Tag: creative writing

I’ve abandoned my posts recently – okay, it wasn’t that funny – for good reasons. The garden vegetables needed to be harvested and processed and packaged and frozen for deep winter consumption. Home-grown veggie lasagna with eggplant noodles tastes like sunshine on a dark and frigid January night. Pans and pans of lasagna and squash gratin were prepared, cooled, tasted, tasted some more, then flash frozen. And I’m not done yet. No.

Now come the winter squash bakes and apple cakes, sauce, and crisp. And the pumpkins – not just for carving – are better in pie and cake and pudding. And then the gardens have to be put to bed.


In this year of learning about being a full-time creative, my intended work-a-day schedule has been blown over and over. I may not go to an employer’s office any longer, but the household demands continue to fight me for time and attention. How can we ever find the time to do our creative work when there is so much else to be done, that has to be done?

Do the work when the work needs to be done.

I suspended writing for the summer to prepare work for the Arts off 84 art crawl on Labor Day weekend. I discovered that I missed sketching and drawing and painting and that I love it as much as I do love writing. This past year, painting had its season during the summer months. The upcoming year will find a few hours each week – maybe even every few days – set aside to plan and prep and start the next collection of paintings.

Worried Boy and Kitten

But I also have self-imposed deadlines to meet. My first novel, “Saving the Ghost,” was sent out into the world as a finished work in search of an agent. It received the attention of a small press and an agent – which in itself for a first work is an achievement. The agent provided feedback which let me know that the book is not quite where it needs to be. Thanks to the Five Wings Arts Council and the McKnight Foundation, I’ve received a 2017 Artist Project Grant, to go back into editing and revision. I also have a second novel in the works. Both projects need to be off my desk by April 30, 2018.


And that’s how getting things done works. If I hadn’t picked the tomatoes and squash at the right time and done the work to turn them into meals at the right time, all my soil prep and seed planting and garden tending would have been wasted effort. I love my writing and my painting as much or more as I do my homemade marinara sauce. I won’t waste my creative efforts by wondering when I might find the time to do the work when the work needs to be done.


You can read my latest flash fiction piece, “Abel March,”  in Talking Stick 26.

The Talking Stick is a Minnesota literary journal published by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. Produced entirely by Minnesota writers for Minnesota writers since the beginning in 1995.

Buy it now from Jackpine Writers’ Bloc or on Amazon


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Welcome back!

I know, I know, it’s Tuesday, not Sunday. Before sharing my experiences at Cirenaica (sarah-neye-kah), I needed some thinking and recovery time. I’m awake now and exploding with thoughts and notes for you.

The intention behind this year-long weekly series, Greyhairs Rising, was to share with anyone – especially retirees – how I reconstituted my artistic career in both writing and painting. I’ve given you a lot of how to get started and stay in the game information. I’ve shared a load of resources to explore. I am now in a state of being with my work that goes beyond the nuts and bolts of how to.

I was ready to take a big leap forward and chose to apply to Cirenaica, knowing full well that I might be overwhelmed and overrun by REAL writers – educated, perceptive, smart, critical thinkers who know how to use their words in writing and speaking, offering up the very best of critique and support for their fellow artists. Truth be told, I didn’t know all of that going in. I wanted to have the experience of being in residency with other writers, in a teaching environment, without letup, but I was also worried.

My apprehensions were about:

  • Living among, young, energetic, creative types
  • Could I keep up?
  • Could I stay awake?
  • Would I have any “senior” issues that would get in the way? (You all know what I mean!)
  • What if I didn’t like the people, place, or any of it?
  • Would anyone care about what I had to say?
  • Would I have anything of value to contribute?


Photo credit: Geoff Carter

Photo credit: Geoff Carter

I can say to you happily, that not one of my concerns was an issue. When it came to keeping up with the lively younger folk, I didn’t have to. Eight or nine o’clock in the evenings, when I disappeared, they might ask, “Where’s Maggie?” but somebody would know and say so, “I think she went to bed.” And when I got up at 5:00 a.m., I had the quiet of the space to myself, got the coffee brewing, and went to work writing. It was glorious.

