March 2016 Inside: • Kickstart students on writing • Publishing success: Jamie on tai chi • Submission strategies from Nancy • Writing prompt: Me

Kickstart Your Writing Orange

March 2016



• Kickstart students on writing
• Publishing success: Jamie on tai chi
• Submission strategies from Nancy
• Writing prompt: Memoir symbol
• Kickstart Your Writing class starts April 6
• Market tip #1: The Review Review
• Market tip #2: The Timberline Review
• David Biespiel at Willamette Writers
• Nerdy Words: Objective third person
• Student showcase: “How to Get Engaged: An Instructional Manual” (excerpt) by Sarah Murali

Kickstart students on writing

Joining us for a Q&A this month are Kickstart students Debbe Borders, Howard Schneider, Jamie Caulley, Kerry McPherson, and Mark Robben, sharing their experiences writing. Want to read their work? You can find it in previous issues of this Kickstart newsletter, in the student showcase.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

“I enjoy that I have a voice that is mine alone and how it feels when I write something of which I am proud.” —Debbe

“For me, the enjoyment derives primarily from the fun of stretching my imagination to invent interesting fictional stories. I prefer to write short ones, such as micro stories and flash stories. With this style, I can pursue a greater range of topics than would be possible with long-form writing. Ultra-short stories also require me to maximize the impact of every word and sentence. That is a big challenge in itself, and challenges are certainly good for us all.” —Howard

“I like the opportunity to be introspective and creative—to tell my story in a way I want, exaggerating drama or minimizing as I feel fits.” —Jamie

“When writing, I can’t always control the stories that come out. But I can control how they come out. I think that’s the thing I enjoy most about writing. It’s a way for me to feel comfortable telling a story. I am horrible at telling stories verbally. Writing is the only way that I can relax and take the time to tell a story without anxiously jumbling things up and worrying about boring my listener. If they're bored, they can simply stop reading and I’ll never know.” —Kerry

“Because I’m shallow, I like telling a story, whether true or not, that will make people laugh. Increasingly, I find it more rewarding if I can bring in elements that make people think or where I can comment on the happenings in the world.” —Mark

What aspect(s) of writing do you find the most difficult?

“When I have just finished final edits on a piece that I really enjoyed, I find it difficult, sometimes even fret about, what to write about next.” —Debbe

“The most difficult part of inventing a compelling story is to formulate a satisfying ending. I believe that how the story finishes gives it that special impact that determines whether it is a ‘good’ piece or not. I try to tie up my stories with some kind of a twist, a surprise, an ‘aha’ moment, a bit of humor, something that gives the reader an emotional jolt to end on.” —Howard

“I find the discipline to be the most difficult. After years of writing, I still have not found and stayed with a routine. I find editing hard. I like starting and finishing, but the editing—the middle and arguably the most important part—is the hardest.” —Jamie

“Since I write short stories, I find the most difficult part about writing to be coming up with ideas. I envy people who have long pieces to work with because they already know what they’re going to be working on when they sit down to write. I don’t always have that luxury so I am constantly looking to prompts for ideas.” —Kerry

“I find just forcing myself to sit down and write regularly to be a struggle. I either have to have an idea I’ve been bouncing around in my head for days and have worked out and am dying to get it down, or a deadline where I have to bring something to read in a couple hours. Neither of these approaches I’d recommend to others.” —Mark

What have you learned about your writing process that has been helpful?

“I have learned that when I write about something about which I am passionate, the writing comes easiest. The closer I get to writing my truth, the easier it gets and the more I like the result.” —Debbe

“Two things come to mind immediately: (1) Doing the final editing by reading the work out loud. This reveals more about the rhythm of the prose more than just reading it silently does. (2) The necessity of including only the words that are absolutely necessary to tell the story. Eliminating those excess words is an important part of editing, and, at least for me, editing is the critical part of writing.” —Howard

“I’ve learned that I don’t have to know where something is going to go when I start it. I can write about an idea that has already been done and that is okay. This version is mine.” —Jamie

“I’ve learned that I work well under pressure and that a deadline is the best way to get me to focus and write a story.” —Kerry

“When I have an idea figured out, it comes easy and is usually okay. What I’ve found though, is when I bring something that has been a battle to get out and to a certain word count so it looks like I did something, I get just as much positive response. Showing, I guess, that imposing a writing schedule can be successful.” —Mark

Aging Well

Publishing success: Jamie on tai chi

Kickstart writing student Jamie Caulley was published this month in the “Aging Well” portion of Providence Health & Services blog. Her topic? Tai chi as a way for older adults to prevent potentially debilitating or even fatal falls. Congratulations, Jamie!

