, and certificates for, an online resource for media industry professionals.

Go to the magazine’s site here for more details:

Give it a go, and good luck!

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Thursday, August 06, 2009


The Duty of Observation

By Jill Earl

I’m reading Lavinia Spalding’s ‘Writing Away,’ a wonderful entry into the world of travel journaling. Scattered throughout the book’s pages are random quotes about writing taken from well-known to barely-known artists and travelers. Here’s what poet Mary Oliver had to say about one aspect of writing, observation:

“I love the line of Flaubert about observing things very intensely. I think our duty as writers begins not with our own feelings, but with the powers of observing.”

I agree with Ms. Oliver. Along with other artists, I believe that writers serve as society’s messengers. We take what we’ve acquired from our surroundings and present it to the world through our words.

For this process to take place, however, close attention to your surroundings is called for. Keep a notepad and pen or your PDA handy the next time you’re out. Glance at the mechanic servicing your car as he peers under the hood. Scan the crowd gathered for the campus protest meeting. Watch others in line as the barista whips up your half-caff, hazelnut creation. Peep at the couple comparing apples and oranges at the farmer’s market. Grin at your dog being spellbound by a butterfly just out of reach. Note anything. And everything.

The reward? Writing with the power to elicit laughter or sadness, or raising awareness of a cause or situation. Engaging words capturing your audience’s attention.

Observation. As a writer, it’s your duty to sharpen this skill so your writing grows stronger.

What writer wouldn’t want that?

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Sunday, July 26, 2009


Are You Doing Your Homework?

By Jill Earl

"Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life."

Check out this quote from producer, writer, and director Lawrence Kasdan. I have to admit that I didn’t really think too hard about his words until a couple of days ago.

Then I had a 'lightbulb moment'. I never viewed my writing as homework before.

That poem you’ve been writing, the one where you’re stymied by the stanzas? Homework.

What about the final touches on the white paper you’ve put together for a client? Or the family research you conducted for your memoir? You got it, homework.

Even those moments of writing you squeeze into your daily schedule can be considered homework.

Bet you thought homework was left behind once you graduated and the degree was in hand, didn't you? I certainly did! But, think about it. A writer isn’t doing ‘busy work’ once they pick up the pen or start typing on the keyboard. If they’re serious, they’re working at their craft and building their career.

Right now, I’m working on an 750-word article suitable for submission for a peer critique session I’ll be in at an upcoming conference. The topic’s been chosen, the research done, and I’ve been busy putting it together.

The thing is, just about everything you do to improve your writing can be considered homework. And that’s one of the goals you’re shooting for, right?

So, are you doing your homework?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Throw Off The Bowlines

By Jill Earl

Periodically, I turn to my growing list of quotes when I need a laugh or for inspiration. This quote, attributed to Mark Twain, led me to take a deeper look at what I get out of writing.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off your bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I’m not in the safe harbor as much. The trade winds beckon and grow stronger. And I'm okay with that.

This year’s explorations include learning more about scriptwriting and photography. I dream of possibilities as I continue to devour various books on the subjects. Then, I throw off the bowlines and discover.

Earlier in the year, I entered a 30-second radio commercial challenge that was sponsored by a writing forum in Britain, and had 24 hours to submit my entry. While I didn’t win, I was tied for their ‘Highly Commendable’ designation, with only half a point separating me and another person. This will come in handy as I gain more experience in crafting scripts.

I hope to cast bowlines later this year as I fit in my first photography class, either at a local college or online school. I bought my first digital camera and have been getting acquainted with it at every opportunity, including using it while on a recent work-related trip to Miami. I can see some of those images being used as inspiration for fiction stories, or accompanizng articles.

I don’t want to look back twenty years and see myself in the same harbor, disappointment mounting as the trade winds sweep by. I plan to keep on exploring, dreaming and discovering writing. I signed up for this adventure and I’m sure not backing out now.

How about you? Have you thrown off the bowlines?

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Thursday, July 02, 2009


Extended Deadline for the New Millennium Writing Awards

There's still time to enter the New Millennium Writings Awards for Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction. The deadline has now been extended to July 31, 2009.

A total of $4,000 in awards will be given - $1,000 each for the best entry in poetry, fiction, short-short fiction, and creative non-fiction. And as an added bonus, renowned poet Nikki Giovanni will be the final judge for poetry.
Submission guidelines can be found at Or if you're on Facebook, look for "New Millennium Writings".
Tick, tock, writers...

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Sunday, June 21, 2009


Writing: Pursue It 110 Percent

By Jill Earl

“If you have a passion for something, take no hesitation to pursue it 110 percent. It’s about focus, intensity, perseverance and believing in yourself and what you are capable of.”

I came across this quote from Alissa Augustine, a Native American deejay, while reading Language Is A Place of Struggle: Great Quotes by People of Color, edited by Tram Nguyen. Here’s a quick check-up to see how Ms. Augustine’s words can be applied to writing.

Focus. Making the time to actually write. Researching markets. Taking classes to acquire new skills and sharpen existing ones. Tightening dialogue. Getting out to network with fellow writers. That means putting down the remote when the new season of your favorite show’s starting. Or when your social networks are calling. Even when you’re about to reach a juicy section in that fab book you’re reading for pleasure.

Intensity. Do you live and breathe writing? Are you excited when you pick up a pen or turn on the computer, because you’re about to do your favorite thing? You can’t be lukewarm in this business and succeed. Well, you can, but do you really want that?

Perseverance. Are you willing to stick with your writing when the only thing you’re producing is blank pages? How about when the naysayers outnumber the supporters? And when the income is less than the outgo? Press through that wall. The ending to your novel might be waiting on the other side, along with payment from those articles you submitted weeks ago.

Believing in yourself. It’s a continual process. But if you don’t think you can be a successful writer, how can you expect anyone else to?

Look at the quote again. Are you willing to pursue the writing life 110 percent?

I am. How about you?

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Saturday, May 30, 2009


What’s Top of (Your) Mind?

By Jill Earl

Lately I’ve been reflecting on something I read last month from a newsletter I receive from the Working Solo site, which is targeted to the self-employed. In the April 22 issue, founder Terri Lonier spoke of how a simple question from close friend Jerry Michalski, in addition to opening the door to meaningful conversation, causes her to ponder on what’s really foremost in her thoughts.

That question, “What’s top of mind?”, says Ms. Lonier, “makes you consider what is most important in your life and work, and what commands your attention at present.” In answering that for myself, I focused on a couple of the questions included in the article and how they relate to my writing, and the results follow.

* What idea, experience, or encounter intrigues you enough that you want to share it (and perhaps launch a discussion) with someone like Jerry?

After attending the Conversations & Connections Conference in Washington, D.C. last month, I was able to share that experience with Amy, a fellow attendee and new writing friend. During our discussions that day, we found that we shared the same faith; liked many of the same books, music and artists; compared notes after our respective editors meetings and sessions; and challenged each other in our writing. We’ve even ‘friended’ each other on Facebook. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to attend the Festival of Faith & Writing together next year.

* What has brought you the most joy or satisfaction recently? Why?

Right now, it’s the online magazine writing class I’m currently taking that’s giving me great satisfaction. I’d wanted to take that type of class for a while to explore another genre and expand my knowledge base. And I looked no further than the WOW! Women On Writing Classes & Workshops offerings. Yeah, I know, shameless plug, but check them out anyway!

Find the full article in the Working Solo archives here:

While you’re there, check out the latest issue of Working Solo Minute and sign up for the newsletter. I’ve found it to be quite helpful in my writing career.

