Interview with 1st Place Winner Betsy Armstrong - Q3 2022 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, July 31, 2022
Betsy Armstrong is a writer and Intuitive Eating coach who enjoys writing creative non-fiction essays, flash, and memoir which explore family, feelings, food, and our physical forms. Writer’s Digest and WOW! Women On Writing have recognized her essays, “The Alchemy of Apple Pie,” “Letter to My Body,” and “A Mother’s Whalesong,” in various contests; she has also been published in The Pinch Journal. She is currently at work on a memoir about losing her mother and adopting two children from Russia. Betsy lives in Chicago with her husband and two children, four pets, and a recipe collection that spans four generations. You can learn more at her website:; on Facebook: Betsy Anderson Armstrong; or on Instagram: @wordsbybetsy.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q3 2022 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “To the Lady of the Evening in Moscow?”

Betsy: Thank you! It's such an honor to win first place! I was inspired to write the essay due to an assignment I had in a writing class, which was to write a piece about something or someone who haunted me. I immediately thought of the woman in the restaurant in Moscow, even though it's been ten years since I saw her there. The other part of the assignment was to give the story a sense of place. Again, I thought about walking around bustling Moscow with terrible jet lag and huge anxiety about the adoption.

WOW: How did your essay develop, both in your initial thinking about it and in the revision process?

Betsy: In my initial thinking, I was writing about a prostitute in a restaurant and the scene I witnessed - how I was helpless to assist her and how angry I was at the men surrounding her. The comment the pediatrician made, about how 90% of unadopted orphans become sex workers, has always stuck with me and occurred to me as I wrote. It's such a tragedy and again, I feel helpless and angry in the face of this overwhelming circumstance. As I got into the writing, I connected my disgust with the Russian men/patriarchy to my disgust and anger with the doctor who assaulted me. It was in the revision process that the piece became somewhat of a battle cry for women. I wanted to take the frank stare the prostitute gave me and my own experience - the anger, impotence, and violation - and show how it's made me stronger. Once I did that, I brought in the "we," as in all of us women who suffer the insults of the patriarchy daily, yet continue to push on, to make our way in life and ultimately, make our spirits indestructible.

WOW:  Thank you for sharing how your revision process led to the powerful essay that you ended up with. I also appreciate the last sentence of your answer!  You’re also currently working on a memoir. Can you tell us anything about it, and what your novel writing journey has been like so far?

Betsy: I've been working on my memoir for nine years and am in the stage of querying, which is exhausting. The book is about losing my mother early in life, how that loss made me very ambivalent about having kids myself, and how I finally overcame that ambivalence to adopt my kids when I was 47, which was the age my mother never saw because she died at 46. There is a failed adoption, a courtroom drama, and of course, the assault by the doctor which actually showed me that these were the kids I'd do anything to save, that I was meant to be their mom.

When I began writing, I wrote only short pieces about my experience. Once I had over 200 pages, I realized that this was bigger and could be a book. So I started over by writing the "in between" of each of the short pieces, as well as the chronological chain of events. My first draft was a behemoth - 463 pages! I worked with a writing coach to revise and edit, edit, edit to get it down to 250 pages. Deciding what needs to stay and what needs to go is so difficult, but ultimately, the questions, "What does the reader need to know?" and "What do I want the reader to feel?" are what guided me.

WOW:  Switching gears, you mention having recipe collection that spans four generations. What are a few of your favorites?

Betsy: I do! My undergraduate degree is in Food Science and I've always loved to bake, which is a huge tradition in my Scandinavian family. I have recipes that my great-grandmother brought over with her from Norway and she was the one who first taught me, when I was 8 years-old, to make pie crust from scratch. Her recipe for apple pie is my absolute favorite. My grandmother's banana bread recipe is a close second. At Christmas, I make Spritz cookies using a recipe and cookie press that belonged to my mom - I still keep it in the old shoe box she stored it in which is from the early 70's and reminds me of her.

WOW: It all sounds delicious! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Betsy. Before you go, can you share a favorite tip or piece of advice related to creative nonfiction writing?

Betsy: I feel so unprepared to give writing advice, mostly because I don't have an MFA or any formal education in CNF. That said, I've been taking classes continuously through venues like StoryStudio in Chicago, WOW-Women On Writing, Writer's Digest, and Creative Non-Fiction magazine, along with working with Nadine Kinney-Johnstone, my writing coach. It took a lot of nerve for me to walk into my first class, not knowing anything except that I loved reading and I wanted to write. I think writing memoir, in particular, is a brave act, so my advice is to be brave. Tell YOUR truth, whatever it is, and don't be afraid to be vulnerable in your writing. Just like in life, when you are vulnerable, it connects you to others, so when people read and recognize your vulnerability, they recognize themselves in your writing.

Thank you again!


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

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Friday Speak Out!: How to Get Published in Literary Magazines

Friday, July 29, 2022
by Bethany Jarmul

Do you have a short story, essay, or poem that is ready for publication? Ready to see your name in print (or online) and start building your writing portfolio? Here are a few tips for getting your writing published in literary magazines:

1. Discover and research literary magazines.

Chill Subs is a great place to start. Also, check out: New Pages and Poets & Writers. You’ll want to get a feel for what literary magazines are out there that publish work similar to yours.

2. Read the magazines.

Once you identify a few literary magazines where you’d love to see your work published, read them “cover-to-cover”—read everything they’ve published in your genre for the past few issues. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to read everything in every journal to which you submit. However, you should at least read two or three pieces of any magazine where you’re submitting, to see if your work is a fit.

3. Triple-check the submission guidelines.

Check the formatting and submission guidelines. Edit your work to match. Check the guidelines again. Check one more time. Not following the guidelines is the quickest way to get a rejection.

4. Include a brief, professional cover letter.

Address your cover letter to the section editor or “Dear Editor” if you are unable to locate the person’s name. Include the title of your piece, the word count, and any content warnings. Thank the editors for their time and consideration. You’ll also want to include a short third-person bio.

5. Submit each piece to many publications.

At first, you’ll want to send each piece out to 10-15 places. The benefits of this approach include getting familiar with the submissions process, learning about more journals, increasing your chances of getting published, and decreasing the sting of rejections.

6. Don’t worry about how prestigious the publications are.

Just aim to get published. Try submitting to newer literary magazines that receive fewer submissions. Once you start getting acceptances, that will help to fuel your desire to keep writing and submitting.

7. Learn to embrace rejections.

Rejections are part of the process. Even the best writers still receive rejections regularly. Embracing rejections leads to celebrating acceptances. Keep moving, keep writing, keep sending out the next piece. Don’t give up!

