The Glamorous and Unattainable Writing Life: 6 Common Misconceptions About Being a Writer

Now that you’ve published a book, you can afford that fancy NYC loft, right? Emily Bleeker clears up a few common and hilarious misconceptions about writers.

Authors in books, movies and TV shows are often eccentric and fascinating hermits for whom writing is their sole purpose in life. I like these depictions, and I wish I was as mysterious and exotic as my counterparts on the silver screen.

But, the truth is, a lot of what makes up this fantasy version of a writer is either a fiction or an exaggeration. Whether in-person, on-line, or in an article no one asked me to write, I’ve made it my mission to clear up a few of these common and hilarious misconceptions about writers and authors.

1. Writers are all brooding, solitary introverts.

This image of a brooding, lonely writer who spends his or her days and nights alone in front of a typewriter would lead you to believe that authors are an odd, rare breed that rarely, if ever see the light of day. Sure, a lot of authors have the introvert gene, but they are also some of the most friendly, caring and encouraging people I know—and REALLY funny. Writing CAN be a lonely job—but only if you choose for it to be.

2. Writers are all exceptional at spelling and grammar.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to spell a word or had someone apologize for a minor grammatical error. Confession time—I’ve struggled with spelling my whole life. Authors are not perfect in every technical area having to do with writing and that’s pretty normal. Just like an accountant needs a calculator or spreadsheet, writers need some tools to make the technical aspects of their writing polished.

8 Things You MUST Do When Your First Book Is Launched

3. Once you’re published, you’re rich.

Authors are seen in books and movies as semi-celebrities or filthy rich after the launch of one book. This too is a bit of a fallacy (sorry fellow writers). The financial aspects of book writing are complicated and inconsistent. Nearly every writer I know has a “day job” of some kind. They are lawyers, real estate agents, doctors, data processors and accountants as well as dedicated to their craft.

4. Authors all know each other.

I don’t know Stephen King… or J.K. Rowling… or Gillian Flynn… or… You get the idea. Sorry, all authors don’t know each other. But I can suggest some new names that might peak your interests and widen your horizons. (And Stephen, Joanne and Gillian—call me any time!)

[Online Course — Advanced Novel Writing with Terri Valentine]

5. Authors have control over every part of the publishing process.

So you don’t like my cover? First of all—uh—rude. Second of all—I can’t help you there! Covers (and often titles) are not the final choice of the author. I’m NOT kidding. I can pass on feedback and give my own but authors rarely make the final decision.

6. Authors have loads of spare time to write.

Writing is usually something spoken of wistfully, planned for a future when there is magically “more time.” But the truth is—there is never more time. Authors don’t have boring lives or no obligations—they make time for their work and their creativity. Writing is a fun job, but a job none the less.

Okay, there are more misconceptions I don’t have time for—lots more: I don’t live in New York. I am not even sure what a “loft” is. I have only been to ONE fancy cocktail party and most of my business dealings are done via email, not phone or, gasp, in person.

But as fun as it is to clear up some of these fantasies, I have to admit the main reason I do it is because if “writer” or “author” is a mythical creature in the eyes of the world then becoming one is an overwhelming and unattainable goal to onlookers. Then I worry that we are all missing out on meeting those future authors who could reach their dreams if they just knew a little more about the realities of the world they would like to join.

EMILY BLEEKER is a former educator who learned to love writing while teaching a writer’s workshop. After surviving a battle with a rare form of cancer, she finally found the courage to share her stories, starting with her debut novel, Wreckage, followed by the “Wall Street Journal bestseller” When I’m Gone and Working Fire. Her latest novel is called The Waiting Room and publishes August 28, 2018. Emily currently lives with her family in suburban Chicago. Find out more about her at

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from Writing Editor Blogs –


IELTS test in Vietnam – September 2018 (Academic)

The IELTS test questions from Vietnam, below, were shared by A after a recent exam. A only remembered the Writing and Speaking questions:

Writing testIELTS test in Vietnam

Writing task 1 (a report)

We had to describe two diagrams of a building. One showed the current layout and the other the proposed layout. We had to write about the changes that were planned.

Writing Task 2 (an essay)

Nowadays there are many medical surveys of treatments to reduce health problems. Who should conduct them, governments, individuals or private companies, in your opinion? Give reasons for your answer and include relevant examples from your experience.

Speaking test


– What is your full name?
– Can I see your ID?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work or study?
– What do you do?
– Where do you live now?
– Why do you live there?
– Do you know any neighbours in your area?
– Do you have breakfast every day?
– Is it important to have breakfast, in your opinion?
– Do you eat the same breakfast every day?
– Do you want to change your daily routine in the future?

Cue Card

Describe a time when you received money as a gift. Please say

– When did you receive it?
– What did you do with it?
– How did you feel about it?


– Do you think people prefer to receive gifts instead of money? Why?
– Do you think parents should teach children how to save money?
– How often do you go to parks?
– Do you like to have leisure activities in open park spaces?
– What improvements would you make in parks?
– Do you usually use cash or a credit card?
– What are advantages of having a credit card?
– Do credit cards have drawbacks?
– Do you think cash will be replaced by credit cards in the future?

from IELTS-Blog

Kirill’s Band 8 in IELTS exceeded his own expectations – here is how he did it

You may remember Kirill as a winner of 1st place in our August IELTS results competition. He got an Overall Band Score of 8.0, with a straight 9 in Reading, and it was more than he expected! When we approached Kirill for his tips to other test takers and insights into his preparation, here is what he said:

“I used various techniques which I have found online.

First of all, I was writing essays and letters as often as I could. 1-2 pieces of writing daily is perfect. I have used 16 writing corrections from to make sure I was good. I was getting 6.5 usually, but I have managed to get 7 in the exam.

Also, I was listening to podcasts every day for 1 hour while commuting to the office. I have not trained speaking at all, because I use English almost everyday at work.

As for reading I also read some books, but what I think is a great strategy is listening to an audio book while reading the same book. This practice will not only load information to the brain fast, but also will help you improve vocabulary along with pronunciation.

I have finished a monthly course of IELTS preparation also, it was 1.5 hour twice a week. Overall, I spent roughly 1-1.5 months to prepare. Also, my attitude for the exam was relaxed and I did not care about the result, I was perceiving it to be a test shot. I was not confident about my writing, but all my friends told me that I will handle it and I did, to my own big surprise!”

Best IELTS test result August 2018

from IELTS-Blog

Language Arts: ‘VOX’ Author/Linguist Christina Dalcher Discusses the Power of Words

Following the release of her hit book, VOX, linguist-turned-author Christina Dalcher shares insight into the power of words spoken, written and suppressed. Learn more about Dalcher in the November/December 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest.

As much as Christina Dalcher loves words—she’s a linguist by trade, having taught at universities internationally—she knows better than most the power of their absence.

