Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Being an Active Writer

Guest post by Mandie Hines

Being an active writer involves more than getting words on paper. It’s more than consuming books on the writing craft. Although both of these are important, the piece that’s still needed is active participation in a writing community.

Many parts of writing are solitary, and for those of us who are introverts, that’s part of the appeal. However, our writing practice is enriched by the inclusion of other writers.

Writing groups and communities are part of the writing experience, and if you’re not part of a group and community, you’re limiting yourself.

Even more than being part of writing communities, participating actively is key. Joining a group is good, but are you bringing your work to your writing group for feedback? Are you engaging in conversations in online writing communities or with other local authors? I encourage you to seize the opportunity to learn and grow, while sharing your knowledge with other writers through participating in conversations about your writing, others’ writing, and writing in general. The more you give, the more you get.

There’s an additional step. The tools, tips, and tricks you learn from other writers won’t work until you put them to use. If you get feedback on a story, but never make the edits, you might miss an opportunity to improve. If you’ve been struggling to keep track of your story submissions and another author tells you about a tool that makes tracking submissions easier, but you never try it, you’ll continue to struggle.

Here are a few benefits of participating in writing groups and communities, but it is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Editing
  • Beta Readers
  • Exchanging Ideas
  • Support
  • Encouragement
  • Writing Resources
  • Networking

Sometimes there’s advice you already know, but you have to hear it from somebody else before you can make the change.

While you’re passing your knowledge to other writers, you’re helping yourself too, in two ways. First, the best way to learn or remember something is to teach it to someone else. And second, by growing writing communities, you’re also growing potential future readers. When I connect with another writer, I feel excited about their stories, and I’ve purchased and read many books simply because of the connection I had with the writer.

Recently, I created a Facebook group to unite the writing community in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It’s made the importance of being an active writer clearer. Previously, I would have been content being a lurker. I would have looked for announcements for events I found interesting, but my engagement in connecting with other writers, participating in conversations, or creating events of my own would have been nonexistent.

Changing my role from observer to creator has made me realize how much I want to expand my life as a writer. I want to engage with my website, my writing community, my readers, and pass on what I’ve learned to other writers. It enriches me to participate in all these different areas, and it allows me to help more people too. I want to show up, do the work, and I hope that other members come through and do the same. There’s so much more to learn if we each add our voice to the groups we belong to.

It is easier and more comfortable to live a solitary life as a writer, but it is more fulfilling to participate in the world of writers. Chances are, many of them are much like you and me in their struggles, in their writing goals, and in their passion for writing.

At the end of the day, I want to give writing everything I have, not holding back, participating in every part of the writing world, not just the part where I’m writing a story, and I want to be surrounded by writers who are active as well.


Mandie Hines writes in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains where unsettling ideas knock around in her head, screaming for an outlet, compelling her to create horror stories and psychological thrillers. She’s not satisfied until her stories keep her awake at night, fearful of what lurks in the dark. She’s also driven to write flash fiction and poetry that capture moments of human vulnerability. Her work has recently appeared in Down in the DirtScarlet Leaf Review, and The Flash Fiction Press among others. She’s a member of the writing group Page Turners, Wyoming Writers, Inc., and the Facebook groups Cheyenne Writers Community and Wyoming Writers. Visit www.mandiehines.com for more.


Susan here: While we are talking writing groups, I'd also like to add a shameless plug for WyoPoets for all you poets out there. Check it out at www.wyopoets.org

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


guest post by Alec Osthoff 

If you have been in a beginner fiction workshop, there is a good chance you’ve either been told that a story must be built around conflict, or that every character must want something, and must struggle trying to achieve their goals. These are effectively the same statement. And I often question if this is the right way to get students thinking about writing.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the rule. Unless you are writing microfiction or something highly experimental, it is almost certainly true that the story will feature conflict of some kind. And the word “conflict” is awfully broad. Even the quietest of struggles or questions suffices for this rule.

What I find problematic about this maxim is more what it implies, which is that conflict is the hook that keeps your readers interested. Any piece of the book or story can be used to hold the reader’s interests, usually multiple are being used simultaneously. By handing this assumption to young writers, we limit the kinds of stories they will produce, both in these intro level classes, and potentially far into the future, as these early assumptions are often difficult to dislodge.

While this isn’t a bad way to think about writing, it can be a narrow approach, and many students would benefit from taking other avenues for considering their own work.

