3 Blogs I’ve Loved Recently

Thanks to a recent WordPress Daily Prompt for today’s post:

Give some love to three blog posts you’ve read and loved in the past week, and tell us why they’re worth reading.



This post was my introduction to AbbieLu’s site Cafe Book Bean. In this post she defines what a saga is, then lists some of her favorite ones:

  • Gone with the Wind
  • Far and Away
  • East of Eden
  • The Thorn Birds

This post made me want to turn to my TBR shelves and grab a huge book to sink into. (Alas, I’ll have to wait until after January 1st to so indulge myself.) Overall, I love AbbieLu’s enthusiasm about books.

(2) #48: The Kings of Crime – II: Jim Thompson, the King of Clubs 

On The Invisible Event, an unnamed Invisible Blogger writes about classic crime fiction.

This post particularly attracted me because one of the many books on my TBR shelves is Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. That book, and hence this blog post as well, are good fits for my interest in Literature & Psychology.


I loved finding this blog post by Marilyn Armstrong because it, too, relates to Literature & Psychology. Like Marilyn, I find the concept of time travel fascinating, and I did not know about the book she discusses here, Robert A. Heinlein’s All You Zombies.

I hope I’ll be able to find a copy of this book!

On Writing

Lawyer takes ‘adult timeout,’ writes novel

A lot of people would like to be able to do what debut novelist Kenneth Zak, a San Diego attorney, did:

Q: You started working on this book during what you’ve called “an adult timeout.” Tell me about that.

A: I had a private practice in law and I had a big house and a pretty good bank account, but I needed more time. So I sold the house and took off for three years. I spent some time on the island of Crete, I went to Bali, I went back to Greece. I spent the three years primarily traveling, surfing, writing and getting back in touch with what it means to live my life. I had a need to dive into a more meaningful existence.

John Wilkens, the interviewer in this piece, describes Zak’s novel, The Poet’s Secret, as a mix of romance and mystery.

What I found most interesting in this interview is Zak’s discussion of how he found the story’s structure. Even though I don’t write fiction, I’ve always thought that the first question a novelist has to answer is “Whose story is this?” When I read a novel, I’m always primarily aware of who is constructing the narrative and how the narrator or point-of-view character shapes the story. Think of Nick Carroway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, or the different sections of narrative in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Zak says that when he began his novel, he had two “images” in mind: One was a poet about to commit suicide, and the other was a young woman seeking love. Zak didn’t know how these two story lines would fit together. He also didn’t know, at the beginning, how the book was going to end:

About two-thirds of the way through the book, I had an idea of what the last line would be. That’s when I realized whose story it was going to be. I swapped chapters one and two and everything crystallized.

20 Common Words You Could Be Using Incorrectly

OK, I admit that the former English teacher in me is a fool for this kind of article. Here Jeff Haden discusses 20 words often used incorrectly. Since the article occurs on a business-oriented site, many of the terms he talks about occur most frequently in that context (e.g., arbitrate, collusion, libel). But there are also several words that all of us could use some help with, such as literally, total (or totally), and, one of my own personal pet peeves, irregardless, which is NOT a real word.

Added bonus: This is a follow-up to an earlier article. By clicking the link at the beginning of the article, you get two tutorials for the price of one.

Study: Superlative use by media overhypes medical research

Snappy headlines with flashy words work well to gain interest with readers.

In the case of health reporting, however, the overuse of superlative terms such as “breakthrough,” “game changer,” and “cure” was found in a new study to be widespread and may create unrealistic hype about unproven drugs, researchers said.

UPI reports on an analysis of how news sources describe cancer research. Dr. Vinay Prasad, assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University’s School of Medicine, warns that journalists may not have the expertise to assign commonly used superlatives. “Because patients and their families turn to media for research and information, we need to raise awareness on this issue,” Prasad said.

On Memoir

All of these articles are from a collection called Self Portrait. There are more articles in the collection than the four I have chosen to focus on here. All of the articles deal with how or why to write about oneself, and what happens when someone does.

25 Famous Women on Writing Their Own Stories

Whether writing a memoir, personal essay, confessional blog post, or private journal, examining your own life is far from easy — even for the professionals. For this week’s Self-Portrait series, we’ve rounded up 25 women’s thoughts on the joys and struggles encountered by female writers in telling their stories. Read on for their wisdom on everything from the tricky nature of memory, to sexism in the literary world, to the question of other people’s privacy.