What’s top of mind? Ask yourself that the next time you need to reflect on what's really happening with you and your writing.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009


Promo Day 2009

By Jill Earl

Did you know that today’s Promo Day? What’s that, you say? It’s a free online event for publishers, editors, readers, writers, anyone interested in books, to learn about promoting one’s work and services, while networking with your peers.

This event is the brainchild of founder and organizer Jo Linsdell, a freelance writer living in Italy. She said, “PROMO DAY came about because I was looking for opportunities to promote my books using the Internet at little or no cost. After attending the Muse Online Writers Conference back in 2006, I searched the Internet for similar events aimed at what to do after you’ve written the book and found none. I decided to fill the void and so PROMO DAY was born. PROMO DAY is a great opportunity to network with other members of the industry, take part in online workshops and promote and best of all it’s FREE”.

Go to the WORKSHOP Chatroom for free workshops covering a variety of topics, such as creating query letters, networking, finding agents, and more. The RADIO & PODCASTS page has links to online podcasts and radio shows of interests to writers.

See what books and other materials are available from event sponsors, workshop hosts and moderators on the BOOKSTORE page. Pop into the PROMO Chatroom and see what’s going on with your peers. Post your book trailer on the PROMOTIONAL VIDEOS page or get ideas to create one yourself.

Much to do and see while at the PROMO DAY site. The event does take place in Central European Time (CET), but there’s a handy time converter at the site so you can figure out your time zone.

Remember, it’s FREE and all you have to do is make your way over to the site right here:

Give it a go, why don’t you? After all, we all could use a bit of help showing the world what we’ve got to offer!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Speed Dating with the Editors: Making the ‘Write’ Connection

By Jill Earl

Recently I returned to a conference I attended a couple of years ago in Washington, D.C. called Conversations & Connections, where the focus was on getting published through regional literary magazines and small presses.

One of the highlights for me was the ‘Speed Dating with the Editors’ session. Each conference attendee received a complimentary ‘Speed Dating’ pass with registration, with the option to purchase additional passes depending on availability. I passed up this opportunity the first time I went to the conference, but decided to give it try this year.

When the time came, attendees lined up with writing samples of one or two pages to meet editors in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. With only fifteen minutes allotted for each meeting, there’s just enough time to pitch your piece, get it reviewed, hear feedback and move on to the next editor.

The first editor I met with reviewed my nonfiction piece about observations made while I rode a subway train. When we were done, I bought another pass and quickly got back in line for the next go-around. When my turn came again, I sat with a fiction editor who reviewed my piece on a woman’s adventures living near a chocolate shop. In both cases, the feedback received was quite helpful and positive. And I got more practice on the process of pitching.

I also appreciated the low-key environment. While there was initial anxiety, editors were only too willing to make the process enjoyable, even fun. And I made some good connections.

So next time you’re registering for a conference and spot a ‘Speed Dating’ session on the schedule, consider signing up. There’s no telling where the ‘write’ connection may take you!

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Sunday, April 19, 2009


Take A Happy Break

by Jill Earl

Got an email from a friend a couple of days ago about a site called 'Things To Be Happy About'. Curiosity piqued, I headed over for a look-see.

The site is based on author, lexicographer and archaeologist Barbara Ann Kipfer’s 14,000 Things To Be Happy About and other books she’s written. My cutesy tolerance tends to be pretty low, but I found myself smiling at the illustrations on the homepage.

The site’s a gold mine of little-known facts, ideas and things to lift your spirit.

You can get started by clicking on the current day’s date to find things for that specific day. Today (April 19th), get happy over tiny, cozy restaurants. Take it a step further and find one to go to, alone or with a friend.

Want to put together a wish list of things you want to do? Check out ‘Wish Upon A Star’, based on ‘The Wish List, for dreams both attainable and a bit more far-flung.

Who doesn’t need a bit of guidance in life? Get thee to the 'Wisdom Well' and see what you can find.

There's a search function in each section so that you can plug in random words or thoughts to see what comes up. I typed in 'chocolate' under the 'Life Needs A Menu' section and the results were rather mouth-watering!

And while you’re scoping the site, you just might find a few ideas for your writing.

So when your eyes are crossing from market research overload, frustration’s building over articles that won’t come together, and you’re weary of characters insisting on doing things their way, give yourself a break and head over.

Because we writers can all use an occasional visit to that shiny happy place.

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Friday, April 10, 2009


A World of Inspiration

By Jill Earl

As writers, we’re always looking for inspiration to get us back to the keyboard or notepad, or to expand on an idea (or several) already percolating in our minds.

While exploring HOW, an online magazine for graphic design professionals, I came across an article by Sam Harrison, author of a number of books on creativity and editor of his site, Titled ‘10 Ways to Get Inspired by the World Around You’, Mr. Harrison suggests that close examination of what’s around us may reveal more ideas than we can handle.

I daresay that most writers already practice number five, ‘Observe and Take Note’. After all, how else would we get, retain and develop all of those ideas we come across? Mr. Harrison mentions two of the world’s more notable notetakers, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison, whose books were filled with diagrams, sketches and notes.

Not too long ago, I came across a worn notebook filled with expansive family trees of characters I had created when I was in high school. This book became a ready resource to flesh out characters for scripts I wrote for an online radio drama I used to work for.

You could look at number two, ‘Explore the Masters for Material’. The article points to artist Willem de Kooning, who was inspired by Rubens to combine classical and modern into a new form of art. Does Dali do something for you? Perhaps a gaze into his life may inspire you to create a graphic novel.

Sometimes as number ten states, you ‘ Stay Where You Are’, which is what Charles Pajeau did as he watched his children build structures with pencils and thread spools they found around their home. What was the outcome? A classic: Tinkertoys.

And for the rest of the story, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, go here:

The world provides such rich inspiration for the writer. Get out there and get them!

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Saturday, March 21, 2009


A Thought (or Two) on ‘Top 10 Fears of Writers’

By Jill Earl

Last week, fellow WOW! woman Marcia Peterson’s encouraging post, ‘Top 10 Fears of Writers’, couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Allow me to elaborate.

Recently, a writing site sent out an announcement that they would be conducting a week of daily challenges for its members to tackle, where the winner would receive writing software as the prize offered for a specific day. Entrants had to become a member of the site and only had 24 hours to submit their pieces.

I got over to the site to sign up and read through the guidelines for my chosen challenge. Then I got to work on my 150-word entry.

The result? I tied for runner-up with another person and we were told that there was only one point separating us from first place. The next day, Marcia’s post appeared online and I chuckled as I read through and paused at number four: that I'll get stuck and nothing will come out. This time around, that certainly wasn’t the case as I saw the words jump to the screen!

Some opportunities for writers to challenge themselves appear below:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is the most familiar, with participants writing a 175-page, 50,000-word novel during November.

With Script Frenzy, you write 100 pages of scripted material (including screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, radio, graphic novels, etc.) in the month of April.

There's even National November Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), where bloggers post every day for a month, no word limit. This one's year round, and in November, participants can look forward to a random prize drawing.

I may not have won the contest I entered, but I rose to the challenge. That’s what we writers must do to overcome our fears, and meet our goals. It’s all part of the process to become a better writer.

Just a thought---or two.

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Friday, March 13, 2009's 24-Hour Short Story Contest

By Jill Earl
Ready to challenge your short writing skills? The's 24-Hour Short Story Contest might be for you. Offered every quarter, the contest is a test of cranking out a story that’s short, tight and good. All in 24 hours.

