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Sunday, December 04, 2016


How to Survive the Holidays When You're a Writer

Getting to this point each year . . . the struggle is real. 

I’m going to throw this out there and hope that some of you relate. The holidays are always a tough time of year for me. Most of my family lives halfway across the country and I’m the product of a broken home and an only child, so the get-togethers often revolve around my husband his extended family. I’m pretty sure I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and suffer during the colder months when there’s not enough sunlight to go around. I tend to want to hibernate like a bear in the winter and it can take a lot for me to come out of my cave. Throw all the holiday parties, gifts, and other obligations to try and keep things festive and it can get downright stressful, especially if you’re a writer or editor and your income stream depends on you not sinking into a funk! (Don’t get me wrong—I do love the holidays, what I don’t love is all the added pressure from the world to make everything so dang perfect in the process.)

Here are a few ideas for how to survive the holidays when you’re a writer:

1. Be prepared for your normal deadlines to get pushed up. It’s not secret that the publishing world pretty much shuts down between the week of Dec. 20 and the New Year. If you’ve been assigned a story that’s due during the month of December or the beginning of January, plan to interview sources early before they become unavailable. If you have regular deadlines each month, check with your editors and make sure nothing has been moved up. One of my deadlines got moved from the 10th of the month to the 5th, so I’ll be doing a bit of scrambling myself next week.
2. Make a list of gifts you still need to buy and make a strategy for tackling them. For me, we usually like to purchase some gifts and gift cards for our children’s teachers, and the fact that my kids get out of school by the 16th always throws me for a loop. This morning I sat down and mapped out a plan of who was going to get what so I can purchase and deliver the gifts before the winter break.
3. Put all social events on your calendar. Now. I'm really bad about this (are you sensing my lack of organization yet?) and need to do this immediately after completing this blog post. Between choir practice, my daughter’s orchestra practice and concerts, a Cub Scout campout and Christmas party, my husband’s work party, etc., my head is swimming. This will also help you keep track of that shopping list where you may need to purchase a Dirty Santa gift or whip up a dish for a potluck.
4. Pencil a date to meet a friend for coffee or dinner. Yes, we’re all busy. Terribly busy. But the holidays are a tough time for many, and sometimes it’s good to vent over a Peppermint Mocha or join forces and do a little shopping together. You’ll realize everyone is in the same boat and we’re all just trying to survive.
5. Work on a fun project during the break. Once you’re deadlines are met, do something fun for you and work on that short story you’ve been itching to get back to or print out a few pages of your work-in-progress for friends or family members to read. It will be a good way to be productive during some well-deserved time off.

Because, after all, the snail’s pace of January will be here soon enough.

Do you have any tips for surviving the holidays?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor whose favorite gift to hand out during the holidays is Cookies in a Jar. 

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Saturday, December 03, 2016


The Mighty Power of Our Senses

Momma Nell's Recipe Box
I’d had a conversation, reminiscing with a cousin on the other side of the family, about fruitcake cookies. And so this morning, I rummaged around in a cabinet until I found my mother-in-law’s old recipe box. I sat down with my cup of tea and pulled up the lid.

And I was instantly transported back to her house.

The contents smelled just like Momma Nell’s home. But not like what you’re thinking. It wasn’t the scent of years-ago grease from all that Southern fried chicken and steak. Instead, it was slightly musty, sort of like when you open an old book.

Momma Nell had lived in the same house for over fifty years and though it was immaculately clean, it was also like a museum. Sort of a “Life in the 1950s” kind of exhibition. And that smell—dry, musty, with just a hint of Pledge—assaulted my senses and all kinds of memories flooded back.

How powerful our senses are! And yet, how often we leave them out in our writing. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, the point is this: if you want to make your writing stronger, add sensory details.

It’s easy when we’re writing about sensory-rich subjects. Even I, notorious for bare bones writing, can come up with some pretty good and smelly details if I’m writing about Christmas. But put my character in some average spot, like an apartment, on an ordinary day in June, and I’ve got nothing.

I think writing with sensory details must take practice, and I admit that it’s not high on my practice list. But it should be, and I realized that little nugget of writing wisdom the minute I had a whiff of that recipe box. That smell connected me to a hundred different feelings and images, in just a fraction of a second. Imagine how many words I’d need to make that same connection if I were describing how my mother-in-law's house looks!

I’m going to put that recipe box on my desk so I’ll remember this lesson. But I have another motive as well.

