Friday Speak Out!: Empty Next Syndrome

Friday, January 21, 2022
by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

Having spent nearly half of my life writing about the same set of characters, I have finally come to the end—the short stories about them are all written, a novel about them is soon to be published (GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, Fomite Press, January 18, 2022). There isn’t another prose piece bubbling about the Macmillan family.

My characters have “moved out,” so to speak.

It’s weird not to be writing about Sarah, Glennie, and Al, but there is really nothing more to say, and in my mind, I see them walking down a path I cannot follow, out and away, their backs to me as they leave. I imagine them going. They don’t look back.

I watch them go, though. All the way to the end of the path.

I am in the middle of empty next syndrome. I feel a little lonely but also am relishing parts of this—the extra free time, the knowing that I did my best for my characters, the chance for a quieter mind because I’m not springing up to scribble down a note or check a timeline.

What’s next? I have a strong draft of a middle grade novel filed away, and I would love to edit it again and find it a home.

I have a professionally edited picture book, ready to submit.

But nothing new. I hear no voice coming through in a line, which is where stories always start for me.

Here’s the thing about empty next syndrome: overall, I am okay with it. Goodbyes are hard. Change is hard. But I feel peaceful in this new, fallow period of my writing life. I’m putting my feet up, tilting my face back to catch the sun. I am okay with the silence.

* * *
Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in
Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, JMWW, Mud Season Review, Belmont Story Review, Hypertext Magazine, and more. Her story collection, TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, won the fourth annual Phillip H. McMath Book Award, Silver in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, and was a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book. Her debut novel, GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, was inspired by three stories in her collection. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. Find her online at
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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Back to the Books

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A peek at one of my fiction shelves.

I’ve always been an avid reader, and I know I’m in good company on this blog. Ask for a book recommendation and you’ll get it in spades! But for some reason, while a lot of people found themselves with more time to read during the pandemic, I took that extra time to read and research true crime, mostly in the form of archived newspaper articles, as I worked to launch that passion project. Once it got off the ground, I found that after my work editing and writing for magazines and producing the podcast, there was little time left to read. Or maybe my brain was tired, along with my eyes. Instead, in the evenings I would spend any spare time I had mindlessly watching TV. 

Last year I tried to get back into reading more. First, I challenged myself to begin reading more diverse books. I’m happy to report I’ve made progress on that. Each of my family members bought me a book for Christmas, and I wondered if they were gently trying to nudge me back into my beloved pasttime. Then I started thinking about all the books I’ve bought over the past few years that I haven’t read (raise your hand if you can relate). Because I’m the type of person who needs accountability, I decided to put the Goodreads app back on my phone. I had to laugh because my profile picture on there was me with my two kids when they were both maybe 5 and 7? They are teenagers now, so it was obvious I hadn’t logged on in quite a while. I signed up for the 2022 Reading Challenge and mulled over how many books I wanted to target for reading. Since I tend to read more over the summer and during holiday breaks, I tried to factor that in. When I said 40, my husband tried to pragmatically step in. “That’s like three a month! Do you think you have time to do all that with your other projects?” This is coming from someone who doesn’t like to read fiction in his spare time, so I waved him off. I typed the goal of 40, knowing I can adjust if it starts to look like I overestimated how much I could read. (By the way, I’ve already read two books this month, one was new, and the other was a re-read of a book I hadn’t picked up in a few years). 

Then I tried to think of what I had read last year so I could keep a digital record of it on Goodreads. Off the top of my head, I logged in 11 books, but I’m sure I probably read a few more than that. I then went through a few genres I enjoy reading on the app and selected several “want to read” so I have a running list of books I can either purchase or request from the library. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a virtual true crime book club with my podcast, with a combination of true crime and mystery/suspense/thrillers, so I selected some options for that. Today I signed up to be an Amazon affiliate so that when I write book reviews for my blog or send out recommendations in my e-newsletter I can potentially earn a small commission. 

Last but not least, I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing book reviews for everything I read and posting to my blog, Amazon, and Goodreads. I know how much authors rely on these reviews, and knowing I will potentially sell my own books in the future, I want to support authors whenever I can. 

Have you set any reading goals for the year? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at
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Interview with Kelli Short Borges, Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Kelli Short Borges is a writer of essays, short stories, and flash fiction. A former reading specialist in the Arizona public school system, Kelli is a life-long reading enthusiast. Although many who know her claim she’s a beaming ray of sunshine, many of Kelli’s stories tend toward the dark and disturbing. In addition to writing, Kelli enjoys hiking the Arizona foothills, photography, and traveling the world in search of adventure. Her work has been published or is forthcoming at Across the Margin, Bright Flash Literary Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Pure Slush, Drunk Monkeys, and Versification, amongst other publications. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter @KelliBorges2, or visit her website,

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Summer 2021 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Kelli: Thank you so much. It’s such an honor to have my piece selected alongside the writing of so many talented women. I actually stumbled upon the contest while researching places to submit flash fiction. After digging a bit more, I was incredibly impressed with the WOW! community, and wanted to be a part of it all. It was the very first contest I’ve entered, and I was a bit nervous about it. In the end, of course, I took the leap. I’m so glad I did!

