What I've Learned in 44 Years

Monday, August 31, 2020

Today I’m 44 years young. There are days it feels like I’ve been in my 40s forever, and other days where I wake up and think I’m still 35. I wish. A friend of mine had a birthday last week and she created a beautiful blog post detailing 48 things she’d observed in the past year. While I’m not going to replicate that and list 44 of my own, I did want to share a few observations I’ve had over the last year myself, especially in the last six months (which have felt like the equivalent of two years).

I must get outside for a walk at least once a day or I get grumpy. Luckily, I have two dogs, so they help keep me active, although I usually go out without them at least once a day for my own "me" time.

Wearing make-up just feels weird now. I usually throw on some eyeliner and chapstick, but it takes a really special event (like photos or something) to make me actually smear the foundation on.


There’s nothing better than a pair of comfortable pajamas. I bought a few inexpensive pairs from Target recently, and I’ve been sleeping like a dream ever since.

I may be in my mid-40s, but I’m still not ready to let myself to surrender to all the grey hair yet.

Cooking and baking soothes me. It never fails. If I have a deadline, you’ll likely find me in the kitchen, making cookies, whipping up a batch of soup or attempting to meal prep three different things for the week. And I may grumble about it, but I enjoy feeding the other people in my household—it makes me proud.


I have an addiction to kitchen gadgets. My latest purchases are a handheld frother so I can whip up milk for my coffee and a Ninja Foodi air fryer. I also own a slow cooker, an Instant Pot, two blenders, a Keurig, a regular coffee pot, a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, a food processor, and maybe a few other things. I have a problem, but my kitchen has lots of storage so that's helpful.


You have to continue to promote your work, because you can’t expect to just be “discovered” one day. I feel weird doing it, but there are times I tell my friends I had something published and they never would have seen it if I hadn’t told them. Same goes for announcing awards and notable items on places like LinkedIn. 


How to cure writer’s block: get a day job where you have to write copy all the time and interview people and not have time to work on your own creative projects.

Pay it forward whenever you can. I love helping and encouraging other writers, because it look me a long time to figure some things out on my own. If I can save another writer time and energy I'm happy to do it. 


Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Work towards them a little at a time each day.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who created a true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas, in her 44th year of life. Learn more at FinishedPages.com.

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Incentives, Incentives, Incentives

Saturday, August 29, 2020

 My husband and I were out in the backyard just this afternoon. I set up some small flags (in a precarious arrangement) on a metal lawn chair, to serve as a backdrop for our 84-pound golden. Our dog rescue is creating a calendar, and since we needed a July picture, I was planning on submitting a pic of Radar.

Of course, as soon as I dragged the chair into the middle of the yard and started attempting to prop up the flags in the lattice-work of the chair (the ground was too dry and hard to jam the poles directly into the ground… I tried that first) Radar became curious… in an energetic manner.

Translation: Radar started leaping wildly in the area of the flags, knocking them down. His body became a furry comma, mid-air, as he twisted and dived, over and over.

Translation of the translation: He was acting like a fool.

My husband stood right behind me, with a premium treat in his hand, holding it up in the air while I fiddled with the camera.

Translation: My husband had a Greenie in his hand, trying to bribe Radar into momentary stillness.

After snapping several photos, I came in and looked at them. I wasn’t truly happy with any of them. Radar looked heavy in some, he looked asleep in some (his eyes were closed), he didn’t look like the regal pup he is in any of them.

Translation: I stink as a photographer.

Eventually, I got a decent one (without the flags in the background) after making a second attempt. And Radar getting “motivated” by a Greenie got me thinking…

Two of the women in my writing accountability group (the Butt-Kickers) suggested I try Publishizer to get my manuscript published. I’m checking it out. It frays my nerves to imagine taking on a daunting task like a crowdfunding project. I am no marketing whiz. I’m a writer, but despite that, I started researching, and some of the advice caught my attention.

Offer incentives to your donors. Find things of value that you can 

provide… and offer different things up at different donation levels.

Of course, there’s the obvious ones: a copy of the book. A list of the donors on a special thank-you page. But the more I thought about it, the more creative I got.

I love teaching my students. We’ve begun the school year with some creative writing centered around memoir. I could offer donors a classroom visit and writing lesson (if they’re local) or via Skype/Zoom/Google Meets if they’re not local. The donor isn’t a teacher? They could donate it to the teacher of their child/grandchild/neighbor’s kid.

Mama, one of the characters in my manuscript, was a wonderful cook. I could send the makings of a sweet treat that Mama made, along with the recipe, to donors.

Okay, so my creativity was short-lived. It’s Friday night, the night I usually crash extra early. Two incentives do not an incredible spurt make, but I’m working on it. I’m considering going in a nontraditional, new-school route… and a tiny fire, almost too small to be seen, has ignited.

If anyone out there has used Publishizer, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your experiences.


Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school communication arts teacher who adores her students (already) and loves her job. (It’s true.) In her spare time she binge-watches TV series (too often), rescues dogs, and dotes on her grandchildren. (There’s three of ‘em now.) If you’d like to read more of her stuff, check out Sioux’s blog.


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Friday Speak Out!: Do I have to choose?

Friday, August 28, 2020
by Brittany Dulski

Way back in the pre-pandemic era of 2017, I was cornered by a fellow member of a local writing organization. She asked me when I was going to get a REAL job. I was shocked that this would come from a fellow writer. In her mind, I guess, writing is not appropriate for someone who a.) has a biochemistry degree and b.) wants to be a pharmacist.