And everyone was good natured and unafraid to expose their work to critique. Each participant submitted 15 to 25 pages of writing for everyone else to read and critique before we met. Each day, about 11:00 a.m., we gathered with our notes and spent a good hour to hour and a half on one writer’s submission. The writer was not allowed to comment while we, one by one, responded to the work. Near the end, Nickolas Butler, our artist in residence at his own house down the road, made summary comments and then took the writer aside for a brief one-on-one. This process is referred to as workshopping.


 I admit to being confused for a day about the use of the word workshop in this context. I understood a workshop as an opportunity to work on a topic – like a class. I understood critique as a separate and more line-by-line approach to providing feedback. The workshopping we were doing was neither. This was whole-hog, educated reader, skilled writer, perspective on:

  1. Favorite sentence
  2. What’s working
  3. What’s not working
  4. Title – yes, no, middle-of-the-road
  5. What’s it about?
  6. Theme

I understand that this process will vary from artist to artist – everyone has their own way of doing things, right? I did find that limiting the comments to these points – especially the first three – and actively listening to what everyone had to say – gave me a deeper appreciation of every single story we were given to read.

Photo credit: Geoff Carter

Photo credit: Geoff Carter

Before the workshopping began, the writer chose a section of their own story to read aloud. I cannot stress enough, the value of reading aloud. Some stories I had no particular feel for, came alive for me when the writer read. The stories took on an entirely different dimension as I listened to others talk about the work. I realized, and I’m hanging my head in shame here, that I read too fast, with too critical and impatient an eye and mind. I need to change.

I could write about this experience for days, but I’ll stop now. Well, before I do, I have to give kudos to the chef, Brent. He went out of his way to accommodate my food allergies and served up some of the most delicious food ever to pass my lips. And BJ Hollars, the coordinator of the event, is a fabulous man.

I encourage you, one and all, to seek out a residency experience if you’re at all able. You’ll thank yourself after a day of recovery!

Photo credit: Justin Patchin

Photo credit: Justin Patchin

A note on Cirenaica

The Chippewa Valley Writers Guild is pleased to partner with Cirenaica for our second year of summer residencies!  Nestled on 43 acres of hills, farmland, and forest near the quaint village of Fall Creek, Wisconsin, our residencies promise participants of all levels and genres an intensive yet rejuvenating experience amidst an inspiring backdrop.

See you back here next Sunday (or some day during the week). Would you like to keep up with the Greyhairs Rising community? Sign up for the latest updates.

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I’ve heard a lot of frustration from writers and artists about time – how can a working, mom or dad, or anyone, find time for creative writing and art?  Having just taken a course in time management from Springboard for the Arts, offered at my local library, I can say that a time audit will help you find that time.

Participants were asked to keep track of what they did for 24 hours in each of seven days. After each activity, we were asked to note if the time was Alpha, Beta, or Art time. Alpha is any time spent on art related activities and Art itself. Beta is time not spent on art or art related activities. There can be overlaps.

At the end of the week, it’s easy to see how much time is actually spent producing art. That may be only 20% of your time in a week. The time audit will document how your intentions to work are interrupted and will be useful in creating a space in each week that is devoted to your creative work. Following is a repeat of steps you can take to make creative time a priority:


Focus is the key to making time to do the work. You may need to focus first on all the reasons why you are dragged away from the work you start. Keep a sticky-note pad handy and make note of each time you’re interrupted.

  1. How many times were you interrupted by someone else?
  2. How many times were you interrupted by your phone?
  3. How many times were your thoughts interrupted by (fill in the blanks)
    1. ______________________________________
    2. ______________________________________
    3. ______________________________________
    4. What else?

By Wednesday, after taking notes on interruptions, it’s easy to see why we can never find a decent amount of time to grow as an artist or writer. Now it’s time to focus on solutions. Review your sticky-notes and write on each one a possible solution to the problem. Example: Phone interrupts. Turn off the phone during work time.

Set Limits.

If you were on the job, you would not be allowed to entertain all the distractions you do allow when you are on your own time. Understanding how to set limits will be key to making the time you need to deeply focus on your creative work.

You have your notes in hand that illustrate how many distractions you allow. You’ve made notes on possible solutions. Now is the time to implement the solutions by setting limits.

Limit your workspace – keep distractions outside of your workspace, even if that means closing the door or wearing noise-cancelling headphones. Your workspace must become sacred space – yours – where important work is done and others are not allowed to intrude during work hours.