Read more of what these women have to say:

1. Maya Angelou

Trying to work with that form, the autobiographical mode, to change it, to make it bigger, richer, finer, and more inclusive in the twentieth century has been a great challenge for me.

2. Cheryl Strayed

I didn’t write anything that didn’t happen the way I remember it happening, and yet I’m fairly certain there are things that others would remember slightly differently.

3. Lena Dunham

I feel as though there’s some sense that society trivializes female experiences.

4. Zadie Smith

I wouldn’t write about people who are living and who are close to me, because I think it’s a very violent thing to do to another person. And anytime I have done it, even in the disguise of fiction, the results have been horrific.

5. Nora Ephron

In the way I grew up, we knew that you might write about almost anything if you could just find a way to tell the story.

6. Roxane Gay

Contrary to what my writing might suggest, I am a private person, and knowing that certain information about me is freely available to anyone who might stumble across it makes me uncomfortable.

7. Joan Didion

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.

8. Elizabeth Wurtzel

The reason it’s very easy for me to write about myself is that I know I’m just like everybody else. I know when I describe what’s happening with me that it’s going to ring true to other people.

9. bell hooks

One of the things that I found, as I tried to cross boundaries, was that I had to give people something that allowed them to identify with what I was saying, and not just offer some abstract idea that might not have any relevance to their lives.

10. Elizabeth Gilbert

It just so happened that every single one of my questions and desires and fears intersected with like ten million other women who have all of those same questions and fears and desires.

11. Maxine Hong Kingston

What is universal? There could be some peculiarity that you have in your self, but if you can make it an art, make it part of a story, then when another person reads it, it becomes part of his or her life. And so one’s odd self and ideas become part of the human universal story.

12. Meghan Daum

Honesty is not the same as confession … Confessing means asking the reader for something — for forgiveness, for punishment, for some kind of response that makes you feel less alone. Honesty means offering something to the reader — a piece of yourself or a set of suggestions.

13. Alison Bechdel

For most of the time I was working on this book I found myself in varying degrees of self-loathing.

14. Jesmyn Ward

The memoir is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. It was so hard for me that I plan to never write another memoir again.

15. Mindy Kaling

You can choose not to write about your embarrassments and things that make you feel vulnerable, but it’s not like people can’t see them anyway.

16. Diane Keaton

I did discover things about myself in the process of having made the choice to write a memoir.

17. Sandra Cisneros

The only reason we write — well, the only reason why I write; maybe I shouldn’t generalize — is so that I can find out something about myself.

18. Janet Mock

I wrote Redefining Realness because not enough of our stories are being told, and I believe we need stories that reflect us so we don’t feel so isolated in our apparent ‘difference.’

19. Sloane Crosley

There is a difference between asking for permission and giving someone an ample warning. I’ve always given a warning.

20. Audre Lorde

With any oppressed people — and this is true of women, although it started with the Black poets — the ability to speak out of your experience and see it as valid, to deal with your definition of self and recognize that we must identify ourselves (because if we don’t, someone else will to our detriment) is a human problem.

21. Leslie Jamison

I’m interested in essays that follow the infinitude of a private life toward the infinitude of public experience.

22. Janet Malcolm

Autobiography is an exercise in self-forgiveness. … The older narrator looks back at his younger self with tenderness and pity, empathizing with its sorrows and allowing for its sins.

23. Marjane Satrapi

Here’s the problem: today, the description of the world is always reduced to yes or no, black or white. Superficial stories. Superhero stories. One side is the good one. The other one is evil.

24. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Of course, not all fiction is honest, but fiction, by its very nature, creates the possibility of a certain kind of radical honesty that memoir does not.

25. Stevie Nicks

I won’t write a book until everybody is so old that they no longer care.

How to Write Someone Else’s Memoir

Maureen O’Connor writes about the ghostwriters responsible for a lot of the celebrity memoirs that we read:

Intimacy is the currency of memoir, and to preserve that feeling of direct access, the ghost’s job is, quite literally, to disappear.

While some ghostwriters have enough credentials to land them co-author status, most must accept a contract that pays well but requires them to keep their authorship a secret.

Isn’t a memoir written by someone else actually a biography? No, one prolific ghostwriter told O’Connor:

“Biographies are about looking at that person from the outside,” whereas “memoir is really trying to give the reader this person’s experience.”