The sad logic that a scientist/doctor can’t benefit from writing is not uncommon. This attitude is developed early. Why are creative writing focused non-science courses viewed as nothing more than a mere annoyance to science majors? My favorite undergraduate classes were both from the theater department. However, there are exceptions. Some famous examples include Michael Crichton who wrote Jurassic Park and Daniel Mason who wrote The Piano Tuner among others. Some classmates couldn’t understand why I would write anything if a grade or an application wasn’t attached to it. Professors have been amazed at my dedication to writing something other than term papers.

Contrary to popular belief, I believe that my science background has enhanced my writing by ensuring that I am more precise in my words. Writing has not just helped with relaxing but it has also allowed my personality to shine through in a way that large lecture style classes don’t. I didn’t go into science and writing because they were things I was good at (although I’d like to believe I am). I have had two goals: to be a writer and to work in health care. I don’t want to choose between them. I write for the same reason I want to be in science and healthcare: to understand people and make the world a better place for all.

Did you ever feel compelled to choose between writing and another occupation?

* * *
Brittany Dulski is actively pursuing freelance writing and applying to pharmacy schools. She has recently finished her MS in Biomedicine & Law from Drexel University College of Medicine and has a BS in Biochemistry & Spanish from Albright College.

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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Perseverance Pays Off

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Since March, my writing stalled. For months, I couldn't imagine writing a story and barely had any interest in looking at what I had already written. 

Somehow, despite the heat, during the summer, I regained my momentum and took another look at the stories I worked on so hard over the past couple of years. 

I started out by doing a writing inventory. This process helped me become familiar with the stories already completed, what I wanted to do to polish them up, and re-read any half-finished pieces as well. I ended up going back to the drawing board on many stories. This involved doing what I feared the most - rereading my stories. 

To be honest, when I have already started the submission process, I am afraid to go back and re-read a story. Is that weird? I feel like if I reread the story I'm going to notice flaws. Flaws I should have spotted before. Flaws that kept me from getting published. I fear that I will have to accept that I wasted time when I could have spotted these mistakes in the first place. 

Yet, I did just that. I re-read my stories. Revised them. Re-submitted my stories for a new round of critiques. When I polished what I could, I re-submitted. 

I'll be honest, this process feels exhausting. It often leads to many more rejections. It often leads me to feel perplexed about what I'm missing in each story. I wonder sometimes if trying to re-write too many times ruins my stories. 

Then, something happened this past month. I got published. My flash fiction story entitled, "We've Been Here Before," will be published by the Sky Island Journal in their fall issue, released mid-October. 

I never thought I'd get the chance to say that this year about any of my creative work. I got published. 

What I've realized about writing this year is that I no longer fear the revision process. I think I used to because so many times my stories end up being nothing like where they started. In fact, this story that will be published later this year, changed many times. The main character was originally female. I changed the title about four times. It was originally under 500 words (now about 980). Some things did remain, but overall, the story changed. 

Now, I'm open to changing my stories. My writing process and revision process may not be right for you, but it has worked for me. Going back, re-reading, rewriting, and tweaking things here and there has become a familiar writing process for me. I no longer worry about changing the story into something it wasn't when it started out. 

Since March, I've gone back and rewritten and polished up several of the stories which are now back into the submission process. Sometimes my settings change. Many times the endings have changed. There is more to do and many more stories ahead of me to rewrite. There are also many more rejections to get beyond.

If you lost your momentum, I encourage you to pick yourself back up and keep pushing forward. So much of writing requires endurance, a trait that I've learned more about this year than other years in my life. 

Keep writing. Keep rewriting. Keep getting feedback. Keep submitting. Perseverance pays off. 

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Must Have: Aktiv - Review and Giveaway!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Review by Angela Mackintosh

As a freelance writer, editor, and graphic designer, I spend most days at my desk with my BIC (butt-in-chair), which is great for tapping out words, but the sedentary lifestyle is obviously not good for my health or growing backside.

A few years ago, I discovered that if I wore workout or athleisure wear to my home office, I immediately felt energized and moved more. It’s like lighting a candle before a writing session—a simple and effective ritual that’ll help you snap into the zone. The clothing keeps health in mind and influences my food choices. I mean, who wants to eat a greasy 700-cal cheeseburger while wearing yoga pants? Yuck! Lol. Instead, I’ll opt for green juice and a power bowl.

Yoga leggings are my staple on most days, and right after I finish work, I can walk to my living room (gyms are still closed here in Los Angeles) or my backyard and flow straight into a vinyasa. Many writers know yoga and writing complement each other—the focus, discipline, and ritual invites us to tap into our potential. There are even writing workshops that combine both! Nature is another inspiration for many writers, and other days I’ll wear hiking pants and hit the trails as soon as I type my last sentence. In the evenings or whenever I can get out into the world (which isn’t much right now), I wear these amazing jeans that I’ll tell you about in a sec!

Angela Mackintosh
Solstice Leggings and Midi Top

I’ve tried just about every brand and online store, and until recently, Athleta and REI were at the top of my list. Then I discovered Aktiv. I love their clothing! As far as I know, you can’t find these brands anywhere else in the States. The founders, Leslie and Nate, journeyed to Norway with their two children in 2016, and through their adventures, fell in love with Nordic style fashion. When they returned to their home in Colorado, they struggled to find their new favorite brands, and formed an idea. In 2018, they launched Aktiv. Their clothing not only looks great, but it’s also rugged, practical, sustainable, and designed to last for years. They test each piece before bringing it online—wearing it to the gym, on the trail, and in the coffeehouse. I’ve been lucky enough to test their clothing, too! I’ll share a couple pieces I enjoy, and you’re in for a treat—Aktiv has generously provided some yoga leggings for a giveaway!

