Scared to Write the Full Truth About Your Family Members? I Hear You

The Power of AND When It Comes to Writing the People in Your Life

a woman with two faces on either side of her head

I’m going to write a sentence that shocks even me: 

My father was both a racist and not a racist.  

When I go to write about him, I find I can’t write one without the other. Writing about one would be only half the picture. It is only when I capture both that I capture my father.  

Let me explain a bit more.  

My father struggled with people of color. He also fought in the Civil Rights era. In 1964, he stood with a baseball bat outside polling places and made sure that black people were allowed to vote safely.  

He sometimes said disparaging things about Mexicans. Yet, at his funeral, the Mexican waiters from his retirement home came and cried over his casket. He had become their champion, sent them cards or money for college, and cheered on their victories. One of them held my hand as we placed dirt on the grave, and he said, “I will never forget him, he helped me see what I could be.”

But how can this be, you wonder? How can someone be both a racist and not a racist? Or a sexist in some situations and not a sexist in others? Or wildly selfish and also unselfish?

The reason is that we are complex beings who live in the real world of “and.” We travel in the light, and we travel in the dark.

In my experience, we are often afraid of the “and.”

We often have a hard time reconciling that people may be multi-faceted, contradictory, and complex because we yearn for simplicity. We yearn to understand, to have real and true clarity. We want our good guys to be good guys and our bad guys to be bad.

We hold people up in the public eye as good or bad, innocent or guilty, compassionate or cold, angry or calm. Then when we see the other side, we are shocked, saddened, or dismayed. Our worlds don’t make sense anymore. “But I thought he was one of the good guys…” I sometimes hear people say.

I believe the main reason we do this is because our own primal, darker side scares us. Maybe it’s because we have been ostracized, condemned, shamed, or shunned when we have shown these sides. Maybe it’s because we fear the consequences if we show these sides. Maybe it’s because we were never taught how to hold both parts of the self—the dark and the light—and be okay with the whole package.

I’m continually inspired by one of my bold and brave writers, Donna, who is capturing the complex picture of her husband in her new memoir. Her husband was a problem gambler who spent all of their money and ended up taking his own life. But, as we read the book, we see the full picture. He was a good man and a loving father. He was bright and hard working. He provided respite, sanity, and support in the places her family of origin never could. For many years, he was a strong partner and an excellent provider. In the end, he was both a gambling addict and a really good man.

Or Kelly, who writes about her drug-addicted parents who were always one step away from homelessness or jail, and who used their food stamps only on themselves while Kelly worked three jobs as a 16-year-old just to get by. Yet, when I read her first draft, I realized the book was a love letter to her parents. Free-spirited and full of life, her parents taught Kelly the joy of now. They loved her fiercely, danced with her, shared their love of nature with her and instilled a sense of adventure within her spirit that shines to this day. Her parents were both self-absorbed drug addicts and loving magic makers.

My advice?

Don’t shy away from the “and” of it all. I mean within yourself and your writing. If your dark side comes a calling, acknowledge it—give it a voice. You don’t have to act from that place, but allowing the space for it can be amazingly healing. You are not sick, twisted, messed up, or worthless because you have a dark side. You are human. And the chances are that if you start providing tolerant compassion to yourself, it might extend to others in your life.

And get this:

If you can appreciate the complexity of the human experience and strive to capture it on the page, then you will be offering your reader the nectar they have been most thirsty for—understanding that they are not alone.

When you capture a person or a character that lives in both the light and the dark places, just as your reader does, they will see a reflection of themselves, of their own human experience.

By writing in this way, you are lifting the veil that reveals that not one of us is truly alone—but in fact, we are all living in this complex, confusing, and beautiful land together.


Photo Credit:

The Holiday Gift Guide for Feisty Writers

Do you ever wonder what to give your favorite feisty writer? It’s that time of year, and some of our awesome contributors have made gift suggestions any scribe is sure to love:

Marni’s Writer Gift Ideas:

the cover of Novel & Short Story Writers Market1. Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018 is the only resource you need to get your short stories, novellas, and novels published. This edition of NSSWM features hundreds of updated listings for book publishers, literary agents, fiction publications, contests, and more, and each listing includes contact information, submission guidelines, and other essential tips.

Inside Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, you’ll find valuable tips for:

  • How to take your readers on a roller-coaster ride by mastering the art of the unexpected
  • Weaving foreshadowing and echoing into your story
  • Discovering the DNA—dialogue, narrative, and action—dwelling inside all memorable characters
  • Gaining insight from best-selling and award-winning authors, including Steve Berry, Liane Moriarty, Junot Díaz, and more

Why I love it:  I love this gift because it answers the age old question, “But where should I send my work?”  This is the gift that keeps your work from ending up in a shoe box.  Buy one for yourself while you’re at it.  Truly worth it.

2. Inspirational Book

Book Cover for Juicy Pens Thirsty PaperWrite and share what’s in your heart! Let SARK show you how. Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper is your non-judgmental witness, resoundingly supportive friend, and practical guide to the craft of writing and storytelling. For anyone who knows that a writer lives within them but doesn’t know how or where to start; for writers who need new ways to work past their blocks and be reinspired; for anyone who loves SARK’s wise words and art, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper will help start the ink flowing and keep it going.