An award-winning flash-fiction and short-story writer, her debut novel VOX (released in August) has generated buzz from the likes of TIME, Publishers Weekly and Vanity Fair. In the fast-paced dystopian novel, where a certain demographic is limited to speaking only 100 words per day, it’s no stretch to say that language is, well, everything. Dalcher took a break from promoting VOX abroad—including doing four interviews in Italian the day before we chatted—to talk about where she gleans inspiration, how the study of linguistics influences her tales and why writing short is the best practice for longer endeavors.

In VOX, women are forced to wear counters on their wrists that limit them to speaking 100 words a day. The average person speaks about 16,000 daily, give or take. Speaking as a writer and linguist, what are some of the ramifications this would have on literature, communication and storytelling?

I think I can safely say that there’s one major thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, and that’s language. It’s language that allows us not only to share our thoughts and ideas and stories with others, but also allows us to process information. I doubt Einstein would have been able to come up with the theory of relativity without language. [Not because] he needed to talk to anyone; he could’ve been in a box by himself. But it is unimaginable, to me, that that kind of thinking could be done without language. We can go beyond communication and storytelling and family relationships and look at what really would happen: Our humanity would be taken away.

It’s impossible to miss the “right now” relevance of VOXTIME magazine even called it a novel of the #MeToo movement. Did current events have any direct influence on your approach to the story?

Not as specifically or directly as most people think. For one, when I started writing VOX last summer—I wrote it in two months—there really wasn’t a #MeToo movement [yet]. I’m a really strong advocate for freedom of speech. When we look at dystopian fiction throughout the ages, we’re basically looking at the same [topic]: restriction on freedom; sometimes speech, sometimes reading, sometimes other freedoms. I don’t think this is anything new, because if it were, we wouldn’t have had Orwell, Huxley or Bradbury writing about it. I’d like to think I would’ve written this book no matter what.

You’ve said that the idea for VOX came from a doomsday fiction contest in an online flash fiction magazine.

It did. Initially, at least, there were two stages. Basically, I came up with this kind of hybrid vegetable or fruit from the seeds of all these other sort of related ones. Maybe I created, like, a literary tomato. One, a magazine that I just absolutly love, called The Molotov Cocktail, had a doomsday contest. [Molotov] was the first place to ever publish a piece of my flash fiction. Maybe three or four times a year they’ll have a contest with a theme that’s usually very stark; either horror or speculative fiction, something like that. So I wrote this little story, about 750 words total, about a global aphasia epidemic, [where] all of a sudden, we’ve got the Tower of Babel. You can imagine how long we would last in that kind of a situation.

It’d be a disaster.

Maybe [we’d last] a week or two, really, before we just kind of all killed one another. [The story] was very dark. It had the linguistics aspect in it, which I really enjoyed because [as a linguist] it’s something that I can write into stories and make them a little bit unique.

In the meantime, all this while that I’ve been writing flash fiction, I’ve had the little idea over in my idea drawer—[which is] a virtual idea drawer called “Ideas,” as you probably can imagine. When I was a really young kid, I read this story about some kind of magical kingdom where people limited themselves to 10 words a day, something like that. They did it on purpose, so they could hear lovely music. That’s all I remember of it because I’ve never been able to find it [again]. But it was this idea, this word-limit thing, that made me think, Well, that’s linguistic-y. Maybe I can work that into a piece of flash fiction someday. I [combined] the aphasia piece and I had the word limit piece [into] a dystopian short story for a magazine, [hence] I came up with the “hybrid tomato,” VOX.

You’ve had dozens of short stories published in literary journals, including some that have garnered Pushcart Prize nominations. How did you decide that VOX could be lengthened from a short piece into a full-length book?

When I wrote the 3,500-word short story “VOX,”—which is pretty much the skeleton of VOX—my readers, three women who swap stories with me and also write flash fiction, looked at it and said, “This could be a novel.” The short story made it to the second round [of a competition] in Clarkesworld Magazine, a major science fiction/fantasy magazine. When that happened, I thought, “OK, this has legs.” I talked to my agent about it, and she said it sounded delightfully creepy—which is a great response from an agent. So I thought, “I’m going to do this thing.”

The pacing in VOX keeps readers hanging on with white knuckles. Do you think your experience with writing flash helped you to be …



Absolutely. I started writing four years ago, with the idea that I was going to write a novel—because I think that’s the idea a lot of people start with. But, in my own words, it’s like, “Hey, if Stephenie Meyer can do it, I can do it.” Riiiight. I think when I look at the first thing I wrote, [it’s clear] I had no idea about pacing. I certainly didn’t know what character
arc meant, or what a beat was, or about the importance of dialogue.

With flash, it’s not just about the story. You don’t have that much time [or space]. It’s about the lyricism and the poetry and evoking a really strong feeling while still telling a story. It’s like musicians who do études: [It lets them] practice their form, instead of sitting down and writing an entire concerto or symphony.

That’s a great analogy. We’ve touted the benefits of writing flash to our readers—even if they don’t intend to make it their predominant form of writing, it’s a great way to get good practice. It’s wonderful to hear from you, having had so much success with flash/short stories, and then been able to carry that over into a longer form.

It really warms my heart that you’re making that recommendation, because it’s so important. I have taught [some] writing courses the last couple of years—I try not to tell my students that I haven’t actually taken a writing course [Laughs]—but I do find that there are so many beginning writers who just want to dive right into [a] novel. They want to do the same thing that I [first] did. We all do, because we know the novel, [it’s] what we see: [They’re] on airport bookshelves, in libraries. Of course, if you’re going to try to make any money as a fiction writer, the novel is pretty much the only way to go. Flash fiction paychecks are usually about $1.50. I think it’s a trap people fall into, this idea that, Oh, I’m going to do this really big, hard thing [and write a novel], but in fact, it’s quite nice to be able to focus on something much, much smaller.

You’ve taught courses on linguistics, phonetics and phonology at universities around the world. How does your academic knowledge of language influence your individual writing style?

I don’t spend a hell of a lot of time describing exactly what color somebody’s eyes are or what people look like, what they’re wearing. I think that probably came from the fact that I did a metric ton of writing when I was in graduate school and after that, but it was all very technical. If anything, it might not be the linguistics that really influenced my writing style, it might be the fact that I have a science degree.

Linguistics is a science, but we often think of writing as an artistic endeavor. In what ways does your background in science inform your writing process?

Writing is pretty damn technical. Take a Lee Child mystery. Or VOX. Anything like that. You’ve got this sort of formula that you need to stick to: We’ve got beats. An inciting incident. The “choice” that needs to be made. The debate period. Then the B-story comes in. I mean, it is quite scientific. That’s why [we call] things beat sheets or story “engineering” or whatever. There’s a technical aspect to it. I think once you’ve got that framework down, then you can be artistic, can play with your words.