Moonchild Yoga Wear

Angela Mackintosh
I’m pretty new to yoga, and was introduced to it a few years ago because it was part of my P90X routine; but I’ve always been a yoga wear connoisseur and do a lot of mat work and body weight training. My poses may not be perfect, but I relish the practice of loosening my body after a long day in my office chair. I have a pair of the seamless Solstice Leggings in Blue Iris Silver (pictured above), and they are vibrant and adorably decorated with silver crescent moons. The high-rise style sits right above my belly button, which is excellent for holding in my tummy. They are lightweight, breathable, flexible, and not see through, which is often a problem with seamless yoga leggings. These are cute enough to wear out paired with a long tank or tunic.

The Solstice Midi Top is adorable! It’s longer than most workout bras, and during my yoga poses—everything from wheel to modified crow—it held me in place. Despite having non-adjustable straps, it fit perfectly. The material is the same as the leggings and super soft. I wear a medium in both the leggings and top, and I would say they run a little small, so if you’re in between sizes, size up. They are machine washable, and they recommend air drying. I usually wash all my yoga wear in delicate and dry on a delicate cycle and they’re fine.
ReDEW8 Jeans and my current virtual book club pick:
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

ReDEW8 Jeans

Oh my gosh, these are the most comfortable jeans I’ve ever owned. I want to live in these things! I have the Örn Denim Jeans in Black Implode, and they are made out of reDEW's famous 360° stretch material, which is super soft and flexible. But they aren’t like other skinny stretch jeans I’ve owned that are thin and flimsy; these have a nice medium weight to them and you can actually feel the quality. The site says they are genderless—I’m a huge fan of gender neutral clothing—made for travel, and they feel buttery and supple, yet sturdy. They are simply amazing.

If you’re looking for unique, active, high-quality clothing that you can’t just find just anywhere, check out aktivstyle.com. You can sign up for their newsletter to get special deals.

And now for the giveaway! Enter to win a pair of Moonchild Yoga Wear Solstice Leggings!


Enter to win a pair of Solstice Seamless Leggings in Blue Iris Violet by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends September 2nd at 11:59 pm CST. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget the next day. Good luck!

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Should You Use a Book Doctor?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020
As writers, we talk endlessly about revision. Probably because we’re always working, one way or another, on a revision. I mean, even when we’re not working on the manuscript, we have other people working on it…beta readers, critique partners, editors, book doctors.

Wait. Book doctors? Are you thinking—as I did once upon a time—that a book doctor is just a cute name for an independent editor? Yep, I thought a book doctor was a clever marketing title but one day, a writer friend and I were discussing the latest release of another writer friend, and she mentioned that said author had used a book doctor. I learned about book doctors that day, mostly that it had been a wise use of time and money for that author. And maybe a book doctor would be a wise choice for you, too, but first, know what you’re getting into.

Independently contracted editors can give a writer all kinds of services. He or she can give in-depth notes on the first fifty pages or an entire novel. A writer then takes those notes and revises, and sometimes, an editor will work back and forth on the revisions. It’s lots of re-writing for the would-be author, and it can be a time-consuming as well as costly process.

An editor can also do line-editing, which is basically proofreading your fully-revised novel, making sure that your grammar is spit-spot and names don’t change in the middle of the book. Publishing houses do a line edit before sending off the manuscript to be printed; writers planning to self-publish should get a line edit, too, but it’s probably a lot cheaper to ask that friend of yours in the critique group who’s a grammar nerd (and then treat him or her to a nice lunch).

And then there’s the book doctor. Remember when I said that writers had that secret dream of sending off a manuscript for a professional critique and really, we just want somebody to fix it? There’s a way to make that dream come true: hire a book doctor.

A book doctor is not playing around with all that revising back and forth. A book doctor will take your novel and fix those plot holes, clean up the character mix-ups, shore up the settings, tighten the tension and perfect the pace. And a book doctor might do all that and have a relatively quick turn-around. So why doesn’t everyone use a book doctor?

For one thing, a book doctor can be very expensive; doctoring a manuscript is a serious workload, even for a professional. And though a reputable book doctor will get permission from the writer before making massive changes, a manuscript can turn out quite differently. That sort of revision is not for everyone.

Still, there are times when a writer has revised a manuscript so much—either through critique partners, beta readers or paid professional critiques—that the idea of one more rewrite can cause dry heaves, not to mention hair-pulling. It’s that point of hitting a brick wall and maybe a book doctor can punch a way through to make a manuscript sellable. Not that anyone can make a guarantee that a manuscript will sell, but an expert book doctor can certainly push it closer to publication.

And then there’s the writer who’s self-publishing a book to enhance a business; it might be a more cost-effective use of time and money to use a book doctor. But like all writing services, do your homework first. Ask writer friends, check for any “write beware” notices, before committing to a pricey contract. It’s all well and good to invest in yourself but don’t break the bank in the process!

(How about you, dear writers, have you used a book doctor? Inquiring would-be published authors want to know!)

~Cathy C. Hall

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Must Have: ENOF - Review and Giveaway!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Review by Crystal Otto

Nutrition is important to me. As a busy mom juggling her writing, musician job, day job, a dairy farm and six kids, I need to be on top of my game and I want my children to be also. What we eat is important and where the food comes from has always been important to me.

Our children have been involved in planting, harvesting, and preparing delicious food. We even go so far as to raise our own meat, and our neighbor delivers farm fresh eggs each week. I consider myself to be a very picky eater and we seldom eat anything processed. Even with this "crunchy" lifestyle, it's still difficult to get children to eat the recommended servings of vegetables each day. Children seem to grab an apple or an orange with ease, but beets and rutabagas don't have the same appeal.

