Another Reminder – The First Sentence Matters

Today, January 25th, marks the birthdate of some highly regarded writers.

Gloria Naylor

Gloria Naylor (5 Jan 1950 – 28 Sep 2016) saw her  debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, (1982) win critical acclaim and become an Emmy-nominated miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey.

Gloria’s parents were sharecroppers who migrated from Mississippi to Harlem to seek new opportunities. Her father became a transit worker and her mother a telephone operator. Despite their own limited education, Gloria’s parents encouraged her to read

Gloria  Naylor shares her birthday with Virginia Woolf  (1882 – 1941) and Robert Burns 1759-1796).

Gloria Naylor (5 Jan 1950 – 28 Sep 2016) saw her  debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, (1982) win critical acclaim and become an Emmy-nominated miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey.

Gloria’s parents were sharecroppers who migrated from Mississippi to Harlem to seek new opportunities. Her father became a transit worker and her mother a telephone operator. Despite their own limited education, Gloria’s parents encouraged her to read and to keep a journal.  By the time she was a teenager, Gloria was a prolific writer of poems, short stories, and observations of the world around her.

Gloria’s family moved to Queens in 1963, and she was placed in advanced classes at her new high school. Gloria graduated from high school the year Martin Luther King Jr. was was murdered, and served as a Jehovah’s Witness missionary for seven years.  She then enrolled as a nursing student at Brooklyn college, but quickly changed her major to English.  Gloria worked her way through college, earning her bachelor’s degree and then a masters degree in African American studies at Yale.  Her thesis would become her second novel, Linden Hills.

Gloria’s first published novel, The Women of Brewster Place,  as her other novels, addressed social issues such as racism, homophobia, poverty and women’s rights with intensity and grace.  She became known for her vivid telling of what it meant to be a black woman in America.

Gloria’s work includes several more novels and inclusion in anthologies. She taught at Cornell, George Washington University, and Boston University.  Gloria received numerous awards, ranging from a Guggenheim Fellowship to several National Book Awards.


We’ve Heard it Before – Always That First Sentence!

“One should be able to return to the first sentence of a novel and find the resonances of the entire work.”  ~ Gloria Naylor.

We hear it at conferences, in classrooms, at critique groups, on podcasts and on “how to write” blogs. This is timeless advice, folks, and there’s a reason famous authors say it. Time for me to go reevaluate my first pages.


A Good Day to be Born, if You’re a Writer

Gloria  Naylor shares her birthday with Virginia Woolf  (1882 – 1941) and Robert Burns 1759-1796).  My own birthday seems to be heavy with politicians. Perhaps I’ve missed my calling?

Confucius Statue

Go Slow and Don’t Stop

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”   ~ Confucius

Confucius Statue

Today is the birth anniversary of Confucius, who would be 2,568 years old if he’d managed to stay alive for twenty or so extra centuries. 

Confucius was born on or about the equivalent of September 28, 551 B.C.E. He was a political figure, philosopher, educator, and founder of the Ru Chinese School of Thought. He was also an author and has been credited with writing or editing the Five Classics and other Chinese texts.*

We hear some version of his advice often these days, don’t we?


Just Keep Swimmin’


One Step at at Time

Never Give Up!

Just Do It


The truth is, a hundred thousand words is daunting. I suspect it would be all the more so without my keyboard. Or a pen. Or paper. I’m pretty sure my chiseling skills are woefully inadequate.

Yes we’re pulled in umpteen directions and the clock never stops ticking. But we can carve out a few minutes most days, if we’re intentional about it.  And when I say we, I mean I. 

Because I’m great about talking about planning my writing. I acknowledge that a plan, a schedule, a timeline would be helpful.  And then I get distracted.

Sound familiar?

So, enough talk about writing. Time for me to write. How about you?

*Cunfucius peppered his writing quite generously with adverbs!

Elizabeth Winthrop Photo with Quote

I am a Perfectionist Scaredy-Cat Writer


“I am a perfectionist and a scaredy-cat.”

~Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop




Elizabeth Winthrop Photo with Quote


Today Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop celebrates her 70th birthday. Elizabeth has published children’s, young adult, picture books and historical fiction as well as memoir – more than sixty books since her first, Bunk Beds, in 1972. Elizabeth is best known for her middle grade fantasy classic, Castle in the Attic, and has received numerous awards. She’s recently done a Ted Talk about creativity and risking exposure as a writer. It can be viewed here.


In her Ted Talk, Elizabeth advises writers to follow where their creative urges take them. Wise words. Sometimes my characters seem to have a mind of their own. They insist on acting in ways I hadn’t planned. My stories have been known to fight me in an attempt to veer in unanticipated directions. 

I should loosen the reins.

Which is not always easy for me.

I have a plan, often an outline. I am detail oriented, definitely more plotter than pantser. And I may just lean a bit towards having control issues. But then my story twists in a burst of spontaneity I’d repressed with the weight of my detailed notes. Or a character decides to do or say something that I didn’t authorize.  

So I pause. And after a while, I can remind myself that my character is making their own decisions because they’re just that real. And that the unplanned variation may improve the story.

But only if it give it a chance.

So I try to turn off the orderly part of my brain and just get the words down.

And the result may be better than I’d anticipated. I like to think I’d planned the perfect novel, but I suppose the creative recesses of my mind have a better idea. If only I can fight off the resistance and follow those creative urges.

