Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Giving Up and Giving In

Force yourself to write, no matter what? Maybe... and maybe not. We spotted this post and loved its words of wisdom so much we wanted to share it.

By Kathryn Magendie
Reposted with permission from Writer Unboxed

The Law in The Land of Writers: “Real writers” never ever give up or give in. Writers (always no matter what) write, right?

Well, unless we don’t wanna.

Writers are an often discombobulated bunch and just as with any society we must have laws to keep us from running amok. If someone breaks the “writers write” law, then what? Will the entire system shut down? Will our society crash and burn to leave charred ruins that future generations dig up and place in museums, marked: “Writer. Extinct.” And there we are, frozen in time, hands petrified over our keyboards, vacant-eyed, hollow-boned.

I broke the writers always write law for over two years. The writing-life-is-killing-me feeling was insidious, a creeping up of discontent and dissatisfaction, and exhaustion. I chucked everything author/writing-related. I turned my back so fast and so hard I spun a hole to the depths below Writer Land.

And all the way down I screamed, “You’re dead to me, Writing! Dead to me!” And I became a—gasp—Regular Citizen of the Regular World, with a whole new dirt hole dwelling.

Writing searched me out, but I only heard its faint call—I shoved more dirt in my ears to drown out the whispers.

There comes a time in a writer’s life when it all is just too much. The writing life feels bastardized. The Iconic Writers of the past have done it, said it, written it, and what’s left for us? And while there may be a few modern-day writers who become icons for about a day or three, most of us swim in a vast ocean pushing wave upon wave upon wave onto a shore that accepts the wave and then immediately rejects it.

The pressure to write a great book, one that will be loved and make lots of money and win awards and allow us to be the darlings of the literary community as well as to be popular to the masses at large, creates a constant striving, constant hope, constant “failure” compared to these ethereal happy-go-lucky authors we think exist.

I became an expatriate. One who dirtied her authorial robes. You know what dirt tastes like? Dirt. There’s no good metaphor to hide behind. It’s simple and organic and somehow comforting. And it’s really quiet! You can hear the sound of your own voice—the one you forgot about? You know, that one?

When you hide away from your writer’s society after you dig your dirty hole, magical things may happen. Consider that you not only hear the voice you forgot about, but you recognize that you have nothing left to lose—you’re hiding in a hole, for goodness sakes! You are a law-breaking non-writing writer! You’ve lost income, your identity, your citizenship.

Everyone has moved forward to fame and fortune and success, while you munch dirt.

And one fine morning you finally recognize that it is you who created a weird society where laws restrain you. Then, there you are, the wiggly dirtied creature, rising up out of the primordial muck, blinking away at the bright wonder of the calling voice you once heard so clearly.

And you listen. And you hear. And you consider how: you aren’t on the New York Times best-seller list; have no viral book that people are snapping up so fast the head spins; no call from Hollywood for your book’s movie rights; no Oprah’s book club; no perfect-storm novel that soars above all others and makes you an icon of the ages. It is just you and the writing and the remembered joy of your fingers flying across the keyboard as you create words and worlds.

Like it used to be, back before you placed so many conditions on your writing that all you could see were conditions rising up and blocking out reason, and joy.

The society of writers opens its arms to you and you cautiously but unapologetically step back into its embrace. Did you think they would throw stones at you? Nope. They do not. Will not.

I didn’t die from not writing; you won’t either. I didn’t cut off my right arm; you won’t either. I didn’t lose my mind (well, maybe a little); you won’t either (except a little). No one called me a loser dirt-mouthed non-writing has-been; you won’t be called those things either—and if someone does hurt you? You’ll find an open community of writers who will rally around you, heal you from the hurt, and give you renewed strength.

And guess what else? Your reader believes in you even when you no longer believe in yourself. They’ll rally around you, too.

If you declare, “You’re dead to me, Writing!” So what? You’ll be fine. Your voice will return once you spit out the dirt you’ve been feeding on.

You owe nothing to anyone and no one owes you a thing. Writing is yours to give freely, or to take away freely. You will survive, and maybe thrive.

I believe that sometimes we have to shut it down, hibernate, and then come out hungry.

Allow yourself to grieve any lost dreams. Then say: “So what? This is my reality. Dirt tastes like dirt.”

You aren’t a New York Times best-seller. So what? Your royalties aren’t what you envisioned. So what? You haven’t won an award you desired. So what? You don’t feel like writing for a day/week/month/2 years. So what? Your last book didn’t live up to expectations. So what?

Hole feels safe? So what? Either you will come out or you will not—taste the comforting organic freedom from conditions. Maybe you were meant for something else and your new journey is only a sideways dig ahead.