8. Celebrate the small wins!

You finalized a story, essay, or poem and submitted it. Celebrate that. You got a personalized rejection from a literary magazine (meaning an editor liked your work enough to give it close attention). Celebrate. You got an acceptance from a tiny literary journal that no one’s ever heard of—shout it from the rooftops!

9. (BONUS) Participate in the literary community.

There’s a supportive and vibrant writing community on Twitter that you don’t want to miss out on. Plus, you can participate in the literary community by reading and sharing work that you love, buying books, writing reviews of books, going to readings and book launches, cheering on other writers in their writing journeys.

Best of luck with your submissions. I’m cheering for you!

* * *

Bethany Jarmul is a writer, essayist, and editor. Her work has appeared in
The Citron Review, Brevity blog, Gastropoda, Literary Mama, and Sky Island Journal among others. She earned first place in WOW! Women On Writing's Q2 2022 essay contest. She lives near Pittsburgh with her family. She loves chai lattes, nature walks, and memoirs. Connect with her at or on Twitter: @BethanyJarmul.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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The Upside of Resistance

Wednesday, July 27, 2022
I’ve been thinking about resistance a lot lately. (And not just because Chris Hemsworth used those resistance bands to get ripped for Thor: Love and Thunder.)

I’m like that petulant kindergartener, fighting the first day back to school after a delightful summer vacation. I’m digging in my heels, whining to…well, in my case, Libs the poor dog. “I don’t want to,” I moan as I tackle the latest obstacle. 

Not that Libs cares. She doesn’t understand that I resist because things change, and my lazier self gets tired of learning the new way, even though while I’m in the midst of learning, I’m also often thinking, “Oh! This is much better!” 

Take a query, for example. It wasn’t that long ago when there were general query guidelines that one could reasonably follow and send in a simple email to an agent. But then every writer began throwing queries out there and inboxes overflowed like quarters spilling out of a winning slot machine. 

So agents realized that they needed a new and better way to deal with queries. Many agents went with a managing platform like Submittable, which required a writer to get an account. Now, an agency may have their own query manager set-up or a client portal or I don't know...a digital mind-meld? 

The point is, it’s that technology bugaboo rearing its scary head. Technology, that’s the crux of much of the change that writers face. We live in a digital age so new and better tech comes along every day and what was cutting-edge just a few years ago is now passé, right? It’s a fulltime job keeping on top of it all! 

But you just want to write, you say. And writing hasn’t changed—it’s still thinking up stuff and putting words on the page. 

It is, dear writer. And if you’re only concerned about the words in your journal, then you’re sitting pretty (maybe in front of your typewriter). But if you want to get your words out in the world, your poetry, your articles, your books, your podcasts, then you’re likely going to have to learn something new. 

But here’s the good news: learning new things keeps your brain fit and you healthy. So even while I’m resisting—and perhaps I mentioned that’s practically a daily occurrence over here in the Hall house—I feel pretty darn good when I conquer the new thing. And the older I get, the more important it is to me to fight the good fight, to stretch beyond the “I don’t want to!” to “Okay, I got it now!”

It’s survival of the fittest in this industry, y’all. So embrace the changes that will keep you in the writing game and I promise you, it won’t be just your brain that stays sharp. Your emotional well-being will thrive as well. Yay for resistance bands!

~Cathy C. Hall (who conquered book cover design like a Thor! So what have you conquered lately?)
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Interview with Monique Franz: 2022 Winter Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Monique’s Bio:
Monique Franz is a novelist, playwright, stage director, and rock-n-roll mama-of-four who repatriated to the States after twelve years in Hong Kong. While overseas, her theatre work in Telema helped to raise city-wide awareness for asylum-seekers and refugees and was featured in Hong Kong’s TedX and Time-Out Magazine. Monique earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Wilkes University of Pennsylvania where she won both the Beverly Hiscox and Norris Mailer Church Scholarship Awards. She and her family currently reside in Rochester, New York where she teaches Creative Writing workshops and English Language Arts to inner-city youth. To learn more about Monique, visit

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

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Winter 2022 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story? 

Monique: I was thrilled how the protagonist seemed to tell me his story, and I wrote it down in the same curt manner as it came to mind. I visited the Beavertail Lighthouse of Jamestown, Rhode Island on a family writing retreat. As we toured its museum, the character, Miller, sort of manifested in the lighthouse itself. There was something self-destructive about the lighthouse point, which translated well into Miller’s character. 

WOW: I love that idea of taking a family writing retreat! And it sounds like it was quite productive for you. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Monique: It reminded me not to limit my lens or my audience. Who I am as a person need not dictate the point-of-view I write from. As a woman of color, I naturally gravitate towards writing protagonists of color, and expanding literary representation is important. However, I am excited to let a story flow from a completely different lens than my own. Miller is a middle-aged man from Rhode Island whose flawed romantic perspective provides a bit of perspective for all women. 

WOW: In what ways does your theater work inform your other forms of creative writing or vice versa? 

Monique: As a stage director, my job is to help the audience experience the conflicts and victories alongside the onstage characters. I incorporate credible movement, meaning, and motivation to the script to bring the words on paper to life onstage. When I moved into creative writing, the job was the same: bring text to life. However, the stage is now the readers’ imaginations. The ability of my audience to see the story is contingent on my ability to craft the story on page as I would direct the movement onstage. 

WOW: That is such an insightful and useful analysis! Thank you for sharing those connections. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it? 

Monique: Right now, I’m re-reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and narrated by J.K. Simmons. It’s a humorous novel, and I am reading it again to dissect the craft of its point-of-view. It is written in third-person limited, but the voice is as strong as first-person POV. I hope to capture a similar strength in the third-person novel I’m writing now. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing that – I think it’s so helpful to hear how other writers read texts as writers and not just as readers. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why? 

Monique: I would tell the young writer in me to read more. I'm a working mother of four, and when I became a mom twenty-eight years ago, I told myself I was too busy to sit down with a book. It wasn’t until a near breakdown that I chose reading as a mental escape over meds. The reading revival catapulted my writing skills, and before I knew it, I was writing for the page as I had done for the stage. Had I been an avid reader all along, I would have been writing novels years earlier. 

WOW: Books, writing, and storytelling are magical in so many ways. Thank you for illustrating that and for your other thoughtful responses! Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Personal Tweets @dr_greenawalt.
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Becoming Familiar With Writing Weaknesses

Monday, July 25, 2022

This year has been a year of revisions for me. In part, I blame my revision obsession with my frustration on the number of rejections I've received. Unable to accept there's nothing I can do about it, I've gone over my stories with a fine tooth comb.

