Tag Archive for writing practice


When I signed up to write this blog post several months ago, it was at the Red Wheelbarrow Writer’s happy hour and—as I’d been indulging in happiness for well over an hour—I was, um… easily manipulated. And writing a blog post for a bunch of writers at some random future date seemed like a great idea. No problem.

As the deadline neared, however, the idea shriveled: what could I possibly contribute that could be of value to such an amazing group of writers, most of whom have been at this far longer than myself? I tried denying that I would have to do it: the project would be abandoned, no one would notice if I let it slip, the Internet might break, etc. Of course, Diane called me right on cue. Sigh.

But then it occurred to me that everyone likes gratitude, especially when it’s genuine and directed at them, and that would be my honest experience of the Red Wheelbarrow Writers – a great giant heaping serving of gratitude. I am perhaps on mile twenty of my novel-writing marathon, and I have high hopes of reaching the finish line entirely because of this great community. So here’s my thanks to you all:

Thanks for the start.

On October 31, 2011, Cami Ostman texted and challenged me to a Nanowrimo duel—odd, as we didn’t know each other well at the time, and I had never expressed any desire to write a novel. She must have had an intuition that I had a story lurking, or maybe that I am madly competitive, because I picked up the glove. Mostly from a desire to beat her daily word count, I began writing the first story that came into my head, and was surprised by the end of the first week to find a whole crowd of characters had woken up in my mind and were clamoring for freedom. I haven’t had much peace since.

Thanks for the community

As a professional creative, I’ve participated in any number of conferences and activities with other folks similarly inclined, and have always rolled my eyes at what can quickly devolve into—for lack of better words—a big ol’ pecker contest: who has been published, who is connected to which publisher or producer, who won the award, who is sleeping with the drummer. Ick. I prefer solitude. When I reluctantly joined in with my first RWW meeting, what I found in you all was instead a marvelous group of people, all in different parts of their writing journeys, but all wonderfully supportive of one another’s successes and challenges. Each time one of you has garnered an award or new contract, or even just finished the first draft of a difficult project, others in the group are genuinely thrilled as if it were their own success. What a delight to be welcomed into such a group.

Thanks for the stretch.

Just like a really good yoga stretch is often done with a little help from the teacher, and usually hurts, (but not too much) you all have helped me stretch, even when it might not have been comfortable. You’ve been brave enough to tell me I used the same phrase four times in one page, that my characters needed more fleshing out or that (thanks Laura) a whole four pages are a waste of narrative space. Critiquing another’s work honestly is a brave and generous act, and I so appreciate those of you who have been willing to make it hurt a little!

Thanks for the laughs

The group Nanowrimo novels. Enough said.

Thanks for the stories

When I head to Uisce on a Saturday, I no longer see a group of strangers, but feel as if I am entering a big top tent teeming with wild and colorful stories. Because of you all, I have experienced the Alaskan wilderness, the thrill of blue water sailing, the joy of running, and the delicate insights uncovered in a garden. I have bird-watched on remote islands, been a civil war soldier, an African diplomat, a displaced gringa, and a woman obsessed with Elvis. I will never again cook a king salmon without a profound understanding of its arrival on my plate. Thanks for becoming my friends.


AGabrielPhotobigAuthor Bio:

Andrea Gabriel has written and/or illustrated a number of picture books for children, and is currently lurching toward the finish of her first novel. She makes a living creating pictures and websites.


Mary Wesley published her first novel at the age of 71, and then a dozen more before she died in 2002 aged 90. Her brilliant coming-of-age World War Two story, The Camomile Lawn, has been adapted for British television. I hope we see it here soon.

Wesley is an inspiration, but I would not have been able to follow – if haltingly – in her footsteps were it not for the revolution in publishing that has taken place in recent years. Frankly, I don’t have a decade to spend on pitches at writing conferences and query letters to agents, and I have no wish to paper my walls with rejection slips. I published my first Sarah McKinney mystery independently in 2013 when I was 64, and the second came out in 2015. These novels now bob along on an ocean of similarly self-published works, garnering a few appreciative reviews but not enough sales to matter to the taxman.

I don’t care. At last I have realized my childhood ambition: to be a Writer!

Writing is one of the few fields in our youth-centered culture (department store Santa might be another) where age is actually an advantage. I no longer have the distractions of school, raising children or working a sixty-hour week. I have time and my pension. I also have a hideaway above the garage that I call my writing studio. More importantly, I have a lifetime of experience to draw on, as well as a lifetime of reading.

