Scheduling Success

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In just a week or so, I’ll be attending my regional SCBWI conference. I like to think of it as scheduling success. Every time I sign on for a writer’s conference, workshop, retreat, or class, whether it’s in person or online, I’m moving forward.

So how about you? Are you scheduling success? And more importantly, have you put any of your cold, hard-earned cash into the venture? Because here’s the bottom line: when we invest in our writing, in ourselves, we mean business. Once we throw down the money, we go from a hobby writer with nothing on the line to a serious writer, with stakes involved.

But Cathy, you say, that’s fine for you; you write for children. The children’s writing world is bursting with opportunities all over the place. I write for adults.

Great! Check out RomanceWriters of America. And before you say forget it, Cathy, I don’t write romance, take a look at the kinds of classes and workshops that RWA offers. You want to go in-depth on plotting, historical research, marketing? Novels vs. novellas? Traditional vs. hybrid publishing? Bet you’ll find that information and more.

Oh, wait. There’s someone with a niche specialty. A gal in the back, with her hand up. “Cathy, that’s just swell, but I only write flash fiction.” And thanks to the wonder of the web, you can find just about any specialty. Just like I found this swell Flash Fiction Festival over in Bath. (That’s in the United Kingdom, but honestly, I’ve written many flash fiction pieces whilst in the bath. Coincidence? I think not.)

And now, a few tips before you fill up your schedule and press the Submit Now button.

·        Ask friends for recommendations. I wish I could say that any writer’s conference, workshop, retreat, or class will be worth it. But that is sadly not true. All are not created equal, so become an ace investigator and get reviews from people in the know. If you don’t have writer friends to ask, search for online reviews. And keep in mind that old adage about getting what you pay for.

·        Set realistic expectations. It’s realistic to expect progress in your writing, even if it’s a small step forward. It’s not so realistic to expect that an editor will buy your manuscript on the spot. So choose what will help you achieve your ultimate goal, but understand that the endgame could take a while.

·        Enjoy the journey. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the pursuit of a goal that we miss the little joys along the way. And I get it; you’ve spent a lot of money and you’re working, working, working! But take time to meet people, whether online or in person. Share the ups and downs, and make connections. Celebrate any progress; reward yourself when you complete that class or get up the courage to have a professional manuscript critique! It can be a long, challenging journey but it doesn’t have to be miserable.

So crack open the budget and pull out your calendars! What’s on your success schedule this year?

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer and if you're going to be at the SCBWI conference in Birmingham on March 10th, come say hello! She also presents at conferences, so if you need someone witty on writing, contact her soon.  She's not free, but she is reasonable. Unless it's a full moon. Or Tuesday. (Or come visit Cathy at her blog where she's witty on writing for free.)

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And the Oscar goes to ...

Tuesday, February 27, 2018
I've never written a screenplay, but in honor of the 90th Academy Awards this Sunday night, and the fact that Sunset Boulevard (1950) will be on television tomorrow, I'm writing about movies about writers and writing.

If you love old movies and wonder where the lines "I am big! It's the pictures that got small," and "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up," came from, then wonder no more, because this is the movie for you. Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond in the film-noir classic about the dark side of fame, and William Holden plays a screenwriter who allows himself to be a kept man.

A couple of months ago I watched Genius (2016), after a recommendation from my husband. The movie is based on the relationship between Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), author of Look Homeward, Angel, and You Can't go Home Again, and his editor, Max Perkins, who also discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

If you like movies that include scenes in train stations, and men who wear vests and hats indoors while smoking cigarettes, then this movie is for you. There's also dramatic dialogue, and lots of red-ink scribbles over typed pages of Wolfe's novel.

Many years ago, when The Player (1992), starring Tim Robbins was popular, I found a better movie starring Kevin Bacon titled The Big Picture (1989), directed by Christopher Guest. This movie is more relatable because it's about a writer who finds success early, only to have it disappear just as quickly. Although it received positive reviews, the movie had a limited distribution.

If you want to watch a young Kevin Bacon trying to navigate the Hollywood machine while wearing clothing you can now find in vintage shops, then watch this one.

A few more I like include, The World According to Garp, Finding Forrester, and Adaptation. I also love Stranger Than Fiction, Wonder Boys, and Trumbo.

This year, The Post is nominated for Best Picture, but to be honest, I haven't seen it! Maybe I'll get to that one before Sunday. What are your favorite movies about writing and writers?

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She is a certified medical writer, and earned the Writing Certificate at UM-St. Louis.
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Choose Wisely and Smile; The Importance of a Great Head Shot!

Monday, February 26, 2018
I'm absolutely not a photographer and I'm not trying to drum up business for professional photographers, although I do think they're absolutely fabulous! What I do know, is in today's virtual world, our head shot is going to make us or break us as professionals, bloggers, and authors. We've all seen the old time photographs where no one smiles, right? I remember seeing those as a child and thinking "they look very unhappy" and that wasn't at all the case. I had never met those people, so I was essentially judging their entire lives based on those non-smiling photographs. Like it or not, people are judging us in the virtual world - they are reading our posts/articles/books just because we look like someone they want to know. Or....they are NOT reading our posts/articles/books just because we look like someone they do NOT want to know.

Here are a few key points to remember when choosing the picture we will be using for our work:

1) Be Real - when I started my own business, I had a head shot that quite frankly made me look like a professional golfer with a blue box around my face. I looked very serious. This look wouldn't have been so bad, but I'm never serious and I much prefer mini golf over the real deal. I met with a career counselor who advised me to remove the box since a square is not an accurate representation of who I am. He also told me to wear something more natural and to smile. I finally chose a head shot (see above left pic) that looked like me - quirky, funny, happy, and someone who thinks outside of the box! So, my advice is to chose your outfit, hairstyle, and facial expression based on who you really are and don't worry for a single moment about how other professionals in your field are doing things. Just be YOU!

2) Ask for Help - ask a professional to take your photograph or at least ask a colleague or friend to

help you choose the head shot they feel is best for you. In either case, the better the person knows you, the better photograph you'll end up with. I always look awkward when I'm being photographed by someone I don't know. For example, the photograph you see on the right is one of my favorites - it was taken by a friend who captured everything about my relationship with my then fiance (now husband). A stranger can't get you feeling that comfortable. (Photo Credit to Olivia with Oh! Photography)

3) Try Try Try Again - just because you've been using a particular picture for a certain length of time doesn't mean you can't mix it up. A serious article or book may need a different photo than something more whimsical and fun. When I'm writing about farming, I have no problem using a head shot with some cow rears in the background, but that wouldn't be appropriate when writing about leadership in a call center. You get the drift!

