From the Director . . . 

What We Have

Often, we seem to look at our writing with an emphasis on deprivation. I don’t have any training, I’m too old, I don’t have enough time. . .

So to counteract those negative feelings, let’s focus today on what we do have.

We have a story. Everyone of us has a story he would like to tell. What a great beginning that is!

We have passion for our story. Admit it. You love your characters, you’re having a great time mapping the twists of that plot, you love the romance, adventure, and depth of your story. you’re fascinated with the meaning of your own life that you’ve discovered through memoir.

We have opportunity. We do. We really do. Yes, we have to juggle some things and sacrifice some entertainment and ask our families to pitch in. But we can make time for our writing if Tolstoy, a medical doctor with thirteen kids, could write War and Peace.


From the Director . . . 


Too much, too little, just right!

 in a writer is a two-edged sword. Both sides can behead you.A lack of confidence can paralyze you until you’re afraid to share your work or even take a workshop. You keep your writing in the nest like an overprotective mother bird, so that it never develops legs, much less wings.

A few thoughts for you who lack confidence:

  • We all had to begin somewhere.
  • The basics of creative writing can be taught, and you can learn them.
  • Writing is subjective and NO ONE (not even a NYTBS author) can write a piece that pleases everyone.

Overconfidence is equally dangerous. When you are too confident, you think you know more than anyone, and your default reaction to comments about your writing is to defend what you wrote. When you are too confident, you are unteachable. 

Overconfidence is like a hard shell around you that, at best, keeps you from growing as a writer and, at worst, makes you bitter and resentful because no publisher recognizes your talent.

A few thoughts for the overconfident:

From the Assistant to the Director Jessie Rex

Display pic JRLC


Recently, one of my life coaching clients was struggling with negative thoughts. As we spoke, he realized that he kept
connecting his current struggles to his past, to old issues he hasn’t worked through.

“He who doesn’t look ahead, remains behind.” — Proverbs

We concluded that although his history and his upbringing are a huge part of who he is today, they do not determine his future. What determines his future are the choices he makes today. What he chooses to think about, do in action, and the words he speaks shape his future.

The choices we make todaywill shape our future lives as authors.

Many of us have painful writing histories. We’ve received multiple rejections, failed to find an agent or publisher, been shredded by an editor we hired, or humiliated in a critique group. How we’ve handled those experiences have shaped us into the writers we’ve become.



From the Director . . .  

Just a quick note from me this week, as I try to lead by example. I woke up yesterday morning and realized that in this whole week, there was only one day to write. Too many trips out of town to appointments in Russellville and Rogers, too many days devoted to the yard sale, too many assorted tasks like. . .writing this article.

I decided that one partial day of writing in a whole week was UNACCEPTABLE. So yesterday I crammed what might have been a day’s work into a half day and carved out a few hours in the afternoon. Today, I’m skipping this column and writing in the Honda service department waiting room.

Whatever it takesGrasshopper, is what you have to do. See you next week.


From the Director . . .

In lieu of my column this week, we are sharing a presentation that Greg Sherar gave on his journey to healing through the process of writing his memoir. I have said that I started the Village Writing School for Greg, even though I didn’t know him. But I knew there were people like him with stories to tell, but who needed encouragement and training and support to tell them. Read Greg’s journey. You may recognize something of your own story.    –Alison

Th e   P O W E R   o f   W O R D S   t o   H E A L  

When Alison, our tireless director, asked me to speak about the Healing Power of Written Words, I was hesitant, and I tried to get out of it. She said it would only be a few minutes. I decided how bad could that be?