Through the process of rejection, revision, and critiques, I've learned about a few of my writing weaknesses. 

It filled me with a sense of dread.

Nope, that isn't how I felt about discovering my weaknesses. That sentence is one of my weaknesses.
I can't tell you how many times I've spotted that in my stories now that I'm aware of it. Unfortunately, it took an editor who bluntly told me that I mentioned that phrase twice within the same half page of a story I submitted for me to realize how often I use it. 

To solve that, I downloaded a book on Kindle Unlimited called The Writer's Guide to Expressions and Emotions. While not a perfect guide, it did help me to uncover the way we all nonverbally and verbally express our feelings. I'm still working on improving the skill of nonverbal communication in writing, but this was a helpful start. Another book I picked up was The Emotion Thesaurus

All of these have become tools I use in the revision process, especially when I keep saying a word repeatedly.

This brings me to my new weakness. 

Now, I'll share another weakness I discovered.

Did you see what I did there? Repetition is my other weakness. Another tidbit I picked up from a rejection (see? Not all rejections are bad).

I'm rewriting another story of mine that's a personal favorite that I was convinced didn't need to come under my revision obsession knife. Except that it did. Why? Good ole repetition. I often will catch a word or phrasing I've used more than once and search for how many times it occurs throughout the story. Based on my findings, I'll go back and tweak a sentence or remove it completely if it's unnecessary.

It's hard to uncover every weakness in writing, but for the sake of ongoing improvement, it's essential.

What are your writing weaknesses? How do you address them in your writing process?

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. When she's not hunting down the right word, she's talking to God, reviewing books on her writing blog, watching movies, hanging out with family, and daydreaming. Her work has been featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, WOW! Women on Writing, The Voices Project, and Sky Island Journal. Read her musings at
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Empowering All Stories

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Photo by Laurel Belle Photography

I listened to an episode of Glennon Doyle’s podcast “We Can Do Hard Things” this past week that featured an interview with one of my favorite actresses, Reese Witherspoon. They were chatting about Reese’s inspiration for starting her production company, Hello Sunshine, which she recently sold for $900 million (she will still oversee day-to-day operations along with her CEO, as they are both significant equity holders). Reese got the idea for the company when she became frustrated by the lack of female stories represented on TV and in film. Her husband pulled her aside and said, “You read more than anyone I know. Buy the rights to a few of these books and see if you can get them produced.” The spark for Hello Sunshine was born and has since resulted in streaming service book adaptations such as “Big Little Lies,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” and “The Morning Show," along with several feature films. It also curates a monthly book club, Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine, which has skyrocketed many authors to New York Times bestseller status (including “Where the Crawdads Sing,” which Hello Sunshine recently produced). 

Even though I don’t know Reese, I feel like we grew up together because we are the same age and I first watched her in the beautiful coming-of-age film, “Man on the Moon.” It was her movie debut and I’ve followed her ever since, watching as she fearlessly paved the way for female storytellers everywhere. As I  listened to the interview, I gave myself a pat on the back for dipping my own toe in the “showcase female voices” movement. As a journalist, I’ve been telling stories for years. Then I started venturing into short stories, eventually launching a podcast. 

This past year, I completed a first draft of a thriller/suspense novel featuring a podcaster trying to solve the disappearance of her sister. Not long after, my family experienced a painful situation where some of my daughter’s high school classmates started giving her a hard time about proudly discussing her Mexican heritage. She was told she was “too white” to claim being Hispanic (with her blonde hair and blue eyes) and my son overheard some girls talking about the incident at lunch. He was upset and I immediately contacted the school principal, angry to hear about the dissection of my daughter’s heritage. My mother is Hispanic and so are both her parents. My kids grew up visiting this side of the family in Texas and love learning about the culture. 

Once we got through much anger and tears, I wondered if maybe the whole incident had been a lesson for me. I had two sisters in the novel I had just completed—what if I made them Mexican-American, like me? One sister could hide her background and the other one could embrace it. One could look like my daughter and the other like my son (brown hair and brown eyes). Their mother and aunt (who raised them) could have parallel feelings about sharing their genetic make-up with people. It would be a chance for me to explore my family relations (and how you can’t assume you know a person’s history by what they look like) in book form. These changes will go into my next draft, and I have a feeling they will be cathartic. 

What personal stories have you been empowered to tell? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.
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Friday Speak Out!: Getting Lost in the Details? Try This Simple Trick

Friday, July 22, 2022
by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

In the summer of 2017 I began work on what I thought was a short story. It certainly wasn’t going to be a novel. I hadn’t written a novel in two years, and it had been three since my first one debuted.

Part of the problem was I kept getting lost in the details. A book about two boys who run away on a mission to find one’s missing father had me buried in research about volcanism, autism, Catholicism, and the northern Arizona wilderness. Another attempt at a novel, this one a sprawling portal fantasy, produced a notebook’s worth of mythology and worldbuilding but only a chapter of prose.

This time, I thought, I was going to stick with what I did best–something short, something simple.

You probably know where this is going.

The House on Linden Way, a story about a woman who revisits her childhood home and becomes trapped in living memories, grew into a novel. It’s difficult to overstate how relieved I felt at the time, knowing I could still write books. I credit the simplicity of the story, particularly the setting, for my breakthrough.

Because nostalgia is such an important theme in Linden Way, I tapped into memories of my own childhood home; and because Linden Way is also a haunted house story, most of the scenes occur within the house itself. Limiting my setting to a place with which I was intimately familiar–a place where every room, every corner, is lovingly burned into my memory–freed me to focus on what was unfamiliar: the characters, the conflict, and the plot.

The best part of writing fiction is getting to make things up, but “write what you know” can be a useful adage–a gateway to the good stuff. And drawing on real-life places or experiences won’t stifle your creativity; I’ve written four more books since Linden Way, and they all have completely fictionalized settings.

So if you’re stuck, if you find yourself trying over and over to create something wholly from scratch and you’re drowning in the details, choose something familiar. It can be a place, a person, or a memory. Let that be a framework for your story so your imagination can flourish–instead of getting away from you.

* * *
Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the award-winning author of T
he Fourth Wall and The House on Linden Way. Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in Brevity Magazine, Superstition Review, Fractured Lit, The Portland Review, Hunger Mountain, Hospital Drive, Reservoir Road, Literary Mama, Motherwell, and a few other places. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best American Essay, and Best of the Net. All links to Elizabeth's work can be found on her website at

The House on Linden Way is now available in print and ebook! Join me in the fall for the blog tour, hosted by Women on Writing.  

