November Poets, December Word, and Writers at Work, with Joan Carris

Hi everyone,

Today we have a lot to cover. First, I’m pleased to announce our two sets of monthly winners among the Word of the Month poets. I’ll begin with our Hall of Fame Poet who, this month, is Lisa Martino from Florida. Lisa’a winning poem is To Teach or Not to Teach the Classics. Second spot goes to Steven Withrow from Rhode Island for his poem, Best of a Bad Spell.

This month we have two categories of Young Poets: grades 3-7 and grades 8-12. Our Hall of Fame Young Poet, Grades 3-7 is Ella Foster from Ohio for her poem, Without a Word. Finishing in second place is Zack Safadi, also from Ohio, for his poem, The Hero.

Our Hall of Fame Young Poet, Grades 8-12 is La’ Joi Word from Florida for her poem, Thankful. In second place is Jacquanna Gillins from Florida, for her poem, Thanks.

Our panel of judges made their own selections and here are their results. Word of the Month Poet is Nile Stanley from Florida with his poem, “Words.” Nile, many thanks for lending your voice to the choir this month. I ought to give Gay Fawcett a special mention because you dedicated your poem to hers. Steven Withrow’s poem was the judges’s second choice.

Word of the Month Young Poet, Grades 3-7 is Zack Safadi for his poem, The Hero. Second place is a tie between Erin Fankhauser for “Partner,” and Emma Lavetter-Keidan for The Only Escape.

Word of the Month Young Poet, Grades 8-12 is Jacquanna Gillins for her poem, Thanks. Second place goes to Omar Teran for his poem, Thanks.

Congratulations to our honorees and to everyone who stepped forward to share their work this month. We’re grateful. Our judges encourage poets of all ages to take their time, think through what they want to say and how they want to say it, then revise and polish until the work is ready to be shared.

BULLETIN: I’ve worked much of the morning pulling together all the winning poems and have just posted them below Joan Carris. Sometimes people want to see the poems in one place. I have NOT proofed this work. Off to a meeting.

Are you ready for the December word? It is WEATHER. I expect that to give us plenty to write about!

This being Tuesday, it’s time for another segment of WRITERS AT WORK, the dialogue Sandy Asher and I started several weeks ago. If you’re following this one, we begin each month with an issue that writers face. We then take two turns each posting comments and suggestions. The topic for this month is Reality of Rejection. At the end of the month we’ve posted four brief articles on the subject and sometimes along the way we add pieces provided by other authors. That’s the case this month. November has five Tuesdays. Sandy and i have each written about Reality of Rejecton twice. We were delighted when an old friend and fellow writer, Joan Carris, joined us with these flashback comments about a previous subject: Obstacles ot Writing. So now it’s my pleasure to introduce Joan.

On Being Distracted

by Joan Carris

I have been writing something or other since 1976. My first writing assignment was a plea from the Unitarian church in Princeton for an original play celebrating the BiCentennial. Having no idea of how difficult that could be, I said YES. At the time our kids were 14, 9, and 6. “When I’m writing,” I told them, “don’t bother me unless you’re bleeding.”

I settled down at my typewriter with a ream of paper and rolled in the first pristine sheet. Instantly heard a terrified screaming outside my workroom window. I flew outdoors just in time to see our 6 year-old son hit the ground under the neighbor’s giant willow tree. He and I had a red-hot discussion right there. “But I stopped myself by grabbing a branch,” he said. “See? I’m hardly bleeding at all!”

That was the beginning of my distracted life as a writer. Over time I have managed to learn a little something about the craft—mainly that it is a heckuva lot harder than it should be. As Hawthorne wrote, “Easy reading is damned hard writing.” I believe it’s hard because we keep expecting more of ourselves. We intimidate ourselves, and then call it writer’s block.

Fran Lebowitz, an extremely funny essayist (Social Studies, 1981), was quoted in the online Writer’s Almanac as saying, “Most writers have a hard time writing. I have a harder time than most because I’m lazier than most…I would have made a perfect heiress.” She is now at work on a novel that was commissioned more than 20 years ago.
Okay, so writing IS HARD. Clearly we deserve not just a room of our own, as Virginia Woolf said, but some peace and quiet, dangit. The world should tiptoe away. It should, but it won’t. Some damn fool will ring your doorbell. Your back left molar will start throbbing. The cat will meow to be let in.

