Category Archives: writing tip

Writing tip Wednesday: “Margaret Atwood’s rules for writing fiction”

Don’t expect it to be easy and sometimes it won’t be fun, but it is largely up to you how far you go and how well you do, and most of the tools are easily obtainable. Don’t forget to stretch your back while stretching your mind.

  1. Take a pencil to write with on airplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: Handmaid's Tale by Atwoodtake two pencils.
  2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
  3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
  4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
  5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
  6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
  7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
  8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
  9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
  10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

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Writing tip Wednesday: “Tinker Mountain Writers”

2018 Tinker logo 100dpi copy

2018 Tinker Mountain Writers 100dpi

Date: June 10 -15, 2018 at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA. Details at

From novice to advanced. Since 2005, Tinker Mountain Writers has been nuturing and empowering writers though workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

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Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

Ends on April 30, 2018

$20.00 USD

Submit stories and essays on any theme, up to 6,000 words each. The winning story and essay will each receive $2,000. Ten Honorable Mentions will receive $100 each. The top 12 entries will be published online. Judge: Dennis Norris II, assisted by Lauren Singer.

For this contest, a story is any short work of fiction, and an essay is any short work of nonfiction. You may submit published or unpublished work. This contest accepts multiple entries (submit them one at a time). Please omit your name from your entries. We prefer 12-point type or larger. Please avoid fancy, hard-to-read fonts. Double-spacing is recommended.

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Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing | Books | The Guardian

Made a New Year resolution to start writing that novel? Take some writing tips from Leo Tolstoy, Muriel Spark, John Steinbeck and other famous authors

Source: Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing | Books | The Guardian

Made a New Year resolution to start writing that novel? Take some writing tips from Leo Tolstoy, Muriel Spark, John Steinbeck and other famous authors

Source: Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing | Books | The Guardian

By Travis Elborough


Over the past year, Helen Gordon and I have been putting together Being a Writer, a collection of musings, tips and essays from some of our favourite authors about the business of writing, ranging from the time of Samuel Johnson and Grub Street, to the age of Silicon Roundabout and Lorrie Moore.

Researching the book, it quickly became obvious that there isn’t a correct way to set about writing creatively, which is a liberating thought. For every novelist who needs to isolate themselves in a quiet office (Jonathan Franzen), there’s another who works best at the local coffee shop (Rivka Galchen) or who struggles to snatch an hour between chores and children (a young Alice Munro).

Conversely, it also became apparent that alongside all this variety of approach, there are certain ideas and pieces of advice that many writers hold in common. In an 1866 letter to Mrs Brookfield, Charles Dickens suggests that: “You constantly hurry your narrative … by telling it, in a sort of impetuous breathless way, in your own person, when the people [characters] should tell it and act it for themselves.” Basically: SHOW DON’T TELL. Three words that will be familiar to anyone who has sat in a 21st-century creative writing class.

Our book therefore contains a lot of writing advice, ranging from the sternly practical to the gloriously idiosyncratic. We have writers talking about what went wrong, as well as what went right. They discuss failing to finish a manuscript, failing to find a publisher, badly realised characters and tortuous, unwieldy plots. Here are a just few of our favourite tips, which we believe any aspiring writer should take to heart.

  1. Hilary Mantel – a little arrogance can be a great help
    “The most helpful quality a writer can cultivate is self-confidence – arrogance, if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.”

  2. Leo Tolstoy and HP Lovecraft – pick the hours that work best for you
    Tolstoy believed in starting first thing: “I always write in the morning. I was pleased to hear lately that Rousseau, too, after he got up in the morning, went for a short walk and sat down to work. In the morning one’s head is particularly fresh. The best thoughts most often come in the morning after waking while still in bed or during the walk.”

    Or stay up late as HP Lovecraft did: “At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.”

  1. William Faulkner – read to write
    “Read, read, read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”
  2. Katherine Mansfield – writing anything is better than nothing
    “Looking back I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.”
  3. Ernest Hemingway – stop while the going is good
    “Always stop while you are going good and don’t worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry bout it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”

