Tuesday, December 30, 2014


by Susan

I threw a beloved child off the boat yesterday.

Let me back up. In October, my husband and I took a trip to the Dakota Black Hills. We drove the Needles Highway and stopped to hike the Little Devil's Trail. All the way along the trail were flecks of mica, glistening in the sun.

The sparkles captured me. What a great image! My WIP involves a road trip out West -- this would be great to include! Out came the maps to redraw the main character's route. The problem was, I couldn't find a good reason to route Evvie through Custer State Park.

Did that stop me? Of course not. I brainstormed reasons why she would end up on that road, see that mica and have a stunning revelation about life. I wedged it into that story. With a hammer. And a mallet. And a crowbar.

And my story fell apart.

Yesterday it dawned on me:
  • The scene, wonderful as it was, was throwing a monkey wrench (or crowbar) into the plot.
  •  Evvie had no reason to go to South Dakota.
  • What I was going to have her do there was totally out of character.
No wonder I was spinning my wheels for weeks.

Maybe Evvie whispered in my ear that she didn't want to go there. I don't know. I'm no longer going to try to force her to. It's not as if this image will go away -- oh, no. It goes back into the idea arsenal for another time, another story, another character.

I see a lot of revision advice on cutting dead weight. Sometimes the parts that seem nearest to our hearts are not just dead weight: they're actively getting in the way. So is your story not working? Take a look at the parts you love best. See who you can throw overboard. If they're strong enough, they'll swim back to shore and you can take them out on the waters another trip.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


‘Tis the season for lighting candles: candles in an advent wreath for Christmas, red, black and green for Kwanzaa, menorah-held ones for Hanukkah’s “Festival of Light.”

My childhood memories of holiday scenes are wrapped in light. I remember squinting at the lights on the tree and holding gifts up against a lamp with my sisters, trying to see through the packaging—as if Mom and Dad didn’t know!

But it's no denying that holidays can be challenging for writers. “No time for that!” we yell as we cook and shop and wrap. 

I’d like to suggest that we don’t have to write the season off as a loss to our writing. We shouldn’t let our creativity flicker and go out any time of year, and that includes the holiday season.

Light the flame
Think of your creativity as a lighted candle, a special flame inside. It is your charge during the holidays, as well as every other day of the year, to keep it lit. I encourage you to think of the flame as strong, fueled by your determination and hard work. It is fed by the wax of every hard-fought lesson you have learned along your writing path.

Watch the flame
Now is the perfect time for pausing midst the holiday chaos to just look and listen. Notice your feelings. Childhood memories percolate to the surface during the holidays—take note. Literally. Keep a small notebook with you to write down the things you feel and observe. This is rich material for use later, maybe in a fictional character, a scene in a memoir or essay, or a sketched moment in a poem.

Feed the flame
Re-invent the holidays in a way that suits the writer in you. It’s all about awareness. Pay attention to what causes your creativity flame to burn brighter, and what makes it flicker. If being out in the hubbub of the season lights you up, then go. Be among the people in a mall, a place of worship, or go caroling with friends. If a silent night soothes you, then curl up with a fleece blanket, sip some hot cider and create a gratitude list. Experiment joyously. The discoveries you make about what lights you up during this crazy-busy season can be extended into the new year.

Spread the light
Above all, ‘tis the season for sharing. December 21st was the shortest day of the year, with the longest night. The world craves your light always, but especially at this time of year.

What is there to lose by sharing? Absolutely nothing. As Buddha said, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

There are a myriad of ways to spread the light of creativity: you can form or join a writing group, volunteer for a writing organization, or help a child write and illustrate a story. One of my ways to is to lead a writing group at a residential addiction treatment center for women. The women there inspire me and feed my flame with their passion for life and recovery. Give it some thought and I know you’ll find something that suits you.

So let’s all go and light it up! And from Susan and me...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Just Read It Already

by Susan

Bearlodge Writers has a simple rule for their critique sessions:

"cut the crap and read ... and pass the chocolate!"

In other words, don't waste time explaining yourself before you read your piece to the group. Don't apologize if it's a first draft (remember... you can't edit nothing). Don't give a long-winded spiel with the entire history of your piece.

You know what? It's a good rule when you get behind the podium at a reading as well. Too often I have heard someone spend longer prefacing their poem than reading it.

Beware. It can suck the life out of the piece.

While some writing may need a small piece of context, most can stand on its own. You do not need to justify yourself before you share your work. You are a writer, and you have every right to be heard. It's natural to be nervous if you are inexperienced with reading, but your audience wants to hear your work. Go for it. Plunge right in. You don't need the verbal equivalent of throat clearing.

Trust your listeners. Have faith that your work stands on its own merits. Don't hesitate. Cut the crap and read.

And reward yourself with some chocolate after the applause dies down.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Writing What’s Real: A Hero’s Journey, with Darcy Lipp-Acord

by Darcy Lipp-Acord

Writers weave connections.  One of my most important connections goes back to my years as a high school English teacher, when I first began studying epic and mythic literature in earnest. That’s when I first read the work of Joseph Campbell, and naturally made connections between his construct of the Hero’s Journey and the literature I was teaching my students. Later in life, the heroic arc Campbell speaks about became, for me, an apt metaphor for the writing life, as well.  As writers, we all prepare for the journey; we all experience the moment of actual departure; we all encounter detours; and we all, finally, must face our dragons. 

Rarely in epic literature does the hero, or heroine, depart abruptly: quests, after all, require planning and preparation.  Odysseus, and the rest of the Hellenic force, has to secure and supply ships before departing for Troy; even his homeward odyssey, for which he is most famous, requires preparation. Likewise, serious writing requires forethought. In my twenties, I mistakenly imagined long hours spent squirreled away with my pen and my notebook, words flowing freely. Wrong.  I soon found out that I needed to carve writing time from an already-busy schedule; I needed to find a quiet place; and I needed the support of, at least, my husband. Although we may not know exactly where our quest will lead – or sometimes, what the object of our quest even is -- we should at least give thought to when and where we will write, who we can trust as comrades, and what support we will need to sustain the journey.

Planning is not writing, however. Any adventurer will confirm that it is one thing to stock the hold, secure a crew, plan a route; it is quite another to board the ship and leave shore.  I love to plan, and can get so caught up in this stage that I don’t move forward. The “being stuck” between thinking about writing and actually putting words on a page can look like any of these scenarios: picking up all the clutter in the house before you sit down to write; getting out next year’s calendar to pencil in research trips; checking and re-checking your social media accounts. None of these activities are necessarily bad – and can, indeed, be valuable pieces of the first stage of the journey -- but sooner or later, one must actually leave Hobbiton. Once you have a basic plan for how you will write, you have enough to start. You’ll never be completely prepared, just sufficiently so. For me, a journal helps, particularly when there have been too many weeks of too few words: just putting ink to page stirs the writing spirit, and once again I set off.