Real life and writing simply are not compatible. Life is always interrupting. I tend to feel lucky if it isn’t interrupting with an illness or a new litter of kittens. Long ago I decided that writers must become more devious. How? Try running away. Ask your church for permission to write in an empty classroom. Ask a friend if you can write at her place after she leaves for work. Some writers work at a public library table in a nearby town, not in their own library where people know them. I like the study carrels at our community college.

Most of the time, though, I write at home. I let the bloody distractions go on, run a fan for white noise, and force myself to focus. That’s easier with a good outline, by the way. In a long, lean period in my past, when I was the only one stoking my fire, I began talking to myself. I said, “This is who I am and this is what I do. Now shut up, Joan, and get to work.” I still tell myself that.
Recent books include Welcome To the Bed and Biscuit (2006), Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit (2009), and Magic at the Bed and Biscuit (January 2011), all from Candlewick Press.



Word of the Month Poet:
I like to say them
like jitterbug, fudge and tangerine
I like to play them
Like hackysacks
Catching and bouncing them
Off my tongue
I like to weigh them
Like bittersweet and jumbo shrimp
Most of all
I like to devour them slowly
Savoring each sound
Word of the Month Poet, Runner-Up
Best of a Bad Spell
Losing the Williams Junior High School
spelling bee, on “eleemosynary,”
was, I now see, an act of charity.
Knowing the Latin root for “alms”
(could you use it in a sentence?)
guarantees no one a varsity letter.
Although it burned me that I flubbed
the double e’s, entreating the floor
for the proper etymology
before retreating to my seat
to small applause, conciliatory
(c-o-n-c-i-l-i-a-t-o-r-y, conciliatory),
Worse by far would have been
the booming backlash in homeroom
next morning, hearing my name
among the roster of brainiacs,
“loo-zer” in any language, certain
I’d perish (part of speech?) a virgin.
Copyright 2010 by Steven Withrow. All rights reserved.
Word of the Month Young Poet, Grades 3-7
6th grade
Maumee Valley Country Day
Toledo, Oh
Teacher: Jana Smith
The Hero
A battle against the human race,
We are the one to oppose,
She is the lone defender,
One versus 6.4 billion.
She embraces what we throw at her,
She is the lone warrior.
She shall not strike,
She shall not defend,
She shall wait for the end.
One day,
It shall all end,
It might take years till she decides it’s her time,
Or it could only take you the time to say a single word.
She is our worst nightmare,
She is our savior,
Our number one attack strategy,
We trash her,
We gas her out,
A way to dispose of her.
But the scary thing is,
Only few will live to be aware of this war,
Some may say they do,
But they don’t.
Even scarier than that,
Is when she shall meet her fate,
Her fate is ours as well.
She shall not strike,
She shall not defend,
She shall wait for the end.
She is Mother Earth.

Word of the Month Young Poet, Grades 3-7, Runner-Up Tie
Maumee Valley Country Day
Fifth Grade
Toledo, OH
Teacher: Nanette Valuck
The Only Escape
“Scritch, scratch, scritch, scratch”
My hand flies across the page,
Pouring from my mouth,
Spilling out my fingertips,
Settling on to the paper.
Each one with it’s own sharp taste,
The flavors wiz by going too fast to recapture
Each new flavor inspiring the next,
“Beep beep beep!”
A traffic jam as my hand becomes too slow
I force them to slow down as I sift through, trying to find the right one,
I scribble circle after circle,
Waiting for the ink to come,
But I know this is hopeless . . .
Suddenly reality grips me,
Ink stains cover my hands
I no longer taste the words
Only then is the pain renewed
Eating me away,
Tearing flesh from bone,
Words are the only escape.
I reach for a new pen,
“Scriiiiitch scratch screech!”
My hand slugs across the page
Syllable by syllable,
The flavors,
Subdued now,
But still there
After each flavor is finished I wish there was more
“Plunk, plunk.”
They come out too slow for my liking
I push myself trying to think of more,
But it is no use.
Why? Why? Why? I think to myself.
Word of the Month Young Poet, Grades 3-7, Runner-Up Tie
Maumee Valley Country Day
6th grade
Toledo, Oh
teacher: Jana Smith