4) Let Go - now don't get your undies in a bundle about this one...we all age. Yes mother, even you! As much as you love the head shot you had taken when you were 28 (for the first time) and wrinkle free, it's time to update that photograph. Especially if you are now a grandmother of six with a 40 year old daughter. I was recently reading a great book by someone I thought was my age. Based on her author photograph, she didn't look a day over 38 and yet she was making references about graduating from highschool the year I was born. Turns out she's old enough to be my mother and she has been using the same head shot for several decades. Embrace those laugh lines and love who you are TODAY - there's no shame in aging.

5) Smile - this one might have been better at the top of the list. I swear Eskimos would buy ice cubes from someone smiling. We all like nice people and there are plenty of people who are nice AND smart - so even if you are writing about a difficult topic, it never hurts to put on a smile!

What has been your experience with head shots? Do you have any advice? A funny story to share? We would love to hear from YOU!


Crystal is a council secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, babywearing cloth diapering 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, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, five young children (Carmen 10, Andre 9, Breccan 4, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora, two dogs, 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 here, as well as sharing her recipes and tips! Find her here and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Interview with Mary Roberson Wiygul, Q1 2017 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, February 25, 2018
Mary Roberson Wiygul is a high school English teacher who has taught in the public school system for over twenty years. Her writing is heavily influenced by her small town Southern upbringing and reflects both the humor and the heartbreak of growing up in a dysfunctional family. Her work has been published in Huffington Post, Hippocampus Magazine, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and by the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. Her dream is to write a memoir and someday try her hand at fiction. Currently, she loves spending time with her family and traveling with her husband who has taught her that dreams really do come true.

Be sure to read Mary's winning entry here and then return back to learn more about the author.

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Congratulations, Mary and thank you for stopping by to chat with us today. "The Debutant" is a complex piece that deals with the subject of alcoholism in a family, which I'm sure many of our readers can relate to. How did you decide to focus on the snapshot in time that featured a cotillion ball?

Mary: “The Debutant” is one of the few pieces I have written that actually tackles the tough stuff. I began writing humorous memoir pieces about my family because I love making people laugh. I definitely have some crazy dysfunctional family stories that are hilarious, but I also think that laughter is my coping mechanism. It is easier to deal with the memories by filtering them though humor. At the prompting of a close friend, I finally decided to write from the more emotional side of things. A few years ago, as I was rummaging through the attic, I found the torn dress I wrote about in this story. The scotch tape is still underneath holding the material in place. When I found it, the memories flooded back, and I knew when I began to write about the more difficult things, this memory would be the one I started with. This particular moment in my life showcases the dichotomies that exist in many alcoholic families. The word “cotillion” usually evokes the idea of wealth or high society. Getting ready for the cotillion ball in a bedroom with holes in the floor and no paint on the walls conveys that what was going on in our inside world was not what we presented to the outside world. My dad, in his sober state, trying to help fix the dress is also representative of this theme. When he tapes the pieces back together, underneath the dress is still ugly and torn, but on the outside, everything looks fine. As Daddy said in the story, “No one will know, if you don’t tell.” This is an unspoken code in many alcoholic families.

WOW: Unfortunately, that is so true. I'd say in this case writing from the emotional side of things worked in your favor! Your writing has been published in places like Huffington Post and the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop, among others. Can you tell us a little about your writing process and where you get your ideas from?

Mary: All of my ideas come from my life. I usually focus on one moment at a time that I remember vividly. (My husband says I remember everything vividly!) I take each of the moments I want to write about and try to reconstruct the events that led up to that moment. I usually write the bare bones of the story first and then go back and try to remember exact details. Visualization is a valuable tool in my process. I also make several drafts of each story, but they are usually all written in the span of a few days. One of my many downfalls is that once I start a story, I feel compelled to finish it. I would eventually like to write longer pieces, even a whole memoir, but I am going to have to learn to slow down and take my time with things if this is ever going to happen.

WOW: There's often a delicate balance when sharing stories such as yours that feature "both humor and heartbreak." How do you work to find that perfect balance when writing and editing a piece?

Mary: I honestly don’t know if there is such a thing as a perfect balance. Often, when my friends read my work, they comment on parts that they interpret as heartbreaking that I meant to be funny. "The Debutant” is one of the few pieces I have written where there is definitely no balance between heartbreak and humor. In this story, I didn’t filter anything through humor, so I could convey my true feelings in the situation.

WOW: That's the beautiful thing about writing--how each reader has his or her own interpretation of the words. Speaking of other people's words, as a high school English teacher, I'm sure you are probably an avid reader. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Mary: I feel like this should be an easy question for an English teacher, but for me it really isn’t. Because I am so often grading student papers and making lesson plans, I feel like I don’t get to read as often as I would like. When I do get to read, my taste is somewhat eclectic. Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker are all favorites of mine. I also love Pat Conroy and Jeannette Walls. Growing up, I used to read the Erma Bombeck and Lewis Grizzard books that my Momma would bring home, so I have to add them to the list as well. I absolutely love a good Southern humorous read, so I have to include Stephanie McAfee. Her Diary of a Mad Fat Girl series kept me in stitches. I would love to write a similar series someday and have already named my characters and started character sketches for that!

WOW: That sounds fun! What was the topic of your very first published non-fiction piece and what inspired you to write it?

Mary: I am from Mississippi, and in the South, we take SEC football seriously. My husband and I root for rival SEC teams, so we are what is referred to as “a house divided.” My first published piece was actually entitled, “Bulldog Gospel,” and was a tongue-in-cheek explanation of the coping mechanisms I have had to develop being a Mississippi State Bulldog fan (Hail, State!) living with a die-hard Ole Miss rebel fan. (Bless his heart. He just doesn’t know any better). It was published in a local publication called Southern Roots. It was fun to write and stirred up a lot of good-natured fun between our friends who are fans from both sides.

WOW: Oh, that is so funny. I love a good "bless your heart" moment. Thank you for sharing these insights into your writing process with our readers! We look forward to reading more of your work in the future. 
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The Comparison Trap for Writers

Saturday, February 24, 2018
I have been in a book study called The Comparison Trap by Sandra Stanley. In this study, we talk about how people, women especially, are terrible about comparing themselves to others, and this causes a lot of discontent and negative behavior. It causes broken relationships and broken spirits. Before taking this class and doing this study, I didn't realize how often I compared myself to other women and felt like I wasn't measuring up; or worse, I made myself feel better when someone wasn't as successful as me.

I am so thankful this study came into my life, and of course, I started thinking about it in terms of being a writer. Writers also compare themselves to others, and it can cause writer's block, a giving-up attitude, and hurt feelings between writer friends.

Have you ever found yourself reading a Facebook announcement from your writing friend about finally securing a big New York agent and thinking that's it, I'm done, no one will ever want to represent me?