What are some ways that non-linguists can learn from the study of linguistics to help improve their own writing?

For some inexplicable reason, I’m pretty OK [at writing] dialogue. I’m wondering if being a little bit more nerdy about language, being kind of a linguistics freak, helps me pay attention to the things that I hear and also recognize when I write dialogue that just doesn’t sound like the way people really talk.

I also think there’s that age-old, really tasty chestnut that says, “Write what you know.” I’m a linguist, so I wrote a book that features some linguistic stuff. But going more general than just linguistics, I think it’s always, always good advice to think about what you can do, and what you know a lot about, and go from there—rather than trying to write something that is like that one book on the bestseller list last year, or that got turned into a movie, or that your friend wrote. Write what you know based on your experience. It’s a golden rule.

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

Q&A With Eliot Stein, Grand-Prize Winner of the 2018 WD Annual Writing Competition

“The Last Remaining Sea Silk Seamestress” by Eliot Stein is the Grand Prize­–winning story for the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, besting more than 5,300 entries across nine categories. For complete coverage of the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, please check out the November/December 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest, and discover which WD competitions are currently accepting entries at

Tell us a little bit about yourself? You seem to travel quite a lot.

I’m a freelance writer. I focus primarily on travel, but I also do a lot of culture, history, traditions— things that sort of lend different categories, I suppose. I’m also a contributing editor and columnist for BBC Travel, which is where this story [originally] appeared. For the last two years I’ve been living here in Berlin, Germany. I’m originally from Washington, D.C., but being here in Germany has really given me the opportunity and the time and the space to really focus on writing. And I found it to be incredibly rewarding, and the sort of thing that you don’t often get by kind of being in a big city back in the States where I’m from.

How long have you been writing and how did you start? Were you always interested in travel writing?

My dad is a writer, and he encouraged my brother and I every summer to keep a journal. And it would be the sort of thing where he would say at the start of the summer, “If you write one page every day in the journal, by the end of the summer we’ll do something special.” So I think from about the age of 9 or 10, it’s this sort of thing where they’re were no real limits placed on what it is that I write. It’s just kind of exercising that muscle and using the blank page kind of as a creative space to figure out what it is that I want to say.

Were you always interested in primarily nonfiction even as you were keeping your journal, or did you ever dabble in fiction?

Mainly nonfiction. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve never really crossed over into fiction. I find that there’s so many fascinating people and interesting stories to tell that are real, that I’m really just kind of enamored by people I meet and find their lives interesting, and so long as I can do a decent job of telling their story, I think that I find a lot of enjoyment in that. 

Why do you write?

Well, I’m really inspired by so many people that I meet, and I think that there are endlessly fascinating and inspiring stories out there that lots of people have. And I find a lot of energy and fulfillment in learning as much as I can about someone and trying to tell their story in a way that gets other people away from their phones and kind of engrossed in their own stories. But I find the process of writing to be exhilarating and exhausting and eventually rewarding. And [there’s] just no other way that I would choose to spend my waking hours.


When did you develop an affinity for travel?

I majored in college in Italian studies and journalism, which set me up to do exactly nothing. I did my best to kind of marry the two, and so the day after I graduated I moved to Italy and started writing. So I had never been to Sardinia and found that it was kind of off the beaten path and it intrigued me. So I lived there for a few years, wrote a couple guidebooks there, and wrote for a magazine. And that’s actually where I first heard about the protagonist in this story. And several years later—I was with my wife—we moved back here to Berlin in Europe, and that kind of really, as I was saying, gave me the space and the opportunity to explore more of the continent and travel and really dive into these stories that I find just endlessly engrossing and the people that I find inspiring.

Tell me more about your process for researching and writing this story. You mentioned you first heard about the woman in this story when you were living in Sardinia?

I lived in Sardinia between 2007 and 2009. And I had heard about her, but it was never the sort of thing where I made a mental note that I want to write a story about her. In terms of the process for this story, it’s very similar to a lot of the stories I write. The background research and the idea, I think, is absolutely the most important thing. Once you have a really solid idea and an angle, that’s worth more than gold to a writer. So for this one it was a bit of a tricky process getting in contact with Signora Vigo. She doesn’t really use the phone too often. She’s not on any sort of social media. She doesn’t carry a cell phone. So it was sheer persistence and about 15 Google Talk phone calls that got me in contact with her, and we agreed on a date.

And then once I got there, it’s very similar to a lot of the process that I have, which is, for other stories, I kind of bury myself in the person. But my goal is always to learn as much as I can about this person, because everything you learned about the subject that you’re writing about, it’s more fuel for the story. So I was there for four days with her, stayed with an elderly gentleman in his Airbnb. And everyday I would wake up and spend the entire day with Signora Vigo, learning her trade and also gaining her trust. And she was able to tell me things through that process that she hadn’t told other people before. And I found that to be the most valuable and rewarding part of the process that I in turn was able to introduce her stories to people who might not have heard it otherwise.

How frequently do you find that meeting the person shapes the story or changes the story from what it had been in your original idea?

Well, as a writer, I think you have to give yourself and your story the freedom to grow if you meet someone. It’s never the sort of thing where I would have in my mind, This is the story I’m going to write, before I meet someone. So you have a sense, you have kind of parameters of, This is where I think the story could go, but it’s completely shaped by what you learn on the ground. So if I were to go and meet someone, and I learned a very different or surprising twist in what I thought the story was going to be, you have to be true to the subject and follow it there. I guess that’s the difference between maybe travel journalism versus creative writing. But I would never sway a person’s story based on what I think would just make it a better story.

Who or what has inspired you as a writer?

I think I’ll go ahead and say that I do think, subjectively, BBC Travel is producing some of the most inspiring travel journalism that is out there right now. Before that, I grew up reading National Geographic, immersing myself in Pico Iyer books, reading pretty much anything I could get my hands on it. And as a kid going to the library, picking up the copies of Smithsonian Magazine, just kind burying myself in faraway worlds and kind of keeping track of places that I want to go one day. But beyond typical travel journalism, I think that there’s so many writers out there who are novelists who I think are just absolutely amazing, and their style of writing, I think, translates very, very well to do what people consider travel writing. From Hemingway to Vonnegut to tons of people out there who I think have a particular style of writing that is contagious, and … I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel like the definition of travel writing versus just writing in general is something that a lot of people confuse often. And I think that just fantastic writing, no matter in what form it is, is something that translates across all kinds of categories.

For complete coverage of the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, please check out the November/December 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest.


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from Writing Editor Blogs –

“Go Your Own Way”: James Patterson on Supporting Childhood Literacy, Generating Novel Ideas, and Writing with Bill Clinton

After more than four decades in publishing, record-breaking bestseller James Patterson has this to say: You can go your own way. Discover an exclusive extended interview with Patterson below.

