My Messy House...

Monday, September 30, 2019
Here it is, another Monday morning. I ran out of the house without finishing my usual routine. One of the kiddos forgot their show and tell so there's a little extra fuel consumption, but even without the extra trip to the elementary school, I am vowing until the end of the year that I will have a messy house. Feel free to read that again.


I actually will make notes for myself  so I am not too terribly tempted to clean. I guess I should clarify - I'm still planning on feeding the children, washing the dishes, and vacuuming up the pet hair. However, I won't be going through closets and drawers in an attempt to deep clean and organize. I am preparing for NaNoWriMo and recently read a compelling article about how cleaning can often stand in the way of writing. I am going to resist the urge for unnecessary interruptions. You've been warned! If a messy house isn't your cup of tea, maybe you should avoid the Otto house until we have the tree up and there's snow in the yard.

That brings me to ask you, dear readers and friends:

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What are your goals?

Does something seem to always get in your way when you start writing? What is it for you? How do you plan to stay focused this month, this year, and moving forward?

I'm sort of combining a few things into this note and as the holiday season is fast approaching, I'm curious if any of you are giving books as gifts? If so, could you please leave a comment with a book that has recently touched your heart and explain a bit of why? Then - if there's a particular book you will be giving as a gift, leave that title and reason as well. I'm hoping for lots of help this holiday season - and if you are an author and you want to leave the title of your latest book as a suggestion, there's nothing wrong with a little self-promotion.

I have a few books on order at our local book shop and the lovely Bev Denor at LaDeDa Books and Beans always gives me suggestions for gift books, and I also received a copy of Jennifer Snow's latest release, so my list begins! Now let's hear yours!


Crystal is a secretary, council secretary, financial secretary, and musician at her church, birth mother, Auntie, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children, two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, horses Princess and Paige, and over 250 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Why I Returned to Hippocamp

Saturday, September 28, 2019

By Christy O’Callaghan

The draw of Hippocamp goes beyond the craft and business workshops, which are plentiful, but for me it was all about the people. The interactions with the other attendees my first year made all the difference and brought me back for a second. Hippocamp is a conference put on by Hippocampus Magazine with a focus on non-fiction writers. I, like many people, don’t have the time or money to spend on something that doesn’t offer a benefit, so returning for a second time is a big deal.

The rapid-fire workshops run in forty-five-minute session all day Saturday and Sunday morning and are packed with information. There are four options per time slot with a mixture of craft and business. At this point in time, anyone who is in a creative field is also a businessperson. Out of the nine I attended last year I had one workshop I felt wasn’t great. That’s not bad. This year I walked away with some nugget of information from every single workshop. The ones I attended ranged from improving my Instagram platform, to the need for a writer’s website, to lyrical essay styles, meditative writing, how to manage my Imposter Syndrome (that terrible voice in my head), and how to read as a writer. I met up with friends in between workshops to share what we learned.

Last year the only person I knew was my husband who tagged along as a guest. For a small fee guests can attend the evening events and the meals. This was a feature I appreciated since writing has become an important part of my life and it allowed my partner to participate. During the workshops however, I was able to focus and network. This time, I knew some fellow attendees from the previous year. Two of my fellow workshop mates from a different program were also there, one was even a presenter. I finally met in real life an Instagram friend I’ve known for almost two years. As the weekend progressed, I watched attendees run into friends they hadn’t seen since their MFAs. These human connections, I’m discovering, are amazing and vital.

Attending something like this is always reminiscent of summer camp. You have those returning campers who already know each other as well as all the camp stories and songs and where all the bathrooms are located. Then you have the first timers, which is made a little more obvious since it says so on their badge. I remember my first year at the Friday night potato bar as I filled my martini glass just hoping I’d meet people before the end of the weekend. By Sunday breakfast, though everyone’s relaxed and saving seats for new friends.

The Saturday night keynote speaker was Nick Flynn. He was open and sharing about his struggles with homelessness, recovery, and figuring out how to be a father. Isn’t this what non-fiction is all about? Sharing, connecting, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable so that we and others can feel less alone. I found him inspiring and relatable. While I waited in line for him sign my copy of his memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, I texted with my sister who is in the early stages of recovery and potentially facing jail time and told her about Nick. When it was my turn I told him about my sister. He wanted me to share with her that he was proud of her and he knew how hard it was. These words meant everything to her, which in turn meant everything to me.

Over my two years at Hippocamp, I learned several lessons about myself as a writer through both the workshops and my interactions with fellow attendees. One is that I need to take myself seriously. If I don’t who will? Another was that I needed business cards. I am now on my second run and made them to match the website which I started this past spring. Last year I listened to an over forty panel that helped me think about my place in this business as someone who is starting out twenty years later than I expected. I even starting a blog about it. Another workshop introduced me to WOW! Women on Writing which couldn’t make me happier. This year with the added knowledge I gained, I’m planning to build off the platform I’ve started and who knows what will happen by next August.

Yes, there was a lot to learn, such as the difference between a braided and hermit crab lyrical essay. To not say “welcome to my webpage” on you website. To slow down when you read so you can learn from that author. However, for me, what has made the difference is feeling a part of a community. Returning for a second year gave me the chance to thank a fellow attendee I met last year. She could tell I felt overwhelmed, but also wanted to learn. Her conversations and advice made all the difference for me. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to thank her in person.

Hippocamp Conference takes place the last weekend of August in Lancaster, PA. To learn more go to Hippocampus Magazine has a 3-fold mission to entertain, educate, and engage. They focus on providing a platform for established and emerging non-fiction writers not only through the conference, but through their magazines, contests, and book division. For more information go to


Christy O’Callaghan lives in Upstate, New York. She works with incarcerated adults seeking employment. Her favorite pastimes include hiking, gardening, swimming, and collecting sea glass—anything in the fresh air. You can learn more about her, her blog about being an over 40 newbie writer, and her work at
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Introducing Shelly X. Leonn, YA Thriller Author Who Began on Wattpad

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Muffin readers, we are so excited to share with you today this interview with Shelly X. Leonn, who is a YA thriller writer with her first book out two days ago! She started on Wattpad, which is where she also found her agent. She is cool and positive and hosts a podcast, where she might want to interview you. Plus, through exchanging emails when Angela asked if I wanted to interview her, we discovered in this weird universe of ours that our kids go TO THE SAME SCHOOL! :) Read this delightful interview to find out about Shelly's book, what else she's working on, and her path to publication.

WOW: Congratulations, Shelly, on your debut novel just coming out, titled The Ghost and the Wolf , part of  The Broken series. Please tell us about your book--genre, audience, a bit about the plot.