Or how about your critique group member who received her 20th rejection, and you are secretly celebrating because at least you had an acceptance last month?

I know both of these scenarios sound like you are horrible person, and you don't have to admit that you have thought this way, but you probably have. And you are not alone. It's human nature, but it's not helpful to you, your creativity, or your career.

So what do you do?

What I'm learning with this book study I mentioned above is that "There is no win in comparison." Stop looking to the left or right. You need to look at yourself and your talent. Think of how you can reach your writing goals and how you can improve your craft. Focus on you and your writing--not your Facebook friend's new book, not your critique group member's literary award, and certainly not your favorite writer you've been following on Twitter when she makes the bestseller's list.

This does not mean you don't celebrate success with every writer you know. This simply means that when you find yourself starting to compare another writer's success or failure with your own, stop. Just stop. Because it is really true that there is no win in comparison. But you can win when you improve yourself!

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach, editor, children's author, and instructor, living in St. Louis, MO. Her next novel writing class starts on Friday, March 2. To find out more information about Writing a Novel with a Writing Coach, please click here
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Friday Speak Out!: 5 Reasons for Young Women to Get Involved in Writing

Friday, February 23, 2018
by Honor Perkins

Every since I was a little girl, I’ve struggled with social situations. I’ve never been the smartest kid in the grade, and I’ve certainly never been good at sports. However, I have always been good with words. I love speaking. I love conveying my thought across with writing. No matter the context of the situation, whether it be typing, public speaking, or just every day communication, I know how to get my point across. This is a big part of the reason I started writing. Since I have some experience in the writing world, I thought I would share five reasons that young women should pick up writing.

1. It Builds Character
Literature is a great way to help find yourself. Whether you’re reading it or writing it, you can learn a lot through the stories. Writing is a form of art. You can take all of your feelings, emotions, and opinions and let them flow out into your writing. There is something so satisfying when you work hard on a piece of work, and then you can finally submit it and share it with people.

2. People Love to Read Work from Others
Ordinary people enjoy reading. They like reading from all different types of authors. Young, old, male, female, experienced, or inexperienced, they enjoy hearing other peoples thoughts and views. By writing, you are not only getting benefits for yourself, but you can also be providing a service to others.

3. It’s Fun
Writing isn’t just something we learned how to do in school so we could work on essays. Writing is a beautiful way to express yourself. I have sat down to write a little essay and ended up writing for hours. It can almost be considered an escape for some. It is a way to just put everything aside and enjoy the present moment.

4. It Helps Organize your Thoughts
The human brain can be a very scary place. On a daily basis, we have thousands of opinions, views, ideas, and theories. Most of us don’t really get a chance to sit down with someone and discuss these things. The world is a fast moving place, and your thoughts can get covered up and forgotten about. Writing can help you get all of these things organized. It can help you understand these thoughts and figure out what to do with them, instead of brushing them under the rug and failing to ever mention them to any one.

5. Your Opinions ARE Valid
As women, and especially young women, we often don’t know the true power of our words. We do have power. Your opinions are just as valid as anyone else’s. You have the right to speak your mind loud and clear for everyone to hear. People deserve to know the amazing thoughts that you have. So get out there and start sharing them with the world.

* * *
Honor Perkins is a young writer who is just getting started online. She enjoys writing about topics that pique the attention of audiences of all ages. In her free time, she likes charity work, spending time with her family, and attending school classes to better herself. As someone who enjoys writing, she hopes to put her opinions forward to the world and hopefully put her name out there. 
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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Emotion: Bridging the Gap Between Your Character and Your Reader

Thursday, February 22, 2018
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing prep work to try my hand at a novel. Although I don’t normally write either fiction or for an adult audience, this time I’m going to be writing a cozy mystery.

The first task has been to develop my main character – Clara Cunningham works in a small museum and sings in her church choir. I’ve put a lot of effort into making her unique but then I started to worry. Will my readers identify with her? After all, not everyone works in a museum, wears period clothing or sings in a church choir. How am I going to bridge the gap between Clara and my reader?

Thank goodness for my book club. This month’s book is The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. Ware has shown me how to forge a connection between the reader and the characters even though our circumstances differ greatly.

In The Lying Game, four teen girls meet at boarding school and play a game where successfully lying to someone outside of the group earns you points. They form a tight clique and then one girl’s father turns up dead. They think it is a drug overdose and for various reasons decide it will be best to hide the body. Fifteen years later, the bones are discovered. I don’t know about you, but I never helped three classmates hide a body. Nope. It never even came up in our little group of nerdy girls, but I still managed to identify with the characters.

Ware accomplishes this by giving the characters emotions and situations that are real to me because I’ve experienced them. Consider Isa, the POV character. She’s the mother of an infant and worries that she will lose her child if what they did as teens is discovered. Many of us who are mothers can identify with this powerful connection. Even if you don’t have this connection, she is outraged when she is accused of something she didn’t do. Ironic though it may seem coming from someone who helped hide a body, that’s a rage we’ve all felt and it helped draw the connection tighter.

Isa’s roommate at school was Fatima. Although it wasn’t the case in high school, she now wears a hijab and prays five times a day. Not Muslim, I can still identify with Fatima’s annoyance at her old friends when they all jump to the conclusion that becoming outwardly religious was forced on her by her husband. Any woman who has ever had to defend her mate to her friends will understand Fatima’s frustration.

Fear of losing a home. Fear of losing a career. Anxiety when wrestling with whether or not to betray a trust when either choice will harm someone. Layer by layer, familiar emotion by familiar emotion, Ware builds a bridge between the world of her women readers and the world of her women characters. Whether your book is a murder mystery, a thriller, or historical fiction, using character emotion can help readers connect with unusual or unfamiliar characters as these characters face challenges unique to their worlds and their situations.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 12th, 2018.

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Meet Flash Fiction Top Ten Winner, Elizabeth Maggio

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Elizabeth’s Bio: I still have the Tom Thumb typewriter on which I pecked out simple stories in childhood. It reminds me of when my writing career began. I never set out to be a fiction writer but looking back, telling stories and an imagination were always a part of me. I got a degree in geology—I love science—but that didn’t get in the way of my writing. I simply turned that degree into a rewarding career in science writing. Switching to fiction was hard. I built my science writing achievements on factual accuracy, and it took a while to give myself permission to make up the facts.

I’m retired now and thoroughly love spending time on my fiction. I’ve been working on a novel since the Pleistocene and switching to flash fiction when I’m in a dry spell helps me move the novel ahead.