Chris Sorensen For The Washington Post via Getty Images


“I never give anyone writing advice.” That may seem like a surprising way to open an interview with a magazine for writers, but James Patterson has always avoided casting himself as the all-knowing writing guru. He’s a firm believer that every author is unique, and each must find a way to use their individual strengths and talents: “I don’t tell other people what they should do. I just know what I do. But I can share what works for me.”

What works for Patterson also seems to be popular  with a massive number of readers. He holds the Guinness World Record for the most No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, and his books have sold more than 375 million copies worldwide. He is the author of dozens of titles, many of them written with a crew of co-writers that Patterson keeps very busy.

He is passionate about promoting literacy and a love of reading, investing significant resources to support those causes. He has donated more than 1 million books to students and soldiers and heads up a foundation that has funded some 400 Teacher Education Scholarships at more than 20 colleges and universities. Plus, he has donated millions of dollars to school libraries and independent bookstores, including giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in surprise bonuses directly to bookstore employees.

Patterson created a children’s book imprint, JIMMY Patterson Books for Young Readers—affectionately known as “JIMMY Books”—in 2015. He says the imprint has one simple and important goal: “When a kid finishes a JIMMY book, I want them to say, ‘Give me another.’”

In 2016, Patterson played a central role in launching  BookShots, a publishing program offering original,  shorter-length (150 pages maximum) stories that retail for less than $5. Some of the stories are written by Patterson and his co-authors and feature his well-known characters like Alex Cross, while others are from a stable of authors selected—and their works edited—by Patterson himself. He also teamed up with former President Bill Clinton to pen the thriller The President Is Missing, which hit stores in June and sold more than 152,000 hardcovers in the first week, according to NPD BookScan—the best first-week sale for an adult hardcover fiction title in several years.

The prolific author is enthusiastic about the latest JIMMY Books project, a new line with a super-smart 12-year-old orphan as the heroine, called Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment. It’s the first of a series (co-written with Chris Grabenstein) that Patterson will produce in conjunction with the Albert Einstein Archives.

His strongest asset as a writer, Patterson would say, is his love for telling (and hearing) stories. His likable, relatable personality immediately makes people comfortable. He’s the kind of guy you’d gladly spend hours trading tales with over drinks. As we settled in for this interview, he told a fascinating story about his uncle, whose last name was the same as my hometown. Placed for adoption as a child, the uncle—as an adult—tracked down his brother (Patterson’s father), and eventually located their long-lost father in a seedy bar near a bridge in Poughkeepsie, only to leave without ever introducing himself.

Wow, that’s quite a story, like the real-life start of a novel.

There’s a writing lesson from that story. Sometimes people go, “Oh, he’s not a very good writer,” [because] there were no big sentences in that story. But it was a really good story. I write colloquial. I don’t tell anyone else they should write colloquially. I write the way we tell stories. If everybody wrote that way, it wouldn’t be great. But that’s what I do.

I write in a very simple way. I don’t have to. I was a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt. I know the rules—I could write more complex sentences if I wanted to. But I choose not to, and I think it’s a valid approach, in the same way I think James Joyce had a valid approach when he wrote Ulysses. It’s a different tone, a different voice. I think my voice is pretty distinctive.

You don’t come from a privileged background, but you credit that for playing a role in your success.

I was poor and middle class, and then I was poor and middle class again. And now I’m rich. And on balance, I prefer being rich. But I don’t think I’d be who I am or write what I wrote if I hadn’t been brought up the way I was. I had a 10-cent allowance when I was a kid. And I had to make that decision: Are you going to have a Pepsi this week? My mom went to the supermarket and she would get one quart of soda a week. For four kids. And she was a teacher at a Catholic school, so there was no money there.

I didn’t come to [success] overnight. I was lucky in that the first novel I wrote won an Edgar when I was 26, but I didn’t have anything that would have supported my life in terms of making a living until I was in my 40s. I was very practical about it, and humble. I didn’t feel that I should expect to make a living, or that I was entitled to anything. That seemed very presumptuous to me. I’ve always been big on, “Have a dream and a backup dream.”

I’m very organized. Anybody I work with would tell you, “He’s very focused.” I’m clear and will say exactly what I want. But there’s room for exploring. I think most of [my co-authors] have enjoyed it. It allows me to do what I love, which is telling stories. Most of the time I will lay out the story. And then we’ll take that 40 or 60 pages and turn it into 350 pages.

Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

You see this? [He holds up a stuffed folder, roughly the size of an old-fashioned Manhattan phone book, with the word IDEAS in large capital letters on the front.] I don’t think I’ll run out anytime soon. I’m not quite as quick as I was, but I still do OK.

You’ve done a lot for childhood literacy.

I tend to be very efficient and do a lot of things at the same time. With the philanthropy, I try to make it as efficient as I possibly can. To have a really clear-cut mission. So with JIMMY Books, it’s a simple mission but I think it’s clear and allows us to function in an appropriate manner. Which is, when a kid finishes a JIMMY book, I want them to say, “Give me another,” instead of, “I never want to read again.” If we can deliver on that, then JIMMY Books is a big deal. Because we’ve done what we should do, which is putting [the kinds of] books in kids’ hands so they say, “I like to read.”

You’ve also been very active in supporting future teachers.

We have scholarships for kids to get through school who are going to be teachers. One of the colleges is University of Florida. I went there with [Harry Bosch author] Mike Connelly, who is a graduate of the school and asked me to do a speech with him. While I was there, I met the kids that we have scholarships for, and I also met the education department. And I said, “If you have something else that we could partner with, that would be great.” And they came back with a program they have been testing. In Florida, the percentage of kids who read at grade level is 43 percent. That’s not great. It’s not great anywhere. The best in the country is Massachusetts, which is like 62 percent. University of Florida, in the outer areas around Gainesville, they have over 80 percent of the classes reading at grade level. And we’re taking that across Florida this year.

We went up and met with the state lawmakers in Florida, and they were all for it. They said, “Look, we spend $130 million a year and we don’t think we spend it as well as we could. We’d rather spend it on second and third graders instead of trying to get kids when they’re in high school. It’s very hard to get them at that point, it’s too late.” So we try to do stuff where we think there will be a good result.

We also have a kids’ show now on PBS, called “Kid Stew,” in more than 200 markets. It’s to make learning fun. It’s by kids, for kids. We do some interviews, but it’s funny. There’s a time machine, which is a phone booth. And they’ll go back and talk to Da Vinci for a while. Or Shakespeare.

Your latest kids’ project is the Max Einstein book. How did that come about?

The Einstein estate came to three publishers, and they basically said, “We want to do a series of books that would introduce kids around the world to Albert Einstein. And the only thing we’re going to give you is the name Max Einstein.” So we had to pitch our idea.