She asked us not to make this an advertisement for the Village Writing School, and I won’t, but it’s an important part of my story to describe how I started writing about a year and a half ago. My friend Carl and I went to the Garden Bistro after church for lunch. He mentioned some of his writing, including a book he published. I asked how he got started. The owner overheard us, and a few minutes later she handed me an announcement about the Village Writing School and a program called Writers’ NightOut held at the restaurant on Thursdays.We decided to go. Jessie Rex spoke about setting goals, reaching potential and improving quality of life through organized planning.There were several new writers in the group and some writers with experience. It didn’t seem intimidating, so I signed up for a couple of writing classes.I had journaled a little bit inconsistently in the past, but I had never followed through or done anything with it. I started writing two-and three-page short stories about significant incidents in my life. Right away, I felt the healing power of words as I got those feelings out and onto the paper.There were opportunities at the school to share some of my writing, but I was never pressured or I probably wouldn’t have kept going. My writing was poor and was about embarrassingly personal issues. I had been going to programs at the school for about six months before I found the guts to read anything. The first thing I read was purposely not very personal or revealing. Even so, reading what I had written was healing. It was an additional step to getting my feelings out. I got a couple positive comments and that encouraged me to keep writing.I joined a small critique circle with three other people. Still feeling hesitant, I didn’t read again for several more weeks. Sharing my thoughts and feelings with the same three people every few weeks is easier than sharing with a larger group. We’ve developed trust sharing with each other.I feel better about these difficult things each time I write about them. The healing power is extended when sharing with trusted friends and receiving their comments. I’ve thought about, written, and read about some of the most difficult things I had tried hard to forget. These feelings don’t go away by pushing them out of sight.Two years ago my relationship with my father was non-existent. I held anger and resentment regarding his absence from my life since I was six. I also had many bad memories and negative feelings about my stepfather.As I’ve begun constructing a memoir and dealing with these feelings and memories floating around in my mind, I started to use writing as a way to work through some of those strong negative feelings. I’ve started to see more and more that there are good memories, too.In speaking to family and friends while gathering information for my story, I see I’ve focused in an unhealthy way on the negative. As I look at things from others’ perspective, my words have begun to turn from anger and regret into understanding and forgiveness.This aspect of the written word has certainly added to my healing.LeftGreg on the steps of his childhood home in North Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y.

Writing my memoir has been a good way to begin to write. It’s a story I know, and I can focus on learning the craft of writing. The pieces I wrote at first were simple fact-based narrative stories that sounded like articles without much description of characters or setting. As I learn and practice more writing, I plan for my writing to have fuller, more multidimensional characters and settings that put the reader in a place and time that they can relate to and enjoy. In the future, I’d like to learn to write a novel and maybe do some nature writing.

The healing for me has been multifaceted. I feel the healing process working in me when I hear the words in my mind before I write them, then as I write them on the paper or the computer screen. Then again each time I re-read during editing and proofing.

This has been a beneficial process for me. It’s become a lot of fun. One of the enjoyable aspects of this kind of writing has been the research. I didn’t think I would do as much research for my own story as I have. Going on line and verifying street names, places I’ve been in my life and even an online museum I found about my home town.

A train trip to see my mom in March turned into a wonderful research opportunity. It became a chance to reconnect with my parents and siblings. The writing every night on the trip was a chance for much healing as I examined things I hadn’t for a long time. On this trip I visited my father, whom I hadn’t seen for twenty-five years. We now stay in contact with each other on a regular basis.

I’ve been to counselors and psychiatrist over the years and the Healing Power of the Written Word has worked for me, been more fun and certainly less expensive!

Right: Greg visited his father.

As I wrote on the long train trip home, I felt the anger and resentment for my father and step-father flow down my arm, out of my body onto the paper and then out into the air. The physical act of writing allowed me to feel lighter and experience a strong sense of release that I never thought I would be able to find.

From the Director . . .Things that Hold us Back

This is the first of a series of articles on things that hold us back from writing and from publishing. I’m not going to sugarcoat any of these, but I will say that I’m writing a lot from my own experience.

The first thing that holds us back is that chip on our shoulder. There are as many kinds of chips as there are shoulders to bear them. Here are some forms a chip might take, though this is not a comprehensive list.

  1. I go through life generally annoyed because I think I’m a better writer than most of the people who get published.
  2. I disparage advanced degrees because I think that “talent cannot be learned.” Or (flip side) I disparage writers who don’t have academic credentials. Or I disparage writers who haven’t yet published or who write in a genre I consider “inferior” to mine.


From the Director . . .Things that Hold us Back

In this second of a series on things that hold us back from writing and publishing, we look at fear

We can clutch our writing so closely to our chest that we never let it out into the world, afraid to publish anything because what if:


  • later, we want to send it somewhere bigger/better but the first place kept the rights?
  • someone reads something we write and steals our idea?
  • we publish online and some organization gains the right to publish or market our work?
  • we enter into a publishing contract and get totally screwed. 

Most of us drive our cars despite the fact that people die in car wrecks every day. We risk leaving our houses because we understand that a full life requires some risk. Who wants to cower at home in fear? 


From the Director . . .Things that Hold us Back

Continuing our series on things that hold us back, we go where angels fear to tread. Relationships.

