Friday Fun – Humor and Comedy in Writing

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  Earlier this month, Jamie posted a heads up about an opportunity to take an online writing class with comedian, actor, and author, Steve Martin.  This got us thinking about the role of humor and comedy in our writing. What role does the comedic element play in your writing? How comfortable are you with the idea of being funny? What makes you laugh? What effect does humor have on you as a reader?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Clearly, since I brought this topic up, I’m intrigued by the idea of humor and comedy in writing. I’ve never thought of myself as a “funny person” … at least not in the “ha-ha” way. (Funny/odd is a whole different story.) But, I’ve always had a great appreciation for people who are able to make other people laugh, whether they accomplish this with written stories, standup, or acting. There are many different kinds of humor – slapstick, dark humor, parody, satire, standup, dry wit, and so many others. Humor is a very flexible and adaptable tool for any kind of storyteller.

I rarely have the opportunity to employ humor in my client-based work because most of that is a bit more buttoned up and corporate. Every once in a while, though, I do have the chance to lighten things up a bit, and I really enjoy that – both having the outlet and the challenge of the exercise. In my more personal writing, I don’t think I’ve found my comedic voice yet. I stray into that territory every once in a while, but not with any consistency. I’m learning that, like any other writing skill, wielding humor is something that must be studied and practiced. (Hence, my signing up for Steve Martin’s class.)

As for the kinds of humor I prefer, the answer to that question depends totally on my mood. My daughter was home sick the other day and we we spent a few hours laughing out loud together while watching the classic movie Caddyshack and several episodes of the more contemporary sitcom Big Bang Theory. Later in the week, I indulged in an episode of the BBC’s Sherlock, which employs an entirely different kind of humor. To my mind, any laughter is good laughter, so whatever it takes to get you to the place where your mirth is bubbling over is fine by me.

Deborah Lee Luskin: Humor is disarming, which is more effective than tongue-lashing your readers, especially those who don’t agree with you. And humor doesn’t have to be belly-laugh funny; it can be humor that bites. I used humor in America’s Smorgasbord, a post about immigration.

Favorite Springtime Reads and Writing Exercises

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  Although Old Man Winter seems loathe to loosen his grip on those of us living in the northeast of the United States, Spring IS coming. In fact, the official first day of Spring was earlier this week on Monday, March 20th.

So – with hope in our hearts, sunshine on our backs, and the persistent and triumphant chirps and whistles of feathered friends in our ears – we’d like to share with you our favorite springtime stories, novels, poems, and writing rituals. (And then, of course, we’d love to hear yours!)

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: My favorite spring poems are by A.A. Milne. I read them as a child, and when my daughter was a little girl we would listen to them over and over on a cassette tape in the car. (Yes – my old car still had a cassette player.) There are so many to choose from that I could never pick a single favorite: Daffodowndilly, Water Lilies, Spring Morning. I love them all.

I never thought about having favorite Spring reads. Winter reads seem much easier to come by. Spring seems to call for something light and humorous, even frivolous. I’m not one for romances or so-called “chick lit,” but I could do with something witty and fresh. I recently picked up an autographed copy of Lost Among the Birds by Neil Hayward. That might be just the thing.

As for a Spring writing ritual … I’m going to go with just getting outside and letting Mother Nature inspire me. I get out plenty in Winter (and am duly inspired by snow and ice and the amazing adaptive abilities of nature’s denizens), but Spring invites a closer inspection of the world around us. Spring opens up our minds as it opens up the earth and plants. I look forward to that.

P.S. ~ If you’re looking for some poetic inspiration of your own, I found this handy collection of Spring poems on the Poetry Foundation site. Enjoy!

Deborah Lee Luskin: I get so much inspiration from tilling the garden, from planting vegetables, and from weeding, which I find to be deeply contemplative and tremendously satisfying.


Friday Fun – What Kind of Writer Are You?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  What kind of writer did you set out to be? What was your vision for your writing life? Has your journey brought you to that destination, or at least put you on the path toward that goal; or has your writing adventure taken unexpected turns into new territory?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I grew up dreaming of being a novelist. I imagined myself nestled in a modest-but-cozy writing studio sipping endless chai lattes and steaming mugs of chamomile tea while collaborating with my muse. I pictured cats purring loudly from between sprawling piles of notes and research materials while I tapped out my latest middle grade fantasy or new adult magical surrealist tale. Of course, when I had this idyllic vision of what my writing life could be, I had almost no understanding of the publishing world and was not even yet fully independent from my parents.

