Unlock the Muse – January 3, 2018

It’s the first week of 2018. What are your writing goals for this year? For myself, I have three main goals. One, finish a novel. Second, to organize my research and background materials for my two middle grade series. And finally, to improve my writing.

To this last end, I’m sharing with you this new and improved weekly writing exercise. If practice makes perfect, then let’s practice.

Welcome to 2018! To help spur you on to complete your writing goals this year, here is your first weekly writing exercise for the year:

Think about the last time you laughed so hard you cried. Who was with you? What provoked the outburst? Journal about how a good laugh can be just what you need.

Have fun with this. Savor the details and let the memory take you where it will.

Next, take it one step further. Use the imagery from your memory to write a poem, or write a laughter scene into your novel. Let your characters enjoy the same level of mirth you once did.

I am nearly always reading a book on the craft of writing. Currently, it is This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley. Somehow that seems like an especially appropriate place to start at the beginning of a new year. Chapter One of this book is titled: The General Disciplines That Every Writing Needs. It opens with classic writing advice that, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard over and over again: to be a writer, you must write.

Mosley insists that you should write every day.

The first thing you have to know about writing is that is it something you must do every day.

As the basic principle of his book is to write a novel in a year’s time, this advice certainly makes sense. Though it may seem like tired, overused advice, it’s still important. The consistency of habit will allow your unconscious mind to continue to dwell on and dream about your story even while you’re not actively working on it. Habit and routine are the first keys to unlocking the muse.

So, go on. Write. Every day.

Q: What’s the big deal about passive voice?

A: Passive voice is weaker and less direct than active voice. Using active voice whenever possible will strengthen your fiction. From The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White:

The habitual use of the active voice, however, makes for forcible writing. … Many a tame sentence or description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as ‘there is’ or ‘could be heard.’

So here’s to a new year filled with successful 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:


Unlocking the Muse – Introducing a New Weekly Inspiration & Resource for Writers

I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the last couple of months to my weekly writing prompt post. I have never been truly happy with the name Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge. It doesn’t really convey what I hope this challenge will be for myself and other writers. And the tag #WWPChallenge sounds more like some sort of wrestling event.

The purpose of these writing prompts is two-fold. First, it should be fun. Writing is hard work, but there should always be the element of fun, or it no longer feels worth doing. Second, it is to inspire ideas. Sometimes the idea well runs slow, and prompts and exercises such as these are designed to prime the pump. It may not turn into anything. Or it could be your next big thing. It might be the key you were looking for to fill a hole in your plot. It just might be the very thing you need to unlock your muse.

Therefore, I am reinventing this weekly post. It has a new name: Unlock the Muse. A new cover photo (courtesy of Pixabay). And a new format designed to inspire, encourage and equip your writing.

This weekly Unlock the Muse post will have three parts. First, the usual writing prompt you’ve come to expect each week. As always, this will be a random writing exercise designed to get ideas flowing and put words on the page. Whenever possible, I’ll include some ideas on how the exercise might be valuable. Writing exercises aren’t the same for everyone, but they’re only intended to be a spark.

The second part of the post will include either a nugget of writing inspiration from a favorite author, or a snippet of wisdom gleaned from whatever writing craft book I’m reading at the time. I’m always reading one in hopes I might learn something worthwhile from those who’ve been in the business of writing much longer than I have. Currently, I am working on This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley. It seems an appropriate book to start the new year.

I’ll conclude each post with a question and answer. I invite you to ask me a writing-related question, and I will do my best to find an answer. For now, questions should be about my specific writing process or questions about grammar and language usage (English language only, please). Keep in mind, unless the question is about a specific rule of grammar, the answer will be my opinion, and should not be taken as the absolute and only right answer.

It’s your turn now. What sort of writing exercises work best for you? Who are your favorite writers and writing craft books? Do you have a question about a tricky grammar issue, or just want to know my writing process? Leave a comment below!

Or send me your question(s) by email here:


2018 Reading Challenge – The Year of the Woman

It’s time once again to announce my book choices for the coming year. Sometime during this past year I began looking at my TBR pile and noticed a certain disparity. More than half of my books are by men authors. Nearly all of my favorite authors are men. Now there isn’t anything wrong with this necessarily, but I thought I should try reading more women authors.

Consequently, I’ve declared 2018 to be The Year of the Woman. For my reading list then, I’ve deliberately tipped the scale in the other direction and chosen books only by women. I may or may not be able to keep to this plan, however, as many of the books I’ve been anxious to read aren’t by women.

For my 2018 reading list, I decided to go with the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge. I’ve run across this challenge before, but never felt I was capable of taking on a challenge of this size. Fifty books is a lot to commit to. It’s more than I ever thought I could possibly read in a year, nearly double what I set out to read in 2017.

Here then, is my 2018 Reading Challenge list:

A book made into a movie you’ve already seen – How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell (reviewed here)
True crime – The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story, by Ann Rule
The next book in a series you started – City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare
A book involving a heist – Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Nordic nior – Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson (reviewed here)
A novel based on a real person – Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest
A book set in a country that fascinates you – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke
A book with a time of day in the title – The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh
A book about a villain or antihero – Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
A book about death or grief – The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr.
A book with a LGBTQ+ protagonist – The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A book that is also a stage play or musical – The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou or The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
A book about feminism – Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay
A book about mental health – The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
A book you borrowed or was given to you as a gift – City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare
A book by two authors – Havemercy, by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett (reviewed here)
A book about or involving a sport – Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand
A book by a local author – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
A book with your favorite color in the title – Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
A book with alliteration in the title – Wings of Wrath, by C. S. Friedman
A book about time travel – The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
A book with a weather element in the title – Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
A book set at sea – Circle of Bones, by Christine Kling
A book with an animal in the title – Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
A book set on a different planet – Valor’s Choice, by Tanya Huff
A book with song lyrics in the title – Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini
A book about or set on Halloween – Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn
A book with characters who are twins – Anne of Avonlea, by L. M. Montgomery
A book mentioned in another book – To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
A book from a celebrity book club – Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts
A childhood classic you’ve never read – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume
A book that’s published in 2018 – Sightwitch, by Susan Dennard
A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner – City of Lost Souls, by Cassandra Clare
A book set in the decade you were born – Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to – Boys Should Be Boys, by Dr. Meg Meeker
A book with an ugly cover – Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
A book that involves a bookstore or library – Voices, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Favorite prompt from Popsugar 2015, 2016 or 2017 challenge: a book based on a fairytale – Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, by J. M. Sullivan
A bestseller from the year you graduated high school – The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
A cyberpunk book – Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place – TBD
A book tied to your ancestry – House of Day, House of Night, by Olga Tokarczuk
A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
An allegory – The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz
A book by an author with the same first or last name as you – Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
A microhistory – Breaking Into the Current, by Louise Teal
A book about a problem facing society today – This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein
A book recommended by someone else taking the Popsugar Reading Challenge – The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss: A Review

For #18 on my 2018 Reading Challenge, a bestseller, I chose to read The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. This book was already on my Year of the Series list, and I’ve been anxious to read it for some time, ever since I finished reading The Name of the Wind last year.

This series – The Kingkiller Chronicles – is about Kvothe as he relates his life story to The Chronicler over a span of three days. The first book takes Kvothe from his early childhood years through his first year at the University when he is only fifteen.

Book two picks up where the first left off, continuing Kvothe’s adventures for about another year. It had been some time since I’d read the first book, but within the first few pages of the second, I was sucked right back into the story. The world Rothfuss has created is richly detailed and full of fascinating characters.

Still, for all that I loved this book, I felt as though the story got a little stuck in the middle. There is a sequence in the middle of the book that sort of drags on in sort of repetitive, circular fashion. If that’s what Rothfuss intended, then he did it well. But I found myself bored. Things happened during this time that were (or will be, I’m certain) important to events later on in the story, but I can’t help wonder if this part could have been shorter.

Overall, this is still a great book, and I do hope Rothfuss will finish the series soon!

Thoughts on The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay & James Madison

The Federalist is a collection of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison under the pseudonym of Publius. The essays were written over the course of several months from October 1787 through August 1788, as an argument in support of the newly proposed Constitution of the United States. It’s an interesting piece of American history that joined my 2017 Reading Challenge as #3, a nonfiction book.

I think this is an important document that more Americans should read and study. It speaks of a time when the fate of this country was not at all assured. So many things could have gone differently that would have dramatically changed the course of American history, probably even world history.

From a political science perspective, it’s fascinating. These men were building a government. They were preparing to subject themselves and the American people for generations to come, to a system of law and oversight that was new and untried. Their goals were simple, if their task was not – to preserve for the American people the freedoms that had brought them here in the first place.

Thirteen years after the Declaration of Independence and the war with Great Britain, the fledgling nation of the United States was on the edge of a precipice. The thirteen separate colonies that had come together to fight for independence now struggled to work together. The government established under the Articles of Confederation wasn’t strong enough to hold the semi-sovereign states together.

Reading these papers now from a perspective of more than two hundred years removed from the events surrounding the proposed Constitution, it’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like creating a brand new system of government. Not only that, but to witness the failings of the original system and be faced with the necessity of starting over.

As I read through The Federalist Papers, I was struck by one thing in particular that I hadn’t considered before when studying the early history of my nation. The Articles of Confederation had only been in place for eight years when a convention was assembled to revamp the national government of the United States. The discussion that ensued in the earliest papers – mostly by Hamilton, though also by Jay – demonstrated just how precarious the situation had become. If something significant wasn’t done, and done quickly, the United States was about to crumble into smaller confederacies, possibly as many as thirteen separate sovereign entities.

What this dissolution would have meant for America is difficult to say so many years after the fact. I’m convinced, however, that the shape of North America would be far different today if things had continued as they were and the Constitution had not been adopted.

This wasn’t an easy read, and it certainly warrants further study. It isn’t something to pick up and breeze through just for fun. I read this book to learn something. And I think that I did. Now, I want to go back and read some of the arguments in opposition to the Constitution.

Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge, December 27, 2017

Welcome to the Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge! Join me in finding inspiration in unexpected places. Each week I post a new prompt intended to spark ideas for whatever writing project you’re working on—a journal entry, a poem, a short story. The possibilities are endless!

If you wish, consider sharing a link to your response in the comments below. Please be respectful with anything you post, and thanks for playing along! Happy writing!

How did you get your first job? If you’re not there now, why not?

Have fun. Be creative. And let’s write more words!

What are your writing goals for 2018? Write more? Finish that novel? Try poetry, or script writing? Whatever your goals, my hope is that you’ll find new inspiration along with me with this weekly writing exercise. Join me in 2018 as we Unlock the Muse!

Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge, December 20, 2017

Welcome to the Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge! Join me in finding inspiration in unexpected places. Each week I post a new prompt intended to spark ideas for whatever writing project you’re working on—a journal entry, a poem, a short story. The possibilities are endless!

If you wish, consider sharing a link to your response in the comments below. Please be respectful with anything you post, and thanks for playing along! Happy writing!

Take 10 photos from your camera – the last 10, or 10 chosen at random – print them, and paste them into a journal (or use an electronic alternative), and write clever or humorous captions about each photo.

Have fun. Be creative. And let’s write more words!

New year, new look, new name! This weekly writing challenge is getting an upgrade in January. Watch for more details next week!