  4. John Steinbeck – take it a page at a time
    “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day. It helps.”
  5. Miranda July – don’t worry about the bad drafts
    “I was a lot dumber when I was writing the novel. I felt like worse of a writer … would come home every day from my office and say, ‘Well, I still really like the story, I just wish it was better written.’ At that point, I didn’t realise I was writing a first draft. And the first draft was the hardest part. From there, it was comparatively easy. It was like I had some Play-Doh to work with and could just keep working with it – doing a million drafts and things changing radically and characters appearing and disappearing and solving mysteries: Why is this thing here? Should I just take that away? And then realising, no, that is there, in fact, because that is the key to this. I love that sort of detective work, keeping the faith alive until all the questions have been sleuthed out.”
  6. F Scott Fitzgerald – don’t write and drink
    “It has become increasingly plain to me that the very excellent organisation of a long book or the finest perceptions and judgment in time of revision do not go well with liquor. A short story can be written on the bottle, but for a novel you need the mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern inside your head and ruthlessly sacrifice the sideshows … I would give anything if I hadn’t written Part III of Tender Is the Night entirely on stimulant.”
  7. Zadie Smith – get offline
    “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.”
  8. Muriel Spark* – get a cat
    “If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially on some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp … gives the cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impeded your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, and very mysterious.’
    *(or rather, the character of Mrs Hawkins in A Far Cry from Kensington.)


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Writing tip Wednesday: “Humor Poetry Contest”

Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest (no fee)

Ends on April 1, 2018

Submit one humor poem, up to 250 lines. First prize of $1,000 and second prize of $250. Ten Honorable Mentions will receive $100 each. The top 12 entries will be published online. There is no fee to enter. Judge: Jendi Reiter, assisted by Lauren Singer.

In addition to English, your poem may contain inspired gibberish. You may submit published or unpublished work. Please omit your name from your entries. We prefer 12-point type or larger. Please avoid fancy, hard-to-read fonts.

Please submit only one poem to this contest.

Source and further details:

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Writing tip Wednesday: “Staying Creative”

6 Ways to Stay Creative as a Writer (When You’re a Parent)


by Lisa Lepki

Writers must write every day. That’s the mantra. Authors ranging from Ray Bradbury to Ernest Hemingway to Doris Lessing all propound the necessity of writing daily. But the thing is, writers are also humans, and many humans have an irksome desire to procreate. And those tiny humans that arrive into the writer’s well-constructed, disciplined, every day writing routine are selfishly indifferent to this mantra. Indeed, they sometimes seem to be doing everything they can to sabotage your great writing effort. So, here are 6 ways to keep your baby brain from turning to mush when you are sleep deprived and elbow-deep in poopy diapers.


  1. Build the structure of your story

This exhaustion and constant state of panic won’t go on forever – I promise. There will come a time when you are once again able to sit down and write. Until then, get planning. I’m sure you have some ideas floating around in your head that you have never given your full attention. Remember that novel about the perfect crime that you always wanted to write? Even if the words aren’t flowing, you can still be thinking about the elements of the story and how they work together. Apps like Scrivener and The Novel Factory have cork boards where you can jot down notes about your plot or your characters so that when you go back to them, lots of the puzzle pieces will already be in place.

  1. Write when the baby sleeps

OK, I know that all the parenting books tell mothers to sleep when their babies sleep. But we are writers. And sometimes writing feels more important than sleep (not always, believe me!). J.K. Rowling once said “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.” Yes! And sometimes you get lucky. My first baby slept for about 2 hours every morning (Lucky cow, I hear you saying. Don’t worry. Karma got me back with my sleep-hating baby number two). There was always a ton of boring baby admin to be done—laundry, sterilizing, food prep, etc.—but I decided I would always allow myself a few minutes of writing even if it meant some things didn’t get done. Sometimes a glorious hour or more! I had to fight the guilt that came along with my partner coming home to a messy house or an uncooked dinner, but I knew that I needed those moments for myself and my writing. The mantra “happy wife equals happy life” was one I clung on to. So although it may be unrealistic to write for the full amount of time your baby sleeps, allow yourself some of it, as often as you need it.

  1. Revisit old stories or works in progress

Sometimes the pressure of trying to think creatively feels like too much when you have been up all night with a screamer. When I was too tired to come up with a single original thought, I dug out some of my writing from the past few years and revisited it. Everyone has those stories that just kind of petered out. Going back, I was amazed to find some gems among the (mostly) tedious pieces. Now that I had some distance, I could see the elements that needed to be cut. I could see inconsistencies where I hadn’t before. ProWritingAid would highlight my ridiculously long, overcomplicated sentences and I would easily be able to fix them when they had confounded me before. Weirdly, I was quite a good editor in my sleep-deprived state, even if I had trouble creating anything new.

  1. Listen to audio books

My second baby didn’t sleep during the day unless we were walking her around in her stroller. This meant that I spent hours each week wandering the streets and parks of my neighbourhood. Not so conducive to writing. So, instead I tried to keep my brain alive by listening to audio books. There are so many amazing audio books out there and some books are even better that way. Autobiographies, for example. A huge number of inspirational people read their own autobiographies now and it can feel like listening to a friend reminiscing about their own life.

