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Exercise Wednesday: Tired

April 9, 2014

So this week has been kind of a bear. Work has bubbled over to make a mess all over the virtual stove top of life. It’s been kind of a grind, but there’s been plenty of it. And then there’s the hours outside of work. It’s been the kind of stretch where bed time comes and you haven’t had any fun at all, and you really wish you could fit in a little down time.

Then morning comes and your first words imply that someone’s mom wasn’t a very nice person.

It’s been the kind of stretch where your body may get rest, but your soul feels like it’s in a continual boxing match with a muscular octopus.

Well, guess what? If you feel it when things get tough, there’s a good chance your character feels it, too. So today’s exercise invites you to take advantage of your exhaustion.

What’s that, you say? Life isn’t that hard right now.

Well thanks for sharing that. And bookmark this page and come back when you aren’t so lucky.

For the rest of us, the answer is simple. Your protagonist wakes up and realizes that the same crap will happen today as happened yesterday and will happen tomorrow. And then gets out of bed anyway.

Time limit: 30 minutes. Unless you’re really tired.

How to Manage Criticism

April 7, 2014

“It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.” –Virginia Woolf

To grow as writers, we invite responses to our work. We share our writing with other writers and seek their advice; we take classes and are subject to teachers’ critiques; and we send our precious creations out into the world hoping they’ll be accepted for publication and risking the most potent form of criticism of all—rejection.

Since avoiding criticism is not an option, let’s learn how to deal with it. Don’t allow criticism to harm you, your writing, or your writing goals.

What writer hasn’t been the victim of a stinging critique?

Sure it hurts, but criticism’s power to poison isn’t a given. The poison isn’t inherent in what is said, who delivers it, where or when it happens, or how nasty it is. The power of criticism (and rejection) to damage us lies in how we take it in, what we allow it to mean to us, and the way we allow it to affect our work or eat away at our insides.

When we remain deaf and blind to criticism, we lose out on receiving important information to help us grow as writers. Responding to criticism with anger strains relationships with loved ones, fellow writers, and publishing professionals. Allowing criticism to simmer inside, tormenting ourselves by replaying hurtful words in our minds, imagining responses, or fantasizing about revenge sure doesn’t help either.

Worst of all is when we allow ourselves to feel diminished or broken by criticism. Someone criticizes our writing, and we stop writing. Or we lower our sights, and stop working on the novel, deny how important our creative work is to our well being, and chalk it off as some little hobby we have that isn’t all that important. We let someone else’s criticism dictate how we’ll live our lives and dream our dreams. How sad.

Criticism can’t hurt you if you truly embrace the notion that the power of criticism to be constructive, destructive, or neutral resides solely inside of you.


Decide Your Writing Matters. Your deep conviction that your writing matters—really, really matters—will be your suit of armor and  protect you from all obstacles, including the sting of criticism. The famous and successful are not immune to criticism and performance anxiety. They just press forward in spite of it.

Be Ready & Willing. A work in early draft may be too frail and tender for criticism (and so may you). When your work is first forming it is all too easy to get discouraged by other people’s comments. Sometimes writers show their work early because they’re craving encouragement and praise. Be honest with yourself and others about what you’re looking for when you ask people to respond to your work. Don’t offer up your work for evaluation unless you’re ready to hear criticism.

Be Calm, Cool & Collected. For most of us, receiving criticism stirs up strong emotions. Unchecked, your emotions may rise to anger or defensiveness that will negatively affect your ability to receive and process information. Become aware of the physical signs that indicate you’re becoming anxious, and practice relaxation responses such as deep breathing to stay in control in the face of criticism.

Manage Your Self-Talk. Disappointed by criticism, your inner critic may stop you in your tracks because what you’re producing doesn’t match your ideal. This kind of anxiety can be helpful, because it encourages you to recognize work beneath your standard and revise it. In fact, being able to rigorously critique your own work is an essential part of the writing process. The inner critic is only dysfunctional when it can’t make the shift from fault-finding or it makes you feel too bad to continue working. Make it your practice to dispute self-sabotaging thoughts by substituting new, useful thoughts.

Evaluate, Don’t React. Separate the criticism from the person who delivered it, from their tone of voice, and every other emotional context or perception. Start with the assumption there is a nugget of truth in every criticism. Look for that nugget and discard the rest. Often, our beta readers will be right about where the problems in our work lie, but wrong about how to solve them. Listen, but make your own decisions. The pen remains in your hand. And yes, sometimes criticisms are just plain unfair, but probably not as often as we’d like to think. Look for the nugget.

Mary Ann de StefanoMary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer, the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites and advises on e-marketing. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

Prompting Poetry: Starting Poems

April 4, 2014
Where do we begin?  We were born in the midst of a world going about its business, things half started and half done, things in the middle of happening.  Actually, nothing begins any more.  So you may find it fitting to open a poem in the middle of its own conversation.
Here are examples of first words for a poem that don’t reveal a beginning:
    Not only that…
    Then again…
    After [the barn door blew off in a storm]…
    Twenty minutes (days) into the…
    But the best  (worst)…
There are countless other ways, of course, and you will find that starting in the middle, so to speak, changes the tone of a poem.  Give it a try.
Peggy Miller

About Peggy: Peggy Miller is a poet. She has an MFA in creative writing from American University. She serves as one of the editors of the Comstock Review, a longstanding poetry journal. Peggy leads poetry workshops. Her books include What the Blood Knows and Stone Being. A new book, The Science of Silence, is forthcoming through FootHills Publishing. Peggy was a research assistant working in biochemistry for the USDA. Her poetry is often inspired by the sciences, the fascination evoked thereof,the transcendent spirit in everyday lives.