Reading books is where writers go to school. Nothing equips a writer better than deep and repeated immersion in literature. After you have read a few thousand books (I calculate I have consumed about five thousand so far) you know when a character is convincingly drawn, or the narrative arc is complete. That is not to say I always get it right in my own work, but when a member of my critique group points out a flaw, I recognize it; it just didn’t feel right when I wrote it.

So what do I like to read? Mysteries, of course, and I find it encouraging that two of my favorite authors, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, continued to produce first-rate stuff well into their eighties. It’s also comforting that characters I fell in love with years ago – Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus and John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick come to mind – mature, get promoted and even retire from the force without losing their appeal. In contrast, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone has survived twenty-four adventures without aging out of her thirties.

Age does have its problems. Have you ever picked up a book with relish only to find (maybe several chapters in) that you’ve already read it? Nancy Pearl, everyone’s favorite librarian, says you never read the same book twice. The second time around, the reader brings an increment of experience and understanding which – if the book was worth reading in the first place – enriches the story. I certainly find this true with classics like Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. When I first read this novel, I was living in Atlanta and new to the States. I admired the construction of parallel narratives, but I didn’t really get it. Now, living in the West and thirty years older, I weep for the narrator confined to his wheelchair, regrets piling up around him. After forty-five years of marriage, I understand the resonance of the title.

My reading feeds my writing, and my writing informs my reading. I have become a more critical reader over the years, less willing to plow on with a book I’m having a hard time with, even if I spent good money for it. Another Nancy Pearl ‘pearl’: you owe it to the writer to read the first fifty pages; subtract a page for every year you are older than fifty! I’m looking forward to the day I can toss a tome aside (probably the large print edition) after a mere ten pages.

I’ll finish with another book recommendation from an older writer. Our Souls At Night was published in 2015 after the author Kent Haruf’s death. It is set, like his earlier novels on the plains of eastern Colorado, and in spare, eloquent prose tells the story of a couple in advanced age who come together to talk about their lives and assuage their loneliness. A young person could not have written this book; a young reader might find it depressing. I found it full of tenderness and hope.

marian_exallAfter a career as an employment lawyer, MARIAN EXALL now writes what she loves to read: mysteries! Like her heroine Sarah McKinney, Marian was born and raised in England. She lived in Atlanta for thirty years before moving to Bellingham where she hikes, gardens and does grandparent duty.


Twitter: @mysterymarian


Teller of Tales, Lover of Life

Ask me what I am, and I’ll tell you I am a storyteller. That hasn’t changed over the years.

When I was just a child, my mother had to wait patiently for an answer to what she believed a simple question.

“Why did the principal of the kindergarten call saying you were very persuasive?”

A big word for a four year old, but I simply told her that, “When my teacher asked me to invite the other class to join us for a snack, I mimicked their birds voices, showed her the pink flower petals, and the picnic table. By the time I had finished, the entire school was outside. I guess the teachers thought it was a good idea too.”

At fifteen, when my older sister and I went out for a drive in Miami Beach, our new home, we arrived home past midnight. My sister sent me in with my version of the night. My mom listened with experienced skills, trusting my view. I explained that arriving late wasn’t accurate. We had made good time considering how my sister had driven up the exit ramp on the freeway in the wrong direction, and I had to slip below the seat to push on the pedal as my sister went into reverse, backing off the ramp. You see she was so upset that her leg was shaking and couldn’t find the pedal. And then when we turned right off Collins Avenue—the parking lot was the beach and the tires to our car got stuck. “Good thing Harriet called the tow truck, and had me explain to him that we had no money to pay.” My story kept us from being punished that night and has reminded me that the true story is in the “spin.”

For a time I made my living crunching numbers, a bookkeeper for forty companies. I read between the lines of numbers to discover fraud, rainy day sales, sloppy methods of ordering, waste of materials, and discontent. Patterns spoke to me with stories behind figures, truth that exposed characters, settings, and plots. Honest owners took my advice as I was their editor, their conscience. Dishonest owners fired me.

Each morning begins the same. I wake early and make my latte, prepare to work. I write quick notes to my husband who remains asleep. First thoughts jotted down before the critic’s analysis. A flittering feeling attached to words, future lines in a poem, chapter, or discussion. Non-sense, with heart and brain synced with the aromas of a new day.