When I knew my family was not getting enough of these important vegetables, I would step in and try hiding them in our food. That was before I learned about ENOF. ENOF makes my mom role really easy! My children range in age from 2 to 22 and each of them enjoy sprinkling ENOF onto their meal. It works like a salt or pepper shaker and just a few shakes give us the vitamins and minerals we've been lacking (one serving contains up to 60% of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamins A, C, D, E and K. The nutrients are delivered right where your body needs them for maximum absorption).

There really isn't any flavor to ENOF and you can add it to drinks or food - our family enjoys adding it to food to be "just like daddy" (who enjoys pepper on just about any savory food I make). I absolutely love how easy this product makes healthy eating and even better yet, it's organic, non GMO, and gluten free!

We've tried a lot of different tips and tricks to help our family eat enough of the right stuff and none of them are as easy as ENOF!

Did I mention we are giving away a one-month supply of ENOF?? https://simplyenof.com/products/single-month-supply

Get in on this great giveaway – you will NOT be disappointed!

(If you can't wait for the giveaway, you can visit simplyenof.com and subscribe to their newsletter to get 20% off, or check them out on Instagram @enofnutrition and enter INSTA20 at checkout for 20% off. Enjoy!)


Enter to win a one-month supply of ENOF - shake on nutrition from organic vegetables - by filling out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends August 31st at 11:59 pm CST. We will announce the winner in the Rafflecopter widget the next day. Good luck!

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Linda Petrucelli, 2nd Place Creative Nonfiction Winner, Started with a Writing Prompt

Saturday, August 22, 2020
For most of her adult life, Linda Petrucelli has lived on islands—Taiwan, Manhattan, and Hawaii. Being surrounded by water suits her. Her story, “Figure Eight on the Waves,” won first place in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. Her fiction and personal essays have appeared in KYSO Flash, Flash Fiction Magazine, Memoirist Magazine, and MacQueen’s Quinterly among others. Linda writes from her tin-roofed rancher on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island. She posts her flash fiction at jackrabbitfiction.com.

Linda's winning essay is "Ballsy," which you can read here.

WOW: Hi Linda! Congratulations on your win, and thank you for letting us pick your brain today. What led you to write this essay?

Linda: I keep rambling lists of my life superlatives. The lists come in handy when I need to dredge my memory for subjects to write about. Spinal fusion appears as number one on “The Weirdest Things I’ve Had Done to my Body.”

WOW: Maybe your list could lead to a lot more interesting essays! You start in an interesting way with the stat on tennis balls, and throughout the essay, you include some information about these little yellow spheres. What made you write about your topic in this way?

Linda: "Ballsy" came in response to an exercise from an online writing class I was taking with Chelsey Clammer. She posted a quirkily brilliant writing prompt: Use five facts to describe an everyday object that carries great emotional meaning exclusively to you.

I knew almost immediately that my object would be a tennis ball because I had been hoping to write about my back surgery, but didn’t exactly know how. Those fuzzy yellow orbs became a metaphor of my infirmity, Arranging the story around tennis ball facts suggested parts of the narrative, especially my relationship with my husband, that I had never considered. Those facts opened narrative doors I would never have thought to enter.

WOW: That is so awesome that this essay started from a writing prompt in Chelsey's class! You also chose to write in second person, "you," instead of first person "I." Is this how the essay started? What led you to this strong choice?

Linda: I had been reading Mayra Hornbacher’s essay, "Strip." At one point in the essay, she moves from first POV into the second, and I remember feeling how close I felt drawn in to her and her story. “You” became “Me.” I think that (intense) reading experience and desire to create intimacy with the reader were elements of my decision.

WOW: Reading is one of the best things you can do for your craft. You've also won first place in our flash fiction contest, and so we can tell that you are a dedicated, well-rounded, and talented writer. Do you have a preference between fiction or nonfiction writing? Do you think one helps you perfect the other?

Linda: When I started exploring creative writing a few years ago, I began with fiction. I never even considered memoir or the personal essay because, as I look back now, I was horribly self-conscious writing about myself. Yet, my early fiction always contained an autobiographical seed grounded in my life—a recurring dream, a memory a troubled relationship.

Last year, I began to see that writing about my life, sharing my opinions and preserving memories, was oddly therapeutic. I fell in love with the literary power of “a true story." And, what’s neat is that for those life experiences I have trouble publicly owning, or that might damage a relationship, fiction allows me to tell that story and still preserve a certain privacy.

WOW: That's a great point. What's next for you and your writing career?

Linda: To realize my writing dream…Pens on fire! Ruthless truth and prismatic prose. Forgiving myself over and over again when my initial clumsy attempts disgrace the glorious ideas in my head.

WOW: Thank you, Linda, for this delightful interview. Here's to your dream! 

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Stop the Spread!

Friday, August 21, 2020
This title is is a wee bit misleading (albeit catchy I hope). I don't want to talk about (or think about) masks or Covid-19. Now that we got that out of the way...

Let's stop the spread of negativity. Let's start with ourselves and work our way outward (and yes, I am that PollyAnna type who truly thinks she can change the world). Many of you have been saying "I can't concentrate because of everything going on around me right now", "I can't seem to read a book", "I can't stay on task", "I can't lose weight", "I can't meet my deadlines", etc...

Do you realize what you are actually doing when you say these things (even silently to yourself)? 

