Is Your Writing Being Rejected?

Been enduring an unnerving spate of rejections to your writing submissions? You’re not alone. Slide over to the Brevity Magazine blog to read about my own recent experiences submitting my work.

The essay is called Sixth Sense Submissions, or Publishing Blind.

Leave a comment if you can relate. Oh, and I hope you’ll take a look at the enlightening comments left by others. Thank you.

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Memoir Narrator’s Transformation

I just had the pleasure of having my article, A Memoir Narrator Transformed posted on Women Writers, Women[‘s] Books. I hope you’ll stop by and give it a read, especially if you write or enjoy reading memoir.




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When is Your Manuscript Finished?

If you’re not sure if you’ve finished your manuscript, slide on over to the Grub Daily blog and see my post It’s Done When It’s Done.





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Who Let the Joy Out? Humph, Humph.

You’ve heard that expression (which always sounded to me like nothing more than an utterly fatuous promise) that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?

I’d returned from the Muse and the Marketplace writers conference held earlier this month, in Boston, feeling first overwhelmed by the conference itself, then downright paralyzed. For days afterwards, I felt in a daze—my creative faculties on hold. And I suffered a deep unease, as if some vital element of my person was being snuffed out.

I couldn’t blame the conference. I’d been exposed to a lot of valuable experiences and ideas about writing and the writing life. (More on those in a later post.) But it was learning all this stuff, some new, some not, that contributed to a growing discontent I’d been feeling for some time.

Then I came across an essay by Ethan Gilsdorf, whose formidable writing creds bowled me over. (I mention this because I felt anyone with so large a reputation was taking a risk by going public about his failure to work on the writing project that’s called to him for years. At the Muse conference, I’d taken his “Writing the Risky Personal Essay” class. Clearly the man practices what he preaches.)

I couldn’t imagine any blog post speaking to my situation more directly and profoundly. In “This Blog Post is a Pep Talk,” Gilsdorf wrote:

“As writers, we … need to take pleasure in our work…. We need a project … to fall in love with again. The kind of low-pressure, it’s-OK-if-you-fail, writing for the joy of writing project.”

I stared at my computer screen, frozen. That was the poke, the permission I needed. Even though I’m a writing instructor, I’d paid so much attention to other people’s writing rules that I’d discounted my own authentic voice, lost faith in the writing that had gotten me published and garnered kudos and the occasional award in the past, and worst of all, let it stymie my joy in the writing process.

In my early career, I avoided writing classes because I feared they would exert too great an influence over my own style. But as I progressed, I felt I needed more skills in order to advance my writing. But one has to cherry pick what advice to take and what to leave in the orchard, and at some point, what with my extensive business and professional writing and absorbing so much advice from different people and trying to adhere to the rules, peculiar preferences, (and word counts!) of literary magazines and other publications, I no longer felt connected to the writing I was doing, nor did I enjoy the process of producing it.

If I want to regain my joy in writing, I need to refuse to let my writing for money or attempts to win prizes dampen my desire to write from the heart. To recapture joy in writing, I need to carve out time and mental space for the thinking and writing that means most to me, even if it doesn’t get published or isn’t otherwise acknowledged.

Gilsdorf didn’t offer any writing advice. Instead, he did what essayists are supposed to do: explored a personal subject and engaged his audience (primarily) of writers with that exploration.

By the way, for me, the personal exposure in this blog post makes it feel uncomfortably like a risky personal essay.

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Author Carole Burns Discusses Her Mystery, Murder With Malice

Author of several books, Carole Burns has taken a number of writing classes with me. But I can’t take credit for helping her with all of them. I only got to know Carole when she was working on her novel, Murder With Malice. It’s a mystery in which the reader knows the murderer’s identity, and follows the detectives as they track down the criminal—and figure out why he killed two people.

Here’s an excerpt from the opening of Murder With Malice.
– Lynette

Click on the cover image to learn more about this book

While the Scarsdale Movie Theater on Garth Road was emptying out, William Grotty remained in the shadow of the nearby Laundromat. His car was parked on a nearby street where he’d hidden a gun in the glove compartment. Now it was in the pocket of his dark hiking jacket with his backpack strapped over his shoulders.

William checked his watch. It was exactly 11:00 p.m. The movie had just ended; the street was clear. His two friends were the only ones left, standing near the marquee, waiting for him.

He had told Sally Ross and Frances King that he wanted to treat them to a lovely new café that had recently opened. The only time they could all agree to meet was after the movie on Sunday night. William told them how proud he was of Sally’s new position and the continuing good results with the programming Fran and he were working on. They were surprised by his offer, but accepted graciously.

