Craft Talk Rewind

The Story’s The Thing: Jason Smith Craft Talk Recap

by Emma O’Shea 

Jason Smith

Jason Smith

Inside Eau Claire’s L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, as a storm raged outside, a captive audience listened to Jason Smith speak about how to pull readers in and think outside the box as a writer. As editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas magazine and associate director of Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Jason gave craft talk attendees a few tools to hone the skill of writing a good story and getting published. 

  1. Use the barstool approach when pitching to a magazine or publisher. This is a quick pitch that captures the interest of the reader. It reveals the “why” of the story and concludes with a proposed outcome while relating an individual story to a larger cultural climate. 

  2. Pay attention to the outcome of the story. What do you want the reader to come out with? The reader could make an informed decision about the piece, feel inclined to engage, or take action and tell others.

  3. When trying to get published, look at the values and content of the magazine. Research what they publish and think about how your contribution could add to their publication. 

  4. In the process of going from pitch to paper, incorporate any feedback you received while giving your pitch and build an outline around the theme versus telling the story chronologically. You want to reflect a humanness of the subject and show the reader what is happening. 

  5. A good lead is made up of surprising facts, compelling quotes, declarative statements, and endearing anecdotes. As Jason puts it, a bad lead is like a poppy seed stuck in the speaker’s teeth; it’s distracting and leaves the reader only thinking about the lead. 

  6. Elements of a great piece include no more than three sections of the main narrative and smooth transitions between sections. You also should have clearly articulated themes and a conversational tone that keeps the reader going. 

  7. When crafting your piece, it’s best to avoid using dead-end details, meaningless idiomatic phrases and prepositional phrases that lose the interest of the reader and dilute the story that you are trying to tell. 

  8. Work with your inner-editor-self and go over your piece! Check your facts and read your writing aloud to make sure your piece is error free. 

  9. When looking for help, look local, take it online or get some help via editors or published writers who can give you the insight that you need. 

To see more of Jason’s tips on how to write a compelling story, here is the PowerPoint from his talk:

Craft Talk Preview: Courtney Kersten Talks Memoirs and Reality


By Emilia Hurst

I recently had the chance to speak with Courtney Kersten, the author of Daughter in Retrograde, a memoir forthcoming in the spring of 2018.  Find out what she has to say about writing and her upcoming craft talk!

Emilia Hurst: What are some tips you wish you had known when you first started writing?

Courtney Kersten:  If I could’ve spoken to myself then, I would’ve told myself to be patient, to know that your work will take revision and lots of insight and occasionally major overhauls to feel anywhere near “complete.” I would’ve told myself that letting your work “marinate,” so to speak, to put it in a drawer and not look at it for a while, will help you see your work with new eyes when you return to it. Suddenly, wacky sentences will stick out, moments too slow or too quickly paced will be glaringly obvious, and the path towards revision will seem clearer. I wish I would’ve known that often clarity and concision trumps gimmicks of language and form.

Why did you decide to write nonfiction instead of fiction? Do you have a preference between the two?

Courtney Kersten:  I guess I didn’t really make a concrete decision to write fiction rather than nonfiction. I suppose the kind of stories I had always found myself drawn to were nonfictional. I don’t prefer one genre over the other—fiction can intervene in nonfiction; what is fictional can be nonfictional on the level of emotion or in other ways. I think the boundary between the two genres is fascinating and complex.

Can you tell us a little more about what we can expect from this craft talk?

Courtney Kersten:  You can expect a little reading from the memoir. You can expect to hear about process and the major questions I had to answer in writing this memoir and how it shaped the book on the level of form and content. You can expect to hear about rendering the Midwest in language. You’ll hear my Midwestern accent come through.

What are some memoirs that you really enjoy?

Courtney Kersten:  I love Kim Barnes’ work. I love Sarah Manguso’s work. Micah Perks’ Pagan Time showed me new way to envision memoir. In writing Daughter in Retrograde, I was particularly influenced by Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index—it’s a brilliant memoir. There are also lots of poets, fiction writers, and essayists I love too. Reading Jo Ann Beard’s collection of essays was what hooked me into writing nonfiction. I love Gloria Anzaldúa work. Leslie Marmon Silko is fabulous. Svetlana Alexievich’s work is amazing. I’m grateful for the chance to learn from other writer’s work.

And you, dear reader, can look forward to learning from her work!  Be sure to swing by the Local Store at 7PM on Thursday March 22 to hear Courtney Kersten’s craft talk, “Rendering Reality: Writing with Honesty and Complexity in Memoir.”

 Writing Something: A Comprehensive List of Tips from Bruce Taylor

Credit: Justin Patchin Photography

Credit: Justin Patchin Photography

Bruce Taylor

This is an old list which I used for my creative writing courses when I was teaching at UW-EC. It hasn’t been revised in a while, but when I was using it I tweaked it every year.

I don’t know if writing prompts, journal tasks, exercises are common property for the common good but they should be, and in fact, have been for a while. So did I steal, borrow, revise, appropriate, and in some senses “create” this list, classified as it is?  Yes. If I have done a bad thing to anyone from anywhere at anytime, sorry.

Used for Classes so it began this way...

 Rarely is anything in a journal ever "finished", polished off. The journal is the place to begin things, rough them up and try them out.

Spend 20 ‑ 25 minutes minimum on daily writing in your journal. All assignments are meant to be suggestions and if deviating from the prescribed instructions including the very first one for any particular assignment provides more interest and/or inspiration, do it.

So you can ignore most of the above, though I do believe one should write daily for the same reasons one should floss, pray and spend quality time with your pets.

A journal is another thing, with all its own fears and complications. I do a whole thing about Life Writing: Writing For Your Life which talks about all the options involved. A journal, a notebook, a daybook, god forbid, a diary? Maybe we should call this Writing Something, Somehow, Somewhere.

So if you wish to ignore the  instructions above do so, but not the one that says the assignments are suggestions and if you want to deviate from them, do it.

Feel free to ignore the numbering and the categories if you wish, they were there to correspond with what we were covering in the class. Its probably better to just browse and pick out the ones that intrigue you.

Above all, if you don’t have fun or you’re not enjoying this, don’t do it. But give it a chance to settle in.

There are thousands of writing prompts available online in books on blogs wander around find some that you find intriguing try them out.


1.1     Collect for an entire day words, scraps of dialogue, and phrases that you over‑hear and write something that uses many of them.

1.2      The same as above but use only words and/or phrases that you read.

1.3      Collect for an entire day images that you actually see and hear as you walk through the world, then write something that uses some  of them.

1.4      Collect for an entire day as many things as you can that are red, or blue, or sad or plastic or whatever, then write something that uses as some of them .

1.5      The same as above but write something about only one or two things, or write something about the experience of looking for these things all day.

1.6     Spend a day paying particular attention to faces, or the way people wave, or eat or something else we all do everyday. Write something deriving from the experience.

1.7     Sit at the end of a particularly busy and harried day and free‑write what sticks in your mind. Concentrate on sights, sounds and sensations ‑‑ not dialogue, stories, or "feelings"

1.8     The same as above but at the end of a particularly calm day. Con­centrate on sights, sounds and sensations ‑‑ not dialogue, stories, or "feelings"

1.9     The same as above but at the end of a day when you’re feeling particu­larly happy or sad. Concentrate on sights, sounds and sensations ‑‑ not dia­logue, stories, or "feelings".

1.10    Write something that evokes without labeling or naming a particular place at the moment you are there. Concentrate on concrete detail and sensory perception.

1.11    Write something that evokes the place you are writing at the moment as it was some  years ago or twenty  from now.

1.12    Sit in one room and describe that room as fully as you can, using as few adjectives as possible. Choose another quite different room and describe it, also with as few adjectives as possible. Write something that combines the two descriptions (cutting, adding, revising, etc.) into one scene.

1.13    Go to a public place (library, bar, restaurant, hospital emergency room, gas station, Laundromat, part, shopping mall, hotel lobby, police sta­tion, beach, skating rink, beauty salon, city dump, tennis court, church, etc.).  Sit and observe everything around you.  Then narrow your attention to a single person, focus on a restricted place, or zoom in on a single object.  What do you see that you haven't noticed before?