WOW:  Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Slither?”

Kelli: When I was a freshman in high school, I took the bus to and from school daily. There was a girl who rode with me who would taunt me with a flask full of alcohol before school some mornings. I was seen as super straight-laced by this particular person (and to be honest, I was!). She knew I wouldn't drink it, so she just delighted in making me feel as uncomfortable as possible on those bus rides. Over time she harassed me whenever she had the chance--not just on the bus, but at school or when I would ride my bike past her house. It wasn’t pleasant, but I managed to push the discomfort aside because I had a solid group of really nice friends and enough self-confidence to hold my head up and ultimately ignore her. I’m guessing most people have been similarly tormented at some point in their lives, and the seeds for “Slither” began with this commonality. For anyone who’s ever been bullied, and especially those who have felt powerless, I wanted to flip the script, have the antagonist get her comeuppance. 

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

Kelli: Although I enjoy writing all kinds of things, I’ll admit that I’m currently in an "exclusive relationship" with flash fiction. I love the brevity involved, the way a writer can say so much in such a small, compressed space. I love that moment at the end of a really good piece, when your mind is whirring, scrambling to put the pieces together, and suddenly, it’s there, that second when you hold your breath and the truth of it appears, filling the space like magic. It’s just incredibly beautiful.

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

Kelli: Currently, I’m continuing to develop and hone some new flash pieces. Over the next year or two I would love to write a Novella in Flash. After that, who knows? A novel may be in my future. We’ll see!

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

Kelli: My number one tip would be don’t be afraid to start. I think allowing yourself to be imperfect, to write an ugly rough draft, to just get something on the page, is incredibly important. No one has to see it but you until you’re ready, so what is there to lose? Next, practice as much as possible. Find time to write, even if it’s just 15-20 minutes at a time. All of those small moments can add up to something big! When you’re ready, share your writing with people you trust. Finally, and I think the importance of this gets overlooked sometimes, take the “business” of writing as seriously as the writing itself. In particular, I’m thinking of marketing your work, which can be absolutely exhausting and time consuming, but is incredibly important if your goal is to be published and share your craft with others.

It’s been such a privilege to share my writing with WOW!, and to be a part of an incredible community of women writers. Thank you for the opportunity!


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

Monday, January 17, 2022

In my personal and even professional life, I tend to be a little conflict-averse. You won't exactly find me running into the open arms of conflict with my heart wide open. I don't seek it, look for it, and find ways to generate it. However, when it comes to my own writing, I look for it constantly. 

As I have shared recently, I recently found a new way to revise my stories and I found a hitch in the giddy-up of the story I'm working on as a result. You see, there's not enough conflict. The problem I haven't figured out what my character really wants quite yet. I've explored areas that could reveal what her wants might possibly be, but none so far have felt right. This has left me wondering what could that want be and what could get in the way of her having it. 

In most books that talk about writing, they usually talk about a character needing a want or motivation or a goal of some kind, and then something gets in the way of that want or motivation to complicate it, thus generating some conflict. I know this, and yet, I haven't quite nailed down my character enough to find out what's her biggest want, goal, or motivation.

I love examples, and to help myself resolve them, I've thought of some conflict that has come up in my favorite movies. Here are a couple of conflict examples:

Take Office Space for example. Peter's want? Well, he doesn't like his job and he doesn't want to work there anymore. What complicates it? Well, he gets hypnotized into not caring whether he loses his job or not. That's all well and good until his friends who LIKE that job might end up losing theirs, and he ends up keeping his (and even being promoted) despite all his efforts otherwise. If you've seen the movie, you know it gets even more complicated after that. You wonder to yourself as the viewer, how will he get out of his job? How will he help his friends? And so on.

Another movie that's one of my favorites is Beauty and the Beast (I'm thinking of the Disney version). Belle's want? To get out of her small French village and have romance and adventure with someone's that isn't a total jerk. What complicates this? Well, her father gets lost in the woods, and then ends up trapped in a castle. Then she goes to find him and then becomes trapped in the castle herself. So now she isn't even stuck in a small village, she's stuck in a castle with an angry beast. You wonder: How will she get out of the castle? What will happen to her? 

The thing is about conflict is that it isn't just about what happens to the character, I'm realizing that you need to believe that it matters to the character what is happening. It isn't enough that the character is passively experiencing this moment. Like in Office Space, you know that Peter wants to get out of his job but he also wants to help out his friends. The reader has to accept that what is happening to the character has just made it worse for them. Whatever is happening is making it harder for that character to get what they want.

So, I'm not any further along than when I started this post, but maybe as I pursue different conflict scenarios for my character, I'll figure out just the right one to help fit my story. 

How do you figure out the right conflict and complications for your story?