Submission strategies from Nancy

In her recent blog post, author and writing coach Nancy Woods describes nine approaches to submitting your work for publication. Which approach do you use? The numbers game? The thin thread? The soft-boiled egg? After reading the post you might want to change your strategy: Woods gives a convincing rationale for each one.

Writing prompt: Memoir symbol

One way to organize your memoir is around a symbol, a visual representation of your life. Finish this sentence: “If I could choose only one symbol to stand for my life, it would be a ____ because ____.”


Kickstart Your Writing class starts April 6

What: Kickstart Your Writing class
When: Wednesdays, April 6-June 8, 2016
Time: 6:30-9 p.m.
Where: Hollywood district of Northeast Portland, Oregon. Exact address provided upon registration.
Cost: $200/10 weeks

Whether you’re working on a novel or interested in short stories, memoir, essays, articles or other forms of fiction or nonfiction, Kickstart Your Writing offers a fun, supportive environment in which you can work on specific writing projects. Students will set weekly goals, read their writing at designated times and receive feedback from the instructor and other students. Class is limited to five students.

To register, make a check out to Nancy Woods and mail it to: Nancy Woods, P.O. Box 18032, Portland, OR 97218. To pay by credit card, call (503) 288-2469. For more information, send an email to

Review logo

Market tip #1

The Review Review

If you’re trying to get your literary work published, you can hardly find a website more helpful than The Review Review. For six years, this “one-stop shopping” site for literary writers has been posting well-written reviews of literary journals, interviews with journal editors, summaries of literary magazines, calls for submissions, and a blog that covers topics ranging from formatting and the submission process to craft and the writing life. The site abounds with thoughtful, real-life tips and advice. (See, for example, Lynne Barrett’s excellent post “What Editors Want: A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.”)

Fiction writer Becky Tuch founded The Review Review after years of frustration trying (sometimes successfully) to find markets for her work and realizing that the relationship between literary magazines and actual writers was broken. She views the site as a way for writers to “get a deeper sense of the journals by reading reviews of the latest issues.” Instead of a substitute for the journals, she says, The Review Review is “a way to guide writers toward the journals that most interest them.” The site can also serve as a venue for writers to show off their skills to potential editors via a well-crafted review.

The Review Review’s database of literary journals does not organize magazines by genre. But its reviews, interviews, and blog posts are in-depth and thoughtful. Additionally, the fact that all of its site elements are searchable makes it an ideal tool for use together with other databases that do categorize by genre, such as Six Questions For .... For example, you could use Six Questions For ... to identify a market for experimental fiction, then go to The Review Review and potentially read a review of that journal or an interview with its editor before deciding whether to submit.

The Review Review has been listed in Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past four years, deservedly so.

Timberline Review cover

Market tip #2

The Timberline Review

Local literary journal The Timberline Review—a publication of Willamette Writers—is now accepting submissions for its next issue, through April 15. For more info, read The Review Review’s review of a recent issue or its interview with editors Pam Wells and Peter R. Field.

David Biespiel promotes three-step writing process

By Kathy Eaton

David Biespiel, president of Portland’s Attic Institute of Arts and Letters, spoke at the March Willamette Writers meeting in Portland, Oregon, about “crossing the threshold”—the journey every writer takes navigating a sequence of ups and downs of writing. Biespiel shared his three-step process:

*Start with an experience or opportunity.

*Identify the obstacles or disturbances.

*Find a metaphor to resolve the disturbances.

To illustrate his point, Biespiel read from James Wright’s poem “A Blessing” and also “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer,” an essay by Christian Wiman about having faith in the face of death. Biespiel noted that his great-grandfather emigrated to America from Russia in 1910 (opportunity), settled in northern Iowa, and waited 10 years for the arrival of his family, which was delayed by WWI and the Russian Revolution (obstacles). Biespiel believes his great-grandfather must have talked to himself a lot while he was alone, imagining what life would be like when his family eventually joined him (resolution).

Writers often experience failure during the process, but according to Biespiel, failure is often where resolution comes from. “Everyone crosses the threshold,” he said. Rather than force a solution to an obstacle, he suggested remaining open to a resolution that comes to you. “Out of failure comes creativity,” he said.