Negative self-talk can affect us in damaging ways - just query negative self talk and read all about the possible associations between low self esteem, mental issues, depression, and more. It's not always easy to change the way we talk to ourselves and others, but being more mindful will definitely head us in the right direction. Here are a few steps to take to stop the spread of negativity:

*Acknowledge the Problem - here's where you stop and recognize that "boy you look fat in this dress" is negative. If we don't acknowledge there's a problem, we can't fix it. 

*Situation Assessment - this part is hard, but try to look at the situation objectively. I'll use the negative comment above - your inner critic is telling you the dress isn't flattering and now you need to decide if that's true or not. I've found myself to be much more realistic when it comes to others. So, ask yourself if this was someone else what would you think of the dress. 9 times out of 10, I'm just being hard on myself and if anyone else looked exactly the way I do in the dress I'd compliment them. Similarly, with my writing - I ask myself if someone else had written this would I be so critical. Once I've assessed the situation I can move forward with telling that inner critic they are indeed wrong and they need to be quiet. 

*Shift Your Thinking - We've acknowledged the critic, we've assessed the situation and determined the critic to be wrong, and now what? Now, we need to come up with a positive statement (at least 1, but 3 is better!) to use instead of the negative self talk. In our original example, we could use 1 or all the  following: 
    **"boy - that dress really brings out your great shoulders!"
    **"wow - you look awesome and the length on you is perfect!"
    **"wait til ________________ sees you in this, you look 10 years younger!"

As we start talking to ourselves in the same encouraging way we would talk to a best friend, we will be more confident and that snarky little inner critic will learn to take his or her place in the back of the room! Give it a try today!

In case you didn't notice, the first letter of each step spells ASS and some people tell you to give your inner critic a nickname...this one seems fitting...but I'll let you decide!

Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you turn your inner critic into an inner cheerleader and you can stop the spread of negativity while promoting a positive self image. And trust me - once you start cheering yourself on more, you'll find you can't help but become a cheerleader for those around you! We can create a domino effect and yes, I truly believe we can take these small steps and change the world!

Before you head out on your world changing journey - please drop a comment on things you have found helpful with encouraging yourself or others. Also - feel free to talk about someone who has inspired you!


and now...a little more about me...

Shown from left to right:
Delphine riding Honey
Mr. Otto holding Eudora
Crystal riding Marv.
Thank you Forward Farm, LLC 
Crystal is the office manager, 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 Darlin' and Joker, pony Miss Maggie May, and over 250 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal milking cows, riding horses, and the occasional unicorn (not at the same time), taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books here, and at her own blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade and she has never (not once) been accused of being normal!
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Friday Speak Out!: What I Learned About Personal Essays From Judging A Contest

by Kelly Eden 

When I launched a writing contest at my small publication I was worried I wouldn’t get any entries, but every day another collection of “lives told in under 2000 words” made their way to my inbox. I’ve never read so many personal essays in one week, but what I learned was worth the effort. 

The contest was open to experienced and emerging writers and I was amazed by the variety and skill level in both categories. There were essay topics I was expecting: falling in love, childhood trauma, sickness, and loss. But there were also essays that surprised me, like the one about a bike race, or the story that started in the kitchen eating raw steak. 

Reading hundreds of entries, I started to notice patterns. Fantastic personal essays have aspects in common, as do terrible ones. 

Here are 4 patterns I noticed:

1. Great stories pack a punch from the start

Generally, the first line told me whether a story was going to be good. Great essays began with a bold statement that set up the whole story.

Here are the three winners’ opening lines:

J. Edgar was colored by blue.

The neurologist’s secretary handed me an envelope.

Writers are lunatics whose nonsense has shaped my dreams.

The rest of their stories unpacked that first line. It was the central idea of their whole piece.

2. Clarity is a priority for good writers

The finalists all told their stories in a way that was easy to understand. Even when their sentences were creatively and beautifully written, they stayed readable. The “no” pile, on the other hand, often left me baffled. My note on one story was simply, “Huh?”

It’s fun to write flowery prose, I get it! It’s important in our creativity, though, to remember our readers and edit our work for clarity.

3. There needs to be a worthy story

There were a large number of essays that were “nice” to read but didn’t reach the finalists’ pile. They wrote about how wonderful or awful their parent/teacher/nana was, but with no defining event to show why. They wrote about their career, but as a list of events rather than a story.

There was no story arc: no tension or action, no conflict, no moment when the writer learnt or grew or had insight. Nice personal essays are fine to share with friends and family, but great ones need a story.

4. Reveal the Goldilocks amount

There is a difficult balance in personal essays between being vulnerable and oversharing. The best stories were open about thoughts and feelings, honest, and sometimes painfully raw and confronting. Then there were stories that slipped straight into the “unpublishable” pile.

If you’re writing a story to be published, a blow by blow account of your traumatic experience is often too much. Personal essays lend themselves to heavy subjects, such as rape, abuse, death, suicidal thoughts. Words are powerful--using them sparingly and thoughtfully is more impactful than oversharing every detail. As the saying goes, less is more.

* * *
Kelly Eden lives next to a beautiful rainforest in New Zealand and has been a professional writer for over 12 years. She coaches new creative nonfiction writers. Grab your free pitching template.

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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Do You Need a Sidekick in Your Novel?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020
On my last post, I wrote about protagonists and antagonists, so today I thought I would continue the character journey with sidekicks. These character types are in novels of all genres, including literary fiction and children's fiction. You can probably think of your favorite sidekicks in a heartbeat, as these are often the characters that really stick out in stories and movies.

