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Thursday, December 30, 2021

End of Year Thinking

This is the time of year when I do a lot of thinking.

And I don’t mean like when my kids were small and I’d try to take a tiny nap and tell them not to disturb Mommy because she is thinking. I mean, sure, my eyes are sometimes closed and I will often fall asleep during all this ruminating, but honestly, I’m seriously thinking. 

It’s important, this thinking. I will start with taking a look at what I’ve done in the past year and that informs new dreams, new plans. Because dreams do change, y’all, but how often do we take the time to really think of how we’ve changed and how that impacts our wants and needs and goals or dreams?

Certainly, my writing career has come a long way from where it started. When I left teaching, the principal of the middle school where I worked asked what my plans were, and at that point, my “plans” were to write. But I sensed she was expecting me to say something a bit more substantive, more impressive, if you will, and so I blurted out, “I’ve got an idea for a novel, a cozy mystery.” And the principal must have been truly impressed since she announced my plans at the end-of-the-school-year gathering. Everyone clapped and I tried to crawl under my chair. A novel? What was I thinking, saying I planned to write a novel? 

Well, I wasn’t thinking at all. I read an awful lot of mysteries and believed I could write a mystery novel, if I put my mind to it. And I actually did attempt a novel that first year. But after ten or so pages, and slap out of ideas, I was done. Good heavens, how did authors get an entire novel written

My end-of-year thinking pushed me toward flash fiction and essay-writing and I became a better story-teller. I used those skills to try my hand at web content and though I made a steady income, my thinking about that sort of writing made me realize that the money wasn’t worth the dream-sucking work. 

Throughout the many years, taking the time to think about what I was enjoying in my writing (my dreams) and weighing the pros and cons of different projects (the reality) has led me down lots and lots of varied writing paths, some wonderful and some, not so much. 

There are those of you who hold steadfast to your original writing dreams through all your ups and downs, both personal and business. And that’s the right way for you. But if you’re facing dissatisfaction, ennui, or even a writer’s block that’s more like a boulder, maybe this is the year to do some serious thinking. 

Ponder what you love in your writing, what you want in your writing career. Then think a bit more concretely about what it will take to get there. Are there habits you need to develop, or even bad habits you need to drop? Classes you could take? Webinars to attend? How will you spend your money on your career? How can you make money with writing? Is the money important to you? If not, what is important

See how a little thinking can lead to who-knows-where? There's the adventure, the excitement, friends, so happy thinking and happy writing in 2022! 

(And P.S. Where I am now is back to the beginning, writing a cozy mystery, and finally able to bring together enough words and ideas to complete it! I wonder if anyone sitting in that school cafeteria will see my hopefully-published novel one day and say, “Didn’t Cathy Hall start working on that book fifteen years ago?” And I will say, “Yes. Yes, I did!”)

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Why (And How!) to Keep a Writer's Notebook

by Leah Claire Kaminski

Open any writer’s notebook and you’ll find a unique ecosystem, populated with lists (of books, birds), quotations, diary entries, overheard dialogue, memories sparked, striking images, sketches, and memorabilia. Some notebooks might even contain actual writing! Ask any writer how they use their notebook, and you’ll get a different answer. Amit Chauduri writes back to front—notes at the back, with the first pages free in case he starts a novel. Carolyn Forché periodically transfers the sparkiest passages from past notebooks into a new one, which becomes dense with poetic possibility.

While they fill them assiduously, many writers don’t use all of what goes into their notebooks. Much of what enters my own notebooks never leaves. Joan Didion, who wrote a whole essay on notebooks, said that her old notes “seem marginal at best.” But the list of famous writers who keep notebooks is nearly as long as the list of famous writers: not just Didion and Forché, but Thomas Hardy, Henry James, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and on and on. So they must be on to something.

If not as a record to return to, or fruitful ground bearing the rough drafts of their next masterpiece, why do writers keep notebooks at all?

It’s helpful to think of your notebook not as a curated repository for your undiscardable thoughts but as an integral part of a private process: your mind thinking on paper. Novelist Lawrence Norfolk says of his notebook that while it may not be useful in a utilitarian sense, it’s significant because “work passes through it on the way to becoming something else.”

However you use it, your notebook is the surest portal into yourself as a writer. It’s not a library you must keep organized, but a doorway you must keep open, to keep writing vivid and alive in your life.

Convinced? Good. Here’s a few thoughts to get you started in your habit:

The Format:

Sketch book, Word document, or scratch paper? Lined or unlined? I use apps when I must—typing and recording—but I usually use an unlined, softcover Moleskine. There’s a reason most writers use physical journals. “To me, typing is like work,” Neil Gaiman said, while “writing with a pen is like playing.” More scientifically, handwriting (versus typing) can connect us more deeply to our emotions. Virginia Berninger, a professor at the University of Washington, explains that “when we write a letter of the alphabet…that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion.”

The Purpose:

Will you write whenever you feel “inspired”? Or create a more consistent practice? Will it be a notebook for brainstorming/project notes (like an artist’s notebook or scientist’s field book—as DaVinci and Darwin famously kept)? Will it be a place to write? Or a place to write about writing (a la John Steinbeck)? Or a brain dump (a la Julia Cameron) on the way to the “real” work? (Mine is a little of all of these, depending on my mood an project.)

The Process:

Can you journal every day at the same time? Or in the same circumstances every time (those free Saturday afternoons while the kids are napping)? Keep your notebook handy for whenever the mood strikes, but also consider an accompanying ritual to help firm up your habit—as simple as a cup of tea and a particular chair, or as complex as drawing a tarot card or speaking a spell.***


Leah Claire Kaminski holds degrees from UC Irvine and Harvard. For nearly 15 years she’s taught students to read with attention and to write poetry, academic essays, and creative nonfiction. Leah’s poetry and stories are widely published in magazines and anthologies, and in two chapbooks, Root (Milk and Cake Press, 2022), and Peninsular Scar (Dancing Girl Press, 2018). Her collection Live oak nearly on fire has recently been named a finalist for the Laureate Prize from Harbor Editions and the Paul Nemser Prize from Lily Poetry Review. She’s at work on a new collection, Small Continent of Light, and is also at work on a horror novel. Originally from Miami, Leah lived in Boston and Orange County, California before recently relocating to Chicago with her partner, child, and two cats, Bernie and Betsy. She loves writing, and teaching writing, because the page never judges. Visit her website at

Leah is also a WOW! Women on Writing instructor. Check out her upcoming workshop, WHY DO I WRITE?: (Re-)Discover Your Drive, starting January 10th!

Monday, December 27, 2021


These days, the term family has morphed into a larger circle. Or perhaps to be more accurate, the concept of family has been enlarged to include smaller circles of people who have no blood or marital relation to each other.