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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Distance from a Manuscript Can Open Your Eyes

Thursday, July 21, 2022
A bit of distance can help spot manuscript flaws.

Earlier this week, I stopped by Twitter before getting to work for the day. A friend had posted about getting down to edits on her current project. “I need to make sure that I focus on macro-edits today instead of diving into micro edits.” I totally understand. Micro-edits are so much easier to spot. Our word processors help us by underlining spelling errors, highlighting grammar problems, and even making some changes automatically. 

Macro edits?  Those take careful reading an analysis to locate. 

Back in May, I posted about macro-edits. Those are the big-picture items that are all about pacing and structure, characterization, and setting. Are your characters sympathetic? Do your beginning and ending work together? Does your manuscript lag in the middle? All this and so much more can come up when looking at the big picture.

On the day my friend posted about making macro-edits, I was reading over a graphic novel manuscript that I hadn’t touched in over a year. It languished while I worked on other things, but my writing instructor has agreed to take a look at it, and I wanted to make a quick run through the manuscript before sending it to her. 

As I remembered, the ending was a little weak, but, other than that, the manuscript was sound. I could tackle it and have it read to go out by lunch. Are you laughing hysterically yet? 

Atom Mom is a picture book graphic novel about a group of children who want to do something special for their mom. She’s a superhero, and all the responsibilities of being everything to everyone are weighing her down. 

But a year’s absence meant that I was seeing my manuscript with new eyes. It didn’t take me long to realize that the beginning of the story just didn’t sing. With triplets as the main characters, I was constantly shifting from character to character to work then all in. Allegedly each had a unique personality, but one of them faded into the background. It won’t take long to delete her, but it will also mean reshaping the remaining characters. A remaining character will need to take on her few essential tasks. 

If only this was all I spotted. My secondary characters include a pair of teen siblings. I don’t need them both because they are doing the work of a single character. Sorry, boys. One of you needs to hit the road. 

In addition to removing characters, I’m going to have to rename two of them. I have a pair of names that are too similar, and another name is painfully cliché. It seemed clever at the time, but now it just seems cringeworthy. 

By the time I finished my read-through, I had a list of things to rework. And sadly? They were all macro-edits, big picture items that I hadn’t spotted when I was working on the manuscript on a regular basis. Absence had made these problems glaringly obvious. 

Sigh. I miss the good old days when I only spotted micro-edits. I could have been shifting commas and coming up with a better word for “fling.” Fortunately, that will all be waiting for me when I’m done with the bigger fixes. Only then will it be time to move on to fine-tuning the manuscript and helping my characters fling their problems into the stratosphere. 


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 August 7, 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 August 7, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins August 7, 2022). 
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Embrace the Ordinary

Wednesday, July 20, 2022
by Marcia Peterson

Who would want to hear about my boring life? How can I write something compelling when my personal history is nothing special? These are questions many of us ask ourselves—and they can stop us in our writing tracks.

But ordinary can be enough, even great. First, you’ve got more material from your so-called boring life than you think. Second, strong writing skills can make almost any story interesting. It’s time to believe in your stories and get your pen moving!

Who’s to say you’re uninteresting?

We tend to believe that most people already know or experience a lot of the same things that we do, and therefore what we have to offer is common. But even if there isn’t much unique about your life, then the issues that have relevance to you would also be meaningful to many others. In other words, people who are similar to you would probably enjoy reading something they can relate to. For example, as a writer, don’t you enjoy hearing about other writers’ experiences?

On the other hand, there are people who live very different lives from you, who’d enjoy a peek into your world. Even the seemingly mundane can be fascinating if it’s different from our own lives. A book like Water Cooler Diaries: Women Across America Share Their Day at Work, a collection of short diary entries from women across the country on one given day, shows how interesting the average woman’s daily life really is. We are curious about people who live a different version of ordinary.

You are the tour guide

If you still think your life stories are too dull, writing guru Anne Lamott offers more support. In an older interview for The Writer magazine, she stated that you don’t have to have a lot of drama or outward destruction in your life to have a lot to write about. “But you need to have been paying attention, you need to probably have felt things very deeply,” she said. “If people are funny and can just tell me stories about life or give me their version of things, and choose their words carefully, I’m in. I’m interested.”

Lamott has always been honest in her own work, sometimes painfully so, and readers love her essays. She advises writers to share the real truth, and reminds us that we all have something to tell others. “I don’t think there’s anything more interesting than one human telling the truth in the clearest, truest possible way. If somebody has a sense of humor, it’s so fantastic. Everybody has been through something that no one else has seen, and he or she alone can be the tour guide for that time, that place, that house, and that role in the family—I think it’s all just inherently interesting.”

Don’t bore the reader

Author Vivian Swift also provides inspiration for sharing our ordinary lives. Her illustrated memoir, When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put, has many fans. One of her readers wrote to Swift, noting what an interesting life Swift has led. Swift addressed this notion on her blog, stating: “And I want to answer this, once and for all: I have not. Had such an interesting life. No more than most.”

Swift then provided the secret for those of us with average lives: “However—and this is my whole raison d’etre as a writer/illustrator—I do know how to present ordinariness in a readable way. And that’s the only reason I get away with writing a whole book about myself, and why I give the impression of having had an interesting life.”

In reference to a certain part of the book, she continued, “So, the trick is, to write about that alley (and any other similarly ordinary part of one’s life) in a way that would make it interesting to other people, specifically readers. And that is the whole trick to writing a memoir: having an interesting life is not enough (and, in my case, not even necessary); it’s being able to write about it in a manner that doesn’t bore the socks off your reader.”

The bottom line? “If you give us a good enough story, we’ll let you get away with having an ordinary life,” she says.


So, be confident in the value of your stories. Tell them well, and we’ll want to hear about your life. “I love it when people will tell me the truth and really take the lid off the soup pot and let me peer in,” Anne Lamott says. The ordinary can actually be extraordinary.

--This article originally appeared in WOW's Premium Green newsletter
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Interview with Joanne Emilia Timmins, Winter 2022 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, July 19, 2022


Joanne has recently decided to take Pablo Picasso’s words to heart: It takes a long time to become young. Now old enough to be well and truly young, she is spreading her creative wings and sharing her written work more widely, through contests, writing groups, with friends and family. Joanne has never met another person whose childhood, like hers, was marked by parents admonishing her to “put that book down and get outside and play,” but is sure they exist. Dubbed “the Bookworm” in childhood, she also loved to draw and write. Her earliest readership was her grammar school classmates who would be asked to vote on the cartoons she created and circulated. Joanne majored in English, briefly became an English teacher and then wrote health and wellness articles for local papers as a community educator and organizer. Now retired, she lives with her husband, grown daughter and two dogs in Rockland County, New York. Joanne is truly grateful to Women on Writing and feels like a kid again! And yes, there is a novel in the desk drawer. 

