Friday, May 27, 2011

Blogs That Work - Lisa Rivero's Writing Life

This month's Blog That Works is Writing Life hosted by author, teacher and speaker, Lisa Rivero. I first became familiar with Lisa when she began following my blog and making regular comments here on TLCG so I of course had to check out her blog...and I'm so glad I did! Writing Life is one of the few blogs I subscribe to and always enjoy. Lisa's thoughtful posts on the creative life always capture my full attention and leave me with something to think about for the rest of the day, or more.

What I find especially intriguing are her "Flash Narratives" or micro short stories about her great-aunt Hattie, who lived on the Great Plains and kept a diary of her experiences from 1920-1957. Lisa is in the middle of crafting a book around Hattie's pioneer-like life and uses Flash Narrative as a tool to not only capture her audience but inspire her writing in the larger work.

I had a chance to speak with Lisa about her bog and the larger piece. Here's what she had to say:

TLC: We spoke a bit about how sharing Hattie's story online has affected your storytelling on the page. Could you share a bit more about that?

LR: Something I've learned through my teaching of creative thinking is that creativity often needs boundaries in order to thrive. Before I began writing the flash narratives on my blog, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by Hattie's life and story. She wrote daily entries from January 1, 1920 through the first months of 1957--nearly seventy volumes. Not only did she change a lot in that time, but the world around her changed as well. Another question I had was whether Hattie's life would be interesting to anyone outside of my family.

By giving myself a word limit and writing about specific incidents or experiences, I've been able to explore different aspects of the diaries without having to commit to a voice or tense or perspective. I've found that, week by week, I'm becoming a better storyteller. I tend to get too wrapped up in the nuances of language when I write, but writing flash pieces forces me to tell a story succinctly, without unnecessary embellishment.

Also, I've greatly enjoyed getting feedback from other readers! Knowing what parts of the stories are meaningful (and which are not) is invaluable as I move forward. We are living in a time when these handwritten records of past lives are more precious than ever.

TLC: Could you tell us a bit about what led you to this process of flash narrative?

LR: My friend and fellow Wisconsin writer Christi Craig had been posting weekly flash fiction pieces on her blog ( and was featured earlier this year on a local radio program, where she read a flash work. She suggested I consider submitting a piece based on my Hattie project, and I immediately knew that writing short, focused stories based on the diaries would be the perfect way not only to share my project (without sharing too much in the way of lengthy excerpts) but also to practice my story-telling.

TLC: As more and more writers feel the pressure to join the great online community to blog, most don't know where to start. The most successful bloggers have compelling content, attractive looking blogs, bells and whistles, etc. . . . but how to get there? By planning and always keeping your content fresh and original. For those writers who would like to blog but don't want to share their personal opinions/thoughts, etc., flash narrative might be a great place to start. It's certainly an effective way to capture an audience without spending months of time submitting to literary journals (which you should also do, don't get me wrong), not to mention hone your craft.

Thanks to Lisa Rivero for sharing her blog with us today. I encourage you to check it out. I'm totally hooked.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


About the Blogger:

Lisa Rivero lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she is a writer, teacher, indexer, and speaker. Her professional and writing interests include gifted education, home education, creativity, literature and the humanities, and the challenges faced by all families in this fast-paced and often perplexing 21st-century life. Her published books include Creative Home Schooling (Great Potential Press, 2002), The Homeschooling Option (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens (Great Potential Press, 2010), and The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity (Great Potential Press, 2010). She is currently writing a novel based on the Great Plains diaries of Harriet E. Whitcher, and has written a middle grade historical novel about the life of homesteader and film maker Oscar Micheaux.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Passion and Other Circumstances

"It is a fact often observed, that men have written good verses under the inspiration of passion, who cannot write well under other circumstances."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don't you love that sweet spot of time when it's just you and the page? When just the right words are flowing, your pacing couldn't be more perfect, your characters never more alluring. You look up and notice an hour or three have passed and there in front of you is your passion manifested in black and white, something tangible. You wonder where the time went, you feel alive, maybe even a bit touched by the Muse, and dare I say, a little bit proud of yourself (good!).

But, the getting there - that's another business altogether.

We have obligations and "other circumstances," as Emerson put it. And these things take up valuable real estate on the creative mind. These things look like your job, your children and all their activities, your bills, your health, your education, a social life, sometimes your parents or others you look after, your pets. And as I've said before, these are all important obligations to mind (the non-negotiables)...but it's difficult to make the switch from the productive, responsible human being to the creative genius you're capable of being. Who's ready to search for that elusive writing sweet spot after a full day of exhausting work and other challenges? Writing yourself into that magic groove! You do usually get there and remember all over again why you've been listening to your gut, heart and brain all this time about this writing thing but it wasn't without a fight.

