Writers’ Tips


Use this title: “If You Knew Me, You Would Know . . .” Go from there and write a poem or short story and see where it takes you. Great prompt.


Write down:

3 important events in your life

3 important people in your life

3 important things in your life

3 important places in your life

3 important secrets in your life

Choose one from each category and write 400 words about these items.


Write 10 things you know to be true. Choose one or two to write about.


One of our members mentioned Glimmers. These are short writings, a page or less. They are a moment in time, a glimpse of life, a detailed description of a scene or a feeling or a brief happening, an AHA moment. They are almost poetic. They can be taken from journals or just used as an exercise. Maybe they can be used in some future longer writing. These are also called Snapshots or Vignettes.


If you are stuck, try making a list of words. Just keep going and listing. It might trigger something or you can start writing something using the words you came up with.


In a story, your character needs to make a change. One of our members noticed that in a story or novel, usually a character is either coming to town or leaving a town. Ask yourselves these questions as your write: What does he want? What is he after? What is he afraid of? And think about why you are writing the story. What is the point you want to make?


Several members spoke of writing in long hand versus writing on the computer. They like to do their first drafts in long hand. It slows you down so you can think. You can rework it and digest and live with it as you write it out in script.


When you see something that you want to describe, if you can’t come up with a good original way to describe it, perhaps try describing how it makes you feel, how it changes you, how it affects you, how you feel different afterward.


Something that is very helpful is free-flow writing. Get it all down fast while it is in your mind—then you will have something to work with later.


Stuck on what to write? Sit down with a book by a favorite poet or writer and just read for a while. You might find some words you like, or their ideas might give you ideas. Sometimes this can completely inspire you.


Look at your old journals or some of your older writings. These are yours. You can take them and rework them, reuse them, turn them into something else, or maybe finally finish them.


Some writers will think their whole book through first, using note cards, before they actually start writing.

Some writers will start with one idea and one scene, and then let the characters develop and lead the way through the story, with the writer often having no idea where they will go or what will happen.

One of our writers uses this method:

He lists all these things: He discovers who his main character will be, like a character inventory. He decides what drives them, motivates them, etc. Then he thinks about his settings. He decides what the overarching goals are for each character, what will drive the story. He creates a plot map, listing all the major plot points. He asks himself how the characters will go about achieving their goals and chooses inciting incidents and a climax. He then weaves the various character goals together. Listing all these as he goes, he comes up with his written sheet that will guide him through his writing. Then he fleshes out the details, adds the five senses and dialogue.


One of our members said that he believes that technology (screens) harms your attention span. He is now often writing in long hand and finds he has better focus. He also mentioned that when you use the word “as,” it makes you try to think about two parts of the sentence simultaneously. But we read sequentially, so it is often better to change “as” to “and.”


Cutting up your poems is a good exercise. Move around the lines and the stanzas to see if it works better for you.

Twining two poems together to create a new poem can be a good exercise.

Take one line of one of your already-written poems. Use that line to create a totally new poem.

Have the first reader for your poem or story (such as a friend or spouse) tell you not whether they liked it or not, but have them tell you what stands out. This will tell you if you need to make it more clear so a reader will understand your objective.


Make sure your modifiers don’t dilute your nouns!

Use only strong nouns and verbs, cut your modifiers, get rid of words ending in “ly.”


Don’t spell everything out for the reader. You need to give subtle hints and use word choices and then trust the reader.


Definitions for “pacing” in poetry:

From auburn.edu: The speed of utterance, how quickly or slowly the language moves through the poem. You pause differently for different kinds of punctuation, for difficult words or hard to pronounce word-combinations; your assessment of the tone of the poem is likely to affect the speed with which you read it, as will rhyme, formality, and a host of other things.

From Answers.com: Using short works like “lick,” or “flick” that convey speed in some way, increase the pace or speed of the poem. Whereas words that linger longer, for example “oozing” and often alliterations slow down the pace of the poem.


Have a strong beginning, have a dramatic arc, watch tenses and point of view, use sense of smell and touch. An event is important but the person’s response to that event is even more important.


There are several games that can help you get started writing.