That was a long time ago.

I’m now a middle-aged single mom who makes her living as a freelance “marcom” (marketing and communications) writer. I have been hustling this gig for the last ten years, and I have learned a LOT during that time. I still aspire to write fiction (and I swear to all the gods of inspiration and artistic creativity that I will accomplish that goal eventually), but in the meantime I am not sorry that I have carved out a different kind of writing life for myself. There is such a diverse range of paths available to a writer, and none of them are without merit. I am exploring other nonfiction avenues even now and am excited to see how my writing life will evolve from here.

lisajjacksonLisa J. Jackson: I can’t remember what type of writer I imagined myself being! Is that bad? It wasn’t a career encouraged in my household, so I focused on business and imagined being a math teacher (I loved algebra and trigonometry), but I got a taste of fiction in 5th grade and enjoyed short story writing for myself. I devoured novels like they were meals – romances, dark fiction (Stephen King was a fave), mysteries – Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys, sci-fi. I loved alternate world craft where I could be transported away from my life.

I dabbled in writing my own short mysteries, and kept journals. But my focus for a career was business – finance and accounting. Eventually I transitioned in writing process guides and then technical manual writing. Always continuing to write for myself. And now I have several first drafts of novels needing to be dusted off – one is actively worked on and I plan to finish it before the end of the summer.

I like the twisty turny path of my writing. I’ve had bylines in newspapers and magazines, I’ve won fiction contests for short writing, I’ve had short stories published, I plan to see novels published, and there’s so much business-related writing I’m not paid for that I wouldn’t trade in for the world.

I enjoy the variety of my writing projects and hope to always have it!



Friday Fun – What is your piece’s purpose?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.


Success is having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that is not enough,

you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.

Margaret Thatcher

When I teach my writing classes I always devote a few good discussions on identifying a piece’s purpose. Without knowing what the purpose or reason is behind what it is you write, I tell my students, you are simply stumbling blindly in the dark.

Having a consistent purpose is the lifeblood of all writing. When the purpose switches the piece loses its footing. Doubt me?  – take a look at many editorial letters that start off talking about one thing and then they switch purpose by adding “and another thing” or “yeah, but..” The writer may begin explaining what is wrong about a new town ordinance, but then he switches to being angry about some unrelated, unfair event. What’s going on? The purpose has switched from informing others to venting about a perceived injustice. The purpose of those types of letters changes mid-stride resulting in the piece losing all credibility.

The purpose (along with the audience, tone, and topic) are so important, that I advise students to write it (them) out on a sticky note and post in on the corner of their monitor when writing so that they don’t forget. If they get lost in their writing (writer’s block) they need to do a check to see if they are still on message. (And sometimes as a piece evolves, the purpose might change.)

Let’s talk about your writing purpose today, think of your latest work or project, – what is its purpose?

And is this purpose consistent throughout your entire piece?

Wendy E.N. Thomaswendy-shot: My latest project is an account of the border-to-border walk I took this summer with my son. My purpose is a few-fold, to teach, entertain, and to inspire. It’s a long piece, so yes, I have found myself inadvertently switching purpose a few times. Most notably I see this when I start getting angry about how my son with chronic Lyme was misdiagnosed for so long.

When I catch myself doing this, I remove the passages and save them in a file for later. The time will come for a piece on chronic Lyme where the purpose will be to show my anger. It’s just not now in this piece.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: My WIP is a novel, first and foremost, it is a romance, so it’s purpose is to get the hero and heroine to happily-ever-after. The secondary purpose is to introduce readers to the concepts of food deserts and multiple chemical sensitivities.

I don’t want to be preachy, but many people don’t know anything about either, so I view the story as a brief introduction to both topics.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I think there are two aspects to this question. One has to do with your “why” – the thing that drives you to write, the truth you’re trying to illuminate, the change you want to see in the world. The other is about how to build a piece of writing around that why, how to keep it focused so that your words and stories can have the greatest impact.