Why I love it:  Well, truth be told, I love every book by Sark.  She is the queen of giving you permission to loosen up, to play, to love the messy, juicy and joyful process that writing can be.  If you become a fan here are a few more: Eat Mangoes Naked, Succulent Wild Woman and Inspiration Sandwich

3. The Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

For those who want luxurious toting of their notebooks, papers and laptops…

The Editor's Tote by Dooney & BourkeThe Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

H 7.5″ x W 4.5″ x L 8.75″ One inside zip pocket. Two inside pockets. Cell phone pocket. Inside key hook. Buckle closure. Handle drop length 4.5″. Detachable strap. Strap drop length 13.5″. Lined.



Why I love it:  Well if you know me, you know I can be greatly cheered up with purses and totes.  I don’t know why but when I carry around my notebooks in this it makes me happy.  If you have a writer in your life who is equally delighted by pretty containers with straps, this is a lovely gift.  And guess what, it is ON SALE for the next 4 days!

4. Bonus Gift – Just for Fun

fun wall clock for writers

The Writer’s Clock at Café Press

Why I Love it:  It only allows you an hour to panic, then back to writing.,1160095998






Melissa’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for The Anatomy of Story


The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby


This is the most comprehensive and practical how-to book for narrative writing that I’ve ever come across. It explores story from conception through execution, delving into character development, world building, thematic through line, plot, and scene construction. Truby’s concepts build upon one another, helping the writer understand their story from many different perspectives and thus giving them the tools to weave an intricate and cohesive web that will satisfy readers. And the best part is, this isn’t just for fiction writers—it’s useful to anyone who incorporates narrative into their writing, be it journalism, memoir, or non-fiction. While this book could be mulled over from time to time as ideas develop, it also includes a workbook format where the writer can do the work as they progress through each chapter. The writer(s) in your life will be forever indebted to you for this gift and—let’s be honest—there’s no shame in treating yourself to this one too!

Karen’s Writer Gift Idea:

an index card that says the gift of 5 hours for writing


The gift of time to write.

That’s all I want in this crazy season. My shelves are full of books on how to write, I have very nice bags to carry 10 copies of my latest, a laptop, pens, three spare unfilled composition books. There’s one thing missing…



Paula’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for Big Magic


Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear 

Here’s why I recommend it:

Big Magic grants authors and artists permission to create free of fear (or maybe in concert with it). I especially liked the early sections on the distinction between being a genius and having genius pour through you (the latter reflects the true nature of the artist) and how ideas can get sidetracked and, if they’re set aside too long, lost (been there myself recently). But, Gilbert argues, even if these ideas go away from you, they often appear elsewhere, pursued by others in a concept known as multiple discovery.

Fascinating and liberating, this book celebrates the joy of creating and gifts all authors and artistic types with the knowledge that it’s okay to just do the work, no matter the experience level or eventual outcome. Highly recommended, not just for authors, but for all who yearn to be creative explorers.

Marijke’s Writer Gift Ideas:

an open moleskine journal with drawings and writing in it1. Moleskin Journals

I’ve tried a LOT of journals and finally settled on the plain moleskin journals.  They are the perfect size to carry with me.  I have taken them on all my retreats and now have a collection, one for each retreat I’ve been to.  These are marvelous to mine for content later.


2. Watercolor pencils

water color pencils

These are so fun for adding pictures to my journals.  I find that it helps me relax and pay attention to my surroundings when I add a little color to my journal notes






3. The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg.

book cover for The True Secret of Writing

This book captures what I think are essential components of my own writing practice, which Natalie distills as this: Sit. Write. Walk. It encourages us to dig a little deeper to “mine the rich awareness in your life, and to ground and empower yourself.”





Danielle’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. Out of print clothing

old t-shirt

I wear a lot of t-shirts. They are part of my personality and feature anything from interesting designs, to bands that I love. Lately I’ve started to add both bookstore and book t-shirts to my collection. This site has a whole host of book-themed gifts, whether it be a t-shirt with Frederick the Mouse or a scarf with Edgar Allen Poe-ka dots.






2. Book darts

book darts

I choose to read physical books simply because I spend most of my days and nights in front of a screen. I have also attempted to curb my book spending, so I’ve also been borrowing a lot of books from the library. Book darts are the absolutely perfect way to mark specific passages in books. If you’re reading a book you borrowed for the library for book club, you can “dart” your way though it and remove them all prior to returning the book. Book darts are thin, neat looking, and removable. I’ve already blown through two tins. So worth it.

3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art book cover

The War of Art is my writing bible. Pressfield tackles one of the greatest nemesis of writers around the world – resistance. When I’m wrestling with the demons of resistance I reread the final paragraph of this book (which is marked with a book dart in case you were wondering) “Creative work is not a selfish act or a need for attention. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us all you’ve got.”



Lisa’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. 1. Book Map

book map

These are fun, beautiful pieces of artwork featuring landmarks from literature in a single city map. Fun to stare at during those brainstorming sessions! They also have TV and movie maps, for those who don’t just love books…






2. Storymatic:

picture of storymatic game

Literally a box of writing prompts. These have gotten me out of many a writer’s block jam, and there is a booklet of fun group games, too!