1.14     Spend 10‑15 minutes listing what you would expect to find at a specific place. Then go to that place and write something that uses only things that are not on your list.

1.15    Describe a specific, commonly recognizable object as completely as possible.  Do not name the object and do no use anymore adjectives and adverbs than you absolutely have to.

1.16    Evoke a common everyday object.  Concentrate on its possibilities, on its appearance in other circumstances or unfamiliar context, posit its future or its past.

1.17    Hold in front of you a souvenir or keepsake. Free‑write about it.

1.18    Write a completely developed description of something using words of only one syllable. Now try it with only words of two syllables.

1.19    Use your senses, your memory, and your imagination to observe ordi­nary things or events: a pencil, a bag of potato chips on your desk, a pic­ture, a moth on a window pane, the water dripping from the roof.  Start with observed details, but be alert for what is weird, wonderful, miraculous, and puzzling about it.

1.20    Go to a gallery, studio, or museum where you can observe sculpture, paintings, or other works or art.  Choose one work of art and draw it.  Then describe it as fully as possible. 

1.21    Return to the gallery above the next day, reread your first descrip­tion, observe the artwork again, and add details you didn't notice the first time.

1.22    Write an open journal entry.  Describe events from your day, im­ages, impressions, bits of conversation ‑‑ anything that catches your interest. Free write some of your thoughts, responses, questions, associations to and about the above topic.

1.23    Write an open journal entry.  Writing for yourself, describe one event from your week that upset or angered you.

1.24    In a class you are taking, record in detail the dress, habits, mannerisms, nervous tics, speech, and gestures of the teacher.  After describing the teacher in detail, choose a single word that expresses your dominant impression of him or her. Circle the details in your description that reinforce this dominant impression.

1.25    As you sit in a lecture class, restaurant, student lounge, library, department store, airport, or bar, describe the three or four most common types of people you observe there.

1.26    Observe the behavior of one person in your dorm, house, or apartment as he or she gets ready for a date on Friday or Saturday night.  Record how this person gets ready, noting the clothes, conversation about prospective dates or companions, and appearance of the person as he or she leaves for the evening.  Explain what you learned by observing such behavior.

1.27    Pick a favorite song from you collection and play it.  As you listen, write down the associations or memories that come to mind.  What were you doing when you first heard the song?  What other people, places, or events does it remind you of?

1.28    Go through old family photographs and find one of yourself, taken at least five years ago.  Describe the person in the photograph‑‑what he or she did, thought, said, or hoped.  How is that person like or unlike the person you are now?

1.29    Free‑write about a favorite relative who you no longer see.        

1.30    Remember a place, a sanctuary where you used to go to be alone.  What was it like?  When did you go there?  Have you been back there recently?  If so, how had it (or you) changed?

1.31    Consider your name and Free write some of your thoughts, responses, questions, associations to it.  How did you get it? What has it been like to be named what you are. What has happened to you because of your name? If you could change your name would you? To what? Why?

1.32    Free write some of your thoughts, responses, questions, associa­tions to what the world was like when you were born. How was it different? How was it the same? What were the important things going on? What were the major problems?

1.33    Remember the first job you had.  How did you get it, what did you do?  What mistakes did you make?  What did you learn?  Were there any humorous or serious misunderstandings between you and others? Was it ultimately a good or bad experience? What did you learn?

1.34    Write about something you used to love as a child. Concentrate on how good it was and why it was so good.

1.35    The same as above but concentrate on some thing you hated and how bad it was and why?



2.1       Pick at random four very different types of books.  Open each one at random and copy into your journal three or four sentences.  Then open another book and do the same thing. Continue this sequence until the page is full.  Now write something using what you have.  You may cut any words you want, rearrange any words, but add only articles and prepositions, and adjust verb tenses.

2.2     The same as above but write anything you want deriving in any way whatsoever from what you copied into your journal.

2.3     Write something by cutting out and pasting together words from one magazine or newspaper.

2.4     The same as above except use only the headlines from two or three different newspapers.

2.5     The Same as above but use signs you’ve seen during the day.

2.6     Write something deriving from the above two suggestions.

2.7     Write something that takes as its first line, the last line of something else and goes on.

2.8     Free‑write (single or multiple line) using one of these starters: If I were....,       The first thing.... (or the last thing), I am the one who...., The worst there is.... (or the best), I used to be (a) ________ but now I am (a) _________, I wish....

2.9     Pick at random a magazine article and copy the first 20 adjectives you find.  Arrange them to align down the length of a page.  Now do the same with another magazine article except copy the first 20 nouns you find.  You now have 20 adjective‑noun combinations.  Choose one that you find particular­ly provocative and allowing yourself no more than three minutes, write someth­ing using those words.  Do this until you have five three‑minute selections.

2.10    Write 20 concrete nouns down the left hand side of a page.  Then write 20 abstract nouns down the right hand side (or vice versa).  Now write something that uses at least three of the resultant combinations.

2.11 Make the longest list you can in ten minutes ‑‑ i.e. depressing things, happy or sad things, things that can't be compared, any things, etc.  Now write something that uses as many of those things as possible.

2.12    The same as above but write something about only one item ‑‑ i.e. the most or least, the funniest, the largest, thing on the list.

2.13    Free write some of your thoughts, responses, questions, associa­tions to and about things that have special smells . Make a list. How do they smell? What associations do you have with them? Make more lists.

2.14    The same as above but for things that have special sounds or tex­tures or tastes.

2.15    Write something deriving from either of the two above suggestions above.

2.16    Write as many synonyms as you can for the word "man" and "woman" in five minutes. Now go to a Thesaurus and add to your list. Choose three syno­nyms that seems to mean pretty much the same thing and three that seem to be quite different. Use each of the six in one sentence each. Use two of the six in the same sentence. Choose three sentences you have written and swap the synonyms you've used for ones you haven't.

2.17    Write as many synonyms as you can for the word "white" and "black" in five minutes. Now go to a Thesaurus and add to your list. Choose three synonyms that seems to mean pretty much the same thing and three that seem to be quite different. Use each of the six in one sentence each. Use two of the six in the same sentence. Choose three sentences you have written and swap the synonyms you've used for ones you haven't.

2.18    Write as many synonyms as you can for the word "drunk" in five minutes. Now go to a Thesaurus and add to your list. Choose three synonyms that seems to mean pretty much the same thing and three that seem to be quite different. Use each of the six in one sentence each. Use two of the six in the same sentence. Choose three sentences you have written and swap the synonyms you've used for ones you haven't.

2.19    Write something deriving from the above three suggestions.

2.20    Almost all groups or cliques develop their own "Private Language." Explore a "Private Language" you use a part and/or participant in a group of friends, a family, a sport, a job, a class, an art etc. etc. Do you use terms, words, phrases that only certain people really understand what you mean? What are some of those words, what do they mean? How did they get to mean what they mean?

2.21    Write something deriving from the above.

2.22    Pick a topic and look it up in an encyclopedia or dictionary or symbols (birdsong, volcanoes, etc.).  Write something using information you find there.

2.23    Find out something personal and little known about a famous person from history and write something about him/her.

2.24    Write something to "go with" a famous painting.

2.25    Write something to "go with" a photograph.

2.26    Write something based on a classical piece of music.

2.27    Write something in which you respond to or "answer," either seriously or humorously, a question you've recently read somewhere.

2.28    Write something deriving from the above.

2.29    Find the "best" poem, essay, short story, you've written during the past year or two and tell why it is "the best."

2.30    The same as above but use the "worst".                  


3.1      Write something that emphasizes imagery to compare and/or contrast two people, things, or events.

3.2      Write something in which you ground one or more abstractions (Hate, Fear, Depression, Truth, etc.) with many concrete and specific images.

3.3 Using the first person, describe an event or action you are fairly sure you will never experience firsthand. Be very specific with your details.

3.4     Make several of the following abstractions come to life by rendering them in concrete specific details and/or images of varying length: racism, injustice, ambition, growing old, salvation, poverty, growing up, wealth, evil. Make up some of your own.

3.5     Write a short scene where a small object symbolizes hope, redemp­tion, or love to a central character, but let it symbolize something else entirely to the reader.