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Idea Generation: The Rules and Regs for Collecting Ideas

Sunday, January 16, 2022

My last post was about Setting Goals in 2022, and one of the things that I wrote about was the Storystorm idea generation challenge. I have since had a question about how Storystorm works. Are the ideas fairly complete? Or are they something I will have to flesh out later? 

In all reality, I try not to set too many rules. I look for challenges like Storystorm that are fairly open to interpretation. Some of my ideas are outlines with a character, setting, story problem, and multiple attempts to solve that problem. The science fiction novel for which I am currently writing Act 3 came to me that way. I knew how the story opened. I had my setting and my story problem. I just had to get to know my characters to know how they would attack that problem. 

Other times I come up with a title. This often happens when I misread something. Since I’m dyslexic, a preview scrolling by can throw me. So can fancy fonts which may be beautiful but can also be tricky to read. I’ll do a double take and realize that it says The Apostle Paul and not The Opossum Paul. That isn’t even close to a complete idea but I still think The Opossum Paul could be a hilarious story. 

In Melanie Faith’s Graphic Novel Creation class, we are working on characters. My notion has blossomed into an idea for single panel comics. The ideas for these tend to be one line long. Since I know who the primary character is, I only need this one line of text to bring to mind a panel. 

Other times my idea revolves around a place or person. I write a lot of nonfiction so a simple note to find out about Pickle Springs or Zerubbabel is enough to start my research. 

So what do you need? Complete ideas or fragments? 

I don’t know. You’re going to have to tell me. It is all going to depend on how you work and what you are comfortable with. 

One of my writing friends admitted to me that she works with one idea at a time. She finishes a novel and then goes after her next idea, weaving together bits of this and that before she has a functioning whole. For her to declare something an idea, it has to be fairly complete. 

I have so many ideas! Way too many to pursue them all. When I don’t write them down, I catch myself running through that day’s ideas. “I need to remember that awesome abandoned church photo, the idea about the Muse, and . . . and . . . what was the guy’s name who invented—"  

It is just a lot easier if I write them down. Then I can let go and move on to what I’m supposed to be working on that day. And, if this catch and release program doesn’t work and an idea keeps popping into my head, I know it is one that I need to work on as soon as possible. 

Writing down messy bits and pieces works for me. You may need to wait until you’ve fleshed something out before you feel honest about calling it an idea. As always, the important thing is to find a method that works for you. 


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 February 6, 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 February 6, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2022). 
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Friday Speak Out!: How to Find the Right Writing Coach for You

Friday, January 14, 2022
by Lisa Mae DeMasi

“Do what you love” may be the most overused advice in the career-improvement world. Countless superstar entrepreneurs’ TEDx talks and thought leaders’ bestselling books have quoted Maya Angelou: “pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” But that’s not always possible in practice.

I know this firsthand. Once upon a time I turned my back on a half-finished MBA and a corporate job’s maddening pace and rigid hierarchy, escaping to do what I loved: writing.

The act of quitting made me subversive, and that alone fueled creative expression. I mapped out chapters, content. Figured I’d have the memoir written in six months, employ an editor, find an agent, become a bestseller, Oprah would call, the whole bit.

Four years later I found myself gazing into my monitor, not knowing whether to put a period at the end of the sentence or keep going with a comma. I’d lost my home in foreclosure, gone bankrupt, written three hundred thousand words, revised the body of work four times. And while slurping away at my eighty-seventh cosmo, I understood what I was really missing. A mentor. Someone who’d gone before, knew how to shape art into something saleable and would come with a tribe of like-minded potential collaborators. I needed someone to touch what the poet Mary Oliver called the “wild silky” part of myself and, finally, make it palatable to the world.

Hemingway had Stein, Beethoven had Neefe. We mere mortals need mentors, too—and we can hire them. But there are thousands of writing coaches out there: some are competent, some are lousy, some are soul crushers.

How do you find your coach?

1. Go with the gut: does the coach’s work style and personality jibe with your own? Do her testimonials feel obligatory and ingenuine, or honest and objective? Does she “guarantee she’ll help you write a bestseller”—or provide thorough analysis and work with you to tighten up the manuscript? Listen to your intuition. There are many fantastic coaches with integrity and know-how—don’t get stuck with empty promises.

2. She’s part of your tribe: if you see a potential mentor’s work in a publication you love, or discover her in a group on social media with whom you share a vibe, chances are you have similar taste. I found my coach through my Reiki teacher. My coach had helped a fellow Reiki student get an agent and a book deal with Random House.

3. She has street cred and success: my coach had testimonials from people who had published, made writing careers, and gotten bylines with top media outlets. She was also successful in her own right—an internationally acclaimed author who’d made her living writing. I knew she could trailblaze a path.

4. She gets you, every single part of you: my coach works in the Gateless method, which fuses creative brain science, industry-savvy skills and tools, and radical nurturing to bring domain-changing work into the world In this methodology, a coach leans into your greatest strengths, the energy of the writing, and the power of your work in the world to manifest your singular genius in the form of a book. Through this method, my coach helps all of me rather than just the part of me working on my craft. This might not be your style at all! Some writers crave nurturing, others want firm deadlines. Make sure your coach isn’t just about deliverables, numbers, list-building, ideal clients and great gigs—unless that’s what you want.