Shelly: Greetings! Thank you so much. It's been a whirlwind, and I'm so grateful to everyone who has helped me along on my journey. My first novel is part of a trilogy. I wrote all three books after finishing my doctoral program because I wanted to write something just for me. I had a story in my head, and I had to get it out. This young adult thriller novel is about a secret organization of teenage urban explorers. Urban explorers, also called #urbexers, are people who discover, enter, and usually photograph abandoned buildings. My characters are teens who feel they've been rejected by society; so they, in turn, gravitate to the places that have been forgotten by society. Everything turns upside down when the characters realize the group leaders have destructive end goals in mind for the organization.

WOW: Sounds amazing! A cool setting and adventure and intrigue--plus a new hashtag I'm sure many of us just learned--#urbexers. How does it feel to be releasing book one into the world?

Shelly: I'm not sure when it's going to sink in, to be honest! It still doesn't feel real. I wrote the books mostly for myself. Then, I passed them around to some family members and friends. Only after I posted them on a whim on Wattpad did I realize my stories could be enjoyed by more than my personal acquaintances! Now, I'm hoping that others, especially young people, can relate to my characters, sympathize with their struggles, and appreciate what someone who has experienced trauma has to ensure on a daily basis. If just one person takes that away from my novel, I'll be satisfied.

WOW: That's awesome! Wattpad is a great platform for many aspiring writers. You are agented by Stephanie Hansen at Metamorphosis Literary Agency. Why did you decide to go the traditional route and how did you land an agent?

Shelly: Stephanie is the best agent anyone could ask for. She's been in my corner since the very beginning, and she believes in my characters as well as my stories, which sometimes can be rather dark or weird! Another Metamorphosis agent discovered me by chance on Wattpad. They said my story had everything a "good" YA novel is supposed to include. I didn't know this when I set out to write it—I was just trying to tell a cool story. I'm still a little blown away by the whole thing.

WOW: This is an amazing story, and so cool! I love when people are jsut doing their thing and then get discovered! We know you are getting started in the publishing world, but what kind of marketing have you done before the book came out and on the book birthday?

Shelly: I had a big following on Wattpad before moving into traditional publishing. Also, I make a lot of my own graphics on Instagram. I enjoy playing with different fonts, backgrounds, and animations to bring the creepy, moody tone of my books to life. Finally, my best friend and I have a podcast! It's called The Writers XL. We are always looking for new people to profile, so come find us and tell us why you would make a great guest!

WOW: Thanks for inviting some of our readers to possibly show up on your podcast. (Link above, interested possible podcast guests) Besides writing, your bio mentions that you also are a teacher of language arts and an adjunct professor. What is it like working with both teenagers and college-age students? What do you notice about them and their writing?

Shelly: Wow, I love this question. Teenagers are often way more agreeable and open during the editing process than adults! I think adults are not used to being "taught," whereas teenagers understand they are in school to learn. Also, teaching adults has made me much more forgiving of my students and their common grammar errors because adults are often guilty of the same sins!

WOW: YES! That is so true, and I love the positive attitude you have for teeangers. We need that attitude for our teens from their leaders and teachers. So, What's next for you?

Shelly: I'm writing my fifth book titled Cabin Redemption. It is a YA psychological horror, and I'm so, so excited about it. I'm also editing my fourth book, a YA paranormal adventure titled The Nefarious Nine. Also, my two sons, my family, and I are always seeking new crazy adventures.

WOW: You sound like you have a full, wonderfully crazy, fun plate. Where can interested readers find you and your work? Website? Social media?

Shelly: Check me out in Instagram @shellyxleonn. My website is
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My Latest Writing Challenge: The Writer's Bio

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

You'd think telling people about myself would be one of the easiest things to do. Yet, recently when someone asked me to send along my bio to be published with an article I sent them, I realized how difficult it was to summarize myself in just a few sentences.

To be honest, my writing biography changes quite a bit. It is based on what I feel at any given moment. Let me walk you through my thought process a little bit.

I often start out describing myself in some way. It can vary to some degree. Sometimes I'll refer to myself as a writer and blogger. Sometimes I'll say I'm a freelance writer. Occasionally I will say that I live in the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes I'll be daring and say that I live in Oregon.

Then we get down to publications. I often wonder what counts. The blogs I've written for? The articles published? And when I decide to pick and choose what I'm comfortable with saying, I wonder what should be added next. Hobbies? Interests? My preference for grocery delivery services over shopping in person? My enjoyment of social media contests? The new way I've organized my bookshelf?

Then last comes the links. I usually add Twitter (if you follow me anywhere else on social media, you will be disappointed by my lack of interest in posting). Then next comes the decision between adding my semi-regularly updated book blog or my writing portfolio. I always waver about which one to include.

On the subject of writing a writer's bio, I have little advice to share. Google is rife with advice written about this the very issue. And no matter how many articles I read on how to do this better, I'm not sure writing my writer's bio will suddenly become easy. It reminds me of the times I'll apply to a job online and they'll ask me to share something unique about myself in 150 characters or less. The pressure in that seemingly simple request is so high.

What writing challenges have you uncovered lately? Do you have any advice to share on how to write the writer's bio better?

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Interview with Christa Fairfield, Spring 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Christa’s Bio:

Christa loves fountain pens, the subtle differences in the texture of paper, ocean waves lulling her into an afternoon nap and her dog Meeka.

She believes in the magic of people writing together to find their stories and community. She is an Amherst Writers and Artist (AWA) workshop leader and treasures her time facilitating writing groups and retreats.

She lives in Northern California with her husband and dog where she has spent the majority of her career working in management, first in the semiconductor industry and now in a non-profit.

She writes short stories and imagines one day making a living putting words to paper. Until she gets there she keeps a blog of all that catches her fancy at

If you haven’t already read Christa’s story, “Morning Breaks,” take the time to do so and then read on to learn a bit about Christa and her writing.

WOW: In “Morning Breaks,” I feel like you’ve created a story a lot of readers will understand. Even if they haven’t experienced substance abuse, they understand regret and the drive to do better. What was the inspiration behind this story?

Christa: The inspiration came from the sharing of a woman I knew a number of years ago. Her story stayed with me for years and felt so much bigger than substance abuse. I think everyone has experienced destructive behavior patterns (destructive to them and their relationships) that seem beyond repair and change. Yet, we all struggle to make those changes for ourselves. It can feel imperative that we make the change and feel we can do it. But actually, stopping a destructive behavior is difficult and can feel impossible. But hope is always there. That’s what I wanted to write about.

WOW: With such a short word count, every word in a flash story has to count. How did you decide what details to include in the story and what to omit? How were these choices influenced by what Liz can and cannot remember about the night before?

Christa: The original draft had flash backs of the night before with one of the daughters. It also had reflections of discussions between Liz and her mother. Those elements gave additional depth and understanding to Liz’s lacking self-esteem. But in the end, that material didn’t seem necessary for the story—which was “Liz’s” struggle. The story ended up not being about how we get to where we are but what we do when we are there.

