Unlock the Muse – May 23, 2018

This weekend, in the United States, we will celebrate Memorial Day – a day set aside to honor those who died in service to their country. Born out of the Civil War, it was originally called Decoration Day and was “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country.” (General John Logan, 1868)

Here is this week’s random writing prompt:

What event would you never write about, and why?

I’m not sure how to answer this. If it is something I would never write about, how can I possibly answer? Doesn’t that mean I will have to write about it?

What is it you will not write about? War? Joining the circus? Your high school reunion? The death of a loved one?

In Brian Kiteley’s 3 A.M. Epiphany, this exercise appears in the chapter on Women and Men, which deals with “ways of seeing.”

Write a short scene in which a woman becomes invisible briefly, for no explained reason. I leave it up to you what she will observe in her state of lucidity and transparency: her boyfriend’s or husband’s or male friend’s life, a short scene of men without women, or a scene of another woman and her man (innocent or not). No one can see or hear her. She is not a ghost, and at the end of your narrative, return her to her fully fleshed out self, again with no explanations. In other words, don’t worry too much about the problem of imperceptibility. Just jump into the story and follow its political, rather than science fiction, consequences. 600 words.

I will leave you this week with a quote from one of my favorite authors. And, since I’ve been reading vampire stories, I thought it should have something to do with those fascinating creatures of the night.

Fantasy is my favorite genre for reading and writing. We have more options than anyone else, and the best props and special effects. That means if you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead.
Patrick Rothfuss

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:



Unlock the Muse – May 16, 2018

Another month half gone already. This year is flying by too fast. My first soccer season is nearly over. The kids will be out of school soon begging to put up the pool. And this weekly writing prompt adventure is a year old!

Speaking of time passing, here is this week’s writing prompt:

Aging happens. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror, and write a poem praising the changes that the maturing process has brought to your face.

My mother has beautiful silvering hair, and doesn’t look remotely like the 68 she is. I can only hope time will be as kind to me.

In the second section of The 3 A.M. Epiphany, Brian Kiteley focuses on Images, on the idea of showing a story, not telling it. He says: “Image is the primary engine of most fiction.” The first exercise in this section is titled “No Ideas, But In Things.”

Write a very brief story told only in images—concrete, simple, visually efficient movements and details. This exercise does not ask you to eliminate people from your prose, just to watch what they do and what objects they crave and caress rather than what they say or think about these objects and actions. 300 words.

The last several weeks I have been taking my oldest son to soccer practice at least once a week, often twice. Thus, we are spending a lot of one on one time together, trapped in a car. I am a captive audience to his million and one questions. Anyone else have an exceptionally curious eight year old?

One of the questions that has popped up recently is in regards to street names. What is a boulevard? Why is that called Foster Avenue? Why? Why? Why? I decided why, indeed? What makes a road a road? What makes it a boulevard or an avenue or simply a street?

The word for this month, therefore, is boulevard. What does it mean, and where does it come from?




A wide street in a town or city, typically one lined with trees.

From etymoline.com:

1769, “broad street or promenade planted with rows of trees,” from French boulevard, originally “top surface of a military rampart” (15c.), from a garbled attempt to adopt Middle Dutch bolwerc “wall of a fortification” into French, which at that time lacked a ‘w’ in its alphabet.

The notion is of a promenade laid out atop demolished city walls, a way which would be much wider than urban streets. Originally in English with conscious echoes of Paris; in US, since 1929, used of multi-lane limited-access urban highways.

Wherever your adventures take you this week – along wide, straight boulevards, or winding, country roads – happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Unlock the Muse – May 9, 2018

This second week of May has brought sunshine punctuated by thunder storms. All just a part of spring in the Pacific Northwest. My writing this week has sort of mirrored this. Periods of sunshiny idleness punctuated by frantic thunder storms of activity. I can only hope the moody “weather” of spring will result in rapid growth, much like the front lawn.

Last week the assignment was to set a certain time to write, and then write during that time. While I managed to stick to the thirty minutes of writing each night, I often did not write at my assigned time. Usually, I was later than I wanted to be. Still, I managed to organize the new material I wrote last month during Camp NaNoWriMo, and twice complete a blog post.

This week, your task is to:

Imagine you’re the creator of a fantastic weight-loss formula… with one odd side effect. What’s the drawback?


Writing is hard work, but this book can make that hard work a little more fun, a little less painful.
Brian Kiteley, The 3 A.M. Epiphany

The unanimous vote (of one!) has me reading The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction, by Brian Kiteley. Thus I’ll share a few bits of wisdom as I encounter them. It isn’t the usual book on writing craft. Rather, it is a series of prompts designed to stretch the fiction writer beyond their usual routine.

The first section of the book includes a handful of exercises centered around the theme: point of view. Here is the first exercise which Kiteley has titled “The Reluctant.”

