Monday, November 28, 2016

Advice and Links for Teen Writers

There's no single path to writing success, any more than there is a single definition of writing success (or success in any form). 

Careers in writing are tricky. And, journalism and fiction writing are two completely different animals. For fiction writing, the advice I always give to teens is read, write and learn about life (aka, an English major is not required to be a fiction writer and maybe college is a place to explore other intellectual interests, such as history or politics or math!). After that, that are two routes: 1. (If your goal is popular fiction) Write, get an agent, submit work. 2. (If your goal is literary fiction) Go to an elite writing grad program (such as Iowa, NYU, Wisconsin (Madison), Brown, Johns Hopkins), make connections/get an agent, submit work.

That said, I have met many talented teens who dream of seeing their words in print. So, to the extent that we can define success as publication, here are a few links:
Happy Writing!

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Coffee. Kindness. Creativity. Community. My four amazing sons. My adorable (extremely funny) husband. People who show compassion and respect for others, even those with whom they disagree. Live theater. Good friends. Connecting with others in real life. Books, books, books...and the people who make them. 

Enjoy today. Be happy. There is much to celebrate in this world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

It's College Application Time: What to do when you meet an admissions officer IRL

Whether it is at college fair, on a campus tour, or during an admissions interview, at some point you may find yourself face-to-face with an admissions officer. For some, this is even scarier than choosing the topic for their Common App essay. What do you say? What do you do? How do you make the best impression?


  • Recite your scores/stats/accomplishments. These will all be part of your application paperwork and admissions officers are not there to memorize your personal data--they are there to connect with you as a person.
  • Ask questions for which answers are easily found on the school website. You should know if your major of choice is available at their school, the level of Greek life, or whether their campus is urban or rural. 
  • Ask if the food is any good in the cafeteria or how they like the weather where the school is located.
  • Make statements simply to prove you've been on the aforementioned school website. 

DO...Ask a question that shows you are genuinely trying to learn whether you would be a good fit for their institution, such as:

  • How would you describe the level of academic intensity and the workload? How would you describe the study/social balance on campus?
  • How accessible are professors outside of classes?
  • What kinds of opportunities are available for undergraduate research?
  • Do most students participate in clubs, and what are the most popular clubs available on campus? (Specify your area(s) of interest if applicable.)
  • What ways do most students spend their weekends: on campus, in the town, going home?
  • Do many students have internship opportunities? Are they available to all majors?
  • What percentage of students in my area of interest study abroad and how does that work with their major requirements?
REALIZE...The admissions officer is looking to get to know you, too. Be prepared with answers for such question as:
  • Why do you want to apply to XYZ University?
  • What are your academic interests? Are you interested in a particular major or school at XYZ U?
  • What are you favorite extracurricular activities?
  • What is your favorite book or movie?

REMEMBER...This is not a one-sided process. While colleges can be selective in their admissions processes, without intelligent, motivated STUDENTS, their institutions would not exist. Both you and the admissions staffers need what the other offers. Keep that in mind when you have the opportunity to meet each other.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Recently, I had the good fortune to hear a panel of admissions experts share insights about their roles and the college application process.  The panel was comprised of of admissions staffers from CalTech (Pasadena, CA), University of Oregon (Eugene, OR), American University (Washington, DC) and Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA).  All four individuals were excellent ambassadors with deep understanding of the nature and character of their institutions.

The event filled me with optimism and enthusiasm (not stress!). In fact, the more I learn about college admissions, the more I genuinely believe that stress can and should be avoided. Why? Because, whether you are hoping to play a D-1-2-or-3 college sport, want to bring a special creative ability to campus, or are simply a well-rounded student looking for a welcoming place to continue your academic pursuits, admissions officers are reading your resume in search of the same thing: FIT. They are asking themselves, "Will this applicant be able to complete our coursework and graduate on time?" "Will this applicant find, on our campus, the opportunities s/he appears to be seeking and, thus, have a satisfying and successful undergraduate experience?"

Honestly, applicants should be looking for the same thing. WHAT SCHOOLS WILL BE THE BEST "next step" for MY LIFE? Which communities can offer me both a fun four years and set me on an exciting post-graduation path? If your search is framed in this way, you are enhancing the odds that you and those admissions officers asking the same questions from the other side will find your way to each other.