These are both topics that I’ve written about before, so I’ll offer up a few past posts as possible fodder for ongoing exploration of these ideas:

  • What Your Writing Is Missing and How to Get It – in which we talk about finding the “why” behind your urge to write based on Simon Sinek’s TED Talk.
  • Why We Write – A Novel Answer – in which we look at Mario Vargas Llosa’s book Letters to a Young Novelist and explore the idea of writing as rebellion.
  • Writing About Issues – in which the team from the excellent Writing Excuses podcast is joined by guest author Desiree Burch for an insightful conversation about how to write about issues without screwing it up.
  • Get Mad. Marketing from Your Dark Side – in which we take a trip to my marketing blog to learn about the importance of villains.
  • Embrace Your Dark Side – in which I expand on the idea in the previous post with the help of some other creative folks.

Friday Fun – How to keep writing during turmoil

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.


It’s no secret that writers tend to be sensitive souls. Some of us have already written about how difficult it is to write during chaotic times. Recently, we’ve been hearing from other writers who tell us they are also having difficulty writing when there appears to be so much uncertainty and turmoil surrounding us.

It feels like a betrayal and selfish to isolate ourselves just to write and yet we need to continue writing.

What do you do to keep on writing when things seem to be overwhelming?


wendy-shotWendy Thomas – I recently got an Alexa – that little Amazon hockey puck that sits on your desk and talks to you. She can tell me jokes, she plays music, and she can order any book I want from Amazon (for my wallet’s well being I quickly turned that feature off.) Perhaps her greatest asset is that she can be a timer.

“Alexa set timer for 30 minutes.”

She does what I tell her and during that time I focus only on my writing for the entire 30 minutes (or hour or whatever.) I know that Alexa will let me know when the time is up with a gentle, soothing chime.

If given the freedom to write, I will write. When the timer goes off I look up from my writing and see that although things haven’t changed (yet) in the world, I have been able to get some work done.

lisajjacksonLisa J. Jackson:  I’ve been using the timer method for a while now. It’s amazing how productive I can be knowing I don’t have to watch the clock. And with the time, too, ‘shiny object syndrome’ is kept at bay because I’m only focused on one thing until I hear the bell. (I’ve taken to setting the timer for surfing FB and reading news lately, too.) Amazing what a little alarm clock can do for productivity and focus!

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin: How to keep going in the face of anxiety and outrage has been the theme of my post this week, Chop Wood, Carry Water, thanks to a comment from a reader on my last post for NHWN, Axes to Grind. I’m taking this Buddhist saying two steps further: Chop Wood, Carry Water, Make Phone Calls, Tell Stories.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: I start by setting aside time. “Today I’ll write for x minutes.” Then when I sit down to write, I allow myself a warm up period where I just empty my brain of all the angst and drivel.  I have a small journal and my limit is 3 pages. However, if before 3 pages, I find myself trailing off and running out of words, I close the journal and move on to other writing.

Friday Fun – How do you sing to your danger?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.


When danger approaches sing to it.

Arab proverb

So much of good writing results from experiencing “danger” in our own lives. People get sick or die, families are threatened by financial insecurity, and politicians infringe on our rights. Even a personal challenge (like taking a long walk with your son) can present moments of danger.

Think about when you have experienced a profound sense of danger. Sit there and really chew on that feeling – notice that sudden race of pulse, that sweat that breaks out, that sense that you have to get up and physically move away from the memory.

And now try to sing to that danger by using that very specific experience in your writing going forward. Sing to make it real, sing to take away its power by sharing.

What words will you use to sing to danger?


Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin: Breathe before words. I don’t sing to my danger – during or after. I bring myself back to my breath. This helps ground me when I’m in any highly charged situation, and it helps quiet the static when I’m at my desk, so I can hear my voice and take dictation.


lisajjacksonLisa J. Jackson:  Can’t say I’ve ever tried the singing approach, but I can relate to the feelings of fear, the adrenaline rush after the danger has passed, and the best advice I received for processing everything was “look up.”

I fell out of a raft in white water on the Colorado River several years ago and had to be rescued. I was cool and focused until I was pulled to shore – then my body shook uncontrollably – my first true experience with adrenaline. Once back in the raft and through the rest of the white water… the raft calmly being pulled along with the now-calm current, my mind replayed what happened. As I was about to get hysterical with the overwhelming emotions, I warned the 3 ladies in my raft. The tour company owner told me to “look up.” She said there’s a psychological benefit to it. I had nothing to lose, the tears were forming. I looked up … and my thoughts cleared, words became coherent in my mind, it was more akin to poetry than song as all the scary parts of the experience softened and appreciation took over.