As an example of conflict gaining too much weight in a story, I wrote an overblown collapsing marriage plot for my advanced fiction writing course in undergrad. I had no idea how to write a collapsing marriage, and it was all really an excuse for providing sketches of late night Minneapolis. A conflict where the narrator is an insomniac would have sufficed better for getting my character out into the world I was interested in, but I felt the conflict needed to be bigger.

This is a bit of an embarrassing theme in my earliest stories—I always assumed that the conflict should be the most important piece because my intro course, like many intro courses, taught me to think about stories in that way. And these earliest short stories make me cringe now with their inflated conflicts, when clearly the Midwestern setting is what I was most interested in presenting.

Again, the rule wasn’t the problem, and my intro to creative writing teacher shouldn’t be blamed either. My problem was that I saw the rule, and like many students, gave it more weight in my stories than was helpful. I heard the narrow implication behind the broadest of statements, and following that implication led to stifling my own work. I needed to change the way I thought about stories, and after thinking on it for several years, I believe I have it boiled down to something I can explain to other writers.

There are as many ways to think about writing as there are writers. But what has helped me think about my own work is that all stories have a spectacle. That is, all stories have something the reader will ideally pay attention to.

Often there will be several spectacles, but the writer should be aware of the ones that stick out the most and have the biggest impact on a reader’s interpretation of the story.

To illustrate the point, if I had taken that divorce narrative and instead of thinking of the story as a centralized conflict, thought of it as a spectacle, then I would have built the story around the strange late-night wanderings my protagonist moves into. When building the story around the spectacle, I would have focused on the part of the story that most interested me—the after-midnight culture of a city I was very familiar with. And I could have spared myself the embarrassment of trying to prop the story up on a conflict I wasn’t committed to.

For example, if a setting is particularly strong, readers will generally take notice, and that will inform how the reader internalizes the rest of the story.

Maybe there is a strange item at the center of the story, or an anticipated event the characters are looking forward to. These things do not have to relate to the conflict to hold a reader’s interest if they are properly emphasized. With this approach, it will be immediately clear to students that the narrative glue does not necessarily have to be the story’s conflict, and by starting students out this way, I think we open the potential for more diverse narratives.

If the writer doesn’t have control over their spectacle, or is unaware of what piece of the narrative is drawing attention above the norm, then they don’t have control over how readers value or interpret the story, so this new method doesn’t let students off the hook. Really, this teaching method requires that students have a greater understanding of their work, and may result in a greater struggle for them, but the result is a classroom of writers who won’t be bogged down by a particular assumption. If we change the way we think about building stories, we change the stories we produce. And by taking this broader approach to story building, we expand the kinds of stories we have at our disposal.

What’s worth emphasizing about this method of thinking about stories is that it doesn’t overwrite the classic rule about conflict. This method in no way challenges that most stories will require characters, conflict, and a setting. This new way of thinking doesn’t even discredit or discourage conflict focused stories, as conflicts make great spectacles.

What this method does do is encourage more diverse approaches to storytelling than the standard workshop adage. The way we think about building stories impacts the stories we create.

Alec Osthoff is a recent graduate from the University of Wyoming MFA program in Fiction. He is a 2017 Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer, and his writing has appeared in Atticus Review, Midwestern Gothic, and as winner of the 2016 Blue Mesa Review Fiction Contest. 

Alec recently attended the Story Catcher Writing Workshop, where he met Lynn Carlson and many other talented writers. He currently lives in Laramie with his wife, August, and two cats. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


guest post by DeAnna Nolan 

But first, Lynn says: 

DeAnna's contribution comes to us by way of Kristin Abraham, who is one of DeAnna's professors at Laramie County Community College.  I'll be working with Kristin this fall to bring more fine posts to our blog from LCCC students... love those student voices!

Rocks and poetry have always been a passion of mine. When I was a kid, one never topped the other. And to be honest I do not know where the love for either one stewed from. They just grew on me like weeds in my brain.

Now being a tad bit older and even more curious I think constantly about how writing and geology connect and intertwine with each other. Geology is more than just rocks. It is the study of the earth, its structure, processes, and history.

Which, if you really think about it, is a lot like being a writer. We want to study human nature (and many other things) and put it into words. Just like Geology, we have a structure of writing, our processes of how we get words from our minds to paper, and we all have a history we need/should share with the world around us.

One of my favorite things I think I have discovered about the connection between geology and being a writer is that both are delightfully unpredictable. This is truly amazing and fascinating because this is what fuels a writer to write such astonishing things, the way that tornadoes can randomly show up in the middle of a beautiful day.