I didn’t find the index card for her fruitcake cookies, but I did find a couple of other recipes that looked interesting. Some were typed, but others were carefully written, and I thought how glad I was that she’d put them down, in her hand. There was something very comforting about reading those words in her handwriting. I suppose that, again, it was a sensory detail and I sighed, remembering Momma Nell in the kitchen.

I remembered, too, that one year, I’d written down my favorite family recipes—it didn’t take long; I’m not much of a cook—and gave the book to my daughter for Christmas. But I never quite got around to doing the same for my two boys.

I hope this is the year that I’ll get that gift completed. So that someday, my children will read a recipe in my chicken scratch handwriting and maybe a hundred different memories will come flooding back to them, too.

Well, okay, maybe two or three memories. It’s the thought that counts, right?

~Cathy C. Hall

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Friday, December 02, 2016


Friday Speak Out!: What If . . . ?

by Lisa Ricard Claro

A few years ago I posted here at the Muffin about blogging as an antidote for writer’s block ( The problem with that suggestion, of course, is that not everyone enjoys blogging. But no worries. I’ve got a method for unblocking the jam on Creativity Boulevard that works every time. Yes, you heard me. Every time.

It’s called the “What if?” game, and it works like this:

Step 1: Grab a pen, paper, cookies, hot cocoa—because what isn’t made better with chocolate?—and the nearest kid. Age seven is perfect. Wait. What? No kid at your disposal? Well, do you have a husband? Because that’s almost the same thing. No husband either? Grab your best gal pal, trade the cocoa for wine, and you’re in business. You can go it alone, no problem, but it’s more fun with a companion.

Step 2: Munch the cookies, sip your beverage, and chat. Explain to your buddy that no idea is too big or too small, no subject taboo. Absolutely everything—and I do mean everything—is (age) appropriate for this exercise. Giggling encouraged.

Step 3: Stream of consciousness, no heavy thinking, just blast out as many what-ifs as you can:

What if while sipping cocoa I’m sucked into the mug and trapped inside a marshmallow?
What if I discover the poops in my cat’s litter box have turned to gold?
What if my farts were so bad they made smoke and set off the fire alarm at school/work?
What if the UPS man was really Hugh Jackman?

Okay, so that last one is for me and me alone, but you get the idea.

Step 4: Using the what-ifs you’ve created, write anything. You aren’t writing for publication. You are writing for the sheer joy of stretching your mind and putting words on paper, no matter how silly. No one ever has to read your output. The format is up to you. Choose whatever will be the easiest and most fun. Don’t think, don’t stress, and don’t wait. Just write.

What if while sipping cocoa I’m sucked into the mug and trapped inside a marshmallow? No story idea coming along? Write something simple then, like a warning label: CAUTION: Contents may be hot and hungry.
What if my farts were so bad they made smoke and set off the fire alarm at school? Not into kid lit? Pen a letter to your mother: Dear Mumsie, You’ll never guess what happened to Junior at school today!

Apply “what if?” to popular fiction. Can you pick out these books?

What if vampires sparkled in the sun?
What if a psychotic wife planned her own disappearance, making her husband look guilty of murder?
What if a teenage girl with a bow and arrow changed the course of her dystopian society?

What if you play the “What if?” game? What if you come up with a brilliant, high concept idea?
What if you write about it and it becomes a bestseller? What if . . . ?

* * *
Lisa Ricard Claro is a professional editor ( and award-winning author with published articles and stories spanning multiple media. She resides in Georgia but dreams of beach living (usually while stuck in Atlanta traffic). Lisa has a heart for rescued pets, and you’ll find one in all of her novels. She loves all genres—a mystery is in the works and she also writes for kids—but Romance is a favorite because she believes in love and happily-ever-after. To learn about the books in her romantic Fireflies series,or to connect with Lisa, visit Amazon, Goodreads, or her author website,
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Thursday, December 01, 2016


I am Spider-Man (at least for a little while)

If you've ever cried or felt your heart pound while reading a book or watching a movie, then you've experienced what I call "reality blocking"--the process of becoming so engrossed in a story that you ignore your own feelings and adopt those of a fictional character. In the real world, nothing has happened, but your brain processes the information you see or read as if it were real, which, in turn, causes your body to react as if it were true. You "become" the character and see the world through his or her eyes.

Good writing focuses on shared emotions. Regardless of whether you write fiction or nonfiction, tapping into the emotions that make us human can improve your writing. Readers will root for the boy to get the girl of his dreams because we have all loved someone, and readers will empathize with the athlete who loses the race because we have all worked hard for something important, and suffered defeat. We feel the character's pain or joy.