My connection between the act of writing and a hero’s journey is nowhere as evident as in the next stage: the detours, road blocks, and obstacles that threaten to end a quest.  My book, Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey took me over ten years to write and publish. Odysseus takes ten years to return home from Troy. Eragon spends five years learning to be a Dragon Rider before he can finally confront Galbatorix. We all have our own experience with the detours. Not all our writerly road blocks are as fascinating or as terrorizing as the navigation of Scylla & Charybdis or an encounter with Urgals. Our detours mostly look like real-life: earning a living, raising a family, healing from sickness. In epic literature, however, the detours form the meat of the story; they are what make an epic, well, epic. Our own detours may keep us from finishing the novel for a while, but they also give us depth as writers. The only type of detour that is considered deadly is the self-inflicted one: Frodo’s paralyzing fear and greed; the Greek fleet’s languishing on the Island of the Lotus Eaters; Odysseus’ near-tragic end at Polyphemus’ hands.

And in confronting these more deadly, self-inflicted road blocks to our creativity, we must face our dragons. Our dragons are precisely our tragic flaws: the self-sabatoging behaviors that threaten to derail the quest. When Odysseus escapes from Polyphemus’ cave – by blinding the Cyclops and sneaking out of the cave on the bellies of the monster’s sheep – his ego would not let him simply sail away, grateful to not be eaten. Instead, Odysseus taunts the Cyclops, and makes sure that his name becomes known. Polyphemus is able to pinpoint the location of Odysseus’ voice; he hurls a giant boulder and sinks one of the ships, killing all aboard. It is simple luck that Odysseus’ own ship is not hit; but it is his ego that is responsible for the killing of his men. There are many creatures in The Odyssey, but there are no dragons; at least, not physical ones.

In Western literature, dragons are portrayed as horrific beasts to be slaughtered and exterminated (with Eragon’s Saphira being one exception). In Eastern literature, dragons represent power and wisdom.   What if a more accurate idea of our dragons combines elements of both traditions?  When we don’t know our dragons, or when we deny that they lurk in the caves of our subconscious, their fire is a danger to us: like any power suppressed, its eventual explosion can burn, maim, even kill.  But a power that’s known, that’s been reckoned with, can be managed, can even help and support us in our quest.

At this critical point in the hero’s journey, the hero must face and either conquer, or submit to, his tragic flaw. At this point in the writer’s journey, we must face the truth of who we are and why we are writing. When I started my book, I thought I was writing to commemorate a lifestyle. My dragon, my controlling nature, wanted me to only write the good, to sugar-coat my experiences so as not to offend or to make myself look weak.  Perhaps the countless rejection letters came because the writing I had been doing was false, superficial. Truth was scary, like a big, slimy dragon. But even a dragon has beauty – in its iridescent skin, its glowing eyes, its majesty. Instead of facing and confronting my dragon, I “friended” it – finally acknowledging that the flaws I was trying to hide were the truthful details that made my story real. I was not only writing to capture the truth about a lifestyle, but also to honor a people and a place that I had previously dishonored.

A hero who confronts his dragon, who friends it and learns from it, returns home a changed person. When Odysseus finally reaches the shores of Ithaca, he possesses humility enough to endure shame and ridicule, in order to finally emerge victorious. A writer who faces her dragon, who writes the truth no matter how ugly/beautiful/embarrassing/powerful it is, completes a higher purpose. She writes now to serve something outside herself, and her writing, when done in this spirit, assumes a new restraint, maturity, and wisdom.

She has completed a heroic journey, and circles back home, changed. But, as any hero knows, there are always more adventures ahead, more dragons to friend, more stories to tell.  

Darcy Lipp-Acord, a native of South Dakota, is the granddaughter of German-Russian immigrants. She grew up on a farm worked by three generations of her family, and currently lives on a ranch with her husband, Shawn, and their six children near the Montana-Wyoming border.

Her first book, Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey was published in 2013 by South Dakota State Historical Society Press. It was a finalist in the 2014 WILLA Literary Awards and a nominee in the 2014 Will Rogers Medallion Awards. Written over 10 years, Lipp-Acord’s essays compose a picture of endurance and grace as the author addresses her history and finds her way home. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Embracing Changes in Publishing with Tina Ann Forkner

by Tina Ann Forkner

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

 -- George Bernard Shaw

To date, I’ve had two novels published by a big legacy publisher and one from an independent publisher, but there was a time when I was afraid to take that step and pursue an alternative publisher as I waited for the big guys to call.

Even though everybody was saying to embrace the change, I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep doing things the old way. I’m not a business or economics major, so I can’t explain the business of publishing to you in technical terms, but for years I sat back and watched the ebook and self-publishing industries evolve as traditionally published authors like myself struggled to get new books out. Finally, last year, I started asking myself if I was missing the boat.

It didn’t seem right that thousands of people were publishing novels all by themselves and making money, while multi-published authors sat by their laptops waiting for their phones to ring with the unlikely news of a book contract. That’s when it happened. I decided to embrace changing technology.

I used to say I would never read an ebook, but that has changed as I’ve realized that while I love a traditional book, a story is a story, no matter its delivery to the reader. Likewise, I used to tell authors don’t ever self-publish, and while I still haven’t self-published my own books, I’ve changed my mind about that too.

I’ve never been one to rush into change, but as I’ve watched the industry transform, I had to ask myself why, as a traditionally published author with a legacy publisher who has some experience in publishing, was I not willing to step in and become a hybrid author.

I don’t know who first coined the term, but a hybrid author is a writer who has novels published by legacy publishers (Random House, Hachette, and the rest of the big guys in publishing), as well as novels that are self-published or published by smaller independent presses.

When I mentioned to my husband, the economics major, that I was thinking about pursuing another way to get my latest novel, Waking Up Joy, published, he was all for it. On the other hand, I, the English major, was leery of doing all that work. Plus, I had worked hard to be traditionally published. I didn’t want to bring a book out into the world only to be lost in a sea of self-published works, many of them subpar, from online retailers.

Not all self-published books were poorly written, of course, and many excellent writers were rising to the top, but when I looked at my friends who had written fantastic self-pubbed books and saw the amount of work they put into the publishing and marketing of their books, I was overwhelmed. My mind was opened to change, but my business capabilities and time priorities weren’t. That’s when a new publishing option came along for me in the form of a smaller independent publisher that specializes in mostly digital sales and some print.

Tule Publishing Group isn’t a self-publisher, but it is completely independent of the legacy publishers. When they wanted to do a contract with me to publish Waking Up Joy, I couldn’t believe my luck.

But maybe it wasn’t luck at all. If I had not embraced the change that was happening in the publishing industry, I would have never been connected to my new publisher and I would have never considered going with a non-legacy publisher. The opportunity would have sailed right by, which is what’s happening to too many authors.

My advice to other authors who have been doing this for years is to embrace change, because things really do change. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been saying what I’m saying now because all the pieces weren’t in place, but a lot has happened lately to give serious writers new opportunities.

Writers don’t need to give up the pursuit of traditional publishing in order to pursue other opportunities. In fact, I don’t think any writer should give that up, but it’s okay to consider another way. Whatever you do, I believe it’s time for serious writers to make a choice.

Are we are going to be so concerned with preserving the purity of our writing that the words we write are never going to be read? If the answer is yes, then I don’t judge you. I have been there. I have even had friends who decided to pull out of the publishing industry completely, all because they did not want to embrace the change. But if getting published is still a goal, then it’s time to mindfully explore new ways to share our love of story with our readers.

At the risk of sounding like I need a megaphone, the time for authors is right now. There are plenty of entrepreneurs who have caught onto this publishing game and are doing what they can to exploit publishing, but we are the authors. We write the books. I guess you could say it’s time for us to take back the industry.