Limit your time – allow yourself enough time to get into deep focus and produce work, but don’t take so much time that everything else goes to the wayside and becomes an excuse for not getting back to work the next day. Make a schedule.

The most compelling distraction is the one that opens the gate for all others to flood in and overwhelm your best intentions. What is that one thing that overwhelms your artistic practice? Faith in yourself to do this work.

 Have faith.

You’ve made the decision to explore your creative self. Don’t judge your successes and failures. Judge only these things:

  1. Adequate workspace
  2. Adequate work time without interruptions
  3. Whether or not you did anything with the workspace and time you created.

The lack of belief in the work and you as the creative spirit will undermine every effort you make or think you want to make.

This entire process is about YOU and no one else. Only you can make the time and make that time what you want.

Prompt for the week. 

  • Keep those sticky-notes handy so you can keep track of your interruptions and plan for solutions to distractions.
  • Create a cheat-sheet using your distractions/solutions notes and post it above your work area where you can see it for quick reference.
  • Make sure other members of your household who feel to interrupt, refer to the cheat-sheet before breaking your focus.
  • Post your work day schedule for them to see.

Next week’s topic: Steps to publishing a story.  

See you back here next Sunday night! Would you like to keep up with the Greyhairs Rising community? Sign up for the latest updates.





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Rules are made to be broken. How many times have we heard that? Before you go breaking rules, you might want to know why the rules are in place and give some thought to what will happen – including unintended consequences – when the rules change. Storytelling has been at the heart of human community learning from earliest times and the way a story is told will make or break its success for the reader.

The rules for stories rose from the way people hear and relate to their message. Stories were meant to share a vision of the world around and within us, as well as to inspire, teach, and continue as a memoir for a tribe or individual.

The essentials.

  1. Beginning
    a. Early on in your story, set up the conflict and let the reader know what type of story this will be: mystery, drama, inspirational, etc.
    b. Introduce your protagonist, the setting, the plot/conflict, and a pathway through to resolution.
  2. Middle
    a. Tell the story of the characters in their setting, working through the challenge.
    b. Surprise the reader with a twist if possible, but not one that derails the setup.
  3. End
    a. Wrap up all the loose ends
    b. Provide a transformative resolution.

Stories can be comprised of

  • 6 words – example: For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.
  • 2 sentences – Try it!
  • less than 700 words
  • up to about 5,000
  • after that, your story becomes a novella.
  • 80,000 to 100,000 words is a

How to:

Read and learn.

Creative prompt.
Write a short story about your favorite moment of the day.

Next week’s topic: How to publish short stories.
See you back here next Sunday night! Would you like to keep up with the Greyhairs Rising community? Sign up for the latest updates.

#blogging #amwriting

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Yesterday afternoon I spoke to a small group of retirees about the writing craft. Only a few were interested in creative writing, but nearly all were interested in sharing their life story to pass on to their descendants. Of course, how to get motivated to take on the task, well, there’s the problem!

Here are some things to think about that might get memoirists in motion:

  • Your life story is unique to you
  • You are the only one who can tell your life story
  • Your life story is important
  • It matters that others learn your life story
  • You matter that much!

Our local library has Oral History Kits available for checkout. They include a recorder, removable thumb drive, and a manual. Check with your local library to see if they offer kits. If not, here are some sources for how to get started to share your life story- make sure to explore these resources with your descendants.

Oh, and research your own information, too. These are just a few options to guide you on your storytelling path.

And remember, when sharing your story, make sure to use the five senses – What did events feel like, taste like, what did you see, touch, smell, hear? Provide texture and depth to your stories. Retell them in their fullest detail so those who follow can feel your life in your memories!



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It’s late! And there’s your prompt. What is late? Late for what? Or wait – is it latte?

Write it. Paint it. Scribble on a wall. #amwriting #ampainting http://mefuller.com

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Note: I’m posting a day early this week because of a packed Sunday schedule.

Good grief!

And I thought writing the book was the hard part. Seriously. I hope to have the opportunity soon to sit with published authors and hear their stories about writing the first book and finding a publisher. For this post, I’m going to draw on a range of websites and blogs to provide resources for you to consider. I’ll be learning alongside you.