Writing will wait for you. Writing will always love you. Writing will always be a part of you. If you want it, writing will provide the words and the love of the craft again.

Never ever give up? Well, I say, yes, sometimes do give up. And after you give up, see how it feels. Find out in the giving up if you do indeed really want this life.


Kathryn Magendie is an Amazon Kindle Bestselling Author of five novels and a novella, as well as short stories, essays, and poetry —Tender Graces was an Amazon Kindle Number 1 bestseller. She’s a freelance editor of many wonderful author’s books and stories, a sometimes personal trainer, amateur/hobby photographer, and former Publishing Editor of The Rose & Thorn Journal (an online literary journal published with Publishing Editor Poet/Songwriter Angie Ledbetter). Magendie’s stories, essays, poetry, and photography have been published in print and online publications. Born in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, her family moved her here-there-yonder until her feet were for many years stuck in the murky strange swamps of South Louisiana. Then! One fine morning over twelve years ago, her long-but-not-forgotten dreams came true and she unglued her feet, leaving behind those moss-filled grandfather oak trees, and returned to the mountains to live in a little log house in the Cove at Killian Knob in Maggie Valley, Western North Carolina. Here, she spins tales, edits manuscripts/books and websites, drinks strong dark black coffee, and from her porch over-looking the Great Smoky Mountains contemplates the glow of Old Moon—Cove Crow and his family speak to her and she listens.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


post by Lynn

We were visiting my stepson and his family in North Bend, Oregon. The kids were napping so I stepped outside. Georgie and Razzy, the family dogs, bounced around my feet, begging for a walk.

Up the road that looped through the hilly neighborhood we went. Georgie, the alpha matron, ran in front and Razzy followed, nipping at Georgie’s tail like the annoying teenager he was.

I slowed on a downhill, trying to see through the dense foliage to the ocean that lay just beyond, but from the road there was no view or access.

Georgie dove off the road into the undergrowth. She turned and looked back at me with a question in her brown eyes:

Are you game?

I peered into the gloom to see where she was headed and spotted a small path – well, not a path, really, just some trampled leaves and ferns. The dogs had probably done the trampling. It didn’t look like humans used the route.

Georgie wagged her tail and sat, as if to say that she would wait for me to decide. Razzy plopped down beside her. I stood in the road. The dogs panted.

Then I thought, why not?

For the next half hour I followed Georgie and Razzy through an obstacle course of long-limbed trees, leviathan ferns, and lichen-splashed boulders.

At one point, I had to slide down a muddy slope on my butt. More than once I panicked – I’d never find my way back and had no cell phone with me. I might fall or sprain an ankle. Neither Georgie nor Razzy struck me as a Lassie kind of a rescue dog, and nobody knew where I was.

I could be in a heap of trouble.

Finally, a blue vista, spangled with light, opened up before us. The dogs splashed into the water of a rocky cove.

It was the perfect secret spot.

I straddled a giant slick-skinned log and soaked up the scene.

I pulled smooth stones and shells, tinged with pink, from the silky sand and stuffed them in my pockets.

I sucked salty air deep into my lungs.

I hummed along to the tune of the tide.

When at last I said, “Time to go home,” Georgie led us back to the house where my husband took one look at my muddy shoes and pants and asked, “Where have you been?”

“On an adventure!” I said.

An adventure I would never have experienced had I not given control over to a brown-eyed mutt and just followed.

I try to remember this often in my writing life. Not everything about writing will come in a familiar package. Not everything I need to learn will be taught by a workshop leader or a writing book. Sometimes I will need to stray from the route I have planned for myself.

If I keep an open mind and a willing heart, life will present me with learning detours and unusual guides who'll take me to magical places.

So that's my question today: 

Are you game?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Tips for Entering Poetry Contests

by Susan

It's been my great pleasure this year to chair the 2017 WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest. Going through the entries has given me a few lessons in what to do and not do. If you're planning to enter a poetry contest, you may wish to keep these things in mind. Some are applicable to prose contests, too:

Who's holding this contest?
Before you fork over an entry fee, make sure the organization holding the contest is reputable. (I can vouch for WyoPoets, mind you.) In particular, read to make sure that you do not lose rights to your work simply by entering. Believe it or not, it happens.

Some contests announce who the judge(s) will be. If they do, take some time to learn more about who will be choosing the winners. This may influence which poems you choose to submit.

Read the guidelines and follow them carefully
I tossed out some fine poems because they exceeded the line length specified. Accepting over-long poems isn't fair to our judge, nor is it fair to the many poets who abided by the rules. Another poem was set aside because the poet failed to include the blind judge's copy. Don't let your poetry get tossed aside on a technicality.