Monday, November 14, 2016


The "murky middle" is a phrase--and a writing space--that strikes fear in the hearts of novelists in all genres. Whether you start with an outline (plotter) or follow your instincts from scene to scene (pantser), you eventually get to a place where you've set up all the relationships, planted all the plot seeds, and have to figure out how that BIG MOMENT actually happens on the page.

I know when I've hit the "murk" when I find myself writing the following red flags:
  • Extended passages of dialogue
  • Sudden info-dump 
  • A scene where the MC suddenly wonders about religion/love/politics
These red flags show me I'm trying to force the pace. That, perhaps I've stopped listening to my characters and tried to trump their "instincts" with the plot trajectory I have planned in my head. Maybe it's just plain old "sick of this story" page 200 burn-out.

I have found SCRIVENER to be a tremendous help at this moment in my writing process. Because each chapter in the novel I am building is broken into FOLDERS (chapters) and TEXT (scenes within each chapter), I can...
Write here, write now. Scrivener.
  • explore ways to move this content into other parts of the story
  • break a chapter into even smaller chunks turning info dump into, say, 3 discrete reveals
  • transform a fat wad of dialogue into several trim, natural-feeling exchanges and then decide to keep, move and/or remove each part
  • move a critical section of text--or even a whole chapter--to an earlier or later point in the story to shake things up and challenge myself (writer) and my characters (okay, also me, but as characters with certain information within the context of their fictional lives), creating a new level of tension in both the plot and the ACT OF WRITING (it's meta and cool!)
In the process of manipulating my words in these ways, I find myself recovering control of the novel's pace and reconnecting with my characters more honestly. It is neither easy nor fun. But, using the tools available in Scrivener to navigate the murky middle has been, for me, a little less scary. I've been able to get back on track and, most importantly, feel less overwhelmed/terrified/depressed and more excited about this manuscript again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Free FIRST PAGES Writing Workshop this Saturday at KCLS Woodinville

SATURDAY,  NOVEMBER 12, 2016, 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Woodinville Library, 17105 Avondale Road NE, Woodinville, WA

The next class in this FREE series of writing workshops 
will be jointly led by Sara Nickerson, Holly Cupala & me!

First Pages Interactive Workshop
Are your first 250 words ready for a professional review? Are you stuck and looking for some help identifying the best start for your story? Bring the first page of your work-in-progress for this friendly, progress-focused interactive workshop led by Sara Nickerson, Stasia Kehoe and Holly Cupala, and leave with a stronger, better opening page!

This workshop is open to writers in grades 7 to adult. Registration is not required. 
For instructions on HOW TO FORMAT YOUR PAGE for the workshop, go HERE.
For more information about Woodinville Library Programs, go HERE
Hope to see you on Saturday!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Second Saturdays Writing Program: Get Ready for a FIRST PAGES INTERACTIVE WORKSHOP November 12

We're well into our second year of amazing FREE writing workshops at KCLS Woodinville. Coming up on Saturday, November 12, from 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM,  participants will have a unique opportunity to get professional feedback on their work from this classy three-author panel:

This workshop will be FRIENDLY, POSITIVE, ANONYMOUS (for submitting writers) and CONSTRUCTIVE. Please consider taking advantage of this exciting FREE opportunity which is usually only available within expensive writing retreats and conferences. BE BRAVE!

Here are the guidelines to help you prepare.

  • ONE (1) copy of the FIRST PAGE of your work-in-progress, formatted as follows:
  • Text should be double-spaced
  • 12 point, legible font such as Times New Roman or Courier
  • DO NOT PUT NAME, TITLE or other information on the page
  • Picture book texts are fine, simply adhere to above restrictions
  • When you arrive at the library, a number will be attached to your page and you will be given the corresponding number
  • You will also be given a numbered form on which you can write your name, genre, and project title; this form will also have a box you can check if you would like written feedback
  • Each page will be read aloud by one of the panelists
  • This will be followed by professional feedback identifying the Best Sentence on the submitted page; the most enticing element of the page, (if applicable) thoughts on an element which perhaps feels confusing or distracting to the flow of the all-important story start, and strategies for making the page even stronger.
  • All attendees will be given worksheets on which they can write notes about the pages they have heard. These worksheets will be attached to the numbered forms and may be collected by participants at the end of the session if they so choose.
We will try to get through as many pages as possible. If time allows, the workshop will conclude with some general discussion of key first page components and insights into the way agents and editors read them. If you submit your first page, you are GUARANTEED to leave this workshop excited to revise and empowered by what may be your first experience sharing your work with the professional writing world.