My mother passed away last year. To her I was the “little bird.” How fitting that a hummingbird feeder hangs in front of my kitchen sink. Each rapid flutter of their wings reminds of stories not yet experienced or told. Love never ends and neither do stories. The more I see, the more people I meet, the more places I go, I still begin the same. I spin facts to gain perspective, to share stories.

Join me here: If you’d like to see my morning notes please visit my website and subscribe to Abbe’s Notes.


Author Bio:  Abbe Rolnick grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. Her first major cultural jolt occurred at age 15 when her family moved to Miami Beach, Florida. In order to find perspective, she climbed the only non-palm tree at her condo-complex and wrote what she observed. Here history came alive with her exposure to the Cuban culture. This introduction to the Latino Culture proved fortuitous. At Boston University she met her first husband, a native of Puerto Rico. Her first novel, RIVER OF ANGELS, stems from her experiences during her stay in Puerto Rico.

Stateside, she capitalized on the knowledge she gained as an independent bookstore owner and worked for one of the finest bookstores, Village Books, in Bellingham, WA. More recently she opened a healthy foods cafe.

COLOR OF LIES, her second novel, brings the reader to the Pacific Northwest where she presently resides. Here she blends stories from island life with characters in Skagit Valley.

Her short stories and travel pieces have appeared in magazines. Swinging Doors won honorary mention by Writer’s Digest. Her next novel, FOUNDING STONES, will be the third in the series, continuing the stories of characters from the two previous novels, introducing new themes that connect Skagit Valley to the larger world.  

Her recent experiences with her husband’s cancer inspired, COCOON OF CANCER: AN INVITATION TO LOVE DEEPLY. Presently she resides with her husband on twenty acres in Skagit Valley, Washington.

Hermits, Groupies, and Ruth Ozeki

Like Alice Robb In last week’s blog, “In Praise of Writer Buddies,” I own the label of hermit scribbler,” a solitary figure at one with my keyboard even when I’m at the Village Books Writing Table, at my favorite library haunts in Ferndale and Burlington, or Café Adagio and the Swan Café at the Co-op.

I’ve been thinking about another label. I posted pictures and text about four Ruth Ozeki events I attended during Whatcom Reads. Dee Robinson responded with the following post: “Methinks Linda is a Ruth groupie.”

The Groupie designation originated in the sixties when teenage girls hung around and/or traipsed after rock groups, a phenomenon which became so prominent that the New York Post complained “Groupies—girls who chase boys in rock groups—are now getting so way out in their adulation that the whole mess warrants a federal investigation.” I entered the sixties at age seventeen, but neither I nor anyone I knew in my central California hometown of Visalia displayed excessive rock group admiration.

I like to think that my interest in Ruth Ozeki and other authors from whom I can learn, is admiration of a different sort. I was pleased at the FB reply by my library/FB friend Gayle Anderson Helgoe: “Me thinks that Linda is a groupie of all things literary…books, authors, writing, libraries and (of course) bookstores.” I smiled at Gayle’s comment, for I love being perceived as a supporter, enthusiast, and fan of “all things literary.”

Even so, I admit to a smidgen of groupie-ness. I showed up, always early, to all of the six publicized Whatcom READS! March 3-5 events, except for the showing of “Halving the Bones” at the Pickford which occurred while I was in class—and I’ll watch it on DVD. I took a dozen pictures, fourteen pages of notes, purchased four books, and had them all signed.

Writer and FB friend Kari Neumeyer posted, “Will you write a Red Wheelbarrow Blog about all the things you learned? I wasn’t able to attend any of the events, but I …listened to the audio book…and am interested in what she had to say.” When Red Wheelbarrow decided to do a series of blogs, I seized the opportunity to share some things that struck me.

Despite my background in journalism, I prefer to avoid the Who/What/When/Where /Why-And-Sometimes-How approach to reporting. Instead, I will do “BulletSpeak” quotes, notes, and paraphrases of Ozeki’s insights, serious and funny, on the writing process.