The contest begins on April 25th, 2009 at 12:00 noon Central Time, and only at that time will entrants receive the contest prompt.
Besides cash prizes for first, second and third place finishers, random door prizes will also be given, for a total of over 85 prizes. Complete contest guidelines, rules and other details are here:

So bring on the coffee, rev up the laptop/desktop and get to typing! Be quick about it, though. Only the first 500 entrants are accepted.

Bon chance!

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Friday, February 20, 2009


Keeping it Short in Your Writing

by Jill Earl

With numerous versions of the ’25 Random Things’ craze online, you may be ready to deck the next person tagging you to participate! Instead of resorting to violence, cast your eyes upon this creative take for writers.

Roy Peter Clark, author, and long-time faculty member of The Poynter Institute, came up with ’25 Non-Random Things About Writing Short’, a handy list of steps to short writing. What I really liked about Mr. Clark’s piece was the emphasis on getting rid of excess to keep your writing short and tight, while keeping things light.

One of my favorite tips is number 12: Imagine a short piece from the get-go. Conceive a sonnet, not an epic. I’m visualizing nuggets instead of a whole chicken here.

How about using a journal specifically for your short writing? That’s tip number one and will be created shortly.

You can also find inspiration from quotes of a few writers on the list, such as number 22 from Mark Twain: “You may need more time, not less, to write something good and short.”

For the rest of the list, direct your eyes here:

Keeping it short in my writing. Okay, I’m on it!

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Thursday, February 12, 2009


The WOW! Archives: Mining for Writing Ideas

By Jill Earl

While looking for new sources of writing inspiration, I decided to check the WOW! Archives recently. On my visit, I came across a post by former WOW’ser Jean Lauzier that caught my eye. Titled ‘Dare I Say It? Time to Exercise!!!’, her post presented a few ideas to exercise the reader’s creative muscles. One in particular suggests getting a 'workout' at the mall or shopping center by listening to conversations or people watching.

I’ve always been a people watcher, and have both my notepad and Palm handy to jot down ideas from conversations I may tune into, whether I’m at Panera or waiting for the bus after work. I was inspired to dig up some character development notes I have regarding scenes from a café I frequented back in the day. I can easily rework them and gather more data to be crafted into new pieces. Hmm, I’m sensing a trip to Panera in my future---for research, of course!

I’m going to try the other suggestions Jean offered, too. For more of her post, skirt over here:

And for more WOW! posts worthy of a look, the Archives can be found on the left side of 'The Muffin' blog page.

So dig into the WOW! Archives. It’s a great resource to jumpstart your writing.

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Saturday, January 31, 2009


Keeping It All Together

By Jill Earl

When it comes to navigating this writing road I’ve chosen to take (or did it choose me?), I need all the help I can get. So when I kept seeing ads for a calendar tailored to writers, I wanted to check it out for myself. Especially since I noticed that Funds For Writers editor C. Hope Clark featured it in her newsletters.

The verdict? Again, a recommendation from Ms. Clark proves to be a winner. The Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar, created by editor and writer Sylvia Forbes, is a great tool for writers. Besides the prerequisite calendar, you can find weekly inspiration from fellow writers eager to share their triumphs and challenges. You can set up yearly, monthly and weekly goals with ease. There are a number of trackers for your use. You can even become a contributor for Bylines, although the submission deadline for 2010 is February 1st, 2009.

I’m definitely a fan of this little book! Makes organizing my life not only easier, but a bit more fun. Take a look for yourself at

And while we’re on the subject, when it comes to writing, what are some tools you use to keep it all together?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


A Quote A Day Brings Inspiration Your Way

By Jill Earl

Found a very interesting blog a few days ago, ‘Quotes on Writing’, created by writer Jim Harrington. Each post begins with a favorite quote of his, then addresses a specific writing topic that he’s used to help him grow as a writer.

Mr Harrington stated in a sidebar on his blog, “My purpose in writing this blog is to clarify in my own mind some of these topics and, hopefully, to stimulate the reader to do the same.” He pulls those quotes from resources such as articles, other websites and books.

In my opinion, he’s accomplished his goal. In the short time I’ve been checking out the blog, I’ve been stimulated by his thoughts and inspired by the quote on a specific day’s topic.

For instance, a quote from Kay Marie Porterfield’s article, ‘10 Reasons to Write Flash Fiction’ is the stepping-off point for the January 14th post, ‘Curing Prosaic Diarrhea’. Here, Mr. Harrington discusses how writing flash fiction helped him write in a concise manner, and he also offers tips to get started. I’ve already bookmarked that particular post for future reference.

Interested? Take a look for yourself at:

And let some quotes a day bring some writing inspiration your way.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009


Looking to Uncle Wiggily for Inspiration

By Jill Earl

Every so often, I like to turn to children’s and young adult books for a break from adult reading material. In reviewing 2008’s reading plan, I included a section specifically for this type of reading, but I ended up bypassing it for other sections. That won't happen this year.

Why? I find writing inspiration and ideas in the pages. I get to do some serious stretching of the imagination. It’s an opportunity to examine the writing styles of the various authors. And finally, it’s fun!

Top choice for my reading plan will be Howard R. Garis’ Uncle Wiggily’s Story Book, about the ‘bunny rabbit gentleman’ and the adventures he and his animal friends shared as they helped children through day-to-day experiences, such as toothaches, cleaning up after falling into mud puddles, and having safe, homemade fun for the Fourth of July. Even more fun, the edition I have comes with the original black-and-white illustrations from the 1920’s.

Joining Uncle Wiggily will be From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Reading about Claudia and Jamie’s adventures living in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art helped prepare me for my first visit there as a child. It also awakened in me a deep love for art.

What about you? Do you have a favorite children’s or young adult book (or several) that you return to for inspiration, education or fun? I’d love to here about it!

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Friday, December 26, 2008


Five's the Charm

By Jill Earl

While checking out Erika Dreifus' Practicing Writing blog a couple of days ago, I came across an interesting exercise, which you may have seen out on the blogosphere. Called an exercise in fives, it’s easy and can be used to get your creativity going. I've listed my responses to two of topics that particularly reasonated with me below:

What were you doing five years ago (December 2003)?
1. Working as an employment & training counselor with a county agency providing outplacement services for displaced steel workers
2. Packing for a missions conference in Illinois
3. Experiencing my first Christmas with my first tree.
4. Working as a voice artist, writer and editor for an Internet radio drama
5. Looking forward to holiday vacation time

What are five jobs you've had?
1. See #1 under ‘What were you doing five years ago?’
2. Kennel and bird technician at a pet store
3. Staff writer at a media production company
4. Orientation program assistant at a local university
5. Reading tutor

Five years doesn't seem that long ago, and it really isn't, but I was amazed that I had forgotten some of the things I did back then. And while working at the pet store, I was reminded of the adventures I had with the animals there. Puppies and hamsters and parrots, oh my!

To see the rest of the list, and see how others answered, here's the link to the post:

Give it a try. Who knows, you might discover a story or article idea hidden among your memories!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Got Writing Leftovers? Clean Out the Fridge!

By Jill Earl

A couple of days ago, I got rid of the past-their-prime leftovers in my fridge that needed to be trashed. I’m doing the same with my writing space, files, and library. It’s been a slow, somewhat overwhelming process. Then I found inspiration through an article called, ‘Cleaning the Freelance Fridge’.

Written by freelancer Beth Bartlett, the article offers tips on how to perform a major cleanup of your writing files by checking to see if those forgotten manuscripts, dog-eared notes and cluttered folders can be reused or permanently disposed of to make room for new files.