I live in Clifton, Virginia, with my husband Ike Ghozeil and a dear old cat named Bailey.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Summer 2017 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Elizabeth: Years ago a writer friend introduced me to WOW. I enjoyed its articles and I was intrigued by this thing called “flash fiction.” I had no idea what that was but after researching the genre and reading a few winning entries I decided to try my hand. As a former newspaper reporter, I was used to dashing out 1,000-word stories before deadline. So, 750 words would be a piece of cake, right? Was I wrong! It's tough to write a complete story with protagonist, story arc, etc. in so few words. But I found that doing so allowed my creativity to blossom.

WOW: Can you tell us what inspired your story, "A Touching Compromise?"

Elizabeth: This story is a dark departure from my usual genre that touches on magic realism. But I had to get it out of my system. It started as a scene in my novel that I had to jettison because it just didn't work. Still, the scene haunted me. How would such a story line play out? What solace could be offered to a young mother when the body of her murdered daughter is too gruesome to view? I wondered if a compromise solution was even possible. Letting my imagination run free, without the constraints imposed by my novel, I ended up writing "A Touching Compromise."

WOW: What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Elizabeth: Flash fiction is my go-to therapy for writing blocks. I've been working on my novel for ages, and it's frustrating. But flash fiction is concise and I see a result relatively quickly.

WOW: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

Elizabeth: I wish I had writing habits! I do meet with my writing group every Wednesday but other than that, writing habits are nonexistent. I've tried writing at a set time each day or producing a specific amount of text, but it just doesn't work for me. I have finally accepted, after trying all of the aforementioned good-writing habits, that my muse is unpredictable and unstructured. So I write when she moves me. Often that's triggered by something I read in the newspaper (I still read the print version of the Washington Post every morning). I do have one writing trick that has helped me: While reading an ebook on my Nook, I'm constantly highlighting passages that trigger an idea for a scene, a piece of dialog, or a new flash fiction story. I add a note to the highlighted text, sketch a snippet of possible scene/dialog, and then email it to myself. When I see the email, I'm moved to flesh out the snippet. In this way I move my novel or flash fiction piece forward. The downside is that it takes me forever to get through reading a book!

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Elizabeth. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Elizabeth: Oh yes. Don't be afraid to put your writing out there. It's not about winning but about being brave with what you write. And ask for a critique, if offered, which the WOW flash fiction contest does. I always do. It's an invaluable add-on to the entry free, both of which are modest. The critiques are always helpful and not put downs. I'm amazed at how perceptive those editor eyes can be. "A Touching Compromise" was dinged in one spot (I'm not telling), which I had felt needed addressing but which I ignored. I've learned now to trust my gut.



WOW! Women On Writing now hosts two quarterly contests: one for fiction writers and one for nonfiction writers. Click on the links below for information and entry:

Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest

Quarterly Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

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An Exercise in Observing

Monday, February 19, 2018

Yesterday we had an unusually warm day for February, so although I had a zillion chores to do I headed outside for a two-mile walk. I turned on a podcast and began the familiar route, and on this day like so many others, I found that there were many things to observe. Every time I head outdoors for my exercise, it also turns into an exercise that I could use in my own writing.

For example:

Even over my earbuds I could hear the sound of bullfrogs that reside in the water right off the neighborhood greenway. Their croaking brings back childhood memories of visiting my grandparents’ home in the countryside where there wasn’t much else to hear besides the chirping crickets and birds and call of the frogs in a nearby pond. That is the sound I would blissfully fall asleep to after a long day of exploring the property and visiting the farm animals.

Passing by one house I could smell something delicious being cooked on an outdoor grill—I could imagine a family gathering on the outdoor patio with plates of teriyaki burgers and good conversation—and maybe some ice cream for dessert. It made me miss my own family who lives across the country.

Another household was doing what I should have been doing, laundry. I could tell by the fragrant smell of laundry detergent and fabric softener that caught my attention as I walked by. For some reason that warm and fresh smell envelops me in comfort—it’s a sense memory I’ve had for as long as I can remember—although I don’t know exactly when it started. Whenever I walk by a house and smell this I get tears in my eyes.

On the greenway I saw scores of people doing the same thing I was doing—trying to take advantage of the beautiful weather. I ran into a family biking and had to step off the trail because two older women in the group (helmets and all) were a bit wobbly on their bikes. It looked like they hadn’t been bicycling in awhile and were fearful as they slowly rode past me with apprehensive smiles. A few minutes later I met two young parents carefully guiding their preschooler on a bike with training wheels—it was such a dichotomy from the two women I had just encountered. The little boy was all smiles and in no hurry—even though a teenager on a scooter (and not one of those motorized ones) was approaching behind them. I smiled as I recognized the teen as my daughter who wasn’t glued to her phone and was truly happy to be out exercising (she hates bikes but loves that scooter).

The walk wouldn’t have been complete without seeing a dog or two. I nodded at the older man walking his dog while he puffed on his pipe. I swear his dog, an adorable Corgi, smiled at me as I walked by.

It’s amazing what types of ideas and scenes can come to you while you’re doing something as mundane as taking a walk or sitting in a coffee shop. I came home with ideas for essays (the connection between family and food as I thought about my grandmother in Texas who still makes the best tortillas I’ve ever eaten), a YA character whose sensory processing disorder makes her fearful of riding a bike, although she is athletic in other ways, the heart-healthy benefits of owning a dog, etc.

Have you done a similar exercise in observing recently? What ideas did you take away from it?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor whose short story, “The Polaroid,” received first place honors in the Suspense/Thriller category of the 2017 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. Visit her website at

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Interview with Mary Tonne Schaefer: 3rd Place in the Creative Nonfiction Contest (Q1 2017)

Sunday, February 18, 2018
Mary's Bio:

Mary Tonne Schaefer writes short fiction and creative nonfiction from her home in Vienna. Yes, THAT Vienna ... Vienna, VA, fifteen minutes outside Washington, DC. Transplanted from rural beginnings—Rock Rapids, IA—to an ultra-urban area, she explores small-scale universal themes that live in all locales.

Although in “Missing” Mary shares personal freak outs and misadventures created by her growing forgetfulness, her favorite focus is others’ backstage dramas. She best loves sharing glimpses into peoples’ unofficial bios ... spontaneous moments and unrehearsed secrets and struggles that weave the common threads of friendships (and feuds). Earlier efforts submitted to WOW contests are “Trending” (a small family in a rural town faces surprisingly painful diversity conflicts) and “Safe at Home” (an early-Alzheimer’s-afflicted elder causes ripples in the routine of the young family he joins).

Mary says she’s working at embracing living and writing outside her comfort zone ... because life makes her do that anyway! Her recent and improbable response to David Wiencek’s devilishly “impossible” writing prompt appeared in The Nervous Breakdown, Dec. 18, 2017. Her (long-ago) first creative nonfiction publication is “Jury of Peers.”

If you haven’t done so already, check out Mary’s award-winning story “Missing” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing 3rd in the Creative Nonfiction Contest! Was there a particular moment that prompted you to write this piece, or what encouraged you to write it?

