She was the art of language,
he, the science.
She knew how to get them to feel
& discuss what they felt,
even as he knew how to move them,
to manipulate them,
The first did it to further her own cause—
that of her survival—
the latter did it to further a cause
he saw as greater than himself
but which he himself was a part of.
She was foreplay,
which made for a powerful coupling,
for she didn’t waste time talking,
& he didn’t waste time doing.
No one could hear
the introverted writer’s mispronunciations,
nor could they see
the extroverted public speaker’s typos,
but when they had to do
a PowerPoint presentation together,
they had to strengthen their weaknesses
by learning from what the other did.
Mary Katherine McFeeney
of Washingham High School,
Class of 1988,
had been a “Who’s Who?” in her heyday,
but Hellen Devlin,
the girl who’d watched M.K.
since their freshman year—
becoming an unofficial M.K.M. scholar
& penning the M.K.M. Fictionary—
had wondered why & how
“the girl most likely
to spread more than good cheer”
had ever achieved such acclaim,
for M.K. had never known what was what
who was on first . . .
& second . . .
giving the word “Homecoming”
a whole ‘nother meaning.
Born a “Children of the Damned” blond,
The Girl grew up believing
that she became invisible
whenever she closed her eyes—
only to realize that with invisibility
but as she grew & her hair darkened,
she actually got brighter,
that is, until she became nostalgic
for her happy-go-bumpy childhood,
& she reverted to the bottle,
lamenting the dark roots
that were just a branch
of the Black Irish part
of her family tree.
He had a face for radio,
she, a voice for print journalism.
They were only 10’s,
if they were added together,
so they married not up
but equal to one another—
with her writing what he said
& him saying what she wrote,
they lived fair-to-middlin’ ever after.
When Sticky Fingers Sal & Pickpocket Pearl
were strolling out of Curl Up & Dye,
Sal, distracted by a Grammar Nazi on strike,
slipped & fell into a plot hole.
Pearl, always quick with her hands,
reached into the man’s pocket
& stole the ultimate weapon—
his dangling modifier.
She held it down for Sal who,
even after her rescue,
just wouldn’t let go of it.
He was a tautogram,
she, an anagram.
They were socially-awkward individuals,
for he got his tongue all twisted,
just as she was all mixed up.
He was White Wine,
chilled to perfection;
she was Red Wine,
perfect as she was.
Then along came
all fancy & bubbly in her flute
& saying to Red & White
that they were mere
lunch & dinner accompaniments,
whereas she was the star
of holidays & weddings.
But then she met Beer,
who was enjoyed out of the tap,
& the can,
& she realized that his fans
would enjoy him
from any vessel.
The memoir is a concentrated slice of an autobiography.
Negative (white) space can be a positive thing.
You can be a reader without being a writer, but you can’t be a writer without being a reader.
Real life doesn’t have to make sense. Fiction does.
Every character has a story, but some are better told in a poem, a short story, a novel, etc.
Writers are some of the smartest people I know, for what they don’t know, they research.
Write what you want, then edit out what you don’t want.
If your tweets aren’t entertaining, people will assume your book isn’t either.
Every time you submit a piece that’s been rejected, review it. It will improve each time.
Literature is the prevention, journalism, the cure.
There is no excuse for writer’s block. If you’re stuck on one project, work on another.
If you find a word in a thesaurus, look the word up in the dictionary to ensure it means what you want it to mean.
Keep everything you write. I used certain lines from an essay outline to write a poem on short notice for a contest.
People aren’t always what they seem. Multilayered characters that keep you guessing are the most interesting but don’t use the first chapter as an information dump.
If it seems like you have too much dialogue or narration in your short story, it helps to create a visual: I highlight all the dialogue/narration in mine and look at my story from a multi-page view. This helps me know where to break up the narration with a scene.
Avoid phrases like “he jumped in the shower” or “she hopped in the car.” People don’t jump in showers or hop in cars. Use “he got in/she got in.” The former is hyperbole and doesn’t read well.
Never use cliches. If a character in your story is prone to them, put a new twist on an old phrase to freshen it up (unless you’re writing about a real person). If you can make the cliche humorous, even better.
Make your title memorable, but don’t use too many complicated or unusual names in a story. It comes off as amateurish.
If you’re going to emphasize a seemingly insignificant detail at the beginning of your story, that detail should play a role in the end.
If you use a semicolon to separate two sentences, ensure the sentences relate to each other in some way.
Lists are a great way to spark creativity. They provide a framework you can fill in with details and make yours. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/07/the-seven-wonders-of-hannah-an-exercise-in-non-rhyming-poetry/
Metadata matters. Take time to appropriately label your work and categorize it for easier lookup, and go through your flash drive once or twice a year to clean house. Have a corpus file, where you put deleted scenes that don’t work in the work it was intended for but which might work as something else.
Journaling isn’t just about the product but the process. If you focus too much on the product, you’re editing, not writing.
Keep several notebooks or journals handy—on your nightstand, in your purse, car, etc. Inspiration often comes when you’re unprepared. It’s also easier to keep up with several books rather than trying to remember to always carry the same one around with you.
Have a theme journal. Joe Brainerd did an “I remember . . . ” theme. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/joe-brainard-i-remember. I am doing a “That extra moment . . . ” book for my daughter. Other ideas would be “What if?” (my favorite poetry subject), “If only”, and “Because.”
Freewriting is when creativity flows the best, as you are pouring out your subconscious on the page. Sometimes it’s hard to stare at a blank page or computer screen; some websites will give you a prompt to get you started. Some of my best poetry can trace its roots back to a prompt.
Live to live, not just to record. Never let the magic of the moment be lost because you were too busy writing it all down.