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

WOW: Hi Joanne! Congratulations, and thanks for joining us today. How did you get the idea for “Lucinda Rising” and how did it evolve during the revision process? 

Joanne: The story sprang from two impulses: one is my love for dogs; the second is my interest in what post-apocalyptic life will look like. Humans’ relationship with dogs is very redemptive; our dogs love us unconditionally. Living a post-apocalyptic life will be harsh, no matter the reason for the onset, so our best selves will not be front and foremost. So in that nexus between hope and despair, between love and savagery, I chose to write a dog love story. The revision process was short once I realized that that was what I was writing: a love story about a person and a dog for whom all niceties of modern life, like names, had been stripped or forgotten but who still retained the ability to forge connections. 

WOW: Oh, as a dog lover, I totally relate to this and loved that aspect of the story. What is your favorite line from “Lucinda Rising”? 

Joanne: What I like about flash fiction is that all your lines have to be your favorite line; the writing has to be taut. But I would say I especially like, “She was starving but beyond hunger.” It sets up the dire emergency she and the dog face: imminent death. Time has been telescoped down to the NOW: she must find food now; her husband must return now; she and the dog must state their intentions toward each other now. 

WOW: What do you think are the hallmarks of a good writer bio? 

Joanne: I think it depends on why you are writing it! What would the reader like to know, and why? For a writer profile for a runner-up in the Flash Fiction contest, I think readers would want to know if you are a beginner or a seasoned writer; have you been published; how do you plan to practice and perfect your craft; do you have any special knowledge, skill or life experience that informs your work? That’s what I like to find out for myself, a novice in the area of fiction writing. In general, I love to know where the author lives and with whom. I love photos of the author. 

WOW: Great tips! What type of literature do you enjoy reading? 

Joanne: I adore all print materials: books, magazines, cereal boxes, etc! My favorite genre right now is mystery, followed by psychological drama/suspense and adventure/ survival tales. 

WOW: I'm a sucker for a good suspense/thriller, too! You mention the novel in the desk drawer. Do you hope to find it a home or are there plans to work on something else? 

Joanne: Yes and yes! My novel is a mystery and I worked hard on solving it! There's a lot more hard work ahead in terms of edit and revision! The characters do keep tugging at me, though, so I feel like I owe it to them to finish it up properly. Then, depending on the finished product, I could make a reasonable decision on whether the desk drawer should or shouldn't be its final resting place.

I am working on another novel right now, similar to the first in that death is a main theme.

I really enjoy the tight structure of flash fiction or short story and hope to participate in more contests; the feedback is very helpful!

WOW: Well, we can't wait to learn more and champion all your hard work. Thanks again, Joanne!

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How to Break up a Long Memoir

Saturday, July 16, 2022
By Bobbie Christmas
Q: After five years I have completed my autobiography. After submitting many query letters with the word count of 777,568 I have been informed that as a new author no one is going to take a chance and publish me, because the cost would be great. I am told the book should not be more than 90,000 words. How can you help me to condense my book, and what would the cost be? 
A: The advice you received is correct, that publishers prefer most first-time authors to keep their books at or under 100,000 words. Because the length of a manuscript affects the cost to produce it as a book, publishers rarely accept manuscripts of 500,000 words or more, unless the author is already established and has a strong fan following. 
You have put a great deal of work into your book, though, and deleting about 90 percent of your words could be heartbreaking, if not impossible. I feel for you and I can help, but not right away. Let me explain. 
I help authors, rather than scalp them, so let me make some comments and suggestions. Because I, like most editors, charge by the word, you can save a great deal of money by reducing the word count yourself before sending the book for editing, but wait! You won’t have to cut out almost 700,000 words if you follow my advice. 
First, is the book an actual autobiography? Autobiographies cover the lives of celebrities, politicians, and other well-known people. Autobiographies reveal personal information that readers want to know about the subject’s life history, how the person grew up, what drawbacks the person faced, how that person overcame adversity, and in what way the subject of the book finally triumphed. If the author is, however, simply an ordinary person who led an interesting life but is not a famous person, then it must be labeled a memoir, rather than an autobiography. 
If indeed it is a memoir, we’re in luck. Memoirs give authors many ways and opportunities to break their manuscripts into several. Rather than being a straight timeline and litany of facts like an autobiography, memoirs can be separated into stories about specific incidents. For example, I’ve broken my memoirs into three books by making one strictly about my life with animals. One is about unusual or funny incidents that happened to me at work. A third one covers odd or hilarious events I’ve experienced in my dating life. 
In your case, perhaps one manuscript can concentrate on interesting incidents that happened to you during your youth and teen years. A second manuscript could cover events when you were in your twenties. Other manuscripts could concentrate on your thirties, and so forth. After you’ve broken the document into five or more manuscripts, you can go through each one and decide which chapters or incidents are the weakest, least interesting, or least important and delete them. 
Next you can read books such as mine, Write In Style, to learn which words and phrases you can find and delete to make the writing even tighter and stronger. 
Soon you’ll find you’ve reduced the single manuscript of more than 777,000 words into five or more tightly written memoirs that may be closer to 100,000 words each. Only then is it time to send one or more of the manuscripts for editing. Be sure to request that your editor also delete any weak segments or wordy phrases and make suggestions on how to cut down the word count even more. Not all editors will make such suggestions unless you ask them to do so. 
I look forward to collaborating with you, but I want to give you the best deal for your dollar. If you can cut the book into at least four books, I can help with each one much easier and more economically than trying to cut the 777,000 words down to 100,000. In the end a much larger portion of your words and message will be preserved by breaking the one manuscript into several, and I’m sure you’ll be much happier, as well. 
Bobbie Christmas is a book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications. She will answer your questions too. Send them to or Read Bobbie’s Zebra Communications blog at
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Why You Should Show Rather Than Tell

Friday, July 15, 2022
By Madeline Dyer

Almost every writer at one point in their career has been asked by an editor to show rather than tell. Telling the story rather than showing it is a mistake that nearly all writers make early on in their career, and manuscripts and submissions will be returned with requests for more showing. But what exactly is showing, why is it important, and how do you achieve it?

What is showing vs telling?

In short, showing encourages the reader to experience something with the character, rather than simply being told that something has happened. Showing is about conveying information through imagery and emotion, whereas telling uses exposition.