Try Haikubes. This is a bunch of cubes like dice with words on each side. You use the words on these cubes to create Haiku poetry, with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, 5 in the third. This is challenging but you can come up with new lines and word combinations you hadn’t thought of before.

Magnetic Poetry Kit is another one. There are a whole bunch of words on magnetic pieces. Select a bunch at random and create phrases. This also helps you come up with new lines and word combinations.

Liebrary, the game where the first line speaks volumes. This is a game using first lines of books. One person will read the title and a description of a book. All players must write out what they think the first line of the book could be. Their answers, along with the real answer, are then read to all the players and they each must choose the one they think is the real one. This also gets you thinking and writing.


One writer “decapitates” her poems. When she starts to edit them, she removes the first part and gets right into the heart of the poem. You can do that with a story also. Start where the action is.


Our group had a discussion about self publishing and how it can be very good for writers but we are sad at how poor the editing often is. Those who self publish still need a good editor! We all decided it should be a matter of pride to only publish something that is correct, not something poorly done.

We mentioned that with many people texting and emailing with no one paying attention to mistakes in grammar and punctuation, it is a sad thing that correct spelling and punctuation will keep on disappearing.

We mentioned some possible writing exercises — writing a poem first, then writing it as a short story, then a prose poem, etc. Also perhaps rewriting someone else’s poem after they have read it. Another good thing to do is to rewrite your own story or poem from a different point of view. Try writing your poem idea in various poetic forms. Try writing the same poem in several different forms and see how it changes the meaning or changes your ideas about the poem. This really helps you to come up with things you might not think of other wise.


First, write a sentence that is not true. Then keep writing, write a paragraph that continues on and is true. Second, write a sentence that is true. Then keep writing, write a paragraph that continues on and is not true.


1. Write for 3 minutes, all in one sentence.

2. write fast paced dialogue, one page. two characters talking, never allowing the other one to say over 10 words before they interrupt. you will notice that the voices will begin to distinguish into two very different people.

3. write 3 sentences, all on the same basic subject. the first sentence is something true about you. the second sentence is partially true and partially untrue. the third sentence is something totally false about you. Then, write 3 sentences again, all on the same basic subject. the first sentence is something totally false about you. the second one is partially true and partially false. the third one is true about you.

Which part of the last exercise was the easiest for you to do? the hardest? generally starting with the truth is the easiest for people. the lesson is to see if you can get away from being biographical


Jerry had been to a class by Allison McGee. She wrote Shadow Baby from the perspective of a 12 year old girl. Here is the three part exercise.

1. Take a child, (preferably a character in a story of yours) or pick someone you know (under 12.) Write down a description of the child using nothing physical, no emotions, or personality. Say things that he or she likes, such as: sleeping late, home cooking, movies, chocolate chip cookies, video games, Xmas, dogs, etc.

2. Take an adolescent, (preferably a character in a story of yours) or pick someone you know. Add an object to the story with this person. (pocket knife, notebook, telephone, or torn dollar bill, etc.) For example, the adolescent sitting whittling with his pocket knife, explaining that it was given to him by his Dad, who he misses very much.

3. Write a paragraph, witnessing the vulnerability of an adult. For example, a challenged adult says that he misses his Dad too, etc.


A great exercise is to rewrite a story of yours from a totally different point of view.


Here is a good writing exercise. Have one person write one sentence. Pass the paper to the one on the left. That person writes a sentence to follow the first, etc.


Pass around a photo. Have everyone write about the photo, start a story from the photo, etc. We will bring some photos for the next meeting. We took one of Tarah’s photographs and each wrote for 3 minutes, whatever came to mind. Some of us got great ideas for the start of a story or poem.


Russ wrote a pantoum. This is a poem with stanzas of four lines. They often begin and end with the same line or the second line of the first stanza might start the second stanza. They sometimes rhyme abab. It is the slowest of all verse forms and is perfect for evocation of a past issue. Writing a sistina or pantoum or some other very structured poem is a great exercise. Both forms are fun and a good exercise. Try writing a poem in one form and then the other and then free verse.