3. Dragon:

dragon software box

This is a software program for taking dictation, which is the fastest way to get words on the page, whether they are notes, prose, blogs, or whatever pops into your brain. It also learns to recognize words and spellings you use often, including proper names. Think of all the brilliance you’ll be able to get out when the words move as quickly as your imagination! (Note: this is the PC version. They have it for Mac as well, but it’s more expensive for some reason.)

A Free Give-Away to Celebrate’s 1st Birthday!

a goft box wrapped in blue paper with stars and a gold ribbonIt’s’s first birthday, and what a year it’s been! So much fodder….

We are celebrating with a give-away: one free hour with esteemed writing coach, Marni Freedman, will go to a lucky new subscriber! Estimated value = $150!

The deadline to subscribe and win is Wednesday, November 15th at midnight. To qualify for our drawing for a free hour with Marni, click here to sign up. (If you’re anything like me, you will think this is a fantastic give-away and just what you need to launch your amazing story. You will want to definitely subscribe to win, but later, when your sink isn’t full of dishes and the dog isn’t barking and why is there a sock between these couch cushions?? But you will get distracted and forget. I’m sorry, the truth hurts. And I feel your pain! So let’s avoid this agony and click now to enter the drawing that will take your story to the next level!)

Here is what some of her clients have said about Marni:

“Marni is an amazingly empowering, perceptive, and inspiring teacher. She not only has tremendous insight and is a gifted editor, but she also can draw the best out of people. Before I met Marni, I was discouraged and close to giving up writing. I’ve worked one on one with her and also have been in her critique group for two years, and she’s helped me improve my writing tremendously — without her help, I’m sure I would have never finished my novel. Her positive attitude makes working with her a pleasure. I am extremely thankful to have gotten to know Marni and am lucky to have had her as a coach and mentor.”

— Tanya J, Author of YA Books for Horse Lovers

“I previously wrote in the form of freelance travel essays for newspapers and magazines, has been brewing between the pages of my journals for the last fifteen years. When I decided last January to write a memoir about my spiritual journey covering that same period, I knew I needed help not only in baring my soul and reliving some difficult moments, but also in taking my writing skills from their 1500-word essay comfort level to a 75,000-word manuscript. The way I think of it, Grace stepped in and offered warm-hearted writing coach/therapist, Marni, to my door. From the very first moment I met and sat with her, I felt that I could trust her both emotionally and professionally. With her, I felt safe being vulnerable and honest in writing my story—necessary elements for good memoir—and challenged to become a better writer—to tell my story in a way that would engage and interest my readers. Without ever putting too much of herself in the process, she showed me how to craft each scene as well as my overall story. She taught me the importance of thinking about memoir structure and necessary plot spots, how to experiment with different grabbers and how to allow some of the story to be revealed out of chronological order. I most appreciated that she never backed down. If Marni thought I could further improve a section or the overall structure, or if she sensed I was holding back on the emotional impact of a scene, she gently but firmly encouraged me to try again until my finished product delivered the impact and reflected the story I wanted to tell. Marni has been invaluable to me and I am filled with gratitude at my good fortune in meeting and working with her.”

— Mariah McKenzie, author of More . . . Journey to Mystical Union through the Sacred and the Profane.

“Bryan, whose brilliant prose had garnered San Diego writers’ awards and rocked the theater with laughter at his latest reading, suggested that I visit Marni’s Memoir Class. Bryan’s writing was well-timed and flawless. Why did he need a writing coach?

‘She’s great. Give her a try,’ was his reply.

So, I found myself sitting in her writing class. Her responses to other writers in the class warmed my heart.  Each student clearly needed a specific type of nudge, and I could watch Marni provide that push in the direction of relevance, of clarity or of imagery. Whatever was needed next, Marni could see it and suggest it.  So, I signed up with Marni, and not surprisingly, I am now sitting in my Writer’s Room, fully equipped with a willingness to write, and an enjoyment of the process. What made the difference between myself as stuck wanna-be writer and the happy, fluid composer that you now see before your very eyes?  In short, Marni’s magic. Marni is a licensed psychotherapist. So, instead of telling me yet another trick (you’ve heard them all: you must write in the morning . . . try writing in the evening, have a glass of wine, be sure to have a ritual . . . . the list goes on) Marni asked me questions that were specific to my stuckness. After meeting with Marni for five private sessions, I’ve now completed five of the nine chapters of a book that I’ve been attempting to conquer for over ten years. I’ve had the wonderful guidance of very good teachers, of published authors, of superb editors. They’ve all contributed enormously, but Marni has released the genie from the bottle. Marni manages to speak to the heart of what is wanted in the writer’s life. She’s great. Give her a try.”

— Phyllis, Author of From Conflict to Clarity

Marni in a pink hat working with clients

Click here to subscribe now and win a free hour with Marni to launch your story! Do something with all this fodder, would you please?





Photo Credit: and Marni Freedman

Three Steps to Finding the Editor for You

Marni in a pink hat working with clientsAs a writing coach and developmental editor (some of you are already going – whaaaat?), I get asked this question often: What type of editor do I need?