3.6     Write something which evokes from your reader a maximum degree of the tragic, joyous, erotic, fearful, regrettable, terrible, etc.  Do not explain why or how what you are writing is tragic, joyous, etc.

3.7     Compose a short definition ‑‑serious or humorous‑‑of one or more of the following words: "freedom," "adolescence," "mathematics," "politicians," "parents," "misery," "higher education," "luck," or a word or words of your own choice.

3.8      Write something containing an extended metaphor or simile.  Write another.  In one, compare an ordinary object to something of great size or significance.  In the other, compare a major thing or phenomenon to something smaller and more mundane or less intense.

3.8.1       Look in your backpack or around your room and find one object that seems to represent each of the following: your life now; your life”not now”; the thing you want the most to be; the thing you are the most afraid of; the thing you would hate to lose the most or fight the most to keep. For two or more of the above write a short paragraph which explains why or how these things represent what they do to you.

3.9     Write something deriving from any of the other suggestions in this section.



4.1     Write some part of your daily routine ‑‑ getting up, going to bed, walking the dog, driving to work ‑‑ the more mundane the better, as seen by a disinterested, objective third person. Try as hard as you can not to tell the reader what you want them to know as much as show them.

4.2     The same as above but as observed by a person who wants the reader to like or to dislike you. Try as hard as you can not to tell the reader what you want them to know as much as show them.

4.3     The same as above but as observed by a person who wants the reader not to trust you. Try as hard as you can not to tell the reader what you want them to know as much as show them.

4.4     The same as above but from your own point of view which reflects a particular state of mind ‑‑ happiness or depression, joy, boredom etc. etc. Try as hard as you can not to tell the reader what you want them to know as much as show them.

4.5     Write something deriving from the one of the above three suggestions.

4.6     Create your Mr./Ms. Right.  Allow yourself no abstractions (i.e. handsome, intelligent, sensitive, etc.).  Do not simply describe.  Concen­trate, without ever saying why, on what it is about the person that "fits the bill."

4.7      The same as above except it should be from the point of view of someone who hates Mr./Ms. Right, but you purpose is the same.

4.8     Put four very different people together ‑‑ playing cards or riding a bus or something ‑‑ and with no dialogue or authorial intervention, concen­trating on showing, not telling what each of them is like.

4.9     Write something in which a character gradually approaches a given thing, situation, or phenomena, first as it is seen, then heard, then smelled, tasted or touched, or some other arrangement.

4.10    Describe in as much detail as you can the bedroom you have had in the place you have lived the longest.

4.11    Describe something that changes depending on your mood.


5.1     Write something that evokes a particular mood by its description of a place. Then write something that though describing the same place, evokes an entirely different mood. 

5.2      Write something that evokes a place in which a character encounters something unexpected or unpredictable for that particular setting ‑‑ i.e. danger in tranquility, beauty in what would normally considered the mundane, or commonplace etc. etc.

5.3     Experiment with the way you feel about the weather? Why do you like the kind of weather that you do? What kind/s of associations and/or memories do you have attached to different types of weather? What's the best of worse you've ever experienced? Do your attitudes towards certain types of weather change?

5.4     The same as above but take the kind of weather which you like least and try to find what's good about it; or the type of weather you like the most and explore only the bad parts.

5.5     Choose a country you have always wanted to go but never have. Now write something that might go on one of its city streets or famous locales.

5.6     Rewrite the above after consulting some books about that country, place or locale.

5.7     Use a description of a room to develop the character of the person whose room it is.

5.8     Describe your favorite place. Without telling why it is your favor­ite, let your reader know why.

5.9     The same as above but work with your least favorite place.

5.10    Describe a place where something important is about to happen but hasn't yet.

5.11    Describe a place that your feelings have changed about. Without saying why you feelings have changed, try to let your reader know.



6.1     Rewrite some earlier journal entry ‑‑ one not beginning with the same number as this one does ‑‑that depended heavily on character. Fill in this sentence as many times as you can about that character "He/She is the sort of person who ___________________." Vary the length and detail used each time.

6.2     "Obnoxious," the dictionary says, means "highly disagreeable, offen­sive, irritating, odious."  Describe the most obnoxious person you know by giving at least two detailed examples of his or her obnoxious behavior. 

6.3     The same as above but choose your own word and definition for it.

6.4     The reverse of the above: Tell how the most obnoxious person you know would describe you.

6.5     Oscar Wilde once said that a cynic is someone "who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing."  Describe a situation in which some person's actions illustrated that he or she fit Wilde's definition of a cynic.

6.6     The same as above but choose your own quote.

6.7     In a class you are taking, record in detail the dress, habits, mannerisms, nervous tics, speech, and gestures of the teacher.  After describ­ing the teacher in detail, choose a single word that expresses your dominant impression of him or her. Circle the details in your description that rein­force this dominant impression.

6.8     As you sit in a lecture class, restaurant, student lounge, library, department store, airport, or bar, describe the three or four most common types of people you observe there.

6.9     Observe the behavior of one person in your dorm, house, or apartment as he or she gets ready for a date on Friday or Saturday night.  Record how this person gets ready, noting the clothes, conversation about prospective dates or companions, and appearance of the person as he or she leaves for the evening.  Explain what you learned by observing such behavior.

6.10    Spend your day paying attention to people's gestures and body lan­guage.  Write down the more interesting ones and some possible meanings or reasons for them.  Write something that depends primarily on a depiction of gesture or body language.  Use as little dialogue and authorial comment as possible.

6.11    Create yourself as you would be if you were of the opposite sex.  Concentrate on what you think would be different about you by describing how you would do some specific thing.

6.12    Write a scene in which one character questions a second about a third.  Characterize all three.

6.13    Write a short description which by narrating a common place and unexceptional event you reveal something significant about a character.

6.14    Write something in which you develop a character by showing what a character does.

6.15    The same as above but concentrate on how the character does someth­ing.

6.16    Write something in which you develop a character by how the charac­ter says what he/she says.

6.17    The same as above but concentrate on what the character says.

6.18    Write something in which you develop a character by what someone else says about them.

6.19    The same as above but concentrate on characterizing the speaker.

6.20    Think of a person you know or have known who has a distinctive "sound" of his or her voice because of that person's background, locale, accent, viewpoint or whatever.  Write something which you think sounds typical of that person.

6.21     Pick two contrasting or contradictory qualities of your own personality (consistent inconsistencies). Create two characters that embody each and set them in conflict with each other.  Make each character radically different from yourself in at least one fundamental aspect: age, race, gender, or nationality.


7.1     Write a love scene, serious or comic, from the limited omniscient viewpoint, confining yourself to objective observation and the thoughts of one character.  Make this character believe that the other loves her or him, while the external actions makes clear to the reader that this is not so.

7.2     Write something that uses at least two different points of view to some significant end.

7.3     Recall an event or period from your life which at the time seemed hard to go through but which now seems humorous.  Write two pages, one each for the "heavy" and the "light" side of the situation.

7.4      Recall an experience that you had as a child that was important to you.  Write two pages, one which retells the event from the child's perspec­tive, the other which tells it from your current (adult) point of view.

7.5     Think of a dramatic incident in your life or the life of someone else.  Imagine that story being passed down throughout three or four generations, with parts being forgotten, changed, or added.  Write the three or four versions of that story.

7.6      Choose a crucial incident from a child's life (your own or invent­ed) and write about it from the distanced perspective of an adult narrator.  Then rewrite the same incident in the child's language from the point of view of the child as narrator.

7.7     Re‑write any earlier journal entry but switch the point of view, from "I" to "She" or "He" or "We."

7.8     Using the first person, write a self‑deceiving portrait in which the narrator is not the person he or she thinks they are. Give your reader subtle clues that your narrator is skewing the truth.

7.9     Retell a famous fairy tale from a different point of view (e.g. Red Riding Hood as told by the wolf, Snow White from the witch's point of view, or Grumpy's).  Yours should be a substantially different story.

7.10    Write something in which you reinterpret a classic myth, legend, or folktale from a distinctly contemporary point of view. Yours should be a substantially different story.