For instance, under the ‘Freshen it up’ heading, Ms. Bartlett suggests examining old research to see if it can be revamped for a new article or story you may be working on. I’ve got a short piece about a neighbor’s dog that needs reworking, so it’s getting pulled from the recesses of that draft folder on my laptop.

The ‘Toss it out’ heading is pretty self-explanatory. If, after following Ms. Bartlett’s suggestions on revamping your files, you find the material truly unsalvageable, it may be better to let go and start fresh.

This packrat hears and will obey. I’m determined not to bring this year’s clutter into 2009. It really is so much easier to find what I need when my writing files are orderly!

Want more? Check the rest of article here:

Deal with your literary leftovers—by cleaning out your freelance fridge.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Some Words on Writing for DOLLARS!

By Jill Earl

When I finally decided to step into the writing life, one of the first writing newsletters I signed up for was Dan Case's ‘Writing for DOLLARS!’. Gotta love its focus on helping you to make money with your writing, but there’s much more. Allow me to list a few of the benefits appearing in each issue.

First is the weekly feature article covering an aspect of the craft, written by pros such as Shaunna Privratsky, Jennifer Brown Banks and Patricia Fry. Recent topics included column writing pros and cons, letters of introduction how-tos and quiz writing. The Article Database offers over a decade’s worth of articles you can browse by subject or author.

Then there are the 18 markets included in each weekly issue, ranging from high to low pay. Click on the link to the free Guidelines Database to perform your own market search.

Want to replenish your writing library? Check the list of the top-selling books from or click through the link to browse other titles.

And when you want to keep things light, visit Chicken Writer and her buddies as Pig or Owl Advisor dole out punny advice or Mule works his way through haiku.

For a closer look, go here: As a bonus, you can download the free ebook, 83 Ways to Make Money Writing after you subscribe.

Writing for DOLLARS! Making the business of writing a little more pleasant. And profitable.

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Monday, November 24, 2008


The Return of the Baltimore Writers Conference

By Jill Earl

What a difference a year makes. Exactly a year ago, my first post for ‘The Muffin’ was 'Notes from the Baltimore Writers Conference', my first experience at the annual event. This time around, I attended with a writing buddy, and had some writing experience under my belt. What would the day hold for me?

The conference opened with keynote speaker Larry Doyle, a former writer and producer for ‘The Simpsons’ for four years. Titled ‘How I Became A Salesman’, Mr. Doyle’s droll humor wove its way through his talk. For instance, his reason for becoming a writer was to avoid his father’s line of work of door-to-door sales. His choice of writing as a vocation didn't go over well. His observation: “Being a movie writer is 90% finding writing jobs---so you can say I’m a salesman in Hollywood. Dad would be proud.”

His first novel, I Love You, Beth Cooper , a homage to 80's teen comedies, is now available and will be released as a film next year, directed by Chris Columbus and starring Hayden Panettierre of the T.V. show ‘Heroes’. He fielded many questions from the eager audience, and at the end, left us with this last comment, “Most Hollywood writers are very well written, which is amazing considering the quality of work coming from there.” He’s currently not working on his next novel.

In my first session, ‘Taking The Freelance Plunge’, freelancers Cathy Alter and Geoff Brown tag-teamed to walk attendees through the process. Both made the move to freelancing for the freedom of creating their own schedules and doing work they wanted to do, missing the reliable biweekly check initially. Mr. Brown remarked, “Having a spouse with a paying job is important. Very important.” They continued with advice on effectively researching markets, starting with smaller magazines to build your portfolio, and looking into setting up your own blog. Their last bit of advice: “Read everything. Read, read, read!”

In the ‘Literary Journals & Magazines’ session with Gettysburg Review assistant editor Mark Drew and Gargoyle Magazine editor/publisher Richard Peabody, attendees learned to tailor their pieces to what lit mag editors are looking for. Among the sore points for both: inconsistent characters, long drawn-out plots, and not reading the magazine to get a feel for it. “We’re looking for any reason to reject your work.” To better your chances for acceptance, Mr. Drew suggested, “Know your characters so well that you take editors by surprise and hook them, and they’ll want to accept your work.”

“Wherever you are, use that opportunity to further your writing experience.” That statement opened the ‘Travel Writing’ session, led by L. Peat O’Neil, author of Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story. We jumped into defining the elements of a travel piece--title, lead/lede, the ‘where are we?’, ‘why are we there?’, theme, and ‘how’--adding facts, character development, and backstory to make an interesting piece. As a brainstorming exercise, Ms. O’Neil had us recall a travel experience, remembering specific details using our senses, then write down some ideas that could be the beginnings of our own travel pieces.

We moved on to areas to break into travel writing, such as small presses and journals, choosing your target market and carefully reading it to discover their style. Once established, she emphasized the need to be gutsy in marketing and selling yourself; developing contacts with editors and other writers; and suggested focusing on a region/area instead of a variety of places. Her takeaway at the end of the session: “Read widely of what was written by travel writers decades, even centuries past, get a fresh perspective on the genre.”

My last session, ‘Screenwriting’, led by screenplay consultant David Warfield, was mostly a Q&A time. He suggested that beginners look into screenwriting competitions as a resource to get the proverbial foot in the door, but making sure to do the necessary research because of the many scammers out there. Mr. Warfield added that learning how to craft good query letters is an important skill to develop, since few in the business accept unsolicited scripts. At the end, attendees received a handout with helpful resources.

Throughout the conference, I met fellow writers, made great connections, ate really good food and didn't buy out the bookstore---a first! We hit the wine and cheese gathering for last-minute networking and snacks for the road, then left.

With conference season officially over, the work of sorting through this last round of handouts and notes, and applying what was learned begins. Bring it on!

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Sunday, November 16, 2008


Inked-In: A Place for Writers

By Jill Earl

After lurking about for a while, I made the decision. I’m joining Inked-In.

Not to be mistaken with Linked-In, the social networking site geared more towards professionals, Inked-In is tailored for writers, musicians and other artists, and is the social network of The Burry Man Writers Center, out of the British Isles.

You can expect many of the same features of other social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the rest. With The Burry Man’s focus on providing resources for over a decade, established and emerging writers definitely have a place on Inked-In.

As I surfed my way through the site recently, I found someone looking for a poet to write liner notes for their CD. There was a encouraging post for writers dealing with ever-present rejection letters. Event notices came from cities around the U.S.

Of course, you can’t forget the numerous groups to join, such as ‘NaNoWriMo Participants’, ‘Indie Ink’, ‘I Write Because I Have To’ and ‘Fumbling Towards Discipline’, to name only a few.

Hmm, might have to give that last one a serious look.

Inked-In’s reach is wide-reaching. One my last visit, I noticed another new member from the Baltimore, Maryland area--Dundalk, to be precise. Only a short distance from me.

And in the end, it’s about community. An important--and necessary--aspect of the often-solitary life of a writer.

Go check it for yourself. There might be a place for you too.


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Saturday, November 08, 2008


Persona That Pops

By Jill Earl

Not sure if your voice is the right one for that piece you’re pulling together? Try swapping your persona with one different from your own to add some interest in your writing.

What’s persona, you may ask? For the purpose of the class, persona was defined as a character assumed by an author of a literary work, or the voice a narrator adopts to tell a story.

In an essay writing workshop I recently took, part one of the given exercise was to write about our first kiss. With pens scratching on pads, we got down to raiding our memories. When time was up, groans and giggles filled the room as we shared our stories.

A bag was passed around for part two of the exercise: rewrite our piece in the persona each person selected for themselves. Some of the choices were martyr, grouch, misanthrope, philosopher and pundit. Again giggles and groans were heard as we attempted to ‘speak’ in these new voices, then figure out which persona was which.