5. It doesn’t happen overnight: Anyone who promises the world in thirty days isn’t helping you make lasting change. It took me an eleven-year journey through the trials and tribulations of a writer’s life—finding the time to write in between putting food on the table—to get to the key of mentorship. Something magical did happen with my coach, and while it felt like it happened overnight, it’s too deep and long-lasting for that.

Since working with my coach I’ve been shortlisted for prizes, published in the top online media and literary journals, and polished my memoir to pitch literary agents. But more than that, I understand that often, those who fail at doing what they loved just didn’t have the guidance they needed to learn how to soar.

What will you do today to obtain the guidance you need to succeed?

* * *
Lisa is pitching “Calamity Becomes Me” to literary agents, her memoir about survival, told with insight, reflection and laugh out loud moments. She also publishes essays on the writing life and women who inspire her. Her work has been featured in Brevity Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir Magazine, Horse Network, Writer Advice, and Shark Reef. She lives near Boston, where she writes technology content for VMware, bikes, and rides horses. You can reach her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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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Thoughts About Woods and Writing

Thursday, January 13, 2022
2022 started with a bang. Or maybe it was more of a thud.

It was around three in the morning, pitch black outside, winds howling. And I know us writer types love to use that expression for colorful imagery but in this case, the winds were actually howling. Broken branches were knocking against my house and roof and now wide awake, I began to read (and pray), waiting for the worst of the storm to pass through. 

An hour or so later, I heard a thud and LOUD cracking. There is nothing quite as terrifying as that cracking sound when you live with ginormous trees all around you. But Libs was quiet, the house was intact, and I figured that a tree had fallen in the woods. 

I figured wrong. I woke up to another tree down in my yard (the thud and cracking), smashed into my fence (which I’d just repaired six months ago from the last downed tree). And I’m not going to sugar coat it, y’all. Poor Libs heard some pretty discouraging words, along with some words that decent folk shouldn’t use. The tirade ended with me yelling something to the effect of, “Enough! We’re moving!”

But as I drank my tea and gazed out my kitchen window into my yard, I began to calm down and first, realize how grateful I was that the tree had fallen into the woods and not on my house. And I looked into those woods, thinking how much I love that view every morning, in every breath-taking season. I love the trees, the river behind them, the deer that wander through them. The woods, and the wildness of my own backyard, bring joy to my life. Which, at least for today, make it worth sticking around.

My writing life came to mind, gazing out that window the next morning. Because there are times—and honestly, A LOT of times—when I hear some pretty discouraging words rumbling around in my head. When I get yet another rejection for a submission that I thought was a sure acceptance, I think maybe I’m not such a good writer after all and I should quit wasting my time and energy.

When I stand by, watching other writer friends’ accomplishments and I’m going through a terribly long dry spell, I admit that words not suitable for children tumble out of my mouth. And when I spend years coming close to selling a manuscript, only to hear, “Not for me,” again, I want to yell, “Enough! I quit!”

But then, I hear from someone—a friend or a reader here at the Muffin—telling me how much they love my writing. Or I sit down with a document in front of me, and the words sing across the page, like a glorious symphony. And I think of the words from Neil Gaiman, the quote my daughter included when she framed the covers of my first two books:

 “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” 

Tomorrow, there may be a downed tree and busted fence in my yard, but there will also be those beautiful woods, refreshing my heart and soul. There may be another rejection in my inbox, but there may also be a note from a friend, sending encouraging words. 

And my novel-length manuscripts may continue to languish in a dusty cyber file, but when I sit down at my keyboard tonight, it might be a good writing day. And I will laugh out loud, wondering how I could ever quit something that brings me so much joy. 

So, friends, may your 2022 be filled with good writing days. And may all our trees stay upright!

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Nurturing Voices

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Recently, my middle schoolers finished drafting and revising their pioneer pieces. Each of them chose a pioneer--someone who had broken barriers--and had researched, took notes, composed, crafted, edited and revised. They studied how the person had changed the world. They also examined the person's obstacles.

Several of my students discovered their person had been told they shouldn't have the dream they dreamed. For example, Dr. Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to go into space. However, years ago she was also a kindergartener who said she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up.

Her kindergarten teacher said, "Mae, I'm sure you mean you want to be a nurse."

Mae grew up and became a medical doctor... and then she became an astronaut. 

Some of my students, in their conclusion, touched upon the idea that everyone has the right to have their own dream, that nobody should be able to tell other people what they will grow up to become... and yet it still happens.

                                                                  image by Pixabay

Sometimes it's parents who perhaps unwittingly squash dreams. Maybe they cannot fathom how somebody could make a living off a particular idea, so they try to steer their child in a different direction. For example, there are people who make Youtube videos--and some of them are doing quite well financially. If a kid had said, "I want to make funny little movies for the internet," ten years ago, we probably would laughed or scoffed, figuring it was no way to make a living.