7.11    Write a short dramatic monologue in which you develop a character from another century (e.g. a hospital orderly during the Civil War, a 19th Century English chimney sweep, or a blacksmith to King Arthur's court).  Make the character as remote from your time and situation as possible.  Concentrate on creating a texture and environment.     

7.12    Write three letters to three different people narrating a experi­ence you've had so far this semester: one should be to a parent or older relative, one to a close friend of approximately your own age, and one to a "non‑relative" authority figure in your life ‑‑ a former teacher, minister etc.etc.

7.13    At some point in the past, you may have faced a conflict between what was expected of you‑‑by parents, friends, family, coach, or employer‑‑and your own personality or abilities.  Write about one occasion when these expec­tations seemed unrealistic or unfair.  Use your own point of view.

7.14    The same as above but write about it from their point of view.   



8.1     Write something that is exactly one hundred words.  Try to manage a conflict, crisis, and resolution in this short space.

8.2     Write a short scene involving a conflict between two people over an object.  Let the object take on a different symbolic significance to each character. Place two characters in this very fundamental conflict: one wants something the other does not want to give.

8.3     A slightly more complicated variation on the above: each of the two characters has half of something that is no good without the other half.  Neither wants to give up his or her half.

8.4     Place two characters in conflict.  one expresses himself or herself sincerely and well in words.  The other character is unable or unwilling to do so but betrays his or her feelings through appearance and actions.

8.5     Write something in which a character seems to be weaker than the forces opposing him or her.  Give the character one balancing strength.  Let him or her triumph.

8.6     Place a character in conflict with some non‑life threatening aspect of nature; balance the forces equally so that the reader is not sure who will "win" until the crisis action happens.

8.7      Identify the most pleasant and peaceful experience you have had recently.  Using this situation as a starting point, introduce a bitter con­flict that develops within or between two characters.

8.8     Take a short story we have already discussed in class and write two pages to add on to the end of it.  Try to be consistent with the already existing theme, tone, character, and style.

8.9     Write something deriving from an assignment beginning with the same number that this one does.

8.10    Write the first sentence of a story about birth. Now write the first sentence of a story about death. Try other pairs, such as falling in and out of love. Try pairs that are not in opposition, such as spring and summer. Then invent your own pairs

8.11    Write the first paragraph of a story that begins ... with a generalization about life, then the first paragraph  of the same story but beginning with a description of a person.

8.12    The same as above but begin with a narrative summary, or with dialogue, or with several characters but no dialogue, or with setting alone, or with setting and only one character.

8.13    Choose five different first sentences from five different short stories in the class texts or class handouts. Choose one or more and use it to go on to write the first paragraph of a completely different story.

8.14    Choose five different first lines from five different short poems in the class texts or class handouts. Choose one or more and use it to go on to write a completely different poem.

8.15    Choose a poem from the class texts or class handouts and write an imitation of it; try to imitate its form, or feel, or shape, or sound but make yours a substantially different poem.

8.16    Choose a poem from the class texts or class handouts that is a monologue addressed to a particular person. Write an answer to the original monologue.

8.17    Write something that appropriates its form from a nonliterary source such as "the want ads," "a stand‑up comedy monologue," "a sermon," "classified ads," etc.

8.18    Write a parable, allegory, or fable.

8.19    Write something "concrete"; that is, something that depends primar­ily on visual not literary values for its affect.

8.20     Write something that imitates the rhythm of something else ‑‑ i.e. another piece of writing, a washing machine, anything.

8.21    Write something that is a spell or a charm.

8.22    Find a number of translations into English of something not in English.  Write your own version.  You do not need to know the original lan­guage.

8.23    Write the first paragraph of a story beginning with one of the following "Where were you last Night?" " " 'What the hell, ' he (or she) said, "and grabbed their/a _______.'"

8.24    Write a famous story idea in three, three word sentences; such as :Boy meets girl. Boys loves girl. Girl leaves boy. or Cinderella can't go. She goes anyway. Cinderella get Prince. or Man lures rats. People don't pay. Man takes children.

8.25    Photocopy three, at least two page, segments of dialogue from three stories you admire. With a hi-lighter, note when and where how much of the dialogue is summarized rather than presented in quotations marks."

8.26      Choose a journal entry other than one beginning with the same number as this one does and which has very little dialogue. Rewrite it so it is mostly dialogue.

8.27     Write down the things you say over the course of the day. Examine your own speech patterns. You don’t have to get every word, but you may find that you say less than you think and that your statements are surprisingly short. You might also find that you rarely speak in complete sentences. 

8.28     Find a crowded place such as a restaurant, a bar, or a shopping mall and write down snippets of the conversations you hear. Avoid trying to record whole conversations, just follow along for a brief exchange and then listen for your next target. If you are worried about looking suspicious, you might want to purchase a Palm Pilot, Handspring Visor or other hand-held PDA device. These handy spy tools make it look like you are conducting business or playing with your favorite electronic toy rather than eavesdropping.

8.29      Test responses to the same question. Think of a question that will require at least a little thought, and ask it of several different people. Compare their responses. Remember that you are focused on their words. Write them down as soon as you can.

8.30      Record several different TV shows. Some choices include: sitcom, news, drama, talk show, infomercial, sporting event, etc.). Write down a transcript using just the dialogue and people’s names. If you don’t know the names, just use a description such as announcer or redheaded woman. You can also transcribe two shows of the same genre, using one show you like and one you dislike. Compare dialogue between the fiction and non-fiction programming you recorded. Look for such things as greetings, descriptions of physical actions, complete sentences, slang, verbal ticks (Such as like, you know, uhhhh, well, etc.). Compare how these dialogue crutches change according to the show format and quality.

8.31     Rewrite one or more of the shows in exercise as prose, trying to recreate the show as accurately as possible. Note how easy or difficult it is to work in the entire dialogue from the show. Does it seem to flow naturally and read well or does it get in your way. Rewrite again eliminating any dialogue you feel is unnecessary. Try not to change any dialogue though until your final draft. Work with what you have. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to rewrite the whole show. Do enough to be sure you have the feeling for it.

8.32     Rewrite one of the the transcripts from  using as much of the dialogue as possible, but changing the scene in as many ways as possible. Change the setting, change the people’s intent, and change the tone. See how easy or difficult it is to give the same words a different intent. Again, do enough to be sure you have the feeling for it.

8.33     Write the dialogue for a scene without using any modifiers. Just write down a conversation as it goes along naturally. After you have completed the dialogue, add narrative description, but not dialogue tags such as said, shouted or ordered. Instead, try to work the dialogue into the action as a logical progression of the statements. Finally, add any dialogue tags that are absolutely necessary, and keep them simple such as said, told, or asked. Again, only put them in if you can find not other options. Compare this to the previous dialogue you have written and see what you like or dislike about the changes.

8.34     Write a scene in which one person tells another person a story. Make sure that you write it as a dialogue and not just a first person narrative, but clearly have one person telling the story and the other person listening and asking questions or making comments. The purpose of this scene will be both to have the story stand alone as a subject, and to have the characters’ reactions to the story be the focal point of the scene.

8.35     Write a scene in which one person is listening to two other people have an argument or discussion. For example, a child listening to her parents argue about money. Have the third character narrate the argument and explain what is going on, but have the other two provide the entire dialogue. It is not necessary to have the narrator understand the argument completely. Miscommunication is a major aspect of dialogue.

8.36     Write a conversation between two liars. Give everything they say a double or triple meaning. Never state or indicate through outside description that these two people are lying. Let the reader figure it out strictly from the dialogue. Try not to be obvious, such as having one person accuse the other of lying. That is too easy.

8.37     Write a conversation in which no character speaks more than three words per line of dialogue. Again, avoid crutches such as explaining everything they say through narration. Use your narration to enhance the scene, not explain the dialogue.

8.38     Write a narrative or scripted scene in which several characters are taking an active role in the conversation. This can be a difficult aspect of dialogue to master, because with each additional character, the reader or audience must be able to keep track of the motivations and interests of the individuals involved. This can be especially difficult in prose, where the time between one character speaking and the next can be interrupted by action or description. See how many characters your can sustain within the scene and still have it make sense and be engaging.