What's your passion for writing worth?

Aside from all those obligations you really do have to tend to...the stuff that keeps you and your family alive, fed, clothed, warm, healthy and thriving...what do you need? Do you need to say "Yes, I can" every time someone outside your family circle asks for your time or could you choose the activities you're willing to put your energy into a little more selectively? Do you need to watch TV every night or could you swap out five hours of TV time for reading or writing time? Do you need to spend hours a week on all your various social media channels letting people know what you're eating, where and with whom or could you manage to use that time connecting with those around you; finding inspiration from a conversation a table down from you at a coffee shop, overheard in a thrift store or with a child?

You always have a choice of where and how you spend your time and your choices place a value on your passion for writing.

It's nearly impossible to write all the time unless you're independently wealthy (or are making a good living on your books) and have very little to no family around - and even for those who have few obligations, most can't sit to write for longer than 5 hours at a stretch. But for those of us with very busy lives, it is possible to inspire our writer's mind by paying attention to all the creative energy going on around us. Writing doesn't just take place on the page, it happens when we look at old pictures, listen to music, watch a lightning storm, take a road trip. It happens when our brains are at work, which is all the time!

Take charge of your "other circumstances" so that when it's time to connect your perspective to the page, your passion for your craft is that much easier to access.

Here's to your "good verses!"


Action: When your preparing yourself for writing, what gets you in the mood? Do you listen to music? Do you have a routine of things you must do before you sit to write? Run a few miles? Feel free to share your inspiration. Lately, I have been almost obsessively listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams. Works every time for me. Your turn!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Priming The Passion for Your Pitch: A blogshop with bestselling author Jennifer Wilkov

Have you ever been sold on a product or an item on a menu because the person doing the talking captured your attention with such authentic enthusiasm? You could tell they really loved and believed in what they were selling - they gave you all the pertinent info, answered all your questions, maybe gave some compelling statistics. If they were really good, they not only made you like the product, they made you like them, too. Now think about a time when you were met by a salesperson who had a great product to sell but failed to close the deal because she lost your attention and interest by offering lackluster service, not enough or the wrong information - her energy, flat lining. And what about the salesperson who wouldn't shut up? You politely and maybe even a little awkwardly walked away, right?

It doesn't matter if you're selling sweaters, tires, kitchen gadgets...or your book, sales is all about a successful pitch and building a good rapport with your "customer". Maybe you've never worked retail...I bet you have suggested a book to a friend, though. You told them they absolutely had to read the book you just finished because XYZ happened and you loved how it made you think/laugh/cry/stay up all night to finish it. The common denominator here is Passion translated into enthusiasm.

Selling your book comes from the same source of Passion as creating it did.

Bestselling and award-winning author and radio host, Jennifer Wilkov shares more:
It’s a fact: enthusiasm is contagious!

When it comes to books and book professionals, the writer’s passion for the project is an essential ingredient that goes into the decision about whether or not they want to work with you.

Books and publishing are not a solo endeavor. As a writer, you’re going to have to learn the pivotal skillset needed to pitch your work.

In order to prepare for this sometimes overwhelming endeavor, plug into your passion for the project. It’s your highest and best starting point.

Think about it: if you’re not passionate about your own work, why should anyone else be? Furthermore, why would anyone else want to champion it?

Book industry professionals have an inner sense for writers who are genuinely excited and engaged in their projects.

It is this pure joy that makes you and your working engaging to…

literary agents






speaker bureaus

and, most of all, readers!

When you present your work with an authentic smile and take pride in it, it shows – and this can often tip off the person whom you are pitching that you are a good candidate to collaborate with and represent.

Be aware of your passion level. Your excitement, while contagious, can sometimes be a bit “over the top” for others so find the delicate balance to present your passion in a way that is palatable.

When in doubt, err on the side of being “over the top.” Practice with others and listen to feedback. Consider the source. Ask, “Is it too much for you?” and “Is my passion for the project present and noticeable?”

The best way to prime your pitch is to remember to use your book as your hook. Your passion for it will inevitably catch the eye of all those you want to attract to join you on your team.

And that passion will do wonders to open a lot of doors for you and your book!

You can do it!