But it is.

Sometimes it's writing colleagues who don't mean any harm, but do some damage nonetheless. Perhaps you normally write creative nonfiction, and then decide to write outside your box. You write a piece of horror. Or a fluffy romance piece. Or some sci-fi. And when you bring it to the group to share, there's one member who doesn't get it... who's puzzled... who cut it down a bit too roughly--which makes you second-guess yourself. Should I have even tried that? What was I thinking, doing something different? Which makes you return to your box, never to try something new again.

Nobody knows exactly what makes up a young person's dream--or an old person's dream, either. Nobody can predict the future to know exactly what will be the next fad in the publishing world. I'm sure if George R. R. Martin had said, "I'm going to write a whole series of books--each one will be big enough to be a doorstop--and it's going to be about kings and queens doing unspeakable things to each other... oh, and there's going to be dragons, too--and it's going to be for adults," people might have laughed. But now? Now Martin is laughing all the way to bank.

And nobody knows how strong a person's will is. If a child or a friend has a strong will, if they're packed to the gills with determination, they might just succeed in achieving their dreams. Instead of laughing (even inwardly), try to discover the loops and knots that make up the dream--and encourage rather than discourage...

Sioux is a middle school teacher (as she mentioned at the beginning) and savors reading her students' work. She also is a freelance writer (is the proud author of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story--a historical novel published by a traditional press--Editor-911 Books) and rescues dogs. You can check out more about Sioux on her blog.

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Interview with Ainhoa Palacios, Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Today I'm excited to interview Ainhoa Palacios, runner up in our Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest. Make sure you read her story Chola and then come on back to read the interview.

First, let me tell you more about Ainhoa:

Ainhoa Palacios was born in Lima, Peru, and moved to the US at the age of six where she was raised by her mother, Abue, and sister. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. in journalism but soon after remembered it was a different kind of storytelling she loved.

Since, her work has been long-listed in Fish Publishing’s Short Memoir contest, come as a finalist in Sunspot Literary Journal’s Rigel 2021 competition, and appeared in publications like Somos En Escrito.

Ainhoa currently lives in Shenzhen, China with her two dogs—a wild-eyed husky and tripod miniature pinscher.

To connect with Ainhoa, follow her on Instagram @noah_pal_.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First, congratulations on winning runner-up! I was pulled in immediately with your story. What was the inspiration behind this story? 

In recent years I have started exploring my own experience of growing up as a Latina immigrant in the US. One of the first stories I wrote surrounding this theme was titled "Gringas"—a slang term often used in Latin countries to describe an English-speaking foreign woman (usually a white woman). From that story, the word 'cholas' naturally came next. The story which pulls from my own experiences of wanting to have straight hair and refusing to wear hoop earrings is a reflection of that. I wanted to touch on that sensation of being a teenage girl, feeling the pressure to fit in, while also trying to avoid falling into certain categories. 

WOW: I think you did a beautiful job portraying that pressure and internal struggle. I thought it was fascinating how you chose 2nd person to tell this story. What made you decide to write it in this way? 

What often happens when I begin a story is I just begin without giving much thought to the point of view, but rather the feel and content. I’m just trying to get words on paper. But once I've gotten a general idea down, I'll play with changing the tense. Just trying different ways in my head to see if one works better. This particular story was written in 1st person but something wasn't quite working. I felt it was very dull. I randomly started playing with telling it in 2nd person, read it to a friend who loved it, and knew that was it! 

WOW: What a moment! It's so unique. I see that you graduated with a degree in Journalism! How did this experience prepare you for creative writing? 

My first instinct is to tell someone how journalism pushed me in the direction of creative writing by showing me the type of writing I didn’t want to do. But that’s not all true. The part of my journalism degree, the experience I loved was telling someone’s story creatively. With heart. I think in some ways, all the interviewing, has helped me to think of the kinds of details I want to include in a story. Details I had to notice myself while interviewing someone just for context if nothing else.

WOW: It probably helps you develop such strong characters too! How do you know when a story is done? 

This one is difficult, and to be honest, I am not sure it ever truly is. I have left stories for months and when I go back to reread them, I’ll almost always find something I want to change. However, for the sake of going forth, I have started to find a comfortable spot to stop. The place where I am comfortable showing the story to someone, receiving feedback, either taking that feedback or deciding not to, and then letting the story go. If it is something I am proud of, can stand behind, I’ll call it complete with, of course, the possibility of always being revisited or expanded in the future. 

WOW: I feel the same way - there's always something for me to change in a story. It's hard to call it truly complete! What are you currently working on that you can tell us a bit about? 

"Cholas" is part of a collection of shorts that have been my main focus this year. Every story is in some way connected to growing up Latina in the US and the themes surrounding it like the feeling of displacement, searching for an identity, and mending broken relationships. I hope the collection can see publication one day! 