I am going to give you my best advice as to who does what, or who is supposed to do what. But I will say right off the bat that many editors overlap in what they do. In other words, they may perform one or more editing tasks. This can all be highly confusing for a writer. Let me try to break it down for you.

Let’s start by walking you through the process.

STEP ONE: EDUCATE YOURSELF (Hey, Editor, what exactly do you do?)


STEP THREE: INTERVIEW THE EDITOR OR WRITING COACH (Are you the right person for me?)

STEP ONE: Educate Yourself

Most people will agree that there are three types of book editors.  (As I said earlier, some may overlap in what they do.)

Each editor is needed in different parts of the writing journey. The first type is the developmental editor who looks at the big picture and the general substance. The second is the copy or line editor that looks at the nitty gritty before you submitty. The third is the proofreader, or the last point of contact before your work is born into the world (checks the copy in its entirety to make sure it is ready for publication).

Editor #1 Developmental or Content Editor – The “BIG PICTURE” Editor (Sometimes known as a writing coach.)

(This is the kind of editing I do, and I know it most intimately.)

A developmental or content editor (sometimes called a substantive editor) looks at the big picture. Many choose to work with a developmental editor before they begin the writing process (by that I mean the-words-on-the-page stage) to hone the idea and help craft the story. This type of editor sits down with you and looks at your idea, your dreams and goals, and your plan to execute your vision.

You may also seek out a developmental editor after you have completed a draft and before you start the query process, or if you have submitted and are not receiving the kind of response that you had hoped for. If you are receiving comments like “uneven” or “good idea but not well executed” or some version of “almost,” a developmental editor can be an invaluable asset to keep your work from ending up in the slush pile.

The developmental editor can do any or all of the following: assist you in creating and developing your core idea, plot, structure, characters, concept, outline, tone, theme, and general marketability of concept. In other words, they can help you develop the full plan (or story, or world) that you will use to write your book.

Once you have a first draft (or even a chunk of pages), a developmental editor can offer analysis and specific suggestions about the concept, plot, structure, characters, organization, style, flow, tone, and presentation.

For Fiction they look at:

  • Structure
  • Plot
  • Flow
  • Characters
  • Pacing
  • Core Idea or Premise
  • Description/Action
  • Theme
  • Setting and/or World Building
  • Dialogue
  • Scene Creation
  • Point of View
  • Writing Voice
  • Marketability and Fulfillment of the Genre (not all editors do this)


For Non-Fiction they look at:

  • Structure
  • Organization of Ideas
  • Voice
  • Theme
  • Style of Writing
  • Pacing
  • Tone
  • Description and Detail
  • Thoroughness of the Argument
  • Effectiveness of the Argument
  • Approach to the Thesis or Core Idea
  • Marketability
  • Target Audience (Are you giving them what you promised and what they need?)

Once the BIG PICTURE issues are solved, most of the time you can stay with your developmental editor and zoom in a bit on the material to check it out for style and flow.

With all of the above in mind, they look at the material and address questions like:

  • Is this material clear and understandable?
  • Does the information or story flow?
  • Does one idea support the next? Or, in the case of fiction, does the tension continue to build toward a climax?
  • Is the information presented accurately?

To improve the flow of the piece, they may write or rewrite sections, re-organize paragraphs, suggest changes to the order of chapters, and assist with introductions and conclusions of your material. They may also make suggestions as to places you can cut or trim or just get in there and revise any aspects that can improve the overall readability and clarity.

Some developmental editors get in there and assist with research, offer resources, and assist with the rewriting process.

Marni says: While most developmental editors assist with style and flow, some stop after the big picture and refer you to the copy or line editor for the paragraph and sentence structure issues.

Editor # 2:  The Copy Editor (or Line) Editor – or – what I call “The Nitty Gritty Before I Submitty” Editor

When most writers think of an editor, they think of this person. The copy or line editor dives in and makes sure the document is in order so that it can be presented professionally.  This is the last stop before submitting to an agent or publisher.

Copy editors will check and correct: spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, word usage (or over usage), consistency of style, and format.

The copy editor will read the draft as if they are a beta reader and offer notes or changes that will enhance overall clarity and flow.

A good copy/line editor will always try to respect the author’s voice and try to fulfill the author’s original meaning. In other words, your book should still say what you want to say, and it should still sound like you.

They may cross check your references, facts and figures, tables, quotes, infographics, and illustrations to make sure that the information in the text that points towards these is consistent and accurate. If they find copyrighted material, they may alert you to the need to gain permission for use. When completed, a copy editor will give you a manuscript that is ready to be submitted to a professional such as an agent or a publisher.

The Third Type of Editor is called a Proofreader or the “Are We Good to Go?” Editor

A proofreader looks at the formatted manuscript and makes the final assessment on how it looks. They pay attention to catching any of the errors or inconsistencies that the previous editor(s) or writers may have made (it’s hard to catch everything). They notice any typographical errors or any errors in typesetting. This editor looks at the last version that the copy editor and writer signed off on and they ask: Are there any discrepancies? Did the typesetter make any errors? How does the page look? Is the layout correct?

In my experience, some copy editors also offer proofing services.

STEP TWO:  What do I Need?

