practiced strokes
shades of red paint
poppies from her garden


the baby cries
all night calling mom
for advice


– – –

Image: Red Poppy – Georgia O’Keeffe, 1927, WikiArt.org

Words: senryu, c.b.w. 2016

Part of the 2016 April Poem A Day Challenge (via Poetic Asides on Writer’s Digest) for the April 5 prompt: experience/inexperience.


Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing: Part II


See Part I of this series, here.

6. It’s hard work and fun at the same time.

Whether you’re writing a novel or a haiku, writing can be a challenging pursuit. It involves daily practice and often hours of unflinching focus. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me as I love hanging out in my imagination bubble, but there are days where lifting the pen or punching those keys can be an enormous challenge. Sometimes the muse just won’t cooperate or the day job leaves me so exhausted, the words are hiding beneath layers of stress.

While the work is hard and never truly ends, it is worth every bit of the effort. Every word written brings you that much closer to finished draft. Every word makes you a better writer. And here’s the best part, writers usually love what they do, so that means all of that hard work is actually fun. Even on the days when the words are playing hide and seek. The bigger the challenge, the more delightful the reward.

7. Edit with an open mind.

For some writers, editing is the best part of the process. They can slash and rearrange without any hesitation. At first I struggled with editing because I liked to hang onto every single word. I swear my first novel was akin to a hoarder’s closet – cluttered with stuff that should’ve gone in the trash bin.

The simple fact is you have to be wiling to let things go in order to let things in. Writing is a fluid process with constant changes from start to finish. The more open-minded you are, the more your story finds it’s footing or the more your poem finds it’s rhythm.

Editing is about making a draft as good as it can possibly be. Sometimes that means simply polishing language and sometimes that means rewriting entire sections or reconsidering an entire storyline. Either way, let your muse be as much a part of the process as it was at the very start.

8. Do your homework.

If you’re writing a YA novel, read YA novels. If you’re writing haikus, read haikus. It’s a simple rule and one worth following. Even if you’re looking to reinvent a genre, it helps to know where it began, current trends, and techniques used by other authors. After all, how can you add tracks to a road if you don’t where it’s located?

When I started writing poetry again a few years back (after a loooooong hiatus), I just did my own thing and didn’t really think to read poetry. I like what I wrote just fine, but soon I realized I was missing out on a well of inspiration by failing to explore other poets. After immersing myself in anthologies of multiple poets and exploring poet blogs, I watched my poetry go from mediocre to something better.

The same is true for my novel writing attempts. For the first novel, I read plenty of fiction, but not in the genre for which I was writing. The result was a halfway decent attempt, but nothing too exciting (yet). For my second attempt, I read every YA novel I could get my hands on in order to get a strong sense of how to structure a YA novel and to learn techniques to make writing appealing to young adults. The result is a novel I’m pretty darn proud of.

The big take away here is to let other writers guide you through their work and inspire you to blaze your own trail.

9. Join a writer’s group

Writing can be a lonely pursuit. While most writers are introverts and prefer the solitude, it’s still important to leave that lonely bubble and socialize with other writers. A writer’s group can be a place for inspiration, camaraderie, advice, and networking. Writers’ groups range from groups that just write, critique groups, or groups that work on a single project. There are, of course, many more options and they are all worth considering.

Much like editing, writer’s groups offer that open door that all writers need. Sometimes we get so stuck inside our own little world, we don’t realize how stuffy it gets. Let some fresh air in by letting other writers into your world. They bring fresh perspective and insight. They lift you up when your inner critic is weighing you down. They never let you give up.

10. Trust your muse.

When in doubt, listen to your muse. That gut feeling is usually right and always knows best. No amount of book smarts, advice, or technique can outmatch the creativity that lives inside of a writer. Trust your vision and stay true to what your imagination sees. No matter what.

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Did I miss anything? What do you wish you had known before you started writing?

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c.b.w. 2015

Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing: Part I


1. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

This is especially true for the first draft. So many poems, novels, and short stories go unfinished because of backtracking to “fix” problems. My first novel took 5 years to complete due to my constant adjustments. My second novel taught me to just punch out that first draft and then go back in and revise/edit. Rationale: Having the big picture in place makes easier to find and fix mistakes.

2. Too much advice does more harm than good.

That old adage, “too many cooks in the kitchen” comes to mind. Knowledge about anything is powerful, but ultimately it comes down to action. You can attend a million workshops or read every how-to manual on the market, but the best teacher is experience. You have to make mistakes and allow yourself to fall instead of only relying on a knowledge base to get you through the process.