Showing something gives more meaning and often more details.

For example, ‘it was a hot day’ simply tells readers it was a hot day. But ‘With the back of her hand, Anna wiped the sweat from her forehead as she squinted against the bright rays of the sun’ is better writing because it shows that it is hot through Anna’s body language and actions.

While ‘hot’ itself can be subjective in ‘it was a hot day,’ from the longer description, we know now that it is hot enough for Anna to sweat and have enough sweat that it needs wiping away. So we’ve now got a character involved in this description, and we can infer that she is outside. Not only is it hot, but it’s sunny and bright too (whereas ‘it was a hot day’ could mean it’s a muggy, cloudy hot day—there’s no sense of light or the effects on the human body). And we also know how Anna’s body reacts to hot weather (by sweating).

Why is showing important?

Firstly, showing something is more immersive for the reader and the act of showing rather than telling quite often brings in other literary and narrative devices, thereby improving the writing craft in more ways than one.

Showing rather than telling brings in more details that readers can relate to. We’ve all been outside on a bright day where it’s hard to see or we’ve all wiped sweat from our foreheads. These are moments we now share with this character, and so showing what it means for it to be a hot day provides a point of connection between reader and character—and connections are what we want.

So, how do we achieve more showing and less telling?

1. Involve your characters in the descriptions. As in the above example, show what something means specifically for your character. And remember, it could mean different things for different characters.

2. Avoid naming emotions. Whenever you name an emotion, you’re telling the reader how someone feels. Instead, show the emotion through your character’s actions and word choice. ‘He was happy’ becomes ‘A light smile spread across his face as he heard the song.’ This tells us what has made him happy, and also shows the reader body language that they associate with happiness.

3. Have your characters exhibit non-verbal communication. Something like 70% of communication is non-verbal in real life, so make sure this is also present in your writing. We rarely have to ask people how they’re feeling moment to moment because we pick up on non-verbal cues (especially applicable with those we know well). Have your narrator notice other characters’ body language, facial expressions, actions, and posture—together, these all build up a picture of what these characters are thinking and feeling. And you can totally have a character saying one thing in dialogue but their body language implies something different—because this happens in real life so often.

4. Pay attention to imagery.
Imagery is your friend when you’re looking to show more and tell less. Think about the connotations of certain images and the things they can symbolise. Do these images and meanings link to a certain emotion you’re trying to convey? Then great!

5. Use all the senses in your writing. This will immediately help you to show more to your reader and immerse them into your story.

6. Be careful of word choice. Avoid adverbs when you can, as these tell the reader how a verb is performed. Instead, use a stronger verb. ‘He ran quickly’ becomes ‘He sprinted,’ which captures more urgency. In a similar vein, adjectives should be avoided or used sparingly.

7. Be as specific as you can. T
he more details you give, the better. Details avoid general telling sentences while also deepening characterisation. Introducing details often means you’re using more sensory language and imagery too.

But don’t show everything!

Every time you show something, you’re often spending more time on it. This sometimes has the effect of pausing a moment. If you’re showing absolutely everything, the pacing overall can be too slow. So you want to show the important moments, plus a few others. If your main character is travelling by bus, but nothing really happens on the bus and the action is focused on what happens before and after the journey, then don’t describe the whole bus journey in great detail. It’s fine then to say ‘He caught the bus to the next town’ rather than showing him waiting for the bus, then buying his ticket, then picking his seat, etc, when the bus journey itself isn’t significant to the overall plot.

When you’re showing something, you’re telling the reader it’s important because you’re spending more time and attention on it. So make sure that these make sense for your story. It’s all about getting the balance right.

Madeline Dyer lives on a farm in the southwest of England, where she hangs out with her Shetland ponies and writes dark and twisty young adult books.

Madeline has a strong love for anything dystopian or ghostly, and she can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her books include the Untamed series, the Dangerous Ones series, and Captive: A Poetry Collection on OCD, Psychosis, and Brain Inflammation.

Untamed won the 2017 SIBA award for Best Dystopian Novel and has been a #1 bestseller in its Amazon category in five countries. Madeline’s second novel Fragmented was also a runner-up for Best Young Adult novel at the 2017 SIBAs. Her memoir, Captive and her ace romance novel, My Heart to Find (written as Elin Annalise) have both been nominated for 2021 Reader’s Choice Awards from TCK publishing, for Best Memoir and Best Romance respectively.

She is represented by Erin Clyburn at Howland Literary. Madeline is also a staff editor at Bolide Books, a publisher based in Scotland, specializing in speculative fiction. Visit her website at
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Self-Publishing: Running the Diagnostics

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Nothing is ever simple anymore. 

Just today, I had the plumber come out to fix the faucet in my kitchen. And right from the get go, I was told he’d have to run a diagnostic. Every little possibility had to be considered, even if it turned out to be a simple problem. (Which it did, after checking who-knows-what-all.) 

There’s no more jumping in and hoping for the best. And I’m finding that’s particularly true with self-publishing. So much to be considered before one takes the plunge! Like hybrid publishing or do-it-yourself? Or whether to use a service to set up an LLC or skip setting up a business altogether? Which platform for this, what app for that? 

One has to “run the diagnostics,” so to speak, go through all the possible problems and questions to find answers. But it occurred to me that before doing anything one really needs to ask just one question: Why self-publish? Because different answers lead in different directions. It sort of reminds me of the old “Choose Your Adventure” books, so let’s take a look: 

Self-publishing/ Personal 

This writer has penned something personal, perhaps a memoir or a collection of essays. Or maybe it’s a children’s book for the kiddos. The point is, it’s personal and will not be sold or promoted in any kind of public platform. It’s for family and friends only! 

I love this kind of writing; I think it’s treasured by loved ones for years to come. But the simple answer here is that this writer doesn’t need to self-publish at all. This is a situation when just printing it up is fine. And if a writer wants more than a stapled collection of printed pages, then it’s very easy and relatively inexpensive to choose a pro printing business to make a book. 

Self-publishing/ Profit

It’s hard to quantify these writers; perhaps they’ve written a self-help book or all about a hobby, but basically, non-fiction. They know their niche audience and believe their book can make a difference. 

Or maybe they’ve written fiction, a romance or fantasy, or even a series. These books are a great fit with indie publishing as evidenced by the slew of them out there—and these authors want to be part of the fun! 

Whatever the book, these writers must decide whether they’re willing to do the work, if they have the entrepreneurial spirit to see it through, because this adventure is not all fun and dollar signs. It requires homework! Do the research—there are LOTS of great sites out there with tons of in-depth information about self-publishing—before choosing to spend all that time and/or money. 