I ended up with ‘martyr’ and did more spluttering than speaking in this voice. Since the class received copies of the ‘persona in a bag’ list, I can continue to learn how to use this literary device in my writing.

Think up some personas of your own to work with. How about grouch, liar, tattletale, know-it-all? The list can be endless. The more personas you use, the stronger your character development. And the stronger your writing.

Try the above exercise for yourself.

And get your persona popping.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Celebrate Rockvile's Favorite Son at The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference

By Jill Earl

Last Saturday, I hopped a train to Rockville, Maryland, a short distance from Washington, D.C. for the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference (FSF) at Montgomery College. Now in its 13th year, this annual day-long event gathers area writers and readers together to listen to and learn from industry professionals, meet the FSF contest winners and celebrate the 112th birthday of Rockville’s favorite son, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Attendees began their morning with writing workshops such as poetry, novel structure, the author/editor relationship, screen adaptation and short story to get the writing flow going. Following welcome remarks, attention was turned to ‘Crime and Mystery--A New and Yet Familiar Genre’. Washington Post writer and columnist Michael Dirda moderated the lively discussion as panelists George Pelicanos, Laura Lippman, and 2008 FSF Literary Award recipient Elmore Leonard shared their experiences in this popular genre.

Emmy nominated for HBO’s The Wire, Mr. Pelicanos defined himself as a crime novelist interested in the ‘why’ rather than the ‘whodunit’ and “showing people the way things are” in his novels set around Washington, D.C. Former journalist and author of the Tess Monaghan mystery series, Ms. Lippman remarked that she “aspired to noir writing”, but “I’m not dark enough.” An acclaimed novelist and screenwriter, Mr. Leonard frankly declared, “I don’t care for cute, comfortable mysteries”, evident in works ranging from westerns to modern writings such as Get Shorty and Freaky Deaky, a favorite of Mr. Pelicanos.

The best advice to writers was offered by Ms. Lippman, “You have to grow a really thick skin and learn to get over bad reviews. If they say your work is bad, so what? Move on!”

Added to this year’s conference was the opportunity to pre-register for 20-minute manuscript consultations with editors from journals such as Narrative, The Gettysburg Review and Blackbird. All meetings were on a first-come, first-served basis.

After lunch we moved on to keynote speaker Susan Cheever, who led us through ‘The Mystery of Great Writing from 1850 to the Present’. Interspersed with tales from her early days of writing, Ms. Cheever spoke of her lifelong love and fascination for Louisa May Alcott’s writings, noted that there's more of a writers’ community today than there used to be and how “the writer’s nap is a very important part of a writer’s life”, a belief near and dear to my heart. At the end, she reminded attendees, “The only way to learn how to write is to read.”

During the awards ceremony, winners of both the high school and adult short story contests accepted their prizes and read excerpts from their works. And Elmore Leonard, winner of the 13th Annual FSF Literary Award (recognizing outstanding achievement in American literature), joined a most distinguished group of past recipients, including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer and Edward Albee. Mr. Leonard continued to delight attendees with his wry humor as he read from one of his many novels. As an added surprise, his wife presented him with a candle-topped cupcake as attendees wished him a happy 83rd birthday.

The afternoon continued with a panel on wisdom from writers, editors and publicists; the Fitzgerald Haunts in Rockville Tour, including his and wife Zelda’s final resting place; and more writing workshops, among them memoir, short story, and personal essay.

I signed up for the personal essay workshop led by Kim Dana Kupperman, managing editor of The Gettysburg Review. Since we had limited time, we jumped into learning how to develop persona writing about first kisses from not only our own perspectives, but also from those of philosophers, thieves and martyrs. A fun way to end a rather relaxing day.

Reading, writing and learning from the best on a beautiful October day. What more could a writer want?

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Interview with Donna Volkenannt, Runner Up

Congratulations Donna!

Donna Volkenannt is thrilled to be a winner in the WOW! Women On Writing and Seal Press Spring 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. She has learned that entering writing contests and belonging to a good critique group are the best ways to polish her work, which has appeared in: A Cup of Comfort for Women, A Cup of Comfort for Christmas, Sauce,, Storyteller, The Ozarks Mountaineer, Mid Rivers Review, Mysteries of the Ozarks, Echoes of the Ozarks and Cuivre River Anthology.

She is a retired management analyst, a full-time grandmother and the website editor for Saturday Writers In her spare time she plugs away at a young adult novel set in historic St. Charles, Missouri. Through the grace of God--and with lots of caffeine--she hopes to complete a first draft by the end of the year.

In November, her story, “Welcome Home,” will be included in A Cup of Comfort for Military Families. She lives in Missouri with her husband and their two grandchildren, who fill her heart with joy. Contact her at

Read Donna's winning story, Ida's Rocking Chair.

WOW: You have some great publishing credits. Congratulations. Tell us how you feel when your stories are selected to appear in these publications. How did you learn about the WOW contest and how did you feel when you found out you were a finalist? Does it feel different to win a contest verses having your work accepted for publication?

Donna: I'm always excited to learn that something I've written has been recognized for an award or accepted for publication. That feeling never grows old. I learned about the WOW website and contests at a Saturday Writers' meeting. Saturday Writers is a chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild that meets near my hometown of St. Peters, MO. Margo Dill, one of Saturday Writers' founding members, brought in a handful of post cards about WOW to one of our meetings and placed them on our 'freebie table' in the back of the room. The freebie table is where members share with others submission guidelines, contest announcements, and other items of interest. Both winning a contest and having my entry published are exciting experiences. Being in the top 10 in the WOW contest is a double treat.

WOW: Isn't it great being a Grandmother? Tell us a little about your grandchildren. Do they influence any of your stories? One of your upcoming stories is going to be published in A Cup of Comfort for Military Families, do you have someone in the military?

Being a grandmother is a wonderful blessing. After my daughter Julie and son-in-law Mike were killed in a motorcycle accident almost four years ago, my grandchildren, Cari and Michael, came to live with my husband Walt and me. Raising Cari and Michael has been a joy that came from the tragedy of losing our daughter. So, Yes, Cari and Michael have a great influence on my stories--and my life.

No one in the military right now. The story in the Cup of Comfort for Military Families is about the Vietnam War experience.

WOW: We're so sorry to hear about Julie and Mike. Please accept our condolences.

WOW: The Saturday Writers website is very nice. I see in addition to being an editor, you are also one of the founders. Can you tell us your primary mission on The Saturday Writers website? I was delighted to see the children's contest you are running right now.

Donna: The motto of Saturday Writers is "writers encouraging writers." In January 2002, a few of my writing friends and I got together and founded Saturday Writers as a chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild. We wanted a place where local writers could meet each month to support and learn from one another or listen to guest speakers--writers, editors, agents or publishers. Over the years we've had New York Times best-selling authors, Pushcart Prize winning or nominated writers, and winners of the Western Writers of America Spur Award speak to our group. At selected meetings members also read from their works in progress, which is always a wonderful time.

Saturday Writers also sponsors an annual short story contest and a poetry contest for adult writers from across the nation--and overseas. To encourage local students in three rural Missouri counties to become writers, we sponsor an annual children's writing contest for grades 3 and 4 and one for Missouri students in those same three counties in grades 7-12. We also publish the Cuivre River Anthology, which includes stories, poems, and essays from award-winning writers as well members.

WOW: Tell us a little about your YA novel.

Donna: The YA novel grew from a series of bedtime stories I used to tell Cari and Michael to help them fall asleep when they were younger. While they're now able to fall asleep without bedtime stories--although they still getting tucked in each night after prayers--it's taken me awhile to get the crux of the main story outlined and down on paper. I'm still working on it but hope to finish the first draft early next year.

