Rah-Rah Write!

A couple of nights ago, I had dinner with several writer friends, and we got to talking about Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about living a creative life. Different aspects of the book resonated with each of us.

I love the way she dismisses the notion that we should have to “suffer” for art.

My project this past year has been to put the fun back into my writing life. I joined a pen pal group with people all over the world. I’m working my way through a challenging writing exercise book. I’ve written a dozen short stories. Retreating a bit has reminded me why I write: I LOVE IT! (And I probably couldn’t stop if I wanted to.)

Big Magic is an easy-to-read, light-hearted, and accessible cheerleading book–sometimes we need to remember that the creative life should be a happy one!

A Post In Which I Incidentally Reveal That I Watch Bad TV

So a strange thing happened while I was doodling and making notes about my favorite American Idol performances–I found myself writing down one of judge Harry Connick Jr’s comments, “Work on the things that are hard. Work on the things that make you uncomfortable and you will improve.”

I love that advice.

What is hard for me? What makes me uncomfortable? Poetry.

No form of writing makes me feel more stupid than poetry. I still vividly remember one of my high school teachers quoting a poem in which the narrator feels “big as a house.”
My teacher: “Of course that means she’s pregnant.”
Me: What the huh? I thought she was fat. Man, am I stupid.

Poetry plagued me in college, too. Those fat Norton anthologies contained stumps of partial stories (who wants to read part of a story?!?!?) packed between poems, poems, poems, and more poems.

I would never want to be married to a guy who wrote poems for me. Just watching contestants on the Bachelor read poems makes me squeamish.

About a year ago, I decided to tackle my poetry problem. Poetry might make me feel stupid, but fearing an entire literary genre is stupid. I bought Sage Cohen’s Writing The Life Poetic: An Invitation To Read & Write Poetry.

Slowly I’ve read through each chapter and worked through most of the writing exercises. I’ve written a lot of bad poetry in my writing practice notebook. But I’m determined to shape a few of those messes into something worth reading. Although I did scrawl a note next to one verse-y passage, “maybe a better short story?” No. I will make it a poem first.

I can’t say that I’m comfortable with poetry yet, but I have been reading poetry before bed. I started with the accessible Billy Collins and now I can say that I’m actually enjoying Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska’s collected work. I vow to continue reading poetry–just a few poems a day. I can’t say that I understand all that I’m reading, but every now and then I feel a spark of joy when a poem speaks to me. I get it! I get it! Yes!


I’m going to continue to write poetry, even though I really do suck at it. Even though it scares me more than spiders and snakes. I do think that my study of poetry has helped me think about word choice, description, and unique phrasing in my fiction writing. Harry Connick Jr. is right: work on what’s hard, work on what’s uncomfortable and you will improve.

Learning From Other Genres

People often say that if you want to write in a particular genre, read 100 books in that genre, and I really like that advice. But I also think there are advantages to breaking free from your genre and learning what another has to offer. 

Last weekend I took a class about writing Collage Memoir from Paisley Rekdal who teaches in the MFA program at the University of Utah. While I do write in a journal every night, I’m not quite sure why, since my life is usually pretty dull. I read, I write, I cook, less often I clean…I watch soccer, drive carpool, chat with friends, watch TV, bad Reality TV…

ZZZZ.

So it was interesting to discover that I do have interesting things to say as Paisley guided us through a series of readings, followed by writing exercises. Collage writing combines personal writing, poems, photography, art, fiction–or even “found language” from news articles, etc. 

I actually came up with a few essay ideas that I’d like to pursue. And I added several unusual books to my ongoing To-Read list–books I never would’ve heard of otherwise–like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud which provided the starting point for the class. Talk about a different genre! 

Best of all–I found myself jotting down note after note about ways I could use collage writing techniques to develop characters in my novel and move the story forward in unique ways. So, if you’re looking for a way to pump some energy into your writing, try taking a class outside of your comfort zone. It’ll spark your imagination for sure!  

Thanks [email protected] for sponsoring the class! 



A Few Books on Writing Craft

I’m always surprised when I encounter one of those writers who thinks the struggle to master craft stops with publication. Learning is my favorite thing about writing and I’m always stretching myself to improve my craft.

April is Poetry Month so I’m working through Writing The Life Poetic by Sage Cohen and filling my practice notebook with a lot of mediocre verse. Poetry has always intimidated me (I never understood all the significance my high school teachers found in poems), but it’s something I want to learn. So I’m practicing every day. The short chapters and exercises in this book are, for lack of a more poetic word, fun.

Here are some other books that have helped me along the way:







Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. This book gave me permission to practice. Until I found this book I thought that becoming an author required some elusive mixture of alcoholism and magical talent that I didn’t seem to possess. Twenty-three spiral notebooks later, I will always be grateful to Natalie Goldberg for showing me the first steps to becoming a writer.



The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. The gorgeous graphic design in this notebook has me looking forward to the next exercise. These short exercises are a great way to jump-start creativity, silence that annoying internal editor, and feel a sense of accomplishment no matter what else gets written that day. I meet a lot of writers who “just don’t have the time.” Everyone has the daily ten minutes needed for these quick prompts. No excuses!!!







If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland. Published in 1938 this book provides timeless nuggets of advice as well as inspiration. Ueland writes, “Everybody is talented, original and has something to say…” After you’ve read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing try this one.





The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. I read this one so vigorously the pages came loose! I’ve got high-lighted sections, sticky note markers, notes jotted… I especially love the Practical Tools sections at the end of each chapter. I find myself returning to this craft-intensive book again and again.



Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I bought this book when I first started revising Jungle Crossing, but I’ve returned to it every manuscript since. It’s also the gift I give to all my friends who complete their first novel.

One last note: Take the time to do the writing exercises listed in craft books. It’s often too tempting, too easy, to think, Yup. Did that. Mmm-hmm. Did that too. I’m obviously brilliant–no need to revise. YAY!

You’re not really stretching your abilities unless you dig in and do the difficult work.