Mary: A clutch of conversational “brain drops” forced me to face the issue. My increasingly uncomfortable “tip of the tongue” lapses really bugged me. Despite problems like a plague of frequently forgotten passwords—even to the point of looming email lockout—that kind of problem wasn’t the biggest. On-the-spot verbal “in-alacrity” alarmed me. I rationalized publicly but I couldn’t fool myself that I urgently wanted to keep my words working, so I sat down to “write my way” toward answers in "Missing."

WOW: I like that idea of writing your way towards answers. What was your writing process like for this essay? (How did you start? How did you revise?)

Mary: My operational process was the same (research, write, revise, cut … repeat). But the thought process was different. Although I was dealing with a subject where I needed objective information, what I wanted was a “happy ending.” This was nonfiction—but not someone else’s story. It was my life. Did I even want to explore it, let alone write it? Did proximity color my process? I began as usual, checking out a range of medical research resources. At first, my research query frame reflected my fear: searching on “forgetting” not “memory.” But “memory” turned out to be the way professionals phrase it. And that helped plug me into the positive and begin writing.

WOW: Sounds like an interesting learning process. What did you learn about yourself or your writing through this essay?

Mary: I’m quite private but I’m glad I stepped out and shared instead of continuing to fumble and feel bad. Friends offer, “Same here” and “Welcome to my world.” They need to talk about it too. Research reinforced what I had only hoped was true. My self-diagnosis (not always the best thing, I know) indicates I’m in the normal, neuron-wearing-out pool. But the facts I’ve learned are worth broadcasting, including that possibly up to 30 percent of memory decline cases may be preventable through modification of risk factors and behavioral changes. So, now I’m working on a new piece.

WOW: Oh exciting! I hope it’s something you can share with us when you’re ready. In your bio it says you best love “sharing glimpses into peoples’ unofficial bios ... spontaneous moments and unrehearsed secrets and struggles that weave the common threads of friendships (and feuds).” This is so fascinating! Can you tell us more about this interest and how you observe people and use these concepts in your creative nonfiction?

Mary: Yes, the fiction and nonfiction themes that draw me in are those small pivotal moments of facing what you feel horribly unequipped to deal with or just plain don’t want to look at … but you do. In “Missing” I wrote about my own moments and feelings. I hear the conflicts all around me in everyday life and I think it’s great to have a safe haven (a book, an essay, a personal conversation) to “pull into” to see how another person/character deals with similar issues. If we can find a sensitive way to inject humor or optimism, all the better, so I try for that outlook and tone.

WOW: Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Mary: There are many, many role models but three stand out as inspiring me to try my best to see, feel, capture other moments, subjects and settings, even if the reach exceeds my grasp.

Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek pouring out the small moments--raw, real, difficult, stunning, ugly/beautiful. She opens with her night-marauding tom cat disturbing her sleep, depositing bloody paw prints so her chest appears in daylight as though “painted with roses.”

Chelsey Clammer, especially in her essay Ecstasy within Body Home, reaching out to connect with her father, SHOWING the moment where she opens herself to ask for a response on something important to her. And then, it’s not his answer but their acts of asking and answering, “Now, his words glitter and glow through my skin. That permeable organ, a part of me finally letting a part of him in. A thing I’ve never before done, and I can feel the fact of it conga up and down my back.”

Joanne Beard, in The Fourth State of Matter as she interweaves the unimaginable: real time moments of her marriage disintegration, her disruptive house disrepair, her sadly declining long-time pet and … all this within a single week … with the tragic 1991 shootings of her University of Iowa. graduate school office mates.

WOW: Thanks so much for those recommendations! Anything else you'd like to add?

Mary: Yes, absolutely, I have so much appreciation for WOW for the wonderful, effective, engaging, encouraging teachers and classes and for WOW itself as a forum for publishing! It's great to have the challenge of the contests to try to reach new heights in writing and sharing. Engaging with the teachers and other students is a great experience and gives great depth to the online environment.

WOW: Thank you, Mary, for your wonderful writing and thoughtful responses. Happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.
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Writing Advice From Readers

Saturday, February 17, 2018
It’s that time again! Last year I wrote about what my students wanted to read, and this year I’m back to give you an update.

I spoke with only the most eager of readers to compile this advice – readers of non-fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, paranormal – you name it, they read it. Surprisingly, many of them gave me the same items on their “want” list. Keep in mind, they may be juniors in high school, but they read widely. Some are devoted to young adult literature, but many read books geared towards adults.

So, without further ado – I give you their advice.

1. Share your experiences

This advice is from non-fiction and fiction readers alike. They want the truth – the REAL truth – and they want it in book form. When I asked if they were hoping to relate to the characters, the answers were mixed. Some wanted to get their hands on new experiences. Others were hoping to validate their own. Either way, give them the truth – the whole, ugly truth – and don't sugar-coat it.

2. Revise your villains

Readers are tired of cliché villains. You know the type: pure evil, driven by malice, with no qualms about killing everyone around them. Instead, they want antagonists who are morally gray. Make sure they are good in some ways, but bad in others. Students want to like portions of their personality, but loathe some of their decisions.  Keep the villains real – especially in fantasy.

3. Create morally ambiguous protagonists

While this may seem contrary to what a protagonist should be, that’s what the students want. They are tired of the perfect hero and heroine. Give them someone with questionable morals who we can still root for. Create believable, fallible heroes.  Again – move away from the cliché.

4. Get rid of the weak woman

My romance and fantasy readers were adamant on this one:  Bring on those strong women! They are tired of romance novels that portray women as the weak one in the relationship.  One student advised, too, that sometimes the women will start “cool and strong and interesting,” but become weak once the male takes over. So, keep those women consistently strong.

5. Cool it on the crazy names

As one student so aptly put it, “Why does every character have some weird name like Opal Windstorm? It’s okay to name your protagonist “Cathy.”’ While it can be fun to come up with a name of which no one has ever heard, the readers may be tired of it. Something to consider the next time we start making up names.

6. Every relationship doesn’t have to end in romance

“It’s like salt,” one student said. “We all like a little salt, but once you’ve had too much, you feel sick.” In short, not every relationship has to end in romance. They’d like to see men and women be friends without it crossing over into a romantic relationship. “One romance is okay,” said another student, “but leave it at that. Stop match-making all of the characters.”

There you have it!  No matter your genre, these pieces of advice are all worthy of consideration.  Hopefully their advice will inspire your writing!

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.
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Friday Speak Out!: Fear and the New Writer

Friday, February 16, 2018
by Tiffany Connolly

Fear is a dichotomous entity; it grips my resolve and simultaneously propels me in the right direction. As a “new” woman writer, fear of being judged, being boring, or of creating meaningless discourse is what holds me back from really putting myself out there.