Why? Why are we are we venturing out and cherry-picking family members, instead of simply being satisfied with the family we were saddled with born or married into? Why are we calling people our work family and our writing family and our neighborhood family?

Necessity. These days, our true family members are scattered. Our real families are sometimes fractured and sometimes dysfunctional. To get the support and joy we need, like making something out of Lego, we have to build our own family, one brick at a time.

This holiday season, a few things happened that made me reflect on what family is to me. First, a group of teacher-writer friends got together at El Toro for our annual holiday party. If you've never heard of El Toro, that's not surprising, since it's a teacher-friend's lower-level bar set up in his home. 

Rob--a high school teacher and also a stand-up comedian--hosted the gala affair. Do the math: 140+ bottles of various alcoholic offerings. Seven or so stressed-out and so-ready-for-a-break teachers. Some  crockpot chili. Some killer artichoke dip. Some hideous white elephant gifts. Lots of fast-paced conversation and lots of laughter.

Also lots of instances of getting it. Instantly getting each other's moods and struggles and successes without hours of explanation.

This is what I was thrilled to get from our white elephant exchange:

Yes, it's a real and spectacular Jack Daniel styrofoam statue. I was worried when I chose a low number, because that meant somebody with a bigger number could steal it. It was still wrapped in a couple of trash bags, and was about 3 feet tall. One of the teachers there shook her head and said, "Nobody  is gonna steal that," she said laughingly. They'll be sorry. Jack is going to be transformed into Mark Twain, and will have a prominent spot in my classroom.

Before my school began its holiday break, we had a gathering at a local restaurant. I sat book-ended by a couple of teachers who never had a negative thing to say (or so I thought). I served up some snark... and they returned some. It was relaxing and rejuvenating and reminded me of why I love where I work.

Finally, on Christmas Eve I got together with my actual family. In-laws. My daughter and her family. I learned I should never buy anything Bob Ross again (check out the documentary--Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed). I learned that dried-out leather meat is not always on the menu. (The fish was succulent and delicious.) I also learned that real family is sometimes really great. 

                                                                    Virginia's gift to me

When I opened the above gift (from my daughter), I laughed. When everyone else saw what it was, they were confused. They haven't read my book--not interested in it, I guess. They looked at my daughter and me for an explanation.

"It's an inside joke," Virginia said, and she's right. It's inside all the circles of people who get me. I'm working on a screenplay... I envision my book being made into a movie... People who know me know that.

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang a song with the lyrics/title "Love the one you're with."  Surround yourself with people who love you and get you. Make sure the people who are around you give you joy, along with everything else you need, because you just might need it in 2022...

May the next year be the year for you.

Sioux Roslawski is a a middle-school teacher, a freelance writer and a novelist. Check out her book (Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story) on Amazon.


Saturday, December 25, 2021

Holiday Card Message Inspection from a Past-Wannbe Greeting Card Writer

When I first graduated from college with a B.S. in English and a M.A.E. in elementary education, I had dreams of teaching by day and writing by night. And the kind of writer that I wanted to be? A greeting card writer for Hallmark (or really any freelance card-writing gig would do). I bought a book about how to write greeting cards, and I wrote tons of ideas. I I don't even know if it was ever used.

We are at the time of year when people send cards. This doesn't happen as often for birthdays any more, and fewer people are sending Christmas cards, including myself this year because I ran out of time. So I put my holiday wishes on Facebook and called it a day.

But I love getting Christmas-holiday-New-Year's cards in the mail. And I thought it would be fun to look at some of these messages (FUN? Well, okay, interesting.), and then wonder why I could never sell an idea...

  • Wishing you a warm and snuggly, cozy, happy holiday. This card has an illustration of a mouse sleeping on top of a present, with some striped pjs on. I suppose he (or she) looks snuggly on the front of the card--definitely cute, but it wouldn't do to say: wishing you a cute, happy holiday, right? And the sentiment is nice. However, in St. Louis, it is unseasonably warm weather, so no one will want to be cozy in front of a fire with footie pajamas, or we'll look like we've been in a sweat lodge. 
  • What a year-2021. That about says it all, right? Here we are, still in the thick of the pandemic, and with the same questions we've had all along--what is it okay to do? But this card giver had a great idea and took this message in a much more positive spin--she put super cute photos of her family all over it with all the fun things they did in 2021. So she meant: What a year! (YAY!) Not: What a Year. (I'm so stressed out.) 
  • Season's Greetings: Hope You Enjoy Every Happy Thing This Season Brings: There's a little rhyme going on in this one, which is nice, and this is a good sentiment. This season does bring a lot of happy things, especially since I'm the mom of an 11-year-old who loves presents and a dog, who loves to try to help unwrap presents. And cookies--we made cookies which, of course, bring much happiness! (See photo above of 11-year-old decorating cookies!) But I know that if I was writing this card, I would have tried to make it much more complicated and come up with something other than THING. Event? Moment? Gift? Okay, thing it is.  
  • One more...I know this study of Christmas cards is fascinating...Snoopy and Woodstock are on the front, with Snoopy giving Woodstock a gift. The inside says: May the gifts of Christmas bring you happy moments and happy memories. Repeated the word happy in there--and the advice I've been giving and received forever, when writing a story or essay: don't repeat words, unless it's for rhythm and use words more precise than "happy." But it looks like Christmas and happy are together in the greeting card world. Because this is the second card (and I'm sure there are more) with happy on the inside, and in this one, they used it twice. I wonder if they could have used the rule of three and come up with: May the gifts of Christmas bring you happy moments, happy memories, and happy mimosas ? (Sticking with the m alliteration too...) 

You may be asking, if you made it this far, what in the world is this post about? (Or you may be enjoying egg nog and hiding out from your family's ugly Christmas sweater contest--what are you doing by the way?) Here's the point: 

I love getting Christmas cards, but I think it's really more about the front--the cover--the presentation and the feelings behind it--more than the words inside (or on the bottom of the photo card). And I was not meant to be a greeting card writer--I discovered it early and switched gears, and I have had a great time being a writer in other areas. 

So as you are looking at what has happened in your writing career this past year, remember, that it all builds to be the writer you are today. And if it is sprinkled with some work that didn't pan out the way you thought, no worries. You still gained experience, and you may be able to turn it into a blog post one day.

Happy holiday season to you and your family, and here's looking to a great 2022!
(Maybe you'll find that inside a greeting card one day...)