WOW: Missouri is a beautiful state. My company's main terminal is in Joplin. Have you always lived in MO? How does the state influence your writings?

Missouri is a beautiful state, and the people are genuine and welcoming. I was born in North St. Louis less than a mile from the Mississippi River and live about thirty miles from where I was raised. When my husband and I worked for the U.S. Government, I lived in several states, as well as overseas. No matter where I've lived, Missouri has always been home and a part of me. When we lived in Southern Arizona and in West Texas, I missed the four seasons--except maybe the bitter cold Missouri sometimes get in the winter. When we lived in Massachusetts and in Germany, I missed the St. Louis Cardinals and the hot summers--really!

WOW: Is Ida's Rocking Chair based on a true story? As I read your story, I cried tears of sorrow and then tears of joy. You did such a wonderful job in bringing the chair to life. Sometimes we say, "If only that chair or whatever could talk…", but you bought those emotions to life and I thank you for this wonderful, warm story. Do you have a rocker? I have a porch swing and every time I sit on it I think, what stories will this swing be able to tell.

Donna: "Ida's Rocking Chair" is a work of fiction, but the emotions in the story are real.

WOW: What do you believe the most important quality is for a management analyst? Did you use your writing and editing skills a lot during your career? Does retirement put a new slant on your writing career? Is it a second career, a hobby or a fulfillment of a dream?

Donna: As a management analyst, I guess the most important quality is to be organized and analytical. It's very much a left-brain career that involves skills such as data collection and analysis, which is different from using my right-brain creative side for fiction writing. I did a fair bit of writing and editing as a management analyst on projects I was assigned. That writing was mostly detail-oriented or related to studies and surveys; however, some of the managers I worked with knew I liked to write, so they frequently asked me to help them write awards for their employees.

Retirement has been a double blessing. I have more time to spend with my grandchildren and to write. Not to sound flip or arrogant, but writing isn't just a hobby or something I do; a writer is what I am.

WOW: How old were you when you started writing? Did you always want to write?

I got bit by the writing bug in Most Holy Name of Jesus Grade School when my eighth grade teacher (if memory serves, her name was Sister Mary Johanna) assigned the class of 63 students to write our autobiographies. In mine I wrote about my life and my dreams. On the front cover I drew picture of a girl walking down a path with a globe in the background. The title was not very original--"My World." But I do remember the first line. It started off, "The sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky . . ." Thus, began my writing career. I was one of two eighth graders selected to read my autobiography to the entire school. Afterwards, several teachers commented on what a good writer I was. In essence, what I thought was a writing assignment changed my life. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper, the yearbook, and was a reporter for a local teen magazine. After I got married, while my kids were growing up, I attended night classes in college, where I wrote term papers, but I took a couple of creative writing classes and got to stretch my writing skills there. So, I guess I've always wanted to write.

WOW: I'm sure you have a short term goal of finishing your novel, which at one time was probably your long term goal, so now do you have another long term goal? Other short term goals?

Donna: Someone once called goals "dreams with deadlines," and that's what this project has turned out to be. It's a dream I have, but the deadline keeps changing. While finishing my YA novel should be a short-term goal, because it's taking me so long to write it, the novel has taken a life of its own and become more of a long-term goal. In the near-term I hope to outline several other connected novels in a series. One immediate goal I have is to finish these interview questions (smile) and to work on a few deadlines which are due next month.

WOW: I'm smiling. We're almost done. I only have one more question. What advice or secrets can you share about winning contests and getting published in so many sources?

Though not really secrets, here are some tips I've learned over the years:

1. Follow the rules. This probably seems obvious and unnecessary, but I've not only entered contests but have also been a contest judge. The entries that follow the rules stay in the game. Same holds true for publishing; follow the submission guidelines.

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you're unsure of what you're supposed to do, ask, but don't be too pesky or pushy.

3. Be genuine. Write from the heart and put yourself into your work. Let your unique writing voice shine through. When you read your story and it makes you feel some emotion--whether joy, happiness, sorrow, fear, or love--it most likely will do the same for your readers.

4. Use active voice, strong verbs, and concrete nouns, but go easy on the adjectives and adverbs.

5. Don't rely on spell check. Print out your work to check for errors and read your work out loud before submitting.

6. Join a critique group or writers' organization. If you can't find one, start your own and invite other writers to join. Members of my critique group and Saturday Writers have not only helped me improve my writing, many of them have become cherished friends. Being around other writers--not just 'networking' which I think can be impersonal, but becoming friends with other writers and getting feedback and support from them and giving feedback and support to them--has enriched my personal and writing life.

7. Share with others. It really is better to give than receive. My experience is by giving I've received much more in return.

8. Respect your words, yourself, and others.

9. The true purpose of writing is to EXpress--not IMpress. That's a piece of advice I read somewhere that stuck with me.

10. Take your writing seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously. Be persistent, but have fun and be yourself!

WOW: Thank you Donna and best wishes in all your projects.


If you haven't done so already, please read Donna's award-winning story Ida’s Rocking Chair .

Interview by:
WOW Intern Cher'ley Grogg

To check out WOW! Women On Writing's latest contest, please visit: sponsored by skirt! books with guest judge, literary agent, Jennifer DeChiara.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008


It's Cube-Breaking Time!

By Jill Earl

I’m about to step into a new genre of writing, that is, new to me. A local screenwriting competition has just begun. The early deadline is about a month away, but I’m going for the late deadline next January. Think I’ll need the time.

Screenwriting has been in my thoughts for some time apparently. I’ve only just realized that I’d been reading books on the genre, and had attended sessions at past conferences. I’m signing up for another workshop at a conference next month and have looked into taking classes.

I’m definitely doing something new with my writing life. Fits in with the theme of WOW!’s September/October issue, ‘Breaking Out of Your Cube’. As mentioned in the ‘Editor’s Desk’ section, it’s about ‘taking a chance on writing, believing in yourself, and shifting your focus’.

Did I feel the need to do some cube-breaking? Not really. I’m taking a chance on trying a genre I’ve never written in before, and entering the contest because I want to see what I can produce. The competition will be intense and it would be great if I place or received an honorable mention. More than likely, that won’t happen and that’s okay.

Then again, my screenplay may win another screenwriting contest. Or I might place in the local competition in the future. For any of that to happen, I have to believe in myself. Take classes. Attend workshops and conferences. Write and gain experience.

What about you? Have you broken any cubes in your writing lately? Tell me about it!

And, don’t forget to check out ‘Breaking Out of Your Cube’, the September/October issue of WOW! for some great ideas and inspiration!

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Friday, October 10, 2008


Get a Real Job? I HAVE a Real Job!

by LuAnn Schindler

Today, after substitute teaching, I went out with one of my dear friends who teaches full-time. We discussed how teaching is more than an 8 - 4 job. It means being at school at 7:30, if not earlier. It means extra duty assignments that pay little of nothing yet require hours of extra work. It means grading papers, sometimes until midnight, because state standards tell you what must be taught and when to teach it.

Another person at our table turned and said, "We could get a writing job like LuAnn has. Then we can work when we want to."

Excuse me. I have a real job. I begin writing at 7:30 A.M, and I write until my husband comes home after a hard day of laboring on our farm. Quitting time for me is around 7 or 8 p.m. Sure, I might take an occasional break to make dinner or run an errand for him or even take an entire day to substitute teach. But when I finish there, I enter my office when I get home and I write. Why? Because it is what I enjoy doing. And yes, it pays the bills.