I put “new” in quotation marks because I have successfully engaged in multiple forms of writing my entire life, but only now am I beginning to put effort into introducing my writing to an audience and to hopefully turning writing into a full-time career.

Combatting my self-doubt is a conscious effort that involves being present and mindful of my fear. Fear can hold a special place in the drive toward success; It gives me the determination to produce meaningful content, to seek the right audience and to focus my tenacity in the right direction. I am beginning to learn to use my fear as a catalyst to finding success and not letting it drown me in negative inner dialogue or writing apathy. Grappling with fear and self-doubt requires me to open up to its potential and appreciate it for what it’s worth, without letting it control me. I do my best not to become enveloped in my fear but to be mindful of it; a watcher of my own diffidence. In this way I can analyze its source and question its outcome; inevitably coming to the realization that what I should fear most is not writing, not going public with my words.

My first step in battling this inner turmoil is to join with a group of writers like myself. As a mom to a two year old, fear isn’t the only thing holding me back, it’s lack of time. I’ve begun replacing the phrase, “I don’t have time for (insert any activity here)”, with “(said activity) isn’t a priority” in all areas of my life; with health, work, family, creativity, etc. In essence, that means I am saying that when I don’t have time to write, I am saying that “writing is not a priority”. Well, writing is a priority. And fear can be a heavy beast, but when we harness it and direct it in a positive direction, we become unstoppable.

* * *
Tiffany Connolly is a freelance writer, educator and mother to an inquisitive and rambunctious toddler. She runs an online community of writer-moms, Scribble ‘n Scribe, whose mission is to inspire and encourage moms to carve out time to hone their craft ( Tiffany graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History where she contributed to the school’s newspaper, The Daily Bruin and received her Master’s in Education from Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. She currently teaches high school English in Truckee, CA, where she moonlights as a bass player in an all-girl 90’s cover band.
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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The Good, the Bad and the Really, Really Ugly

Thursday, February 15, 2018
I'm going to start in the middle and work my way out. (Did you really expect me to do something in a traditional way? Really?)

In January I got a brilliant suggestion from J. Glenn. I was in a rut with a manuscript--I was using the coulda-woulda-shoulda excuses instead of actually getting off my scared and cellulite-ridden rump and doing something like working on it so I could submit it. ("It" is my manuscript. Certainly, I need to work on my rear end, but where would I submit it?)

I needed to be held accountable.

If you'd like to read the post, here it is.

J. Glenn encouraged  prodded shoved me into being part of an accountability group. I threw the idea out... and nine writers took the bait. We planned on beginning in February. I got help from a tech-savvy friend--they insisted a Google site would be easy to set up and would serve our needs.

Well, it wasn't. I sweated (not just figuratively) as I went through the same steps for each writer as I created a page for each of them. You'd think doing something over and over would result in me being able to do it without my hand being held... but you underestimate my level of nincompoopness when it comes to computers. Eventually it was ready to roll out.

Unfortunately, it was not as private as I thought it would be. People who were not part of the group could stumble upon it. Because we didn't want our mutual butt kicking to have an audience, Google sites wouldn't work. I had to find another way to do it.

I think (finally) we've found something that's workable. Dropbox Paper allows comments to be made. Only invitees can see the docs. There were some hiccups. For example, I could only invite a certain number of people each day when sharing documents. It took several days, which meant that for a couple of days, a writer or two did not have access to their own document. Also, when cutting and pasting the goals from the Google site into the Dropbox, I screwed up and put the wrong goal onto a writer's page. She got compliments on it--she even noted what a wonderful goal it was... but she also noted it wasn't hers.


The good part? Already I'm seeing incredible connections forming. Writers commenting, "I know an agent who deals with projects like this... I could introduce you" and "What about such-and-such series? It might help you structure your novel" and "I'd love to be your beta reader when you're ready." That's what's going on with the whole group.

And what about me? How has this group impacted me (in just a week or two)?  Well, my manuscript (from 2016) has been gathering dust for months. My first goal: check the tense consistency of the first 25 pages. (I changed the tense midway through and even though I thought I'd gone back and fixed things, I wasn't sure.) Twenty-five pages isn't much, but right now my WIP is single-spaced, so it's about half of the text.) Of course I found other minor things to fix as I checked on the tense consistency. Good news: I've checked over the first half of my manuscript, and plan on doing the rest as my next week's goal. Just the public declaration, "I'm going to ______" got me moving forward.

How about you? What big, year-long goal do you have about your writing?  Don't you want to be nudged forward?

Sioux Roslawski is a procrastinator, along with a teacher, freelance writer and dog rescuer. She's now part of a butt-kicking accountability group, so basking in procrastinating is no longer possible. If you'd like to read more of her musings, you can check out her blog.

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Have a Vicarious Valentine's Day

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Have you ever felt as though you've lived an entire life in a world that exists only in your imagination? Philosophers have explored the idea of two worlds, a theory with many variations, but one that basically divides the world into the realms of the abstract and concrete, or universals and specifics.

Artists play an important role in this theory, charged with building bridges to those worlds we cannot see. Art allows us to explore that invisible world without losing our way or becoming what we fear. It's where we play and experiment and figure out who we are, who we can be, or who we don't want to be. The struggles we face alone are examined through the underlying connection to the larger abstract world, and writing can be a bridge that explores the depths of compassion, empathy, hatred, and love.

A few nights ago, when I should have been grading papers, I came across David Kirby's poem "All Art is the Blues." He summed it all up in the line, "You don't have to go to jail, Johnny Cash went to jail for you, for us all."

Here's the audio version of his poem:

Today is Valentine's Day, and romance is in the air. I know this because in the past few weeks I've seen dozens of attractive couples holding hands in jewelry and matchmaking-website commercials. Love doesn't always end well, though, and books allow us to live vicariously through the mock destruction of our souls without destroying our lives. (Would you really marry a vampire knowing a beach vacation is now completely out of the question? I don't think so.) But you may want to read a sad love story, or experience the bliss of falling in love again. If so, you have many options, including Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights or Anna Karenina.

Artists push the envelope into unfamiliar and often uncomfortable territory. We lead the way through the realm of abstract ideas where we can be brave, compassionate, lovesick, or something equally thrilling or terrifying.

Which imaginary world is real to you?

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and her short story, Shirley and the Apricot Tree, was recently published in Kansas City Voices. She earned the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis, and her poems have been published in numerous journals. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.
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Interview with Kathy Joyce, Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Today we are talking with Kathy Joyce, one of the runner's up in the Summer 2017 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven’t had the chance, make sure you read her incredible story, “Secrets of an Old Maid” and then come back over and read her interview below. 