How many celebrity memoirs are ghostwritten? A senior editor at a major publishing house told O’Connor, “I’d reckon 95 percent of memoirs by public figures involve a ghostwriter to some degree.”

O’Connor also discovered that “The problem with writing an article about ghostwriters is that nobody will go on the record.”

I Made Sense of My Childhood by Reading the Memoirs of Maya Angelou and June Jordan

Naomi Jackson pays tribute to the women whose memoirs taught her that she, “the child of working-class West Indian parents,” could become a writer.

About Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which she read at age 12 or 13, Jackson writes “Her book showed me that it was possible to survive the scrapes of a rough childhood and to come out on the other side as a whole person.” In college Jackson came across June Jordan’s Soldier:

Reading Jordan’s memoir prodded me to consider writing about my own life; it convinced me of the value of my story, which I wasn’t sure anyone cared about until then, and illustrated the benefit of writers’ bravery in breaking the taboo, especially strong in Caribbean communities, of telling family secrets.

The lesson that Jackson learned from reading these two memoirs was that “books could help heal readers.” Those books taught Jackson that writing the truth would make her stronger and would also help strengthen readers of the books she wrote.

What I Left Out of My Memoir

Mac McClelland’s memoir, Irritable Hearts, is “about grappling with post-traumatic-stress and major-depressive disorders.” She wrote the book because “reading it from someone else during the grappling would have helped me feel less ashamed.”

Yet there was one detail in the original manuscript that a friend warned her about:

“You and I both know that some people won’t bother reading beyond that. It’s easy for a reviewer to pull that detail out of the book and throw it into a review, out of context.”

McClelland never tells us what that detail was, but she does explain why she chose to leave it out because its inclusion would have detracted from the larger story about the nature of trauma that she had to tell.

The point of a memoir is not just to narrate events that occurred, but rather to shape those events so as to find their meaning. Sometimes figuring out what to omit can be just as hard as—or even harder than—knowing what to include.

Garth Stein on Writing

Yesterday I attended Tacoma Community College’s Write in the Harbor regional writers conference at its Gig Harbor campus. Seattle writer Garth Stein, whose books include A Sudden Light (2014) and The Art of Racing in the Rain (2008), opened the morning with a talk on how he writes. (Stein also presented a keynote address on Friday night, which I was unable to attend.)

The title of Stein’s Saturday morning talk was “It’s All About the Rock.” As this title suggests, he’s a writer who loves metaphors, and he used several of them to explain writing to us.

Here’s my paraphrased notes on the meaning of that title:

For me, writing a book is like pushing a giant boulder up a hill. At the beginning, it’s about me, the writer. I have to start pushing that rock up the hill. But once I get the rock to the top of the hill, the rock takes over and starts rolling down the other side. That point is when the rock (the story) takes over. After that, it’s all about the rock, not about the writer.

Another metaphor Stein used to describe the writing process was his advice to “write fat, edit lean.” “Nobody loves a thin baby,” he said. When writing a first draft, fatten that baby up. Put in everything when you begin. But no one likes a fat LeBron James. The writer’s job in subsequent drafts is to put that baby on a diet, to go through the manuscript with great rigor to remove excess fat, to make it as lean as possible.

He used yet another metaphor to explain plot: Plots are not guided missiles that seek out the proper plce to land; they are ballistic missiles that are launched from a certain point and then land wherever their fixed trajectory takes them. If there’s a plot problem in chapter 46, the writer can’t fix the problem in that chapter. Instead, the writer must go back to where that plot point was launched and correct the problem there. A reader builds up a set of expectations about the story on the basis of the clues that the writer launches throughout the work. The writer must make sure that the story somehow satisfies those expectations.

Writers always want to know the details of how other writers work, and the conference participants had some typical questions for Stein:

  1. Does he write in long hand or on a computer? He writes on a computer with the program Scrivener. He also has a sit-to-stand desk and does much of his writing barefoot, standing up.
  2. Does he have a fixed writing routine? He usually spends mornings attending to business matters, then writes in the afternoon.
  3. What writing books does he recommend? These:
    • Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
    • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
    • The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler
    • Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Stein concluded his talk with the reminder that writers must take the ego out of the writing process: it’s all about the book, not the writer. He also stressed that writers must be readers. After finishing a work of literary fiction, he told us, go back and reread the first chapter. If it’s a good book, the writer will have let you know by the end of that first chapter how the book will end.