Jerry also attended a Metaphor Writing workshop. He gave us several good tips from the class. Think of an emotion; give it a color, give it a temperature. Write 10 descriptors. Fear could be described as cold and blue. The other writers would try to guess what you were describing. Put some items in bags and touch the items without looking at them. Using adjectives, let others guess what you are describing.


1. Write down your dreams. Sometimes they are like a vision or they give you a message. You can get great story ideas from them.

2. Set out a few assorted items on the floor. Choose one item and write about it for 5 minutes. Great way to come up with a story line. Or, add this info to a story you are already working on.

3. Slow down your writing. Change speeds in your story. Choose one detail to really write about thoroughly, like your character shaving, etc. Take some common ordinary detail and really describe it. This changes the pace of your writing.


Try writing a piece in first person, then rewriting it in second or third person. Write as a poem and then as a short short story. For poems, watch the rhythm, try inner rhymes. Try cutting out as many words as possible, make it as short as possible.

It is very important to know how to re-write. Knowing when to stop is also important.

A poem should be like Teutonic plates in geology–two things going on at the same time, passing each other.

Take a well-known poem that you like. Try writing a parody of it, using similar lines and words and phrasing, perhaps a different subject. This helps to reinforce good rhythm.


One exercise is to write 6 sentences that would make good last lines to a short story, one page. Then write the story to come down to each of those final sentences. Another exercise is to write a story that takes place in one spot. There has to be at least one clue to the reader that the main character is due for a major change in his life but he doesn’t know it yet. Another exercise is to describe an act of rebellion either major or minor.


If you had to empty your pockets (or purse), what in it would characterize you? What three items in your life would you like to have placed in your coffin?


Write for 3 minutes. Describe someone you know in terms of two or three objects that you associate with them.


Picture yourself going down some steps. When you get to the bottom, what do you see and where do you go next?


Russ gave us an exercise. Write for three minutes about a certain situation, two people involved, each having a bad day and you can only use words with one or two syllables. The situation was: a guy is sitting at a car garage, waiting for his car to be fixed. His wife comes in, tells him about some problem she is having. He is having trouble with the garage. they are each trying to explain their problem to the other. Notice that when you write with only one or two syllables, the piece is fast paced, intensified.


Another exercise is to write the same story or poem from 3 or 4 different viewpoints. You might still choose to write it from the original viewpoint that you were using, but you will now see it much better than you did originally.


When describing something, show, don’t tell. Attempt to describe moonlight without using the word “moon” or “light.”


There are several types of sentences, simple, compound, complex, and compound/complex combined. Using these in various ways, you can speed up the action or slow it down. This creates flow.


Russ gave us an exercise to do — choose one of these things and write for 5 minutes on it:

1. character — describe a person who made a strong impression on you, an encounter you had, how they dressed, how they spoke, describe the place, why it was memorable, and as they walked away, where did they go, who was the next person they spoke it.

2. place — describe a public place from your child hood that affects you today — powerful emotions

3. first person — write a true statement about yourself, like some traveling you have done, details. Then write a false statement about yourself. like — I have never left the country. and feel how different it is to put yourself into a different persona rather than the truth – it liberates you.


Here is a good writing exercise. Using a dictionary or even a regular book, just go through and put your finger down on a word. Write this word down and find a few more. Use these words in a poem. This can help you come up with something vastly different than what you usually write.


LuAnne brought a sample of Burmese poetry. It has a long and distinguished history. Classical Burmese poetry comes in many lengths and forms, but most of it is characterized by a repeated sequence of 3 internally-rhymed lines consisting of 4 syllables each-a pattern that has become known as a Climbing Rhyme. Try it out!! We all learn by stretching ourselves. Often we learn that we can do something that we thought we couldn’t do. Sample:


Cluttered desk annoys

unused toys hide,

swell, buoyed by dust.


You should take each major character and write down many things about each one. There are endless ways to describe a person — don’t just always use height or hair color. Make them so they are unique. Do it in narrative, usually more than an index card. The more you know these people, the more you know how they will react to situations in your story and interact with the other characters. Don’t get stuck using people that you know — if you have 3 cousins, make an imaginary 4th cousin and see what he would be like.