Tina Ann Forkner is a women’s fiction writer and the author of the newly released novel Waking Up Joy. She is also the author of Rose House and Ruby Among Us. Tina was born and raised in Oklahoma where Waking Up Joy is set, but she makes her home in Cheyenne, Wyoming with her husband, three teenagers, and two spoiled dogs. In her spare time, she is a substitute teacher. Learn more about her and her books at www.tinaannforkner.com

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from Writing Wyoming

As writers, we can be thankful for...
  • Writing group buddies who see the beauty in what we've created
  • Conferences where we can gather and connect with other like-minded souls
  • Time alone to think, reflect and write, maybe in a very special place of our own
  • Books we read that feed our own writing
  • The people we love who inspire us.
  • The joy of publishing that piece or placing in a contest.
  • Chocolate. And coffee. Maybe a glass of red wine.
  • And pie. Definitely pie.

Gratitude journals
Many people keep a daily journal where they write down what they are thankful for. If you do not already, you may want to consider making this part of your writing life -- either a separate journal, or as a beginning to your writing journal.

Every time my co-blogger Lynn starts a new notebook, she randomly puts sticker dots throughout the pages. Whenever she comes to a dot, she stops what she is writing and makes a list of things she is grateful for.

Thanksgiving Miscellany

Wishing you all a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving from Writing Wyoming!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


by Susan

Here's the to the brave and hardy souls who are nearing the end of National Novel Writing Month (affectionately known as NaNoWriMo) challenge: write a 50,000-word novel, start to finish, during the month of November. 

Whether you're sailing through it with words to spare, coming down to the wire or panicking over your word counts, my hat's off to you.

Me? Didn't do it. I'd say couldn't do it, but "could" is more a matter of priorities. I'm afraid meals, sleep, clean laundry and hubby time took precedence this month.

Writing may not be my only priority, it is still a priority. It has to be. Right now, I am plugging away at my embryonic novel while others are finishing theirs. Although "embryonic" implies structure and order in how it's coming to be. Mine seems to pop into my head in assorted scenes and snippets of dialogue that I write down and hope to hang on a plot structure.

It's more like a mosaic than an embryo: I'm assembling, sorting and planning the pieces before I prep the wall and lay down the coat of adhesive. 

There are a lot of different styles for writing a novel. There are the careful outliners vs. those who prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. The ones who won't talk about what they're writing vs. the ones who corral their friends to brainstorm ideas. There are those who make each sentence perfect before moving on, as opposed to those who, to quote W. Michael Gear, use the "vomit and mop" method.

There are those who barrel through start to finish, unlike what I seem to be doing. Surely, I can't be the only one out there that works this way.

But you know what? It doesn't matter what your writing style is. It doesn't matter, because there is no wrong way to be a writer. Repeat: There is no wrong way to be a writer. There is no wrong way to put your heart on the page. The only wrong way to be a writer is to not write.

So I'll keep choosing and assembling my tiles and deciding where they go. I hope someday to make something beautiful of it.

What is your writing style? Please share with us in the comments!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


post by Lynn

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Dear Rejection,

Ouch. That hurt. But I assure you I don’t take it personally. Well, maybe a little. I figure you have your reasons.

What are your reasons, may I ask? I take it more personally when you are mute. Say something-- anything--because the muteness tells me (or at least I think it does) that I’m not even worthy of the effort of a nice letdown. Come on, I deserve that at least.

Let me spell it out for you. Just say something along the lines of “not a fit for our current edition” or “we’ve had a lot of submissions similar to this lately, so unfortunately…” or even (oh, I wish) something specific to my piece like “the ending happens a little too quickly, need to flesh out the character arc a bit more.” That’s not asking too much, is it?

Still and all, it’s a far more frightening thing when I don’t even risk you. When I shrug my shoulders and say, "If I don’t play, I can’t lose."

That’s bad--awful, in fact. I know that if I’m serious about writing, I’ve got to get on the field. Jump in the scrum and fight for the ball, even knowing I'll get banged up.

Okay. I have to go now. There's some, well, LOTS of work to do. We’ll meet again soon. But I think I’m going to take our frequent encounters as proof that I’m in the game, and getting better every day.


Lynn G. Carlson

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Tears in the Writer...

by Susan

... no tears in the reader. Or so I've heard it said.

I often write in the time between I get dressed and when I have to leave for work. One drawback is that if I am writing a particularly emotional scene, I start crying. I keep writing. I keep crying.

There's nothing like showing up for work with red-rimmed eyes and a headache from crying -- 10 minutes late as well because I was trying to get the last few sentences down.

As writers, we try to plumb those depths. In fiction, we feel what our character feels so that we can put that experience on the page. In memoir, we remember those emotions. Lewis Nordan, author of the memoir, Boy With Loaded Gun said he wanted to make his readers laugh and cry in the same sentence. I want that, too, because that is how life is. But how?

At some point, I find I need to real it back in, lest I slip over the edge into maudlin. I need to step back and keep the details that convey the power of the scene without lapsing into self-pity. Self-pity is an easy thing to write and a dreary, annoying thing to read.

In The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser writes:

"To write a poem that is not just a gush of sentiment but something that will engender in its readers deep, resonant feelings, you need to exercise restraint to avoid what is commonly termed sentimentality."

Or worse yet, gushiness. Yet if you take too much of the emotion out of the piece, it loses its heart and its human connection. It's a fine line to skate.

When working with beginning poets, Kooser said he will make them write without any overt statements of feelings. No outright statements of love or grief, but only the situation that would cause such things. Trust the reader to have the emotional reaction to it, he advises. You do not need to lead them by the nose.

His advice works for prose as well. I've often felt the most powerful stories are best told most simply, most concretely. Details tell the tale. I am more moved by a woman's hand shaking as she smooths her mother's hair in the coffin than I am when the writer tells me the character is grief-stricken.

As I scribble this zeroth draft, I am likely gushing. My job as a writer is to go back and reel it in, find the fine details. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll make you cry, too.

And in honor of Veterans Day
Chris Valentine, a long-time WyoPoets member, sent us a collection of war poetry that honors those who have served. We also invite you to read on our blog Art Elser's words about finding healing from his Vietnam War experiences through writing.

Today, our thanks go out to all who have served our country.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Bit More on Place

by Susan

After Susan Marsh's wonderful guest post earlier this week, we came across a new discussion from Page Lambert on the same topic, a summary of a panel discussion, "At the Heart of Place," that she was on with Dawn Wink, Julene Bair and Susan Tweit at the Women Writing the West conference.

Each offered her own perspective on the places that shaped them and shaped their writing -- from a west Kansas farm, ranchland, even the stars.

Lambert notes:

How then, is setting or location different?  When narrative, story, brings a place to life, it becomes the Place where something happened

I know every place I have lived or encountered shapes me in some way and spills out in my writing. There are the places I treasured, like Alaska, that always felt like magic to me. There is the city I grew up in, a minor rivet on the rust belt enduring hard times then and even harder times now. I wanted to leave it desperately, but I will carry a piece of it with me always. Cheyenne was like an arranged marriage for me. I came here for my husband's job and wasn't too sure about this place in the first place, but I fell in love with it over the years as I made my home here.