Write a first person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I or me or my) only two times – but keep the I somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing. The point of this exercise is to imagine a narrator who is less interested in himself than in what he is observing. You can make your narrator someone who sees an interesting event in which he is not necessarily a participant. Or you can make him self-effacing, yet a major participant in the events related. It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize that this is a first-person narration. Show us quickly who is observing the scene. 600 words.

For added fun, try using the prompt from the Inspire section above in this exercise.

In this week’s grammar lesson from The Elements of Style, we’ll take a look at a word that has been diluted by overuse.

Hopefully. This once useful adverb meaning “with hope” has been distorted and is now widely used to mean “I hope” or “it is to be hoped.” Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say “Hopefully I’ll leave on the noon plane” is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you’ll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you’ll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven’t said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable and even useful to many, it offends the ear of others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense.

I confess, I am guilty of using hopefully in this incorrect manner in my daily conversations. I don’t know that I use it in my writing, however. I hope I do not!

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Unlock the Muse – May 2, 2018

Happy May! Camp NaNoWriMo is over again (until July!) and I reached my goal of 25,000 words. Plus, I finished one of the two middle grade novels I was working on, so I count the venture a success.

Your writing prompt this week:

Assign yourself a certain time to write. Write during that time.

Between a full time job and taking kiddos to soccer practice three nights a week plus games on Saturdays, finding a regular time to write is difficult. It is often after the boys are in bed that I have time for writing. For that reason, I will set my writing time at 9:30-10:00 p.m. each day this week. What time will you write?

I’m between writing craft books again, and I just don’t know which one I want to read next. So, I need your help. Which of these books should I read next?

1. The 3 A.M. Ephiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction, by Brian Kiteley

This book has been on my shelf for I can’t remember how long. Several years, I’m sure. On the back cover, it says: “Open the book, select an exercise, and give it a try. It’s just what you need to draft refreshing new fiction, discover bold new insights, and explore what it means to be a writer.”

2. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

I haven’t had this book long, but I’ve wanted to read it for quite awhile. In this collection of essays by one of sci-fi’s greatest, Bradbury “shares his wisdom and enthusiasm for writing as he examines a lifetime of creating and composing scores of stories, novels, plays, poems, films, television programs, and musicals.”

3. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

I’ve only just picked this one up, but it’s been around for awhile. More of a memoir than a writing craft book, in this “surprising narrative, Annie Dillard describes the working life of a writer. These are vivid and ironic encounters at a desk.”

So, what should it be? Which one would you choose? Let me know in the comments below.

The question of the month for May is this: Who do you write for? Who is your audience?

Maybe you write for that large audience, the YA fiction fans, or the readers of cozy mysteries. Maybe you write for your children, or your parents, or your significant other. Or maybe you’re just writing for yourself. Regardless of who you write for, make it the best you possibly can!

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Unlock the Muse – April 25, 2018

It’s the last week of April. My Camp project has been of mixed success so far. I am currently caught up on my word goal. I’ve reached ‘the end’ on one of the two stories I am working on this month. On the flip side of that, I have often found myself struggling to find time for writing around soccer practices, soccer games, school concerts and so on. And when I do find time, I waste a lot of it on Twitter and Goodreads. But I am having fun, and that is, after all, what Camp should be, isn’t it?

Here is your writing prompt for this week:

Go to your local mall and buy some postcards of your city. Use the postcards as stationary to drop a brief “hello” to friends.

This seems the perfect prompt for Camp month. If you’re Camping, send a post card from camp and let others know what you’re up to this month and how you’re doing on your writing goals.

While I haven’t exhausted the wisdom contained in the little book, Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, I have decided that I’ve shared enough. The problem is, I haven’t started reading another writing craft book.

So instead, let’s take a look at the writer’s reference shelf. Every trade has its specific tools designed to help get the job done right. As a writer, that means reference books. There are a few most writers consider essentials: a good dictionary, thesaurus and a “what to name the baby” book. Right?

Then, if you’re like me, you have a few (or a few dozen!) other specialty reference books and writing craft books. Some of the more unique titles on my reference shelf:

Creating Characters Kids Will Love, by Elaine M. Alphin
Medieval Wordbook, by Madeleine Cosman
Wicked Words, by Hugh Rawson
Word Dance: The Language of Native American Culture, by Carl Waldman
The Complete Fantasy Reference, by Andrew I. Porter
Editing Fact and Fiction, by Irene Gunther & Leslie T. Sharpe

What’s on your shelf?

In honor of Camp NaNoWriMo, April 2018 coming to a close this week, here’s my “post card” from Camp with a quote from NaNoWriMo’s founder:


Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Unlock the Muse – April 18, 2018

Less than half of April remains. It is flying by too quickly. Even so, my youngest son, whose birthday is still a couple of months away, keeps asking me how many more days until his birthday. One day, when I told him it was still a long time away, he burst into tears. Oh, to be a child again, when every day is almost an eternity. Without the agony of all that waiting, though please.