WOW: Liz is someone struggling to change. How did this story change from the first draft to the story that we’ve all read?

Christa: The whole story came to me like a movie. I could feel and see her up until the end when she opened the cabinet for the aspirin. The first ending had her take the vodka bottle out. I left Liz there for several months. But it just didn’t feel right. I have a fellow Amherst Writer leader who encourages writers to tend to their work until it has taught them all it can. I love and trust that wisdom. So I stayed with the piece, revising and changing until I found the ending that felt true to where Liz was and expressed the hope that she believed in.

WOW: How does your role as a workshop leader impact your own writing in general? More specifically, how did it impact this particular story?

Christa: The Amherst Writers and Artists’ (AWA) method provides writers a place to explore and develop their voice in a safe community. Having that space has really allowed me to show up at the page and let the stories come to me. I find the blank page can be a scary place and stories like Liz’s can be hesitant in revealing themselves.

In Liz’s story, I had to cut down half the word count of what had been a final draft. One of the practices in the AWA method is sharing the answers to: what works and what’s strong? As I sat with the full draft, I just kept asking myself—What works? What’s strong? And in the repetition of the questions, I discovered the essence of the story and deleted the rest. It was a repetitive process but a valuable exercise.

WOW: What works? What’s strong? What a great way to narrow down what needs to remain in the story. Where should our readers look for your work in the days and months to come? What are your future goals as a writer?

Christa: Finding a home for my stories is a vulnerable and scary endeavor but one I really want to have the courage to pursue. Being a runner up for the WOW contest has inspired me. I will expand my efforts to publish my work. I’m working on a new blog where I will post prompts and writing inspirations, along with some of my own writing. If people are interested in learning more, they can email me at Until then, people can find some of work on my current blog-

WOW: Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions and for giving our readers tips on how to make their various stories, whether flash or not, as strong as they can be. Congratulations again and good luck on your writing!
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Decluttering: Knowing What to Toss from Your Writing

Monday, September 23, 2019
Last week, I was reading a blog post about decluttering your kitchen. The object of the overall challenge is to declutter your house in a month. The author provided a list of kitchen items to toss. I was surprised how applicable the list was not only to my kitchen but also to my current writing project.

Novelty items or other things you senselessly save. In the kitchen, this is the cute useless thing you never get out but haven’t gotten rid of. I own a set of wooden mice from Finland that you use to decorate a cheese.

In my writing, I also hold on to “novelty items.” Often they are the odd facts that started my research into a particular topic. Last week, I read about female gendered references to the Holy Spirit in the early church. Now I’m researching Syrian fifth century Christianity and the poetry from this tradition. 

I can see this leading to a piece of historic fiction but I’m going to have to be careful not to try to use every fantastic fact that I found in my research. I know myself well enough to know that many of these facts will find their way into early drafts but will later have to be cut.

Get rid of duplicates. My kitchen is apparently where unwanted water bottles come to spend eternity.

Duplicates also find their way into my writing. Sometimes I use the same fact two or three times in a single piece. Early in my writing career I decided this strengthened my point, but really I’m just repeating myself. The duplicates need to go. 

 If I need to include a fact in paragraph number three and paragraph number seven, I need to find two different facts.

Things that belong somewhere else. In addition to water bottles, I found buffing pads, a hammer, and pair of pliers.

In addition to getting rid of duplicate facts, I need to get rid of the facts that don’t belong in this particular piece of writing. This was a big problem when I wrote The Dark Web for readers in the 4th to 8th grade. A lot of what I found was just too dark, suitable only for much older readers. 

It doesn’t matter how marvelous an individual fact is (think cheese mice), if it doesn’t belong in this piece of writing it needs to go.

Expired items. Tired old spices, fruit snacks from a by-gone era, and chili paste that has turned an interesting new color all need to leave my kitchen and be replaced with something fresh and new.

The facts we use in our writing need to be just as fresh even if we write about ancient topics. Last year, I wrote The Evolution of Reptiles and The Evolution of Mammals. Several facts I had learned in college had been tossed out as knowledge was updated by gene sequencing. It doesn’t matter if I could find these tired, old facts in print, they were expired and needed to be replaced.

Whether you are talking about your home or your writing, get rid of the clutter. When you do, what remains will sing.


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 September 23rd, 2019.
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Interview with Brigitte Watson: 2019 Q3 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, September 22, 2019
Brigitte’s Bio:

Brigitte Watson hails from Montreal, Quebec, Canada where she’s lived her whole life. She began writing stories a year and a half ago when she joined a memoir writing class at her local library. This will be the first time one of her stories is being published. Brigitte has studied in Fine Arts, Women’s Studies, Midwifery and Psychology. For a while, she dabbled in tattooing. Her goal is to write a graphic memoir.

If you haven't done so already, check out Brigitte's award-winning story "Waking Up" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q3 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?

Brigitte: I began this piece because I'd been writing stories about grief and loss. I was ready to lighten things up a bit. This story evolved quite a bit. With each revision (and there were many), I saw that I needed more specific details, or dig deeper into a scene. The experience from start to finish was interesting because I had no clue that the story would grow into what it became. Sure, I had the event to write from, but I was surprised to see the end result. I didn't think I could do that. Now the trick is to do it again!

WOW: It’s lovely to be able to surprise yourself like that with what you can accomplish and create! What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Brigitte: I don't like to dig deeper on paper. Revealing my feelings and thoughts and desires is scary and hard, even in a little piece like Waking Up. I want it to be easy and it's not! What I learned about my writing is that I'm better than I thought I was but I'm still not entirely convinced. It depends on the day, actually. And that if I want to be a better writer, I have to work harder and harder which feels daunting. I often ask myself, "Do I have what it takes to stick with this?"

WOW: I think questioning one’s skills and endurance as a writer is something many other writers can relate to. Do you think there’s any connection between your yoga practice and your writing practice? If so, how do you think one affects the other?

Brigitte: The connection is that word "practice." Both yoga and writing take time and commitment. Of coming back to the mat or the desk every day and giving it the best I've got. I do think one affects the other because it reinforces good habits and being on the path to improving myself, whether it's spiritually, physically, mentally or even creatively.

WOW: I like that you think of them both as a “practice,” which helps me consider my writing “practice” in a new way. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Brigitte: I am a big fan of Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, David Sedaris, and Truman Capote, to name but a few! Their intelligence, wit, and vision inspire to think outside the box of my little world. To make connections to things I never thought of. To reach higher, like in my story.

WOW: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Brigitte: Well, since I've only started writing a year and a half ago, I am my younger writing self! I do tell myself over and over to keep at it, bit by bit and it doesn't matter if it's good or not. Just keep going.

WOW: Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. And thank you for sharing your writing with us!