Garth Stein is an interesting guy and an engaging speaker. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him in person, I encourage you to take advantage of it.


I also love Scrivener, as do many writers. You can read how I use Scrivener to manage three blogs here.

Right now the folks at Literature and Latte are offering specials in observance of National Novel Writing Month. And you can always get a free trial version of the software to experiment with.


Another week, another episode of SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #42.

Are you usually late, early, or right on time?

I am ALWAYS early, sometimes dramatically so. I’m so afraid of being late that I always allow way more time than necessary to get to where I’m going. As near as I can figure, there are two reasons for this:

  1. I hate it when other people are late, especially those who are routinely late. I can understand an occasional emergency, but some people make a habit of showing up whenever suits them. These are the people who get my dander up.
  2. I’m a Virgo. It’s what we do.

If you were or are a writer do you prefer writing short stories, poems or novels?

journal_writingNone of the above. I am strictly a writer of nonfiction. I recently took WordPress’s Blogging University course on poetry writing and even managed to produce a few poems that I thought were moderately good. But I’m way better at nonfiction.

One of my pet peeves is people who think that a writer practices on nonfiction until getting good enough to write fiction. It doesn’t work that way at all, at least not for me. I’ve tried writing short stories a few times—enough to realize that my brain doesn’t work that way. I cannot for the life of me come up with an interesting plot, although (of course) I’m very good at critiquing other writers’ plots.

Lots of writers produce work in several genres, but I’ll stick with what I’m good at: nonfiction.

Where did you live at age ten? Is it the same place or town you live now?

When I was 10 my mother took me to live with her parents on their farm while she was getting a divorce. I lived there for two years, and they were the happiest years of my childhood.

No, I don’t live there now. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been back since leaving the farm. But I visit it frequently in memory.

Would you rather be able to fly or breathe under water?

[shudder] My idea of hell is being in a submarine (confinement in a small space) under water.

I’d much rather fly. In fact, I sometimes have dreams in which I am able to fly to a high place from which I can survey everything going on below. This is the perspective on life that I prefer.

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

It’s my favorite time of year: baseball playoff time. I’m grateful for last week’s preliminary series (even if my Cardinals did get eliminated), and I’m very much looking forward to the World Series, which starts on Tuesday, between the NY Mets and the KC Royals.

I’m also looking forward to having cataract surgery on my other eye on Wednesday. I had the first eye done last month. It made such a dramatic difference that I’m eager to have the second one done so I’ll once again have a matched set. Three weeks after this second surgery, I’ll finally be able to get new reading glasses. My distance vision will be corrected by the implanted lenses.

I hope everyone has a good week. I’ll see you on Halloween!

How I Use Scrivener & Excel to Manage My Blog Challenge


Like a lot of other writers, I have used the outstanding writing program Scrivener from Literature & Latte for a few years now. If you haven’t heard of it, I encourage you to check it out. You can find lots of information, including video tutorials, about it online. If you decide to take the plunge and purchase it—the price is very reasonable compared to other comparable programs—I recommend the book Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez.

Although I cannot give a full-tilt tutorial in Scrivener here, I can describe a couple of its features that particularly make it great for blogging:

  1. The basic unit of the program is the document, which can contain a virtually unlimited amount of text, from a short note to a whole book chapter. The program also allows you to create folders and subfolders in which to store selected documents. This ability to structure information allows me to collect separate bits of information that I will eventually combine into a single blog post.
  2. The program has a default research folder into which you can save material to consult later. The feature I use most often here is the ability to save a web page as a PDF file, although you can also save other types of files (such as Word files, text files, or even images) here too. And you can create subfolders underneath the main research section to group related materials together.

Other people have also recognized Scrivener’s power as a blogging tool:

I started using Scrivener to manage my three blogs in the summer of 2014. I began by adapting Jennifer Mattern’s Free Scrivener Template for Managing Multiple Blogs at All Indie Writers. Her directions made it easy to download and import the template into Scrivener. I was then able to look at her structure and see what I wanted to change to make the template fit the way I work.

Jennifer includes two blogs structured by date and a third structured by categories. I chose to arrange all three of my blogs by date because I’m a Virgo and like to track things in a logical, linear way. It was easy to delete the main folder for the category blog, then copy and paste one of the dated blog folders, with subfolders, to replace it for my third blog.