I turned to said colleague and asked why people don't consider my writing job a real job. After all, I have publishing credits. And they are from publications in our area, so it isn't like they don't see my work.

My friend said that maybe these other people consider writing a glamorous job and they find it odd that I can do that from the confines of my home office while I'm traipsing around my house in my PJs, if I so choose.

Maybe they won't consider my writing a real job until I have won the Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes. Maybe they won't consider my writing a real job until I have written about them. Or maybe they won't consider my writing a real job that I thoroughly enjoy because they are not happy with their position.

It reminded me of a poem by Marge Piercy entitled For the Young Who Want To.

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume of
remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask you why you don't have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.'s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions, and some-
body else's mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you're a certified dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Reprinted from The Moon is Always Female, Alfred A. Knopf, Middlemarsh, Inc., Copyright 1980.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Quote Starters

When you're not sure what to write about, pondering a quotation can be a useful way to get started. The easiest thing to do is pick a quote you like and let yourself freewrite for ten or fifteen minutes. When you're done, you'll probably find the makings of an essay, article, or short story!

Below are some quotes you can use to spark your writing. Take a serious or a humorous approach with your response, whatever you prefer. I can envision some good stuff coming from any one of them.

For fun, try picking a number between one and ten, then doing a timed freewrite based on the corresponding numbered quote below.

1. "The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well." -Joe Ancis

2. "The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide." –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

3. "If you have a job without aggravations, you don’t have a job." -Malcom Forbes

4. "There is no such thing as 'fun for the whole family'." -Jerry Seinfeld

5. "The beginning is always today." -Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

6. "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards." -Benjamin Franklin

7. "Housework can't kill you, but why take a chance?" -Phyllis Diller

8. "Ever notice that 'What the hell' is always the right decision?" -Marilyn Monroe

9. "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it." –Margaret Thatcher

10. "Only time can heal your broken heart, just as only time can heal his broken arms and legs." -Miss Piggy


*image courtesy of tomswift46,

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Get To Know Your Trades

By Jill Earl

Did you know that writers have trade magazines? We do, and it’s to your benefit to familiarize yourself with them.

The reason? Besides presenting the latest industry news and trends, and interviews with established and emerging writers, they offer techniques and other resources to build your skills. Even more, the magazines have websites with additional content, many times only available online. So in no particular order, a quick rundown of each follows.

With the motto, ‘Write Better, Get Published’, Writer’s Digest (WD) is probably the most familiar guide in the group. Highlights include the ‘101 Best Websites for Writers’; ‘Writer’s Workbook’, which covers specific areas of writing; and the WD contests in popular fiction, poetry, short short story, the International Self-Published Book Awards and the annual Writing Competition with multiple categories to enter.

My favorite is Poets & Writers, the country’s largest nonprofit organization serving creative writers. The bimonthly magazine aims to take writers ‘From Inspiration to Publication’, and there’s plenty to inspire you on its pages. ‘Resources’ offers a comprehensive list of upcoming conferences and residencies, and the latest award and grants recipients; ‘Features’ has a continuing series where agents and editors share their experiences and give advice on what they look for from writers. Readers can start applying what they’ve learned from ‘The Practical Writer’, found in the ‘Departments’ section.

Calling itself ‘The essential resource for writers since 1887’, The Writer is the veteran of the group. One feature of this guide is ‘The Writer Archive’, focusing on an element of the craft of writing from past articles. In addition, there’s reviews of newly released books and a compilation of markets to tap into. Online, check out their new blog to find out what’s on the minds of the magazine’s staffers.

Wrapping up, there’s WRITERS’ Journal, ‘The complete writer’s magazine’. Their offerings include a number of contests, including Write to Win!; market listings; columns on how to break into niche markets, promoting your writing properly, and photography how-tos, among others. And the Books for the Writer’s Bookshelf area always has a selection to whet the appetite.

So, get to know your trades, writers. They’re the tickets to equip you to be the best writer you can be.

And who wouldn’t want that?

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008


The Organized Writer's Six Rules

by Julie Hood,

Are you trying to get organized so you have more time to write? Here are six rules guaranteed to make you more productive and more organized when you add them to your life.

1. Work with Yourself, Not Against Yourself

When you're trying to become more organized, it's tempting to try and fit into the existing organizing system of an "expert." They seem organized and they promise that if you try it, you'll be organized, too.

What's more effective is to understand your personality and what works for you. There are MANY solutions and you may have to experiment to find the system that best fits the way you work--your mind, your body and the way you think. And this might be a combination of ideas from many different experts.

Give something new a fair trial, but if after a month or so it feels awkward or counterintuitive, let it go and find something else!

2. Focus and Pay Attention

If you find that you always seem to be busy but that you never have anything to show for it, this could be the most important tip for you.

When possible, do one thing at a time. Don't let your mind or hands wander to another task. Picture the finished project in your mind, and focus only on that. Get in the "zone" � you're able to be so much more effective when you're giving your whole mind, thought and attention.

When we split our attention between different tasks ("multi-tasking"), most likely none of them will get done right, if at all. As well, you can find yourself in a perpetual state of having many "open projects" started but not completed. Each project moves forward just an inch at a time.

If you choose ONE, you can move it forward to completion much faster. To choose one, you need to estimate which project will give you the best results when it's finished. It sometimes takes an outside perspective and feedback to help you make that choice, and a coach is a great tool for this.

Putting aside other projects clears the clutter from your mind, attention, desk, workload and focus.

3. Invest Your Time

Just like we invest our money, we have to invest our time in the best way. Setting up your new organizing systems can be considered an investment.

Applying this tip can have the greatest impact on your level of organization. By investing your time at the beginning of a project to examine how you can complete it most efficiently, you can save yourself a lot of frustration later. Saving just 20 minutes each day gives you an extra 120 hours each year.

For example, set-up a mailing station with all of the supplies you'll need to ship out book orders. You can also set-up a schedule of weekly errands such as the bank and the post office. If you know you'll be heading out to the post office on Wednesday, then when an order comes in on Friday you don't need to stop what you're doing and prepare that order immediately. You know you have a different time set aside for shipping.

4. Make a Habit of It

Once you have these plans in place, work at making them a habit. You can create a new habit (or lose a bad one!) in 21 days. For only three weeks of effort, you can create a lifetime of good working habits.

As you are creating a habit, you'll need some kind of trigger to remind you to do it � alarms on your computer (i.e. Outlook or PDA), a "to do" list or a written schedule for the day with time blocked out for your specific tasks.

Start small with one new habit at a time, and then see if you can add more (pull back if it gets to be too much).

5. Use the Right Tools

Make sure you have the right tools handy when you need them.

From the low-tech (I only use retractable pens � the kind that "click" on and off � because there's no caps to lose!) to the high-tech, there are many ready-made solutions out there to keep you organized. As we mentioned in Rule #1, it's important to find tools that work FOR YOU.

Another example � did you know that if you use PayPal as your shopping cart, they're automatically tied in with the US Post Office and you can print your shipping labels right from the PayPal site? This has been a huge time-saver for me when shipping my Organized Writer CDs.

6. Work Forward

Organize for your work ahead; don't organize what's already finished. We're often tempted to organize our old bills, receipts and invoices. Sometimes we're afraid or hesitant to move forward until we've finished old stuff.

It's much more important to set-up the system and files for what�s coming at you next. Look at what has been creating the biggest stress in your life and start by improving that area going forward. Then, when you have more of your future work under control, you can deal with the old paperwork (the old bills, receipts and invoices).