Sometimes the best way to break out of a rut and find inspiration is to walk away from the computer, the notebook, the desk, and get some physical exercise. Find new surroundings and just be alive. In that light, here is this week’s writing prompt:

Lie down in your yard and feel the curve of the earth beneath you. Ponder the infinity of the universe and the finiteness of humans, then write your own account of why we’re here. Don’t confine yourself by fact. Let your imagination lead the way.

I hope you aren’t getting tired of me using examples from the book Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. It’s just full of great encouragement! Take this essay, “Why I Write,” for example. In this essay, Goldberg offers some solid advice on beating back the nay-sayers and the self-doubt. She says:

Why do I write?” It’s a good question. Ask it of yourself every once in a while. No answer will make you stop writing, and over time you will find you have given every response.

1. Because I’m a jerk.
2. Because I want the boys to be impressed.
3. So my mother will like me.
4. So my father will hate me.
5. No one listens to me when I speak.
6. So I can start a revolution.
7. In order to write the great American novel and make a million dollars.
8. Because I’m neurotic.
9. Because I’m the reincarnation of William Shakespeare.
10. Because I have something to say.
11. Because I have nothing to say.

She concludes with these words:

When the old nag in you comes around with “Why are you wasting your time? Why do you write?,” just dive onto the page, be full of answers, but don’t try to justify yourself. You do it because you do it. (emphasis mine)

Within the essay she encourages you to sit down and write the answers to that question. Why do you write? There is no right answer, and tomorrow it may change. But ask yourself the question. Then move on and keep writing.

When I went looking for an interesting word to profile this week, my sister offered up distraction. I think she thinks I’m distracted from my writing goal! Maybe she’s right, but here goes.




1. A thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else.

2. Extreme agitation of the mind or emotions.

Distraction dates back to the mid-15 century, “the drawing away of the mind,” from Latin distractionem “a pulling apart, separating,” noun of action from past participle stem of distrahere. Meaning “mental disturbance” (as in driven to distraction, etc.) dates from circa 1600. Meaning “a thing or fact that distracts” is from 1610s. (from etymoline.com)

I kind of like this description from wikipedia.com:

Distraction is the process of diverting the attention of an individual or group from a desired area of focus and thereby blocking or diminishing the reception of desired information. Distraction is caused by: the lack of ability to pay attention; lack of interest in the object of attention; or the great intensity, novelty or attractiveness of something other than the object of attention. Distractions come from both external sources, and internal sources. External distractions include factors such as visual triggers, social interactions, music, text messages, and phone calls. There are also internal distractions such as hunger, fatigue, illness, worrying, and daydreaming. Both external and internal distractions contribute to the interference of focus.

I’m not distracted, I’m daydreaming! A perfectly legitimate writing exercise, right?

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

April Challenges – Writing & Reading

April seems to be a good month for challenges. Maybe it’s a good time to revisit those resolutions made at the beginning of the year. Time to renew efforts toward reaching goals. This April I have decided to challenge myself in my writing and my reading.

I’m currently participating in my eleventh Camp NaNoWriMo event. Could it really be that many? I had to count twice to be sure. But with two per year since 2013, it really is that many!

My goal this year is a nice, moderate 25,000 words. I’m working on two of my middle grade adventure stories from the series Silver Compass Adventures that I introduced back in 2016. I hope to finish at least one of them by the end of the month.

So far, I’ve made good strides on both stories. My word count has hovered around the “on target” mark, but mostly just below. I’ve designed a spaceship and written a ghost story. Both of these things were huge obstacles in completing my novels, so this is great progress.

I’ve also gone and done this thing. This maybe a little bit crazy sort of thing. I signed up to participate in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon taking place on April 28. I learned about it by reading something much like this blog post, though I can’t remember exactly where. If you don’t know what it is, check out the web site. If you do know what it is, and maybe you’ve done it before, I’d love to hear about your experience!

It seems unlikely I can really read for twenty-four hours at the end of a month-long writing challenge, and on a day when I have soccer with the kiddos and a writers’ group meeting! Nevertheless, it sounds like fun. Crazy fun, to be sure, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

I think I will use this as an excuse to binge read the rest of the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. I read the first two books last year, but I haven’t managed to get back to it yet. The remaining four are on my 2018 Reading Challenge list. I’d like to see how far I could get on a day dedicated (almost!) entirely to reading.

Still, being new to this 24-hour reading thing, I think I will have some other books ready at hand in case I need something different in order to keep going. Maybe something shorter and lighthearted. Perhaps a nice comfort re-read, such as Harry Potter, or something from that growing pile of middle grade novels I’ve been collecting on my Kindle!

Are you participating in Camp NaNoWriMo or the Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon? Another writing or reading related challenge? I’d love to hear what your goals are for April!