Margo L. Dill, pictured to the left at the holiday lights at Six Flags--a new family tradition to attend every year, is not a greeting card writer, living in St. Louis, MO, with her dog and daughter. She is an editor, publisher, and writer, and you can find out more about her here. Sign up for her January WOW! classes here

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Chasing Those Bright, Shiny Objects

Photo by Harry Cooke from Pexels

When I sat down to write this post, I decided to look back on some of the writing goals I shared with my Butt Kickers Writing Accountability Group at the beginning of last year (don’t you love that name?) What I learned is that writing down goals does not help you when you’re one of those writers who tends to chase all the bright and shiny objects that come your way. 

One of the best things about working in the freelance space is that you have flexibility to chase those random opportunities. This can also be one of the worst things you can do, because it distracts your focus. I’m not sure which camp I fall in, though. When I look back at my accountability group, not a lot of us have met all our original goals, but we’ve all continued to write and have made amazing strides. One member, Sioux Roslawski, published her book and is now working on adapting a screenplay of it. Sue Bradford Edwards has published several non-fiction books as a writer for hire and is working on both a cozy mystery and middle-grade fiction book. Another writer, Ann Kelly, juggles a full-time day job in the tech space but has also become an accomplished poet, getting her work published in several different literary journals. Kelly Sgroi has written several women’s fiction books and even received a full manuscript from an agent (crossing my fingers for her!) Nicole Pyles has continued to write, revise, and submit a bank of short stories all while seeking full-time employment and manage blog tours for WOW. WOW’s Executive Editor Angela Mackintosh has continued the day-to-day operations of running this amazing company, wrote more than 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month, has submitted creative non-fiction, and been published in several different literary journals, and much more. I know I’ve left some of their accomplishments off this list, but they are welcome to correct me in the comments section because I’m running out of space! 

For me personally, I had set a goal of monetizing my podcast, Missing in the Carolinas, grow my true crime YouTube Channel, wanted to submit a few essays to writing contests, and planned on revising a young adult novel I wrote several years ago during National Novel Writing Month. None of that really happened. I did continue to produce two episodes per month for the podcast while working my regional magazine editing gig, picked up a new ghostwriting client, and wrote 60,000 words of a thriller/suspense novel during National Novel Writing Month. I also entered one essay in a CNF category of a national writing category and am waiting to hear back on how that went. I have the tendency to look at this list of results/non-results and feel like I didn’t accomplish a lot, but if you look at the amount of content I wrote for The Muffin, my personal blog, the magazine I edit, the podcast, and the novel, it’s a heck of a lot of writing! I’m also in the process of seeking publication of another YA novel I wrote years ago, so there’s that. I was also featured on a local business podcast in my area and am in contact with another podcast I pitched myself to several months ago. 

I’m trying to learn how to embrace the beauty of the freelance life, and the freedom of choosing which projects I work on. I feel like you must go in one direction if the muse strikes you, even if it wasn’t on your “official list of goals.” 

Cheers to following the muse and I encourage you to follow all the bright and shiny objects in 2022!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas, which recently surpassed more than 40,000 downloads. Learn more about her work at

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Interview with Alaina Grimm, 2nd Place Winner in the WOW! Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest


Alaina Grimm began writing as a child. Her first full length story (Historical YA) never made it beyond a laptop and a large three ring binder. However, she still keeps a copy of it and the plethora of fractured fairy tales she wrote as a teenager in one of her many bookcases. She has written two other unpublished fantasy novels and is working on outlining her third. She works for a software development company by day and delves into writing stories in her fantasy worlds at night. Alaina and her husband have 2 wonderfully spoiled rescue dogs. She can be found on Twitter @alainagrimm or learn more at 

Read Alaina's award winning story here and then return to learn more about the author. 

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

WOW: Hi Alaina, welcome to the blog and congratulations on placing 2nd in this competition! What inspired the idea behind your haunting story, “Ripples?” 

Alaina: It’s odd to not remember. I remember writing it on my phone in the notes app while sitting in the kitchen with my family in 2015. Originally, it was a haunting ending to the Cinderella story. When I picked it back up in 2021, I eventually decided to drop the Cinderella reference because the characters developed beyond that initial start. 

WOW: I commend people who can write their well typing on their phone--I think I have a mental block against it. I could definitely sense an underlying darker fairy tale setting in this piece. You are currently seeking publication for your young adult high dark fantasy novel, “The Gillion.” For those who may be unfamiliar with the genre, how would you best describe it? 

Alaina: Dark Fantasy is a subgenre for Fantasy. "The Gillion" has all the elements of a Fantasy story but also has dark themes of horror. 

WOW: You mention in your bio that your first full-length story remains unpublished. Would you ever consider revisiting it and trying to find a home for it, or do you believe it’s a piece of work that was better suited to teaching you the discipline and craft of fiction writing? 

Alaina: Oh! Probably not. “A Letter for Liberty” is probably best left in its binder. I was a big reader of Ann Rinaldi in my youth, and she inspired me to write my only revolutionary war story about a young woman. There was no dramatic arc, just a series of events following the main character. It definitely taught me that I could write and a lot about history. 

WOW: That's understandable, but it sounds like the process was helpful for you. I do believe many of us have books that help us learn the craft, but may not necessarily ever need to be published. What are some of your favorite fantasy novels to read? 

Alaina: I read everything so I don’t think I can stick to just fantasy! I love the Black Jewel’s books by Anne Bishop. I recently introduced my nephew to Rick Riodan’s Percy Jackson books and was thrilled when he fell in love with them. Not long ago I read “I am Zarah” by Kate W Shea, which I highly recommend. Although it isn’t reading, I get a lot of ideas out of my RPG characters from games such as D&D. It’s an excellent way to build a character and consider their back story and then see how they grow and change from the world around them. 

WOW: I have a teen daughter who also likes to participate in RPG (Role Playing Games) and has also mentioned how great they are for character building. Regarding the submission process, do you have any tips you can share with our readers on query letter do’s and don’ts? 

Alaina: Do not give up! Get a beta reader for your query letter; you're likely going to miss something and another set of eyes will catch it. For my newer writing I'm working out a query letter first, if I can't sum the story up in a query letter there's probably more work development I need to do before I start writing.

WOW: That's great advice about getting a beta reader for the query letter! Getting feedback from others on that piece is so important because it's the first thing an agent or editor sees. Thank you again for joining us today, Alaina, and good luck on the submission and writing process!

Monday, December 20, 2021

A Lesson about Names

Meet Newton

Recently my family adopted a new cat.  He's new to us but, at about two years-old, we are his third home.  We promised to take him in when a friend moved and then they told us his name.  Apparently, we had invited Lucifer into our home.  

After we were told his name, we were also given a list of warnings.  He's aggressive.  He's a pest.  Will he take down the Christmas tree?  Who knows.  He's never seen one.  

But as we've gotten to know him, we've realized something. Lucifer is a horrible name for this curious, playful cat.  After trying out approximately 4,692 names, we're now calling him Newton aka Newton the Ninja.  