Truth: our significant others can feel threatened by our passion for writing, the time we devote to it, or our writing friends or activities. This can manifest in direct confrontation or, more often, passive aggressive behavior or manipulation. You plan to attend a writing workshop, and he decides to plan a river float trip for that day, forcing you to choose.

It’s difficult for a nonwriter to understand the passion we have for our stories. It’s a hobby, right? We should work it in when there’s nothing else to do. But that attitude, which we often accept for the sake of peace, holds us back. So . . .

Dear Alison’s advice to the lovelorn writer:

  • Communicate how much writing means to you. Perhaps you’ve never shared your lifelong desire to write or have mentioned it only in an offhand way.
  • Explain that you don’t go to workshops and writing circles because you love those people more than your partner. You go to learn to be a better writer.
  • Involve your partner at the social level. All our Writers’ Nights Out welcome spouses. Or let your partner sit in on a writing circle, so he/she can see this is serious work—not a party.


From the Director . . .Why I’m Not Published

People often ask me if I ever consider self-publishing (which I prefer to call indy publishing) or if I would ever send my book to a small press. Since the answer to those questions is “yes,” the next logical question is: why haven’t I done it?Each writer’s decision on when and how to publish is as unique as our fingerprints. So many factors go into that decision. How anxious are we to see that book in print? What other books do we imagine in our “canon”? Do we think anything can be gained by waiting? Are we prepared at this moment to do the marketing work?

From the Director . . .Do You Need Professional Help?

Can an art form be learned? How much of artistry is innate talent and how much is a mastery of craft techniques?
Raw talent exists. I’ve read stories by beginners who had the eyes and ears—and the voice—of a writer and who could portray and penetrate the soul. But even these people committed mistakes common to beginners. Their talent was raw, unpolished, and poorly controlled.What can be learned?  You can learn not to make beginner’s mistakes:
  • Not knowing where the story starts. Novices want to begin with history, geography, background info. The first thing I usually suggest is to decapitate the baby. Cut that introductory stuff and find the true beginning, which will be a scene, with characters and dialogue and conflict.
  • Fear of scenes. Beginners lean far too heavily on narrative exposition. Hence the adage: Show, don’t tell. Never write more than ½ page of explanation or description.


From the Director . . .The New (Writer) You

 As baby boomers redefine what it means to be a “senior,” there is a lot of discussion about “redefining” your life, the “next phase,” etc. This is not only a question for newly retired people. The fact is, anyone can “redefine” his life at any point.

There is, however, a metamorphosis that occurs as we transition from old ways of thinking about our purpose, goals, etc., to new ways. This transition period is as individual as the people going through it. It may be long or short, easy or more difficult.


 From the Director . . .

Last Thursday night, one of us brought an article about recent studies on the benefits of writing. Expressive writing proved useful in issues like raising grades or weight loss as the writer dug deeper, through excuses and faulty perceptions, to a truer understanding of themselves.

With so much emphasis on publishing, let’s remember that the act of writing needs no justification.

Since Alice holds me to a brief post here, let’s make a list:

1.  Writing is cathartic. As one of us says, “It’s cheaper than therapy.” It’s like we dump the purse of our lives out on the table and decide what to keep as valid and what old, untrue perceptions to toss.


From the Director . . .  How to Rescue Your Writing Day when it Runs off the Track

When it’s five in the afternoon, and I haven’t written anything because Traveler had to have three baths (don’t ask) and my mom had needs, real and imagined, and I let my Google of 16th-century water buckets lead to who had a fashion disaster on the red carpet, that’s the time for a SPRINT. Otherwise, despair will drive me to Ben & Jerry. Then, I’ll be more depressed.A sprint is a short burst of concentrated effort. A writing sprint is a short burst of writing effort. (This technique also works for housework, but we aren’t here to talk about THAT.)

From the Director . . . Don’t Give Up

In the last two weeks, thirty-nine people have attended our workshops, many of them for the first time. As often happens, as we think about what we want to write, deeply personal, painful stuff comes up. We heard snippets of some amazing, powerful stories in these workshops, and I, personally, WANT to read them.

So the message of this note is:   Don’t Give Up

Your story matters. If I didn’t believe that with all my heart, I’d never have invested all that I have in the Village Writing School. Let’s all get a tattoo down our arm: My Story Matters

Writing is healing, empowering, illuminating for the writer. It’s one of the best ways to process our experiences and make sense of them. Once we do that, the future is clearer and full of possibility.