And we’re little compared to the others. But I figured we have an advantage because I’m going to write them and I’ll be in the room, so I can talk about what the books will really be like. When we get in there, I said, “For starters, I’d like to make Max a girl. Because I think that’s more useful now. Because there are still a lot of places in the United States, and a lot of places around the world, where girls and women are not encouraged to study math and science. I know in some places it’s beginning to even out and that’s good, but I think it would be good that Max is a girl.” They liked that a lot. Then I began to tell them the story we had in mind. They were very smart in that they said it’s got to be entertaining or kids won’t read it. Then you get to the challenge of, How do you write an entertaining book about Einstein’s theories?

You’ve called it the most important work you’ve ever done.

Because I think it is, if we go around the world and turn millions of kids on to science. For a long time, a lot of the scientists that you would meet, if you asked, “What got you started?” They would say, “Reading science fiction.” They read sci-fi and they get turned on. And they say, “I want to do that. I want to build a time machine,” or whatever it is. That would be part of the stimulus. I think this series of books will turn a lot of kids on. Boys and girls. And in certain families there are going to be doubts. The way I grew up, my mother encouraged my sisters to become secretaries. We didn’t know any better.

I mean, it’s nice to have created Alex Cross and the Women’s Murder Club and all that. And Max Ride, my other Max, that’s another empowered girl who basically becomes the leader of this group of kids who escape from a terrible situation and have to power through
life somehow.

Do you find it challenging to write in the voice of female characters?

Not really. I think a piece of it is I grew up in a house full of women. Mother, grandmother, sisters, female cat. I write about women a lot. I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing something like Harlequin [romance]. I don’t have the voice. I just spent so much time with women, especially growing up. I think I kind of got it, within reason. I know and empathize with a lot of things that people go through.

BookShots was a new, innovative approach to publishing works that were packaged differently than your normal books. You take a very active role in creating and developing the outlines for all of your full-length books. Was it the same with BookShots?

There they are. [He gestures towards shelves filled with books]. That was one year’s output. That was insane. To take that on and write a bunch of them, and then to do the outlines. That year, I wrote 2,500 pages of outlines. And all of my outlines are three or four drafts. So that’s nuts.

I did all of the outlines [for BookShots]. Every outline was 30 or 40 pages. In 90 percent of the cases, I would have [my writers] sending pages every two weeks. And I would call them back that day and either say, “Keep going,” or, “Hold up, we’re going off the track here.” That’s the way I work with my co-authors, with all of my books.

But with BookShots, we’re kind of done with them. It was too threatening to publishers, honestly, to have these books for $3.99 and $4.99. They thought people were not going to want to buy a hardback. But I think toward the end, [the books] were really catching on. What we do now is we’ll bundle three of them in a paperback. They sell well. We’ve gone from being in the red to being solidly in the black. But the energy it took was incredible. We’re doing an occasional one now. But not a lot.

What do you think of the state of publishing today? There’s a trend toward giving content away, especially in the form of ebooks.

People think free books are great, but it’s a problem when publishers want to give away writing. Just like what happened with musicians. It’s like, OK, let’s go to your house and take your money. A lot of free books don’t even have editors. That’s a problem because if the last six books you read were terrible, you’re not going to want to read any more. It turns people off from reading. I think at this point it’s important that we still have publishers and editors. That can all be done on the internet, but nobody’s really doing it [that way] yet. Not really doing it, to a big extent.

I wonder who is going to do the Great American Novels in the future. Who’s going to develop the next Hemingway or Fitzgerald, or whoever you think is terrific. The reality of it is, if Infinite Jest was published today on the internet, it [would] sell five copies and disappear. Ulysses goes out and sells three copies and disappears.

Originality is a big thing. You get too much of, Let’s do another one of whatever. Realistic fiction in YA is a hot thing now because of John Green. But people forget that John Green does really good dialogue. And if they can’t do great dialogue, they might not make it. That’s what separates him. Obviously, he promotes really well, too.

How did Bill Clinton compare to your normal co-author situation?

He was very respectful. What sets that book apart is the authenticity. Even though it’s a novel, people really get to know what it’s like to be president during an unbelievably tense three or four days, where the worst attack ever on the United States is imminent. There’s a traitor in the White House. The president disappears. If that kind of attack were about to happen, this is the way it would go. It’s all real stuff. If the motorcade was attacked, this is exactly what the Secret Service would do.

[Clinton] has been a joy to work with. It’s fun. We get a kick out of each other. It’s different than with my other co-authors. I defer more here than I normally would. And he wants everything to be accurate. A lot of times, if you’re a fiction writer, you just make shit up. But he’ll be pushing for accuracy. He pushed for the characters to be more flesh and blood. There’s an assassin in the book, and in the first draft, I think she was a little bit more of a thriller device. But she wound up being very flesh and blood, and he really helped push for that—to make sure [the assassin] was a real human being.

Anybody on your wish list you’d like to work with?

Maybe the Pope. I think the two of us could do something good. WD

Bobbi Dempsey ( is a freelance writer whose credits include The New York Times, Harper’s, Quartz and Parade. She is the author of the Amazon Kindle Single ebook Degrees of Desperation: The Working-Class Struggle to Pay for College.








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from Writing Editor Blogs –

IELTS test in India – September 2018 (Academic Module)

The IELTS test questions below are from India. They were remembered and shared by J after his recent IELTS exam – thank you J!

Writing testIELTS test in India

Writing task 1 (a report)

We were given a chart showing the results of a survey for places where people gain access to the Internet from 1998 to 2004.

Writing task 2 (an essay)

The international community must act immediately to ensure that all countries reduce their consumption of fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? Give your own opinion.

Speaking test


– What is your full name?
– Can I see your ID?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work or study?
– What school do you go to?
– Where is it?
– Do you like your school? Why?
– What don’t you like about the school?
– What is the worst thing for you there?

Cue Card

Describe an interesting person that you would like to meet in the future. Please say

– Who is the person?
– What do you like about him/her?
– What is the interesting thing about that person?


– Explain how you would like to meet this person.
– Do you want to become a social person?
– Some people talk well and are easy to connect to. What makes them different from other people?
– Some people socialize easily and others don’t. What is the reason?
– Some people feel lonely in a big crowded city. What is the reason for that?

from IELTS-Blog

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 454

For today’s prompt, take the phrase “I Get (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles include: “I Get Knocked Down,” “I Get Around,” “I Get a Little Bit Genghis Khan,” and/or “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.” And yeah, I get it if you feel like these titles are all song lyrics (because they are), but there’s a lot of potential here for you to get a new poem at the end of this exercise.


Build an Audience for Your Poetry tutorialBuild an Audience for Your Poetry!