The sidekick is a character in your story who is the protagonist's assistant, best friend, sibling, pet, or close associate, and usually this character has less authority than the main character.
EXAMPLES are Robin (Batman), Ron and Hermione (Harry Potter), Watson (Sherlock Holmes), Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer), Johnny (Ponyboy, The Outsiders), Piglet (Winnie the Pooh), and Grandpa Joe (Charlie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

Your novel may need a sidekick or one might naturally appear while you're writing. Don't you love when that happens? Maybe your protagonist (or even the antagonist can have a sidekick) needs a lot of support to accomplish his goal, and the sidekick has skills that your main character doesn't have (Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, anyone?). A lot of time the sidekick is there to push your main character into doing what he or she needs to do. This companion is a sounding board, but not a mentor--that's a whole other character type that I might get around to sharing one day!

Another reason a sidekick might be used in your novel is because your main character might be an anti-hero or not very likable. Let's take Batman for example, He is consdered an anti-hero sometimes because he is so mysterious and serious (and rich!). But Robin is more relatable, more the everyman. He likes and respects Batman, so shouldn't the viewer then, too?

The problem with this is that your sidekick can often take over the story and become more popular or well-liked than your protagonist. This happened to my critique partner, Camille Faye, when she was writing her drafts of Voodoo Butterfly. In our critique group, we would often tell her how much we loved Poppy (sidekick), but we had trouble relating to Sophie (MC). So Camille used some of Poppy's characteristics that everyone loved to soften Sophie up. Their friendship is one of my most favorite things about Camille's book series.

If you have a very serious book, a sidekick can sometimes lighten the mood and allow readers to take a break from the drama or tension. This is especially important if you write for kids. In my middle-grade historical fiction novel, Finding My Place, Anna has a lot of very serious things happen to her in the middle of a war, but her brother James is often doing silly stuff, and they bicker. I put this character in there to create places for readers to not feel so tense.

Do you need a sidekick in your novel? After reading this post, you may be asking yourself if you need one. Every story does not need a sidekick. Sidekicks are often used in: quests, thrillers, police procedurals, military or espionage novels, adventure stories, and mysteries. If you feel something is lacking in your novel or you can’t figure out how your main character will solve a problem with his or her skills, then you might need one—more than just a friend, not a love interest, almost a partner in the adventure. But remember, your main character has the starring role.

So, who's your favorite sidekick?

Margo L. Dill is a writing teacher, author, publisher and the managing editor of WOW! Women On Writing. Her middle-grade novel, Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, is currently free on Kindle through 8/22.  Her latest book is out as an ebook and is a prequel to Finding My Place, titled Anna and the Baking Championship. Join her next WOW! novel writing class which starts on September 4 by clicking here.

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Learning How to Nurture My E-mail List


Like many other writers, I’ve always heard the importance of creating an e-mail list. But because I never really had a product to sell, I put it off. Then, when I started working on creating my podcast, I figured it would be a nice to at least have a small e-mail list developed so I could let people know about my launch.


To start my e-mail list, I created a “freebie,” where I packaged one of my unpublished short stories that fits with the tone of a missing persons podcast and offered it as a free download to anyone subscribing to my podcast. That offer still remains on my website to help capture interested subscribers. Since then, I’ve heard from other marketing experts that it’s a good idea to have two or three “freebies” going at any given time to gauge the interests of your potential subscribers.


I consider myself an e-mail marketing novice, so I’m learning as I go. One of the terms I frequently hear is the importance of “nurturing” your e-mail list. This means giving them valuable, free content that they will appreciate before you try to sell to them. I was listening to an episode of the “Online Marketing Made Easy” podcast by Amy Porterfield and she discussed some mistakes she made in the early days of her e-mail marketing.

She talked about how she worked to build up a moderate list of about 600 subscribers, who she hoped to eventually convert to customers, but she didn’t nurture the list at all. Meaning, she ignored her list for months and didn’t send them any marketing tips, links to other helpful information, or “get to know me” type e-mails. Instead, the first thing she sent her subscribers was an offer to purchase a digital course she had created. Not surprisingly, many of her subscribers couldn’t even remember who she was and this led to her low sales of a course.


My list is still in its infancy stages, but right now I send out an e-mail every time I drop a new podcast episode, share photos of the people discussed in the cases, and try to offer a few links of my own writing, such as blog posts from WOW! or from the true crime section of my own blog. I’ve been doing some reading and am researching ways to nurture my subscribers even further, such as sharing more true crime links from other places and recommendations of other related content. I have an idea for a new freebie that I think will be a good way to attract more subscribers, but I just need to find the time to create it!


Hopefully by continuing to nurture and grow my list, I will have engaged and excited customers who will eventually purchase my digital classes, books, or other content I create.


Think about the e-mails you subscribe to. What types of free content do they offer you and what do you enjoy about it?


Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor whose article, We Speak for the Dead: The Creation of Writing Conference All About Crime, recently received fifth place in the print/online magazine article category of this year’s Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition. To learn more about her podcast, visit missinginthecarolinas.com or sign-up to receive updates from her here.

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Interview with Annie Lindenberg, Runner Up in Winter 2020 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Annie Lindenberg resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she works daily as a Membership Manager for a non-profit and part time as a freelance writer for travel abroad organizations. When not working, Annie attempts to fill as much of her free time with writing and reading as she can manage. She has been previously published in The Tower Journal and graduated in 2018 from Emerson College with a BFA in Creative Writing.

If you haven't read Annie's story "Turning Tides," yet, click through and the come back for an interview with the author.

------Interview with Sue Bradford Edwards-----

WOW:  What was your inspiration for “Turning Tides”?  

AnnieI was reading Richard Siken's poetry collection Crush, and there was a line that stuck out to me— "because you want to die for love, you always have" — and it made me start thinking about what can sometimes be a fine line between what we perceive as love and what is really obsession. 