What about you? What is your place, the place that feeds your writing? Please share!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


guest post by Susan Marsh

Photo of Miller Lake in the Wind River Mountains
by Susan Marsh

When I started writing this guest blog a few weeks ago, I had no idea how hard it would be: I thought I knew my subject well, since it’s one I have long pondered. There is always more to learn, so I am sharing with you my latest thinking on the subject.

Here are the opening lines of two novels I have written:
"Sunlight touched the cottonwoods, their leaves dark and glossy as if it were the middle of summer." 
"Dawn brightened into daylight, revealing miles of rawboned country." 
In both of these sentences I have introduced the main character: the place where the story occurs. We all understand what setting is—the time and place of the story that interweaves with character and plot. But when I speak of Place, I mean more than setting. As I try to understand the difference between place and setting, it helps to recall what setting is supposed to do in a story: to ground the characters and plot, to help the reader visualize what is happening and when, to give metaphorical meaning to the plot. Place does the same, but it abides less authorial manipulation. My story must be true to the place, to wrap itself around the place in an authentic way.

Setting is used to serve the author’s needs; place resists this. It can intervene as I write, the same way my characters do: “Cross that out – I wouldn’t say that,” says a character as I struggle with early-draft dialogue. Place likewise demands to be portrayed on its specific terms.

In my mind, place is larger than setting—both geographically and emotionally. If setting is the era/location of a story, place transcends time, containing a past, present and future. It is the essential spirit of a region in all its wildness: even if it has been turned into strip malls it holds the memory of what once was and could again be. Setting is a device; place has power. Its wild nature comes to inhabit the people who live there just as the people inhabit the place, making us inter-permeable.

It’s a deep level of belonging that I can only describe by an example that may ring true: you are hiking along a familiar trail where you feel at home, and it is late fall when the undergrowth is brown and crispy underfoot, a skiff of snow on north facing slopes above. You love that late season hike, yet part of you anticipates the wildflowers you know will bloom again there in a few months’ time. That knowledge is a manifestation of what I call the ‘interpermeability’ between people and place. It comes only through deep inhabitance.

Place, when rendered lovingly and thoroughly, gives the overall story a certain truth that I can’t find any other way. If a real place is shown well, everything that happens in it seems more realistic to the reader. Real people live in real places that matter to them, and I think the characters of a story have to as well. In writing about the West, it is hard to ignore the place, which so strongly shapes our lives. Wild country and big skies crack us open in a wonderful way, and that is what happens to the characters in my stories.

My focus on place has allowed me to find ways to write less plot-driven and more contemplative scenes. In both my fiction and nonfiction, the main character spends a good amount of time alone in the wilderness where there’s not much opportunity for dialogue or other devices to move the story along. This gives readers a break from the momentum of action scenes, and lets them follow the gentler pace required of solitude in a quiet place.

But how can a place be a character? Characters have a number of purposes in a story: they move the plot forward, interact with each other, influence, persuade or sometimes force one another to react, and they evoke emotions and memories in one another—as well as in the reader. The land where the story happens does the same as it takes on the role of character. The people in the story don’t normally engage in dialogue with a place the way they do with each other, but they certainly interact with it, learning from their intimate experiences and relating to place at a deep emotional level. Over the course of the story, the reader gets to know the place and its unique character, just as the human characters reveal themselves over time.

I often start with the far view of the place, trying to suggest its overall essence in terms of mood and tone, while at the same time trying to make the human characters as compelling as possible. Later in the story, the place asserts itself with more depth, detail, and meaning.

As an example, my novel War Creek was conceived to shed light on the vanishing traditions of the Forest Service, the plight of endangered species, and the grandeur of the national forest just east of North Cascades National Park, a place dear to me on many levels. People who have read the book all comment on the intense evocation of place. It wasn’t something I did consciously; the place lives within me as a writer.

My memoir A Hunger for High Country attempts to evoke a place in a different way. I tell a story of my experiences working as a woman professional in the Forest Service, but I’ve seen the book as a profile of the Yellowstone country as much as it is my story of personal experience and growth.

I’m working on other place-centered stories at the moment, and think that I will never write anything else. I am most interested in the connection between people and the wild earth, a connection that has been with us since the beginning, and one that seems now in danger of being forgotten.

Lynn chimes in...

I read once that setting is where characters are in duel with their difficulties. This is definitely the case in A Hunger for High Country, where the setting both contains and reflects Susan's struggles in being one of the first generation of women to work as a field-going professional in the U.S. Forest Service.

The memoir takes the reader along on Susan's wild ride, and en route you are introduced to grizzly bear biscuits, a coffee mug altered to read "Forest Circus--Department of Aggravation" and a stand of "twisty trunk" aspen that wrap around the author to soothe her in bewildering times. You also learn a hell of a lot about the history of wilderness in these United States, and get a good elbow in the ribs to not take all this amazingness for granted--maybe even do something about preserving it.

Susan's dedication to the wild is embedded in every phrase of the book. This excerpt from the last chapter of the book, reflects her passion:
With each act of service I peel another layer away, coming closer to the core, fueled by the hot fire in the heart that says This Matters. Each time I introduce another person to a favorite untrammeled place or a delicate wildflower, I shine a light on the satisfying depth of experience that accompanies reflective time outdoors. 
-- From A Hunger for High Country, by Susan Marsh.

A little more about Susan...

Born in Seattle, Susan Marsh is a naturalist and award-winning writer now living in Jackson, Wyoming. She has over thirty years’ experience as a wild land steward for the U. S. Forest Service. She was drawn to the wild from an early age, and animals were her primary conduit to this place of beauty and mystery. This loss of the wild and affinity for animals has driven Susan’s lifelong path.

Susan’s books include the novel War Creek (MP Publishing), The Wild Wyoming Range (Laguna Wilderness Press), A Hunger for High Country (Oregon State University Press), Targhee Trails (White Willow), Beyond the Tetons (White Willow) and Stories of the Wild (The Murie Center). Her writing has appeared in Orion, North American Review, Fourth Genre, Talking River Review, Weber Studies, North Dakota Quarterly, and numerous other journals.

Susan received the 2003 Neltje Blanchan Memorial Award, awarded by the Wyoming Arts Council.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween: A Writing Roundup

Happy Halloween! We hope you've been enjoying this exceptionally nice October in Wyoming. We've put together some bits and snippets of news to wrap up the month.

Nature Conservancy Writer's Residency: The Nature Conservancy’s Red Canyon Ranch is seeking applications from writers who wish to pursue a writing project or are in need of inspiration and solitude. The applicant must be a writer with an interest in the Conservancy’s scope of work. Residents will be provided rustic accommodations in a log cabin on Red Canyon Ranch, high in the Wind River Mountains, The ranch is located 13 miles from Lander.

The Wyoming Arts Council is accepting applications for its 2015 Blanchan and Doubleday writing awards. Deadline is midnight on Monday, Nov. 17. The Neltje Blanchan Award of $1,000 is given for the best poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or script which is informed by a relationship with the natural world. The Frank Nelson Doubleday Award of $1,000 is given for the best poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or script written by a woman author. This year’s judge is nature writer Kurt Caswell, who teaches creative writing and literature at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

The Wyoming Arts Council is also now accepting applications for its artist roster. Deadline is Monday, Dec. 1.