What does this have to do with writing?  Quite a bit actually because names bring expectations.

Your Writing

When you submit your work to a publisher or agent, make sure that you use the right terms.  This means that if you are new to writing for young readers, you need to learn the terms that everyone else uses.  A picture book is incredibly different from an early reader although both are illustrated.

The same holds true for your writing for adults.  If I send an agent a "cozy mystery," my detective had better not be an actual detective.  A science fiction novel involves cutting edge, futuristic science.  A fantasy includes magic.  Speculative fiction can have both.  

Your Characters

Character names are just as tricky.  A female character named Babette will immediately conjure one image while a woman named Iz will bring to mind someone completely different.

This doesn't mean that your character's name can't be a surprise, but that works only if you consider the expectations that your reader will have when they see the name itself.  Babette may be a welder while Iz wields a pen as a professional calligrapher, but to employ the humor you need to be aware of the expectation the name conjures.


No, I'm not going to suggest that you change your name or use a pen name.  Although if you want to do either, go ahead. What I am going to recommend is that you call yourself a writer.  Apparently not all of us do.  Some of us are teachers who write stories.  Or we might be accountants who add words together to create poetry.

And that's all well-and-good.  Day jobs are vital in enabling us all to have the tech we need to be here.  

But calling yourself a writer is also critical.  If you see yourself as a writer, you are more likely to take time out of your day to write.  After all, as moms and wives and daughters and employees, we all have other demands on our time.  As writers, we acknowledge that one of those demands is stringing together words.

Names are powerful things. Give yourself permission to write by calling yourself a writer.  This will also help you to find the space you need to learn the terminology of your craft and have fun naming your characters.  After all, it is all part of beung what?  A writer. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on January 2, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins January 2, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins January 2, 2022). 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Melissa Knox Returns as a Runner Up in WOW!'s Creative Nonfiction Contest: An Interview

We welcome back Melissa Knox to the Muffin with her essay "Racing Heart," which placed as a runner up in our Q4 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay contest. If you haven't read it yet, you can check it out here.

Here's a bit about Melissa: 

Melissa Knox’s recent writing appears in Another Chicago Magazine, Burningwood Literary Journal, and Lamplit Underground, which nominated her for a Pushcart. Her book, Divorcing Mom: a Memoir of Psychoanalysis, was published in 2019 (Cynren Press) and garnered praise from Helen Fremont, Ruth Wariner, and Charles Monroe-Kane. Visit her website at

WOW: Congratulations, Melissa, on your essay "Racing Heart" placing as a runner up in our latest creative nonfiction contest. This essay is full of memories from your younger years, music, and thoughts on racism. What themes would you say you are exploring in this piece? 

Melissa: I’m exploring what racism is—and is not. Music of my youth is often wrongly characterized as racist. Songs in the musical Hair about “white boys” and “black boys,” for instance, are about enjoying love and sex. Mick Jagger’s “Brown Sugar,” is a lighthearted riff, salted with crude jokes about slavery and colonization. It’s racy, but not racist: the music determines the intention, and the popular notion that his lyrics promote brutality, rape, slavery or torture is ludicrous. One of the greatest anti-racism novels ever written, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, has been reduced to the two-hundred plus appearances of the n-word, whose so-called “impact” is mistakenly considered more important than Twain’s intention in using it. 

WOW: Emphasizing "what racism is--and is not" is the perfect tagline for your piece and one of the reasons why it is so brilliant.  What drove you to write this essay? 

Melissa: I felt dismayed by a number of so-called anti-racist bestsellers advocating a new form of racism—Ibram X. Kendi and Robin di Angelo, for example, insist that all inequality stems from racism, that all white people are racist, that “whiteness” and “blackness” are essential qualities. This completely departs from some of the lyrics that blessed my teenage years, whose message is that our common humanity helps us to unite in favor of social justice: Sly and the Family Stone sang: “We got to live together.” Today, I see so many people—especially women—assuming guilt as “white people” or feeling victimized as people of color. I long for a return to the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: know people as individuals, not members of a race. Judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. 

WOW: So well said. I recently visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, which is the location where Dr. King was shot and killed. That museum speaks his message. If you haven't been there, I highly recommend it. Let's switch gears a little. Your bio is quite impressive! You have been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. Tell us about your piece for that and how that felt!

Melissa: It felt wonderful to be nominated by Concho River Review for “A Whale of a Gift”—an essay on love and betrayal featured also in my memoir, and by Lamplit Underground for brief essays on grief--but of course over a thousand people are nominated every year. How delightful it would be to actually win a Pushcart! I’ll work hard and hope to achieve that honor someday. 

WOW: You mentioned you also have a memoir published, Divorcing Mom: A Memoir of Psychoanalysis. What are the universal themes you explore in your memoir? 

Melissa: Brainwashing and obedience to authority. Stockholm syndrome. What it’s like to feel forced away from things you know in your heart are true, before cutting loose and realizing, with amazement, you don’t have to believe in an older and supposedly wiser person who—to your shock—isn’t helping you, as he says, at all. 

WOW: I read about your book on your website. I encourage all of our readers to do the same. Your story may be of interest to several of our audience. Best of luck with your memoir. Congrats, again, Melissa on your WOW! Creative Nonfiction Contest essay win. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Getting Back Into the Habit of Writing Again

I read something recently that talked about how we need to embrace our creative seasons. We're in the midst of the winter season and I tend to feel pulled towards new drafts rather than rewriting. I wasn't sure that was the case for me this year, and to be honest, over the past few months, it has been a while since I approached any new creative work. I've had my share of revisions, sure, but I've not written anything new. 

Until this past weekend, of course. 

I really didn't have it in me to do anything creative this weekend but I thought of advice I came across where someone said they just wrote 100 words a day. And well, I figured I can manage that, so I brought up my phone and took out an app I used in the past to write stories, and I opened up a story that I've been meaning to return to for months. And I wrote. Honestly, I think I got 50 words down, but that's 50 more new words that I wrote than I did the last few months. 

It felt weird to write again, to be honest. This year has been stressful for a variety of reasons. Finally, though, this past month I found a job and I think the cobwebs of worry cleared a bit, allowing me to continue some creative projects.

This led me to think about how I approach things creatively lately. Earlier this year, in January, I wrote in my notebook, but this time around, I'm pulled towards the blueish glow of the digital screen. Even in the midst of my revision process, I still examine, edit, and rewrite my story on my phone. 

I have a few bits of advice for those of you who are trying to see what works for you creatively lately.