So when I follow a fictional mother down a long, dark hallway toward her children's bedroom because she heard an unearthly noise, my fear increases with every step. She begins to sweat, and I begin to sweat. I relate because I worry that something bad might happen to someone I love. Because I care, I want to know what happens, and will continue to turn pages or sit through a movie that scares me.

This also explains why I care about alien invasion, Spidey Senses, or a wizard who casts away evil. None of these things will ever affect me (probably), so why am I not content to sit at home and pet my cat and work on a craft project? Instead, I willingly spend my time and money sitting in a dark theater, or curled up in a comfortable arm chair to experience a world that looks nothing like mine.

Through empathy, I can put myself in Spider-Man's shoes (does he wear shoes?) and think about what I would do in his situation. Would I feel guilty for Uncle Ben's death? Probably. I can relate to that emotion because I have experienced my own guilt and sorrow.

Audiences will care when they know why the main character cares. If there is no emotion behind the action, then we are just watching a guy in a spider suit. Although I will never spin a web from my wrist, I connect to his emotions and put myself in the center of the action, which makes me believe that I am Spider-Man (at least for a little while).

Here's a link for more information:

Mary Horner is a freelance writer, editor, and author of "Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing." She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016


No No NaNoWriMo?

There's definitely some benefits to doing NaNoWriMo in November. However, if you couldn't do it this month, don't despair. You can reap the same rewards in March. Or July. It just takes some creativity.

Think of these NaNoWriMo components--and create your own writing challenge:
  • Accountability and Support--Let your writing pals know what you're embarking on (go public with it) and you'll be amazed at the outpouring of love and help you get in return.
This is one page from my 2016 NaNo.
I shared it at a writing retreat a few weeks ago.
Four different writers gave me feedback.
Those purple notes on the margin are going to be gold when it comes time to revise.
  • Networking and Perks--Sure, when doing the official NaNoWriMo, you can network with other NaNo-ers all over the planet. However, if you're doing a DIY NaNo, you can create your own network. I'm working on a historical fiction project centered in the 1920's. A writing friend was at a teachers' convention a couple of weeks ago, and she snagged a free YA novel about the same era--just 'cause she knew it would fuel my fire. And yes, if you do NaNo in November, you can earn all sorts of cute badges and banners. But you can set up your own perks if you do your own version of NaNoWriMo.
When I add 800 more words to my manuscript, I'll treat myself to 1/2 a jar of Nutella.

When I finish this chapter, I'll mix up a batch of chocolate chip cookies... and I might even bake some of 'em.

Well, you get the idea...
  • Competition and an Artificial Sense of Urgency--A bit of friendly competition never hurt anybody. Pair up with a writing colleague, and see who can make the most progress in a month. (Remember:  whatever headway you make means you're a winner, writing-wise.) And having a self-imposed deadline looming over your head? When word count is all that matters, you go into "down draft" mode.
What's a "down draft," you ask? These three draft stages come from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. With the first draft, the ultimate goal is get the story down. Lock that internal editor in a closet. Who cares if your writing is horrid? It's all horrid in the first draft...

The next draft is the "up draft." Now's the time to fix your story up. Look at the down-and-dirty word choices, and revise. If you've got big chunks of telling, transform it into showing. Pretty it up with some rich similes. Fiddle around with the rhythm.

The final one is the "dental draft." Just like your dentist checks every nook and cranny in your mouth to make sure your teeth, fillings and gums are all in perfect shape, you should now be checking the tiny details of your manuscript. Punctuation. Typos. Missing words. Tense changes. Take your time and be thorough.

So, if you didn't take the NaNoWriMo plunge, it's not too late. Pick a month, any month... and dive in.

Sioux Roslawski is a St. Louis dog rescuer with Love a Golden, a grandmother and a writing teacher of middle-schoolers and adults. This month she was a NaNoWriMo loser, getting only an anemic 22,018 words down as of today--far less than the required 50,000 to be considered a NaNo winner... yet she's loving this WIP and will continue to plug away at it. To find out more about Sioux and her writing, please visit her blog.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Start a New Gift Giving Tradition

Did you know that the traditional Icelandic Christmas Eve gift is books? How cool is that? In Iceland, people give each other books on Christmas Eve and then read deep into the night.

We can’t all be Icelandic, but we can give books as Christmas gifts. I’ve already purchased my husband’s Christmas book. I can’t tell you what it is because he reads my blog posts. My son’s book has been selected but not ordered. I’m getting him the oldie but goodie, Motel of Mysteries by David Macaulay. It wasn’t hard to pick out either of these books because I know the two of them so well.