This also applies to beta readers. They have their purpose, but too many opinions can easily sway or muddle your original vision. Like all good things, advice is best in moderation. There comes a point where a writer has to find balance between outside opinions and the muse’s compass.

3. The inner critic is brutal.

One of the first posts on this blog was titled, My Inner Critic Is Trying To Kill Me. Let me tell you, that voice is LOUD. And soul crushing mean. For some writers, the inner critic is so cruel the words stop coming altogether. I wish I had a magic fix for the self doubt the brews inside of every writer, but the one piece of advice I can give is to fight back. The only way to defeat the inner critic is to keep writing and pushing forward. Eventually, that loud, mean voice falls on deaf ears because you’re too busy writing something.

4. Triumphs are small, but incredibly meaningful.

Even though I’ve been writing for most of my life (I have poetry journals from when I was 8 years old), my list of accomplishments is quite small. I’ve won a small contest, been published in a tiny local journal and a local newspaper. That’s about it. Although, I do count my blog as a success as well!  While the list is small and the accomplishments smaller, I cherish every victory. They are few and far between for most writers, so grab onto them and don’t take them for granted!

5. Rejection is a good thing.

No one likes getting that email that says, “unfortunately I am not interested in your work at this time.” It sucks. But it’s also great. Most agents and publications don’t even bother responding to queries at all, so getting any sort of a response is exciting stuff.  Embrace it and give yourself a pat on the back. In many instances it means your work was good enough to spark some sort of attention.

Something else to keep in mind is the fact that the rejection letter allows the inner critic to occupy some prime real estate in your soul if you choose to take it personally. Don’t let the inner critic win. Instead, save your rejection letters as testaments to the fact that you are trying and someone noticed.

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Stay tuned for Part II next week. Meanwhile, I’m curious – What do you wish you would have known before you started writing?

– – –

c.b.w. 2015

Five Things I’ve Learned About Pitching a Novel


Writing a great novel doesn’t guarantee publication. The publishing industry is brutal, highly subjective, and has no room for the weak-willed. I’m relatively new to the novel pitching game, but I’m already learning it takes a lot of determination and thick skin. Four rejection letters and two beacons of silence are all I have to show for The Muse, despite months of querying.  Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I can go on and on about how important it is to be tough, but I think the bigger lesson is to remember to have a little fun with it and don’t take anything personally.

I’m not an expert by any means, but I have pick up a few nuggets of wisdom along the way …

1. Agents are not evil-doers who love to say no.

I’ve read horror stories of vicious rejections letters and negative interactions with agents, but so far my experience has been quite positive. The rejection letters I’ve received have all been very encouraging even though they all said “no.” I don’t know if this is because I only pitched to super nice people or if my work is good enough not to elicit venom. Honestly, I like both possibilities equally.

2. Sometimes a response can take months.

We all like to think literary agents have the superhero ability to stay up all night and read really fast, but the fact is they are human. They need sleep and they like to read carefully while considering someone’s work. The last response I got from an agent came four months after I sent the query letter. I had already marked the agent’s space on my spreadsheet with “no response!” It just goes to show you never know when a response will come. Patience is everything.

3. Finding the right agent takes a lot work.

There are literally thousands of agents looking for a good book. And they all want different things! It took months of research to create a list of six agents I though might be interested in my novel. As much as I hate using a cliché on this point, the process of looking for the right agent is exactly like looking for a very tiny needle in a huge haystack. In the end, I’m hoping all relentless research will be worth it when I find the perfect agent.

4. Writing a synopsis sucks.

I know as a professional writer I should be able to write anything, but squishing my entire novel down to a single page is pure torture.  Moreover, it’s ridiculous that I can easily write a short synopsis for a book I just read, but not my own! It’s been six months and I’m still editing a synopsis for The Muse. I’m either being too picky or I’m a moron that can’t write a synopsis.

5. Persistence will pay off.

Every account I’ve read from a published writer reinforces the reality that persistence is everything. Agents don’t go looking for you, so you have knock on their door with a kick-butt query and novel. Getting published is all about self advocacy and seizing every opportunity. If you skulk in a corner and refuse to speak, your writing will never see the light of day. Persistence is everything … and so is a little luck.

Write those queries and believe with everything you’ve got!

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c.b.w. 2014