I wanted to explore a relationship that balances on that line while also having a clear power dynamic, though one that like many power dynamics in relationships isn't noticeable to the two who exist within it. So those two thoughts were what jumpstarted the piece.

WOW: Although the story is about Beliana she is not the narrator. How did having someone else narrate shape the story?

AnnieFor me it made more sense for this story to be told from an onlooker. We barely know anything about the narrator besides what they think of Beliana, and in the end how they see Beliana says a lot about who they are. By having the narrator tell the story, it leaves an ambiguity about whether Beliana knows she has this power or not. I found that more interesting to play with than what may have happened if we were in Beliana's head.

WOW: How did this story change from idea to finished piece?

AnnieWhile the concept for this story has remained pretty in tact as I wrote it, "Turning Tides" has gone through a lot of revisions. 

It was originally more flowery in language and a lot more metaphorical (though it certainly still has its fair share of metaphors), and I kept cutting it back so it would be more concise. In the end the majority of the language is used to describe Beliana and the scene. 

I wanted to let readers read the scene and take their own conclusions away.

WOW:  In writing flash, we have to carefully choose which details to include. How did you decide what details to use in describing Beliana and their time skating?

AnnieI didn't want to use too many of my words to go into either of their heads.

Instead, I really wanted to focus on the imagery of Beliana skating and how the narrator perceives her. I was attempting to create a really clear image of who Beliana was, and how she maneuvered the space to tell you more about who she was. 

I started by writing this piece with every detail I could possibly want and then would print the story out, cross out lines, print it out again, cross out more lines, etc. etc. until I was happy.

WOW: Can you tell us about your current writing project? Where can our readers look for more of your writing?

AnnieRight now I am working on a novel. It's a new adult horror novel, actually. Similar to this, it has two female main characters. It's still at draft two right now, but I hope that eventually I will be able to connect with a literary agent and get it published. Any updates on my writing can be found on my instagram

WOW:  I'll be heading over there to see what you are working on in the near future.  Good luck with your novel and thank you for sharing your process with our readers. 

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A New Way To View A Blank Page

Monday, August 17, 2020

During my first year in middle school, I remember having a young female English teacher who'd ask us to write essays in class on whatever subject we wanted to at least twice a week. She'd put on classical music, tell us to take a sheet of paper out of our loose-leaf binder, sit at her desk with a book and wait for us to finish before she collected all of our essays, smiling proudly when she glanced at papers filled out front and back, or that needed a paper clip, which was usually me because my essays required at least three sheets of loose-leaf paper.

So many years later, what I appreciate most about this teacher was how she focused on nurturing and developing her student's diverse voices more than circling all of our grammatical errors in red. She was  one of a handful of English teachers I had who fostered this then budding writer's dream. She reinforced, this notion to me, that a blank page was nothing to be intimidated by. It was the perfect canvas for my words. 

I've tried to keep that in the forefront of my mind whenever I stare at one on my computer screen or in my notebook when I'm trying to plot a story. There have indeed been times when I can't conjure up those good writing vibes from my middle school English class and a blank page fills every crevice of my being with fear. But thankfully, it is only momentary. I don't have to wage war with it. It is my friend not my rival, as it is yours. It is your blank canvas and you are the painter who can create a masterpiece on it. Just look at the bodies of work you've already created that started with a blank page. 

Still, because we're human, and because Ms. Self Doubt likes to pop up every now and then and knock on our door, I offer these suggestions for times when you're feeling apprehensive about "tackling" a blank page. 

1.Take a deep breath and exhale. When we're anxious about doing something its reflected in us mentally and physically. Our breathing becomes shallow, our muscles tense and we may feel a sense of gloom even when it's something we're passionate about. As writers, when we first stare at a blank page, we can mentally scroll through a litany of doubts about our writing which further impedes our ability to write. By taking a deep breath and exhaling slowing, we center ourselves and calm our mind and body enough where we can shut down that negative voice buzzing in our ear.

2. Begin writing one word on an index card until you have a collection of word prompts. When you're at a standstill with a blank page, choose a word to write about. Maybe the word you choose is "Food." Oh, the possibilities. That word can trigger a nostalgic food memory from your childhood for your memoir, a step by step recipe that was passed down to you, or one you created during this pandemic that is rich with literary descriptions of aroma's, sounds, textures, and emotions for a scene with the protagonist in your novel. One suggestive word can bring a rush of several more.

3. Fill your blank page with a list. Lists are a great strategy to use when you're stymied about what to write or where to start. Creating a list of people, places, and things that hold some relevance to your life, even a to-do list can trigger a story idea. 

4. Write as if you're writing in your journal. Our journals are a welcoming quilt for our words without the pressure of judgement, ours or others. When we write in our journals we write freely without worrying about querying, or submitting, or whether an editor or publisher will accept our work. We throw caution to the wind and forget about the so called "rules" of writing. Try writing a characters dialogue as a journal entry to get into a writing groove. Sometimes we may need to view a blank page as a page in our journal to get a burst of inspiration. 


                                                                                                 -- Jeanine

Jeanine DeHoney's writing has been published online, and in several magazines and anthologies. She prides herself on being able to conquer the blank page at least seventy-five percent of the time with these tips and hopes she's made her middle school teacher proud. 