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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Entering a Different Season of Writing

Saturday, September 21, 2019
Warning: When your kids start driving you may not know what to do with yourself.

Yesterday morning, I got up a little early because I wanted to make Belgian waffles for my kids as a celebratory end of a long week. I’m more relaxed in the mornings these days. I help them organize their lunches (I know, I should stop doing that as they are both teenagers!), sip my coffee, spend a few minutes snuggling with my dogs. I even have time to write in my journal before an 8 a.m. workout.

I’ve entered a different season of my life. I have a teenage driver, and she has become responsible for driving she and her brother to school. They pull out of the driveway around 7:30 a.m., and because I work from home, I’ve instantly received an hour of my day back that I used to spend driving them to school.

The school my kids go to doesn’t have a bus system, so I spent many, many years driving them to school and picking them up in the afternoon and shuttling them to activities. Now, my daughter can drive herself to her sports practice and my son has a carpool that I only drive one day a week. That's another hour or hour and a half I've gotten back in the afternoons, too. There are days when I look up from the clock after working for what seems like hours on my computer and see it’s only 10 a.m.

Don’t get me wrong. I worry every time they get in the car. The worry is alleviated a bit because they only have about three miles to go to reach school and it’s all secondary roads for the most part. I try to tell myself she needs the driving practice, and every time she gets behind the wheel she’ll improve even more. (I have on my calendar to sign her up for a defensive driving class this fall). But for so many years, I spent hours behind the wheel, sitting in carpool lines, helping pick up other people’s kids, working part-time editorial jobs and taking on freelance assignments because I was determined to be both a good mom and a writer. There were days when I only had three or four hours to work during the day, which meant I stayed up late at night trying to finish assignments.

I thought those days when my kids were little would never end, and I’d never find time to be productive. But you blink and then they are 13 and 16, and coming home and asking you how your day went. The other day my son texted me to give me a head’s up he had bombed a math quiz. I texted him back, “Maybe this will make you feel better. This morning I have written an article about tackle football (450 words), an article about a local jewelry maker (250 words), my editor’s column (450 words), a write-up about a pumpkin patch (250 words), and I still have one more thing to write. He texted back simply, “Wow.”

This was all before lunchtime.

I’m enjoying this new season of my life, and will relish this time when my daughter uses any excuse to drive somewhere, even if it’s to pick up her brother from the YMCA or a friend’s house. It’s been a long journey to get here, and I’m going to relish these years where I still have them here, but they have less physical needs, and focus on all the writing projects I’ve put on the back burner for so long. It’s only fair, right?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor. Her young adult novel, Between, is available on the digital platform, Wattpad. Learn more about Renee here.
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Friday Speak Out!: American Ninja Warriors Remind Me of Writers

Friday, September 20, 2019
by Denise Scott

Time to fess up. Is the TV show American Ninja Warrior (ANW) one of your secret guilty pleasures? NBC promotes it as a “high octane obstacle course competition.” My grandma used to watch TV wrestling from her rocker, cheering and grimacing as if she had a ringside seat at the event. That’s how I watch American Ninja Warrior.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, the personal narratives draw you in. Kenny Niemitalo’s little girl needed a kidney and a viewer donated one. Now Kenny helps other children find kidney donors. Jessie Graff has broken many records on the course and is a professional stuntwoman, appearing in movies such as Wonder Woman. Like ANW participants, writers have a purpose and a story to tell.

Ninjas practice in order to succeed. They don’t just sign up, qualify, and hit the course. They work out every day at the gym or in their backyard. The Eskimo Ninja leaps from iceberg to iceberg. To succeed, writers must practice their craft. Get on your desktop or laptop and begin! Turn your rough draft into a final draft and enter your work in a contest or submit it to a magazine or blog.

Writers, like ANW participants, compete—for online-publication space, for shelf space, or for first place in a contest. Not everyone wins the million-dollar prize or becomes a bestselling author. We pitch, we query, and we propose. It’s scary because we might fail. What if we don’t beat the wall or hit the buzzer?

Contestants face obstacles and so do we. How does one overcome writer’s block? One agent has a solution I can relate to, cry. After that, try writing prompts or a physical activity such as walking to stimulate your brain. How do you get back on the course after a rejection? My goal is to follow a recent tip. Submit to several places, not just one. Then if I receive a rejection, I still have hope that one of the other possibilities will produce results. More than one ninja has gotten stuck on one particular obstacle—the Jeep Run or the Double Dipper. Host Akbar Gbaja-Biamila has authored a book titled Everyone Can Be a Ninja: Find Your Inner Warrior and Achieve Your Dreams. So writers, find your inner warrior and persevere; there are no shortcuts.

Competitors are part of a community of ninjas who know what’s required, who understand the struggle, who support and celebrate with one another. If we’re not part of a community, we should be. They can be messy, but they’re healthy. My critique group corrects my mistakes, offers suggestions for improvement, shares expertise and resources, and encourages.

Ninjas celebrate incremental successes, moving past the onerous obstacle that repeatedly caused them to fall short. We may not always experience the success of hitting the buzzer, but when we do, like the ninjas, we thunder a primal scream of victory!

* * *
Denise Scott’s Bio: Sadly, I am entertained by crime and talent shows and predictable romance movies. I like to read, teach, hike and do yardwork. Occasionally, with the nudge of friends, I step into an adventure such as zip lining or skydiving.
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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No More Mrs. Potato(head)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

It's hard to avoid. As a part-time writer, I sit a lot. You know the mantra: butt in chair. If you're not sitting down, it's tough to write.

I also read. A lot. That's crucial to writers too: you have to read a great deal to develop your writing craft.

And if you're past your 30s, if you're 40-something or you're in your 50s and definitely if you're 60-something, you discover (fat roll by fat roll) that all that sitting makes the writer start to resemble a potato.

This summer my bad horrible catastrophe shameful eating habits came to a screeching halt. I'd avoided getting a true physical for several years, but never avoided indulging in treating myself when work got stressful or when there was a reason to "celebrate" (making me an equal-opportunity overeater). Potatoes (could that be called cannibalism?). Chocolate. Bread. And lots of sedentary activities (like writing, reading and TV watching). It all led to a hat-trick nobody wants.

High blood pressure (it had previously been amazingly low). High cholesterol. And diabetes (type 2).

Although I was mad that now I'd have to invest in one of those old people pill organizers (me, who hates to even take an aspirin), the diagnosis was a good thing. I've changed my lifestyle--which is something writers need to examine. What is your lifestyle like? Your choices might be hindering your writing progress.

When I searched the internet for "writers' issues" I found a number of lists. One issue resonated with me: taking care of myself so I can take care of writing.