Self-publishing/The Dream 

This is the writer who may feel the pull of self-publishing but needs a push to make the dream come true.

Perhaps she had a book (or books!) traditionally published years ago and has always wanted to see these book (or books!) back out there in the world. Does she buy back her rights, go for it? 

Or maybe her publisher just dropped her after three books and she has three more in the series—and readers are clamoring to find out more about the characters they love. Can she do this on her own? 

Or she’s written yet another book that her peers praise—but she just can’t face again the slog through agent/publisher querying, or waiting, waiting, waiting. The “life is short, just go for it” mindset. Does she dare? 

It’s tough, choosing to grab hold or choosing to let go of that publishing dream. But honestly, each writer must decide whether self-publishing is ultimately worth it. Still, it helps to ask all the questions, consider the possibilities first. Then ask again, "Why self-publish?" The simple answer may be right there at last.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2022
Bio: After working in both marketing and editorial arms of publishing, Yvonne worked as a teacher of academic EFL, mostly in the UK and for a short time in Indonesia. Her foray into flash fiction and short story writing coincided with the outbreak of the Covid pandemic which gave her more free time to devote to an unfulfilled passion for creative writing. As well as WOW, she has had work published by Reedsy, Oxford Flash Fiction, LISP (London Independent Story Prize) and Strands, amongst others. In Autumn 2021 she won the Glittery Literary long short story prize.

She was born in Chester, in north-west UK, but for the past twenty years has lived in another Roman city, Chichester in West Sussex, which combines the best of history, seaside and country and is an inspirational place for any writer to live. She enjoys cycling, travel, and is a dedicated supporter of animal welfare.

You can follow her on Twitter (@eflevie), Facebook or Instagram.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as a runner up in our Winter 2022 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Yvonne: Well, I love the stories published by WOW; they inspire me to keep writing. I also love the WOW team’s upbeat mood, always giving words of encouragement to the writers who submit. I haven’t won yet, but will keep trying!

WOW: Thank you for the kind words about WOW. Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Split Loyalties?”

Yvonne: I think what first inspired me was the experience of bringing up my teenagers. I underestimated the conflicts that existed for them as they tried to juggle family loyalties with the pressures of their peer group, especially over such things as Christmas and birthday celebrations and family holidays. As they were becoming young adults, they were trying to find the right path for themselves, which sometimes resulted in misplaced loyalties. My story evolved as an ironic, and hopefully unlikely, take on those conflicts, and how impossible it can be to please everybody. At the end of the story, we never know who was really at fault for the accident--the mother or her daughter’s boyfriend.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. When and where do you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Yvonne: I can never force my writing, which is why I don’t impose a routine on myself. That said, I do try to write a little each morning, and if the creative juices aren’t flowing, I re-edit existing pieces. It’s amazing how much refining and polishing you can do!

I like to sit in the kitchen at the back of my house when I write. Gazing out at the garden and the birds really inspires me. Music is a distraction, even classical. Also, I cycle most days and often have to stop to note down (on my mobile) a new phrase that comes into my head--I’m sure it must be all the fresh air getting to my brain!

WOW: Can you tell us about your writing goals? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Yvonne: I love writing flash, but over time I’ve found that more of my work is moving into the short story category, so I hope to continue along those lines. I don’t think I could ever deal with the stress of writing then having a full-blown novel rejected, but who knows?

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

Yvonne: At the risk of sounding repetitive, ALWAYS put your writing out of sight for at least a few days. When you come back to it, you’ll read it with fresh eyes and pick up on any typos.

I always go to ‘review’ and ‘read aloud,’ even though the computerized voice can’t convey emotion. I always make small improvements after I’ve listened. (Unfortunately, the same goes for when you see your work in print--vocational hazard!)

And finally, keep submitting your work to publishers and keep the rejections in perspective. When all is said and done, writing is subjective, and every judge will view your work differently.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.
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Take a Deep Breath & Press the Creative Reset Button

Monday, July 11, 2022

Raise your hand if you had a rough week. Or few months. Or year. Or it feels like things have been rough, in general, for a very long time.

Good, I'm not alone.

From being ghosted to an endless borage of rejections, writing hasn't been very fun lately. It's been one of those times where I'm baffled that I can put a sentence together let alone make a living off of writing in some capacity. 

If you've ever been there or are currently there, I hope you know that I understand.

I realized that when writing has become too much work and less creatively play, a sneaking feeling of being jaded comes in. In fact, I love Merriam-Webster's second definition of this word:

(2) made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by having or seeing too much of something

Ain't it the truth?

I've decided I need more creativity in my writing universe. In fact, I think it's a must. Here are a few ways I plan to do it, and hopefully, these ideas will inspire you too:

1. Read more.

Whether it's books, short stories, narrative essays, or poetry, reading can spark a fire in my creative self. I love when I become enveloped in a piece of writing in some capacity. It isn't as easy for me to make time for a book for a variety of reasons, but I want to make time for it. Even if it's during my lunch break at work, or while waiting on the Instacart shopper to finish, I plan to take more reading breaks, just for the pure enjoyment of it.

2. Collect words.

I write dental copy for my day job and there are only so many times I can say how a cosmetic service will "enhance" your smile without getting sick of writing it. So, I look for other words to use and collect them as I find them. Thanks to this habit, I've also begun to collect words for my creative writing purposes. Some words are objects, some are places, and others are creative ways I witnessed a writer describe something. Whatever word I see that strikes a chord within me, I keep it. Of course, this requires me to observe writing as well as become ensconced in it but I am trying to improve on that. 

Here are a few I've come up with lately: harbinger, darkened streets, tilt-a-whirl, an old suitcase, an old grocery list, and a zoo gift shop. Just looking at these words fills my creative side with delight.

3. Become curious.

While not entirely impossible, I don't imagine myself becoming a world traveler anytime soon. So, since I can't go to the world, I like letting the world come to me. I recently signed up to receive emails from Atlas Obscura which talk about different destinations around the globe. I also just signed up for National Geographic emails too. I worry as adults our curiosity instinct diminishes a bit unless we exercise it actively. My curious side is often a direct gateway to my creative side and so by feeding it, I believe I'll be more inspired.

4. Collect writing prompts.

I know not every writer is a huge fan of writing prompts, but I love them. In fact, some of my more successful short stories have come from prompts. Even if you aren't immediately inspired, if a prompt leads you to feel "Huh, that's interesting," then keep it!

