Category Archives: advice

What Every Writer is Talking About

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NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-SquareNaNoWriMo 2015

Today is November 1st–day one of NaNoWriMo. The goal: write an entire novel in 30 days. This is the first year I will be participating in the madness. If you want to join the fun, you can just do it or go to the National Novel Writing Month website and sign up. At this site, you can track your progress, get support, and meet other writers. Either way, come back here and let me know how it’s going. We can encourage each other along the way!

Let the games begin! And may the odds be ever in your favor!


If this is your first attempt at writing a novel, here are a few resources to help you get started:

10 Simple Habits to Help You Write Your First Book (Life Hacks): Simple tasks to put your writing potential in action.

How to Write Your First Book (BuzzFeed): 21 successful writers share their stories about overcoming writer’s block, completing, and selling their first books.

How to Start Writing a Book, 1st Chapter (Writer’s Digest): A sampling of advice, tips, and guidelines to inspire your “first steps from blank page to finished piece.”

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What Are You Reading?

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Though the words may differ, the advice is always the same: If you are a writer, you must also read–widely and often. Among my stacks of lit magazines, poetry collections, young adult novels, encyclopedias of paranormal/supernatural phenomenon, and geography/history resources are quite a few books on writing. I pulled these 4 to show you:

4 writing booksWriting from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice by Nancy Slonim Aronie (top left)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (top right)

Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood (bottom left)

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg (bottom right)

There are others–such as Stephen King’s On Writing and most of Janet Burroway’s guides on narrative craft–that I return to often. But these are the books I’ve heavily marked with scribbled notes in the margins and little fluorescent tabs sticking out the sides.

In Ms. Aronie’s Writing from the Heart, I like the practical exercises she prescribes.

Write about a lie you told. Do not soften the circumstances. Be tough but gentle. Be tough in writing the truth, but be gentle on yourself. You were just being human. Do you think you’re the only person who lied to get what you wanted?

Write about a lie that was told to you. (p. 72)

From Bird by Bird, Ms. Lamott tells us

One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around. (p. xii)

There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way. (p. 13)

In Negotiating with the Dead, Ms. Atwood lets us know that “it is artists who possess the secret identities, the secret powers, and — if posterity goes their way — the last laugh… As for artists who are also writers, they are doubles twice Writing Down the Bonestimes over, for the mere act of writing splits the self into two.” (p. 32)

As you can see from the picture to the right, my copy of Writing Down the Bones is dense with tabs. I read Ms. Goldberg’s book while riding the bus to David Zimmerman’s novel writing class one summer in grad school at Iowa State University. In addition to the assigned and workshop readings, I chose to dive into this book that was recommended to me by a professor while I was still an undergrad at Simpson College. I believe it was one of those situations where it meant more when I finally got around to reading it, more than if I had read it back then. As if the right time would present itself, like a chance encounter with a person who’d been placed in your life precisely when you needed them the most. Such is a good book.

In Writing Down the Bones, Ms. Goldberg discusses the way we have to distance ourselves from the place (be it a physical or an emotional state) we need to write about. She gives the following metaphor:

Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this “composting.” Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil. (p. 14)

While writing, I return to these works often, and I may mention them again here.

How about you? What are you reading? What gives you inspiration? Whose advice do you find yourself returning to, time and again?

Writer’s Paralysis

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Maybe you’ve been here. It’s more than just writer’s block. Maybe it started after the loss of a loved one. Maybe you were diagnosed with cancer. Maybe your child has pulled away from you to the point that you’re not sure they’ll ever come back. Usually, it takes something life-changing. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Maybe all this horrible news is depleting you. Maybe you’ve received too many rejections. Maybe you’ve just given up hope for anyone ever noticing your talent. Or, maybe you’re lost.

It’s okay. Now, reread what I just said. It. Is. Okay.

This is where you are. Here. Today. Now. You are going to stand up. You are going to put one foot out in front of you. (No, we’re not doing the Hokey Pokey.) You are going to begin to move. And you will keep moving forward.

Yes, the world will continue to swirl in all of its ugly and dangerous and beautiful and incomprehensible glory. Babies will be born and people will die. Wars will be fought and diseases will be cured. The hungry will eat and the rich will pay. You are here. Right now. In the middle of it all. Be in the world, but also above it. Take note of what you see and help where you can, but don’t become the pain. Rise out of it. You only have control over yourself. Others may hurt you. Others may love you. They may be selfish. They may save you. There will be days when you’re the luckiest person on earth. There will be days when nothing means anything, anyway. But you will be okay. And, when you are ready, you will write again.

Now, repeat after me: When I am ready, I will write again.

Now, go. Live.

Real Advice for Teen Writers

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I came across this and thought I’d share it for all writers who also happen to be teens. Of course, the advice applies to all of us. Without a doubt, we were all once teens, and many of us were also teen writers.

From the Oct. 9 Sound Skeins at Grub Street.org – Claim Your Space at the Writing Table:

“This is a special teen-focused edition of Sound Skeins. If you’re a teen artist who’s felt a little behind or under-supported in developing your craft, with a little grit and tenacity, you can make your way! Claim your space at the writing table.  Get a little advice and inspiration from writer-teachers Jennifer DeLeon and KL Pereira.”

Listen here: https://grubstreet.org/grub-daily/

Toxic Journals

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You just finished months of writing, editing, and perfecting this miraculous creation. Then comes time for submitting–a daunting task. You find lit mag listings on Poets & WritersDuotrope, or NewPages. You write a beautifully crafted letter and attach it with your poem/story/essay. Then, you wait–checking every five minutes for a reply, logging in to various submission managers, hoping to decode Submittable’s mysterious status of “In Progress.” You hope for the best, but know those rejections are going to come in like dirty, shameful children, one right after the next.

But, alas! Some wonderful journal wants your piece! Someone really read your work, and they actually enjoyed it! Now they even want to PUBLISH it!

Hold on, honey! Before you accept, read this article from The Review Review. It’ll give you warning signs to steer you from a bad publication.

Toxic Journals: What to Watch Out For When You Submit Your Writing (Robert Boucheron)

~ Jennifer

**Feel free to comment on your experiences with ‘toxic journals’ in the comments. We’ll all benefit from each others misery.**