AUTHOR: A True Story by Helen Lester

Helen Lester and I met when I was working in a dental office. At the time, she was a multi-published children’s author, and I was twisting through the story maze of my first manuscript. We spoke of our love for the mysterious process of writing. When she returned, she gifted me this delightful personal story.

Author: A True Story is an honest and humorous look at one writer’s journey to publication. Helen’s charm— she is a three-year old when the story starts— will capture the hearts and imaginations of children, whether or not they have artistic dreams.

My writing was the prettiest in the class…And it was perfectly backwards…There’s a name for somebody with this problem. I was a “mirror writer.” My teacher had to hold my work up to a mirror to understand what I had written.

Reading Lester’s story at the beginning of my own journey fortified my desire and commitment to go the distance. I reread Author periodically until my first manuscript was completed, then other books on craft and creative inspiration pushed the book to a less visible place on my bookshelf.

Shortly before this New Year, I removed all the books from my office in order to revamp my writing space. Author went unnoticed until I was tucking my books into their new bookshelves, but as soon as I saw it I sat down for a read through.

My road to publication is now in its fifteenth year, and I’m twisting through my fifth manuscript. Whether I will reach the status of author like Helen Lester is uncertain; however, persistence in the face of rejection worked for her, so I’m hoping it will do the same for me.

In addition to rejection, Author touches on insecurity, writer’s block, artistic flow, and the importance of rewrites. Although it’s categorized as a children’s book, I believe the story will recharge writers off all ages and at every stage of the writing process.

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most delightful places— Author: A True Story.

STILL WRITING: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

A book that knocks other books off my shelves and receives five bookmarks instead of four, is a book that slingshots me back to my own page while I’m reading. The author of this kind of book churns up characters, or reveals truths about their own lives in memoir form that are so sharp, my own images and realizations will not quiet until I can get them down, black on white. Still Writing by Dani Shapiro is such a book.

Still Writing is a book about craft imbued with the intimacy of a memoir. Dani Shapiro covers her life as a writer and writes for her life. The latter is the way she inspires those of us in the trenches to carry on.

When I read Slow Motion, I realized the most important element of writing was missing from my manuscript. That element was me. I’d been so worried about my protagonist’s relatability and complexity, so focused on skipping the boring parts, pushing the protagonist to extremes to promote change in order to keep tension on every page, I forgot to fuse myself into the character. Without crawling inside my character and getting in sync with her rhythm, readers found my protagonist tiresome, the quintessential dishrag.

To find my way into the character wasn’t easy. Many days I wrote and scratched through more sentences than I kept in my manuscript. What kept me going was the wisdom of Dani Shapiro’s experiences.

Practice involves discipline. But is more closely related to patience. 

The more I tuned up the channel for patience, the more I was able to lower the channel for gimmicks and purple prose. Within the silence of patience, it was much easier to fall with my character into the abyss of the empty white space and rise up hand in hand with story.

Practice and patience isn’t all Shapiro writes about. Still Writing is an excavation into what she has learned as a writer from the beginning and how she plans to continue.

Everything we write will be flawed […] all we know […] is how to write the book we’re writing. All novels are failures. […] All we can hope is that […] we won’t succumb to the fear of the unknown […]not fall prey to the easy enchantments of repeating what may have worked in the past. 

I don’t believe anyone has taken the pressure off of perfection better than that. I can write freely with that outlook. When I read those words my courage rises and a desire to experiment grows. One of the reasons Still Writing is powerful is because Shapiro is able to articulate our fears and crush them. The fears still exist, I don’t believe fears disappear, but Shapiro shows us how to manage them and keep writing.

And what about those sagging middles? Better than providing steps to take, or outlines to follow, Shapiro challenges us to go to the place we’d much rather run from: the truth and heart of the matter.

Middles challenge us to find our tenacity and our patience, to remind ourselves that it is within this struggle—often just at the height of hopelessness, frustration and despair—that we find the most hidden and valuable gifts of the process. Just as in life. 

Each page of Still Writing offers insights into how one writer found her way. Many of the tidbits of advice Shapiro offers have already found their way into my daily practice. But what I love most about this memoir on writing is how she encourages writers to discover the story that forces them to show up and write.

To write is to have an ongoing dialogue with your own pain. To scream to it, with it, from it. To know it—to know it cold […] You are facing your demons because they are there. To be alone in a room and the contents of your mind is, in effect to go to that place whether you intend to or not. 