Give the bad characters some redeeming characteristic and the good ones some flaws.


We discussed that many writers outline their novel so they know where they are going with the story. They have one index card for each character describing all their physical characteristics so they can make sure not to contradict themselves.


Russ told us what he has been doing with his novel. He has a whole loose leaf notebook for the outline. He has all the scenes outlined. He has listed what the dramatic purpose of each scene is. He has a list of all the characters, then a description of each character. What are their desires? What are their fears, their beliefs? He also writes a physical description and a brief history of the character. He describes all the locales where the scenes will take place. He writes details about the towns, the farms, the homes, etc. He writes this all in long narrative sentences.


When you critique someone’s work, mark what is good, not what is bad. (One method).


There are two kinds of editing: 1. content editing, which is reading the whole thing and looking at the big picture, structural. 2. line editing, looking at punctuation, each word, is it in the right place, etc.


Your story will consist of an intro, you present a problem, describe how the characters deal with the problem, then solve the problem.


A mystery is more complicated to write because you have to know exactly what you have revealed to the reader. Everything has to tie together.


Mary Oliver writes about writing poetry. She says that artists start out by imitating the masters. Poets generally do not do that, but we should. If we could imitate the masters, then we would learn. We have to have a desire to create. If you imitate the masters, you can hone your craft and then find your own style. You have to know the rules first so you can break them if you want it.


One writer said that they had learned that the end of your story should circle back to the beginning. So, you have to know your ending first. Another writer mentioned that an attorney does this. They need to know what their final argument will be so that everything they say will lead up to that. Work toward your goal.


Russ took a class — What do Editors Want — they are looking for love of language, vividness, uniqueness, good diction, enthusiasm, love of their characters.


Russ was telling us that he has learned that in describing your story, you should be able to state the plot in one sentence. There should be several dramatic incidents that lead up to it. You can focus lots of power there. Sometimes it is as important what you leave out as what you put in.


Will Weaver sent us some very helpful writing tips.

1. First, there’s no “trick”, no formula for getting published — but two things make the difference. Most importantly, your material (poem, short story, whatever) must be honestly heartfelt — must have personal importance to you. This often means writing about things, issues, problems, etc. that most people would let lie. Thoughts that most people would never say aloud. Writing this kind of material means breaking through the censor inside all of us: our instinct to be a nice person and fit in with our family, friends, church group etc. I do not mean here that we should be about exposing our deepest darkest secrets all the time; what I am saying, is that we can give some of those issues and secrets to a fictional character, or to a poem, and that personal intersection will empower the writing. It will also help us finish what we’re writing, which is no small matter. Call this the “energy of personal intersection.” Example: Say we have elderly aunt whose life could have been so much more, and we have always felt badly about how things turned out for her. Why not use her, altered for fictional purposes, in a story, in a novel. She could even be the heroine of a romance novel, and our personal intersection will still be there…

2. My second point is simple: revision, revision, revision. Every page of a novel I write has been gone over 15-20 times, sometimes more. You hear this advice all the time. However, another important thing for emerging writers is to find a published writer who “speaks” to you — whose writing you greatly admire — and lay your page alongside his or hers. Closely compare the writing. How is that writer’s prose different (better than) mine? What are her sentences doing that mine are not? This is very important, this visual comparison, in that it gives you fresh look at your writing style. This close compare/contrast was very helpful to me in the past.


Russ mentioned a book he had read by Twyla Tharp on maintaining creativity. It was about tuning in to your type of creativity. Is there a theme to the story? She called it the “spine.” Try to see the structure behind the scenes, between the reader and the writer. Often the writer gives too much or not enough. The reader should be able to reach his own conclusions.


Someone mentioned that in a story, your ending should seem inevitable. You also need to be able to write about how circumstances affect the character in the story, not just always totally tell the story. We also mentioned knowing your ending before you start. One writer mentioned having an index card describing each character so you don’t forget hair color, eye color, etc. If you decide to totally change something about a character, use Find and Replace in your Word processing program. Someone mentioned never having more than 3 characters in a scene since it is too hard to follow.