Consider this:

  • Try a new method of writing. If your last plentiful season of writing included notebooks and pens, break out your digital device instead. It feels like a fresh start when you use a method of writing that's the opposite of when you were last successful.
  • Return to something familiar. I dragged up a story that I had left off halfway finished. While I may not stick with it until the end, it got me back into the mode of writing new stuff again.
  • Do a little bit each day. I'm not a fan of word count goals but try and do something with your writing each day. Revise a sentence, write a new paragraph, and jot down a new idea or two. Re-read your favorite book of writing advice. Do something just a little bit each day that moves your writing forward.
  • Don't get too down about your progress. Because as long as you are still pursuing and trying, it's progress! If you have been away a while, all that matters is getting back into the habit of writing again.
So if you have been away from writing for a while and want to rebuild that habit, I hope my advice has helped you. Don't wait for the new year to start your writing goals. Start them today!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Putting Yourself First (AKA Self-Care) and Life Glows On

I have a problem with putting myself first--ever. I'm not trying to be a martyr. I promise. I think it's just my current life stage of being a single mom of a needy dog and elementary-school-aged child and the only child of elderly parents. I have to constantly remind myself of the saying (and what to do on an airplane): "You have to put your oxygen mask on first." And that's so true. If we don't take care of ourselves or put our writing and creativity first sometimes, we will not be able to take care of the people who need us.

During the holiday season, it's particularly hard to do this. At least for me. Besides the normal responsibilities and work, there are also presents to buy and wrap, traditions to continue, friends and family to see and goals to still try to reach because 2021 is almost at an end. Tired yet? 

So what can we do?

1. In the December Market eNewsletter, I mentioned a gift you could get for a writer, or have someone buy for you: a hotel stay--you can rent rooms by the day or the traditional way. Give yourself the gift of getting away and focusing on your writing and your self-care. If you missed that newsletter, click here to read for the information and inspiration.

2. I've been in a book club this year. And although I'm not the best member about attending, I do enjoy the books we read. We have read Claire Cook's Life Glows On (pictured above). Claire is famous for Must Love Dogs, and I love this woman as both an author and a person. I met her at a writing conference, and we stayed in social media touch, and then I won the entire 7 books in the Must Love Dogs series. (If you don't remember Must Love Dogs, it was made into a movie! Screenshot from below.) 

Back to Life Glows On, Claire and her husband both suffered from COVID-19 and recovered, but it was a long road. After that experience, she wrote this book. Here's a little bit about it from her website
"Whether you’re a writer, artist, or crafter in need of a boost, or someone who (incorrectly!) tells yourself you’re not creative (you are!), this book is a much-needed balm to the soul.“—Book Perfume 

 “It’s a how-to ‘Cook-book’ filled with wonderful ideas to help you locate that spark and use that new-found innate creativity to keep yourself busy, productive—and happy—during difficult times like pandemic shutdowns and post-shutdowns.”—Pamela Kramer 

"Packed with fun ideas and solid, practical strategies for reconnecting with your creativity and making the rest of your life the best of your life. Ditch all those worries about getting older and embrace what can be the most vibrant and empowering chapter of your life. Equal parts creativity guide, mood boost, midlife manifesto, self-help salve, and breath of fresh air. 100% witty, wise and generous Claire Cook, who shares everything she’s learned on her own journey that might help you in yours. Filled with great stories and insider tips."

Yes, it's all that and more. And if you're lucky enough to share it with a book club or friend, I think you'll get even more out of the book.

3. Schedule time for yourself: My most productive days are when the night before, I make a schedule and stick to it the best I can--which includes taking a walk and working on my own work. I schedule that in--sometimes, I even put exact times down for the walk or writing time. 

So I know this topic of self-care is old news, but take care of yourself! Take time for yourself! And you might think, I don't have one more second in the day. But you may find you have more seconds, if you focus on yourself for just a bit because you will feel energized and ready to tackle what life is throwing at you! 

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach, publisher, author, and editor, living in St. Louis, MO with her daughter and dog. Check out her editing business here and the classes she teaches for WOW! here. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Interview with Kaylie Hatch, First Place Winner of Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest

Kaylie’s Bio:
Writing has been Kaylie’s passion ever since first grade, when she realized she didn’t just have to tell a story; she could let her imagination run wild, and fall in love with her characters. She especially loves fantasy and science fiction—genres where she can really let her imagination play. She is currently working her way to making a career of writing. She writes short stories, flash fiction, poems, and novels, but this is her first time actually being published. She also loves reading aloud, be it her stories, or those written by others. She was born in Seattle, and still misses the Pacific Northwest, but now lives in Dallas. You can connect with her @i-prefer-the-term-antihero on tumblr, @antiherowriting on twitter, and/or @i_prefer_the_term_antihero on Instagram. She loves chatting with fellow writers, and receiving feedback on her work, as well as prompts!

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Summer 2021 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Kaylie: Thank you so much!! It still doesn’t feel quite real to be honest. I can’t believe I won!!

I’ve been writing for a long time, and while I have always been serious about it, I’d never entered any official competitions before. One day I just decided I really wanted to enter a flash fiction contest and yours came up. Yours was certainly the most appealing. Even just reading the rules the competition felt very personable. I really loved your option to receive critiques too. it’s been a wonderful experience all around.

WOW:  Love to hear that! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “The Dressing Room?”

Kaylie: It actually originally began as an idea for a prompt of another writing group I’m in. They do weekly prompts, and one was “Staring into Their Eyes.” That was back in March of this year. I decided to submit a different story for that prompt specifically, but that idea of The Dressing Room was one I never quite forgot. I always wanted to make it into something because it felt like it could be a really powerful idea if done well. It seems that you guys agree and I couldn’t be happier!!

The one thing I know for sure it was inspired by was something in one of Terry Pratchett’s works. In Witches Abroad there’s a scene where Granny Weatherwax becomes trapped in a prison of mirrors. Death tells her that she will get out when she finds the one that’s real. She looks down at herself and says “this one.” I always found that idea extremely powerful, and had wanted to do something similar for a long time.

I’m sure it partially came from being someone who struggles with anxiety and self-image too, and knowing there were others around me who struggled with similar issues. But ultimately I think probably everyone has that one thing they want to be more of—more beautiful, more intelligent, more powerful, happier, etc.

I had this idea of a dressing room where you could “dress” as another version of yourself, rather than clothes. I liked this thought of someone being able to bring their desires to change themselves into fruition. The power of the dressing room is a horrible one, really. It’s the kind of thing that looks wonderful on the surface—you get to be the best version of yourself—but in practice…how much of you—the you who walked into that room—would you lose in picking another version of yourself? Which version of yourself is the one who walks into the room? What quality do you possess most abundantly? What if the version of yourself who walks into the room doesn’t possess one quality in particular, but rather already has all those qualities you want, and you don’t even realize it? What if you’d lose more than you gained by choosing a single version of yourself?