A soft, April evening’s warm breeze pervaded the street’s suburban aura. William knew the next commuter train from New York City wouldn’t be at the depot for another hour. Calculatedly, he came out from the shadow, the small gun nestled safely in his jacket’s pocket.

The two women turned to him as he called out, “Hi, you two.”

Facing him, they smiled and then were stunned. Eyes opened wide, mouths ajar, silent, as they watched him take the gun out of his pocket. He shot them each once in the chest. He knew they were dead.

I asked Carole to talk about her experience writing Murder With Malice.
– Lynette

Author Carole Burns

Author Carole Burns

The idea of book came from a mystery writing class I attended at Tufts University’s OSHER Institute for Retirees.

We were given a scenario, and asked to write what happens next. Surprisingly, each person in the class wrote something entirely different from what everyone else wrote.

Every week the instructor gave the class an assignment, which we would write during class time. The prompts were the following:

1. Write about the victim.
2. Write about the murderer.
3. Write about the setting.

We never referred to the plot again, but my story took off. It was a lot of fun.

In Murder With Malice, a murder is committed by a man whose childhood portrays an evil mind. When my book opens, he kills two seemingly innocent women friends of his. A college teacher, with her students and a local policeman, solve the crime.

The difficulties I faced when writing the mystery were in fleshing out the story, as I tend to write very concisely.

I learned I needed to develop my characters, scenes, and so forth. Help came from my original teacher, Roseanne Montillo, and from my present instructor, Lynette Benton——with wonderful input from the students in our workshops.

What I’d tell others who want to write a mystery:
– Like your characters. I enjoyed mine so much, I’ve decided to do a sequel.
– Do your research.
– Ask for advice from experts in field. My adult children were able to help me with financial aspects of the story.
– Be part of a writing group. You need input on your manuscript, and you’ll learn much from others who are writing their stories.
– Decide on the weapon for the crime, know about it to be sure it will work in the story.
– Explore the murderer’s motives, background, and character.
– Be familiar with the scene of the crime…places to hide, time of the day or night when it would be best to have a crime committed.

Besides Murder With Malice, I’ve written:
Oops, a collection of my silly poetry for family and friends
Sadye’s Sayings, expressions my mother used as a guide to bring me up.
A Rosh Chodesh Handbook Joining Lilith and Eve (with Ellen Cohn and Doris Wachsler) 2000
Sadye: A Memoir By Her Daughter 2001
No Such Thing As Ordinary 2006
Sidney, As We Remember Him 2012
The Freckle Thief (with Marilyn Wald) a children’s book 2013

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How to Pump Out 32,604 Words in a Month

Margy Rydzynski and I have been colleagues and friends for years. When I met her for coffee last June, she had an unexpected question for me. Would I be her NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) coach? The worldwide NaNoWriMo challenge is held every November, but Margy was going to do hers in July.

I knew Margy had been writing a novel. And I was aware that she had put it aside to take care of some other major demands in her life. So I was thrilled to know she was going to resume work on her manuscript, and happy to have a chance to help out.

After Margy completed the challenge, I asked her to tell my blog visitors about her experience. The first thing I wanted to know was why 20,000 – 30,000 words? Here are her answers to that and to my other questions.
– Lynette

Margy Rydzynski

Margy Rydzynski

Why that many words? I had already completed 50,000 words of my novel and didn’t think it would take another 50,000 to finish it. The 50,000 word count is provided by NaNoWriMo as part of their November writing challenge. I wasn’t sure how many more words my novel needed to be completed, so I just wrote until I was done! Lynette tells me I wrote well over an additional 32,000 words of the novel in July.

How did I prepare for an effort of this magnitude and what did I give up? I work as a freelance consultant and teacher. My working life is therefore unpredictable, but summer is generally a bit slower. Normally, I use the time to catch up on my own work and plan new projects. In order to produce the amount of writing on my novel as I did, I decided to put all but the most time-critical work on the back burner and treat the writing as my highest priority. I had to be available for current clients, but I didn’t take on anything new.

What was the most difficult part? Getting started! It took me a while to get back into the swing of things. I hadn’t worked on this novel in quite some time and had to read over a lot of my notes to pick up the thread. Fortunately, I’ve kept a blog with possible plot progressions, characters, etc. I spent a good deal of time thinking about the story and writing down ideas, many of which came to me while I was in the shower!

Did I achieve my goal? Yes, although the first draft is very rough. At least it’s done, though. Editing will be a lot easier (I hope)!