Jennifer also includes more than one year for each blog, but I decided to start a new multiblog project folder each year because the amount of material I was collecting, including research materials (I’m a big fan of Scrivener’s print function called “save PDF to Scrivener”), became unwieldy. Once again, changing the folder structure to accommodate this preference was easy.

I tweaked Jennifer’s template in other minor ways significantly. When I finally got things just the way I wanted them, I used Scrivener’s “save as template” feature in the file menu to save my set-up as a project template. (A project is Scrivener’s top level of organization. If you are working on two novels, each novel would be a project, a separate Scrivener file.) I can now use the revised template to start a new multiblog project each year.

If you start looking at what other people have to say about Scrivener, you’ll see that the most common knock against it is that it has a steep learning curve. I agree that’s true, but it’s true because the program has so many powerful features. I’ve always been a believer that we learn what we need to know when we need to know it, and you only need to know a few basic things to get started with Scrivener. You can learn everything necessary to manage the procedures I’ve discussed here in a short time. Like anything else, the most important thing is to start working with Scrivener instead of just reading about it. The folks at Literature & Latte let you download a trial version before requiring your credit card number.

So far I’ve used only basic functions within Scrivener, but now that I’m blogging much more, I need to learn how to use Scrivener’s status and labeling functions to keep track of which posts are completed and published and which ones I’m still working on.


Scrivener makes it easy to manage my blog posts, but for my Blog Post a Day in 2015 challenge I needed Excel to track data about the posts, such as how many words I wrote each month and how many posts appeared on which blog. I set up a worksheet with the following columns:

  • A: Date
  • B: Blog #1
  • C: Blog #2
  • D: Blog #3
  • E: Post title
  • F: Number of words

When I document my post published each day here, I put a 1 in the column of the blog where the post appears. (Occasionally I publish the same post on more than one blog, but I only include it once in my total word count.) Having a column for each blog allows me to see easily how I need to distribute future posts and to calculate how many posts appeared on each blog at the end of the month.

At the end of each month I calculate the number of posts published on each blog and the total number of words I wrote that month.

At the end of February, after I had calculated my February totals, I realized that I also wanted to be able to compare the statistics across months. I set up a second sheet with the following columns:

  • A: Month
  • B: Total words written
  • C: Number of posts
  • D: Average post length
  • E: Number of words in shortest post
  • F: Number of words in longest post

At the end of the year, I hope this second sheet will allow me to see the patterns in my writing.

New Look, New Focus

Finally, I had to make a decision.

Now that I’ve gone back to school and earned my doctorate (2011), now that we’ve retired and relocated (2013), I finally have to decide what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve been thinking about all this inchoately for some time, but, in a marvelous example of synchronicity, a recent writing prompt in the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge made everything fall into place.

I had already decided that I was spreading myself too thin and needed to make changes to spend more time on my own writing. But when the journaling prompt asked me to have a talk with my inner critic, I was surprised at where the conversation went. All writers grapple with the inner critic, that internal voice that constantly tells us we have no right to write, no talent, nothing worth saying. I had barely started asking my inner critic to go easy on me when she interrupted and starting talking back.

And here’s what she had to say: You and I are not adversaries. In fact, I’m your writing best friend. I’m that alternate state of consciousness that takes over and does just about everything right when you’re in the zone, writing in flow. You know that we do your best work together. But you haven’t invited me to come visit you for quite a while.

And I had to admit that she was right. I haven’t written in flow since I finished my dissertation in the spring of 2011. I had forgotten how exhilarating that writing state feels and how good is the work that comes out of it. I’ll explain writing in flow in more detail in another post, but its most pertinent characteristic for this discussion is that it can be nurtured and cultivated. To court flow, the writer—or at least this writer—has to provide conditions conducive to that mental shift of gears that happens when flow kicks in.

So in my journal entry I agreed to once again offer her—let’s call her Flow and get her a big tricked-out name tag—what she needs to operate:

Flow nametag

  • meaningful writing projects
  • real deadlines
  • specific target audiences
  • extended periods of uninterrupted writing time

For me, that final one has always been the most important. I’m sure some people can slip in and out of flow at short notice and for small bursts of time, but my Flow doesn’t work that way. She likes to move in and stay a while.