Russ told us a couple of nuggets of wisdom:

One theory is that the best writing comes out of a wound.

A happy story starts and ends happy. A story that starts unhappy can have an ending that is interesting and different.

To portray conflict, ask yourself, what does your character desire? What is your character afraid of?


Russ brought us some good information on revisions. One method for making revisions is to use bracketing. You go through your piece that you want to revise and bracket the best parts that show rather than tell, the parts that stand out as the best parts. Pick out the dramatic parts of your work, see how it moves from one dramatic conflict to another. This will show you other parts that you could improve or delete.


It is a good idea when you are writing, to quickly write your story through one time. You need to see where you are beginning and where you want to end up. Otherwise it is like driving a car-eventually you just run out of gas if you just keep on wandering without knowing where you are supposed to end up.


Another tip when writing-describe the major locales of your work thoroughly and completely, each by themselves. Later, as you are writing, you can draw some information from these descriptions. Also do this for the major characters, their thoughts, fears, etc. This makes them so they aren’t so shallow, it helps you know how they will behave.


Use smell, touch, taste, etc. to show the reader things instead of always telling. This will make it much more vivid.


Sit down and just write, anything at all. It is like taking a walk in the woods. Sooner or later you come across a deer trail and you can turn onto that trail.

Write a word, any word. What does that word make you think of? Write down that word, and another and another. See a pattern and a connection.

Approach your story idea from a new angle. Imagine your story idea as scaffolding. If you are stuck, you can leap over it and write something that happens after the part you are stuck on. Or write the difficult part in retrospect.

When you are stuck with your writing, not sure where to go with your topic–try free association. Just sit and write thoughts, ideas, topics, tangents, that come to mind regarding your subject. This should help you see a pattern and a place to focus on in your writing.


Ever wonder why your work sometimes goes in the reject pile when you submit it? The Talking Stick Editorial Board members (current and past) have listed some of these reasons. These same things may apply for other publications. Are you guilty of some of these things?


This is the main reason that a submission goes in the reject pile. Every publication has different requirements. For the Talking Stick, this can include:

  • not following the word count rules
  • sending something that is already published or on your blog or website
  • sending simultaneous submissions (same writing also sent elsewhere at same time)
  • not making it clear how you want your name in the book (you might have it several different ways in a letter, in your bio, on the actual submission)
  • not submitting your work all at one time—it is hard to keep track if you submit three or four times over the months we are accepting submissions
  • not telling us if it is creative nonfiction or fiction—just saying story is not enough; we need to know what genre it fits into.

Spelling and punctuation errors, mistakes in grammar.

Use spell check! This will save you a lot of errors. And have another writer proofread for you.

Sloppy syntax, erratic tense and point of view.

Too many adverbs and adjectives—use strong nouns and verbs so you don’t need them.

Sentence structure.

Awkward or uninteresting first sentences.

Long cumbersome sentences that are hard to punctuate—why not make it two simple sentences?

Work not appropriate for a literary journal.

You should know what kind of material we accept—review a previous volume if possible. We do not use kid stuff, religious proselytizing, family secrets memoir, politics.

Over explanation in the last paragraph.

Let the reader come to his/her own conclusion. Don’t tell them how to feel or think.


Now and then a cliché is okay but don’t overuse them. Avoid if possible.

Excessive use of “I.”

Like starting every sentence with it.

Lack of originality.

There are so many options. Tell us something new, in a new way.

Excessive wordiness.

Almost every poem or story is better if you trim it down.

A couple of helpful hints (these might not get you rejected, but we appreciate your attention to these details):

  • A short bio means 3 or 4 sentences, not a full 8 ½ by 11 page. We have limited space for these.
  • Please don’t send us work that you might withdraw later. By the time you get your acceptance letter, we have gone to a lot of work already—reading, copying, fitting into the layout, etc.
  • If the submission guidelines ask for your name on each page, please do so! Also, please put the genre on each page if requested. If pages get separated, we want to get them where they belong.
  • Numbering the pages of your story is helpful and also helps if pages get separated.

Thanks for your attention to these helpful hints!