Last week I walked you through the polishing points on presenting your artwork to encourage sales and gallery approvals for presentation. I expect there was a surge in sales of mat board and mat cutters! Oh, and don’t forget to keep plenty of that white artist’s tape on hand, too.

The Pitch.

What is it? Why is it important?

When people ask you, “What’s your book about?” you have to be ready with a quick one-liner (if possible) to capture their attention and keep their interest. When pitching to an agent or publisher, who has heard everything thousands of times and is inundated monthly with more and more of the same old, same old, you’ve got to give them something to think about. You need to get in quick and leave them wanting more.

That novel you spent five years writing sounds like this in a pitch:

Ellen McInnis has made a success of her life, despite childhood abuse and neglect. Her father’s death exposes even older family secrets of unimaginable violence and betrayal that could yet destroy her.

The elements of the pitch:

  • Protagonist – Ellen McInnis
  • Other characters – her father
  • Intrigue – secrets
  • Challenge – survival

I can’t tell you that this pitch will work, but really, how dead to words would you have to be, to not wonder a little at what will happen to Ellen? And yet, agents and publishers need more than a piqued curiosity to convince them to take a look at your first pages. That’s where the query letter comes in.

The query letter.

What is a query letter?

“The stand-alone query letter has one purpose, and one purpose only: to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query letter is so much of a sales piece that you should be able to write it without having written a single word of the manuscript.” Sept. 7, 2016  How to Write a Query Letter | Jane Friedman

I wouldn’t ever write a query letter without a solid piece of work to back it up, but Ms Friedman’s post underscores the importance of marketing in today’s literary (and every other) world. Hype is everything. Your book may be pure literary genius, but without marketing, no one else will ever know. So you have to tailor your query to not only sell your book to a publisher, but you should demonstrate its marketability to the buying public, as well. One way to do that is to research best-sellers and show a comparison between your storyline and a big seller.

Example: “Saving the Ghost” is like (best-seller title) meets (best-seller title).

Here’s another resource from “Writer’s Digest,” for writing the perfect query letter. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter I suggest you read both the query letter and the agent response. This will illuminate the requirements and pitfalls of the query.

Keep in mind, an agent/publisher will not waste time analyzing your letter – they will react to it – and they will react quickly.  Stick to your story. Don’t waste time telling them what you think about the story or its potential readers. (Also a truism for your everyday life!)

And always, always, follow their specific and unique guidelines for submission. Don’t be cute or try to stand out from the crowd of the thousand other queries they’ve received this month. Your efforts to shine will get you tossed in the trash in a heartbeat.

Give them what they ask for, do it well, and see what happens. You are not likely to receive feedback, either, so keep moving along until someone shows interest.

The publisher packet.

There may not be much written about this, but this was the direction I received from my writing coach, Laurie Parker, on preparing to publish. Because I don’t have an MFA and am a first-time novelist, she suggested that I develop a social media presence that will give potential agents/publishers something else to consider if they’ve given my query any weight. And that’s exactly why I started this year-long blog series.

Included in this “packet” are:

  • Social media presence
  • Blog
  • Bio
  • Cover image
  • Awards, mentions, published work


Cover, Saving the Ghost, M E Fuller 2016

Cover, Saving the Ghost, M E Fuller 2017


I have been diligent in my labors – under initial protest – to keep my social media presence alive. Fortunately, through a handy widget (look it up) my blog posts are automatically sent out to various social media outlets when I publish them here.

With all the distractions and tasks added to becoming a published author, this one seemed the most tedious. I was wrong. I enjoy writing the weekly (and now mid-week prompts) posts – in large part because I set a schedule, and named my topics before I ever began to blog.  All I have to do is refer to my topic list by week number and begin to write.

Since my topics are all about my learning journey this past year or so, the writing also reinforces what I’ve learned.  And I like knowing you’re out there, following along.

Agent or direct contact with a publisher?

This question has everything to do with which publisher is a fit for your work. That publisher will let you know, on their website, under submission guidelines, if they work only through agents or accept non-agented queries. Again, know the publisher and know their guidelines. A great resource for this information is Writer’s Market.

Those are the basics.

You’ll have to do your own research, devour information, and write your queries by the guidelines. Do your best. Plan for success. I’m rooting for you!


Creative prompt.