Here you want to ask yourself where you are in the writing process.


If you are just starting out in the process and want some help developing your story or core idea, a developmental editor or a writing coach is a great place to start.

If you have a first draft and you are not sure what you have exactly, you may want an assessment or critique from a developmental editor.

With prewriting, you do not need the other types of editors.

AFTER 50 or so pages or THE FIRST DRAFT

At this stage, you can still work with a developmental editor. Since they do both assessments and reworking of the material itself, you want to figure out what you need. Ask:

Do I want a critique? (Where someone tells me what is working and what is not working and how to fix it.)


Do I want someone just to get in there and fix what is not working?

Marni says: My advice is to get a critique first as it is less expensive and you may be able to make many of the changes yourself. You can always move on to the “just fix it” phase where you have an editor smooth it out and make it all pretty.

Once you are clear on what you want, ask your editor if they perform that service. If not, ask for referrals. (A good editor will have referrals.)


Ask the editor what types of editing they do and be specific about it. (Don’t be afraid to ask questions, if they can’t take questions, they are not the right editor for you.)

Questions to ask:

What type of editing do you do?

How do you define the type of editing? As mentioned before some editors use different language—so it is entirely appropriate to ask for clarification as to what services they are offering.

How do you charge?

What will I receive as feedback?

How specific will your notes be?

How long will it take?

Do you have any testimonials or former clients I can speak to? (If this editor is a referral, you can skip this step.)

Can I speak with you if I have follow-up questions?

How would you like to receive my material?

Marni says: Each editor may have their own best practices for submissions. However, here are some general guidelines. Submit in a Word doc or rich text file. Your page size should be 8.5 by 11. 12-point font, double-spaced. One-inch margins on the top and bottom.

Remember that your editor does not need to be your best friend. One of my editors told me, “I’m not your best friend, I’m the best friend of the material.” You want them to tell you the truth. Still, it’s important to know if you tend to be pretty delicate with feedback.  If so, you may want an editor with a gentler touch so that you will stay in the process.

Overall, my advice is: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If this is your first experience with an editor give yourself time to become acquainted with the process and be patient as you stumble through it. Try to go with referrals from a trusted source. The best editors are known within their writing communities. Best of luck!

Photo Credit: Marni Freedman (She’s in the pink hat)

Confessions of a Memoir Teacher–The Beauty of Broken

a whole in broken glassThere Is a Crack in Everything, That’s How the Light Gets In” – Leonard Cohen

As a memoir teacher and as a therapist, I am privileged to see behind the mask that people tend to wear. On a daily basis, people from all walks of life, all ages and stages of the game, open up and share their true selves with me. And the gift of seeing so many true selves over so many years has changed the way I look at life, the way I see humanity itself.

“Why do you think people share all that stuff with you?” My son asked me once after I told him about a special class I’d just had where many students opened up and explored their deepest secrets in public and for the first time. And he had me stumped. I wasn’t sure why. I only knew that the more they shared, the more I saw their true beauty.

Not the “Facebook, I’m at Disneyland, just had a baby, look at my new puppy, we bought a new car, look at my promotion” kind of beauty. The “I’m scared after my divorce, who am I without my husband, I’m Bipolar, I’m addicted to pills, my dad never loved me, I’m scared to go to the next doctor’s appointment” kind of beauty.

As a person, I gravitate towards the “I’m trying to find my new passion, it hurts to risk, I’m scared to push myself further, I’m jumping in the deep end” kind of beauty.

To me, this is the real beauty of humanity. A kind of beauty that lives in the gray, yet in my eyes is fantastically and spectacularly multicolored.

The other day, while listening to a group member read her memoir, which is an introspective journey out of depression, I had an epiphany. The therapist in her story had stated, sort of matter-of-factly, that we, as humans, are all essentially broken. That being broken was just sort of part of the deal.

That flew in the face of the way I had been trained to think as a therapist, as an American, as a daughter, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. I’d always thought the goal was to work hard, earn, get more, be more–to eventually find my way toward wholeness.

Broken, in my eyes, had meant bad or less than.

But through this therapist’s eyes, broken meant human. Broken meant–just what is.

That night, I couldn’t sleep (and not just because our new kitten was attacking my toes). I kept thinking about the very concept of being whole. And the more I thought about it, the more I questioned it. I turned to the kitten, who may soon be named Mr. Apricot, and said,

“Mr. Apricot, this whole wholeness thing may just be bullshit.”  The kitten seemed to get where I was going, so I continued.

“What if wholeness and perfection are a bill of goods we have been sold along with the Cinderella myth?”

The next morning, I put pen to paper and wrote:

Every person I have ever met, including myself, is what I would consider broken. And what if I had been taught at an early age that that is the beauty of life? We are beautifully broken because we ache for something we don’t have because we are imperfect or slow artists because we lost someone or something because we have a dream yet unrealized because we fill with anger or angst or wish for yesterday. What if we are beautifully broken in a way that doesn’t need to be fixed?

And let me take it one step further, what if the broken places are where the fantastic growth stems from? What if we no longer feared falling, messing up, or failing because we knew these would all be opportunities to find what is most truthful and essential in our souls?