8.39    Choose a journal entry other than one beginning with the same number as this one does and turn it into the first page of a short story.

8.40    Choose a journal entry other than one beginning with the same number as this one does and which has very little dialogue. Rewrite it so it is mostly dialogue.


9.1     Write a short scene in which a belief you hold passionately and profoundly would be untrue.

9.2     Imagine you were blind, or deaf or dumb, or illiterate, or very young or old, or of a different race, or gender ‑‑ free‑write  about this situation. What would it be like, what couldn't you do that you do now? How would it feel? What changes, adaptations would you have to make?

9.3     Novelist Ernest Hemingway once defined courage as "grace under pressure."  Using this definition, write something which shows this kind of courage in a difficult situation.

9.4     Controversial subjects depend as much on the audience as they do on the issue itself. Make a quick list of things you do every day‑‑the kind of clothes you wear, the food you eat, the books you read, the friends you have, the ideas you discuss.  For one of these activities, imagine a person who might find what you do immoral, illogical, unjust, or unhealthy.  What claim might they make about your activity?  What reasons or evidence might they use to argue that your activity should be abolished, outlawed, or changed? 

9.5     Write something deriving from the above.

9.6     Select one moment in your past that changed your life or showed you how your life had already changed.  What was the event?  What were you like before it and afterwards?

9.7     Human nature is continually puzzling.  Why are people generous one moment and stingy the next?  Why do we love or admire a person one moment, then hate that person the next?  Why do we want what we cannot have and, after a while, we no longer want what we have?  Explore your thoughts on some appar­ently contradictory aspect of human behavior.

9.8     Write something deriving from the above.

9.9     Totally new experiences may create a sense of physical exploration that parallels a mental exploration.  Recall some recent experience that was new, different, foreign, and perhaps even frightening.  As you record that experience, reflect on what you learned, how your preconceptions changed, or how it was strange or mysterious. What idea gradually dawned on you?

9.10    Eldridge Cleaver once said, "You're either part of the solution or part of the problem."  Examine one of your activities or pastimes‑‑sports, shopping, cruising, eating, drinking, or even studying.  How does what you do possibly create a problem, from someone else's point of view?

9.11    Write about something you've changed your mind about. Tell what you used to think, what happened to change your mind? Consider how have things been different for you because of this change? Consider how you felt about it all?

9.12    Prepare for a crucial situation that is likely to happen sometime soon. Explain why this situation is so crucial. Imagine exactly what might happen and write a description of it. List all the possible outcomes from the best to the worst and figure out what you might do about each.

9.13    Write something deriving from an assignment beginning with the same number that this one does.


10.1    Revise any previous journal entry. Make the revision significantly better than the original in some way or ways . Include at the end a brief explanation of how you made it better.

10.2    Respond to some journal assignment you've previously written. Comment on it. Criticize it. Praise it.

10.3    Re‑write any earlier journal entry concentrating on sentence‑length, make all your sentences less than ten words, or exactly ten words, or more than ten words. Avoid the use of "and." as much as possible. Try other conjunctions.

10.4    Re‑Write any earlier journal entry without using any form of the verb "to be."

10.5    The same as above but concentrate on diction stop

10.6    The same as above but concentrate on making the entry more specific and concrete.

10.7    The same as above but concentrate on providing apt and adequate examples.

10.8    Re‑write any earlier journal entry but radically change the intended audience or purpose.


Matthew Guenette Craft Talk Recap

Matthew Guenette

Matthew Guenette

By Alex Zitzner

On November 9th, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild had the honor to host a craft talk put on by MATC professor Matt Guenette. Having authored three poetry collections including Vasectomania (University of Akron Press, 2017), American Busboy (University of Akron Press, 2011), and Sudden Anthem (Dream Horse Press, 2008), Matt was able to share his insights on the power of the persona poem, a poetic style which heavily influenced his second collection, American Busboy

For those unfamiliar with the persona poem, Matt described it as a way to, “...take on the point of view of something or someone other than yourself.” Well known examples of the persona poem include “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, “Herbert White” and “Helen West” by Frank Bidart, and “Miranda’s Drowned Book” by Debora Greger. Although this style of writing creates the need to put the writer in the position of someone or something they can only imagine knowing what it is like to be, Matt explained, “There is a funny way of finding pieces of ourselves in others.” Following this thought, a few examples were given to the audience on how they could also find their self in someone or something else:

Quote Someone

Matt started the audience out with thinking about classic lines their Mother’s would always say to get them in the mindset of seeing the world from a different perspective. This helps later on when going to write the poem!

Channel Another Writer

For one poem in American Busboy, Matt brought out his inner Allen Ginsberg, explaining, “There is a certain energy in his voice that helped me express how I wanted to say what was being said.” By getting in the mindset of a different author, the writer can utilize different energy and tap into something they didn’t know they had. 

Do the Impossible

In another example, Matt read a poem where he and his newborn child had an extremely in depth conversation about the philosophy of the world. Since this never could have actually happened, it proved to be a good opportunity to explore the wisdom of someone who seemingly couldn’t be as wise as you due to their age. 

Thanks to Matt and his help exploring the world of the persona poem, this proves how many more angles the writer can come from instead of the usual confessional poem. If you would like to read some of Matt’s work, each of his books mentioned above are linked!

Recap of Katie Vagnino’s “Pitch Perfect: Navigating the world of Freelance”

Katie Vagnino

Katie Vagnino

By Alex Zitzner

On October 12th, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor and writer Katie Vagnino shared her tips about the world of freelance writing. If you missed her talk, here is a recap of the points we thought would help the most. If you are interested in hearing this talk in its entirety, at the end of this article there is a link to her next presentation.

Getting Started

Find someone to share your ideas with.

One of the best ways to jumpstart your creative process with getting into the world of freelancing is finding someone who can work with you to make your writing better. It is better to have a second set of eyes bringing their experience to the table, this way your work will be twice as knowledgeable when figuring out what and where to pitch. 

Write down ideas for potential pitches.

I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation before where a great idea comes to us, but we are without a way to write it down or are too lazy and let it go. Make a habit out of writing down potential ideas and cataloging them. When you find a place you’d like to be published, you may already have a pitch that will fit their tone and themes. *Pro-Tip: Most smartphones have a note taking app where you can store these gems, otherwise consider never being without a pen or pencil.

Read far and wide to expand your perspectives.

In relation to the first point, the best way to see what is out there is to do research. By doing this, you will grow your view and challenge your own previous notions while coming to understand what areas you can offer the most to.

I’ve Got An Idea For a Story, Now What?

Research what has already been said about your topic.

Touching on the previous importance of reading many different publications, editors are going to want pieces that are not cliche or on topics that have been thoroughly explored. Here is where the importance of the personal connection can come in handy by offering a unique perspective that has not been heard before. 

Keep the arc of the story in mind. 

You are going to want to roughly know how your story will begin, what will happen in the middle, and how it will end. Once you’ve done the research, consider how the points you’ve come across can be used to connect each part of the narrative and propel it toward the concluding statements.

Come up with a two sentence pitch.

Once you’ve figured out the arc of your story, come up with a way you can pitch your potential story in a short and sweet manner. Not all pieces need to be written before pitching them, so the “elevator pitch” method is a way of finding out whether or not there would be interest in having your work be published.

A Few Dos & Don’ts

Without too much summary, here are some ways to better your chances of either getting published or eventually getting published.

  • Show you are familiar with a publisher’s content.
  • Put your pitch in subject line of an email.
  • Do not contact editors via social media unless they explicitly say it is ok to do so.
  • If your pitch gets rejected, do not ask the editor, “Why?” 

Final Thoughts

Don’t take rejection personally.

There is a duality with acceptance and rejection in writing. Just because your piece was not taken by one place does not mean there isn’t a home for it somewhere. If the editors offer any feedback on why your piece was rejected, consider it and move forward, as it is all part of the process. 

Some of the best paid gigs are not glamourous.

It is fun to write about things you are interested in, but sometimes it is the uninteresting subjects that will pay the most. Keep your eye on the lookout for potential gigs, no matter how bland they may seem, because they could pay more than the big name publications like The New Yorker.

It is difficult to make a living solely off freelance.