From the Director . . .That Other Big Thing.

One of our group on Thursday night mentioned her difficulty starting her writing project because of a “laser focus” on caregiving a family member.

This “laser focus” resonated with me. Helping the Village Writing School reach its potential is very satisfying. For over a year, that was all I thought about. My personal writing suffered.

 But then, when I’m rolling on my novel, I procrastinate on VWS business, and Jessie has to say, “What about the press releases? What about the newsletter?”

Real life includes many responsibilities. And sometimes we have another big thing, like caregiving or a job. How can we divide our “laser focus” and find balance?


From the Director…Do you have an STD?

Many of us have a shameful secret that we hide from the world: We can’t spell.

We have a Spelling Training Deficit.

It’s more common than you’d think, and a real source of embarrassment for many people. Some of us can’t spell well enough to find a word in the dictionary. In fact, it even keeps people from writing creatively. If I can’t spell, one wonders, how can I write?


From the Director . . .Critical Voice vs. Creative Voice

We all know it: That sly, judgmental little voice in our head. That story is not very good, it says. Who are you to call yourself a writer?

Is it a universal trait of human nature to have a negative voice in our head that criticizes each creative attempt? Or is that inner commentator a product of our success-oriented Western culture? I don’t know, but I definitely have it, and it appears to be a widespread condition.


From the Director . . .Tell Your Story!

I recently returned from the American Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference, one of the largest and most prestigious writing conferences in the world. Over 10,000 people attended. The majority of them dream of writing an important book that makes money, wins a significant award, or lands high on a bestseller list.

The lines for a coffee stretched out the door. The lines for writing fame seemed even longer.


From the Director . . .

If this post had a title, it would be How to Rescue Your Writing Day when it Runs off the Track.

When it’s five in the afternoon, and I haven’t written anything because Traveler had to have three baths (don’t ask) and my mom had needs, real and imagined, and I let my Google of 16th-century water buckets lead to who had a fashion disaster on the red carpet, that’s the time for a SPRINT. Otherwise, despair will drive me to Ben & Jerry. Then, I’ll be more depressed.A sprint is a short burst of concentrated effort. A writing sprint is a short burst of writing effort. (This technique also works for housework, but we aren’t here to talk about THAT.)

From the Director . . . “Throw This Away”

A True Story: The scene was set in 1997. I had the facts right. Princess Di’s funeral was on TV. I had carefully reminded myself what teenagers were wearing.

But I missed the correct mindset of the character. Yes, it was a backwater Kansas town, dying in the center. But, despite the fact that the television was on, I failed to allow for the impact that television had on the fifteen-year-old character. He knew a lot more about the world than I gave him credit for.

My writer/reader friend—and everyone should have one such good friend—said, “Throw this away.” I had the facts straight, but the scene did not ring true. It felt more like 1967 than 1997.

Even though I lived through 1997 in a small American town, I didn’t get it right. Because as we live through this stuff, few of us are making notes for the memoir or novel we will write in 25 years. And the decades blur together.


From the Director…The Default Answer

5e4e3e64-f445-4fb8-81fe-ce4828229f5f If you’re an American, you’re probably not sitting around with nothing to do. We have so much entertainment, so many possessions, and so many things we “ought” to do, that we have a list of options for every waking moment.

And then, we want to write.

I read that the average American makes over a hundred unthinking food choices daily. Will I eat this or that, will I eat one portion or the whole box? How many choices do we make about how to spend our time? Will I clean house or write? Will I check Facebook or write?

Often our default answer is: I’ll do this and THEN I’ll write. Of course, what happens is this or that takes longer than we expected or when we finally get around to writing we’re too tired or our creative energy has gone into pithy remarks on Facebook.


 Why Your Story Matters

Writers who spend hours trying to understand another period of history know the value of personal stories. Were it not for the journals and letters from the thirteen century, we would grasp very little of how those people felt or thought.

bd5c074f-e5ca-47cb-94cf-b25978854ad5But what will remain of our time after we’re gone? Our “letters” are cryptic phone texts and short emails, and what passes for a journal is nothing but a series of equally cryptic messages on FB. 

Fortunately, that’s not all we’ll have to offer those future historians. Life in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is being recorded and reflected upon—not by professional historians and news commentators, but by the people who actually lived it.

More people are writing stories today than ever before, and these writings—whether memoir or fiction—published or self-published—will be come the repository of our times.


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