So this story is kind of my encouragement to anyone who looks in the mirror and sees something they want to change about themselves. That perhaps you are already the best version of yourself.

WOW:  That's a great message. What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Kaylie: It really was that other writing group I’m in that sparked a passion for flash fiction in me. (The group is called Tale Foundry, if anyone’s curious). I joined it in early December last year. Previously I would write in the opposite direction—my pieces would be very long, sometimes too long. But I liked this idea of writing a piece every week, and was willing to stretch my limits to get everything I wanted to say into the small word limit. I expected the word limit to be a burden, but after doing that for a year I’ve become rather fond of it. I really enjoy the challenge of it. I think it’s helped my other writing a lot too because it’s taught me how to edit much faster, and say what I want to say in a more concise manner—as well as simply help me figure out what I truly want to say in the first place.

WOW: Can you tell us what projects are you currently working on? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Kaylie: I’m always working on a lot of things at once, but what you can probably expect next from me is I’d like to begin submitting short stories to magazines. I’m currently working on a science fiction story. I’ll probably also continue to submit flash fiction to competitions (probably even to more of yours) too!

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Kaylie. Before you go, do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice you can share?

Kaylie: It has more to do with critique, but honestly the best piece of writing advice I ever got—and I regularly give this advice to other writers—is that other writers will often critique you based on how they would have written the piece.

When I was starting out, I thought I had to take every critique given me—that other people would obviously know better than me. But one day someone critiquing me paired her critique with that piece of advice and it kinda changed my life.

I realized that other people didn’t by default know better than me. They're people too, with their own styles and preferences. I was allowed to look at their critiques and go “would changing this benefit the piece as a whole?” and I was allowed to say “no.” Because that’s what matters: what benefits the piece.

Now that’s not to say you should blow off every critique you get, certainly not. Like I said, ask yourself if taking the critique would benefit the piece. Sometimes it will. But other times it’s just a stylistic choice and you’re free to take pride in the choice you made.

There is so much writing advice out there, but after around fifteen years of writing, I’ve found that almost every “rule” people make about writing isn’t truly a hard and fast rule that applies in every situation. (Like, people say you shouldn’t use adverbs and passive voice. There is absolutely a reason people say that, and you should pay good attention to when you’re using either, but you can certainly use both to great effect as well).

All that to say, as weird as it might sound, the best piece of writing advice I have is…sorta, don’t give others’ advice too much power over you. Know that it’s your writing. And your writing journey. I’ve found people tend to learn those writing rules I mentioned before with time, but only through learning how those rules work through their own writing.

So in a nutshell…be true to yourself, and be willing to go on your own journey with writing. Learn to enjoy your writing first and foremost.

Thank you for chatting with me!! As well as for all the support!! I’ve had such a wonderful time participating in this contest!!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

Monday, December 13, 2021

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Yes, I know the holiday season is hectic and stressful with plenty of not-so-very-merry moments, but it’s my favorite time of the year when it comes to my writing path, career, or whatever I’m calling it these days. Because December is when I do a slow roll, take some deep breaths, and review…well, me.

And I can hear you saying, “That’s all well and good for you, Cathy. I don’t have time for that!” Well, this blog post is for you! 

The Website and/or Blog Assessment

Before the start of the New Year, it’s a good idea to do a little sprucing up around your writer online home. Not a major reno; this is no time for an overhaul. It is terrific for a quick check to make sure everything’s running smoothly. 

Do you have links to your portfolio, your books, writers’ resources, a bio? Basically, if there are links to anything on your landing page, check them to see if they’re working. You’d be surprised how often markets or even publishers disappear. 

Do you keep an online calendar? If the last date on it is from 2019 (or later!), then think about scrapping it. Maybe you just haven’t quite got round to updating your calendar, but what the new reader going to your site sees is someone who’s no longer relevant, and that’s not a good look, friends, even if you’re feeling that way. 

And finally, if you’re not so good at updating in general but you want to keep a blog for a very occasional musing or posting of infrequent news, consider taking dates off your blog. Undated posts on a blog keep you out there (without the guilt). 

So how the heck are you supposed to achieve all this updating and reviewing? You multi-task, of course, because this is not the sort of job that requires laser-focused mind power. Enjoy a holiday program with the family, for example, and zip through your website, deleting here and there. (Do not do your zipping and deleting at your kid’s holiday school show, even if you listen very attentively for the 18 seconds of a solo from your own kid.) And speaking of doing something while watching something else…

Cleaning Out the Inbox 

The trick to this review is to not actually review. Basically it’s clean up on Aisle 4 and by Aisle 4, I mean an inbox that has stuff you haven’t read (but thought you were going to read) and it’s months old.

Here’s my thinking: if I’ve gone all year and haven’t found/taken the time to read an email that’s say…over three months old, I’m not going to suddenly decide I can’t go another minute without it. So I just check, check, check and then delete, delete, delete. 

HOWEVER, if you simply can’t let go of certain newsletters, etc. then create a file folder for each category and dump them in there. You’ll never go back to them there, either, but at least they won’t be mucking up your inbox. 

Reviewing The Goals 

If you’re the sort who made specific (or even not-so-specific) goals back in January, this is the perfect time to check back and see how you’ve done because you still have a wee bit of time to get ‘er done. Even if you do a little shady finagling (like changing your Goodreads Reading Challenge so that you’ll accomplish it) to make yourself feel better. 

Anyway, the point is, maybe in the middle of a wonderful-time-of-the-year meltdown you holler, “That’s it. I’ve had just about enough!” and you storm out the door and you go to a park and take a nice, long, quiet walk and lots of deep breaths and you think about all that you have accomplished this year and you feel a little, maybe even a lot better, because you had no idea just how wonderful you are.

 And that’s why it’s my favorite time of the year, friends, and I hope it will be yours, too. (Maybe without all the hollering, but all the rest, happy reviewing, writing, and holidays!)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Interview with Diana Friedman, Q4 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Diana Friedman is an award-winning writer whose fiction, articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications including New Letters, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, The Baltimore Sun, Bethesda Magazine and Whole Earth Review. She is the recipient of the Alexander Patterson Cappon Fiction Prize and a Pushcart Prize nomination, and her work has been selected as a finalist at multiple magazines and presses. She has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, the Maryland State Arts Council, and was a National Park Artist-in-Residence at Catoctin Mountain Park. Diana is also a writing teacher: she has taught creative writing at Writopia Lab, professional writing at the University of Maryland, and facilitated small group workshops. She currently co-facilitates a long-term writing group at the New Directions Program at the Washington/Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis as well as an online collective of artists and writers. Diana considers herself a midwife for emerging writers, offering support and guidance for those new to the artistic process to claim their voice. She is delighted to be joining forces with the dynamic Georgina Howard, founder of Pyrenean Experience, to offer Creative Writing Workshops in the uniquely inspirational setting of Iaulin Borda in the Basque Pyrenees of Navarra, Spain.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q4 2021 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Diana: I found WOW on a list of publications recommended for short pieces. I was immediately drawn to WOW because I could see by the diversity of essays that you publish that your primary metric for judging is truly “quality of writing.” Many literary journals state that they are looking for something “fresh” and “new,” or that “wows” them, but with many of these publications you have to figure out how to match their specific aesthetic, which I find difficult, and to be honest, a bit tedious. For this piece, I wanted to tell a story in my own voice, and WOW seemed to be a place that accepts a wide variety of styles and voices, so I’m delighted you took it!