 WyoPoets is accepting entries for its Eugene V. Shea Annual National Contest through Monday, Dec. 1

Save the Dates
Yes, it’s a long ways out, but jot the dates down anyway. You’ll be glad you did:

Cat Urbigkit's latest book, When Man Becomes Prey was published in October.

Darcy Lipp-Acord was a finalist for the 2014 WILLA Awards for her book, Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman's Journey. The awards were announced at the Women Writing the West conference this month.

Several Wyoming authors were honored in the High Plains Book Awards:
  • Laurie Wagner Buyer won the nonfiction category for Rough Breaks: A Wyoming High Country Memoir
  • Nina McConigley took the short story category with Cowboys and East Indians
  • Julianne Couch was a finalist for her nonfiction Traveling the Power Line
  • Cody-based Pronghorn Press was the publisher for finalist Meadowlark by Dawn Wink.
Laramie County Community College's newest edition of the High Plains Register is now available.

Three writing prompts for Halloween from the folks at the Writers Write Creative Blog. They post great prompts daily, so check them out:
  1. What is the most terrifying book you've ever read?
  2. Which Halloween costumes did the main characters in your novel wear when they were children?
  3. Use these words in a paragraph: melted ice cream, November, skeletons, whisky.

And also for Halloween -- Five Reasons Why Stephen King Must DIE!

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow
November is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel, start to finish, in one short month. Are you going for it? Learn more on the website and blog.

Have writing news you think we should include next month? Please drop us a note at writingwyoming@gmail.com or leave your comment below.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What is Your Why?

by Susan

When I was at the Wyoming Library Association conference this year, I walked into a session first thing in the morning, bleary-eyed and wondering whether there was enough coffee in Colombia to salvage the morning.

The presenter handed me an adhesive name badge with the words, "What is your why?" in red letters at the top. She asked me, what is your passion? Why do you get up and go to work in the morning?

Lately I've been joking that I hate my job with the fiery passion of a thousand blazing suns*, so my first response was, "Because I like to eat?"

But as I sat there a few minutes it dawned on me the common thread as to why I write and why I chose librarianship: stories matter.

Let's say that a little louder... in parentheses.... capital letters.... quotated....


THIS is my why. Stories matter, YOUR stories matter. Novels, short stories, memoir, history -- you name it. The stories we write, the stories we tell weave us all together in a shared experience. 

With caffeine finally taking effect and cynicism tossed aside for the moment, I proudly wrote "Stories Matter" on the nametag and wore it the rest of the day.

Which brings me back to the question: What is your why? Why do you get up and write? What drives you to it? Writing is a lonely and often unrewarding (at least financially) endeavor. Why do you do it?

We want to know! Please share in the comments: What is your why?

*For the record, it's a good job. I'd just rather be writing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


post by Lynn

Sshhh! Don’t talk about it.

I was in a memoir writing group once with a fellow who wrote really good stuff during the free writes, in response to writing prompts. Afterwards, he’d read out loud what he had written and say “I didn’t have time to write the whole story.” Then he would proceed to tell us the rest of it.

We always told him to write the story, that it was a good story and he could publish it if he wrote it all down. But somehow, he never did. He had lots of stories started, but he didn’t finish them. Or maybe, in his head, he had finished them, because he had told us the whole story.

Maybe this is why so many writers don’t share their first drafts with anyone or talk about their works-in-progress.

Margaret Atwood flat-out said, “I never talk about books I’m writing.” Ray Bradbury said, “Don’t talk about it. Write.”

Never? Don’t talk about any aspect of writing? Really?

Marshall J. Cook, in Freeing Your Creativity:A Writer’s Guide, says it’s a matter of order. 

“In the idea-gathering stage, you should let everybody know what you’re working on. They’ll contribute materials for the mental composting that helps you develop possibilities… as the idea gets ready to take specific shape and form, you must protect it from the corrosive effect your words could have on it. Your imp wants to tell the story… and does so strictly for the joy of the telling. If you let it blab the story now, the imp may lose all interest in telling it again, on paper, later. … Your first telling will likely be your best telling in terms of the richness of your invention. Save that first telling for putting words on paper."

Oh, it’s a two part deal, is it?

1. Part One: gathering and composting phase. Feel free to throw it out to your friends that you are working on a story that deals with shamans, or guinea pigs, or Stonehenge, or whatever. Let them give you the benefit of their knowledge and experience with those things. You might learn something, get a lead, or find out that unbeknownst to you your good friend has a fetish about rodents that, frankly, you wish you hadn’t learned about.

2. Part Two: the story unfolds. This part should happen in two places: in your head and on the page. Nothing should come out of your mouth.

Ernest Hemingway also divided it in two, in a 1958 Paris Review interview, when he told George Plimpton:
“Though there is one part of writing that is solid and you do it no harm by talking about it, the other is fragile, and if you talk about it, the structure cracks and you have nothing."

There is a lot of good discussion on this anti-discussion topic on the web, like in this New York Times article: “Don’t Ask What I’m Writing” by Mark Slouka. And this one by Steven Pressfield titled, “Don’t Talk About It.”

But personally I think Robert Frost said it best and briefest:

“Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes the pressure off the second.” 

As for me, I’ll discuss writing—the art and craft of it—as much as you want. And if you have any good information on rattlesnakes, let me know. But don’t ask me about my stories.

I’m not talkin’.

So, maybe this no-talking thing is a bunch of hooey. What do you think? Go over your stories with a friend or clam up?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Professionalism with Cat Urbigkit

Reflections On Conferences (Part 2)
by Cat Urbigkit

Social media posts help to build your brand --
that is, your reputation.
Being professional in how you present yourself is an important part of a writer’s career. That means studying industry resources to be sure you are submitting work to a house that accepts the genre you create. It means following submissions guidelines and presenting only polished work, in standard industry format, without colored paper or other attention-getting gimmicks, and accompanied by a flawless cover letter (free of typos and submitted to the correctly spelled name).

There is much talk about "branding" for writers and other creators, but dear reader, you are not a Disney character. What branding really means is reputation. Make sure your reputation is that of a professional.

It's great that you are involved in social media - building your brand are you? Take a look at what you are putting out there for the world to see. Is it nothing but "buy my book, buy my book?" That's not social - that's ego-centered promotion. Post about current events that pertain to your books, your creative process, or give glimpses into your life to help your social media contacts get to know you better, mentioning your books every now and then, perhaps as you have speaking and signing events, or experience creative milestones. ("Yaay, chapter one finished," "Ready to tackle the revision process on this tiger of a manuscript.") Be sure your social media is just that - social. You are sharing your life, your process, and your work. Make it professional and interactive. Give your contacts a reason to follow you, a reason to care, a reason to take time from their own busy days to see what's happening in your world.

Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary ran through a list of things “no-no’s” for authors. She told stories of authors submitting a query or manuscript over the weekend, resubmitting “just in case” the first email wasn’t received, and then calling the office a few days later to confirm. Slow down, and have patience, Penfold recommends. And it’s a bad idea to send a "gift" when presenting an unsolicited manuscript to someone who does not know you. Yes, even chocolates. Would you want to eat chocolates sent in the mail from someone you don't know?

Alessandra Balzer of HarperCollins reminds us to treat others as we wish to be treated. That means conducting yourself with professionalism, and to be sure that professionalism is apparent when engaging in social media. Political, religious, and other rants - don't do it. Don't complain about your publishing house, editor, cover choice, etc., on writer's forums. I believe this is called shooting yourself in the foot. You are hurting yourself.