What can I do as far as self-care? Here's a few things:
  • Part of taking care of myself is exercise. If I let myself go until I look not like a potato but instead like a whole bag of potatoes, I won't be writing too much longer. I'll be in a vegetative state. Or dead. And that terrifies me. I have at least a couple of books in me. One is finished but not yet published. One is only begun. I'm 60. I have a limited amount of time left. 
          If I start to exercise, the blood flow will improve, which means blood will head to my brain 
          along with going to my lardy butt other body parts.

          Also, endorphins are released during exercise, and endorphins are always a good thing. I'm still
          working on finding an exercise regime that works for me... but exercise is going to be a part of
          my new lifestyle.
  • Eat decent food. For the last couple of months, I have the same thing for breakfast: a smoothie. It is not the most delicious thing, but I've gotten used to it. I throw in a few strawberries, a handful of blueberries, half a banana, a handful of fresh spinach, a carrot, some low-fat (plain) Greek yogurt and some milk. For other meals I try to stay away from white bread; instead, I do my best to opt for salads (homemade dressing) topped with candied walnuts croutons cheese salmon. I sometimes indulge in things I shouldn't, but I make it the exception instead of the rule.
  • Don't sleep your writing time away. If writing is your full-time job, you might think it's okay to sleep in late. However, perhaps those early morning hours, when everyone else in the house is asleep, is your most productive writing time. Get up early and write for 30 minutes. An hour. Or be an owl. When the larks go to sleep, stay up and write a bit.
  • Seek out emotional encouragement--from yourself as well as from others. You've got to keep yourself moving forward, even if nobody else is around to encourage you. When you do have friends and family who are cheer leading for you, enjoy it... and know that you're deserving of it.
Just like I'm growing as a writer, as a storyteller, I'm also growing as a human. Sadly, it's taken 60 years for some lessons to sink in but hopefully, the next 10 or 20 years will be marked by better choices... and me taking better care of me.

Sioux Roslawski is evolving. She's a middle school teacher, a slacker-of-a-writer, and a dog rescuer. If you'd like to read more about her, check out her blog.

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Why Wait?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019
As I was growing up, we had a family tradition where we would go "treeing" during the Christmas Holiday season. We went from house to house looking at everyone's trees, talking about the lovely presents, and eating delicious food. I believe the adults had a few cocktails, and it was a chance for the children to enjoy a soda pop with their cousins. My Auntie Joyce and Uncle Eugene had the most lovely white crushed velvet furniture. I always wanted to touch the fabric, but could never do so as it was covered in clear plastic. I was so tempted to stick a pointy child finger through the plastic just to feel a small portion of the fabric, but I never did. Year after year on the way home, I'd ask my parents about the elegant furniture in the formal sitting room. My dad would respond "I'm not sure what they're saving everything for - may as well enjoy it, you can't take it with you. Why wait?".

My dad was by no means careless with his belongings or his relationships. He made the most of everyday but he also figured he may as well enjoy the things he worked for. Our house was made to be lived in. We had dark colored furniture and on Friday evenings we would sit on the couch and eat pizza and popcorn while watching a movie. My Aunt and Uncle never used the sitting room or the furniture in that room. My Uncle passed away decades ago and my Aunt has likely never sat her bum on the soft fabric of her own couch or loveseat. I wonder if they regret waiting...I'll never know...

I learned many lessons during "treeing" (including how to mix the perfect martini), but the one I want to pass along today is about waiting. Let me ask you this:


Why wait until your manuscript is perfect to show it to someone? Why wait to use the good china? Why wait until you have more time to start writing your novel? Why wait to tell someone how you feel about them?

As I write today's article, I am sipping tea out of a ridiculously expensive tea set. I handled the fragile china cup to my almost 2 year old. She likes tea and she finished off the cup and clumsily handed it back to me. The cup could break, but that's a chance I'm willing to take. I'm not waiting until the children are grown or the occasion is right - I refuse to wait. I'm working on my novel and it's a hot mess (so am I for that matter) but I'm not waiting to talk about it and share it. Life is too short to wait. Sit on the couch, use the good china, share your writing, and get out there and do what brings you joy!

We love to hear from readers - leave a comment answering one (or all) of the following:

*What have you been waiting to do? What are you waiting for?

*What Holiday tradition was most memorable for you as a child?

*Do you have any funny family stories from the holidays or family gatherings?

Crystal is a secretary, council secretary, financial secretary, and musician at her church, birth mother, Auntie, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children (Carmen 12, Andre 11, Breccan 5, Delphine 4, and baby Eudora who somehow turns 2 later this year), 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 here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Interview with Jerri Jerreat: Spring 2019 Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Jerri’s Bio:

Jerri is a social justice and environmental activist, and writes fiction, both good and terrible, for joy. She is inspired by her family, her ten-year-old students, and a number of kick-ass non-profit groups.

Her fiction has appeared in The Penmen Review, (pending), Everyday Fiction, The Ottawa Arts Review, The Yale Review Online, The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, Room and is in two anthologies, Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers (World Weaver Press) and Nevertheless: Tesseracts 21 (Edge Publishing). She mentors her students to write and perform a play each year and was honoured that her own play was performed in the Newmarket National Play Festival, July 2019. The actors were magnificent. She can be found at

If you haven't done so already, check out Jerri's award winning story "Waves" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Spring 2019 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Jerri: When I write, I am diving into myself. It’s a bit like falling into a dream. I read a variety of fiction in different genres, and nonfiction for teaching, or newsletters from Ecojustice, and a news magazine, Macleans. I listen to the CBC news. I talk with young students most of the day, with adults around that, go for walks and do errands. Life! Then, all these thoughts and images simmer together. When I sit down to do a 15-minute writing exercise I never know what will emerge. It’s so interesting to see how things kaleidoscope.

I have been drawn to reading articles and books about refugees for the past few years. Still, it was exciting, to feel a girl’s voice, fleeing from a war, bubbling up inside.

This particular tiny story emerged long after I began reading about the kindness and the cruelty of strangers toward modern refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea. It is still happening. Just this week I received a newsletter from the U.N. group that works with refugees around the world, (U.N.H.C.R.). There was a news article about one of the survivors of an event in 2016 wherein pirates deliberately sunk a boat, killing over 500 people who were fleeing war.

I highly recommend the film, “Human Flow.” The numbers of people presently fleeing their homes because of war or climate change/famine is something we all need to be aware of. The United Nations keeps statistics, and updates them frequently. In 2017 there were over 65 million people fleeing their homes due to war or famine or other disasters. In 2019 there are over 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

That’s more than after the World Wars. Now that I know it, it’s not something I can un-know. I think we all have to see this as a global change, and find positive solutions.

WOW: Thank you for sharing the background of not only your general writing process but also of the events that make your story so relevant and powerful. These statistics are shocking. It sounds like you’ve learned a lot through your research. What did you learn about yourself or writing while crafting this piece?