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Interview with Algae: Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay First Place Winner

Sunday, August 16, 2020
is a recent graduate from Texas A&M University where they wrote a creative thesis about Mexican American experiences in the Rio Grande Valley entitled “Las historias son para ti.” They funded a creative writing scholarship under the same name. This piece, “Bordertown Synopsis,” is an excerpt from that anthology and has specific geographic connections to her hometown, Roma, Texas. algae’s work has been published in The Eckleburg Project and Fudoki Magazine’s online platform. They love grapefruits and can be followed on Twitter @writer_algae.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

algae: In short, I already had the piece written. I was actually encouraged to submit to this contest by my thesis advisor, Dr. Jason Harris. Throughout the duration of my senior year including the summer leading up to it, Dr. Harris truly believed in the quality of my work and would send links to different contests or journals to apply to. When the pandemic hit and our university moved all our classes online, I believed I would have more time to work and focus on my assignments. Instead, my work hours got cut drastically and the workload piled on as my depression suffocated me. This was one of the few contests that I found to be highly financially rewarding. I never would have thought I’d win first place when I had applied with only $100 in my checking’s account.

WOW:  What inspired you to write your essay, “Bordertown Synopsis” (which is part of your college creative thesis and an anthology)? You’ve captured the universal in your specifics, and the second person voice works really well in this piece.

algae: The first draft of this piece – and I mean really rough draft – was written 4 years ago as part of a college admission essay. It was less than a page long and was supposed to describe my hometown. It was one of many prompts and when I first read it, I thought I could describe Roma in the light my high school teacher told me to: that it was poor, mostly brown, and a really small town. Perfect way to get into college. I didn’t end up attending that university. After my first semester at college, I came back to this essay, and, after being the face of adversity at a predominately white institution, realized I needed to take ownership of the narrative that was being fed to the public about the Rio Grande Valley and the U.S.-Mexico border at large. The use of second person was intentional; I wanted people to feel like a local reflecting on the community that they were a part of. I wanted to tell a story people could imagine themselves in and not only as a figment that was elsewhere.

WOW:  Your approach worked very well. Can you tell us what your writing process is like? Any favorite routines or places to write?

algae: I actually don’t have a writing routine, which I always feel really guilty about. I’ve heard my professors say they wake up at 4am or stay away until 2am where they write best; I’ve heard they need a specific drink in hand or candle lit. I’ve been fed romanticized versions or writing routines and I get scared of copying someone else’s and not creating my own. I guess my ‘writing routines’ comes through the form of days-long brainstorming sessions. I can’t seem to start writing until I have an end product in mind. If the project changes in the process, it happens, but I’ve struggled to write without a goal envisioned. I’m currently working through finding a daily routine.

WOW:  Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

algae: I hope this isn’t too scandalous to mention, but I am venturing into erotic prose and poetry at the moment. I am a queer individual and yet sex is always a rough topic for me to discuss. I am demisexual and bi-romantic, meaning I only have sexual attraction to someone unless I am emotionally attracted to them. And while my sexuality is under the asexual spectrum, I am not sex adverse. Sex is just something very personal I don’t like to share with others. However, in the age of quarantining, I have found that sexual exploration, even within oneself, is important and have started documenting my journey through prose and poetry. Latine Literature is what I hope to gain recognition in someday, but I also feel the need to expand my genres and topics of writing in fear of being type cast as only able to write from a single perspective.

WOW: Whatever you're inspired to write, you should try it! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, algae. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

algae: This was advice I overheard a very long time ago and I encourage everyone to use whether it be related to writing or not: “Anything that you write, and is difficult for you to write about, is going to be part of the healing process for someone else – an empathy collection.” It reminds me about the lack of representation or women, queer individuals, non-gender conforming individuals, and most of all BIPOC in literature. There are experiences that are unique to border residents in this story that I tried to share, that could potentially inspire other border writers. Tell the story you never got to hear.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.
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Must Have: Start Writing Again with 14 Days of Journal Magic for Writers (And Giveaway)

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Review by Nicole Pyles

Remember when you first fell in love with writing? Maybe you were a little kid and wrote short stories about your dolls and stuffed animals. Maybe you read a book that touched your heart so much you thought to yourself, I want to do that for another reader, too. Maybe it was specific words themselves that pulled you close.

Over this past year, I have had quite a few stops and starts when it comes to my writing. At times, I forgot about it completely. Other times, I used it as an escape. Several months ago, I had the chance to read Mari L. McCarthy's 14 Days of Journal Magic for Writers and it helped me get back in touch with my love of writing.

In this book, Mari takes you on a journey through writing, including giving you moments of reflecting on your goals and your existing work. What I love about this is that there is no pressure at all in the exercises. It made me think about what I loved the most about writing. This book helped me figure out what my goals with writing and what has gotten me stuck lately. It also helped me focus on the stories themselves I'm working on, which I really appreciated.

One of my favorite exercises asks you questions that you must answer honestly.

A few of them include:

- When did you first consider yourself a writer?

- What about writing most appealed to you in the beginning? What made you want to continue?

- What do you enjoy most about writing now? What do you find most rewarding?

Answering these questions - and others included in the book - helped me realize why I am a writer and why I love telling stories.

I think this book is incredibly important for all of us right now, especially if you are feeling too stressed to write. Mari's book helped me quiet my spirit and reflect on where I'm at now and where I'd like to be.

Although this book can be worked through in a linear fashion, there were many times I jumped ahead a bit. I also let a few days go by between exercises, too. And this is one of those books that I plan on reading more than once. Like many of the books on writing that I have come to treasure, I know I will get something new out of it every time.

If you are in a spot in your life where writing seems far away, I encourage you to purchase Mari L. McCarthy's 14 Days of Journal Magic for Writers. It will help you get back on track and process the stress that keeps coming at us this year.

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY *****

Enter to win a copy of the book 14 Days of Journal Magic for Writers. Giveaway ends on August 22nd at 11:59 PM EST.  We will announce the winner on the Rafflecopter widget the next day. Thanks!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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