Learn how to find more readers for your poetry with the Build an Audience for Your Poetry tutorial! In this 60-minute tutorial, poets will learn how to connect with more readers online, in person, and via publication.

Poets will learn the basic definition of a platform (and why it’s important), tools for cultivating a readership, how to define goals and set priorities, how to find readers without distracting from your writing, and more!

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at an I Get Blank Poem:

“i get a little distracted”

i get a little distracted
whenever you are close
& even more attracted
when you haunt me like a ghost,

because the language we speak
isn’t captured in our words
but the twitter of our beaks
as if we are two love birds.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He gets distracted more than a little bit a lot of the time.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

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How to Sell an Essay or Article: 21 Tips for Writing a Winning Cover Letter

Wondering how to sell an essay? Writing a cover letter that’s short and perfect to introduce your pages will sell a piece faster than submitting an excellent article or essay with an uninspired note.

This article is excerpted from Susan Shapiro’s new book, The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks.

My writing students are shocked by my belief that sending short, perfect cover letters to introduce mediocre pages will sell an essay faster than submitting a stellar piece with a lousy missive. Of course, I’m not advocating sending out pages that are less than superb. But here’s why writing a cover letter that makes for a great initial presentation is essential: Making mistakes or revealing a bad attitude can lead an editor to delete your e-mail or toss your envelope in the garbage without reading what’s attached. On the other hand, if you manage to charm someone on staff into giving your piece a serious look, that editor may work with you to make it publishable even if it’s not ready for press yet. Here are steps to ensure your first impression isn’t your last.

How to Sell an Essay: 21 Tips for Writing a Winning Cover Letter

1. Be brief. Three to five lines are usually sufficient.

2. Be professional. A cover letter only needs to explain the piece you’ve already written and are attaching. That’s different than a longer query letter, where you summarize what you haven’t written yet but plan to in the future. Either way, “Hey Sarah, how’s it going?” is not how I’d start a business correspondence, even if the editor is twenty-two, looks cool on Instagram, or is a friend of a friend. “Dear Ms. Smith” is more respectful.

3. Save wacky and witty for later. Self-deprecation can be hilarious when it comes from Margaret Cho, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, or David Sedaris. It can work wonders in a well-crafted essay. But humor is subjective, and it’s hard for novices to pull off in a very short introduction letter. So don’t yuck it up too quickly for the wrong editor. In three-line e-mails and texts, irony, sarcasm, and playfulness can be easily misunderstood, especially when it comes from strangers who might not get your personality or appreciate your familiarity. After one class, a student wanting my help e-mailed me, “You’re an exceptional critic and teacher, though maybe a pain in the butt sometimes.” Instead of funny, I found this off-putting and kept my distance.

Rob Spillman, editor of the acclaimed literary magazine Tin House, once instructed my class: “Don’t act crazy.” Or at least keep the craziness in your pages, not in your letter. There can be a fine line when you’re pitching a piece about your schizophrenia, addictions, manic depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or anxiety disorder. Someone I didn’t know once introduced himself as “wildly neurotic alcoholic and chain-smoker.” Not wanting a headache, I told him I was too busy and recommended he work with another teacher.

4. Emulate the voice you want to publish you. When describing my piece, I often use the tone of the publication I’m aiming for. I once sent Cosmopolitan a story on “how I just met the man I wanted to father the children I didn’t want to have.” I would not have described a piece that way to an editor at The Nation. Make sure you read several issues of the publication before throwing your writer’s cap in the ring.

5. Get a name. Although many columns will instruct you to just send your work to generic e-mail addresses (like “op-ed submission”), I never send anything without a specific name on my letter. Otherwise, I can’t follow up with anyone and fear my piece will get lost in a huge folder of unsolicited material. If you must use these addresses, first try to figure out the right editor for the section you’re aiming for. You can usually find this information on mastheads or websites, in an Internet search, or with a quick phone call. When submitting an essay to The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column, I use their standard address,, which the editor Daniel Jones prefers, but I begin “Dear Mr. Jones.”

6. Spell that name correctly. Sounds easy. Yet tons of editors tell me that, when they see their named misspelled, they feel they can’t trust the author to be accurate or fact-check anything else. So they say no.

7. Be accessible. Make sure to put your name, full address, phone number and e-mail address on top of your letter, your submission, and all correspondence, even if it’s electronic. Many editors will send cyber rejections, but would rather pick up the phone to say “yes” or ask if you’re willing to rewrite pronto? If they can’t reach you, they might just call someone else. Do not send your piece out then go off the grid, backpacking in Thailand for six weeks. Look up whether your target publication runs daily, weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, annually or is updated on the web 24/7. Many magazines and newspapers now have both a paper and a web division that operate separately. The paper version of Tin House comes out four times a year, offers more remuneration, and can often take six months to reply. doesn’t pay as well, but it takes more pieces, which translates to more chances. Be conscious of which editor and section you’ve sent your work to and how long they take to respond, info that many post on their submission guidelines.

8. Pay respect. Don’t begin a missive by launching into your accomplishments, ideas, or needs. Do your homework and spend time researching so you can offer homage to the higher-up you want help from by saying you’re a fan of something she’s recently run or written. (Many editors also write.) Don’t pick the first thing that comes up on Google or something from 10 years ago. To submit to the “Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones, I’d start with something like:

“Dear Mr. Jones, I love the column (especially the essay ‘You May Want to Marry My Husband,’ which made me made me cry), the new podcast (Colin Farrell’s segment was my favorite), and your insightful book Love Illuminated. I hope you’ll consider my piece about how, after thirteen years of marriage, my husband decided to move in with me.”

(That was my exact 15-word essay description that worked.)

Editors are sharp and can smell phony praise. Don’t vaguely mention that you adored a piece or a book you didn’t read (or at least skim). A New York Times editor friend recalled being impressed with a cover letter by a new writer who told him, “I thought your section’s handling of the recent mayoral scandal was much smarter than The New Yorker’s version.”

9. Emphasize connections. If you’re lucky enough to have a go-between or insider’s link to the publication you’re querying, don’t wait until the end of your letter to mention it. Many readers won’t get that far. When someone starts an e-mail to me, “My friend Gerry Jonas gave me your name,” I immediately think: Damn, I have to be nice to this person. Why? Because I trust Gerry’s judgment, he helped me, and I return the favor every time, even if I’m busy. Another person made the mistake of e-mailing me, “Marla recommended I call you. I guess she’s too busy and important now to work with me.” I contacted Marla, who (not surprisingly) reported that this aspiring writer was needy and inappropriate. So I didn’t work with her either. Lavishly praising your mutual acquaintance is common sense. Anything negative is self-destructive. If you don’t know anyone, look up the editors’ bios to see if you can find common ground. Throwing in “as your Midwest neighbor,” “as a fellow Yalie,” or “I’m another working mom from Montclair” might establish a bond.