I open the latch to your velvety case
I take off your silk blanket
I pull you deep into my arms
I take out your bow and begin playing
It’s like you are singing to me
I look up and down your wooden body;
each line makes you look like a tiger
you are ready
ready to pounce on that half note going into an eighth note
I push the bow back and fourth over your four metal strings
then, we play
we play the most beautiful sound ever imagined
like a waterfall
or the smoothest airplane landing that ever happened
This is how beautiful your sound is
You are my harmony
you are my melody
you are mine
There is a word for this
the most powerful word that there is
The two of us together are like a team
we keep pushing to win the Olympic gold metal
Then, our final turn,
we win,
we keep on playing our song,
as if there is nothing more in the world
just the two of us and our love

Word of the Month Young Poet, Grades 8-12

Crescent City Jr Sr High School
9th Grade
Teacher: Lisa Martino
Crescent City, FL
Thanks is a way of life
Thanks is a way of passion
I am thankful for things in my life
I remember when we all use to sit around
the table and give thanks
Thanks can go a long way
Thanks is a gift
Thanks comes around all the time

Word of the Month Young Poet, Grades 8-12, Runner-up
Crescent City Jr Sr High School
9th grade
Teacher: Lisa Martino
Crescent City, FL
Thanks is for people that receive.
People that don’t receive still say thanks.
I received something that no one wants,
I received something that no one likes.
Sorrow fills my gift.
No one cares what you get,
Unless it’s something they want.
Even though I don’t like my gift,
I still give thanks to the person
that is still giving those sad gifts.

Hall of Fame Poet
To Teach or Not to Teach the Classics
Should I delve blindness to the word of old
And open their minds anew
Should I continue on the course ahead
And connect them, unscathed newborn
Or inspire, muse, arouse sleeping wit
Entice all, magnetic lure
Do I assist them, relate, painless thought
With modern themes, common words
It’s an enigma, a challenge to me
Ancient deliberation
Or conspicuously apparent sound
Hall of Fame Poet Runner-Up

Hall of Fame Young Poet, Grades 3-7
Maumee Valley Country Day
Fifth Grade
Toledo, OH
Teacher: Nanette Valuck

Without a Word
Cries of laughter.
Joy was spread throughout the church.
Everyone was talking in hushed voices,
Yet all the sounds combing in my little head sounded as if
Every word a new little firework
Sent out on its journey through the sky.
She walks in everyone goes silent,
Her beautiful white gown flouncing as she appears,
So gracefully,
So silently,
So gently,
She takes a step forward,
My heart’s racing, another step
She walks down the aisle,
Her head raised as if she wasn’t afraid.
Maybe she wasn’t but I was.
As she takes another step
Her train floats over the petals I had softly strewn.
As she takes her last steps
She looks down at me and smiles.
Without a word she calms my heart.
Hall of Fame Young Poet, Grades 3-7, Runner-Up
Hall of Fame Young Poet, Grades 8-10:
Crescent City Jr Sr High School
10th Grade
Crescent City, FL
Teacher: Lisa Martino
Everyday I wake
I give thanks
To see the sun rise
I give thanks
For a family that is wise
I give thanks
Life, health, and strength
Nothing but thanks
To the one up above
Hall of Fame Young Poet, Grades 8-10 Runner-Up

WRITERS AT WORK, Reality of Rejection(Part 4)

Hi everyone,

I’m adding my concluding thoughts on the subject of rejection. I heard plenty of comments about it during the NCTE conference that I can share with you.

Topic: The Reality of Rejection
Response 4: David
Date: November 23, 2010

So I’m attending a major convention. This morning I made a presentation about Word of the Month Poetry Challenge which, I think, was well received and might result in more teachers introducing their students to the project. Not ony that, I'm signing books at the Scholastic booth and last hour I signed books at the Boyds Mills Press booth. In both places, I greeted many old friends and met a number of new ones. When I finish here, I’ll attend the Authors Luncheon and sit around a table of teachers, each of whom will receive a copy of my latest book. They will ask me to sign their books and I’ll do it with pleasure. It’s hard not to feel good about this day. Until

I check my e-mail just prior to the luncheon. And there I find

a r-e-j-e-c-t-i-o-n.