Jerri: I practiced an old Jedi mind trick: despite a dozen misgivings about what was appearing onscreen, I ignored them. I let my mind go. I don’t know why I went into the head of a young teen leaving Syria with her family. I’ve brought two lovely newcomer families (recently Syrian refugees) into my classroom to chat with my students. When my students asked why families were running away from their country and coming here, I’d simply shown some photos of Syria before and after the war. One visiting youth, about 15, was quite articulate and told us that what was strange for her about attending high school in Ontario, was that couples kiss in public. My students, aged 9 and 10, agreed that it was gross. This lovely girl wore a hijab, played soccer, and had two part-time jobs. She talked about missing her baby brother a lot while at school. Again, my students agreed with that feeling.

She didn’t have to take a boat; her family was sponsored by a group of local churches and the local mosque to come to Canada. A lucky family. My students raised a little money for this charity, “Save a Family from Syria”, the last two years.

After writing, I became very concerned that this piece might be seen as cultural appropriation. I didn’t send it out for a year, fretting. Finally, I decided that I would. I had written it in a spirit of deep respect for those families forced to leave their land, daring terrible dangers, because they had to. That is, truly, a universal theme throughout human history.

WOW: We are grateful to you for sharing your work with us! It clearly sounds like activism is a meaningful part of your life. How often and what ways does your activism inspire your fiction writing, and vice versa?

Jerri: I can’t avoid seeing the effects of climate change right here. We had tornadoes last winter, (I’ve never heard of them here), and it seemed like more ice storms and floods than lovely white snowy days. I’d never heard of Lyme Disease ten years ago but it’s a constant concern. Thus, I support Ecojustice, Environmental Defense, the David Suzuki Foundation, among others. As well, I tutored recent refugee children last summer, a small bit of volunteerism, and was very proud to follow my students last year on a path of peaceful protest to two levels of government about single-use plastics. Two students, aged ten, told me that they had counted over 40 plastic bags in the ditches, streams, and caught in trees on a bus ride to school one day.

However, I don’t write to preach. I write because I need to, and these underlying concerns sometimes slip into my fiction. This story was overtly about families in terrible danger, and I was drawn into a girl’s thoughts at such a time. I simply went there. I have written a story with magical realism called “The Narrow Café” which appeared in the Yale Review Online last fall. There, I was yanked into a story about a young man with family expectations who had a gift for making drinks. The refugee background was very slight. I did, however, enjoy writing two stories set in the future for two Solarpunk anthologies. Those stories had to be set in a future where climate change had generally been overcome for the most part, a refreshing change from dystopias and “Hunger Games” futures. For those, I researched all the latest emerging green energies. The worldbuilding was great fun. Then I wrote a story about a young woman and her fiancée on a canoe trip, a sort of a marriage test, set in that future! (Note: if you have ever taken a lover camping for the first time, you might be able to relate.) The anthology is called “Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers.” The company is now publishing a set of winter stories, out in January, and I was delighted they accepted another story in that same world. This story is about a teacher and a 12-year-old bully.

WOW: You mentioned earlier that you draw a lot of inspiration from what you view and read in your daily life. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Jerri: I always have a few books on the go. My husband and I are rereading a fantasy “The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley because it’s fun and makes me happy before I fall asleep. It was briefly lost in some cushions so we read Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings” which was brilliant. I’m in the middle of “Apple and Rain” by Sarah Crossan, (terrific) and “Love Walked In” by Marisa de los Santos (delightful, unexpected). Recently finished “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater, which I couldn’t put down. I have various non-fiction works I read at as well, including “Speaking our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation” by Monique Gray Smith, and “Dispatches Volume 24”, a magazine from Doctors Without Borders.

WOW: If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Jerri: I would say--get out there in the world, girl, and engage with people! Take the bus more so you can chat with the older lady with the bag of groceries. In store line-ups, begin conversations. Listen to a diverse range of people. Each person’s story will enlarge your heart, your wisdom, and enrich your writing.

WOW: Wonderful advice! Anything else you’d like to add?

Jerri: I wish to encourage other women to write, to take a workshop or course, and then write some more. Writing fiction can be fun, or healing, an act of self-discovery, or of rebellion. If writing nourishes you, then make time for it. Like visual art, it’s not about the money. It’s about the joy.

WOW: Thank you again for sharing your stories and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive female athletes.
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How To Win Contests (Or At Least an Honorable Mention)

Monday, September 16, 2019
I sometimes get the opportunity to critique manuscripts for contests; I might be asked to give feedback on essays or short fiction or novel excerpts or even picture book manuscripts. It’s not always easy to find the best manuscript, but there are two basic flaws that’ll quickly kick your work out of the competition:

Same Old, Same Old

I don’t care whether you’re writing an essay or a picture book, you’ve got to bring something unique. But that doesn’t mean you have to write about something that’s never been done. You just have to find a way of making the same old, same old different.

Take, for example, something as simple as fingers and toes. There have been a gazillion picture books written about ‘em because—big surprise—little kids and the adults who read to kids are downright smitten with fingers and toes.

So you want to write about these darling digits because it’s a proven seller and also just because you love the idea of fingers and toes. How can you make your book different from all the gazillion of books already out there? Start with making sure you know what’s already been written and then let your imagination go wild! Don’t worry about being “wrong” so much as just letting your creativity run rampant. That’s where the golden best-sellers are born.

Because here’s the bottom line (which is always about money, isn’t it?): there’s a strong correlation between uniqueness and marketability. So when an agent tells you that it only takes a first page, or maybe even a first paragraph, to know if they’re interested, it’s because of the uniqueness/marketability factor. The same old, same old will get a pass every time. Bring something unique to make your manuscript stand out and you’re halfway to the prize. (And as an added bonus, you’ll probably have found your hook.)

But Is It A Story?

Do you have a friend who loves to tell stories but at the end of one of these “stories” you find yourself asking, “Is that it?”

Oh, dear. Some people just don’t know how to tell a story. But good storytellers do; they know the way story works. They start at the beginning, with a character who’s got trouble. So much trouble! You can’t help wondering, “So then what happened?” The storyteller continues, building tension, until you’re on the edge of your seat. And finally, the story comes to a gratifyingly good end and you’re all like, “Wow!” Or maybe you laugh or cry or sigh. The point is, a good story always has the reader asking, “So then what happened?” Until the story finally comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

You can play around with all the elements, whatever your form. Maybe your protagonist is a force of nature, maybe you have four different points-of-view, maybe you time travel, going back and forth in settings from one century to the other. But through it all, you have to have a good story. Without a story, you’ve just got observations. And possibly an agent who says, “Is that it?”

So before you spend days, months, or years of your life fixing a wonky rhyme or making a character more engaging, make sure your manuscript is worth it. Give it something unique and make sure you have a story. And then sit back and start winning contests (or at least an Honorable Mention)!