I didn’t want Still Writing to end. Shapiro’s thoughts feel like mine only sharper and clearer. She feels like my pen pal, best friend and muse. She makes me want to be a better writer. Her story is mine and yours; because Dani Shapiro is Everywriter. Benefit from her experience, embrace it, let it guide you back to the page and let the lineage continue. Then celebrate, for today we’re Still Writing.

SNOOPY’S Guide to the Writing Life edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love the characters created by Charles M. Schulz? If there is I don’t want to know them. Sure, some strips are funnier than others, but I’d wager that the strips that don’t make you laugh today would crack you up tomorrow. That was Schulz’s magic; his uncanny ability to zero in on the highs and lows of life. You can never outgrow Peanuts because eventually every character—from Charlie Brown to Pig Pen—reflects a moment of our own evolution.

When I was a kid I couldn’t get enough of Schroeder. His reverence for the great classical composers and his innate skill fueled my dream of becoming a professional flutist. In time I discovered a musician’s life was not for me. To excel in any profession requires passion, patience and persistence: enter Snoopy.

No matter where you are in your journey as a writer, SNOOPY’S Guide to the Writing Life will help you celebrate your accomplishments, recharge your battery and take the sting out of rejection.

What I love the most about the Snoopy strips on writing is Snoopy’s unwavering faith in his own abilities. Sure, he often rewrites based on outside input.

You should write a self-help book…a story about pirates…a biblical novel.

But deep down he knows what works and what doesn’t.

I think this is going to need a little editing…my hero is a terrible bore.

Each time Snoopy tosses away “his little darlings” to face another blank page, I uncover my own courage to do the same.

As Snoopy says, good writing is hard work. When writers get in manuscript trouble they often turn to books on craft. Craft books and conference workshops have often been a boon for me. But one of my favorite parts of writer conferences are the Key Note speeches because the Key Note doesn’t dwell on the “how to,” they focus on the love behind the process. Key Note speeches reconnect us with what inspired us to go to the page in the first place.

SNOOPY’S Guide is a Key Note you can turn to again and again. In addition to the wisdom of the world’s cutest and bravest beagle you’ll find insights from bestselling writers like Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George and Elmore Leonard. You’ll never be at a loss for inspiration again.

Laugh and write on with SNOOPY’S Guide to the Writing Life.

BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

I believe in signs just like Mos Def’s character in 16 Blocks. The Universe sends signs to guide us from the time we are born. We miss out on a lot of signs when we’re young because we’re busy screaming for attention, or struggling against the flow of life. But once we reach a certain age, which is different for everyone, the signs offered to us are unavoidable. The ones we need the most are the ones we listen to because they fall on our heads like Chicken Little’s sky. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird cracked open my skull.

I was loading my tote with essentials for a two-hour train trip to New York City: cell, money, gloss, lotion, pens, paper, highlighters and books. I finished In One Person the night before so I snatched up Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs from one of my TBR piles and Bird by Bird fell out of another. I bought Lamott’s book on writing three years ago and never even took a gander. So why did it fall? The time was ripe.

I opened Bird by Bird as the train rolled out of the station. By the time I returned home, in the early hours of the next morning, I felt less alone, more grounded in purpose and eager to tackle the next phase of rewrites on my WIP.

Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up.

We need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here—and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

Nuggets like these remind us to trust ourselves. We are all uniquely formed with a specific point of view that needs to be shared. The passions that connect us with other people in the flesh do not need to be hidden on the page. Our passions need to be plumbed. When we dig deep enough what we write will find its audience.

Anne Lamott recognizes our need to acknowledge who we are, encourages us to share our truth and gives those of us who need it, permission to take all the time we need to grow into ourselves and find our voice.

Bird by Bird is one of the best gifts I have ever given to myself. Not reading it for three years is the bonus. A month ago I reread the latest draft of my WIP. While the second half holds promise, the opening needs a funeral. As an acting coach and an Alexander teacher, I remind my students that the end of one thing is the beginning of the next. Trusting this natural segue eliminates false starts, forced emotions and leads to a natural, vulnerable truth. I know this and yet, the thought of beginning my novel again, made me wonder if a lobotomy might be a better choice at this juncture in time.

Then Bird by Bird fell out of my TBR pile.

If you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they are not.

Is there any better way to say, “kill your darlings to make way for the truth”? Thanks Anne Lamott. Thank you for inspiring the writer in all of us.

Unleash your passion with Bird by Bird.

ON WRITING: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned writer this memoir was written for you.