Touching on the previous point, freelancing is a competitive and time consuming practice. If you are considering freelancing as a career, keep in mind how often you will have to be pitching articles and writing while balancing everything else. Consider using it as a way to get extra money on the side until you have become established.

If you would like to stay up to date with Katie and learn more about what she does, consider checking out her website.

Craft Talk Rewind: "The Art of the Interview"

by Karissa Zastrow

 For the last craft talk of the season, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild invited three reporters, Dan Lyksett, Julian Emerson, and Eric Lindquist from the Leader Telegram to discuss the art of the interview. Every day we read stories in the paper, magazines, or online, but rarely do we think about the effort and finesse that goes into successfully reporting these stories. Together, these three reporters created a list of important practices to keep in mind when conducting interviews.

1.     If possible, research what you are writing about. Look at records and documents surrounding the topic. Remember you might be dealing with experts on certain topics, so having a basic understanding of the language and details is necessary to understand what the subject is talking about.

2.     Be strategic with your interview. Prepare a list of questions that you want answered before conducting an interview. By prioritizing your questions, you know what you need answered in order to make your story work if time starts to run out.

3.     Take notes or record your interviews. This is essential to making sure your story is accurate and facts are correct. What you record may also have details you may have otherwise forgotten.

4.     Let the subject know what the interview is about. Being honest might help you gain their trust.

5.     Ask the subject how they want their name used in the story. Someone who goes by Bill might want to be referred to William in the story,

6.     Establish ground rules. Dan urges his subjects to not tell him anything he can’t use in his story. It can be too hard to remember what can and cannot be used when writing the actual report and it helps the interviewer not violate the subjects’ trust.

7.     Show respect for the subject and make them comfortable. It is natural to sit down and have a conversation in order to ease your way into the interview. Eric’s favorite way to start is to say, “Tell me your story.” Eventually, you may have to prod and ask questions, but by letting the subject talk, it can lead to a longer and stronger story.

8.     Start with simple questions and work your way into the tougher questions. Some times by addressing the hard stuff first, a subject can be easily scared off and unwilling to talk. Julian describes that there is a fine line between asking the tough questions and being accusatory. When asking questions, you do not want to offend your subject because this can quickly end an interview.

9.     Listen to the subject and let the interview breed. As a reporter, you need to let the subject talk and you need to listen carefully. It is important to give the subject time to answer the question. Really listen and then when they are done, stay silent for a little while longer. The silence might make the subject talk just a little bit more. Don’t try to help them out too much because you want their original thoughts. At the same time, don’t be afraid to redirect the conversation back to the topic if they get too far off track.

10.  Avoid expressing your opinion. Reporters need to stick to the facts and treat the subjects with objectivity. An interviewer’s job is to get information, not to judge people.

11.  Ask questions more than once, especially if the topic is controversial. As a reporter you need to make sure you understand the situation and get all the details correct. If you have any hint of doubt, don’t be afraid to ask the question again. It is better to ask the question again than to publish incorrect information.

12.  If the subject refuses to answer a sensitive question, move on and circle back to it once you’ve figured out how to rephrase the question.

13.  Always ask the subject if there is something you forgot to ask or if there is anything else you need to know. This is a great open ended question to get just a little more information and let them tell you something you may have missed.

14.  Be yourself—this can put both you and your subject at ease. Remember, you are doing a job and part of that job is asking the hard questions to get a story.

Interviews require a lot of tact, perseverance, and skill to complete successfully. After an interview, the reporter’s job isn’t done. Still, they have to figure out how to compile the information correctly and effectively, all while typically working under tight deadlines. This requires a lot of thought and excellent writing skills while working under pressure. So the next time you read an article, take time to appreciate the art of the interview.

Craft Talk Rewind: Jumping into the Unknown with Speculative Fiction

Charles Payseur

Charles Payseur

By Karissa Zastrow

Speculative Fiction is used as an umbrella term for genres like fantasy, science-fiction, and horror. All of these genres have one thing in common: they push the boundaries of reality. Speculative fiction tends to ask the question “what if,” as do most stories, but they take it to the next level by throwing out the rulebook of reality and breaking at least one of the rules. In fact, you can create your own rule book. Write a story about dragons going scuba diving or time travel back to the Ice Age and go snowboarding—the choice is yours!

Our brains are always trying to figure out what is real and true in the world, but in reality we don’t have all the answers, which is why speculative fiction works just like fiction and non-fiction. The brain knows this and wants to believe the stories, which invoke that same type of anxiety that attracts us to a book of realistic fiction. After all, strange and unlikely stories still have things to teach us.

Charles Payseur describes speculative fiction as a genre of revolution and change. By throwing out the rule book, speculative fiction shows us that change is possible and it is happening. Speculative fiction can be applied to reality in a way that pushes people to strive for change and create a better world for the future. Imagine if people just accepted the way the world is and never pushed the boundaries.  If we want to make a difference, we need to think about how the world can change.

Within speculative fiction, there are many subgenres and there is a following for each and every subgenre out there, even in publishing. Typically, if you submit a speculative fiction story, you don’t have to pay a reading or submission fee and if they choose to publish your story, you are going to get paid. Most places pay 6 cents or less. If you are paid 6 cents or higher, you are considered to be writing at the professional level and to be recognized by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America you need to get paid at the professional level for 10,000 words.

Payseur offers a lot of advice when it comes to what you should do after you are done writing a story:

  1. Don’t panic.

  2. Consider finding a place to workshop it. There a lot of places to get support for your story. In Eau Claire, there is the Chippewa Valley S.P.A.C.E.C.A.T.s, which Payseur founded. They meet every three weeks in person. There are also online options such as, or once you have published something, you can join Codex.

  3. Submit! Once you have completed your story, it’s time to submit to different publications. He suggests using a site like Submissions Grinder or to track your submissions.

  4. Submit More! You will get rejections and it will suck, but you have to take it with a grain of salt. Yes, rejection is hard, but you have to keep going. Sometimes editors offer advice. You can choose to listen to them or not. Ultimately, it is your story, so you can make the decisions. If you get rejected, you can always send your story out again.

  5. Sell (or not). Not every story will sell, but that’s okay. If it does sell, remember to read the contract. Pay attention to what rights you have and how long they will have possession of your story. Usually, they will have your story somewhere between 3 and 6 months. Another detail to look for is when they will pay you for your work. One you sell, don’t be afraid to promote your writing and get your name out there.

  6. Write a New Story!

Payseur urges writers to find ways to keep you going, even when you get rejection.

Remember, there are people out there who like your writing and support what you do, like the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. So writers, are you ready to throw out the rule book and jump into the unknown?

Craft Talk Rewind: Self-Publishing With Katherine Schneider & Cecelia Zorn

Hillcrest Greens.

Hillcrest Greens.

The Chippewa Valley Writers Guild started off 2017 with a craft talk focused around self-publishing by inviting Katherine Schneider and Cecelia Zorn, two accomplished self-published authors, to provide insight on the increasingly popular publishing option. Self-publishing is where authors publish without a publishing house being involved. This means the author is in control of most of the process, which comes with both advantages and disadvantages, depending on the way the author looks at it.

While going through the self-publishing process, many authors learn quite a bit about the process that they would not have considered before. One advantage of self-publishing is that it is often quicker to get a book made, marketed, and sold. At times, self-publishing can be a stepping stone to getting noticed by a traditional publisher. If a self-published book sold well, a publisher might want to pick up the book or be interested in the author’s other works. With self-publishing, authors tend to get a bigger chunk of money, but that does not mean they make a ton of money. One of the biggest advantages of self-publishing is that it allows the author to have creative freedom throughout the whole process. The author can choose the price, the size of the book, the font, how they want to market it, and design the cover, all of which is part of the fun in self-publishing a novel.

While there are many advantages to self-publishing, some authors may not be thrilled about all the work they have to do on their own. In some cases, authors hire out help to assist them with the many tasks associated with self-publishing. This can cost even more money on top of the fee that authors need to have upfront when they publish their novel. Typically, authors need to have $1,000 to $2,000 to start the self-publishing process. One challenge for authors can be self-marketing and getting your book out there. Since all the marketing is up to the author, they really have to learn the best way to market their book to their target audience and, even if they do, it can be difficult to get established in bookstores and libraries.