~ Cathy C. Hall

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Taprina Milburn Writes Through Her Grief, a runner-up in our Quarterly Essay Contest

Sunday, September 15, 2019
Taprina Milburn
Welcome to Taprina Milburn who will inspire you with her positive attitude despite her current dealings with grief and empty nest. She has managed to figure out a way to write through her pain, and we are glad she did. You can win her winning essay, "Gifts" here.

Here's a bit about Taprina: In her blog,, Oklahoma native Taprina Milburn shares stories of family, hope, and faith with readers who are redirecting their lives after big changes, just as she is. Mom of two grown and flown children, she is the author of two books, Scientists Use Rats, I Use My Family (2003) and We’re Not Being Raised Right: And Other Ego-Building Things My Kids Say (2011). She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and has written for newspapers and magazines throughout the years.

Today, she serves as a communications consultant for nonprofits and is working on a master’s degree in family and child studies. She loves to travel to visit her kids and their spouses, and admittedly spends an inordinate amount of time with her six-year-old female golden retriever, Scout, who the kids say is the golden child of the family. They may be right. (Scout has her own Instagram account, @thisgoldenchild).

WOW: Congratulations, Taprina, for being a runner-up in our Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with your essay, "Gifts." It's about reframing loss after your husband's death, and we first want to say how brave it is for you to write about this subject and share your experience in your essay. The format you chose for this, organizing with four "frames" was very powerful. What made you write your story in this way?

Taprina: The short answer is that placing the gifts in frames helped me to be disciplined in my writing. I could say to myself, “Today, you are only writing within this frame.” It helped to organize my mind because grief can be unpredictable and can have your mind roaming all over the place. The long answer is that I also visualized an actual picture frame. If a picture or memento is important to me, I put it in a frame, hang it on my wall or put it on my fireplace mantel. I don’t want to forget the life I had with my husband; and I also don’t want to forget what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown during this time, even if it is painful. So, symbolically, these gifts/lessons are in a frame in my mind because they are important touchstones.

WOW: I love that the frames served two purposes. Sometimes when a subject is painful or overwhelming, tackling it in small chunks, or frames as you did, is a manageable way to accomplish a goal. Thank you for sharing that tip with us. Do you find writing essays about this time in your life part of your healing journey? Why or why not?

Taprina: Writing essays about this time in my life has not been easy but it has been helpful. My husband has been gone for three years. The first year after he died, I was in shock, felt numb and as if I was walking around in a fog. When I started to write about the experience of my husband’s death and suicide, whether journaling or writing essays, I noticed that I started to feel connected to my heart and emotions again and to think with more clarity. Yes, there is sadness, but putting pen to paper also has helped gratitude to bubble up. And gratitude is a master healer. I’ve always believed that writing helps me to better understand my life, my connection to God, and to others. It is a tool I’m definitely going to continue to use on my grief journey.

WOW: We hear that from so many of our writers. This is also why journaling or morning pages are so helpful to writers. We are also honored you entered our contest with all your great writing and publication success in your bio. Tell us about your books!

Taprina: When my children were small, I wrote a syndicated weekly column called For Sanity’s Sake (which I've always said, tongue-in-cheek, is the reason why I write, for my sanity). The column started out in my hometown paper and was picked up by King Features Syndicate and printed in papers in the United States and Canada. I wrote about the very normal, day-in-day out life of being a wife and mother—sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always heartfelt. My favorite feedback from readers was when they said that they could relate as a parent. The two books, Scientists Use Rats, I Use My Family and We’re Not Being Raised Right: And Other Ego Building Things My Kids Say were compilations of the columns I had written over the years. I’m proud of these books because they capture the stories of raising a family with my husband.

WOW: That is amazing. What great success and how exciting that your columns were syndicated and became books! And of course, we must ask about your Golden Retriever and his Instagram account! Do you use this as part of your marketing for your writing or is it a part of your hobbies?

Taprina: Scout, my female golden retriever, just turned six. She is named Scout after the little sister in the book, To Kill A Mockingbird. My kids joke that my husband and I got Scout as an empty-nest-coping-mechanism. They are probably right. She and I didn’t start off on the right foot, though. As a puppy, she ate reading glasses, food from the counter, and library books (this is the abbreviated list). Everyone would tell me to be patient because by three years old, I’d have a really good dog. I wasn’t sure she’d make it to three years. The month my husband died, however, Scout turned three, and by that time she had become a very good companion. I’m not sure what life would be like without her. My kids now call her my golden child, which is why I started Scout an Instagram account @thisgoldenchild. It’s just for fun but, yes, Scout is a very important part of my life and definitely shows up in my writing.

WOW: Look, puppies are no joke! I have one from the Humane Society, a "lab mix" who has to have some hound in her. She keeps me on my toes, and I keep saying to myself, "This will get better." So I can totally understand about Scout! Your story of her getting better at 3 gives me hope. To close, can you tell us about your blog and what's next for you on your writing journey?

Taprina: My blog is called Reimagining. A few months after my husband died, a good friend took me to lunch and told me that one day joy would return but that I would have to use my imagination to reimagine a new life. I respected that advice from her because she was also widowed. The blog is where I go to share stories about rebuilding and reimagining a new life. My hope is that as I put my stories out there about grief, widowhood, empty nest, etc, that someone in a similar situation as I am in may stumble upon it, and it might help them, too. I believe we have to help each other as we learn and grow. As far as my writing journey goes, I am working on a third book of essays (working title: What Now Scout? Reimagining Life with My Golden Child); and one day, I’d love to write a fiction novel. I’d also like to teach a writing class on the importance of writing through grief.

WOW: Taprina, we wish you the best success with your book and your novel. Thank you for providing such personal answers to our questions. We know readers will be able to learn from you and your experiences. You definitely top the list of brave and wonderful women writers. 
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To Critique or Not to Critique, That is the Question

Saturday, September 14, 2019
Is it just me or do some people critique like they have an ax in their hand?

I have realized one of the hardest aspects of writing is getting my work critiqued. Whether it's finding the right people to critique my work, reading people's feedback about my work, or the reaction of others when I critique their work, it's all a bit of a landmine sometimes. My ego gets stepped on meanwhile I accidentally step on the ego of others.

And recently I had two experiences through the critiquing process that I wanted to share you and maybe we'll learn something along the way together.

First, I'd like to share that I will occasionally submit my writing to be critiqued at the Zoetrope writing forum. It's been a fine experience overall. I mean, it's basically internet strangers reading my work and everyone has a different flair. Some people are better at critiquing than others (or at least, some are more willing to put in the effort). No matter what, I learn something valuable each time.

Recently, I decided to read over the feedback of a flash fiction piece that I had worked on months ago. As a result, I noticed feedback I didn't read closely. I was surprised at how much it helped me. Months ago when I read this feedback it felt cold and cutting. Now when I read it, I felt helpful and insightful.