  • Researching is fun. It can keep you from writing.
  • I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than move commas around. (Also a distraction from writing)
  • Fixing sentences is like hanging wallpaper.
  • Unlike some writers who work from an outline, I don’t. I allow a book to grow in fractals, in branching patterns.
  • Writing a book is a long process. I abandoned it 4-5 times. It emerged in fits and starts and proceeded in a jerky way. Every new path ended up improving the story.
  • Technology is always failing. Pencils don’t.
  • You don’t need an MFA. Just go to the public library and check out books to learn what you need to do.
  • My mind is a great garbage patch of detritus spinning around.
  • I don’t always know where characters come from; they can emerge from anywhere. Nao (the main character in A Tale for the Time Being) came to me in a persistent voice. She wouldn’t leave me alone. “A girl’s voice washed up on the shores of my imagination.”
  • “When you perform an audiobook, the producers put a pillow over your stomach to muffle growls.” (Note: I also listened to the audiobook—Ozeki’s rendering is outstanding.)
  • Ambition is about the future. Figure out a way to live between the dualities of patience and impatience. Buddha said to find the middle way; use generative tension.
  • Serve your fellow man. Serve others first. If there were a splinter in your left hand, would the right hand ignore it?
  • Spiritual practice is about now. I try to be comfortable with the unknowing. I try hard when I meditate not to write the novel.

Her last directive is one we hear often:

  • “Writers: Just sit down and write.”

My next undertaking will be to launch a blog. I will begin with prompts based on Ruth Ozeki’s preface to the Whatcom Writes! Anthology called Choices. She suggested twenty, some crazy like studying one’s face in the mirror for three hours (!) and some fun like this one: “Go to a library… Roll dice and write down the numbers until they resemble a Dewey Decimal call number. Find the book with the closest corresponding number and read it as though it were the voice of God.” Watch for it at lindaqlambert.com (currently under construction) on April 1st.


linda lambert

BIO: Linda Q. Lambert is a January 2016 graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine, the mother of four sons and three daughters, an active member in Red Wheelbarrow Writers, and a retired library director.

In Praise of Writer Buddies

Posted on riverchildbooks.com   November 9, 2014 by Alice Robb

I’m a hermit scribbler, alone in my cluttered office, pecking out my sentences, paragraphs, blogs, letters, stories, novels, memories. Scrawling, sometimes almost illegibly, in my diaries, making outlines, lists, charts. I maintain this essential myth because I need solitude to engage in those satisfying activities. To write requires nothing but the tools (computers and software, pens and paper), an alert mind, my comfy chair, and my dog and mother to force the occasional breaks that keep my body from bonding permanently to the furniture.

Yet, as far back as the Seventies, while I wrote my still-born novel, I craved the company of other writers. I was so nervous and excited the first time I attended a writer’s group. I was out of my league. The focus in that group was on finding publishers; what to write that would sell was their big topic. Mid-novel, I needed to write, not to learn marketing. Not the group for me.

Later, at college, I took workshop style writing classes, and learned the etiquette of issuing and receiving polite critical feedback. Other small writing groups, often with a poetry focus, emphasized appreciation, favoring oohs and ahs over questions and critiques. Working at a community center, I facilitated writing groups. Again, there was lots of praise, often for memoir topics that sometimes put me to sleep. By this time, I’d finished my comedian novel and was starting my third novel. I recognized my need for a writing community, but hadn’t found the right one yet.

A few years ago, I began venturing out of my hermit shell. I talked to friends and acquaintances whom I knew to be writers. Over coffee, we discussed our word-loving lives in general, at great length. What a relief to know other people were experiencing the same joys and frustrations. Needing writing pals, I tried a little critique group that wasn’t the right fit for about a year; when it folded, I was relieved. Taking writing classes at the community college, I discovered a large active local group of writers and publishers. I began attending their monthly dinners. Anti-social as I am, I wrestled myself into going, month after month. You need this, I told my hermit self. I talked to strangers, some annoying but most pleasant and helpful. I made friends.

Then, magic! A tiny new group began to meet; gradually, we’ve coalesced into a trusting enthusiastic foursome of skilled writers. We meet every two weeks. Praising, questioning, and suggesting changes, we work through one another’s novels in progress. We are more than readers; we’re happily involved in one another’s stories.

More magic! I’m doing caregiving work now for an elderly writer friend; we bonded long ago over our craft. And, then! a dear long-lost friend moved back to town; turns out, we’ve both been writing all these years. We have a pair of well-matched writing projects, both in need of some meta-editing. Totally thrilling! I have writer friends, a critique group, and writer partners! I’m in writer-buddy heaven!

Author Bio:

alice robb

Alice Turtle Robb has been writing since early childhood, and has two novels almost ready for publication. One of her novels is about a woman comedian. The other is about a lady with Alzheimer’s who gets lost in Seattle for three days.  She has a BA entitled The Art of Communication; Writing, Talking, and Laughing from Washington University, Fairhaven College. She has also worked for twenty years as a professional caregiver.