WOW: I hope so too! Congratulations again and we look forward to seeing more from you!

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Three Technical Rules to Get Right, So Your Writing Is Not Dismissed

Monday, January 10, 2022

Very few writers enjoy reading articles and blog posts about the technical aspects of writing. It's much more fun to read the inspiring posts and Cinderella stories--or even how-tos about building better characters or writing an attention-grabbing beginning.

However, I recently finished judging some contest entries, and falling down in the technical area can actually be the difference between your piece going to the final round of judging--or not. You can have the best story idea. You can create amazing characters whom readers want for best friends. You might include sensory details and perfect dialogue. But none of that matters if you put too many ellipses, write run-on sentences, or forget to break a conversation into paragraphs. Of course, there are a ton of grammar and punctuation rules, but those three I just mentioned confuse a lot of writers. Let's talk through them.

1. My number one pet peeve is...the overuse...of...ellipses. Ellipses can be used in a quote to show that some words are missing. They can also be used to show a pause or someone trailing off on a thought. Like an exclamation point or adverb, they should be used...sparingly! (I couldn't resist.) For a flash fiction piece, this means using ellipses not at all or one time. You can use a dash or comma to show someone pausing in a line of dialogue. You can use use dialogue tags. You can use periods even. But do yourself a favor, and during revision, cut out those ellipses. 

2. The other two are not pet peeves. They are rules. Run-on sentences are often confused with the correct use of phrases, separated by commas, to show that there are a string of thoughts rushing out from the point of view character. But there's a difference between using that technique, and forgetting to punctuate sentences correctly. Mostly try to remember this: if you have two complete sentences next to each other, they need a conjunction and a comma. The other choice is to put a semicolon. Finally, you can put a period and divide those up! Examples:
  • Wrong: Eloise couldn't wait for her job interview for a dream position she tried on five outfits and she asked her loser boyfriend which one was best he didn't like any of them now, she doubted herself.
  • Correct: Eloise couldn't wait for her job interview for a dream position. She tried on five outfits, and she asked her loser boyfriend which one was best; he didn't like any of them. Now, she doublted herself.
3. I know this last and final rule I want to discuss can seem like a waste of space on the page, but remember readers, especially if you are writing for under 18, like white space. In a written conversation, every time a new character has a line of dialogue, start a new paragraph. Plus if one person says something, but the other person does an action as a result, that action needs to go in a new paragraph. Here's a correct example:

"What led you to apply for this job, Eloise?" Mrs. Smith asked.

Eloise crossed and uncrossed her legs. She cleared her throat.

Mrs. Smith smiled warmly. "Take your time, please. I know job interviews make people so nervous."

"I love children," Eloise finally croaked out. "My dream has always been to have my own preschool classroom, and this job and center are perfect for me." Her voice grew stronger, as she imagined herself in the middle of the room of four-year-old students.

Mrs. Smith glanced up and down at Eloise's resume. "You certainly have the experience we're looking for."

End scene.

It's hard to find your own mistakes. And I don't think you need to hire an editor for every single piece you write and submit somewhere (especially that aren't book-length). But I do think allowing another person to read it and even point out where things seem off is important. If you don't have anyone like this, then let the piece sit for at least a day and create a checklist of your common mistakes to look for when you edit it.

After all, you want your piece to be judged on the content and writing style--not the technical errors.

Happy writing!

Margo L. Dill is an editor, writer, and publisher of Editor-911 Books. To find out more about her, check out or Her next WOW! class, Writing Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, starts on January 26. Check it out here

Photo of pencil above by Pink Sherbert from
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Interview with Michelle Dwyer Runner Up in the 2021 Q4 Creating Non-Fiction Essay Contest

Sunday, January 09, 2022


Congratulations to Michelle Dwyer and  It Happened in a Flash and all the winners of our 2021 Quarter 4 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!

Here's a little background - did you know Michelle won a WOW! contest over a decade ago too? Talk about an honor - being here today to interview someone with such amazing talent! Be sure to check out her initial interview if you have a moment! 

Michelle’s Bio:

Michelle started out writing fiction decades ago, and recently discovered that she also has much to say in the world of nonfiction. She has published a compilation of short stories and novels using her pen name Krymzen Hall, and is working on establishing her platform in essay under her given name, Michelle Dwyer.

By day, Michelle works as a certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Parkinson’s group fitness instructor. By night, and by the crack of dawn, she writes after the world has gone to sleep and right before it awakens. She received her MBA from Texas A&M University Central Texas/Tarleton State University, and her MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, California. She is actively working to rebrand herself in this “new normal” of life. The relaunch of her website,, will be announced soon. Stay tuned!

Michelle lives in Cedar Park, Texas, not too far from her eldest son, whom she affectionately refers to as her Aggie graduate. Her youngest son also attends college in Texas, and they visit often. She is a single parent, and says her daily life of chaos brings out her best writing.