And I am bummed.

Never mind how grown up we all try to be about having our work turned down, it still stings when someone says, “Not for us.” As Sandy says, we gradually reach a point where we take these rejections in stride as being part of the job. Maybe our sulk time shortens and the hysterics diminish. But come on, I’m having a Rejection Moment here. How about a moment of silence?

Okay, I’m back.

Today I visited with several other writers, among them some of the brightest and best. And guess what? One of them just got turned down twice; same for another. Others mention how hard it has been lately for them to get approval for new projects. These are STARS for Pete’s sake. I also talked with editors and they, too, lament how difficult it can be these days to get a book accepted. I mentioned earlier in my conversation with Sandy that I developed a habit years ago to keep a list of potential publishers for every new manuscript so that I could get a rejected manuscript back in circulation as soon as possible after it came back. The tactic still works. We’ve talked about dealing with rejection before the fact and how to handle it after it happens. Here’s my executive summary.

1. Write something.
2. Polish it until you can’t read it without sunglasses.
3. Study the market.
4. Make a list of potential publishers.
5. Submit to the one at the top of the list.
6. Remind yourself that there is a strong chance you’ll be rejected.
7. Be prepared to hold the briefest pity part possible before going to #2 on your list.
8. See #7.
9. See #7.
10. See #7.
11. If you sell something, bask in the glow, but don’t get used to the idea that you are now invincible.
12. See #7

Sorry to be so spotty lately with my posting. Once I’m home again it won’t take long to get back on schedule.


WRITERS AT WORK, Reality of Rejection (Part 3)

Hi everyone,

We’re back with another episode of WRITERS AT WORK. Sandy Asher and I started this informal chat about the nuts and bolts of writing two and a half months ago. This is our third subject. We’ve talked about The Care and Feeding of Ideas and Dealing with Obstacles to Writing. This month we’re focusing on The Reality of Rejection. Remember, if you feel moved to join the conversation, jump right in. If you are interested in writing a longer piece on the subject, get in touch with me to see about being a Featured Author. And at the end of every month, Sandy brings together the total conversation on the subject and posts it on America Writes for Kids.

This week is Sandy’s turn again. And here she is now.

Topic 3: The Reality of Rejection
Response 3: Sandy Asher“ . . . Ignorant editor, stupid economy, out of touch editorial board, backward sales force, malicious promotion director, clueless art director . . .”

David! What a delicious incantation! I think I’ll post it above my computer and chant it out loud – with gusto! – whenever another rejection rolls in. Take that and that and THAT! I just know I’ll feel cleansed, cheered, and most importantly, energized.

Anger has its up side. It tells us our needs are not being met. It provides the adrenaline rush needed to get them met. Earlier I mentioned “revenge” as a response to rejection. Sounds destructive, but guess what? Properly employed, revenge can be quite a healthy and productive response. I figured that out just about the time the steady waves of rejection finally began denting and rusting my faux armor of ignorant self-assurance. (For more about that, see Response 1.) As I tore open more and more dreaded envelopes containing returned manuscripts, I took to sprawling on the sofa for long, sometimes tearful, sulks. My husband and children would wander by, murmuring words of sympathy and encouragement. Sort of.

Me: Whatever made me think I could publish my work? What made me think I could even write? Never again. I give up. I mean it!

Them: How long is it going to last this time? Are you planning to cook dinner or what?

Eventually, even I would grow tired of my own self-pity. That’s when the second tsunami would wash over me: REVENGE!

Me: I will revise this thing until it’s so wonderful the next editor to see it will snap it up – and it will be so successful the rest of them will eat their hearts out that they didn’t grab it when they had the chance.

Them: Okay. So what’s for dinner?

I’m not a vengeful person normally, but I do have an older brother, so I learned early to stop sniveling and fight back. My current household confirmed that sniveling would get me nowhere. But thoughts of literary revenge gave me the energy I needed to stand up and get back to work. And cook dinner, too.