Creating chapbooks for poems and anthologies for short stories help me organize my smaller works into more manageable forms.
Short-term memory holds a thought for about a minute (or less), so keep a scratchpad in every room in the house, in your purse or pocket, next to your work desk, in the glove compartment of your car, etc. Text yourself if you have to. I write over 100 poems a year and could not do this if I didn’t jot something down as soon as it came to me.
When you write from life, you become a data miner. I save emails, newsletters, photos of random things, fliers, quotes, links, obituaries/newspaper clippings, and even job descriptions. This piece, for example, was inspired by some of the event fliers I saw posted on bulletin boards around campus. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/14/poem-a-day-april-2018-writers-digest-challenge-14-theme-report/
Hybrid writing is great because it takes a form that is typically boring and reimagines it. I have written a Christmas letter, an obituary, and even a prescription. These exercises are not only fun, but they will also help you remember and get a feel for the forms.
A type of newspaper feature, when spoofed, can be as fake news as you want. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/07/18/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-445-special-day/
Take a well-known list and expand upon it in such a way that it becomes yours. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/08/05/book-review-all-i-really-need-to-know-i-learned-in-kindergarten/
If you’re stuck, use a prefab format. It will take you places you would never otherwise go. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/05/01/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-30-theme-bury-the-blank/
Neil Pasricha of “1000 Awesome Things” made a career out of a listicle. Make a list, check it twice, and you might surprise yourself. For example, each entry could lead to a poem or chapter headings of a personal essay anthology. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/06/09/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-353-theme-nothing-important/
A hybrid form of found poetry is to create something out of what most consider trash. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/12/18/sweet-little-nothings/
Prequels, sequels, and retellings are a great way to get the creative juices flowing, but check out copyright restrictions before publishing (even on your blog). These restrictions just might lead you to reacquaint yourself with some of the classics. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/28/prequels-and-sequels-vs-retellings-and-the-wizard-of-oz
Mash works are popular. This is a great freewriting exercise to do with your writing group or a group of friends. For example, give yourself five minutes, three words Shakespeare coined, and write. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/27/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-26-theme-coined-by-shakespeare/
Who doesn’t love a shaggy God story? After all, was not Christ Himself, “out of this world?” https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/14/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-14-theme-honest-andor-dishonest/
If you suffer from brain drain writing in one way, try a hybrid form, such as a resume, syllabus, or a humorous “How-To” (or even a “How-To-Not”) article.
If you want time to write, you must prioritize your time. I only respond in-kind to the bloggers who comment on my blog, rather than those who simply like a post.
Backlinking to previous blog posts can garner new attention for older ones. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/04/15-blogging-prompts/
Poets read poetry, but most everyone will read a story. My personal essays tend to get the most views, despite their length. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/02/14/our-time/
Every author should have a blog, and here are 15 reasons why. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/07/06/my-500th-blog-post-why-blogging-rocks/
Food writing is popular. There are entire blogs dedicated to chocolate. If you’re including a recipe, don’t post pictures of every step, which can be frustrating when someone just wants the recipe and has to scroll a long way down to get to it. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/06/23/seven-reasons-why-brownies-beat-cake-and-even-cookies/
We’ve gone from cupcakes to cake pops. People like their information bite-sized. Top 10 (or 20) Lists will often capture your readers. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/12/29/15-life-lessons-learned-from-classic-movies/
Keep your author page updated. You can’t be 30-something forever. https://sarahleastories.com/about-the-author/
Not being a photographer or illustrator, I must get creative with my images. Never publish a blog post without an image. Avoiding stock photography has forced me to become more creative with visuals. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/12/24/sweet-little-nothings-now-comes-the-lent/
When all else fails, write about writing (review a book, a short story, etc.). At least you will be writing (not rewriting what they wrote).
Don’t publish more than 10% of what you write on your blog (unless your blog makes money). Don’t give it all away for free. I publish a fair amount of poetry and non-fiction on mine but absolutely no short stories.
Have several channels through which you share your writing, be it your blog (anything goes here), Facebook page (I share writing tips and links to articles I like, including mine), Goodreads (for book reviews), LinkedIn (for business-type articles), and Instagram (poetry), but don’t have more social media accounts than you need or can keep up with.
It’s okay to share other people’s posts on your social media accounts, but NEVER reblog; you’re only promoting their work by doing this (commenting on a Medium article, however, is another story). Don’t give someone free real estate in your virtual space.
Simplification is multiplication. More than five minutes on one social network promoting your writing is excess currency better spent working on a piece to submit to a paying publication.
If you try to create brand-new content for every social media outlet, you are already spending too much time on social media.
Streamline your writing life. Get rid of social media accounts you don’t use, and clear out virtual clutter.
If you haven’t started a blog, do so. Think of it as an online portfolio. On days you don’t post, share an old post on your other social media sites.
Sometimes, a blog post can double as a LinkedIn article. (I call that getting two for the price of one.) However, post the entire article separately on your LinkedIn account. No one likes clicking on your article and then being redirected to your blog. However, you can add links to related articles at the bottom. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/07/23/networking-for-introverts/
Before applying for a writing job, ensure your LinkedIn profile is updated (with a current headshot—not “you” ten years younger and twenty pounds lighter) and that your portfolio is diverse (I included a flyer, newspaper article, and press release, among others, in mine). Never include personal blog posts in your portfolio—only professionally published pieces.
Use links to other sites to enhance search engine optimization, and always let other writers know when you have linked them. They will appreciate the credit.
Social media is a free way to promote your book and yourself as a brand. Seek to soft sell by entertaining, but do not send private messages to people you don’t know, asking them to like your Facebook page, follow them on YouTube, etc.