10. The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get. Planning a book publishing charity panel, my fantasy panelist was former New Yorker and Random House Editor-in-Chief Daniel Menaker. Although I’d met him years before, it was an ambitious choice. I could have started by saying how much I’d enjoyed his novel The Treatment (which I did). Yet on a quick Internet search for an update, I discovered the film version of his book was opening that night at a nearby theater. I waited 24 hours until I could see his movie. Then I wrote a fresh, timely letter that received an immediate affirmative response. He may have said “yes” regardless, but why chance it? I prefer to work at lightning speed, but sometimes it’s better to be patient and better prepared.

11. Say why you. Make sure to mention any expertise or experience you have in a short bio that might make the editor more likely to take your work. “As an Iranian expat who speaks Farsi, I hope you’ll consider my essay on the personal stakes of the Iran missile crisis” will get attention. “I majored in philosophy and minored in English at NYU, worked in banking for three years until I married, had two children, and moved to New Jersey,” not so much. Only include information that is relevant and may sell your essay, not your entire resume. If you have clips, you could say, “My writing has appeared in the Daily News and Post,” but don’t list a dozen small zines nobody has heard of, or letters to the editor, which don’t count as clips. You could include one or two related links you’re proud of, if they are recent, but not ten. A colleague once told me the most confident, successful writers do the shortest cover letters. Understate, don’t overstate.

12. Figure out the lead time. Since Psychology Today only comes out four times a year, they plan way ahead. In March, they are closing their fall issue. A monthly like Esquire often closes each issue four to five months in advance. A weekly like The Village Voice may only need ten days’ notice to rush a piece through. A webzine like Slate, which is updated daily, could take a piece on Tuesday that goes live Wednesday morning. Be conscious of the math because it could determine the numbers in your bank account.

13. Say why now. If there is anything in your essay that is timely, exclusive, or in the news, make that clear up front. When my student Darnycya Smith sent her piece “My Molotov Christmas in Brooklyn” to an editor at The Frisky webzine, she wrote in her cover letter and subject heading “Timely Christmas piece/December 25,” which was the day it ran. Another student, Danielle Gelfand, sent her essay “Years of Atonement,” about her father’s death on Yom Kippur, to The New York Times’ Opinion section, she told the editor, “I hope this might work for Yom Kippur, on October 7 this year.” She mentioned her topical hook in the subject heading (“Yom Kippur pitch, October 7.”) It went live on October 5. My colleague Amy Klein submitted “Looking for a Blessing to Marry,” about her rabbi’s prediction that she’d meet her husband on Hanukkah, to The New York Times’ “Modern Love” editor, saying, “I thought this may work for the upcoming Jewish Festival of Lights.” It ran that December. It doesn’t just have to be a holiday. My student Stephanie Siu tagged her New York Times essay to Donald Trump’s presidency, which ran on the day of his inauguration. I submitted an essay to Salon called “My Personal Michigan Recount” about the presidential recount on December 9, 2016, the day it was posted. A topical peg will always run faster than a generic timeless piece that editors call “an evergreen.”

14. Be humble. Despite your conviction that you’re a genius worthy of instant attention, be careful not to come across as presumptuous, self-involved, flippant, demanding, or delusional. I’m not an editor who buys or sells anything. Yet I get many requests to read unsolicited manuscripts and proposals in emphatic language that certain publishing guides mistakenly promote. After the release of my first memoir, Five Men Who Broke My Heart, my bemused editor mailed me the thick copy of a five-hundred-page manuscript from a male stranger in Texas. His letter bragged, “Hey there, I’m enclosing my great memoir, about the five women who broke my heart. I hoped you’d plug it to your editor and agent.” He’d sent the male equivalent of my memoir—which he neglected to mention he’d bought, skimmed through, or even liked. He was sure I’d want to read his project cloning mine to help him get published. He wasted postage and killed trees, since I put his pages in the trash.

While it’s good to sound confident, I wouldn’t start with “Here’s my fantastic work that I know your readers will relate to.” Instead of “I’m sure you’ll love this,” try to pay respect (see #8), or at least tone down your self-importance to “I hope you will consider this.”

15. Perfecting your Hollywood movie pitch may lead to a movie. Along with including what exactly you want, a good cover letter will entice an editor or agent into reading your submission. So describe the story you send in a very short, engaging way. I often quote my former student Katie Naylon’s pithy, successful cover letter to Jerry Portwood, who at the time was the editor of New York Press, a small out-there Manhattan weekly newspaper. She wrote, “Dear Mr. Portwood, I love your recent theatre reviews. Attached please find my essay on how I ran a phone sex operation in college when I was still a virgin. I hope it might work for your ‘8 Million Stories’ column.” It did! Portwood told me he wanted the piece from the description alone. (Naylon later recycled the comic premise for her hilarious 2012 rom-com For a Good Time, Call…)

16. Be artful. I am much better at writing than I am at “pitching,” which is writing about what I am going to be writing. Since I recommend completing an entire essay before you start writing a cover letter, here’s a trick I learned: You can use the best lines of your piece to describe it to the editor. When I submitted my New York Times piece “The Bride Wore White—and Black,” I began my explanation, “I was married twice last summer. I wore two different dresses in two different colors in two different cities …” Those were the first two lines of the essay I’d spent months completing.

17. Be a little mysterious. In that letter, I didn’t share the next part of the sentence: “…where I said ‘I do’ to the same man. The first wedding was for me. The second was for my mother.” I left it out so the editor would be more intrigued. If you map out every single twist and turn in your short recap, there’s no incentive to read on. Some editors prefer to see pitches, not the entire piece. In that case, if I’m describing an original story, I keep it vague. Sharing all details, addresses, and sources will make my exclusive newsflash easier to steal. For my Time Out New York piece on kooky ways New Yorkers like me tried to quit smoking, I mentioned a nameless addiction specialist, hypnotherapist, and Smokenders and Nicotine Anonymous groups without providing names or e-mails. Instead of overstuffing, whet the editor’s appetite.

18. Stick to e-mail and snail mail. Don’t phone publishing staff you don’t know. I wasn’t surprised to learn a student was hung up on when an editor was on deadline and had no time for an unsolicited call. Some editors accept faxes, especially if they are overseas. Try to suss out which way a publication wants to be pitched. Otherwise mail is usually way to go.

19. Have a smart heading. Try to see the world from an editor’s point of view and make his life easier. If you are sending a piece to a Salon editor, in the line for “Subject” do not write “Salon submission” (as five million others will). Also don’t use the editor’s name. Instead I use the topical reminder and my own title. “Michigan Recount essay Dec. 9” worked quickly for Salon. If your piece has no timely reference, say something fun or unusual. “My Best Friend Married My Brother essay submission” worked. But don’t swear, be sexual, or sound like an advertisement—or it could get caught in the spam filter. Editors get bombarded by PR e-mails, so make sure yours makes it clear it’s from an author, not a public relations firm.