 If you haven't done so already, check out Michelle's talent in writing with the touching story It Happened in a Flash and then return here for a chat with this talented author. 

WOW: Thank you for writing this essay and for taking time out of your busy and chaotic (your word) life to chat with us today. I know you're always busy so your time today means a lot to us and our readers, so let's get down to it, shall we?  What is the take-away you'd like readers to gain from It Happened in a Flash? 

Michelle:  I think the biggest takeaway is that sometimes you’ll feel like it’s much too hard to find the good people in the world. That’s when you need to keep looking the most. And, if you can’t find a good person, be one. 

WOW: That's great advice I think everyone should make note of every day, thank you! Speaking of advice -  what advice would you give to others (specifically female authors) when it comes to self care? 

Michelle:  Self-care comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to be a 30min meditation session--although that is great, and I think everyone should meditate. Self-care can be a simple as reading a short, inspiring poem, or taking a long hot bath with aromatherapy and doing nothing else but sitting in the tub. Lighting a candle can be self-care. The trick is consistency, especially for writers because we can never seem to turn off our brains (even when we’re not writing). Overall, I think the best self-care for us women writers involves silencing all sources of noise, except naturals sounds, birds, etc., at least a few minutes a day. Turn off the phone, the social media, and just sit. Sometimes that seems hard. I know. I transformed one of my closets into a small room where I can just be free of the world. 

WOW: Your closets must be bigger than mine - but that sounds absolutely fabulous! What fabulous advice and a great idea!

What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for the remainder of 2021 and beyond? 

Michelle: In 2022, I am going all in on my writing journey. That’s vague, right? I’m blitzing it. I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve put too many things before the craft. My sons are grown, they are on their own. Even though they still need Mama, they are independent, and I am ready to go full-throttle after my dreams now. Stay tuned. 

WOW: That's definitely vague yet so incredibly exciting! We will be holding our breath waiting to hear more, but for now, tell us where you write if you would? What does your space look like? 

Michelle: I’ve learned through my busy life to write anywhere I can get comfortable. Before the fire, I had my own little writing world in my house. Now that’s gone. I have a sunroom that I have converted into my own little space, and that is working pretty-well for now. It probably won’t work permanently though, because I like my writing space to be private, funky, and weird like me. You know, anything from vision boards to crazy masks on the walls.

WOW:  Funky and weird sounds like a lot of fun - there's no shame in being weird!

Do you have advice for your younger self when it comes to making decisions, believing in yourself, and/or writing? What would your current self say to the younger you? 

Michelle: The biggest advice I can give to younger writers is that you must be strong when people try to dissuade you from taking on a life that isn’t “normal”. What is normal anyway? Work hard. Practice self-care. Meditate as I said earlier because that will help you stay calm when you get challenged. Stay grounded. You’ll still have bills to pay. But don’t let anybody tell you that going after your dreams is a waste time. I mean, let’s say it is—which it isn’t—but—wouldn’t you rather have wasted your time than wasted your life?                

WOW: Thank you ever so much for sharing your essay, and your time with us today! We look forward to more from you in 2022 and beyond! 

  Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

Check out the latest Contests:
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Friday Speak Out!: Never Stop Learning

Friday, January 07, 2022
by Bethany Jarmul

Midnight black, charcoal gray, metallic cobalt—for the last 15 years, whenever I wanted my eyes to pop, I pulled out an eyeliner pencil and in one minute, I’d have perfectly outlined lids. A year ago, I bought liquid eyeliner for the first time. Despite reading the instructions and my confidence in my skills, my lines looked jagged instead of smooth. It just takes practice, I thought. Months later, I wasn’t getting any better. I pulled up an instructional video and discovered I was holding the applicator incorrectly. Once I corrected this, it just clicked.

Similarly, I’ve been writing for many years, first with a purple gel pen in a Lisa Frank journal, later fingers flying on a silver laptop. Having worked as a magazine writer and a marketing copywriter, when I decided, at the beginning of 2021, to write personal essays, I didn’t think I needed much guidance. I read essays published in online journals. I read Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up and Kate Hopper’s Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mother’s. Then I opened up a blank page and started typing.

I wrote a few pieces, sent them out to literary journals, only to receive one rejection after another. I had the base ingredients for chili, but I was missing the paprika and cayenne—the oomph.

Soon after, I stumbled upon WOW! Women on Writing and decided to take Chelsey Clammer’s class “Not What But How: Improving Essays with a Focus on Craft, Not Content.” During the 4-week course, we explored different essay structures—lyric, segmented, braided, hermit crab (that last one reminded me of my childhood pet crustaceans who liked to eat a piece of popcorn as a late-night snack.) We learned to play with the voice and rhythm of an essay and experiment with POVs. I received feedback from Chelsey that helped me to refine my writing, distilling it from corn to moonshine.

I did not need to discard all that I had learned about writing up to that point, but I did need to grow as a writer. A voracious student, I wanted to soak up every drop of knowledge. (I was either Chelsey’s favorite or least favorite pupil that session, because I emailed her at least eight questions about writing before the class began.)