Elizabeth reminds us that as writers, we are perfectionists because we get to have our failures privately. I take this to heart when I find myself comparing the ugliness of my first draft with that finished novel on my bedside table. That little activity is one of my own personal private opportunities to see my work as a failure. All alone in the comfort of my own home. Then I shake it off and move forward. And not a soul knows. [Well, I suppose the cat is now out of the bag]. I love the idea of keeping my failures under cover and letting the world see that final polished bit of work.

I’m a scaredy-cat myself.  Elizabeth shares that hiding behind our characters allows us to avoid real-life confrontation. So maybe I’ll create a character that bears resemblance to some real-life people who’ve been on my mind. And then I’ll have them slip in a puddle and drop their coffee. Or have the perfect wedding. Or wreck their car. Or contract food poisoning. Or get upgraded to first class. So many possibilities, and limited only by my imagination and the depth of my emotion. How is that not fun?

Go and take 15 minutes and hear what Elizabeth has to say.

My late sister and grandmother shared a September 14th birthday. I’m pleased that I was able to learn a bit about an author who was born on that day as well. I hear each of their voices in parts of Elizabeth’s Ted Talk, and an involuntary little smile tugs. Ms. Alsop, I think you’d have liked the both of them. Thank you, Elizabeth.

desk laptop and books by markus spiske

What Does “Being Published” Mean, Anyway?

What does “being published” mean, anyway?

If a work is published, supposedly somewhere someone is reading, has read, or will read it. Well, maybe they’ll skim it.  Or scare up the Cliff Notes (do they still exist?). Anyhow…

Back in the day, we read newspapers and hardcovers, romance or western or science fiction paperbacks, textbooks and glossy magazines. The heft of a physics book, the slippery magazine pages, the barely held together pages of a script, the carbon ink transferred from cheap newsprint to your fingers or elbows or favorite shirt – reading was tactile. You’d pick up whatever you needed to get through, set it in front of you or maybe curl up in a

desk laptop and books by markus spiske

chair, focus your eyes on the paper, and there you were.

Now, we read novels on tablets, our phones, in our ears. Newspapers and textbooks are online, and they’re interactive. We take in memes and social media posts and blogs and all form of online media. We get much of our news in 40-character blasts.

So what does it mean to be published?

We still have anthologies and journals, magazines, news outlets, chapbooks and novels and poetry and all manner of nonfiction. Textbooks, pulp fiction, mysteries and romance haven’t disappeared. People still read.

Just not necessarily on paper.

Successful blogs become bestselling books. We “read” audio books while vacuuming or mowing the lawn.  Guest contributors have  bylines on blogs. Each day, scads of new e-books in every imaginable genre are published and available to download. Writers can enter competitions, the prize may be a magazine subscription or an online posting of their work. Some writers make a living creating nothing but web content or (gasp, yes, its true) clickbait.

So, if you write a blog post, are you published? Does web content count?  What about ebooks, or your own little small press?  Audio books?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines publication as the act of making information or stories available to people in a printed or electronic form. Seems simple, and it looks like those audio books, blog posts, and e-books qualify. Maybe not your tweets or that sunset you shared on Instagram.

So, good for you! Did you feel your credibility swell?  Or at least your confidence? Then my work is finished here.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and these are merely my musings.  Please do not consider this to contain any more substance than my meandering thoughts. And actual intellectual property attorney likely would have far more to say on this subject, and I welcome any who require a definitive answer to consider more in-depth research.

photo credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

She Wrote Her Bestseller in Her Bedroom La-Z-Boy

She Wrote Her Bestseller in Her Bedroom La-Z-Boy

“I wrote The Hunger Games in a chair, like a La-Z-Boy chair, next to my bed. I had an office, but my kids sort of took it over”. ~Suzanne Collins

Today, August 10,2018,  Suzanne Collins celebrates her 56th birthday.  

Suzanne is a television writer and novelist, and is Amazon’s best selling author of all time. She’s best known for The Hunger Games Trilogy, but back in the day she wrote for children’s programs on Nickelodeon, including Clarissa Explains it All and Little Bear. 

Suzanne Collins Quote Picture Wrote in a La-Z-Boy Recliner

Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games in a corner of her bedroom. I can picture her intended writing space, her office – cluttered with craft supplies and game pieces and action figures and a dress-up bin in the corner. I see her quietly closing the door behind her, turning, and stepping gingerly as she maneuvers past those painful plastic bricks strewn on the floor. At her ergonomic office chair, she removes Baby Doll and friends, carefully placed for a recent tea party, and arranges them on floor beside her desk. She takes a seat, indulges in a deep calming breath, and spins the chair towards her desk. 

And gazes at her horizontal surface, hers, and every single square inch is buried under youthful projects and folly. That glitter will turn up in her paperwork for eternity, and there’s those missing socks. And who thought they could hide a C- paper here of all places?

Okay, I admit it. I’m describing my writing space, not Suzanne’s. I’ve never been to her place, and I expect she’s doesn’t have a glitter problem as serious as the mine is. But there it is. In-my-face visual evidence of the many competing priorities of my day. I’ll wager I’m not alone. I find it encouraging that people-way-ahead-of-me also slip away to a place of peace and quiet, where they can expel the mind clutter and get some words down. Suzanne Collins found a way and so will I. And so can you.

This post is the first in a little series about the logistics of writing. Where we write, how we get the words recorded, what tools we like to use – we each have a process. I’m going to share my thoughts and experiences; some worked, and some didn’t.  I’ll delve into the whys and the what-fors, I hope you find purpose in these posts, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

And now, off to find a space where I can get my creation groove back on track… 

Photo credit Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash and Suzanne Collins quote from