What if we were told that we are never going to have it all figured out, and that’s okay.

This doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t try to heal the hurt places. It means that you would know that perfection doesn’t exist anywhere at any time.

But what about hope, you ask? If I accept all my brokenness, won’t that make me lazy, won’t that mean I have no hope?

In my observation, I don’t see that happening. What I see is that when I work with a group of memoir students, and they begin to share their true selves with one another, their struggles and failures and losses, they experience more hope. They feel a connection with the community, they feel strength in seeing what they have survived. They feel empowered.

Healing, nurturing and loving ourselves, taking risks, pushing beyond bounds–hell yes, to all of that. I’m not saying to wallow in the brokenness. Instead, what if you let it be your personal disco ball? Dance in it, kick up your heels and allow it to surround you. Don’t fight it. This is your humanity talking. It wants to have a conversation with you.

So if you get to the part of your memoir when you are terrified to expose the broken parts, when you want to run and hide behind the old mask, remind yourself that broken is beautiful. Broken is where the light comes in. Broken is where we connect. Waste no more time chasing the concept of whole. Dive into your brokenness and disco the night away.


Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

How to Be a Feisty Self-Promoter

man on hover board water craft flying in the airIsn’t your greatest wish to be left alone in your cave—to write out your words, the way they come to you, without noise or interruption? Then when you are done, all you would have to do is step outside your cave and drop your material on the doorstep. Then you could run back to your cave and shut the door.

Then, an agent would come along, pick up the manuscript and shout, “Brilliant!” and leave you a check just outside your cave door. Then this magic agent would get on her magic megaphone and share your masterpiece with the world, leaving you to go back to doing what you truly love: Working on the next manuscript.

We writers like to be in our caves typing or scribbling—alone. The thought of stepping out of the cave and calling out to the world, “Hey, I’m here!” can be truly daunting. When I ask writers about their take on self-promoting their material I hear questions like:

  1. Won’t I look like a self-centered narcissist?
  2. Won’t I annoy people?
  3. Shouldn’t I just keep my head down and not call attention to myself? Won’t people just find me ’cause they like my work?
  4. I have no idea how to promote; it’s not my area of expertise. Shouldn’t I leave it to the professionals?
  5. What if people say mean stuff?
  6. Won’t the publisher do all that? (No, sorry—heavy sigh)
  7. Do I really have to use social media, I mean how effective is it anyway?

Okay, I won’t lie to you.

People do get sick of humble braggers, general narcissists, and annoying self-promoters. If you are in a community of writers, you know that person. Every post, every tweet, and every pic are about them and their book. They seem to be in their own world—the one where only their book exists.

To become a Feisty Self-Promoter, your goal is to start building an authentic base of supporters, readers, and fans. People who love your voice will want more of it. So it’s perfectly fine to let them know where they can find you, or what you will be up to next! Think of feisty promoting as creating a solid and lasting relationship between you and your readers.

How to be a Feisty Self-Promoter:

  1. First of all, know it’s okay to have confidence in yourself and your material.
  2. Speak from your most authentic voice. Be yourself. Take risks. Let your real voice shine (even in posts—even in tweets.)
  3. Don’t engage the haters. Keep the tone of everything you do positive.
  4. Don’t make it all about you. Write about your readers—what they want, wish for, think about, dream about, etc.
  5. Get help from branding experts. You can spend (read: waste) a lot of time working on promotions that get no return. A few words from someone in the know can have a serious and lasting impact on your PR efforts.
  6. Mix it up, change the channel. Write about something else besides your work. Show that you are not about promoting you all the time.
  7. Tell good stories. This is a great way to promote without being annoying. Talk about your real process. Tell us the good, the bad and the ugly.
  8. Keep being visible—no matter what. Find your venues.
  9. Lift up other writers. Support your writing tribe. When someone else comes out with a book—help them out. Tell others, share posts, write a review for them, attend their launch, toot their horn.
  10. Tenacious consistency is key. Let go of quick results. Building a real platform, something solid, is well worth the time.
  11. Enjoy the process. Readers can tell if you are dragging yourself to the keyboard—or hate the promotion part. Find the parts that give you authentic joy. Then I guarantee that your efforts will resonate with passion. (And who doesn’t like passion?)

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How to Be a Feisty Rewriter

Woman holding sparkling orb in her handsNew writers simply do not understand rewriting (Sigh). It comes as a shock to most of them that their first draft will be far from their last draft. I get it. I’ve been there. I know it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

But once a writer has gone through the entire process of taking a first draft and making it sparkle, not only does the piece transform, but the writer transforms. They see how what was once “good,” can now become “great” or “amazing.”  And guess what? Rewriting, dare I say it, can become sort of addicting.

So, if you have completed a first draft and sent it out for feedback, we have two missions:


Keep you from falling into the dreaded Lack of Rewriting PIT.

What is this pit of which I speak? It looks something like this:

  • Not rewriting from the first draft to the second (after getting notes on how much work it needs).
  • Not rewriting as many times as the piece needs. (“Okay, I will write it again, but just once more.”)
  • Contracting “But-I-just-want-it-to-be-done-itis.”
  • Not understanding that every writer—yes, EVERY writer— rewrites.