WOW: I loved your entry, “My Summer of Love,” and I felt like I was there watching and listening to everyone as you did. What inspired you to write this particular piece?

Diana: It originally started as a brief anecdote about my father dumping the butter-bowl on my mother’s head—a story which, by the way, remains legendary in my family!

After finishing the first draft I realized that some “child” part of me still felt anger and resentment at my parents for divorcing and disrupting what had felt like a happy childhood, given all of the freedom we had and the love we felt during the time the story takes place. As I rewrote, I realized the piece was not just about the anger but about that love. And also about how a child of nine or ten can’t fully interpret what’s going on when adults are not quite behaving like adults. So, the first challenge was to try to convey how I, as that child, struggled to make sense of that moment.

Now, when I look back on what was going on at that table, I could write a very different story, for example, my parent’s inability to work out their problems in a mature way, which, as I just mentioned, is where the piece started. But as I rewrote the story, I really wanted to make it about both; how love can be messy, but also magical, especially in those moments when everyone feels so united. How as an adult, you can look back at the family disfunction and still hold two conflicting ideas at once. I mean it sincerely when I say that those crazy times were some of the happiest of my childhood because there was so much love everywhere.

I think I was also motivated to revisit that era because of all the recent political events—the polarization of the country, the hatred spewed on social media, the way the pandemic has divided us into those of us who feel we care about the safety of the group versus those screaming about their individual rights to not wear a mask even if it means harming others. All of that has left me nostalgic for my experience of the early 70s when there didn’t seem to be so much venom. I miss the feelings of permissiveness and freedom. In my family that permissiveness filtered down to my brothers and me, and I am grateful to my parents for the freedom they gave us to explore.

WOW:  You co-facilitate creative writing workshops in Spain, which sounds fabulous. What would you say are the main benefits of attending a writing retreat?

Diana: The first time I attended a writer’s retreat, I was amazed by the volume of work I accomplished. In just seven days I stripped down to the bone a draft of a novel and restructured 200 pages; at my second retreat I rewrote five chapters in under a week.

But retreats are not just about the sheer volume of what you produce; the growth you experience as an artist when given the opportunity to focus uninterrupted on a creative project free of family, work and general responsibilities is unparalleled. At a writer’s retreat, with no phone, children, bills, leaky faucets, etc., I experience what I call the “unweighting,” which comes from the lifting of the 24/7 responsibilities. For me, this unweighting provides access to an internal silence, and it’s into that silence that my ideas for plot and theme and conversations with characters all pour unbidden. Having access to that deep well where ALL of my thoughts are on my work and my work only, allows me to create at a level far more profound than anything I can accomplish at home.

Iaulin borda, the farmhouse where we have the Pyrenean Creative Writing Retreat, is without question my favorite place in the world to write. I am not exaggerating when I say it is unparalleled in terms of inspiration and beauty. The bedrooms look out over a lovely garden at the base of the hill; beyond that is a majestic view of the ‘hobbit-like’ farmlands of the Basque Pyrenees. Every morning, you open your curtain to a new landscape sculpted by the shape of the fog, the temperature and the position of the sun. Throughout the house, there are nooks and crannies to focus on your work. And when you need a break, you can soak in the views from the terrace or the dining room, or, simply head out on one of dozens of walks that takes you around the mountains or down to the villages with medieval church spires and terraced fields.

I’m very excited to be co-leading this retreat. It’s designed for writers of all levels of experience. We have optional sessions in the mornings to discuss building blocks of story for newer writers, along with writing prompts to help get creative juices flowing. The rest of the day is free for writers to work as they choose, until the evening when we gather around the dinner table where we work together to help each other power through setbacks, discuss writing blocks, and equally important, celebrate triumphs.

Oh, and the food—local Basque and Spanish cuisine—is fantastic. Plus, the wine is unlimited. What’s not to love about any of that?

WOW:  It sounds wonderful! Can you tell us what projects are you currently working on? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Diana: My main project right now is a novel set in Spain. After months of research, I’m on the verge of finishing a first draft and it feels like a house under renovation; screws and faucets and wood planks and drywall scattered everywhere. How on earth will I get all the pieces into place? Next year—2022—I’ll be focused on taming the story into a piece of work that readers will want to read.

I also have a number of essays in the pipeline that focus on contemporary issues such as the environment, my family, a long-ago sexual assault, and getting caught in Spain with my son in 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.

WOW:  Best of luck with the novel and your essays! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Diana. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Diana: Don’t get complacent. In order to keep growing as a writer, work on the aspects of writing that are hardest for you. For me, that’s revision, because I know that when a piece is ready to send out, rejection will always be around the corner. For this reason, I tend to let many pieces that are almost done gather dust on my computer rather than deal with the fear of rejection. It’s very easy to be self-destructive as a writer, and this is definitely my weak spot.

To counter this, my goal for 2022 is to submit enough short pieces to enough outlets that I can receive 100 rejections! While I certainly hope I receive some acceptances in there, setting 100 rejections as a goal will push me to get my work out into the world faster than I usually do, and, I hope, push me to get past what’s hardest for me.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Tell, Don't Show

Like all writers, the mantra Show, don't tell has been drilled into my head for decades. It's also what I try to instill in my middle-schoolers. Don't tell the reader your character is angry. Show the reader. What's going on with the character's breathing? Is their face getting red? Are they clenching their fists? Are they pacing? 

I also depend on internal dialogue to flesh out a story. The thoughts that are swirling around in a character's head add so much to a piece. Every instant, we're having a conversation with our self--in our head. Letting the reader in on a character's internal workings enriches a book.

Scripts are different. Way different.

                                                                  olilynch's image by Pixabay

When writing a screenplay, the writer has to tell what the viewer will see--in a straightforward way. Usually, I try to paint pictures with words. Flowery phrases. Similes. Metaphors. Alliteration.

In a script, you don't need no stinkin' similes. In a bare-bones fashion, the screen writer has to tell what the camera sees... what the actor does. And that's it. The goal is to create a visual and emotional moment. Actually, the goal is to create a whole string of emotional and visual moments.

