Unlock the Muse – September 24, 2019

The last few weeks I’ve been looking at the continuing education of a writer. I’ve looked specifically at the merits of pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Maybe the MFA option is right for you, maybe it’s not. I haven’t yet completely decided if it’s right for me. But I have decided that further education is always the right choice, no matter what shape it takes.

One thing I have decided I can do is to take classes through my local community college. I have a degree in history, but sometimes I’d like to know more about things like astronomy, geology or maybe art. In fact, I’ll be signing up for a drawing class in the spring.

Another resource for ongoing learning that cannot be ignored is the local library. I love my local library, and I’ve mentioned before that I like to start my research on a new topic in the children’s section. Not all libraries are created equal, but most will still have useful resources. At my library, for example, they have the usual array of books – fiction, biographies, audio-books, etc – but they also have music CDs, ukuleles and even artwork available for checkout. They have a decent link with other community libraries as well, so that if a book I want isn’t available where I live, they can bring it in from a connected library.

This week, I dare you to find a class you’re interested in and sign up. If you’re really not interested in taking a college course, find a book on a subject you enjoy.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Select a common child’s game, such as hide and seek. Write a passage that describes people participating in the game, but don’t actually name the game until the end of the exercise.

This is a great exercise in “show, don’t tell.” Describe the action, how the characters feel and so on, but don’t use telling words.

It’s the last week of September already. And that means it’s play week! Here’s a roll of the Rory’s Story Cubes to inspire more fun in your writing.


Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – September 17, 2019

As I’ve mentioned before, a writer’s education should be ongoing and never-ending. There is always something more to learn. This learning might take any number of forms. One such form is the MFA in Creative Writing. Last week I looked at some of the top reasons why someone might want to pursue such a degree.

But the MFA isn’t the right choice for everyone. Here are some reasons why it might not be:

  • Cost: The typical MFA degree is a 2-3 year program, and the cost starts around $30,000. Even a low-residence program is likely to cost more than $10,000.
  • No guarantee of publication: Even with all the work to improve craft and the potential connections made during a degree program, the competition for publication is still intense.
  • Focus on literary vs. genre fiction: Despite the proliferation of MFA programs, the focus of nearly all of them remains on literary fiction. If you want to pursue genre or commercial fiction, the MFA might not be the best place.

If you’re looking for more on the subject, here are a few websites I found:

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Catcher in the Rye, Peyton Place, Blubber – sound familiar? They should, because at some point in their history, all these books were banned. Write about your favorite banned book, and explain why it never should have been censored.

Think about why a book gets banned in the first place. All sorts of books have ended up on banned book lists, including the American classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the hugely popular Harry Potter series. Right or wrong, they get banned for various reasons. But if you think about it, theses books have touched a nerve, exposed something raw and real, and made someone uncomfortable. How does this relate to your own writing? Just this, don’t worry about what others might think of what you have to say. Write the story you need to write. Let it be real and raw. Because that’s where it will reach out and potentially change someone’s life.


1. The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.
2. An enlightening experience.

The word educate comes from the early 15c Latin, educare meaning “to bring up, rear, educate.” It’s also related to educere which means “to bring out, to lead forth,” from ex- “out” + ducere “to lead.”
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – September 10, 2019

As summer officially gives way to fall, our attention moves from recreation to education. Kids are back in school. Universities are back in session. One season gives way to the next. The sun retreats behind the rain clouds. Baseball yields the field to football.

For the writer, what does it mean to turn our minds to education? For some, it might mean pursing an MFA in creative writing. This is a huge, ongoing debate – to MFA or not to MFA? This week, I’d like to look at some of the reasons why you might want to pursue a higher degree in writing. Here are a few of the top reasons I found in my own research this week:

  • Learn about and improve your craft
  • Make connections with other writers – both at your level as well as professionals
  • Dedicated focus on your writing
  • Increased exposure to other writing styles
  • Gain valuable skills in critiquing the work of others

If you want to read more about the pros and cons of and MFA degree, here are a few of the articles I found interesting:

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Write a letter or journal entry as the start of a novel. Some of the best stories in the world (Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, Dangerous Liaisons) are related to their audiences through letters and journal entries.

Write this exercise as your protagonist. Go back again and do it as your antagonist. To whom does your villain write a letter? What weaknesses are revealed as your hero pours out his heart in his journal?

I’ll leave you this week with this thought from Nelson Mandela on the value of education:

Education Quote 1

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – September 3, 2019

Where I live, children are returning to school – my own, included. Hallelujah! But what does that mean for the writer? Writers who are also parents are no doubt rejoicing along with me, even if (also like me) they work full-time, and school time makes little difference to their schedule. Returning the kids to the routine of learning is helpful anyway, as it requires structure and discipline for the parent as well. For the non-parenting writer, maybe there is little difference as school resumes. Other than slowing down through the school zones, stopping for buses and giddily skipping through the aisles of fun art and office – oh, I mean school – supplies.

One thing the return to school routine always makes me think about is my own, ongoing education. So that is what I will focus on for the month of September.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Copy one of your favorite short stories word-for-word by hand. Before you groan, realize you’ll learn effective mechanics, imagery, conflict and action.

A writer’s training is ongoing. We are, in effect, apprenticed to those who have come before us. This exercise is intended to help you recognize the elements of a successful story. Repeat it as often as you like. But don’t stop with just your favorites. Copy a classic. Copy one you hate. You can learn something from all of these stories.

A writer – or any artist, for that matter – should be forever curious, ever learning new things. A writer’s education, whether formal or informal, is important and shouldn’t ever really end. I’m not here to insist that anyone professing to be a writer should pursue a degree in creative writing. Nor am I going to say it isn’t necessary. Both paths are legitimate.

What I am trying to say is that there is always something more to learn – about the craft of writing as well as the subject matter. For myself, each new project brings with it a need to know something new. I have considered the idea of pursuing an MFA in creative writing, and I just might sign up for an art class at the local community college. In the interest of learning, of course.

Happy writing!