Perfect your elevator pitch.


Next week’s topic: How to start a blog.  See you back here next Sunday night!

Would you like to keep up with the Greyhairs Rising community? Sign up for the latest updates.

Join our Greyhairs Rising Facebook group.


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The most beautiful word in your world.

Write it. Paint it. Scribble on a wall.

#amwriting #ampainting http://mefuller.com

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I’ve been complaining loudly for months about how hard it’s been to write my first novel. I’d worked on the story, off and on, for a few years. In June of 2015, I applied for a grant from my regional arts council – Five Wings – to help me finish the book. With those funds, I took a class on how to write a novel (I had no idea how to structure the story to fill 90,000 words) and hired an editor to help me polish the first draft.

On March 5, 2017, I finished the novel and sent it out to beta readers for comments. For the next few weeks, I can let this project go.

I hate the book now. I don’t even know what it says anymore. I don’t like its words. The beauty of the inspired words was destroyed for me in the endless edits.

I didn’t feel that way when I was creating. I felt that way when I was editing and re-writing. The passion for the work went out of me and it became drudgery. I understand now, why so many great writers were depressed drunks! To face the beast that’s coming after embracing the beauty of the inspiration – well, it’s too much. I had no desire left to write another book.

Maybe if I’d been an English language major in college and had a degree in literature, the work wouldn’t have been so tedious. I don’t know, but I suspect that even the most learned and capable author has moments of despair and grief as the inspired concept is reduced to the mechanics and fine points of the finished product.

But yesterday, I was reawakened to the beauty of words. I remembered why I wrote the book. I felt the story I meant to tell. The happiness of enthusiasm for telling a story stood up inside of me, then sat by my side, held my hand, and shared a listening ear, as a young man, a spoken word poet, performed.


The young man, Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre, is smart, sensitive, and clear in his message. He wears his heart for the work on his sleeve. He tells stories of being human while the audience nods in agreement. Yes! We can relate. We feel united. We’ve been so divided. I hear an unexpressed collective sigh of relief.

But it’s all just in me, in my own mind, I suppose. I didn’t know how hungry I was to hear a poet release me, like a butterfly captured in a jar, release me back into a lush garden, back into the beauty of words.


Guante performed at the Brainerd Public Library with support from the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library Brown Bag Book Events.









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I like it and that’s enough.

With the advent of the World Wide Web as a marketplace for all, there is little need any longer for excellence in craft or practice. All you truly require is an internet marketing genius to bring you sales and a reputation as an accomplished artist. Does that mean that you could become wealthy selling scribbles on napkins over the internet? Very likely.

If you are one of the above, wishing to gain fame and fortune via marketing tricks, then I wish you all the luck in the world. You probably won’t need it. You’ll do fine.

For the rest of us creative types, however, who want to gain an audience because of our artistic efforts, we need to do a better job of presentation. It is a fact, still, that word of mouth is the most effective sales tool. If your work and presentation are sloppy, your audience reviews will reflect your lack of effort.


Last week we took a tour of some art galleries. Are any of you ready to present to a gallery for an exhibition? I hope so. Keep last week’s post bookmarked, so you’ll know how to begin your inquiries.


You’ve all seen the pencil drawings that are executed on crumpled paper, smudged, and drawn with a hard graphite pencil. Not only is the work difficult to see – the harder the lead, the lighter the line – but there’s no dimension. How does our work come to life? By using the right tools and media on the right base material.

There are proper materials/tools for every job and there are hundreds of videos on the internet to teach you which to use and when. I praise the skies for the internet for all the educational opportunities it offers.  From blogs to video instructions, you can learn anything about any artistic practice.

There’s no excuse for not planning ahead to create a piece ready for public presentation.

These are the first few articles I accessed with ease, that are free of charge to use. Know your tools and materials well, and know how to use them.

Protect your work.

Creative prompt.

Draw a tree on proper pastel paper, using charcoal or soft lead colored pencils. Be careful not to smudge your work unintentionally. Be sure not to crinkle up the paper edges as you work. Fix it. Mat it. Share it with the world!

Next week’s topic: How to approach a publisher.  See you back here next Sunday night!

Would you like to keep up with the Greyhairs Rising community? Sign up for the latest updates.

Join our Greyhairs Rising Facebook group.


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