When I need help picking out a book, there are several lists I like to consult.  Here are some of the places I look for book-gifting ideas.

Top 100 Picture Books: Back in 2012, librarian Betsy Bird put together this list for School Library Journal. It’s a few years old now but it lists 100 top picture books, many of them classics. It’s a great place to look for ideas for your cousin’s toddler. After all, who doesn’t need a copy of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak as well as Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems?

SCBWI Winter Reading List: Have someone on your list who is sure to appreciate a children’s or teen book by a local author or maybe something that has come out in the last year? Check out this list produced by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. There are books from every juvenile genre, organized by region. You can download just the region your gift recipient lives in or check out the entire list. Margo Dill’s Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg is right there on page 36!

Top Ten Banned Books for 2015: Nothing thrills my 30 year-old niece more than a banned book. She read them when she was in high school and she still reads them today. Before I buy anything for her, I check out the top ten most frequently challenged books for the past year.

Whether you live in Iceland or the US, books make great gifts. Give them to the readers in your own life but don’t be surprised when everyone disappears into separate corners to get busy.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.
She also teaches our class, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  The next session begins December 5, 2016.

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Monday, November 28, 2016


Dalai Lama or Drama Llama?

The first time my kiddos came home singing a song about a drama llama I thought they said Dalai Lama and I was impressed with how enlightened they were for being in early elementary school.

Turns out, they had no idea who the Dalai Lama is and they really weren't sure what a drama llama was either - but they know it rhymes with mama llama. I took the opportunity as a teaching moment and gave them a quick lecture about how the Dalai Lama stands for tolerance and peace and a drama llama makes a big deal out of small things. As women, we have opportunities every day. Opportunities in real life, on social media, in our writing, and in our self talk. Opportunities to be more drama llama or be more Dalai Lama.

With the holidays upon us as well as the post-election tension, I find myself in need of more Dalai Lama in my self talk as well as in real life. I did some role playing with my kiddos and then with my hubby (examples below), but most important I wanted to ask what situations you've come across where you have been too Drama Llama and not enough Dalai Lama. Be sure to share some ideas and examples on this post and thanks as always for reading!

Grandma: "oh, your cousin will be at Thanksgiving with her new girlfriend. Did you hear she's dating a girl now?"

Dalai Lama: "That's wonderful that they can make it; I can't wait to see her and meet her friend."

Woman at the grocery store: "Can you believe how long it's taking them to pave this parking lot?"

Dalai Lama: "I thought it was going quickly considering how large the space is and how much traffic there is all day long."

Writer Mama Friend: "I can't believe she self published; don't you think she took the easy way out?"

Dalai Lama: "I'm glad she got her story out there; how do I go about getting a copy?"

The children asked why we need to role play and the truth is, it's because I think of the right thing to say long after I've said the wrong thing. Tell me I'm not alone in this? Someone says something and I'm not quite sure what to say so I say the wrong thing or I stand there with a totally awful look on my face like I'm about to be struck down by a unicorn driving a school bus. I have to rehearse my come backs in advance...especially if I am to be tolerant and peaceful.

Not quite sure what I'm talking about? Thinking "oh Crystal, what could you have said that was so bad?"...let me tell you the worst. I was at a job interview to work with adults with special needs. I was VERY young and had never been interviewed by 8 people at once. I was a wreck (definitely NOT peaceful) and sweating profusely. The Interviewer asked: "tell me Crystal, what type of person do you think you'd have a hard time working with?"

I cannot even recall what was said, but I think I left sobbing because I had completely flubbed everything.

As you know, I didn't get the job. In fact, I'm fairly certain they shredded my resume. I don't even know what I was trying to say, but the garbage that I was saying had me feeling like a head spinning episode of Ally McBeal. Shortly after that interview I decided to either be prepared to say the right thing or say nothing at all. I wish I was more Dalai Lama all the time, but I'm not...sometimes I slip and I'm more Drama Llama.

What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever said? How did you recover?

Do you have a unique saying at your house to remind your family of how to do something better? (My mom always said "do it right the first time so you don't have to do it again" and of course, I'll ask my kiddos if they're being a drama llama or a Dalai Lama).

Please share your thoughts!! 

Here's the song the kiddos came home singing - enjoy! (but somehow my kids incorporated Barack Obama in the song too...hmmm)

Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 9, Andre 8, Breccan 3, and Delphine 1), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at:

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