Kathy’s Bio:

With a certain plan for her life, Kathy started serious fiction writing nineteen years ago. A couple of months later she met her husband. (...plan a wedding, have a family, adopt a few pets, renovate a house, build a business, care for aging parents...) She wrote all those years in between, as President of M. Kathleen Joyce & Associates, serving clients as an organization development consultant, facilitator, and educator.

The fiction laid fallow, but the seeds took root; they now insist on flowering. So, Kathy is pruning a domestic thriller, fertilizing a mystery, and planting other literary seeds. On especially sunny days, she propagates short stories and flash, or sows creative nonfiction. America Magazine has published her essays, and her fiction has won prizes from, Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition (forthcoming), and Pulp Literature (forthcoming).

Kathy lives in Michigan with her teenaged son and daughter, bossy poodle, and very patient husband.

WOW: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Your story was so moving and incredibly sad, but so well told. What inspired this story?

Kathy: Thank you! I loved writing this story. Years ago, I saw a newspaper article about a young couple who bought a home from two elderly sisters. They found an infant’s skeleton hidden in a box. The story stuck with me. Did one of the women have the child? Why did they leave the skeleton in the house? I always assumed that they both knew about the pregnancy, but later, I wondered.

Overlaid on this story is my family history, (which relates to the setting, not the incident). My dad’s family homesteaded in the Dakotas in the late 1800s, and that era and location has always fascinated me. Add a familial propensity for storytelling over generations, and I have so much imagination about that time and place.

WOW: I love that you based this on something you read in the newspaper as well as your family history! I can see you are a busy writer and seem to be working on quite a couple of different books right now. How do you handle these projects on top of everything else in your life?

Kathy: Honestly, this is not something that serves me well. I love spinning a yarn, letting the novel flow. That’s the fun part. But I’ve learned that the payoff writing, the part that gets you to publication, comes in revisions, which don’t enthrall me. So, I start new stories to avoid revising the ones I have! My goal for 2018 is to finish the revisions on my first two manuscripts.

In terms of handling projects, I set goals. A lot of advice says to write every day, but getting daily words on a page is difficult with a business, a family, an elderly parent. So, I’ve expanded the definition of ‘writing’ to include making notes about stories, reading, connecting with other writers, and thinking through plotlines and characters. I let it all matter. So, I feel accomplished, even if word count doesn’t rise every day.

WOW: I can completely relate to avoiding revisions! I struggle with that myself. What is your greatest source of inspiration for your stories?

Kathy: My stories are mostly based on experiences or observations of people. I wonder about why something happened, and create a story. For personal experiences, I try to tell the story from the perspective of someone else in the situation, not me. For example, a man once asked me to buy him a loaf of bread. He had spent the last of his money on medicine, and had no food for his family. When I came out of the store with a bag of groceries, he cried. What must it have been like for him to realize his situation, and make the decision to become a beggar for his family’s sake? That question turned into a nice short story that I’m submitting now.

WOW: I love how you write stories from real experiences, but from another person’s perspective. What is your advice for new writers looking to make their way in short fiction? What is the best advice you've ever been told?

Kathy: I feel like such a new writer myself! I’m not an expert, but I can offer inspiration. First, writing short fiction has honed my writing skills so much! It is very different than writing a novel, but the revising and editing needed for short fiction benefits my longer work. It also gives me encouragement and a sense of accomplishment. I would advise any writer to try a variety of writing. Second, almost every story that I’ve had published or rewarded was rejected somewhere else first. Keep writing and keep submitting.

In the best writing class I ever took, the professor would have us write something, then say, “cut it by half,” or “add fifty words.” I still do that with my work. Once a story is ‘finished,’ I try to reduce the number of words by at least twenty-five percent. The stories always improve. Then I reduce or add words, based on submission guidelines.

WOW: What great advice that professor shared with you! And I couldn't help but notice the gardening metaphors in your bio. Do you like to garden or spend time in nature? How does that inspire you?

Kathy: As a concept, gardening is a life philosophy for me. The truth that things die and come back to life holds so much hope. Winter comes, and spring follows. Always. If plants die, there are infinite other plots to sow. That’s such a powerful idea when things seem lost or hopeless. It applies to writing too. How often do we bury a story because it’s not working, then a little idea sprouts, and soon that same dead story is blooming and growing? Same with rejection. It feels so lousy, but you plant the story somewhere else, and it thrives. I love the idea of growing words into stories, and ideas into plots and characters. Writing can be discouraging, but, in the end, like gardening, it’s lifegiving.

Thank you again Kathy for taking the time to chat with us and for your beautiful story!

Make sure you can find Kathy over at her blog and Twitter @Kathyjoycewrite and her website.

Interview by Nicole Pyles
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The Extroverted Introvert (In Other Words, A Writer)

Monday, February 12, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, this was my horoscope:

An extroverted introvert is a person who is proactively outgoing to avoid being rude though they prefer plenty of time to themselves to recharge and enjoy the hours however they please. Can you relate?

First of all, how is that a horoscope? That’s just a statement, thrown willy-nilly out into the universe.

But second of all, of course I can relate. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as an extroverted introvert until a few years ago, but as soon as I found out about this personality classification, I nodded. That’s me, all right. 

And it’s confusing, I know. I started out life as a total so-shy-I-wouldn’t-speak introvert. I became sociable and outgoing in my adolescence, an extroverted introvert (though I didn’t know it), through sheer will power and doggedness. So I know it’s possible to turn from wallflower to witty life-of-the-party. And now maybe you’re wondering so what? Who cares about extroverted introverts?

Well, perhaps you do, if you’re a writer.

It’s no surprise that many writers lean toward the introverted side of the personality scale. We tend to love introspection and prefer living in our imaginations rather than the real world. Just about every writer I know will admit to thinking up stories while fixing dinner or changing babies or driving to work…um, maybe we shouldn’t admit to that one.

The point is, writers live an interior life. Or would prefer to, if we didn’t have the outside world banging down our doors. And that can be a problem for a writer. Because these days, we have to regularly and purposefully go out those doors and engage with the world if we want to be successful in our writing careers.

This week, I participated in a Twitter party to launch the Chicken Soup for the Soul Miracles and More, and I really, really didn’t want to jump in. Wasn’t it enough that I posted the announcement on my Facebook page and blogged about it?

It was probably better than doing nothing. But I did realize the importance of spreading the word about a new release as far as the Chicken Soup publisher’s business goes, and I knew that if I jumped in, I might gain a couple of new readers and/or followers. So I put on my extroverted pants and waded in.

And I had a lot of fun. That’s the thing about us extroverted introverts. Once we get into the swing of things, we thoroughly enjoy ourselves! Or at least, I do. What starts out at a conference or a workshop or a party as me going so as not to appear rude ends up as something entirely different.