If you have an agent or editor considering your work, be assured they will Google you. If they don't find anything, that's okay. Finding nothing is preferable to finding content that casts you in a negative light. If they find upbeat and engaging content, good on you! You're doing it right.

Your public persona should be a reflection of the seriousness of your commitment to craft. Literary agent Erin Murphy noted in dealing with potential clients, she likes to see indications that the author is grounded, confident, and open.

Cat Urbigkit is a full-time author, photographer, and sheep herder in western Wyoming. She writes nonfiction books for children and adults. Her 10th book, When Man Becomes Prey, has been released this month by Lyons Press.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Making the Most of Conferences with Cat Urbigkit

Reflections On Conferences (Part 1)
by Cat Urbigkit

You register for a writing conference, polish that work in progress, pack your bags, and off you go. Writers and illustrators spend much of their time alone in the creative process, so attending a conference requires a mental change - you are about to be in the midst of a crowd of hundreds, or in my case, more than 1,200 conference attendees from 20 countries. I write this post from the balcony of the Los Angeles hotel in which I have spent the last week, taking a few moments to reflect at the closing of the Society Of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators 2014 conference.

Besides the time-tested advice of wearing comfortable shoes and keeping hydrated, I've another addition: Be professional. I attended several sessions instructed by agent Steven Malk of Writers House Literary Agency. At times in an understated way, and other times explicitly, Malk repeatedly returned to this theme as he answered questions from those aspiring to be published. It doesn't matter whether you are prepublished or have 10 books in your publishing stable, if you are serious about tending to your creative career – and I'm assuming that if you have registered for a conference, you are indeed serious – be professional in how you present yourself: in person; in your art portfolio; in social media; and in your written correspondence.

Dress appropriately for conferences – make sure you won't regret your wardrobe choice if you do happen to end up sharing an elevator with an editor, agent, or author that you admire. In your creative submission, or in a chance personal meeting, you have no second chance to make a good first impression, as Malk reminded attendees at this year's conference.

We may dream of making a connection with an agent or editor at a conference. It happens for some, but this shouldn't be the sole criterion for conference success. It didn't happen for me at this conference, and I'm okay with that. I watched multitudes of eager conference attendees surge forward to meet the speakers after each presentation and decided not to participate. The urge was not there for me. I watched one panelist (who shall remain unnamed) as she struggled to keep her eyes open, clearly suffering from the exhaustion of the grueling conference schedule, as she was engulfed by a sea of faces eager to make that contact with her. I suspected what she needed was a break, perhaps a moment outside in the California sunshine - but she graciously tried to smile as she greeted each new face.

All is not lost by foregoing that face-to-face with publishing pros at a conference. By watching and listening to the editors and agents, you will observe how they conduct themselves professionally (their own "branding"), learn what kinds of projects they adore and abhor, and even glean insights to their more personal tastes. Tidbits I learned from this conference included:

  • one editor has loved horses since childhood;
  • one agent doubts that certain classic children's books would do well in today's market; and 
  • a second agent reads classics for personal pleasure, and seeks fresh versions for today's marketplace.

These were completely different viewpoints on items that aren't included on their websites or revealed in interviews, but will be an important factor as I consider potential submissions in the future.

While attending a conference, remember that you are fortunate enough to be surrounded by a group of people who share your interests. I recommend a return to playground rules.

  • Be friendly. Say hello to the person sitting next to you, strike up conversations with those standing in line behind you - ask them what they are working on, what sessions they attended. 
  • Be kind, even helpful. Hold the elevator for someone, or decline from getting on one that's already packed.
  • Smile. It's always nice to see a friendly face.
  • Be courteous and respectful, whether you are dealing with a publishing professional, or your neighbor.
  • Play nice. We're all in this together.

Check back on Friday for part 2.

Cat Urbigkit is a full-time author, photographer, and sheep herder in western Wyoming. She writes nonfiction books for children and adults. Her 10th book, When Man Becomes Prey, was released this month by Lyons Press.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


guest post by Judy Schulz

On one of those lovely Wyoming late afternoons when the temperatures were welcoming, the breezes fluttered the leaves of the trees allowing the sunlight to flicker and sparkle. My nine-year-old granddaughter, Danielle, spiraled around the gathered clan and announced, “I’m a Triple Threat!”

“A triple threat?” I asked. “You are?”

“Yes,” she expounded, “I’m a dancer and an actor and a singer.” Several years of multiple lessons and she was indeed blooming into remarkable performance quality in dance. And Danielle had spent summer weeks at the local community theatre in children’s performance classes. It seems she’s always been able to express herself from the moment we watched her eyes open on the day she was born. That summer day, though, she’d been notified of her acceptance into All City Children’s Choir, a prestigious audition choir in Cheyenne, hence the “Singer” category.

Without a thought, I said, “Well, I’m a singer and an actor and a writer.” I surprised myself with the last category as writing is a new art for me and the declaration magnified the reality that I truly acknowledge even to myself that I am a writer.

Having announced my own triple threat, I began to examine the concept of creativity in the arts. If Danielle and I are artists in multiple areas, how is that creativity related? Or is it? In February I finished my first manuscript, a creative nonfiction piece about my parents’ first year of marriage. They were separated all but 13 days of that time and I used their hundreds of letters, telegrams, and cards to create a story of that period. When I finished the work, I wept. It felt wonderful—release, euphoria, and a bit of “Oh dear, what do I do now?”

It was like the release and euphoria after the Cheyenne Chamber Singers, in which I sing alto among 36 dedicated vocalists, finished performing Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, the complete work in Russian with a cantor from the Greek Orthodox Church at the pulpit of the magnificent St. Mary’s Cathedral.

It was like the release and euphoria of experiencing a standing ovation as I came forward in the curtain call for Driving Miss Daisy at the Cheyenne Little Theatre. Hmmm,..euphoria, release, endorphins of the highest order. The end result was the same for all three art forms.

There are other similarities as well. I have come to believe that artists all have a homogenous, identifiable goal. That is to create a scene for an audience, something the artist feels about a place and recreates for others to experience.

While touring the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was fortunate to view an exhibit of paintings by O’Keeffe and photography by Ansel Adams. The subjects of both artists originated in Hawaii where on separate occasions O’Keeffe and Adams did contract work on the Big Island. Hung side by side, a similar scene was depicted through the eyes of the artists and we were pulled into them as if familiar with it ourselves. It mattered not a whit that one was a watercolor and one a sepia photo. The effect was immediate and universal. We were there because the artists had taken us there.

As Jason Weiss writes, “It’s an art form and all art is meant to affect the emotions of its viewers or listeners.”

And it does. Art just uses different mediums to convey those effects. In acting, the playwright uses the actor’s voice and body to convey the moment and connect with the audience. In choral performance, the composer gives his music and words to the singer who uses voice and expression to carry the scene into the ears and eyes of the patrons. In writing, the author has only her words. They stand alone. She’s a soloist. And the scenes connect and live in the reader’s mind and heart, sometimes forever.

Later in the summer, Danielle pirouetted on the Civic Center stage. Her tutu spread from her waist like stiffened sea foam, her long hair bound in a traditional rolled topknot shining gold in the lights. Like an emerging Pavlova, she warmed us with her upturned reddened lips and matched it with the grace of her young, lithe body portraying clearly the winged creature in Rossini’s “Thieving Magpie Overture.”

