Category Archives: Community of writers

“Are you trying to decide…?”

-“Are you trying to decide between two workshops?”

-“I really appreciated what you said on the panel.”

-[At reception] “Do you mind if I just put my beer here?”

-[Reading name tag] “Hello, Tom.”

    …Four ways to start a conversation with a fellow conference-goer

-Throwbacks coming back: Unedited storytelling, knitting, fermentation

-Child adoption statistics: Where, who, and why around the U.S., a data journalism story

-My memoir about Science Olympiad and snow days in clickable essay form

      …Three story ideas I generated this weekend

    …Two fragments of a conversation

-“A Short List is made from your experience or research or daily life.
You read it out loud for about 60 seconds and then tell us at the
end what the list WAS. It’s a story, with the title at the end.”

      …One explanation Jay Allison gives of his concept

A list of Short Lists inspired by  NarrativeArc: Storytelling journalism goes digital


Filed under Community of writers, Writing and technology

Strunk and White debunked


E.B. White first encountered The Elements of Style at Cornell in 1919, when it was self-published by the precise and aging hand of his English professor, William Strunk Jr. White revised the book in 1959, and commenced to counsel and derange generations of writers.

When I assigned the fourth edition of the slim silver volume to my class, I had to look closer. And I was surprised. Instead of acting as an extension of Professor Strunk’s knobby finger, explaining with cold clarity at which point to use “who” and when “whom,” many of the book’s supposed rules are merely suggestions. Perhaps even more delightful, the book rarely takes itself seriously.

So why do so many writers?

To straighten the record and lighten your mood, I give you:

Three myths about Strunk and White

Myth #1: It’s stuffy and outdated.

Au contraire. Some of the examples make me LOL, while others border on X-rated. Turn to the section “Misused Words and Expressions.” Look up nauseous vs. nauseating. The book counsels readers not to say you feel nauseous “unless you are sure you have that effect on others.” Continue reading


Filed under Community of writers, Humor, Language

‘How to Tutor Your Own Child’ published this week

Rube_Tutor Own Child compMy friend Marina just published her first book, How to Tutor Your Own Child: Boost Grades and Inspire a Lifelong Love of Learning, on August 2.   I had the honor of following Marina’s progress through the writing, editing, and publication process. I may have even suggested a subtitle or two. I look forward to seeing the culmination of that journey at the book launch later today.

Congratulations, Marina! This one-time unschooler fully endorses this publication. And my future kids say “thanks.”


Do you interact with a school-age student–or know anyone who does?  If so, read on:

I’m pleased to announce the publication of How to Tutor Your Own Child: Boost Grades and Inspire a Lifelong Love of Learning, which was released on August 2, 2011.  The book is available in print and digital form from Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. Continue reading

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Filed under Community of writers, DC

If a tree falls in a bulletin board of sticky notes…

A recent post in ProfHacker, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog, caught my eye. In “Writers’ Bootcamp: Organizing Intrusive Thoughts,” Billie Hara discusses ways to address–and dismiss, for the moment–thoughts that could thwart your writing process. Her solution to thought intrusion involves sticky notes, X and Y axes, and The Falling Tree Method.

I have a system similar to this, though lacking the fancy graph and use of newfangled apps mentioned in the comments. At work, I keep a small white board on my desk and render each random thought into a color-coded note (red marker for emails to compose, orange for things I need to do or write). At home, I grab a writing pad to jot down my To Do (Later!) list.

I would like to tell you that I do this because I’m ever so organized. The truth is, whether a distracting thought ends up in a list or forces me to attend to it right away can mean life or death for a writing session. The less I enjoy a writing task, the more dangerous these non sequiturs become and the closer a massacre creeps.

How do you handle distractions?

(Photo by Ian Brown via Flickr/Creative Commons license)

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So you want to write? Really?? Okay…

Anyone Lived in Pretty How Bathtub

Many people tell me they want to write, that they would find the life of a writer exhilarating. I squint at each one of these people, imagining him or her hunched over a keyboard late at night, a clump of mussed hair in one hand and a flat beer in the other. Then I smile and say, “That’s great! You should do it!”

Maybe these aspiring writers sense my disbelief, because once I say this, they often offer excuses and admissions of insecurity. Concerns about time, talent, inspiration, and financial feasibility roll out. I’m not surprised, because I have had those concerns, too. I try to stay encouraging.  Writing is not all that hard, I try to tell them (and myself). It just takes facing a few blocks, I say.

I would like to take a look a few of these obstacles to writing in this blog. Continue reading

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No small sparks from Tiny Truths

Restrictions provoke creativity, my mother (who is also a writer) always reminds me. Meanwhile, Anne Lamott, in the book on writing Bird by Bird, swears that major writing projects can begin with “just what I see through the one-inch picture frame.” So when I learned about the Tiny Truths contest in the literary journal Creative Nonfiction, I had to try it. What could squeeze the wide, flowing world of possibilities into a smaller frame than a Twitter-scale essay?

A few recent compositions, submitted publicly, as they all are, through Twitter:

@pattywetli: I take a deep breath and dial. She picks up on the second ring. Her voice doesn’t sound like cancer, it sounds like Amy.

@myurbanwild: Teeter-totter talk: Girl asks, “How do you know two people are married?” Boy shrugs, says, “They’re yelling at the same kids.”

The idea is to “tell a true story in 130 characters (or fewer)” on Twitter. With the spare 10 characters, add the hashtag #cnftweet. If you do all of that and follow @cnfonline, you have a chance to win the micro essay contest for that day. How do the winners know? They achieve a coveted “favorite” ranking from CNF. They may also find themselves featured in the next issue of Creative Nonfiction, alongside about 10 other tweeps.

I found this a delightful, bite-sized challenge that got my creative energy flowing.

Ready to try it? Okay. Go! Add your micro essay as a comment on this post. Don’t forget to tell us your Twitter handle or share a link to the tweet.

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Filed under Community of writers, On media

Reviewing friends’ work

Two friends recently asked me to look at novel manuscripts. When the electronic files popped into my mailbox, I immediately knew a few things: 1) This chance to see their new creations flattered me to no end; 2) As honored as I was, I would not be able to look at them right away, and; 3) When I did take in my friends’ carefully-crafted phrases, sentences, and pages entrusted to me, I would believe that they gave me this privilege because of my writing wisdom and experience—and would have absolutely no idea what to say.

Should I mark the margins with my comments about what I loved? Point out moments that confused me?

Would they want me to trot out the proofreading marks, dotting the page with missing-comma carrots and delete-it curlicues?

Or look at the pieces holistically, and offer comments that way?

If I go with that last idea, should I speak to the areas where I have experience—via life, my understanding of the writers’ perspectives, or my particular brand of fiction interest—or engage it simply as an innocent reader?

One did ask me to look at certain parts of the book related to a deaf character, because I have some involvement with the deaf community. The other explained that he is calling on reviewers because this is the first time he has written a major work without a workshop class to share it with. Should I stick to what they’ve asked, or decide what begs to come back to them?

I have worked through some of their words already. I found myself marking in the margins on my hard copy printouts, as if I were back in workshops. Where do I go from here?

What do you do when a writer friend or colleague asks for feedback?

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