Turns out that in small doses, I like meeting people! I make new friends, and I invariably help my writing business, too. So here’s my advice to introverted introvert writers: follow the “Just for today” philosophy.

You know, like, “Just for today, I’ll go to this conference and I’ll do a little schmoozing.” Or “Just for this evening, I’ll mingle at this party with agents and editors.” Or even, “Just for this hour, I’ll talk to someone I don’t know.”

You can become an extroverted introvert, and you can even enjoy it! And best of all, after that conference, that workshop, that Twitter party, you can fall into your over-stuffed chair with a good book and a cup of tea and not speak to anyone for hours.

(Or maybe that’s just me. You do your own recharge thing, friends. You do you.)

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer and extroverted introvert. See her latest story in Chicken Soup for the Soul's Miracles and More, "God of the Little Things." And if you have interesting stories, go check out the Chicken Soup topics for this year. Maybe she'll see you at the next Twitter par-tay!  (Or come visit Cathy at her blog where she's sorta the life of the party every day.)

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Interview with Judith Sornberger, 2nd Place Creative Non-Fiction Essay Winner

Sunday, February 11, 2018
Today, we welcome Judith Sornberger, who won second place in the Quarter 1 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest. Her winning essay, "White Crane Spreads Her Wings," can be read here if you haven't had a chance yet!

Judith is a poet, essayist, and memoirist whose newest poetry collection Practicing the World is forthcoming in 2018 from CavanKerry Press. Her most recent book, a memoir, is The Accidental Pilgrim: Finding God and His Mother in Tuscany from Shanti Arts Publications. She has one other full-length poetry collection Open Heart (Calyx Books) and five poetry chapbooks, most recently Wal-Mart Orchid, winner of the Helen Kay Prize (Evening Street Press). Sornberger has fallen passionately in love with practicing Tai Chi. She thanks her teacher Karen Meyers for her wise and gentle instruction and for encouraging her to become certified to teach Tai Chi, which she hopes to do in 2018. Judith has taught writing in a wide variety of venues, including prisons, community colleges, arts and community centers, and universities. She is professor emerita of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, where she created the Women’s Studies Program and taught for 25 years. She lives on the side of a mountain in north-central Pennsylvania, where her nearest neighbors are deer, birds, bobcats, and bears.

WOW: Judith, congratulations on your 2nd place win for your essay,  "White Crane Spreads Her Wings." What made you want to write about Tai Chi? 

Judith: For me, both writing and practicing Tai Chi are meditative practices, so once I resumed taking classes, after a hiatus of many years, I found myself linking the two. Both drop me into deep interior spaces.

As a writer, I’m also intrigued and delighted by the language of Tai Chi, which is quite poetic, suggesting connections between the energy of human life and movement and the energies of the natural world and our sister creatures. When I “stand like a tree,” for instance, I feel myself rooted in the earth even as the crown of my head (in the words of my teacher) lifts skyward “like the leader on a pine tree.”

Other movements, like parting the clouds, swallows skim the lake, and wild dove spreads its wings, suggest a direct, physical link between ourselves and the world around us, even if we are inside a Tai Chi studio. This linking reminds me of the use of metaphor in writing.

I began recording the names of some of my favorite Tai Chi movements in my journal and eventually wanted to do more with them. That’s how I began my essay—by playing with these names and quoting my teacher.

WOW: Yes, I really love the way you connected the two. What an awesome idea. Why was this a good subject for a creative non-fiction essay?

Judith: I appreciate the creative nonfiction essay’s malleability and have admired the way that other writers have developed it as a hybrid form, introducing poetic riffs among narrative passages. In this essay, I wanted to work lyrical bits of writing into more prosy segments as a way of representing the way Tai Chi finds its way into my life—in small bits here and there.

WOW: It looks like you also write poetry and have had success getting poems published and winning awards. What are a couple tips you can give to our poetry writers out there?

Judith: I’m guessing you mean tips about publishing. It helps to pay attention to where some of your favorite poets—ones whose work you particularly resonate with—publish their work (journals, book presses, etc.). Read sample issues of these journals and books from these presses to see if you feel like your poems might fit with the editors’ aesthetics.

It’s always helped me to network with other poets—sometimes in a poetry group (sharing and critiquing our work) and sometimes with individual poets, long distance. In addition to helping each other improve our poems through suggested revisions, we are good resources for one another, providing ideas and opinions about possible markets for our work. For instance, my poet friend Alison Townsend worked with me on my poetry book manuscript Practicing the World and later suggested I send it to CavanKerry Press since she thought it would fit well into their list. And it’s turned out that CavanKerry is publishing the book this spring.

My final “tip” would be to try to be impervious to rejection, which is much easier said than done, I know. Most writers receive rejections on a regular basis. I certainly do. But I try to always have a lot of poems and essays out there making the rounds so that one rejection doesn’t bottom me out.

WOW: That is some great advice, especially about having the support system. You also have done some teaching of writing in various places. What is a writing lesson you hope all students learn from you?

Judith: That the best teachers are poems, essays, and books of all kinds. Reading widely and deeply is not only rewarding in itself, but it’s also a way of growing one’s writing. Someone once said (or wrote), that if you admire a certain quality in a writer’s work—Virginia Woolf’s narrative structure, Barbara Crooker’s lush translations of quotidian moments into poems, Mary Oliver’s intense focus on the smallest of nature’s creatures—you are probably capable of doing something like what they do. The object isn’t to copy their work, of course. But being able to understand what a writer is doing technically may indicate that you can do something like it. I can’t swear that it works that way, but it seems a hopeful, and possibly helpful, notion.

Having said all that, I have been enormously blessed in my teachers and continue to be in the teachers of online courses that I continue to take, such as those offered by Women on Writing. I hope that I have passed on to my students a thirst for learning. In Tai Chi, for instance, you might learn the Sun Form in just a few months, but you return to it again and again in your classes, even over a period of years, to go deeper into the practice and to learn the subtleties of breath and movement. As in Tai Chi, there is always something new to learn about writing and its possibilities

WOW: All of what you said is so true. Just this past week, we have had a few posts on the importance of reading when you are a writer. So, what are you currently working on? What's next for you?

Judith: I’m working on revamping a poetry book manuscript called The Long Habit of Bowing.
I’m also working on a collection of essays about women and their desks, tentatively titled A Desk of One’s Own. In these essays, I weave together stories of the desks of some famous women writers—such as Louisa May Alcott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton—with stories of my own desks and the desks of my ancestors, mentors, and friends. The desks become lenses for examining the lives and writings of these women.

WOW: That sounds really interesting. We will have to keep our eyes open for both of those. Thank you, Judith, and best of luck to you!

Judith: Thank you for this opportunity. It’s actually given me an idea about writing an essay on Tai Chi and writing!
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