  1. Use a voice recognition app

There are a bunch of great apps that take dictation while you are on the move. This, again, is great when you are mandated by your small dictator to spend hours a day walking with a stroller. These days, all kinds of people walk in headphones talking into their phones, so you don’t even look like a crazy person as you talk to yourself in public. I found it really useful to flesh out characters’ back stories or build timelines. The apps didn’t always get my words completely right, but at least I had a record of my thoughts and could build on that.

  1. Write to help you figure out the baby stuff

For every baby issue, there are 5 different opinions on how to make it better. And when you are in the thick of it, it feels like your decision about which sleep technique to embrace will affect you and your child’s well-being FOREVER! (It won’t, by the way. It’s just one of a thousand factors in your child’s upbringing, so don’t castigate yourself unduly over it.) I was completely overwhelmed with information, most of which completely contradicted each other. It was only when I sat down and wrote about my confusion that I managed to make sense of it all. This is a great skill that we have as writers. We can take mushy ideas from in our heads and get them into some kind of comprehensible form on the page. Use that skill. It helps make these decisions easier and it exercises your writing muscles so that they don’t atrophy completely.

These days, my kids are aged 3 and 5, and we all sleep like normal human beings. Mostly. I still don’t have much spare time, but Peppa Pig allows me to have at least a few minutes during the days when I’m not at work (thanks, Peppa!) and, after the kids are tucked away in bed, my brain is well-rested enough to do some proper writing in the evenings. I’m not quite back to my full every day routine, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. So don’t get discouraged if you aren’t managing to write every day. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Figure out what works for you right now and embrace it.



Lisa Lepki. When she is not chasing her two noise-machines around the house, Lepki is a communications consultant and indie author.  A word nerd, she loves the technical elements of writing almost as much as the writing itself.  Currently she is helping other writers embrace the editing process through her work with

Her writing can also be found on, The Write Life, and DIYAuthor.



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Writing tip Wednesday: “How to find free classic books online — Quartz”

How to access free and legal copies of English and American classic literature online

Source: How to find free classic books online — Quartz

Add up all the textbooks and calculators that students need to buy and September can be rough for American parents and their children. While schools require purchases of the latest textbook editions each year, parents can acquire some books that never go out of date—and cost nearly nothing.

Many of the American and English literary works that are required reading are available online. You don’t need to know how to torrent, or hurt your eyes reading poorly scanned illegal PDFs, either; these books are available legally through publisher licenses. Here’s a few resources for finding To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, 1984, Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, and other commonly required reading for free:

Your library and a device

If you’re not a member of a public library, join one. Many public libraries use OverDrive, an app that lets you borrow ebooks and audiobooks. Download OverDrive on a device, or use the site on your computer browser, and log in with your library card number. You could also try Libby, an app recently released by OverDrive with the same functionality and a better interface.

Availability depends on your branch, but there will be tons of classics. Some of the most popular may be on hold, but here are some currently available at my libraries in New York City and central New Jersey.

Available: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club; George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm; Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Bluest Eye; Lois Lowry’s The Giver; The Elements of Style; William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies; John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Project Gutenberg (Australia)

Project Gutenberg collects ebooks in the public domain in the US. Its Australian counterpart does the same thing for books in the public domain in Australia, where laws are more lax than the US.

Available on the US site: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma; Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace; Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis; James Joyce’s Ulysses; Beowulf; Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray; Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha; Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein.

On the Australia site: George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm; Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, and To the Lighthouse; Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night.

Open Library

A project of Internet Archive, Open Library plans to catalog every book in existence. A subset of the books in the database are accessible for free right now; others you can borrow after you join a waiting list. Below are some of the ones perpetually available.

Available: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, and Daisy Miller; Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome; Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility.

For any work by Shakespeare

All of Shakespeare’s poems and plays are in the public domain. MIT has a complete database.

Available: Every written work.


Scribd is a subscription-based database of books and audiobooks, along with articles from paywalled sites like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. It costs $9 a month, but if you’re in a bind for one or two books, you can get a free 30-day trial.

Available: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451; Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms.

Google Books

Google once had huge ambitions for a massive digital library of all the world’s books, but got defeated by copyright battles. If you choose “Free Google ebooks” when you search, you can find a few that are old enough to be in the public domain.

Available: Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights; George Eliot’s Middlemarch; Dante’s The Inferno.

The Library of Congress’s site has a few classics if you don’t mind reading directly in your browser.

Available: ‎Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.







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