My advice to those considering doing NaNoWriMo: You need to jump into it completely, not just dip your toes in. Life can and will get in the way, so you have to look at the big picture and organize your time accordingly. You have to write when you don’t feel like writing and just go on with the story. Above all, DO NOT EDIT YOUR WORK as you’re writing. The goal is to produce a lot of words, and editing as you go will bog you down.

What support did I have to for my July NaNoWriMo challenge? I knew I’d need someone to keep my feet to the fire, since my life is so unpredictable. I immediately thought of my friend Lynette, who’s a writing instructor and coach. I hired her to be my official “nudge” and, I have to say, I got my money’s worth! She sent me daily quotes for inspiration, met me in person from time to time to see how I was doing—and more. I had to send her my word count and writing for each day. There was no way I could slack off with her as my task manager.

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? Got any tips you care to share?

Want help making real progress on your writing? Use the Contact tab at the top of this page to get in touch with me.

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More of Life’s Little “Infuriations”


A while back I published a list of Life’s Little Infuriations, and followed that with a request that site visitors contribute their own nagging annoyances. (Check the comments on those posts to see what’s irritating others.)

Now, here are some of my latest infuriations. Enjoy the flowers, which have nothing to do with this post, except that they help to keep me more or less sane.

– Jackets without pockets. Where to put gloves? A tissue?

– Ice cold restaurant salads. Ice cold, brick hard restaurant butter.

– Food stores (supermarket, take out joints, etc.) charging the same or higher price for a smaller amount of food.

– Websites with useful or entertaining information, but no Share buttons.

– Websites that require your email address before they show you anything at all. My experience has been with mostly, but not only, home decorating sites. How on earth do you know if those sites will offer anything of interest to you?

– Road sings covered by foliage 3 seasons a year.

– Left turning motorists who don’t use their signals, so you’re stuck behind them when you could have gone about your business in the right lane.

– Tiny score boxes on televised baseball games; our screens get larger, their writing smaller.

– While I’m on the subject of sports: The constant chatter by broadcasters on topics unrelated to the game being aired. Also, the intense crushes they and the sports media get on some players. The hapless players seldom live up to all the hype. (Think recent Red Sox rookies, whose last names begin with “B.”)

– Top bed sheets marked “queen size” that are patently too small. They are the same size as those made for a double bed.

Elm Bank Formal Floral Row

Elm Bank Formal Floral Row

Leave a comment if you can relate to these. Or, share your own.

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Writing Memoir or Family History? Be Afraid. Be Careful.

That's me, Lynette Benton

That’s me, Lynette Benton

When I converted my home office into a writer’s study, one of the first things I did was post on the bulletin board above my desk a card from the National Association of Memoir Writers. It reads:

Be Brave: Write Your Story

That’s what writing memoir and family history takes. Bravery. Cojones. Downright Daring. As Catherine Gildiner writes in “How to Write a Childhood Memoir,” “. . . [W]riting a memoir takes nerves of steel. . .” *

Few of us have steely nerves when it comes to writing honestly about our lives or our families. The stakes are too high. I don’t just mean the possiblity that what you write will fracture family relationships. What you discover as you write might also shatter some of your own fiercely held illusions about your family—and yourself. What you write also forces you to relive less than sanguine experiences, and dredge up old embarrassments, personal regrets, frustrations, and grief.

Of course, you might be one of the lucky few with a history in which every day was sunny and no one ever got sick, cranky, fired, or drunk. You might have no bygones to let be bygones. If you’re like most people, though, your own past and that of your family are peppered with no shortage of secrets, myths (or, let’s face it, lies), or unpleasantness. Or, you might make a fully considered decision to report only the good times, and that’s your right, of course. Some of my memoir and life-writing students state categorically that they do not wish to rake up the sad past.


I would never tell them, as many proponents of the memoir writing process believe, that just writing your story is healing. I know that it actually can leave you in tatters.

Exposing Secrets
A conviction that our story needs to be told can supply the sheer courage that’s required to exhume old memories and write them into art. For me it was a matter of first, knowing I was in possession of two interesting, suspenseful, instructive stories—one centering on money in my family, the other on my work in organizations. Second, I felt compelled to put an end to what felt like collusion. As long as I kept my stories inside me, it seemed as if I was abetting secrecy and suppression of the truth. It was suffocating me.

Our families might have been daredevils, drinkers, cultists, swindlers, and involved us as their unwilling offspring in their activities and deceptions. If their story is unflattering, if they’d rather it not be told, at least not from our point of view, should we suppress it even if it chokes us?

With each of my memoir and family history drafts, I find myself revealing more and more of the truth. That’s partly because with each re-writing, as in a palimpsest of versions placed atop one another, I develop deeper understanding. New insights bubble up. New connections appear. Ah-ha moments seize me during the day and tease me in my sleep, making me wonder how I could have missed them before.