Writers can be in the middle of doing taxes and be hit with a sudden idea about a character who has the ability to see the numbers he/she writes. This interruption is both a blessing and a curse because just like a tornado that can turn a quiet town into an upside down, barren land, being hit with ideas at random times can really mess up our flow and get us distracted. But to be honest, I think that is when our best ideas come to life.

I also like to think about some of the anxieties I have as a writer. Some of them are being constantly afraid to write, terrified of revision when I do write, and wondering how I can be a writer when my punctuation and grammar are so terrible. When these anxieties hit me (and they hit me quite often), I like to think about the layers of the earth. The earth has many layers, some in rock formations and the layers right under our feet. These layers come about by sand or mud being built on top of each other and the weight causing the rock below to become solid.

Just the way a writer (or human in general) is made of layers. We are not just one thing. If we were just one thing then some of our best stories would not have layers. Therefore, I like to think of my anxieties about writing as being part of my layers. We all have them and they are a part of us. There are other layers inside, I know, that are on top of those anxieties and that help me realize that “Hey! I can write and I will write because I know I have improved from then until now.”

There are many other things about geology and writing that really make me giggle and shake with excitement. Because how wonderful is it that we can look at where we are now--the sky, rain, the dirt--and know that we are not so different and we share such creative things about us.

DeAnna Nolan is an English major at Laramie County Community College. She also has the pleasure of working at her college library, where books surround her all day (her second favorite thing next to cats). When she is not at school you can usually find her writing poetry, reading, or dancing at her second home, Act Two Studios, where she also teaches.

When she has the time or just needs to unwind, you can find her at home with her two dogs and cat watching Bob’s Burgers or The Twilight Zone.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Escaping the Land of Lethologica

by Susan


Grandiloquent Word of the Day defines "lethologica" (LETH-oh-LODG-ik-a). as "The inability to remember a word or put your finger on the right word." Lethologica impels us to use language like "whatchamacallit" or "whatsit" or "dooflackey.

Lethologica is that feeling when a word dangles on the tip of your tongue, elusive. It's like a sneeze that won't come, an itch you can't scratch, or the desire to have a good cry when you're too heavily medicated to do so.

I love the sound of it: lethologica. Try saying it without putting your tongue back in your mouth -- it's almost possible. (Now, clean the spit off your screen.)

How would it appear in a travel guide if it were a country?
Lethologica is located just north of Aphasia, the border  between the two countries demarcated by the Lexicon River. From the Plain of Shush, tourists will see stunning views of the Stuttering Mountains. Travelers should beware the Jabberwocky and bring their own maps, as the locals are notoriously bad at giving directions to wheresit.
If lethologica were a disease, it would be benign in the majority of the population, but drive writers to madness. Writers do not rest until they find exactly the right word. At least, I don't like to.

I most often find the cure for lethologica in a thesaurus, when I can get to one. What writer doesn't love, adore, cherish, prize, and cherish a thesaurus?

I've stumped the occasional reader with words like "tallow" and a "gibbous" moon. I suppose I could use "sheep fat" and "nearly full," but those don't have the sound and spirit I want. English is a rich language, and I revel in its riches. I'm not using those words to impress, but to express it exactly.

On my bookshelf is a 1935 copy of Rats, Lice, and History* by Hans Zinsser. At one point, he uses the word saprophyte. A helpful footnote at the bottom of the page reads, "If the reader does not understand this word, it is too bad."

The utter lack of damns he gives is heartening. It was the precise word he wanted, he used it, and he expected the reader to figure it out one way or another.

I will keep his book forever for that footnote alone.

* Rats, Lice, and History: Being a Study in Biography, which after Twelve Preliminary Chapters Indispensable for the Preparation of the Lay Reader, Deals with the Life History of TYPHUS FEVER

Why yes, I do have strange reading tastes.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Writer's Homework

Susan here: I'm not sure how I connected with Nicholas Trandahl on Facebook, but I'm grateful I did. After getting to know him more online, I invited him to send us a guest post. Again, I'm grateful I did. When I read this, I felt like I had a cheerleader in my corner.

by Nicholas Trandahl

I’d made it. I was in Ernest Hemingway’s house on Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida. I was in the sanctum of my literary hero, where most of his body of work was written. There were his books, his typewriters, his photographs, his fishing rod, his bed, and everything else that comprised his life when he lived in Key West during the Great Depression.

I’d walked the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard with my wife in an October breeze, beheld a massive herd of elk graze way above the tree line in the Colorado Rockies, and flown over the glittering lights of Baghdad in a March night. But stepping through the rooms of the Hemingway House in Key West was an entirely new type of experience. It was when I realized that great writers, perhaps the greatest, were mere men and women, no different than you or I. They suffered the same struggles that all of us contemporary writers struggle with concerning our literary craft.