A cover letter is probably not necessary
Unless requested in the guidelines (you read them, right?), a cover letter is not needed. The judge typically will never see it, as it's common for judges to receive nothing but the "blind" copies with no identifying information. 

If you're sending it by mail
Although many contests use electronic submission, some still want your entry by mail. You can generally trust your envelope will get there if you send it plain old USPS First Class. If you're nervous, you can get it tracked for an extra fee. Do not, however, get "signature required," forcing some poor soul to make a trip to the post office to retrieve it.

Your poems are considered individually
Unless it's specifically a chapbook contest, your poems will probably not be considered as a collection. Do not include a table of contents, number your pages, or include a name for your collection on your poems. And whatever you do, don't staple your poems together. 

Follow standard manuscript format
For poetry, this will be single-spaced, with an extra space between the title and poem and between stanzas. Bold your title, or put it in ALL CAPS. Left-justify your poem unless you have a specific reason, such as a shape-poem, for not doing so. (Centered poems are harder to read.) Keep in mind that most word processing programs will automatically capitalize the first letter of each line, so if you do not want them all capitalized, you will need to correct that.

Cool it on the fonts. You can't go wrong with 12-point Times New Roman. It should be plain and readable: no script fonts, no poems completely in italics, and, for heaven's sake, do not use Comic Sans. Make sure it's printed cleanly. A copy of a copy of a copy tends to get too faint to read easily.


BE IT RESOLVED! If one of your writerly resolutions for 2017 is to put yourself out there more and enter a few contests, there are many places to find them. Wyoming Writers, Inc. is accepting entries now. We'll try to put the word out here when WyoPoets and holds theirs. Find more opportunities from National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Aerogramme Writers' Studio, and Poets & Writers, or consider a paid subscription to Duotrope (there's a free trial version.) Happy writing, and good luck!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


post by Lynn 


Sir Walter Scott wrote his poem, Marmion, on horseback, preferring to compose in motion.

Flannery O’Connor munched on vanilla wafers as she wrote.

Truman Capote was a self-professed “horizontal author,” writing on a notepad while prone on his couch or bed. He always wrote drafts 1 and 2 in pencil, then propped a typewriter on his knees to type up draft 3, always on yellow paper.

Then he’d set the draft aside, re-read later and decide whether it was worth submitting. If the answer was yes, he would type it again, this time on white paper.

Edgar Allen Poe balanced a feline companion on his shoulder as he wrote. (What, no raven?!)

It seems that writers through the ages have exhibited all sorts of odd behaviors.

Which got me thinking, what are my writerly quirks?


Well, we haven’t got all day, so here’s a sampling:

I go through a lot of Post-it® notes… 

I have always loved colorful sticky notes. During my twenty years as a trainer, I went through piles of them—using them to design sessions, track information, capture ideas, you name it.

So it only makes sense that when I took up creative writing I kept on Post-it®-ing. My writing room is slathered with sticky notes, in odd arrangements on a bulletin board, and stuck to the window casing, directly to the right of my computer.

In view as I write this post: a blue sticky note with, “Let the moment stand and speak for itself” above an orange note that reads, “Good writing is always an unresolved struggle between meaning and music. When in doubt, go with the music. – Richard Hugo (paraphrased).”

Words and ideas dribble in, and I collect the drops and let them gather… 

I journal first thing in the morning, and tag (with sticky notes, of course) sections that could be the start of something, or could be added to an existing story, poem or essay. Then I copy the tagged bits and put them in file folders.

My filing system is incomprehensible to anyone but me. Sample labels include, Amor Fati; Paying My Respects; All Roads Lead to Lusk; In Praise of the Half-assed Effort; and Biomimicry.

Eventually these folders call to me and I open them up and finger through the notes. A poem, essay or story coalesces.


No music for me while I’m in my writing room. Too distracting. I’m not strict about silence, and I welcome the bird chirps that filter in from the outside, but I just don’t invite in much sound.

Let me see it…

I’m a visual learner and I’ve discovered that I need to be able to picture places, characters, even emotions as part of writing about them. So, I collect images, snipped from magazines and newspapers. I create collages with stand-ins for my characters, and include landscapes and rooms that I imagine the characters wandering around in.

For the love of a verb… 

I collect verbs. I jot them down on a white notepad. When the page is filled, I rip it off and file it in my Bevy of Verbs folder.

Why do I collect verbs?

Hell if I know. I just love good verbs, and by “good” I mean active, sensual, gritty, precise verbs. I admire writing with strong verbs and dislike writing with passive and repetitive verbs, so I guess I’m trying to give my writing brain plenty of material to work with.