TLC: Your Action: Don't think about your book for a day or two. Go shopping. Head to your local bookseller (or library) and ask them for their recommendations. How do they sum up the book? Take note of the language they use, their energy and enthusiasm. Were you comfortable talking with them? Did they make you feel at ease but also excited about the book? Did they capture your attention? How and why?

Then when you're back a your desk, practice pitching your book as if someone else wrote it (someone you admire and think is a good writer, ideally!). Write it down. If you were that bookseller, how would you sell your book to a customer?

Have a fruitful week, writers!

For more helpful pitch-related topics, check out Pitch U, an online everything pitch crafting resource (I also happen to write monthly columns for them).


About the Contributor:

Jennifer S. Wilkov: Media personality, host and producer of the #1 radio talk show “Your Book Is Your Hook!” on WomensRadio. Jennifer is a best-selling award-winning author who has been published five times, an award-winning freelance writer and a respected book business consultant in her business by the same name, “Your Book Is Your Hook!” She has both self-published and been published by a traditional publisher. Jennifer has been called the quintessential writer and teacher for the 21st century. She supports first-time and seasoned authors in their book writing, publishing and marketing endeavors through coaching and training in her “Your Book Is Your Hook!” consulting practice.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Pros and Cons of an MFA: A blogshop with author Karen Neches

I have mixed feelings about MFA programs. On one hand, when I meet writers who've earned their MFAs in writing from Iowa or Irvine, I get a little I'm meeting a rock star. But I've read work from those who've graduated from these programs and many others and guess what? They have their unique set of challenges with their work just like every other writer and are usually more than honest about what holds them back.

Does an MFA get you in the publishing industry's door? Sure, noting to an agent that you've earned your MFA in writing certainly catches their eye and it may even help get your manuscript read in a hurry...but MFA or not, it all comes down to the writing. The proof is in the prose.

Bestselling author Karen Neches shares more about the Pros and Cons of an earning an MFA.

Recently a reader wrote me and asked me why I hadn't written a book lately. I confessed I'd spent the last two years getting an MFA in creative writing.

She replied, "You've already published five books. Isn't that kind of like going to med school after you've performed five open heart surgeries?"

Not the most apt analogy since no one is actually in danger from reading

my novels, but I understand her puzzlement. It seems weird for a seasoned writer to get an MFA. So why did I spend upwards of twenty-five grand to go back to school?

I wanted to improve my writing chops in a serious way. Re-reading "How to Write a Damn Good Novel" wasn't going to cut it.

Everything went sour in the publishing world in 2008 and I decided it was wise idea to have the option to teach.

I'm one semester away from graduating from a low-residency program and finally feel prepared to discuss the pros and cons of an MFA program.


Persnickety professors who hate everything you write. This sounds like a con, but for me it was a good thing. I'd gotten lazy in my writing habits, and I needed someone to slap me around a bit.

MFA programs take writing seriously. A cliche is a personal affront. These folks spend hours pondering word choice, and the use of extraneous adjectives and adverbs will get you horse-whipped. Your style will definitely improve.

You are forced to read and critique good literature when you'd rather watch "Shedding for The Wedding."

You'll form relationships with fellow writers. (If you can forgive them for flaming you in workshop.)

If you're a procrastinator the program will help you get into the habit of writing every day.


You'll learn next to nothing about plot. Do not drink the MFA Kool-Aid and let anyone convince you that plot will magically rise out of character like a genie from a bottle. That might be true of short stories but if you're writing a novel you need to take plot every bit as seriously as any other element of fiction.

Academics live in la-la land. Once an agent came to visit the campus and she lobbed out two uncomfortable truths: literary fiction is a hard sell, and short story collections are almost impossible to market. The air bristled with denial. It was like an astronomer addressing the Flat Earth Society.

It's Elitist. Commercial writers are considered in the same category as used car salespeople. People who aspire to be the next Dan Brown are taken out to the quad and pelted with copies of The Great Gatsby.

My conclusion is this: Commercial writers can learn lots from literary types and visa versa. After almost completing the program, I feel like I'm a much better writer. Would I do it again? You betcha, but it might not be for every writer.

TLC: Your Action:

MFA Students and Grads: Share with us some of the best things you're learning or have learned in your MFA program. Or, what do you wish your program would teach that it's not?

Non-MFA Grads: How have you learned to write? Please share and discuss!