As a result of the compromise I’ve reached with Flow, I’ll be narrowing the focus of this blog to the following topics:

  • journal writing
  • memoirs and memoir writing
  • therapeutic benefits of expressive writing
  • creative nonfiction writing, both general advice and my own writing process
  • psychology news as it pertains to these topics

Also, since one of my areas of study is the intersection of psychology and literature, I will try to create more interweaving between this blog, which emphasizes psychology and writing, and my literature blog, Notes in the Margin. To that end, I have changed to the same design theme for both blogs to create a sense of continuity for readers moving between them.

Unlike Peter Pan, I think I’m finally ready to grow up into who I want to be. Thanks for listening.

Flow and I would love for you to write something in the comment section below.

Writing Resources

The Psychology of Writing: 5 Ways to make your Characters “Click” with Readers using Vulnerability, Proximity, Resonance, Similarity, and Shared Adversity

For those of you who write fiction, Casey Lynn Covel at Meek-Geek has some advice for crafting compelling characters:

In this article, I’ll be discussing a unique, psychological-based approach to creating this connection, built on collected research from noted organizational expert and psychologist Ori & Rom Brafman. Read on to learn five ways in which you can make your book and characters “click” with your readers.

Think about her information in relation to my recent post Literary Life Stories: The Character Biography over on my literature blog.

Ghosts in the machine: how AI research is bringing game characters to life

The ambition to create “real”, believable characters has been a cornerstone of literature since the 19th century. The Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin praised Fyodor Dostoyevsky for his ability to give each of his protagonists their own sets of beliefs, “as if the character were not an object of authorial discourse, but rather a fully valid, autonomous carrier of his own individual word”.

Fast forward a hundred years and writers such as Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf were even more enthralled with the idea of character autonomy.

Here’s another take on how writers create compelling characters. This article looks at how advances in artificial intelligence (AI) may foster character-building in computer games:

For authors who’ve fantasised about their characters leading a life of their own, could the situation of AI avatars roaming a fictional world, interacting based on their own individual drives, offer greater freedom of expression? Or is it likely to result in hundreds of dead-eyed puppets walking repeatedly into the sides of houses? Don’t stories require direction?

“I don’t see AI replacing human authors in the creation of existing forms of literature — novels, short stories, poetry and the like,” says artificial intelligence expert Malcolm Ryan from Macquarie University. “Rather I envision new literary forms that will be enabled by narrative AI.”

The best way for students to become writers

Common knowledge holds that the best way to become proficient at any skill is to practice, practice, practice.

But here Joanne Yatvin, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, offers a different slant on how students can best become writers:

Now, as a writer myself, I still believe that the best way for students to become writers is by reading as much good writing as possible and internalizing the various structures and techniques they encounter. For extras, the habit of reading will also increase their vocabulary, improve their spelling, and help them grasp the fact that many of the conventions of written language are different from those of spoken language.

Passive Resistance: The active voice isn’t always the best choice

Yes, all those writing-advice books tell us to avoid the passive.

But, as Steven Pinker points out here, sometimes the passive voice is exactly what the writer needs:

The passive is the voice of choice, then, when the done-to is in the spotlight. In recounting the climax of Oedipus Rex, in which a messenger explains the backstory, it is more natural to say The messenger had been given a baby to get rid of by a shepherd from the Laius household than A shepherd from the Laius household had given the messenger a baby to get rid of. All eyes are on the messenger, so the sentence should begin with him.

Also, the passive’s ability to hide the doer, though abused by mistake-makers, is handy when the doer’s identity is irrelevant. In the news item The suspect was arrested in connection with the killing of three Israelis, we don’t need to know that a guy named Shlomo made the arrest.

Books for Daily Writing

Sometimes the unconscious knows what it wants to write about and sends the words bubbling to the surface and onto the page. At other times we find ourselves staring at a blank page or computer screen and wondering what we have worth writing about. At times like those, we might need a bit of prompting in our writing.

I had reached one of those times last month. One reason why I signed up for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge is that it promised a daily writing prompt.

But once this challenge is over, there are some books to fill the gap. On my bookshelf are the following books that I have collected over the years:

A Daily Dose of Sanity: A Five-Minute Soul Recharge for Every Day of the Year by Andy Cohen (Hay House, 2010)

sanityThis book has a spiritual emphasis, though Cohen uses the word spiritual in its broadest sense: “This book is not associated with any particular religion, organization, or spiritual path” (introduction). Each entry comprises a general discussion of some topic, with illustrative anecdotes, a pertinent question or two, and an affirmation. The focus on general affirmations would allow for reuse in subsequent years. Entries are dated and printed one to a page.