These days, I’m less of a drama queen. No kids at home means a reduced audience anyway. “Self-pity Meets Revenge” is a short one-act instead of a full-length play, and it’s performed mainly inside my head. But that “I’ll show them!” impulse still gets the adrenaline flowing.

Not everyone needs to face rejection. Writing is a good thing. Writing for oneself, one’s family, one’s friends – all valid and worthwhile endeavors. Writing for professional publication is a whole other challenge. As I’ve often told my students, “It’s art when you create it; it’s art when your audience receives it. Everything in between is BUSINESS.” Rejection is an unavoidable part of that business. But no one’s required to go there. If you can be happy doing anything else, do that other thing and write for the joy of it. But if you can’t be happy without sharing your work through professional publication, figure on spending considerable time wending your way through the Big Business Forest that stands between you and your audience. Prepare to meet lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my.

I don’t remember which Hollywood mogul said it, but an agent passed it on: “If I’d known I was getting into this business, I never would’ve gotten into this business.”

Well, I’m in it. If you decide publication is the way you must go, learn to read between the lines of those rejections. The standard form says, “Not for us at this time.” Okay, that’s a “no.” But it does leave open, “Maybe for someone else at some other time.” The handwritten note, even a “Sorry” scribbled at the bottom of a standard form, means “Not for us, but, busy as I am, I still want to let you know you’ve impressed me.” The more extensive personal comment means, “Not for us, but likely for someone else, and I’m hoping we connect with another piece soon.” And if an editor’s comments end with “If you’re willing to revise along these lines, I’d like to see this again,” you’ve got an open door. Walk through it!

Hang onto those personal comments. Editors do not make them lightly. I keep a collection of them and was able to remind an editor of her former kind words when submitting something entirely different to her years later, after she’d moved to another publishing house. She remembered. That’s how much those comments mean to a busy editor taking the time and making the effort to write them!

Oh, and given her new job and my new material, she was able to offer an entirely different response: “Yes.” So, burn no bridges behind you. David’s incantation is strictly for home use only. Repeat as needed, then forge ahead!

Your turn to wrap it up, David.

1) Let the voting begin! 2) WRITERS AT WORK – Obstacles to Writing (Part 5) with Guest Author Kristi Holl

Hello everyone,This is a busy day! We kick off voting for this month’s Hall of Fame Poet and Hall of Fame Young Poet. It has been wonderful to see so many talented poets and young poets contribute their creative work during October. My thanks to everyone who participated!

Today I’m also asking our judges to begin deliberating over their choices for Word of the Month Poet and Word of the Month Young Poet. For a reminder of our outstanding panel of judges, here’s the link when I introduced them.

Below you’ll find the voting boxes where you can cast your votes. To reread this month’s candidates, back up to yesterday’s post and there they are.

And, below the ballot boxes, you’ll find a very find article for WRITERS AT WORK! Have fun!

And now, welcome to another post in the series WRITERS AT WORK. I hope by now that regular visitors to my blog are familiar with the ongoing chat about writing that Sandy Asher and I started on September 28 and have maintained since then on each Tuesday. If you are new to the blog and would like to get caught up, you can check back to my Tuesday posts. Also, at the end of each month we are posting the total conversation for that month on America Writes for Kids at Sandy and I welcome the comments of other writers to this conversation. If the comments are long enough to post as a Guest Author, we’re glad to do that. Our topic this month has been: Obstacles to Writing. Today the entire column is provided by an old friend, Kristi Holl. Thanks Kristi!

“Dealing with Distractions”

During the early stages of a writing project, when you’re gathering ideas and deciding on your approach, it’s useful to daydream and be unfocused in your thinking. However, there comes a time to focus, to fully concentrate on the work, as if you were putting a beam of sunlight through a magnifying glass to concentrate its power until the paper it touches bursts into flame.

Why Focus?

When you focus, you’ll accomplish writing projects in half the time, and your concentrated efforts will produce better work. Focusing also builds momentum and enthusiasm, urging us to move steadily toward finished stories, articles, and books.