Encourage you to embrace Feisty Rewriting.

Let’s go back to our premise for the series: Take the ego out and stay in creative motion.

Again—it may feel counterintuitive or nonsensical.

When I have discussed this idea with writers I often hear this type of thinking:

“Oh please, Marni. How on earth can I remove my ego if someone is critiquing my work? They are criticizing me!”

Let’s take a moment to look at that thought. I see writers blend the idea of “their work” with “themselves” all the time. But guess what? That is just the ego trying to lure you to the dark side of not moving forward and staying in delicious, creative motion.


If someone is criticizing you and not your work, get out, not the right place for you.

If someone doesn’t want you to succeed, get out, not the right place for you.

But if someone is critiquing your work and they want you to succeed, stick it out.

The truth is that your ego may feel bruised. After all, you tried your best, and someone is saying it can be better. It’s okay to feel that “ouch.”

But wait for a second—it’s not the end of the story for your piece! Someone is saying it can be better. Isn’t that what you want? Better? You want to stand out from the crowd. You want to make headway and move your career to the next level. So better will be easier to work with, right?

If you have come along with me this far (congrats!) it means you are ready to become a feisty rewriter.

How to Become a Feisty Rewriter:

  1. Take some time after receiving notes. Remember: you don’t have to, nor should you accept all notes. Otherwise, you will be traveling in many different directions trying to please every note giver. Time to let the notes sink in helps. (No matter what anyone says, you are not in a race.)
  2. Look for the common areas of agreement. If you had multiple readers, where did they agree?
  3. Pay attention to lateral movement. What’s that? Remember that almost every critiquer will have something to say. Some critiques will make the piece better. Some will just be different, but not better.
  4. Decide which notes feel authentic for you and the piece you are writing.
  5. Develop a plan. Work with a writing coach, trusted mentor, or writing group to create a new plan of attack.
  6. Don’t be afraid of a page one rewrite. This is where you start cursing at me. It sounds horrid, I know.  But I have seen brilliance stem from many writers who took a step back, then approached their material with a new take or slant. None of it was wasted time. You can’t get to step two without step one.
  7. Reward yourself for staying in the process. (It’s a big deal!)
  8. Utilize your writing tribe to keep you on track.
  9. Remember that the process itself is part of the reward. Enjoy every small rewriting victory.
  10. Don’t let anything stop you, get in your way, or side track you from completing your next draft. You are a train in motion. And that is creative dynamism at its finest.

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5 Steps to Taming the Writing Ego (When You Get Harsh Feedback)

Wrecking Ball hitting brick wallOn the one hand, as a writing coach and teacher, I ask students to go to their most vulnerable place, to reach deep down in their soul and risk everything they’ve got. Otherwise, their writing voice won’t sound authentic and most likely—they won’t get noticed.

As writers, we simply have to risk, and risk often.

On the other hand, I ask students to take said risk-filled material—in which they have possibly exposed themselves in a very personal way—and put it up for review.

It’s sort of an insane process.

Passionate, vulnerable, emotional writers + critique = not so great recipe.

In fact, this recipe often leads to shutting down, lack of listening (hearing the feedback) and sometimes meltdowns and tantrums. In my experience, no one wants to work with or be around a TTW. (Temperamental-Tantrum-Writer.)

The critique process has been going on for thousands of years and is vital to the writing process. You simply can’t know what you have communicated until you get out of your brain and hear how others are experiencing your material.

So how do you use the critique process without stomping your feet, going insane (or pretending you don’t care) so you can actually benefit from it?

I have five steps for you:

  1. Do your best to recognize when the ego is at play. You can train yourself to recognize when the ego is popping up. Just recognizing it is an important first step in taming the damn thing. (Ego thoughts can sound like: No, they are wrong, how could they say that to me? They just don’t get it. I am being attacked here. They are stupid. If only they read other pages, they would get it. This is unfair. I’m getting out of here.) When you recognize the ego taking over your brain just breathe in and out. That’s it.
  2. Recognize WHY you are receiving feedback. To get better. You are putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation to grow. That’s the bottom line.
  3. Switch hats. Today’s writer must wear many hats: the creator, the editor, the promoter, the marketer, etc. It’s vital to realize that when you are receiving feedback, you should not be in your creator-writer space. Put the editor hat on.
  4. Do the “Two Minute Rant, Take a Walk” method. Yep, it’s just what it sounds like.

⇒ If you are alone, rant to your pillow, or write out all of your angry thoughts. Get it all out. Get out the most childish tantrum-y thoughts you got. Then take a walk. Don’t respond. Take as much time as you possibly have before responding. You want to respond from your wisest self.

⇒ If you are in a group, it’s a little harder. You can rant inside your unhappy brain. But then, you might miss out on valuable feedback. When in a group, I suggest postponing the rant. Keep the editor’s hat on, don’t argue back no matter what and take notes. Even if you don’t agree: take notes. When you calm down, you will want to remember what was said.

  1. Let it go for a few days. Approach the material when you are fresh. Allow the critique to settle in. Don’t start writing thinking you will fix the problem in a few minutes. Often, you will need to come up with a new approach.

The good news: it does get easier! You do get acclimated to the process and stop taking it all so personally.