Once an author has decided to self-publish, there are a few ways to find a self-publishing company to work with. Many people use word of mouth to discover reliable self-publishing companies. Katherine and Cecelia both have worked with Dog Ear publishing and Katherine has also worked with Beaver Pond. Create Space through Amazon is another popular option, but authors should be careful of formatting. Authors will sometimes look at self-published books in the library to see the quality of books the company produces and utilize reviews on the internet to make their choice. When it comes time to choose a self-publisher to work with, there are several questions authors need to ask themselves:

* Do you own the rights to your book and are you able to read and understand your contract?
* Do you set your own price and when are you paid?
* How is the customer service they provide?
* Where does the company make their money and what is the company getting?
* Who has the creative control and who is in charge?
* What will it cost you?

These questions will assist in discovering what you expect from a self-publishing company and ultimately, what publisher you will choose to work with.

Marketing a book is perhaps one of the aspects of self-publishing that can be fun, but also incredibly challenging. First, the author has to define who the target audience is. Then they have to determine where they go, what the best way to reach them is, and how to get their attention. In terms of marketing, all the little things matter—from the size of the book, to the look and style of the cover, to how many books the author orders at a time, it all makes a difference. Another detail authors need to take in to consideration when marketing is how much they want to spend on marketing techniques. Some methods to consider are e-mail lists, giveaways, taking a book tour, book marks with information on them, a blog, T.V., radio, and using social media to get their book out there. Authors shouldn’t be afraid to use who they know to help get the word out. Whether it is asking friend, who also an author, to write review for their book, or inviting someone to come on their book tour with them, any help can go a long ways.

Perhaps the best advice Katherine and Cecelia offered during the craft talk, was that if you are going to self-publish, make it fun. Enjoy the process from finally writing your novel and editing it, to creating the cover and the size of the book, to getting your book out to the public. After all the hard work you put in to achieving your goal, the least you can do is have a little fun with it!

Making Sense of the Music: Notes from our November Craft Talk

Writing comes in all different forms, but perhaps the most mysterious is song writing. How musical melodies intertwine with poetic lyrics has long captivated curious audiences. In “Where Songs Come From,” our November Craft Talk facilitated by Max Garland, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild set out to uncover the art behind song writing by inviting three local artists to share their songs and discuss their origins. The talk featured Jerrika Mighelle, Billy Krause, and Evan Middlesworth—all accompanied by their acoustic guitars—to help the rest of us understand this fascinating art form.

Jerrika Mighelle, who plays in sister band QuinnElizabeth in addition to her solo career, was the first to take to the mic with her song, “Where Are You Now?” When writing a song, Jerrika explained, she starts with chords she knows well, and then finds a riff that captures her attention.  The lyrics, she noted, come later. After sharing her second song of the evening, “Take My Hand,” Jerrika explained that many of her songs are rooted in personal experience, many involving the search for goodness and truth in life. At the same time, she always keeps the listener in mind.  It’s crucial, she noted, to make a connection with the audience and make them feel the emotions she relays in her songs. 

Next, Billy Krause shared two songs—“Smoke and Mirror” and “A Ballad of Farewell— and discussed his song writing methods. For Billy, the process is simply to listen to the music constantly playing in his head and wait for a bit of it to stick. Serendipitously, the music just “happens”, and then he starts to feel it out with chord progressions on his guitar. Much like Jerrika, Billy’s lyrics follow the music, many of them scrawled on scraps of paper he collects and sorts through later. He tends to write about love or life lost, and like Jerrika, strives to connect with the audience through his work. 

Closing the Craft Talk was Evan Middlesworth, who played “Holy Ghost” and “LoLo Anne,” songs that touched on losing a loved one and falling in love. Evan described his writing process as a meeting of the subconscious and the conscious, what he said was “kind of like having a dream, and then when you wake up, you can’t explain it to someone else.” Typically, lyrics come to him when he’s doing mundane things like mowing the lawn, and as he continues to do these mundane things, he writes in his head. Later, when the music comes, he tends to underscore to the lyrics to create the song’s atmosphere. 

While each musician had different techniques for writing songs, after listening to the fruits of their labor and their insights on where their songs come from, we’re closer to understanding the process. So start strumming those chords and writing down the random lines that pop into your head.  Maybe we’ll see you on stage one day!

Craft Talk Rewind: Aimee Johnson's "Your Novel Starts Now"

by Karissa Zastrow

The Chippewa Valley Writers Guild’s second craft talk of the season featured Aimee Johnson, the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Municipal Liaison for Eau Claire.  Aimee spoke to Guild members to help motivate them for one of the most challenging, but rewarding experiences writers put themselves through: National Novel Writing Month.

During the month of November, writers across the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days. To reach this goal, they have to write approximately 1,667 words a day, which is about three-to-four pages. Some people might wonder why writers do this to themselves. To some, it may not sound like fun, but to others, it is thrilling. It’s that feeling of the urgent deadline getting closer and closer that make your fingers fly across the keyboard in a mad rush to get everything from your brain out on paper before it’s lost. It’s turning off that voice in your head that makes you doubt every word you write. It’s about pushing yourself to finally set aside time to write instead of putting it off until later. It’s about living your dream of being able to say, “I am a writer.”

Getting started is the easy part. Sign up at and create a profile. Then choose Eau Claire as your home region to get updates and information from Aimee Johnson. Next, add your friends who are also participating in NaNoWriMo. Through this website, you can keep track of your word count using the graph, see where your friends are at, win badges and other prizes, and be a part of the NaNoWriMo community.

During her craft talk, Aimee Johnson offered a list of helpful hints, tips and tools for those wanting to join in on the fun:

  • Do not try to take on anything else during November—just writing.
  • Let everyone know, especially those you live with, because you’re going to be missing in action. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, roommates, and friends.
  • Avoid time wasters like social media, your phone, and Netflix. Aimee suggests getting a social media blocker if it is hard for you to be away from your social media accounts.
  • Attend write-ins. On average, writers who attend the write-ins write more words than those who do not. Write-ins tend to help writers stay focused on their work instead of getting distracted, but they also get their social fix at the same time.
  • Write everywhere. You’ll be surprised where you can write!
  • Keep a notebook and something to write with on you at all times—you never know when creativity will strike.
  • Write now, edit later and don’t delete anything.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Find things that motivate you: Create a playlist or read your favorite short story or whatever makes you want to write.
  • Don’t let people read your work.
  • Reach out to others. People can help motivate you more than you think.
  • Most importantly: Don’t give up. No matter how far behind you get or how bad you think your writing is, keep going.

Now that you have all these fantastic tips, find your nearest computer and sign-up to participate in NaNoWriMo! We’ll be there, cheering you on through every cup of coffee, every late night, and every word. So ready, set, write!

Craft Talk Rewind: Erik Hane’s “Ushering Your Book into the World”

By Karissa Zastrow

The Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild kicked off their second season with guest speaker Erik Hane from Red Sofa Literary to discuss submitting to literary agents and how to find the right agent for you and your work.    

One of the first things Hane discussed during his craft talk was that writers should not be intimidated by literary agents. Typically, the person on the other end of that dreaded e-mail is a writer just like you, who will one day need to find an agent to represent their work. The important thing to remember when submitting to agents is to not be discouraged by rejections. While it is taxing to get rejection after rejection, Hane emphasized that the rejections are not reflections of your work, but rather that what you have written may not be the best fit for that agent.

Hane described the relationship between agents and writers as an equal partnership. The agent has to feel like he or she can have an interpersonal relationship with the writer since they will be working closely together for quite some time. The agent’s job is to keep everything on track from creating a social media presence for the author, editing the author’s work, advocating for the author, and explaining the whole process. Many agents work on commission and unless the book is sold, no one gets paid, so it is in everyone’s best interest that the agent feels confident in the relationship with the author and the author’s work.