“It’s a great privilege to be a writer,” Biespiel said, citing an example of a writer in Stalin-ruled Russia who was arrested, convicted, and exiled in the 1930s over an unpublished poem. “Writing is always a subversive activity.”

Writers are always searching for ways to connect with readers, and the last threshold one crosses is getting people—an agent or publisher, a stranger, or your mother—to read your work. Biespiel concluded his presentation by saying, “praise is at the heart of writing.”

At 52 years old, Biespiel is a poet, literary critic, columnist, and contributing writer at The Rumpus, Partisan, American Poetry Review, Politico, New Republic, Slate, Poetry, and The New York Times. He has also published ten books of poetry and prose, including A Long High Whistle: Selected Columns on Poetry (Antilever, 2015).

The next Willamette Writers meeting, on April 5, will feature renowned playwright Kira Obolensky, who will speak on the topic of audience. Obolensky will discuss her work with the theater and share her observations on how letting the audience into her imagination as she writes has dramatically changed her work.

Writing Tip

Nerdy Words:

Objective third person

by Ann Sihler

In our February issue I wrote about different points of view, specifically first person, second person, omniscient third person, and limited third person. Last on the list is perhaps the epitome of “show, don’t tell”: objective third person.

In objective third person, readers never actually get inside a character's mind. The writer never explicitly states the characters' thought and feelings. Instead, the writer describes characters only in terms of what can be objectively observe: words and behaviors.

But words and behaviors may communicate plenty—and powerfully, at that. For example, we readers can easily interpret the feelings behind behaviors such as foot stamping, glancing at a watch, or touching someone on the arm.

Or can we? Foot stamping may be straightforward, but is that glance at the watch angry impatience or eagerness? (And what, really, is the difference?) Is the touch on the arm a sign of care? Or control? Depending on their context, these actions may be open to interpretation. Objective third person has the advantage of not being intrusive, not editorializing, and keeping the writer from seeming “preachy." It also can also introduce delicious ambiguity and complexity--or, if you’re me reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” in high school, confusion and frustration because the story seems opaque. (I had the same reaction to Shirley Jackson’s famous story “The Lottery,” which also is written in objective third person.)

Objective third person works well in short stories. But it may not be a good choice for longer works, such as novels, because it can be challenging for the writer to convey psychological depth without describing thoughts and feelings.

Where will you find examples of objective third person? Read around. Many writers today use this tried-and-true point of view.

Student Showcase

“How to Get Engaged: An Instructional Manual” (excerpt) by Sarah Murali

Dinesh continued to speak, as he hugged me close. I remember looking at his face. I remember seeing his mouth move as he shaped the words, but what they were exactly I could not tell you now. He did ask me to marry him, on that frozen bridge in the middle of the night, and I did say yes. And then, after I did, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a white jewelry box. “Here,” he said, “I have this for you.” He opened the box and removed from it, not a ring, but a small plastic bag. I felt my face contort in confusion. Dinesh tore open the bag with his teeth and shook the contents out. Three rings tumbled onto my mittened hand.

“Wha…?” I started to ask, not quite sure what to say. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Why are there three of them?”

“Well, you can choose the one you like!” he said, with excitement. “Or you can wear a different one at different times. Look, they’re made by a local artist! And she donates some of the proceeds to a nonprofit!” A twinge of doubt crept into his voice. “I thought you’d like that,” he said with uncertainty.

“Oh!” I said. “Yes!”

It’s important to understand that this was all new to Dinesh. He didn’t grow up in the U.S., and now he was bending over backward to accommodate a custom that was totally unfamiliar to him. He thought he had the basics down: he had planned a romantic evening, and he had asked me to marry him in a way that was personal, loving and sincere. He knew there was some detail involving a ring, he just wasn’t so clear on the specifics, and it didn’t really seem like the main event anyway.

“I know you don’t like gold or diamonds,” he said, “so I made sure I didn’t get you anything like that. Look, this one is copper!” he pointed to a shiny orange ring. “I know you like copper,” he said proudly. He scooped up the rings, took off my mitten, and started to place the copper one on my finger. That’s when I noticed that the ring was, in fact, not entirely solid. Rather, it was three curving segments held together with a thin elastic band. One size fits all, if you will. Very sensible.

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