But I was not there for sightseeing and not even necessarily to have a life-changing moment or epiphany as a writer. I was there as a collector of experiences, i.e., writing material.

When I write poetry, I pull words from the things that I see and the places that I go. I write about my life. When someone tells me that they don’t know what to write about, I like to reply:
“If you’re breathing, there’s always something to write about.”
And it’s the truth. This world we live in and all the people that inhabit it are pure unfiltered inspiration for poems, stories, art, and lyrics. It’s all just begging for someone creative and observant to pay attention to it.

I’ve written my whole life, but things didn’t get serious for me until I was serving in the Middle East as a soldier in the U.S. Army. I started writing poetry over there as way to cope with the things I was feeling and the stresses I was experiencing. However, over the years, my poetry has become observational as opposed to introspective. I’ve plumbed the depths of my internal demeanor enough, and as a resident of this planet, there’ll never be a shortage of new material for me or anyone else. It’s limitless.

How do you become inspired? There’s nothing simpler or cheaper than inspiration. You stand outside for a moment or two and watch the colorful artwork as the sun falls away into the west, or you watch the primal strength of a coming storm, or the snow drifting down like ashes through the boughs of an old pine, or the stars flickering like chips of diamond in the vast vault of the night.

In fact, you don’t even need to go outside. Sit at your writing desk or at the kitchen table. Lay in your bed even! If you can watch the light fall through a window and paint the ice in your drink or the color of your lover’s eyes, then your capacity as a writer will never be diminished.

Go outside. Travel when you’re able. Adventure. Experience things. Because even fiction is not entirely fiction. And poetry is best when it’s honest.

And now you may be saying to yourself that inspiration doesn’t entirely cut it. You might have loads of ideas: barely-started stories or errant lines of poetry that mark notes on your desk like half-remembered dreams. You’re overflowing with ideas; that’s not the issue. The issue is completing your idea, seeing it come to fruition in publication.

There’s no easy answer to this, no poetic answer. Despite what non-writers may think, writing is indeed actual work. A story, a poem, a novel, or a collection of poems will not write itself, no matter how marvelous you think your ideas are nor how outstanding and poetic your experiences may be.

Writing is hard. It takes a commitment. People that have spoken with me about their multitude of ideas but their lack of finished work lament their predicament. And so do I.

It’s a problem we all suffer from. But there’s hope; it can be controlled. It takes a single-minded devotion to your work that borders on obsessiveness. Finish it! Work on nothing else when it comes to your writing. Pound away on those keys until the final word is reached. Write every day. Set aside writing time, early in the morning or in the evening when things are quietest.

Remember, your story and its characters depend entirely on you. They came to your mind, and are counting on you to reveal them to the world. Without you telling their story, it will never be told. Think about how tragic that would be. Without you to write it out, your story, poem, or novel is no more than a quickly-forgotten dream. There’s so much responsibility in being a writer. It’s no wonder we’re all a little crazy.

As you’re writing your current piece and ideas for a new story come to you, don’t fret! But also, don’t ignore it. That idea may not be coming back if you ignore it. Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore your inspiration and imagination. But how do you do this without neglecting your important work-in-progress?

Don’t worry. It’s easy, as easy as jotting down a note. Write some brief sentences about your idea that came from out of the blue. Take notes until you think it’s all written down. Then put the note away and get back to work on whatever it was that you’re devoting your writing time to. The idea won’t be forgotten as you complete your work-in-progress. In fact, in the time it takes for the current work to be completed, your idea may bloom into something even better, or you may even realize when you look again at your note that it wasn’t really that good of an idea anyway.

So, there’s my writing advice in a nutshell. Get inspired. Seek out inspiration in the honesty and simplicity of the beautiful world around you. Also, devote yourself to your single work-in-progress until the rough draft is finished. It’s counting on you, and only you, to bring it into being.

Hemingway himself said it best when he wrote in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless—there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight on through to the end of the damn thing.”


Nicholas Trandahl is a newspaper reporter from northeast Wyoming. His poetry is currently published by Winter Goose Publishing, and he's had several novels published by Swyers Publishing. His work has also been published by River Ram Press and, most recently, by Selcouth Station. Trandahl’s latest book of poetry, Pulling Words was published by Winter Goose Publishing in 2017, and they will release his next collection, Think of Me in the spring of 2018. He will be a featured poet in the upcoming poetry compilation from Swyers Publishing, Heart of Courage. Trandahl is happily married and has two daughters (with another on the way). Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.