Being able to focus is critical. As Stephen Covey (author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) says, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Getting Sidetracked

What keeps us from focusing? Distractions. They have always been with us. Agatha Christie once said, “I enjoy writing in the desert. There are no distractions such as telephones, theaters, opera houses and gardens.” While our modern-day distractions may have changed a bit (e-mails to answer, faxes coming in, the World Series on TV), the result of being sidetracked by them remains the same. We don’t finish our writing. We don’t study guidelines and mail that manuscript. We don’t follow up on marketing tips. If we stall long enough, we may quit altogether.

So how do we deal with things that take us away from our writing? Try adapting the Serenity Prayer for this purpose: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the distractions I cannot change, courage to change the distractions I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Wisdom to Know

What are some distractions you cannot change or ignore? Sometimes it’s a sick child or spouse or a crisis with a friend. Sometimes your boss gives you an overtime assignment with a “now” deadline. There may be a project that needs to be attended to without delay, like your teenager’s last-minute college entrance application. This type of interruption or distraction you have little control over. You grin and bear it.

However, we need wisdom to know the difference between the distractions that are unavoidable and those we allow. Chances are, you’re your own worst enemy when it comes to distractions that keep you from writing. So take courage! Change what you can in order to focus on your writing.

1. Use an answering machine to screen calls. Better yet, turn the ringer off altogether so you’re not tempted to pick up when you hear your best friend’s voice. Then return calls at lunch time or when you’ve finished your daily writing stint.

2. Isolate yourself as much as possible from the traffic flow. I now have my own office, but I’ve written in family rooms and bedrooms and dens. The family room was the most difficult with constant interruptions of TV, kids, and doorbells. The more you can shut the door on distractions, the easier you’ll find it to focus.

3. Take note of your own personal distractions. The blinds in my office are pulled because I look outside every time a car/garbage truck/motorcycle/UPS truck/bus/delivery truck goes by. I also remove all chocolate from my work space. Even hidden in the back of a drawer, it calls to me while I work and distracts me, whether I stop to eat it or not. Nice weather tempts me to go out for a while, so I don’t put on makeup until late in the day. I know I won’t show my face in public without it–so I’ll stay home and write instead.

4. Leave the mail alone. Reading letters and e-mail and surfing the Net can be a major distraction. It interrupts your flow to stop and sort the mail. And if your mail contains rejection letters, bills, and bank statements, it can create an instant slump. So get the snail-mail if you must, but stash it in a basket until the end of the day when you’re done writing. The same is true for e-mail. Leave it unopened and unread till late afternoon (unless it’s a response from an editor!).

5. For non-emergencies, make your family wait. Barter with your family for writing time. When you’re finished, you’ll make popcorn. When you’re finished, you’ll play catch. When you’re finished, you’ll go rent a movie. (Just be sure you actually follow through on your promises!)

6. Leave home. If home is too chaotic sometimes, take your work to the library or a park or a cafe, somewhere quiet with no phone and a minimum of distractions.

7. Organize your work space first. Arrange your work space before you begin writing, to ensure that you have everything you need. Don’t run out of paper halfway through typing your chapter. Keep things within reach. Even finding a new ink cartridge or box of paper clips in your supply closet can distract you. Before you know it, you’ve spent half an hour rearranging the closet shelves.

8. Silence can be golden. Are you as distracted by noise as I am? I run a fan on high speed for white noise, and during school vacations I also use ear plugs. If traffic bothers you–or if you’re in a quiet neighborhood where twittering birds distract you–close the windows during your writing time.

9. Change your schedule. Get up earlier and write when the world is still asleep. Phones don’t ring. Kids don’t interrupt. Your spouse is still snoring. (This works equally well if you’re a night owl and can write after the world shuts down for the night.)

10. Eat healthy meals at regular intervals. Avoid the distraction of a growling stomach or a hunger headache. If you’re always thirsty, keep cold drinks within reach. A mini-refrigerator in your office, filled with bottled water and fresh fruit, an keep you from constantly running to the kitchen.


Take time to study yourself, discovering your own favorite distractions. Once in a while we have absolutely no control over interruptions. However, most of the time, we (consciously or not) use distractions to keep us from having to face the work and anxiety of putting words on paper.