The Feisty Writer’s Guide to Tackling Your Fears

People on scary carnival rideWriting Task Terror Challenge

 Being the feisty coach that I am, I want to encourage you to start to tackle your writing fears.

“But how, how, how?”  you ask. “They are my fears; I can’t just conquer them. I am filled with writing anxiety. I am scared to reach out to an agent. I can’t submit to a contest, go to a networking event, or travel to a different city to pitch my story!”

 Yeah, you actually can. I’ve watched many a timid writer transform into a fierce writing lion in action. And I have a plan. It’s easy, and I know you can do it.

 Do one writing task per month that terrifies you!

 Let’s take a minute to talk about what you may be avoiding:

 Sending a query letter. Sending your 12th query letter. Making a cold call. Writing a book proposal. Pitching an agent. Signing up for a conference. Submitting to a contest. Applying for a writing job. Reaching out to a writing mentor you respect. Attending a class. Finding a writing group. Completing your book. Taking a manuscript out of the drawer and showing it to someone. (add your own here)

 Now let me break down my little plan for you in 4 easy steps:

Step one: Make a list of things that you want/need to get done in the next six months to reach a writing goal. Include the things that you really don’t want to do, or that freak you out.

Step two: Grab a calendar. Pick a day of the month (say the 15th) and make it your Writing Task Day.

Step three: On that day (for example, Oct 15th, then Nov 15th…), for six months, perform a task that you would normally shy away from.

Step four: Put it out of your mind until the next month.

Important: What matters is staying in creative motion and putting yourself out there. Don’t become attached to the outcome. I once worked with a client who had submitted her book for a year. Ready to quit, she said she would only submit one more. Well, three submissions later, she found her perfect agent. Had she quit at one more, her career would never have blossomed. Letting go of the outcome allowed her to keep moving.

 What you will notice: The first time will be the scariest.

 Then, you will find that:

Being bold is addicting!

 Why? Because you will realize that what has been holding you in its grips so tightly–telling you that you can’t do it, well, it no longer has a hold on you.  

 And the more you get out there, the more you will have successful experiences. Failures too. That’s just part of it. But the successes will happen–and they will happen because you stayed in creative motion.

 Send us an e-mail with a pic of you doing the thing that scares you the most!


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How To Be A Feisty Submitter—The Mustard Factor


Let’s go back to the feisty writer premise we introduced in my last blog  Your job as a feisty writer is to:

Take the ego out and stay in creative motion. 

 Nowhere is this more important than in the submission process. Submitting to an agent, competition, or contest can be scary. It’s the moment of judgment. No more dreaming, plotting, editing, or shaping. Your submission will be followed with a clear “yes” or “no.” Having been on both sides of the game, I get it. I’ve been both the “submitter” and the “decider.” I’ve learned a lot being on both sides. But, to be honest, I have learned the most as someone who has had to judge the work of other writers.

Here’s what I can tell you that I have learned as the “decider.” 

There are a certain amount of pieces that rise to the top–these we will call the finalists. 

 They are finalists because they are well written, have strong concepts and unique voices, and are polished.  (You want to hone your craft until you find yourself in this arena. There is no short cut, just consistent joyful work on your craft.)

But, when looking at your pile of finalists, you are facing a crop of good stuff.

How do you decide on a winner?

The honest answer is that it’s subjective. Why one piece hits me and rises to the top is extraordinarily personal and sometimes unexplainable. And often it comes down to the mustard factor.

 What is the mustard factor, you ask?


I was in a room with a group of movie producers, and we were in the process of casting.

All day long, actors came in to read for various parts.

Two equally talented actors came in for the same part. The first actor auditioned before lunch. He was on point, funny, and we were all impressed. Then lunch came, providing us with gourmet hot dogs with gourmet mustard. Said mustard got on the head producer’s tie. It happened to be an expensive silk tie he loved. And that put him in a bad mood.


In walked the second actor. 

And guess what, he was awesome. On point, funny, and we were all impressed. (Maybe he was even a smidge more awesome than the first actor.) But, the producer who was making the ultimate decision was in a bad mood because of his damn soiled tie. No amount of talking it through could convince him that the second actor was as good as the first. 

So the first actor was hired. From that point on, we referred to the subjectiveness of the deciders as “the mustard factor.”

Now don’t get me wrong–you still have to be awesome to get to that round. You need to be a finalist. So work your craft like mad. But don’t take every or any hit personally.

How to Be a Feisty Submitter

1.     Make submitting part of your weekly or monthly schedule. Put contests or agent submissions on your “to do” list. (Go to Hope Clark’s for awesome submission info.)

2.     No need to talk about submissions with anyone, just do it.

3.     Refine, refine, refine. If you are seeking an agent, keep refining that search or rewriting the query if you get feedback. 

4.     Submit to the same competitions even if you are rejected–especially the ones that offer feedback. Take the feedback. They will be impressed with your tenacity.

5.     Run your own race. Do not compare yourself to anyone. Focus on improving your track record of submitting.

6.     Live by the question: Are you better at submitting now that you were in the past? (Keep improving based on your answer.)

7.     Reward yourself for submissions, not for wins.

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