And with each draft, it gets harder and harder for me to justify hiding the truth.

Stick With What You Can Tolerate
I don’t allow myself or encourage my students who are writing about their lives or their families to reveal more truth than they can stand. Instead, I say, tell only the truth, but not every truth. The fallout could be unbearable, in terms not only of how those mentioned in your manuscript might react, but also in terms of your own self-recriminations. What if you find out later that what you wrote is just plain wrong? What if you have regrets after your book is released to the public, or even just to family members or friends?

Charges of Libel?
Your friends and relatives objecting to what you write is one thing. Suing you is another. We’re all supposed to be protected under freedom of speech laws, but to be on the safe side, educate yourself about libel (“a false statement made in writing”) and privacy laws, which vary across states. You might want to give careful thought to whether or not to include photos of people in your memoir or family history, unless you’ve gotten written permission from them.

To stand the test of truth, I’ve kept documentation: letters, emails, legal documents. I have no illusions that those who witnessed certain events would testify to the veracity of my account. Why would they want to get involved in my battle, if it came to a court case?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find the following helpful:

Will My Family Get Angry About My Memoir? Be sure to read the (quite cautionary) comments.

Memoir, Writing the Truth, and Family: Interview with Author Joy Castro

How to Avoid Committing a Libel in Writing a Family Memoir See additional links at the end of the post.

* In Women Writing On Family

If you need help with writing your own memoir or family history, check me out on the Testimonials tab above and use the Contact tab to tell me about your project.

Short of that, subscribe to this blog so you won’t miss the next posts on this and related topics.

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Charles Schwab, Poet, Publishes Second Chapbook

Charles Schwab Poet

Charles Schwab, Poet

Charles Schwab has taken creative writing classes with me for about five years, during which I’ve marveled at his incredible ability with words and ideas, as well as his prolific production of work.

I wrote about Charlie here when he published his first collection of poems, Keeping Account. Now, he has self-published a second book, The Act of Free Falling.

His work has been published in the Arlington Advocate; the PKA Advocate; WestWard Quarterly Magazine; and Connotation Press online. His poem, Albinos Need an Azure Sky (And a Touch of Red), which appears in this new volume, took first prize in a local poetry contest.

It’s my pleasure to interview Charlie about this latest collection of poetry and introduce you to more of his work.

How did you choose the poems for this volume of poetry?
Of the 150-some poems I had written by end of 2012, I noticed they fell naturally into four groups: animals, seasons, nonsense, and personal life. I arbitrarily picked about 60 that seemed to have been best received by instructors, my classmates, publications, and others.

act of free falling coverThe Act of Free Falling

Click the cover image to learn more about this book


What are 3 of your favorite poems in the book?
The Act of Free Falling (picked for book title); Wolfgang; and Tea and Sunbeams.

How did you come to take the photo that appears on the cover of the book? Where is that waterfall located?
I used some of my photos for the interior illustrations, and I found one that seemed to illustrate perfectly the book’s title. I took the photo at Akaka Falls, on the island of Hawaii.

What advice would you have for anyone wanting to publish with CreateSpace?
Prepare your material completely in advance, and do thorough editing and proofing. Select from Createspace’s various options or packages, based on what you need and can afford.

What are you working on now?
I am writing more poems in the hopes of collecting enough for another book.

Is there anything you’d like to tell aspiring writers?
Yes. Get help from writing instructors and their classes. It’s invaluable.

Here are some of my favorites of Charlie’s poems. (I chose short ones so this post wouldn’t get too long.) – Lynette

Fly By Night
Said I to the fly buzzing by, “Why
Do you annoy me so (though I try
To refrain from bothering you, too,
Not even shouting that word, “shoo!”) ?”
Your persistence is such that I really ought
To give you a swat, but then I thought
If I could talk your tongue right now
I’d be able to reason with you somehow.
Well, I tried all the lingoes you might speak—
Mandarin, Arabic, Amharic, and Greek—
To no avail, even tongues which are dead,
‘Til you found me sitting in bed where I’d fled.
I had a date with the sandman to keep,
So I turned off the lamp and fell asleep.
The insight: not me but my reading light
Drew you to my room that night.

Sadly the years have gone away;
I’ve lived to see my heirs grow gray.
The girls not using any tint,
Now my son with just a hint.
My grandson I’ve seen from when he began,
Slowly, now quickly, becoming a man;
And nearly all from my generation—
A spouse of fifty years or more,
A brother who slipped away before—
Have passed on to that unknown station.
I’d hoped they’d all stay young, but, hey,
I’m alive to see my heirs grow gray.