I believe that our quirks are clues to our creative process, and should be respected.

I believe you can experiment with the methods other writers use, but eventually you stumble on your own quirky way of doing things.

As Celia Blue Johnson points out in the introduction to Odd Type Writers, 

“… the path to great literature is paved with one’s own eccentricities rather than someone else’s.” 

Not feeling particularly quirky? 

You can always give the methods of the masters a try. Maybe something will take.


Write an entire story on a scroll, taping the pages together and rolling them up, the way Jack Kerouac did with On the Road.


Copy John Cheever’s writing style (clad only in his underwear) or Victor Hugo (who wore only a shawl while composing Hunchback of Notre Dame). 

Might want to close the curtains though.


Or make like Edith Wharton, who wrote in bed, wearing a silk nightgown and matching bed cap. Her dog was inevitably curled up at her side and she always wrote in blue ink on pale blue stationary.

When your family asks when you are going to get up, tell them you are exploring your creative process.


So, let’s all make it a point in 2017 to enjoy and cultivate our quirky side. I’m betting our writing will benefit from it, and our friends and family will look on in amazement or amusement.

And what are we here for if not to provide amazement and amusement to one another?

What quirks do you have? Come on, tell us…

The following resources were used in this post:

Odd Type Writers by Celia Blue Johnson

Stranger-Than-Fiction Writing Habits of 18 Famous Writers by Baihley Grandison

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pushing Back Against the Darkness

by Susan

Fell asleep on the couch last night. Woke up and the room was lit only by the quiet, multicolored glow of the Christmas lights on the mantel.

Those close to me know I'm not a big fan of Christmas. If Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Grinch had a love child, I'd be it.

Christmas lights, though – those I love. There is something human and hopeful and solid about them. As the days grow shortest, we light whatever faint lamps we can muster against the night. We refuse to let darkness descend completely. Come Solstice, the night gives up and begins to recede.

I recently discovered the work of Jenny Lawson, author of Let's Pretend this Never Happened and Furiously Happy. She's a woman with a wicked sense of humor, a history of mental health issues, and the bravery to write about the most horrifying and embarrassing moments in her life. The things she might have wished had “never happened.”

She has a handful of letters she keeps from readers who wrote her to say they felt suicidal, but read her words and no longer felt alone. That knowledge gave them strength to keep going. It's only a few, but even one is enough.

When Lawson wrote, she was lighting a lamp in the darkness for someone who needed it. When we write, we may be doing the same. We might never know if or who, but we can have faith that we need to put it out there.

So keep writing. Your stories matter. Your words are a gift to the world.

With that, I wish you happy holidays, whichever ones you celebrate. May the new year bring you blessings.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


post by Lynn

Generosity is the soul of writing. You write to give something. To yourself. To your reader. To God. You give thanks for having been given the words. You pray to be given words another day.
- Erica Jong 

 A cold night, a crowded room, soft light, attentive faces, and one microphone.

These were the components of the Launch Party for Watch My Rising: A Recovery Anthology, which was held last Wednesday night, December 7th, at the Asher Building in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

So much generosity in one evening, I can hardly tell it:

The generosity of the writers.

These are the kind souls who shared the stories and poems that make up Watch My Rising. Each labored over the words. Each drummed up the courage and honesty and chutzpa it takes to speak up about recovery and addiction. Each received a single copy of the anthology for their efforts. 

The generosity of the readers.

Aaron Holst, of Sheridan, Wyoming, who braved the winter roads to read his poem, “New Songs” and his story, “Shooting Star or Beacon?” to a mesmerized crowd.

Aaron Holst, of Sheridan, Wyoming reads "New Songs"
Darrah Perez, who made the long, snowy-road trek from the Wind River Reservation to Cheyenne—a 5 hour drive—to read her story, “The Answer Is in Loving Ourselves.” She also gave voice to “Homeland Security” by Margaret Smith-Braniff. The audience was awe-struck. You’d have to hear Darrah read/perform to fully understand.

Darrah Perez, of Ethete, Wyoming reads "The Answer Is in Loving Ourselves"
My husband, Mike Carlson, who read “The Pigeons of Lynn” by Paul Hostovsky and “Lost Gospel” by Jim Littwin. I kid you not when I say that he volunteered to be a reader—no arm-twisting on my part.

Judith Schulz, who read “To Give Thanks to Sweaty Palms” by P.F. Witte, “Should We Set a Place for Peggy?” by Kristina Cerise, and “Connoisseur” by Rebecca Taksel. Judy sings, writes and acts and I recruited her because I knew she would give life to the voices in those particular pieces. Several people I talked with after the reading raved about Judy’s delivery—all with one word in common: “Wow!”