As you work on bringing these six rules into your life, you�ll be amazed at how much more time and energy you have to pursue your writing and remember the number one rule � only use what works for YOU!


Ever wonder how much you could write if you were just more organized? Find out when you subscribe to the newsletter at Organized Writer. Julie Hood is the author of the ebook, The Organized Writer: 30 Days to More Time, More Money and Less Frustration.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008


Faking It

We recently had a discussion in the Premium Green subscribers group about confidence, courage and faking it when you need to. At times, many of us have had the feeling of being an imposter; of wondering whether we should really call ourselves artists or writers, or feeling not quite worthy of the writing assignments we seek, or even obtain.

Creativity coach Dave Storer has some helpful thoughts on feeling like an imposter. He reminds us that we have to grow into any new role that we take on, writing or otherwise. For awhile, we may need to act more confident than we feel we have a right to.

"…the best philosophy to live by is 'fake it 'til you make it.' That's true whenever you enter into any kind of new identity. It happens when you graduate and start your first 'real' job, it happens when you change overnight from a worker to a boss; it happens when you get married or when you have your first child. These are times when you just have to grow into your role before the identity involved seems completely real to you, let alone those around you."

'When I say 'fake it 'til you make it,' what I should more accurately say is, 'even though your chosen creative identity feels unreal somehow, if you keep doing it—keep working at your art with all your heart and muscle—sooner than you think, you will be perfectly comfortable with that identity and so will most everyone you know.' The identity comes from the doing of it."*

Several members of the PG group seem to have taken this approach, utilizing the "fake it 'til you make it" motto in any new endeavor until they felt "legitimate." If you're an aspiring writer (or a writer taking on bigger challenges), the key is to just keep on doing, taking action and making progress. You will get more and more comfortable over time, but as with any new role, you grow into it.


*from Inspiring Creativity: An Anthology of Powerful Insights and Practical Ideas to Guide You to Successful Creating, edited by Rick Benzel, M.A.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008


Fitting in Writing Time

We writers often discuss this, finding time to write. It's not so bad when you're single and childless, except when you give in to procrastination, which even the best writers do at times. If writing were as easy as sitting down and churning out an endless stream of words without pause, many more books would be written. Maybe. Once you add in family obligations, day jobs, children and outside stresses, finding this time becomes more difficult. Some find it impossible and give up altogether, watching the years pass as their dream of publishing a novel or book of poetry fades away.

There is something we can do, even in the midst of chaos, to complete our short stories, our book of essays or our novel. One page a day. That doesn't sound like much, but pages, like pennies, do add up. Even on your busiest day, instead of giving up on writing because you're too tired, too stressed or uninspired, just try for that one page. In a month, you'll have 30 pages. In a year, 365 pages.

On those days when you have more time, you can spend them going over what you've already written. You can edit and polish and try to make it perfect. Instead of viewing the task of completing a book as huge and insurmountable, you can break it up into single sheets of paper that aren't as intimidating. One page a day will yield something tangible and complete one day. When you break it down like that, it almost sounds easy, doesn't it?

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Sunday, June 01, 2008


A New Month

Do you live month to month, judging how well or how poorly your writing aspirations are going depending on how many acceptions or rejections you received that month? I do. I know this may not be the best method, especially because January started off not-so-great, but every time I face a new month, I also feel like I'm facing new possibilities.

It's June 1. You can either go into it with a positive attitude and expect good things, or you can face the day, and the month, with negativity. While I'm not so much a proponent of The Secret or anything like that, I do believe that maintaining a positive outlook is much better than constantly expecting the worst.

Have you made plans for the month? Are you outlining how many short stories you'd like to write or polish, chapter ideas for that novel that you still haven't finished, what major publications you're going to query? If not, today's an ideal day to do that. Since many of us will be off today, see if the weather is nice enough for you to sit outside with a pen and pad...okay, your laptop...and jot down what you'd like to accomplish this month. Then approach your tasks day-by-day instead of an entire month at a time. You might be surprised to find, at the end of June, what you've done. But you have to start. Today's a great day to do just that.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008


Are You An 'Intentional Reader'?

By Jill Earl

Not too long ago, I came across a too-long forgotten article that really got me thinking about what and how I read. Titled, ‘The Intentional Reader’, author Bob Hostetler discusses what he calls his “Writer’s Reading Plan”, where he sets a goal to read a perdetermined number of books annually.

A few of the categories Mr. Hostetler included in his reading plan are biography, memoir, classics, writing, poetry, children’s and history. He always makes sure that his selections are from a number of genres, authors and forms, while allowing for flexibility to add and delete categories as his interests change.

His goals are not to only read for pleasure, broaden his horizons, and become familiar with his particular genre and others, but improve the quality of his writing.

Like many writers, I do a substantial amount of reading throughout the year and attempt to read a number of genres and authors. My list seems a bit hit-or-miss at times, though. So I really appreciate Mr. Hostetler's plan, and have started using it myself.

The “Writer’s Reading Plan” can be found at

How about you? Do you have your own reading plan? Has it helped you improve your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Friday, May 23, 2008


Getting Ideas from Total Strangers

Writers often hear the question "Where do you get your ideas?" The more famous you are, the more often you probably hear it. We can get ideas and find inspiration from so many different places. Maybe you read the newspaper every day to spark a story idea or you tackle a tried-and-true storyline from a fresh angle. It doesn't matter where the ideas come from, it only matters that you use them wisely.

One of my favorite ways to get ideas is to people watch. For one thing, it gets me out of the house and out of what can be solitary confinement. You can go to the park, the bookstore, coffee shop, mall...anywhere that a large and varied number of people are likely to be. Then just sit and watch them (but don't be obvious!).

Although these people are total strangers and I don't know a thing about them, I make up stories based on what they're doing or eating or drinking. The woman playing with her baby? She can either be a stay-at-home-mom who loves to read and garden in her spare time or she can be incredibly unhappy and on the verge of divorcing her husband. Why is she ready to leave her husband? That's where it gets interesting...maybe she discovered he was unfaithful or maybe she's romantically involved with someone else. Perhaps his family has never accepted her and now that she's a mother, she can't stand to have her daughter grow up in such an environment. The point is to generate ideas and it doesn't matter how ludicrous they are; you're simply gathering them and hopefully, can use them to start a fresh piece of work.

Because I often sit in my house working, with little to no interaction with the outside world, I like it when I can get out and look at something new and interesting. People really are fascinating, whether they're walking their dogs or talking on their cell phones, listening to music or sipping coffee and reading. I'm still involved in a solitary activity, but I'm not holed up in my office, which is refreshing.

Ideas and inspiration are everywhere. It's just up to us to find them.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Time to Write...on Facebook

by Jill Earl

Since joining Facebook last month, I’ve been working my way through the creative writing groups on there. Thanks to the handy "Creative Writing Groups on Facebook" list, I’ve been amazed at what I’ve found so far. With the goal to help people locate book sites, author pages, writing programs, presses, magazines, writers’ groups, workshop communities and more, you’re sure to find a group--or two--or more to your liking.

A couple of weeks ago, I found the "Time to Write" group. Not a critique or workshop group to share works-in-progress, their aim is to write for a designated amount of time of your choosing. You can do it in a group, by yourself, at home, in your favorite cafe, whatever. It’s all up to you. It really can’t get simpler than that.

I joined and marked Saturday, May 17 on my calendar. And wrote. Not as long as I would’ve liked, but I did something.

The next two "Time to Write" events are scheduled for June 21 and July 19. They’re on my calendar too. Surf over to:

If you want to scope out the Facebook creative writing groups for yourself, go to:

You’re bound to find something to your liking.

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