If you're curious how writing a novel is different from writing a screenplay, you can read this article.

I'm halfway through a first draft of a script. I'm transforming my novel, Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, into a screenplay. While at a writing retreat, a writer friend asked me if there were directors interested in it. Of course. Have you heard of Martin Scorsese? Denzel Washington? Steven Spielberg? The three of them are in a bidding war.

Just kidding. But I can fantasize, can't I? 

The good news: there are screenwriting programs that help you with the formatting. I'm using StudioBinder. After getting accustomed to what I initially thought of as wonkiness, I've found it's almost intuitive. After typing up a bit of action, the program automatically switches to a character and dialogue. Or does it? Is it simply me that has gotten into the scriptwriting groove?

I'm not sure.

I started this as my NaNoWriMo project. A finished screenplay is going to be much tighter and way less textier, so even if I had finished it by November 30, it still would not have been 50,000 words long. I told myself that if I got to the end of the book by the end of November, I'd consider NaNoWriMo a success.

I failed.

However, the way I look at it is this: I have half of a rough screenplay done, and that is a half of a screenplay more than I would have had if I had not done NaNoWriMo.

It's good to be a cup half-full person...

Writing friends--I see some of your pieces as future movies. Seriously. Pat Wahler: Your book I am Mrs. Jesse James would make a superb movie. Linda O'Connell: The memoir I keep bugging you to write? It would make an incredible movie. Renee Roberson: You have dozens of real-life stories about missing people. Your lovely voice narrating the haunting episodes? It would be a definite winner. Angela Mackintosh: The memoir/novel you're still writing (and I haven't even read, but I know it will be mind-blowingly brilliant when it's finished) would be perfect for the screen.

Just sayin'.

Sioux Roslawski is a freelance writer, the proud author of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, a rescuer of dogs and a middle-school teacher. You can check out more of her writing on her blog.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Completing NaNoWriMo 2021

In my last blog post I wrote about how this year’s NaNoWriMo project was going. In mid-November, I was on track to complete my goal of 60,000 words. The novel is a suspense thriller set in a fictional town in North Carolina. It features a young woman who hosts and produces a podcast about people with survival stories, from kidnappings to domestic violence and everything in between. She is also investigating the disappearance of her older sister, who went missing from the summer camp she worked at when the podcaster was still in high school. I don’t have an official logline or elevator pitch for the book yet, and only a placeholder title. I had the fifteen story beats outlined when I began, but many elements of the story changed almost immediately. 

The process of writing the story flowed easily in the beginning. I think that was because I knew I wanted to include transcripts of some of the survival podcast episodes, because the podcaster learns things from these stories that she uses later in her own survival. There is also a “B” story about a church that acts as a cult and the podcaster names them in a series of episodes she later wins an award for. You don’t know if people following her and sending her threatening messages are connected to the church or are simply pretending to be, and there’s another twist about the cult survivor story that factors into the plot. These “transcripts” flowed easily and helped make up the bulk of the first part of the book. Where I struggled was the second part of the month. I began to get anxious about being able to wrap up the story by Nov. 30. This is not a requirement for NaNoWriMo, but I personally wanted to do it so the editing process would be easier. I also just got tired, and I had a big work deadline in the middle of writing, which forced me to work on the book later at night, and my mind is not as sharp that time of day. The post-it note method worked well for me, but I will admit I got sidetracked the last fourth of the novel and never updated the notes on my wall. You know what they say about the best laid plans . . . 

I finished the project early in the day on Nov. 30 with 60, 378 and the draft has a beginning, middle, and end. This was my third completed NaNoWriMo project, so it’s obvious I’m one of those writers who thrives on deadlines. I also have a weird obsession with summer camps, although I never went to one in my childhood (I have a middle-grade novel that also takes place at a camp in Texas). Once I tell people I have a goal, I don’t want to admit I didn’t meet it, either. I’m already thinking about revisions, although I haven’t opened the document back up since I finished it. The protagonist needs a sidekick/friend. Or her virtual assistant needs to be fleshed out more and made into a friend. The story is told by different POVs, and those voices need to be tweaked. A few loose ends need to be clarified better at the end of the book. My podcast had to take a backburner during this time, although I did somehow produce two episodes during November. December may be a wash. 

That’s my wrap-up on this year’s project. It was my first shot at writing a mystery/thriller, so we’ll see if beta readers think I covered all the important elements once I get to that point. But first, revision! 

I'd love to hear your own past and present NaNoWriMo stories!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. This is her third completed project for National Novel Writing Month. Learn more at

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Should You Be a Specialist or a Generalist?

Some people in the publishing community will tell you that the only way to be a successful writer is to specialize. If you are a poet, you need to focus on poetry. If you are an essayist, do not tinker with novel writing! Write essays. Picture book writers should write picture books and so on. 

The benefit of this is that focusing can help you build a platform. You will be known for doing that one thing and doing it well. And it is easier to hone a skill when it is well-defined. 

The drawback is that by focusing on one and only one type of writing, you miss opportunities. Call yourself a picture book author and you may pass up the opportunity to write for magazines or young adult nonfiction. 

Other publishing professionals will recommend that you generalize, creating more than one type of work. One writer I knew early in my career would research some topic and then write both a historical fiction novel and a nonfiction book on the same topic. 

I write nonfiction books for the school library market as well as blog posts. I have also reviewed, written magazine articles and written for various publishing publications. 

The benefit of a generalist approach is that you can take advantage of a wide variety of opportunities. I started out as a picture book author. I still don’t have a picture book, and maybe if I specialized I would have one by now. But I wouldn’t have my reviews, articles and nonfiction books for teens. 

Another benefit is staying sharp. I’ll be the first to admit that I bore easily. By writing several different types of material, I am more completely engaged. Yes, I have to put more thought into what I’m doing but that’s okay. It helps me focus.

But the drawback is that you can spread yourself too thin. One day you’re working on your novel. The next you do a bit of research for an article. But you don’t return to your novel on day 3 because you’ve had a great idea for a how-to. The possibilities are endless! 

So which is best for you? It depends. If you are a tightly focused author who is working on a novel but hasn’t made any progress in months, try something new. It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. Try writing something short like a guest post for the Muffin or a how-to or a poem. 

 If you are, like me, a writer who works on many different things, but you aren’t getting anything done, narrow your focus. It doesn’t have to be forever, but for the next week, focus on one project and only one project. See how much you can get done in a week and build some momentum. 

You don’t have to be a specialist. No one is forcing you to be a generalist. There is no one way to be a successful writer. The key is to find what works for you right now and do it. What works may change, but when it does you’ll have made some progress on one thing or many. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on January 2, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins January 2, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins January 2, 2022).