Judy Schulz reads "Should We Set a Place for Peggy?" by Kristina Cerise
Leif Swanson, friend, and English professor at Laramie Community College, who lent his deep, calming voice to two poems: “Taking on Life” by Antonio Sanchez-Day and “The Gift I See” by Shane Ronel Crady. He also brought his LCCC composition class to the reading.

James Pringle, intern at Recover Wyoming, who read Pace Lawson’s story, “De-stigmatized.” This is not a short piece, but James did a masterful job at sharing it all without a glitch. He told me he was happy to do it, because Pace’s story was his favorite.

James Pringle reads "De-stigmatized" by Pace Lawso
The generosity of the audience.

First off, they came. Did I mention the cold night? (Windchill factor of 18 degrees Fahrenheit BELOW ZERO.) Icy streets? Mid-week during December? Yet come they did, some eighty people, many of whom had never attended a reading of this sort before. Friends, strangers, people in recovery and people who love writing. Even a woman who just happened to see the flyer at the Y and decided to come out.

They enjoyed the catered food (provided by De-Lish Catering) and gave the readers the gift of their rapt attention.

They bought copies of the anthology too. Many of them gave extra money, saying, “Use it for Recover Wyoming’s programs, or to buy copies of the anthology for treatment centers, prisons, etc.”

Anthology editor, Lynn Carlson, reads "With All Due Respect"
And they were generous with their praise of the anthology, and of the reading. They promised to spread the word about the book, and about the message: recovery is real. They wanted to know when the second edition is coming out.

Conversations around the room during the break and after the reading were full of exactly what this editor had always wished for: insight, concern for those who are still stuck in the cycle of addiction, desire to help, hope.

The generosity of the organizers.

Recover Wyoming staff and board, the Coffee Depot staff (who kept the warm beverages coming), United Way members... lots of folks contributed to pull this event off.

Writing is not a performance but a generosity.
- Brenda Ueland

All of the above: generous, thoughtful, caring folks. 

So a note to myself and all my writer friends in this season of giving:

Let us be generous with our words. We'll never know when the world needs them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Heaven Help Me, I Attempted NaNoWriMo

by Susan

Didn't quite make it to the top...
I'm not sure what possessed me, but I signed up for National Novel Writing Month in November. I thought it might push me to finish the embryonic novel I keep poking at. I tend to be a slow writer, so I thought maybe I'd try to develop a little more speed. Or maybe I needed a project to pull me out of my doldrums. I'm notorious for finding projects instead of dealing with life as it exists.

For those of you not familiar with NaNo, the idea is to start with a blank page on Nov. 1 at 12:01 a.m. with the goal of completing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30. I chose a slightly different goal: 50,000 words progress on an existing novel.

I failed boldly. Magnificently. Wrote only a fraction of the goal. And I'm still happy I did it, because I learned a few things along the way:

  • It's easier to rack up a word count than you might think, as long as the butt goes in the chair. 
  • Learning and doing are part of an unending cycle. The more you write, the more you learn about writing. The more you learn, the more your writing changes. 
  • Your own goals don't have to be anyone else's. One writer I know on Facebook set a goal of 500 words per day during NaNoWriMo. My goal was to make progress on an existing novel. 
  • Some of us need more self-care than we want to admit or give to ourselves. I don't do well with inadequate food, water, rest, and exercise, and providing myself with those things takes time. You need to carve out that time.
  • You have to factor in your own energy level when you set goals. I tend to be low-energy, and I forget that sometimes.
  • Energy level includes clearing out enough mental space to think and imagine. 
  • Community matters. Having writer friends -- online or off -- who can be cheerleaders is a great help when discouragement sets in.

Would I do NaNoWriMo again? Maybe, although I seem also to have learned that I'm temperamentally incapable of writing fast and sloppy first drafts. One way or another, though, I know I need to push forward. 

How about you? Did you give NaNoWriMo a go? Tell us what you thought!


P.S. While we have you, we just want to put in quick plugs for two projects we're involved in:

1) If you're in Cheyenne tomorrow, stop by the Recover Wyoming book launch for Watch My Rising, an anthology edited by Lynn G. Carlson. It will be held in the Asher Bldg at 500 W. 15th St. on Wednesday, Dec. 7 from 6-9 p.m. Read more about it in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle article by Ellen Fike.

2) The WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest postmark deadline has been extended until December 15, so there's still time to get your entry in. Find guidelines on the WyoPoets website. Questions may be directed to contest chair Susan Mark at wyopoets@gmail.com.