Take The First Step…

March 31, 2014

–by Florida Writers Association

FWA is pleased to announce that we have two Collections in the works—one for adults and (new this year) one for Youth.

Florida Writers Association Collection (Adult)

Mary Burton meets one of her characters at the annual FWA Conference in 2013.

Mary Burton meets one of her characters at the annual FWA Conference in 2013.

The Florida Writers Association (FWA) is currently taking submissions for The First Step: Florida Writers Association Collection, Volume 6. This annual assemblage of 60 short pieces written by FWA members and submitted electronically is published by FWA and marketed across the nation.

Each year presents a new theme and new Person of Renown, who this year is none other than New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton. The First Step is about any first step in any venture—learning to walk, entering college, starting a job, or discovering your loved one is an alcoholic. Submissions may be fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, poetry—and virtually any genre. Full guidelines are posted on the FWA website.

Florida Writers Association Youth Writers Collection

Important Firsts is the theme for the 2014 Florida Writers Association Youth Writers Collection Contest #1 of short works written by FWA youth members between ages 10 and 17. The contest is sponsored by the Board of Directors of the Florida Writers Association and Peppertree Press.

This year’s theme, Important Firsts, could be about your first day at school, your first day in a new home, your first best friend, your first day at summer camp, or any “first” you can think of. How you approach the theme is up to you—nonfiction, fiction, and poetry are all welcome. The entries are submitted electronically, and the winning entries are published by FWA and marketed across the nation.

For additional information, please visit the Florida Writers Association Youth Writers website.


March 28, 2014



WHEN: MARCH 29, 2014, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.



As I mentioned in a previous post about the South Florida mini conference, the all- day conference will be divided into three tracks. Today, I will be discussing Track 3,


Okay, I hate to play favorites but this track is going to be phenomenal. Get a load of Samantha Shad, an actual, real life Hollywood screenwriter, will begin the morning

with a discussion on creating drama and the Heroes Journey.

After Samantha’s talk, Marjetta Geerling, popular YA author and local writing professor, will be holding two classes. The one before lunch is on sharpening humor

in dialogue and the one after lunch will focus on solving the mystery of voice.

Then, to top off an already perfect track, Glenn Gardiner will discuss structuring your story.

Now, I know you do not want to miss this! I surely don’t.

See you on March 29th!



Joanne Lewis is a devoted FWA member and the author of murder mysteries and

historical novels. She is also a writing and publishing coach. Visit her website at and email her at


What’s In Your Attic?

March 28, 2014

By Anne Hawkinson


Anne Hawkinson - PhotoDo you have an attic? What’s in it?


The characters in my middle-grade mystery are lucky – they’re at a Gothic mansion in

northern Minnesota and the woman who owns the place is going to bring them up to the attic.

No, she’s not going to lock them up there and leave. Isabel’s not that kind of person.


The three characters in my story are doing research for homework assignments they have

to complete because they’ve been excused from school and Isabel has offered to take them up

and let them have a look around.


Now I have to figure out what’s up there and how important it is. Is it just part of “stuff

in an attic” or is it a significant bit that is going to play a part later on in the story? I have to

decide if the old floor lamp and steamer trunk are props or if they’re story clues. If they’re clues,

they have to appear or have some role to play before the story ends. I have to choose carefully.


That shoe box of old photos looks interesting. I think I can do something with that.

Christmas decorations? Probably not. My story takes place in October – too early for holiday


Not everyone has an attic anymore. And the more “modern” ones I’ve seen are not as

interesting as the ones I was in when I was little. The one at my house was dimly-lit, cramped,

and most times you had to crawl on your hands and knees to find what you were looking for.

Access to ours was through a small, easy-to-miss wooden door in my brother’s bedroom. I don’t

remember a light in there, so we were always dragging around a flashlight to help us find our

way. It had an interesting smell. Dusty, with close air that didn’t get refreshed more than two or

three times a year. It was scary and exciting at the same time.


The attic in my story is one you can stand up in, with windows and electric lights. After

all, it’s in a mansion. No wimpy attics here. There’s a wooden armoire full of clothes, which

Laura is going to love. One wall holds a bookcase full of old books – Maggie will be checking

that out because she loves to read. Raza will wander around, filming it all until he stumbles upon

some old cameras.


The attic where I grew up exists only in my memory, but there’s plenty of old, dusty stuff

to choose from. And you can bet that some of the stuff from that attic in Duluth is going to show

up at Moz Hollow!

Exercise Wednesday: Coveting thy neighbor’s spouse

March 26, 2014

It’s late March and the temperatures are starting to rise from the brutal tundra-like Florida winter we’ve just experienced. (Yes, that would be sarcasm.)

So today, we’re going to heat things up a little bit. Today, we’re going Commandment breaking, picking an action that simultaneously breaks both the sixth and tenth commandments. That’s to say, today, your character is going to covet and perhaps consummate an inappropriate relationship with a neighbor’s (or co-worker’s or friend’s or relative’s) spouse.

(If you’re grossed out, I’m talking in-laws here.)

(Or maybe I’m not. You decide.)

It’s not the act here that’s the key, though there’s certainly a lot of chance for character exploration in the act. But it’s what’s around the act. Why did these two characters decide take an action that would be calamitous if it were discovered? Are they hideous people? Are they hurt? Is there an outside action that’s pushed them together in a way that makes the attraction unbearable?

Do they go through with the act? Or do they stop at the last minute?

If they go through with the act, do they think about the effects on their marriages? Their kids (if there are any)? Are they mournful about it? Are they blase? Are they spiteful?

And where are they? In a hotel? In the back of a car? Or are they defiling one or the other’s marital bed?

No matter what, this prompt has the potential to expose new things about your character.

In, you know, multiple ways.



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