One of the main topics at the craft talk was the query letter, which is most often an e-mail sent to an agent advocating your writing. This is not an opportunity to send your manuscript, but instead pitch who you are and what your book is like. Query letters should be brief (3-4 paragraphs) with a short author bio near the end, and information on your novel. According to Hane, agents love when it feels like the author has thought about where their book would fit in the current market. Don’t be afraid to name comparable titles that are similar to the novel you are pitching. The key here is to point to a book that is like yours, but explain what sets it apart and what makes it attractive to your audience. 

Hane offered some crucial information on the dos and don’ts of query letters:

• He stressed that these letters should be personalized. In the e-mail you should use the agent’s name and explain why you would want to send it to them. 

• Many agents include a paragraph on what they are looking for and what piques their interest on the website, so do your research before submitting your work. 

• Do not send a query letter to more than one agent at an agency at a time. This could lead to conflicts within their company and it puts everyone involved in an uncomfortable position. 

• Before you sent the query letter, your work should be completed and edited. It should be as polished as it can be before even thinking about submitting a query letter. 

• Never describe your novel as “recently completed” because it sounds like it has not been edited or like it has not even been completed yet. 

Using his professional knowledge as an agent along with his personal understanding as a writer, Hane encourages writers to look at the industry from a different perspective. Remember, the agent-writer relationship is a partnership, not one where the agent or the writer has the upper hand. Instead of getting discouraged when your work is rejected, refocus and tell yourself, “I guess that agent is not the right fit,” and start looking for another agent who might be perfect for you and your work. After all, you have worked hard to get your work to where you want it to be, why would you want someone not as invested in your work as you are?

Craft Talk Rewind: “Patience and Perspective” as told by Nickolas Butler

In April, Nickolas Butler gave a standing-room-only Craft Talk at the Local Store. His message: the impact of patience and perspective on our writing. In addition, Butler, the award-winning author of Shotgun Lovesongs and Beneath the Bonfire: stories, discussed his latest project一 a novel that draws on a heart wrenching situation he experienced 17 years ago when he was a teenager. 

Butler said that while he could have written about the subject as a teenager, it would have been raw and relatively narrow-minded. Now, 17 years after the fact, he’s had enough experiences to gain multiple perspectives on the situation. He told us that as writers it’s up to us to see situations from different angles and perspectives in order to write a great piece. This could mean spending time researching or talking to other people about a topic. 

More often than not, perspective comes with time, and time requires patience. 

In an era when instant gratification is king (see: Facebook likes or a YouTube video that’s gone “viral”), there’s also a desire to have work published instantly. This makes patience a virtue we want to ignore. The payoff for having patience (and perspective!) with your work, however, will be even more rewarding than a quick submission. 

What should you do in the meantime while you’re being patient and gaining perspective?

Read. Butler told us that you can’t be a good, solid writer without reading a lot. Not only will you have a better sense of writing and storytelling, but reading different genres like fiction, poetry, essays, and more will help give you the perspective you’re trying to gain. Butler also stressed the importance of reading in order to increase creativity, as well as looking for the creativity in everyday things and conversations. 

We’re grateful that Butler gave us such an honest and inspiring talk, and we’re already looking forward to our next season of Craft Talks starting up in fall of 2016. Make sure to check back to our website so you don’t miss any upcoming Chippewa Valley Writers Guild events! Have an inspired and inspiring summer!

Craft Talk Rewind: Patti See’s “Writing Where You Live: Making the Most of What You Have”

Patti See

Patti See

By B.J. Hollars

Couldn’t make it out to Patti See’s fantastic craft talk?  Not too worry!  We’re here to offer you a few of the highlights.

Patti’s craft talk covered the idea of writing about place, which for her, means writing about Lake Hallie, Wisconsin. Though as a Chippewa Falls native, Patti’s personal story starts there.  She began her talk by describing her childhood spent in the family tavern. “Kids drank orange crush and played games,” she recalled, adding also that the tavern was the site where more than a few stories were swapped and spun.  This upbringing, coupled with her mother’s letter writing and her father’s storytelling prowess, created the conditions for her own future as a writer. 

Patti began her writing career by composing thinly veiled fictional stories, though in the midst of her mother’s prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s, she found herself blogging about her caregiving experience—an experience that resonated with readers throughout the world.

While all genres and subjects can prove difficult for a writer, writing about where one lives is particularly challenging, Patti explained, “because it means those who live near you may read what you write.”  And so, Patti knows to negotiate these relationships carefully, often making people aware of their potential appearance in a story.  

In a small town like Lake Hallie, she explained, word often travels as fast as the “bark patrol” from 101 Dalmatians; as such, it’s best if folks know who the writer is.  And as Patti has proved, she always has her pen at the ready.

Click here to listen to Patti read her work on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Wisconsin Life.”

Fast Forward: Nickolas Butler’s “Brass Tacks & Before Cirenaica”

Nickolas Butler

Nickolas Butler

Next up on our craft talk series is the great Nickolas Butler!  Mark those calendars for April 28 at 7:00p.m. in The Local Store Gallery, where you’ll hear Nick provide an insightful and candid discussion on the everyday work of being a writer.  (As I’m sure we’ll all learn, it ain’t as easy as Nick makes it look.)  In addition, Nick will also get folks fired up for his summer writing residency this summer at Cirenaica.  A few spots still remain!  Check out the details on Nick’s residency here, and more on all our residencies here.    

And while we have you, might we just take a moment to brag a bit about one of Eau Claire’s favorite sons?  You know him best for Shotgun Lovesongs and Beneath the Bonfires, but do you know just how much hardware the guy’s won for his efforts?  From France's prestigious PAGE Prix America award, to the 2015 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award, Nick’s accolades have come from the world over.  And to whet your pallet for what’s coming next, stay tuned for a forthcoming featured spotlight with Nick Butler coming your way this summer! 

Craft Talk Rewind & Fast Forward

B.J. Hollars shared his vision for the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild on Thursday, February 25 in the Volume One Gallery at The Local Store in downtown Eau Claire. Image: Michael Lundebrek

B.J. Hollars shared his vision for the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild on Thursday, February 25 in the Volume One Gallery at The Local Store in downtown Eau Claire. Image: Michael Lundebrek

By Erin Stevens

Rewind: BJ Hollars, “Jump Off The Cliff And Build Your Wings On The Way Down: A Welcome And A Look Forward"

Did you miss the CVWG’s kick-off Craft Talk? Can’t remember all the details from last month? Looking for the photo of BJ Hollars as a young Goosebumps enthusiast? Then you’re in the right place! (Though sorry to say, I can’t find the photo…)

BJ’s opening Craft Talk was a great way to bring everyone together to talk about why the Guild was formed. In short, there have been many individuals asking about writing groups and literary events in the Chippewa Valley; however there wasn’t a community for these individuals to turn to. Thus, the Guild was born! 

Now that the CVWG has formed, our overall goal is to be inspired, and be inspiring to others. Through education, collaboration with others, and celebrating one another’s accomplishments, we want to create a safe place where our writing community feels comfortable sharing their work. We also want to build a community that inspires us to keep writing. 

BJ also talked about the importance of being good, literary citizens. How can you be a good literary citizen? I’m glad you asked! You can do the following:

Start or join a writing group
Register for one of the residencies at Cirenaica
Attend our Craft Talks and Open Reads
Volunteer your talents 
Become a contributing editor or presenter 

Ultimately, this community is what we make of it. Attend Craft Talks and participate in Cirenaica. Help fundraise or contribute a column to our newsletter. Be part of making the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild a truly great community. 

Be inspired, and be inspiring!

Fast Forward: Patti See, "Writing Where You Live: Making The Most Of What You Have"

On deck for our next Craft Talk is the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild’s very own Patti See! Mark your calendars for Thursday, March 31st, at 7 p.m. at the Janet Carson Gallery, as Patti will talk to us about place, and using the setting you have for your story or nonfiction piece. Here’s the excerpt for her Craft Talk:

“How do you tell the real story that exists in your material? Pulitzer prize-winning author John McPhee says, “Creative nonfiction is not making something up but making the most of what you have.” Quality writing is built on choosing what to include, and, more importantly, what to leave out, especially when writing about where you live.”

So set an alarm on your phone or make a note on your hand, and be there. If you struggle with writing about place, then this is one Craft Talk you won’t want to miss!