Everything in creation has its appointed painter or poet and remains in bondage like a princess in the fairy tale ‘til its appropriate liberator comes to set it free.
 --Ralph Waldo Emerson
And may it be so.


Judith Schulz retired from teaching high school English in 2008 and began her first creative writing pieces in 2009.  Although her major work has been in creative nonfiction, a class with poet Kristin Abraham inspired her to venture into poetry.  Subject matter arises easily from her almost 50 years of marriage and the shared raising of four sons.  She also remains creatively active in community theater and vocal performing groups and supports art in all its inspiring forms.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

At the Cabin: A Tranquil Writer's Retreat Produces Creativity with Gayle Irwin

by Gayle M. Irwin

Solace reverberates, stillness the prevailing sound. No traffic noise, no construction racket, not even the ring of the telephone. Although only a 20-minute drive from my house in town, my woodland hideaway seems hours from the barrage of droning disruptions. This peaceful parcel of timberland has become my writing retreat.

Lodgepole pines stretch their gray trunks heavenward like necks of giraffes. The trees tower above the 12x40 foot wood-sided cabin, offering shade from the searing sun, its warm rays rife at the 8,000-foot elevation. Thoreau had his Walden's Pond; I have my Peaceable Kingdom, three+ acres of Rocky Mountain forest at the top of Casper Mountain. Although other cabins are visible through the lacy lodgepole branches, rarely is my solace disturbed, for other cabin owners don't frequent their private paradises as I do mine – that truth adds to the quaking quiet.

For more than five years, I've spent weekends and weekday evenings surrounded by nature's splendor: green-suited hummingbirds darting through the still sky; tawny-eared mule deer sauntering on dry-needled, sparsely-grassed ground; auburn-shirted pine squirrels chattering from overhead tree branches, and heavy-headed yellow daisies yawning in the early-morning light.

It is during that tranquil dawn that I create stories, sitting at my laptop that's powered by either its own battery or the solar panels connected by a cluster of marine-celled batteries. The collection also lights the paneled cabin. Each form of energy helps me produce chapters of books or develop feature articles for magazines and newspapers. Although I can write at my home office in town, the visits to the cabin rejuvenate and revive my creativity, priming, prompting, and pumping the flow of words. Amidst the solitude, I've written two full books and partially-written two others, as well as countless magazine articles, newspaper stories, and blog posts. Sometimes my musings are generated in the cabin itself, other times sitting under the shade of those giant lodgepoles, or while basking in the embrace of the screened porch. The twittering of birds, winging of butterflies, and wafting of a breeze in the tree tops tug at the tendrils of my brain and sing softly amid the crevices of my heart, culminating in a creativity that soars from my soul.

Each visit, each overnight, renders words on the page that spill forth like warm water fountains in Yellowstone, frothing and steaming to be freed from their confines. The words, whether paragraphs on a computer screen or sentences in a lined composition notebook, produce a satisfactory, albeit edit-able piece; like an appetite satiated, I come away from my cabin experience appeased. What bursts forth may not be my most profound work, but it is palatable, and I later trim the fat or add more flavoring.

I am inspired by my my mountain property, much as Laura Ingalls Wilder was by her surroundings, whether it was Rocky Ridge Farm in Missouri or the great plains of the Dakotas. That inspired location encourages writings that will, I hope, uplift readers of my words. Whether the product is a book about my dog that helps children overcome an adversity in their lives, a story that teaches an environmental lesson about the forest or the creatures living on the plains, or an article with appropriate verbiage to encourage people who are down on themselves, the excitement I feel when I sit across from my laptop in the tranquility of my mountain acreage cascades through my mind and spirit. For me, tranquility equals creativity and productivity.

Laura had her Little House on the Prairie and Little House in the Big Woods. I have a combination – my Little Cabin in the Tall Woods of the Great Plains. With woodstove billowing even in mid-summer and lantern or solar light producing a soft glow amid snoring dogs and creaking crickets, a new paragraph is birthed and a new idea illuminated like the light surrounding me. At the cabin in the forest atop the mountain my senses are awakened from their dull sleepiness and my writings spring forth from their hibernation, taking flight like woodland songbirds then perching in the place they are meant to inhabit.

Susan chimes in...
What a beautiful place to write, and what a connection Gayle clearly has to her cabin. Something about getting out in nature can really free us to write. I know when I took a weekend in Esterbrook it jarred a lot of words loose. If you don't have your own cabin, make a date with the outdoors. Treat yourself to a weekend away someplace beautiful. Your notebooks will thank you.


Gayle M. Irwin, Casper, is a freelance writer and the author of five inspirational dog books. These include three books for children and two devotional-style books for families. She's written short stories that are part of five different Chicken Soup for the Soul books, including the latest dog book, The Dog Did What? She writes regularly for Our Town Casper magazine, a monthly publication, and for the weekly Casper Journal newspaper. Her stories and columns also appear in the Douglas Budget and River Press newspapers, and she has contributed writings to Creation Illustrated, WREN, and Crossroads magazines.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


post by Lynn

I did a search on Pinterest for the phrase "writer's block" and up popped lots of "pins" about this pesky aspect of the writing process. I quit counting at 450. Obviously "writer's block" is the metaphor of choice for many writers.

Not me. Not any more.

I believe that the way you visualize a thing affects how you feel about it. When I hear "writer’s block," I picture a big concrete box, or a massive wall--something solid and insurmountable. So I asked myself, do I really want to look at this slow-downed feeling I sometimes get as an almost-insurmountable block? Nah. I want to choose something more permeable and less permanent. Otherwise, I’ll psych myself out and quit writing.

Lately, my favorite metaphor for this phenomenon is a speed bump. Think about it. What are you being asked to do when you approach a speed bump? Slow down, and look around. Are there pedestrians crossing the parking lot? Is there a stop sign ahead? There’s a reason you need to slow down, because there's something you need to be aware of.

In one of my works-in-progress (fiction) I recently reached a fizzle-out moment. After a spurt of panic in my gut, I told myself to chill. I visualized a speed bump. I slowed down. I re-read my latest pages and asked: what do I need to be aware of? It dawned on me that I still had not zeroed in on a precise point of view. I was all over the place in third person, with some omniscient undertones in one part.

So I have been reading my craft books and, with this particular story in mind, revisiting all the nuances of third person. I did a writing exercise suggested in one of the books.

Now that I am on firmer footing (multiple third person, medium distance) with the issue, I feel tugged back to my story. The energy is returning. I can speed up now.

What if I hadn’t hit the speed bump? My point of view would have continued to zigzag, and I would have reached the end and had to go back and do a major clean-up. Not the end of the world—I’m sure I’ll have plenty of revision to do when I reach that point. But I am GRATEFUL that I hit the speed bump when I did. It caught my attention and I made a change.