I learned that receiving critiques about my writing isn't always easy. I also realize I don't always read the critiques properly. Sometimes the feedback and critiques feel mean. Except when I give myself time from this feedback I realize there is value even in the sharp-edged remarks.

And then another lesson happened. I submitted feedback for someone else's work. With Zoetrope there is a rating system (which I don't like). I gave this person 7/10. And I don't know about you but in the IMDB world, that is a great rating. Yet this person was offended. Like, deeply offended. And they explained how they didn't understand my rating. My feedback was positive so why didn't I give them a 10? Or a 9, even?

I explained to them that my ratings of 9 and 10 would go to a piece of writing that hits me in a profound way. 7 and 8 is a good rating (at least to me it is). Yet, that still wasn't enough of an explanation to this person. They revealed to me that the rating mattered more to them than the critique. And they even explained away the feedback I did give them. They also went on to say why they deserved a higher rating. In reply, I said, "Thank you for the information." And I have decided to move on from that forum.

Whether it's a close friend or family member or an online critique group, getting critiques about your work is never an easy process. I don't know about you, but the truth is I'd love to a rating of 10 out of 10 for all of my stories. Yet that isn't realistic for the revising process.

Remember that in the critiquing and revising process, your piece of writing is still growing into what it could be. Think of the people in your life that critique your work as fellow gardeners pointing out where you should prune. Most of all, you have the final say and only you can shape the story into a beautiful garden.

If you'll excuse me, I have some pruning to do.

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Don't Ignore YouTube Just Because You're Not 8 to 16

Thursday, September 12, 2019
So the other day on my Facebook business page, I posted this meme:

Parents and grandparents of elementary school kids should be nodding (and laughing, come on--it's funny) along with this hysterical meme from Debi Downer on Facebook (which you should follow by clicking that link because she is super funny!) because you understand the YouTube craze like no other, I'm sure. My daughter who is 8 sometimes watches YouTube on our Smart TV instead of Netflix or Hulu--instead of Disney! (gasp) And she watches people play video games or do slime challenges or play "games" where the kids switch clothes with each other. She wants to talk about slime and create her own challenges all the time, and I will admit that I'm often not tuned into the conversation because I just don't understand. 

But this "blasted" YouTube is where kids are. This is where teens are. This is even where adults are--finding TED talks, how to change their oil, or how to make themselves look better through Photoshop. Recently, when I taught the School Visits and Author Talks class for WOW! (next one is in October!), even I used YouTube videos as part of my material. Authors are making videos of their presentations online, so that interested schools can view them and see what the authors' speaking styles are like. And I used these videos as examples for WOW! students on how to create engaging and interactive presentations for kids. 

Recently, I was listening to the Jen Hatmaker podcast and her guest was HEAVEN TAYLOR-WYNN from MediaWise, a media literacy project that aims to teach 1 million teens how to sort fact from fiction online by 2020. (This really does have to do with videos and YouTube, just bear with me...). During the interview, the following exchange took place:

Jen Hatmaker: One thing I know as a mom of five teens and just post-teens is that... they are inhaling videos. That is absolutely how my kids are getting their information. Is this what you're seeing?

Heaven: Yeah, well like you just said, it's hard for not just teens but for adults as well—it's so much content, so much information coming at us all the time. But some new research just came out recently from Common Sense Media, and they concur with what you're finding. Teens are getting most of their information from social media and from YouTube. 
So, in the class I just taught, I suggested to WOW! students that making a YouTube video of yourself presenting or speaking or even reading your books is a great idea. If you're a young adult author, you should be making videos and posting them to Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter. (Teens are not on Facebook. Facebook is for us old people.)

Look, I am giving this advice, and this is how many videos I have made: 0.

But V-I-D-E-O is written up on my dream/goal board now, and I know it's something that Angela and I have talked about for social media: Instagram stories and FacebookLive and more. So many videos and information are free out there; and if you want people to pay for your books or your speaking or your class, then you're probably going to need to give them a taste of what you're like because you can be sure that some other author is doing that already.

I'll be honest--this video craze scares me--I'll have to shower and put on makeup!  But we've all heard the quote from Dune about fear being a mindkiller, so join with me and let's try to make some videos and further our careers.

The YouTube addict is pictured above...:) 
The next School Visits and Author Talks for Children’s and YA Writers and Illustrators starts on October 16 and ends before Thanksgiving and the crazy holiday season. If you are a children's or YA author, giving these talks is a must for your marketing plan. Sign up here. Find out more about Margo on her site.

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Fake News: The Importance of Reliable Sources

Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Recently I was listening to a panel discussion on writing young adult nonfiction. Participants were asked about doing research in the age of fake news. I literally laughed out loud when I heard that phrase. Clearly the moderator thought of fake news as a contemporary problem. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sefton Delmer was a British journalist who created fake radio news broadcasts to demoralize loyal Nazis. His work is considered fake news vs. espionage because he didn't work for the military or government. Read his story here in the Smithsonian magazine.

During the Civil War, the New York Herald reported that George Washington's remains had been removed from Mt. Vernon. The paper was forced, by the Mount Vernon Association, to print a retraction. You can read that story, on the Mount Vernon web site, here.

In 1835, The New York Sun even published a story about the discovery of life on the moon. There were even illustrations of humanoids with bat like wings. See that story that includes this fake news account as well as nine more at the Social Historian.

My point is that we treat fake news like it is something new, an Internet phenomenon. Rumors and lies are just as easy to find in print, both contemporary and historic, as they are to find online. That is why it is so important to learn to do solid research. Here are four tips to help you find more accurate material.

1. Pay attention to your sources. The Smithsonian is going to be a more reliable source than The Enquirer. That's an extreme dichotomy but I hope you see what I mean. A publisher or publication with a reputation for accurate work is going to work to maintain that reputation.

2. Pat attention to your authors. An anonymous piece is going to be less trustworthy than something by a noteworthy journalist for the same reason that a reliable publisher is more accurate. Also pay attention to the author’s expertise. A historian will likely know more about history than economics unless they are an economic historian.

3. Multiple sources. Look for multiple sources on your topic. This isn't full proof because ten sources that all get an incorrect fact from the same place will still be wrong even if they agree. That's why it is important to look for different types of and even competing sources. When you can find competing press that agrees about something, it is more likely to be fact.

4. Recent sources. A retraction or correction will be more recent. So try to find materials produced over a period of time including those created more recently. Recent scientific findings can also make a big difference even if your topic is history. Genetics are making a big impact in a wide variety of fields.

Good research takes a lot of work. As you do your research, remember that biased sources have always been a problem. The more research you do, the more likely you are to have an accurate picture of an event, person or topic even if your topic is fake news.


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 September 23rd, 2019.
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