20. Don’t tell the co-op board about your two abortions. This is a euphemism I use for: Don’t offer unrelated facts about yourself that could sabotage your chances. Mentioning that you are going through a lousy divorce will only be relevant if you submit a piece about relationships. Sharing that you used to be an alcoholic or drug addict is only necessary if that’s what your essay is about. Even saying that you have a Harvard M.F.A. might be a turnoff if you are trying a literary editor with an unrelated story about an illness you lived through. Editors aren’t shrinks; keep your personal shares to a minimum with people you don’t yet know.

21. Start small. When making initial contact to sell an essay, I ask the editor to read one short piece, nothing more. Not two pieces attached, or five ideas, or three versions of the same essay. Suggesting a weekly column to an editor you’ve never met is like asking a cute stranger, “Will you go out with me every Saturday night for the next three years?” Coming off desperate or demanding is a losing strategy. Like a first date, if all goes well, you’ll get another chance.

Learn more tips on how to write and sell an essay or article in The Byline Bible by Susan Shapiro, and if you’re in NYC, catch her Secrets of Publishing Panel at Barnes and Noble on September 21, 2018.


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6 Ways to Improve Writing Productivity—and Quality

From time to time, I feature guest posts on this blog, and today’s post shares six ways to improve writing productivity from Crystal Stone. My personal favorite tip is to take notes everywhere, which is why I’ve always got pen and paper on hand (just in case).

Crystal Stone‘s poetry has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Driftwood, Occulum, Anomaly, BONED, Eunoia Review,isacoustics, Tuck Magazine, Writers Resist, Drunk Monkeys, Coldnoon, Poets Reading the News, Jet Fuel Review, Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, North Central Review, Badlands Review, Green Blotter, Southword Journal Online andDylan Days. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Iowa State University, gave a TEDx talk on poetry the first week of April and her first collection of poetry, Knock-Off Monarch, is forthcoming from Dawn Valley Press this autumn. You can find her on Twitter @justlikeastone8, on instagram @stone.flowering or at her website


Master Poetic Forms!

Learn how to write sestina, shadorma, haiku, monotetra, golden shovel, and more with The Writer’s Digest Guide to Poetic Forms, by Robert Lee Brewer.

This e-book covers more than 40 poetic forms and shares examples to illustrate how each form works. Discover a new universe of poetic possibilities and apply it to your poetry today!

Click to continue.


6 Ways to Improve Writing Productivity—and Quality

Crystal Stone

There are a lot of assumptions about writers and the writing process. Most seem to assume a level of supernatural influence and pre-destination. A muse whispers in your ear, or doesn’t, and that’s how you know whether you’re on track to be Plath, a mechanic at the local family-owned shop or a doctor with loads of student loans (because at least eventually you’ll earn enough money to pay them off).

I’d like to dispel that myth. Everyone has a poet in them. We’re all just doing things to hinder our voice and production. Here’s what I’ve done to create more (and better!) poems.

1. Clear Your Mind

It’s hard to write poetry when you’re thinking about the gnats in the sink, or the mildewed clothes in the washing machine that you forgot to move along to the dryer the night before. Make your to-do list and write your feelings. I handwrite my to-do list every day alongside writing at This website has been excellent for my mental health and clarity, because not only is it a private, blank slate for me to write on every morning, it also analyzes the writing (all the way down to most frequently used words) so it can help me know what I need as a writer and person for the day. For example, here are today’s stats:

I know that I’m present, focused internally, affectionate, and worried most about money.

2. Put Away Distractions

My phone is always on silent. I’ve deleted all the social media apps except Instagram and Messenger. I’ve also turned off notifications for all my apps. I only want to talk to others when I’m ready. I only want more items on my to do list once I’ve finished the list I already made. This takes away all the pressure and helps me response (usually) in more reasonable amounts of time.

3. Find a Regular Spot for Observations

If I want to write a poem, I don’t just go to the park—I go on a 5-mile skate at a local lake. Because I go there every week multiple times a week, I notice even small shifts in the environment and every shift becomes a metaphor or image that emerges in a poem or essay later. At the park, I know it’s May because of the dandelion and cottonwood snow. There are mulberry stains in the concrete. I know it’s June because the toads are all babies and the storms wash them up on the trail. By the end of July, the toads are all teenagers and the dragonflies are mating in front of me. By August, I can’t step on the sidewalk without bumping into a grasshopper. The lake has a pollen sheen on its surface. I remember the construction, the mosquitoes, the kayakers, the fisherman, the poison ivy. And all of these observations become images in poems I’ll later write. Although for me this regular spot is outdoors, I know others that have a regular spot in a train station (Brandon Stanton) or a bar (Charles Bukowski). Find the place that inspires you.

4. Take Notes—Everywhere

I have a terrible memory so I write down everything. The drunk man I talked to on Main Street who played checkers with me and offered to quit when I was losing. The drunk man at the bar with the fidget spinner tattoo. The bearded lady in the Burger King drive-through. The lingering essence of weed on a potential lover’s olive skin. The thunder that vibrated my house like a violin. Real life is too complex to imagine completely. Even fiction writers are stealing their dialogue from conversations they heard on a bus, train, or from someone’s cell phone conversation in a Target checkout line.

5. Expose Yourself to New Words

I know what you’re thinking—she’s telling us to read more. And I will, but not yet. What I mean here is don’t be afraid to use a thesaurus. Buy a magnetic poetry kit. Play a game like Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, Text Twist, Banana Grams, Mad Libs, or whatever other literary game is your favorite. Most of us have conversations with the same people all the time. We’re hearing and exchanging the same words. To learn new words, to shift the language in our poems, we need to acquire new words or remember that other words (even the ones we don’t use every day) exist and can make our literary work more beautiful.

6. Read, Listen, and Watch More

You need to consume good media to produce good media. When I say “good media,” I don’t just mean dead white men in an English literary cannon. I mean contemporary poets, translations, podcasts and interviews of those same people, current nonfiction essays, respected stand-up comedy shows (my current recommendation is Michele Wolf), newspaper articles from reputable sources (New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic), independent films (Sundance). Follow poets and literary journals on Twitter so you can force yourself to engage even when you’re trying to disengage. Studying these things will give you new words, new experiences, and conversations to engage in that you might not be having with your friends, families, coworkers, or peers.

The understood end of this process is the writing itself, but that looks very different for everyone. What I know is that these things inspire me and allow me to quiet the external voices and find the poems inside me. I know I ultimately have to give myself time and mental space to write—any writer can tell you, a day off work alone isn’t enough to produce brilliant poems.


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