If you find prompts hard to come by, you may consider signing up for "The Time is Now" newsletter from Poets & Writers Magazine. I also save clippings of articles found on Google News Archive Search. Other times ideas come from calls from literary magazines that have a  theme. Even if I don't imagine writing something in time for the deadline, I like saving the theme so I can remember it for later.

5. Allow false starts.

Sometimes the pressure of finishing something can be terrible for creativity. When I'm stuck in the weeds of revising and submitting, I often feel I have to complete all first drafts otherwise it will be useless. However, there is a lot to be said for half-finished stories. 

Letting myself be imperfect and letting go of the idea that my stories need to be finished no matter what is freeing. So, I'm allowing myself to have incomplete stories. Many times I'll go through old notebooks (digital and paper) and discover these half-finished pieces or snippets and feel inspired again. This happened with a story of mine that I found and ended up finishing years apart from starting it.

When you are having a bad season of writing, I think the crux of feeling better is by returning to that love of creativity you had before writing became a job. And remember, writing can feel like a job whether or not you are getting paid for it. 

So, even if you aren't able to take a long break from the work of writing, even a 20-minute break of wordplay of some kind, or reading a book for pleasure, can return you to your creative self. 

So, if you are having a bad writing time, take a breath and press the creative reset button.

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. When she's not hunting down the right word, she's talking to God, reviewing books on her writing blog, watching movies, hanging out with family, and daydreaming. Her work has been featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, WOW! Women on Writing, The Voices Project, and Sky Island Journal. Read her musings at

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The benefits of working as a journalist

Sunday, July 10, 2022


Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, author of "The Other Dr. Gilmer"

I was reading the featured article in a recent marketing newsletter from an author. A writer submitted a piece about how working as an editor for a small-town newspaper had helped her become stronger in the craft. I could relate, because working as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines is also what helped me become a better writer. And the bonus? I’ve met some interesting people over the years, and learned about food, culture, travel, fashion, history, and home design. 

Here are a few memorable assignments I can think of off the top of my head that have stayed with me: 

This past March, I researched and wrote about important historical female figures from my community, including artist and sculptor Dr. Selma Burke. I also explored the more difficult historical roots of my town’s history by interviewing a playwright who interviewed the Black residents in our town and created a play for our local community theatre based upon their experiences. (Spoiler: We still have a long way to go to heal some of those wounds). Some of my interviews are just plain fun—like last month, when I interviewed a local teen on how she manages her dog’s growing Instagram account for our pet issue. 

Flexing my interview muscles has also enabled me to branch out and interview true crime authors for my podcast, "Missing in the Carolinas." One of my most recent interviews featured author Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, who wrote the fascinating book “The Other Dr. Gilmer” after appearing on NPR’s “This American Life.” As a magazine editor, I also get to “curate” each issue and help develop the story ideas within each theme. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing an issue come together, with story ideas I brainstormed written by talented writers and enhanced with local photography. For example, one year I discovered a local woman who started her own business connecting buyers and sellers for classic cars. We called her a modern-day matchmaker, and it was great to showcase her business in a world often dominated by men. 

When sculptor Tom Clark from our town passed away this year, we decided to put together a feature article and asked readers to let us know if they had collections of any of his pieces. The response from the community was so overwhelming we made it the cover story for that issue. Some days it’s easy to find myself overwhelmed with my to-do list of articles to write and assign to others. Then I stop to remind myself that every article published helps me become a better writer and creator. I probably would not have had the skills necessary to create a stand-alone podcast without the years of experience. 

Here is an article I wrote for WOW! back in 2017 about how to make your feature articles stand out. 

Have you conducted any interviews for articles that made an impression on you? I’d love to hear your experiences! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.
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My Affair With Taylor Sheridan

Saturday, July 09, 2022

I'm having an affair with Taylor Sheridan... and it is indeed sordid. What makes me think it's an affair? Let's look at the characteristics of an affair:

Affairs involve shameful activities... activities perhaps fueled with such passion that the lurid things are done on a couch. Check.

Affairs involve activities that go well into the night--so late that night drifts into morning. Check.

Having an affair leaves you sweaty. Exhausted. Check.

When you are immersed in an affair, you often hide details, out of embarrassment or shame. Check. 

In one day, I inhaled the series 1883--all 10 episodes in one epic day. I was stretched out on the couch, unconcerned that I was a bit stinky because I had no desire to shower--all I cared about was the story that unfurled before me. I began watching late morning and watched the last scene in the middle of the night. Was I embarrassed I did. Absolutely. Nothing. Constructive. During those 10 hours? 

A little.

I'm enamored/obsessed with Sheridan and his 1883 because it is such a writer's show. What makes me say that? Let's look at some particulars of the show:

Often, incredible pieces have divine inspiration behind them. Sheridan said he didn't have anything written down, he had most of the stars cast, but had no idea how the story was going to be told. He met the actress who plays Elsa, and Sheridan said he immediately envisioned how the whole story was going to go... just on the basis of meeting one actress.

A writer's show is the whole package. The screenplay. The cinematography. The plot. 1883 is gorgeous to watch and gorgeous to listen to. The lines are sheer poetry.

A writer's show rings true. It's authentic. You believe in the era, the relationships. The few main characters fill 1883 from shore to shore. One of the actors (Faith Hill) said the worst part about filming was she had to let her armpit hair grow. She said it was gross. Small (and sweaty) details that make up the fabric of the truth are purposely put into the piece.

A writer's show makes sure you connect with the protagonist. Elsa (played by Isabel May) is the narrator. You see her evolve, from a girl into a woman... from someone naive into someone who saw unseeable things and survived. Until the very end, you're loving Elsa... 

Taylor Sheridan grew up on a ranch. He got into acting. He's still a rancher (the horses used on 1883 were his, because he said he couldn't trust somebody else's horses... he knew his horses). He's still an actor (on 1883 when he couldn't find an actor who could ride and who could portray a cowboy authentically, he took on the role himself). Now he's also a writer and a producer.

If you love a great story, if you love wonderful writing, if you enjoy historical pieces, if you're like me and also love Sam Elliott (he could read aloud real estate contracts, and I'd be in heaven)--I highly recommend 1883.

And now, Taylor Sheridan and I are so hot and heavy, I might just check out Hell or Highwater (Sheridan's screenplay for this movie was nominated for an Academy Award). 

Back to my couch. Back to sweaty, sordid happenings...

Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school teacher of writing, a freelance writer, and the writer who penned Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story--a historical novel about the Tulsa Race Massacre. She loves well-written novels, historical pieces, songs, plays and movies. You can check out more of her writing by checking out her blog.

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