About the Contributor:

Karen Neches is the bestselling author of five books (Earthly Pleasures and co-author of The Sweet Potato Queen series). Visit her website at and her group blog at

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Lit Coach on Your Book is Your Hook

I'm thrilled to announce my interview with Jennifer Wilkov on Your Book is Your Hook. During the interview, Jennifer and I discuss the heart of what I do now as The Lit Coach, my past as an agent and the three most common mistakes I see writers making today.

TLCG contributor and bestselling author of The Motion of The Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers and 1 Woman's Search for the Meaning of Wife, Janna Cawrse Esarey is also a guest. You absolutely don't want to miss her interview if you're writing memoir or are thinking about it. Jennifer asks great questions and Janna has equally great answers -a must hear interview! Plus her story behind the book is totally fun. She's a bestselling author for good reason.

"Your Book is Your Hook!", hosted by bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Wilkov, aka The Lit Matchmaker, is the #1 radio program on the Women'sRadio Network on

Sunday, May 1, 2011

When Passion and Purpose Align

"I believe God made me for a purpose, but I also believe he made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure." Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

This week marks the first year anniversary of The Lit Coach. While I've been consulting writers for years in one capacity or another, last year my passion for helping writers aligned with the purpose of The Lit Coach - to offer intensely focused counsel, direction and coaching beyond the nuts and bolts "how to get published" advice to writers dependent on their publishing goals (traditional, self and/or E) - and instantly, I knew I was on the right track. I knew I was on the right track when people I respect in the industry told me I was onto something. And most importantly, I knew I was on the right track when the emails I received from writers I had never met thanked me for telling them exactly what they needed to hear when they needed to hear it. It feels good to receive that kind of feedback, those validating pats on the back - it's the stuff that keeps you moving forward, right? Sure!

But. Validation, while lovely and at times, very necessary, is low energy fuel. It delivers just the right push you need at just the right moment, but when the fuel runs out, it's out - the quick feel good moment has passed and you're left waiting for someone to come along and give you some more. I've often written here on this blog that writing is a marathon, not a sprint. In able to contend in a marathon you must have a source of energy that runs deeper than the validation of others - it must flow through you as a part of you to begin with. You are the source of the slow-burning fuel that keeps your passion aflame.

I can think of no better example of this deep, slow-burning passion than in the movie Chariots of Fire, the true story, as IMBD so adequately puts it, "of two determined athletes, one a Jew and the other a devout Christian who compete in the 1924 Olympics." The devout Christian was Scotsman Eric Liddell, who believed with 100% conviction (and a rather Emersonian one) that God was present when he ran and not only that, but He was joyous and that joy manifested itself in Liddell whenever he ran. And although his races were short (100 meters, until the end when he chooses to run the 400 meter race), he pulled from within every time an energy that can only be described as ecstatic. The source of Liddell's passion came from deep within - it came from knowing his purpose - the why behind his swift feet...and more importantly, what to do with them!

You're here not because you want to be a runner, I know, but because you want to be a writer. Many writers have told me that without writing, they don't do so well. Something is missing - a part of them is lost. But as I dig deeper into their writing habits and processes, I find a lot of questions lingering around upstairs - a general unsureness about their ability, and sometimes even the "why" behind their writing. So they're writing, but something is in the way, yet they carry on. They feel better about their writing and themselves as writers when they get a bit of validation but, as I said, eventually, that energy is used up quickly and they're back to more wondering and waiting.

Writers, you can't wonder about your ability to write, your talent, whether or not your book will sell to an agent, to a publisher and everything else that hasn't happened to you yet, you must just DO. But in order to move ahead and DO, you've got to first dig deep and find that well, that deep running source of energy that will sustain your passion for writing.

How do you do that? Spend some quality time with yourself with absolutely no distractions whatsoever. Whether it's a night in with yourself or a weekend getaway, spend some serious alone time with yourself and ask yourself why you're where you are as a writer. What's holding you up? What do you want to accomplish as a writer? What are your motivations? Who do you want to reach as a writer? Why? When you know the answers to these questions you've come closer to that deep energy source.

But you'll only really find that well when you DO. No amount of reading all the how-to-write advice replaces the act of doing. And doing is either reading another's work first for the enjoyment of the writing, then for the study of it; and then the actual writing itself. When you're choosing the right words, when you've formed the perfect sentence, leading to a collection of sentences leading to a great paragraph to a page, and on and on, when you're in the practice of writing, when that deeply sourced energy is flowing through you taking you from one page to the next, that's when you connect with your passion. That's when your purpose is realized and that, my dears, is when you begin to fly!