The Daily Writer: 366 Meditations to Cultivate a Productive and Meaningful Writing Life by Fred White (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008)

daily-writerAccording to the introduction, “The Daily Writer is designed to help awaken and nurture the spiritual side of writing through daily meditation and practice throughout the calendar year.” Like Cohen (above), White uses the word spiritual in its broadest sense. Each entry discusses a broad topic (e.g., daydreaming with a purpose, discouragement as inspiration) and ends with a “try this” writing exercise. Because the entries are so broad, this book could be used many times, with each run-through bringing up new possibilities for writing. Entries are dated and printed one to a page.

The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006)

write-brainNeubauer’s book addresses a writer’s worst nightmare, the dreaded blank page. She encourages users to write for 10 minutes every day on one of her colorful, graphically intense pages: “At the end of the year you will have written at least 365 pages … And not once during the year will you have faced a blank page.” The entries are numbered (Day 129) rather than dated, so you can jump in any time during the year. At the bottom of each page is a box labeled “take the next step” that includes suggestions for expanding on that day’s writing exercise or for thinking about the writing life in general (e.g., “What is keeping you from asking for help?”). I don’t plan on actually writing on the workbook pages, however, as these exercises could be reused in subsequent years.

One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft by Susan M. Tiberghien (Da Capo Press, 2007)

one-yearIn this book Tiberghien combines two components of the writing life: inspiration and instruction. Each of the 12 lessons contains several writing exercises. In the introduction Tiberghien lays out her logic for the order of the lessons, but she also says that writers can use the lessons in whatever order works best for them. And although the number of lessons corresponds to the number of months in a year, she gives writers permission to spend whatever amount of time they feel is appropriate for each lesson. The use of lessons rather than dated entries allows users to pick up the program at any time.

Starting Points: A Year of Writing Prompts by Susan Wittig Albert (Story Circle Network, 2007, 2013)

starting-pointsLike many writing gurus, Albert advocates writing every day. “I’ve chosen the one-prompt-a-week format (rather than a daily prompt) because I believe it results in longer and deeper thoughts, as you explore the question or issue from different directions during your daily writing sessions.” Albert organizes the book by month, but she says writers can start at any time during the year and then cycle through the book until they come back round to where they started. She also wants writers to work on each month’s four prompts in whatever order appeals to them. The book concludes with several short sections of writing advice.

A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life, by Judy Reeves (New World Library, 1999)

writers-bk-days-849x1024There is a revised edition (2010) available, but my comments pertain to the original version, which I have.

“The book is divided into months, with each of the twelve months containing a profusion of writerly counsel and advice, words of inspiration, and literary lore and legend” (p. 6). Each month begins with a Guideline for Writing Practice. Reeves intersperses dated prompts for the month within a wealth of informative nuggets about writers and the writing life. Because the prompts are suggestive enough to evoke many different responses, the book can be used repeatedly.

Of the books listed here, this is the one I return to most often.


These are just a few books that I happen to have. If you search for “writing prompts,” you’ll find many, many more. If you have used others, please post to the comments.

Writing Resources

Writing Rules We Break!

Five debut novelists have fun:

Rules schmules! Call us rebellious, but when it comes to writing, we think some rules were made to be broken.

19 Websites and Magazines That Want to Publish Your Personal Essays

“Writing nonfiction is not about telling your story,” says Ashley C. Ford, an essayist and BuzzFeed staff writer who emphasized the importance of creating a clear connection between your personal experience and universal topics. “It’s about telling interesting and worthy stories about the human condition using examples from your life.”

But don’t worry if your life doesn’t seem exciting or heart-wrenching enough to expound upon; think of it as writing through yourself, instead of about yourself. “There are few heroes and even fewer villains in real life,” she said. “If you’re going to write about your human experience, write the truth. It’s worth it to write what’s real.”

What’s especially helpful about this list is the links to representative sample articles for each listed site to give you an idea of the kinds of submissions the publication is looking for.

10 tips to help writers stay focused

In this world where we can click away and change our minds instantly, be distracted by cellular devices, multitask and attend to a wide variety of our needs almost simultaneously, how do we stay on the path of quality writing and be proud of our accomplishments, our creations, and inspire others through our words?

These tips are in no particular order, except the first one, which is absolutely essential! And along the way, here are a few online tools that can aid in your process.