The next time you sit down at your keyboard, close your eyes and imagine yourself as that concentrated beam of light focused by the magnifying glass. Then open your eyes, hit the keys, and set the world on fire!
Kristi’s web site at
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WRITERS AT WORK – Obstacles to Writing (Part 4), also featuring Guest Author Amie Brockway

Greetings from WRITERS AT WORK, the ongoing chat between Sandy Asher and David Harrison about the nitty-gritty of being writers. Rules are simple. We select a question that is often posed and take turns (two each) responding to it. We invite others to join in the conversation and will post longer efforts as Guest Authors on future WRITERS AT WORK slots. In addition to today’s guest, Amie Brockway, we have Kristi Holl on October 26.

October 19, 2010
Topic 2: Obstacles to Writing
Response 4: Sandy

Hey, David –

It’s nice to know I’m not alone, even though it’s the answer-all-your-emails-first club I belong to. Not only answer them, but hop to it and deliver anything anyone asks of me in those e-mails. But, like you, I get a lot done in spite of my e-mail addiction, so I guess we club members could free up at least a little of our time if we spend less of it feeling guilty!

The internal obstacle I’d like to talk about is something like a taped message that goes on in my brain during the writing of first drafts. I start out each project in a state of high optimism: “This is a fabulous idea. It’s going to be easy, too! And everyone’s going to love it.” Off I go, then, scribbling or typing away with a big smile on my face. Roughly halfway, maybe less, into the first draft, the tape begins: “This is not going to work. This is garbage. Whatever made you think you could write? This is awful. Stop! Give up! STOP!”

I don’t know where that message comes from, but I do know other writers hear their own version of it. Another club we joined unwillingly, but there we are, in it together and wrestling with another obstacle to our writing. Some writers do stop and give up. As for me, I’ve come to think of that moment when the negative message clicks on as something like the wall that marathon runners talk about. Somewhere in the race you feel as if you will drop in your tracks if you take another step. But if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, sooner or later a “second wind” will kick in and carry you to the finish line.

So I keep putting one word in front of the other, with the message repeating on a relentless loop in my head, and eventually, I get an entire draft done. That entire draft, I’ve found, is a critical milestone. It’s easy to throw away the first few paragraphs of a story or even the first couple of chapters of a book. But an entire draft? Uh-uh. I’ve lived with the characters too long. I know them, I care about them, and I’m not going to toss them in the trash without at least trying to do their story justice.

The taped message in my head hates it when I get on with the second, third, fourth, or nth draft of a piece. It slinks away. Until the next project. It’s been visiting me for decades now, with no signs of weakening — a formidable foe, but not an unstoppable one. I just write it down!

My turn to go first next time, David. I’ll be taking on “How do you deal with rejection?” And do I ever have experience in that area!

Thanks, Sandy. I’ll look forward to your opening remarks. But before we change subjects, we have two other Guest Authors on tap. Today we feature the witty remarks of Amie Brockway and next Tuesday we feature Kristi Holl. Here’s Amie.

Hi Sandy and David,

I would love to figure out how to make use of your new venture. What gets in my way?

Today, it’s 327 e-mails that have to be answered, deleted, or otherwise dealt with. I keep meaning to tell you, Sandy, that I’m reading your book about writing and rewriting. I read it while I eat–that’s multi-tasking, right? It’s a wonderful book, and I’m sure it will help me.

I’m trying to get to my two writing projects, and I thought I had pretty much the whole day today to focus on them. But, here it is 4:30, and I still have 21 unread e-mails and a whole stack of e-mails for which I have promised to try to get this or that done today.

I don’t know.

I made up a time budget, and it has 34 hours in a day. I tried multiplying that times 5 days and spreading it over 7 days, and if I remember correctly I ended up with 4 spare hours.

Guess I won’t be trying to blog anytime soon.


Amie Brockway is producing artistic director of The Open Eye Theater, Margaretville, NY. Her plays include adaptations of THE ODYSSEY and THE NIGHTINGALE (both Dramatic Publishing Company). From: Open Eye Theater. Here’s the link to Open Eye Theater: The theater’s website is