So I offer to you this suggestion—when the writing stops flowing:

1. Slow down
2. Look around
3. Ask yourself: What do I need to be aware of?

Or, you can visualize a big block if that still works for you. It's your process! :-)


Check out Writing Wyoming's Pinterest account. We have compiled lots of valuable links to information in the following categories:

Writing Prompts; Wyoming Writers and Poets; Writing Life; Writing Advice; Writing Events and Opportunities; Books on Writing; Creativity; Poetry; The Business of Writing; and even one called Did You Know This About Wyoming?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Improving Your Critiques: Advice from Kristin Abraham

by Susan

Ah, critiques. We need them and we dread them -- both giving and receiving. We want our critique group to push us to do better, but not push us down. We want to help our fellow writers, but we're not always certain what to say or how to say it.

I was fortunate enough this last weekend to be in a small workshop with Kristin Abraham, English Instructor at Laramie County Community College, where she discussed how to offer constructive criticism in a writing group or workshop.

The biggest takeaway for me was that a whole heap of praise is needed for every criticism. Many things are right with every piece. The act of putting it down on paper is an act of creation and personal expression that has value.

With that, here was what she taught us:

  1. Remember why you are there: To help and support fellow writers as they create.
  2. Don't forget the PRAISE: For everyone's success, it's important to share what works well and what makes the person a unique and strong writer. The PQS format is a good one: Praise, Question, Suggest, in that order. Often the suggestions will flow naturally from the questions, and that final step may not be entirely necessary.
  3. Speak in terms of the piece, not the author: What is the poem or essay or story trying to do, not what the author is trying to do. The critique is not of the fellow writer sitting in front of you. It is a critique of different aspects in one particular piece of writing. It is not a judgement of the writer's existence as a writer. (Note to self: Also good to remember when accepting critiques.)
  4. Don't harp on it: If you agree with one person's question or suggestion, it is enough to say you agree and move on. The writer heard it the first time. Repetition is not needed nor, worse yet, an extended conversation that yes, yes, we all agree this is a problem and this and this and this is why. Two exceptions: 1) if it is a debate where members of the group disagree as to whether it works or not, OR 2) if you are agreeing with the praise. Keep praising.
  5. Don't forget that the author is in the room: Don't get SO caught up in the debate that you are forgetting the intended goal: to help and support fellow writers. 
  6. Emphasize your perspective: It may sound counter-intuitive, but the best way to critique is to put the focus on yourself, as in your reaction to the piece. This is one situation where "Me! Me! Me!" is actually the most considerate approach. It is more constructive to say, "This confused me," than to say, "This is confusing." 
  7. Avoid overload: Don't feel the need to point out every single thing you think could be improved. If their sentences are too long, point out one or two examples. Don't mark every instance all the way down the page. Again, an exception: you cannot overload praise. Keep praising.
  8. Be specific: If you liked the imagery in a poem, point out a specific image that struck you particularly. If you felt as if certain areas could be tightened, point out a few specific examples (but see #7 and reel yourself in.) Generalities can be overwhelming and can give the writer no starting point.
  9. Be flexible and open: Be willing to modify your commentary and change your mind. This helps you to embrace your personal perspective (see #6) and stick to the point of the group (see #1).
  10. Relate the piece to your own writing: Saying "I've done that before," or "I ran into the same issue in my writing," reduces any air of superiority and again (Did we mention #6?) helps emphasize your perspective. Your fellow writer may be more receptive if he or she feels as if you have something in common.
I know my temptation is always to pull the weeds first, when what I really need to prioritize is admiring the flowers. I'm reasonably certain (OK, 100% certain) that I've inflicted some unfortunate critiques on others. I look forward to taking Kristin's principles and doing a better job of helping and supporting my fellow writers in the future.


Kristin Abraham is the author of The Disappearing Cowboy Trick (Horse Less Press, 2013) and two chapbooks: Little Red Riding Hood Missed the Bus (Subito Press, 2008) and Orange Reminds You of Listening (Elixir Press, 2006). Her poetry and lyric essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Best New Poets 2005, Columbia Poetry Review, LIT, and American Letters & Commentary. She teaches at a community college in Wyoming, and lives in Colorado, where she serves as editor-in-chief and poetry editor of the literary magazine Spittoon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


photo by Lynn Carlson
post by Lynn

I collect quotes, especially quotes by writers. As I read through the notebook where I scribble or cut-and-tape these quotes, I am struck by what a colorful, irascible bunch of human beings we writers are.

The quotes makes me laugh, and also leave me thinking that even on my most disgruntled days—it's not a problem, because I am in such excellent company!

You think I’m making this up? Here’s a sampling:

“You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.”                   - Warren Ellis

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”         - Kurt Vonnegut 

“A story is not a carrier pigeon with a message clamped to its leg.” - David Madden 

“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into a bouillon cube.”          - John Le Carre

“If I had to give young writers advice, I’d say don’t listen to writers talking about writing.”             - Lillian Hellman

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”                        - H.G. Wells 

So if you find yourself frustrated, grumpy, sharp-tongued or short-tempered…

Welcome to the tribe!

Friday, September 5, 2014

More Writing Spaces

On Tuesday, we talked about the need to carve out a writing space and invited readers to share theirs with us. We hope you enjoy them, and that you enjoy creating your own space.

Art Elser
Here's my writing space. It's in the basement with only a sliver of a window on the west and north sides, so almost no natural light. What you can't see is the lock on the door to the basement--can only be opened by Kathy from the outside --and the slot in the door to pass trays of food down to me.

The desk is bare because my MacBook Air is on holiday at the Apple repair place, getting a new battery. I love the Air because my secondary writing space, in the warmer months, of course, is on our patio where I can see sky and trees and hear birds and crickets and cicadas and the damned lawn service mowers and blowers. And thrown in lately is the sound of concrete saws and their attendant dust. 

Lynn G. Carlson

 It's my creative chaos and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Plus, the window is garden level and bunnies and ground squirrels peek in at me

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Creating a Writing Space: An Infestation of Earworms

by Susan

It's all about creating a space for your writing.

My husband's avocation is music. It brings him joy, but it makes him a walking noise machine. Just as a good writer writes often, a good musician practices frequently. Incessantly, to be accurate. Thought-disrupting, poem-wrecking, banging on the keyboards, so much harmonica I think I'm in a black and white prison movie practice.

He's got good reasonably good taste in music, but every set list has a clunker or two that he still needs to practice... repeatedly. Hence, the problem of earworms. Mercifully, I have three solutions:

Woman Cave #1: The cabin
This is the garden shed my husband renovated. He added windows, wired up the electric, hung drywall and damn near cut off his left index finger on a table saw building the screen door. Not only did we end up in the emergency room, but he had to play a bass gig with only three useful fingers on his fret hand.

It's hot in the summer, cold in the winter, but quiet and peaceful, filled with things that make me happy and perfect to generate ideas with pen and notebook.

Woman Cave #2: The office
Doubles as a guest room, but we're recluses so we rarely have that issue. This is the less creative, more down-to-business place to get on the laptop and to revise and finish up pieces.

Option #3 because I really like my husband: Headphones
At some point, in the interest of remaining married, I need to spend some time in his presence. Alas, he spends his downtime watching old movies. Noise machine.

The solution is headphones, available at any hardware store. He can watch film noir, and I can write in the same room with him..

We have a right to a writing space
On a writing retreat, author Linda Hasselstrom told me that we have the right to our own space for writing. It is part of our work. We need a spot to go devoted to words. Even if it's a card table in the laundry room, we want, and should have, a place dedicated to word work.

Where is your writing space? 
Send a picture to writingwyoming@gmail.com!