You can find out more about The Act of Free Falling by clicking on the cover image, above.

See Charlie at Ninety, a beautiful video by Charlie’s filmmaker grandson, Matt Ober.

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Edith Maxwell, Cozy Mystery Author

I met Edith Maxwell a few weeks ago when she appeared at our local senior center to discuss her work. Several of my creative writing students (two of them mystery writers) also turned up to hear from this multi-published writer. During the question and answer session that followed Edith’s informative talk, I learned that a number of others in the audience were nurturing mystery manuscripts themselves. It was clear they found Edith’s words enlightening and encouraging.
– Lynette

Author, Edith Maxwell

Author, Edith Maxwell

I’m delighted to be Lynette’s guest today, here at Tools and Tactics for Writers. I’m a full-time fiction writer. I wrote stories as a child in California, and then had forays into journalism, academic writing, medical editing, and technical writing.

Twenty years ago, when I was an organic farmer (and a wife, and mom to two little boys) in a small town in northeastern Massachusetts, I took the off season to start writing a mystery novel. For it, I invented single woman Cam Flaherty, a former software engineer, who leaves hi-tech and goes north of Boston to run her great-uncle’s farm.

I created a murder on her property, envisioned the antique farmhouse she lives in, and more. After joining a writing group I learned a tremendous amount about creative writing from my peers’ critiques.

When farm season resumed and on into the next fall, I started my career as a technical writer. I didn’t have time or energy to continue the farm mystery while also working and raising my kids. So I put it on hold and began writing short stories, landing several in competitive anthologies.

When I was laid off my job in 2008, I wrote a short story about murderous revenge after a company layoff called, “Reduction in Force.” It was published in an anthology of best New England Crime Fiction and I later self-published the story as a reprint. I found another tech-writer job after several months, and over the next two years I wrote a different novel. Speaking of Murder features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau, who finds her star student dead on campus. It was tough to keep sending out query letter after query letter, but my buddies in the Sisters in Crime organization were hugely supportive, and I found inspiration to turn to small presses after I couldn’t find an agent who felt she could sell that book.

After dozens of rejections from agents, Speaking of Murder was acquired by a reputable small press, Barking Rain Press. When it finally sold, I was more than delighted.

I was then fortunate enough to land a three-book contract with Kensington Publishing for a Local Foods Mysteries series in which I finally got back to the farm. For the first book, A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, I used the “world” I had invented twenty years earlier: same farmer, same farmhouse, even the same murder, but I rewrote all of it, because I had learned a lot about creative writing in the interim. I love immersing myself in the world of farming again, except now I don’t have to do the hard work real farming involves. Writing it is much more fun!

Full-time Writer
A year ago, at age 60, I left my day job to write fiction full time. I’ve completed all three books in the Local Foods Mysteries and have sent in my ideas for the next three books, although Kensington hasn’t yet let me know if they are renewing my contract. I finished the second Lauren Rousseau mystery, Bluffing is Murder; it will release in November.

I’m now writing an historical mystery set in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in 1888, featuring a Quaker midwife and the poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Last fall I won an award for one of several short stories I wrote. And I’ve submitted a proposal for a new contemporary mystery series.

So I don’t consider myself retired; writing mysteries is my new full-time job. It’s not lucrative yet, but the more I write, the sooner it will pay off. And I’ve never been happier.

Advice for Would-Be Authors
If you’re considering a fiction-writing career (whether your first career or your last), I hope you’ll search out other authors. Find organizations that support your genre. Take courses, online and in person. Try to find an in-person writing group you mesh well with and the members of which give you constructive critique without negativity. Most of all, follow the writers’ mantra: butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. You can can’t sell what you haven’t written.

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

I’m running a contest until May 27: Anyone who pre-orders my new book, ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part can enter to win a gorgeous hand-painted signed silk scarf. Details on my web site!
Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing).‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, which chronicles a murder that takes place after a Farm-to-Table dinner, releases May 27.

Maxwell has published short stories of murderous revenge, most recently “Breaking the Silence” in Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold (Level Best Books, 2013); the story won an Honorable Mention in the Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction 2014 contest.

Edith Maxwell also authors the Speaking of Mystery series under the pseudonym Tace Baker; Bluffing is Murder releases in late 2014 (Barking Rain Press). Edith holds a long-unused doctorate in linguistics and is a long-time member of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats.

Edith blogs every weekday with the rest of the Wicked Cozy Authors. You can also find her at, on Twitter, on Pinterest, and on Facebook. She’d love to connect with you.

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