In an age when the publishing market changes on a daily basis, it’s easy to get sidetracked by social media networks and blindsided by craft books that promise to enhance everything from your understanding of plot to honing the ever important logline.

A writer can have a meltdown just trying to determine which blogs or books will best serve him. And if, like me, your journey to publication has yet to reach fruition, you may often feel bogged down by the weight of finishing the manuscript—especially when you’ve moved beyond the first few drafts. If either of these states drag you into despair save yourself with a shot of Stephen King’s On Writing.

It’s a no-nonsense book filled with humor, heart, honesty and the best writing advice around. From honoring The Element’s of Style’s rule, “Omit needless words,” to King’s own mantra, “Write a lot and read a lot,” we learn how this prolific writer evolved and still thrives through his love of story.

King’s passion for writing is undeniable and contagious. I’d wager On Writing has sparked more writers to return to the page than any other craft book.

You can enjoy it in print where you can highlight and take notes, or you can listen to King’s narration of the audio version. I’ve done both and will continue to do so because there is nothing better than a good story.

Write On and Write Strong with On Writing.

THE RIGHT TO WRITE by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron became my ally in 1997. We correspond every day. Not as pen pals, she doesn’t know I exist. We meet on the page on opposite sides of the country as we write through our lives.

In 1997 I hit an emotional block in my work as an actress. I often choked in auditions and on stage. The audience couldn’t tell, but I knew. One of my cast mates at the time suggested The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. A few days later I heard an interview with singer k.d. lang. She shared how The Artist’s Way guided her out of a creative block. I bought the book.

Julia Cameron’s words resonated with me like a long lost friend. I read The Artist’s Way and The Vein of Gold and completed every exercise in each book. Did my emotional block in acting dissolve? Yes—in a round about way. Whenever Julia asked what I would like to be doing in three, five or ten years, my answer was always writing, never performing. Once I invested in my words instead of others, I was able to break free from the self-imposed block I had as an actress and my emotional landscape on stage once more grew potent.

On a creative high from the first two books, I snatched up The Right to Write. But after a handful of chapters I felt I was repeating myself and shelved the book. I did however keep writing. Between then and October 2012 I wrote six plays, three novels, a handful of short stories, and collected 35 rejection letters. In the spring of 2011, I attended a writer’s conference where agents said my writing held no voice. Determine to fix the problem I plowed ahead with my frustration in tow until the “choke” of 1997 resurfaced. That’s when I dusted off The Right to Write.

One of Julia Cameron’s gifts is the gentle, playful way she shows us how to lift off our burdens and unlock the bars that separate us from our inherent ability to express ourselves. Books on Craft—the how to books—are essential. The nuts and bolts of any craft must be exercised and mastered. But unless those craft skills are infused with the heart and soul of who we are the end product will lack luster.

The exercises in The Right to Write coupled with daily Morning Pages have energized my writing and brought a new level of commitment to my process. Since last October I have finished the draft of my WIP, completed a third of the next and written several short stories. Although the quantity of writing I’ve generated amazes me, the satisfaction I feel is a result of the weight of the words on the page. A shift has occurred and I couldn’t be more delighted. I am certain to encounter more rejections and rewrites on my way to publication and that’s okay. Julia Cameron has my back.

Writing is all about attractions, words you can’t resist using to describe things too
interesting to pass up.

Unleash your creativity. Embrace The Right to Write.


How I wish The Literary Ladies were available for a consult when I was in college. Armed with the no-nonsense determination of Louisa May Alcott and the passion of Anais Nin, I might’ve had the nerve to have a showdown with my English professor—the one who said my writing was hopeless. Fortified by the words of Virginia Woolf and Madeleine L’Engle on how to battle inner demons, maybe I could’ve said, “You’ve given me a lot to think about, but I’m a writer and one day my words will be in print.”

But I digress. The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life is not just for writers. It’s a celebration of women who were ahead of their time, an army of re-enforcers to bolster the patience and persistence of those who are striving to beat the odds, a history of truth, and a diary of faith. This Guidebook is capable of inspiring anyone with a dream.

But wait, there is more…

The layout of this book is so divine—thanks to Nava Atlas’s power as a visual artist—you’ll find yourself reading the material in multiple ways. You can devour it like a novel cover to cover, zero in on the chapters that apply to your immediate needs, such as Developing a Voice or Rejection and Acceptance, or absorb everything about one Literary Lady at a time—you have twelve lovelies to choose from. No matter what reading preference you have, I’m certain this is one Guide to the Writing Life you will revisit again and again.

Bask in the wisdom of The Literary Ladies.