During Chelsey’s class, I received my first acceptance email from a literary journal, a bright green “accepted” rectangle on Submittable. Since then, each new essay or poem that I get published becomes my fuel to keep learning, keep reading, keep writing.

* * *
Bethany Jarmul is a writer and work-from-home mom. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in
Literary Mama, Scribes*MICRO*Fiction, Sky Island Journal, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry & Prose. She grew up in the hills of West Virginia and lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two kids. Connect with her on Instagram or 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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Tales from the College Essay Trenches

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Back in May, I shared a blog post about Essay Ideas for Prospective College Students. I’m happy to report my daughter turned in her last college application this week (she applied to seven schools in all) and she’s been happily playing her flute around the house ever since (she does that when she’s looking to relax or wants to share music with people online). I’ll admit the whole process was a struggle! We didn’t realize we probably should have hired an independent admissions consultant to help her manage the essays, deadlines, and other thousand tiny little details. With my husband and I being so busy with work, we missed how overwhelmed the process became for her and she couldn't get to a few big scholarship deadlines in the process. She gained a lot of insight on how hard writers have it when they are under a deadline and can’t quite get the words out! (Now, with my son, who is currently a sophomore, we envision him applying to the three largest state schools and then declaring himself done. That’s fine—but I’m still having him begin an essay file this summer!) 

Here are a few essay topics she decided on. I’m going to be slightly vague on titles and content because some of these schools are still processing her applications. 

For her main essay that went to all the schools, 650 words max, she wrote about discovering she’s ambidextrous and how it has affected both her personal and school life. She’s battled sensory issues and heard things like “You can’t write with both left and right hands!” Or “How are you good at both English AND science and math?” She first submitted a draft of this essay to the WOW! Creative Nonfiction Contest and was thrilled when it advanced past the first round. She took the edits from her critique to help make it a stronger piece. 

Another essay wanted her to talk about herself as a person and as a student, and it’s a private college that is seeking out students with a wide range of educational and extracurricular interests. This is a prompt where you can get really creative. She took the 450 words to explain how she first came to love the piccolo and how it requires both individual effort and collaboration with other members of a band to be successfully played. Not everyone “gets” the piccolo and it can often be misunderstood! That one was colorful, descriptive, and she was pleased with how it turned out. 

For my son, he went on an epic hiking and backpacking adventure to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico this past summer with his Boy Scout troop. As you can imagine, he faced numerous physical and mental challenges on that journey, and we’ve already encouraged him to jot down some essay ideas from that experience. He’s also a runner, which lends itself to even more ideas. He tends to be more of a humorous writer than his sister, so I’m going to suggest he channel his love of memorizing sports stats into some sort of funny essay that describes his personality. 

There you have it. It wasn’t easy, but I’m proud of my daughter and the work she produced to showcase her readiness for college. There are a lot of things I wish I’d done differently as a parent to help prepare her more, but we learned our lesson! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.
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Setting Goals in 2022

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

I’m an idea person. It might take me a moment to get started, but ask me for ideas for a blog post, a picture book, or a series and soon I’ll have a column of ideas on the page. They won’t all be great, but they will be many. 

I have a similar problem when it comes time to set goals or resolutions for the coming year. I’m going to finish a novel, a graphic novel, and a memoir. I’ll submit my work to two agents a week and . . . on and on, I go. 

I’m not denying the importance of goals, but they have to be goals that work for you. We are each wired differently.  We each have different circumstances.

Me? I’m a full time writer. I write work-for-hire for the educational market. This means that I work under contract for up to three months and then . . . nothing. That nothing might be for a day, a week, or a solid month, but the work will come again and when it does come there is usually a lot of it.  My goals go by the wayside.

So I’ve decided that this year I’m going to attempt smaller goals. This month, I have four. 
  1. I am taking Melanie Faith’s class on writing graphic novels. You can find information on that WOW class here. It starts on the 14th. 
  2. I’m taking part in Storystorm, generating 30 picture book ideas in 31 days. So far I have 6 ideas in my notebook and probably another four or five that I’ve e-mailed to myself. 
  3. I’m working on an educational series pitch for Kane Press. This is in the early stages. I’m currently reading their books and looking at what other publishers have done. 
  4. I’m writing Act 3 of my middle grade novel, tracking my word count on NaNoWriMo. You can set up a project any time which means that you can work for a week or three months. You also set your word count goal and the program helps keep track of your progress. 
I have to tell you, stopping at four goals was tough. Why? Because I could also submit to two agents and send in my resume to two more educational publishers. I could finish cleaning off an organizing the bookshelves in my office. I need to work on my mystery. Those picture book ideas will need drafting, and… Once the ideas start to flow, they flow.

I may be a goal oriented person, but if the list is too long, I know I won’t be able to get it done before another assignment comes along. Smaller goals are more manageable for me and the way that I work. 

What works best for you? 


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 February 6, 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 February 6, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2022). 
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