I get scared in airplanes — looking up helps the anxiety. Attending networking events gives me the jitters — looking up helps me get my breath. Dealing with emotional situations — when I feel tears coming, I look up, take a breath and refocus.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin I love to sing and have been told I have a decent voice, but I sing to motivate myself.  When it comes to fear, I am a person of touch.  Placing my hands on a surface, backing myself against a wall (literally), moving close to someone I trust.  My son is very much the same way, when he gets worked up, I will place both of my hands on his shoulders and press down. It grounds him.

When there is danger, I think singing would distract me. When there is danger, I want to be focused and alert to all that is happening so I can process and react.  Now, to use that to strengthen my writing!

Friday Fun – What’s your starting point?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.


If you don’t daydream and kind of plan things out in your imagination, you never get there. So you have to start somewhere.

Robert Duvall

We’ve talked about goals for the coming year and the importance of breaking them down into steps and discrete actions – what is the starting point of your writing goal this year?


wendy-shotWendy Thomas  – I’ve polished up my manuscript and my query and I’m working my way through the Guide to Literary Agents 2017. My starting point is to send out at least 5 queries a week until I’ve either gotten a nibble or run out of agents’ names (at which point I will revise and start all over again.)

lisajjacksonLisa J. Jackson: I have a goal to submit short fiction this year. My starting point is to find markets for my short stories, and actually I’m thinking I might find more markets for my non-fiction than fiction as I keep getting ideas for those markets in my e-mail! We’ll see. But this year, I definitely want to submit and publish fiction, and having a market gets me started on a path.

At the end of the Long Trail, 9/8/2016.

Deborah Lee Luskin: Great question! I don’t have an answer. I’m in the middle of several projects, both teaching and writing in addition to my regular commentaries and blogs. I’ve got a good rhythm going. It feels as if I’m already in second, ready to shift into third.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin – I’ll tell you next week. LOL. It’s been a slow start to the year due to illness and travel. My goal for this weekend is to work through my annual goal planner (Susannah Conway’s Unraveling the Year) and figure out what my next steps are.

Friday Fun – Are you where you want to be?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  Here’s a good few questions to ground us all in the upcoming year: 

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been” – George Eliot

Who is it that you truly want to be? Are you on track?

What steps need to be taken to get you you there?

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin: Love the Elliot quote! When I’m fully present, I’m in the exactly right place. When that happens at my desk, words fly!



JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: The definition of who we want to be is a moving target, a mercurial vision that shifts and shimmers as our own hearts and minds evolve. I am not sure if anyone ever feels, or is meant to feel, that she has fully become the person she wants to be. I don’t believe we can ever be “done.” It’s not as if, after all, one is a turkey with a pop-up timer to indicate perfection.

I suppose, in a way, this means that each of us must live in a perpetual state of discontent, ever striving toward a new goal and a new identity; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we stop learning and exploring and seeking adventure, we stop growing. And when we stop growing, we die.

All that said, I do not feel that I am currently on track to be the person/writer/artist I want to be. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what steps need to be taken to get me where I want to go; but I do feel a tide of sorts rising within me. It’s not just the New Year energy. It’s something else that has been building over the last year or so and seemed to reach a tipping point after the election.

The thing that makes me smile is that even though I’m not (yet) where I want to be and I’m not sure how I’m going to get there, I’m excited at the prospect of deep change and endless possibility. Eliot was right, of course, and I’m hoping to prove her point in the years ahead.

Friday Fun – 2016 Favorite Books and Movies

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  The end of the year is coming up fast, and pretty soon everyone will be posting their “Best of” lists for 2016. We thought we’d get started early by asking about favorite BOOKS and favorite MOVIES (after all, both involve writing and both are all about stories). 

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I’m not ready to choose a definitive favorite book for the year, but I can name a FEW favorites: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

As for movies … I’m not even 100% sure which movies I managed to catch this year, but I did love Swiss Army Man with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame;  the Harry Potter spinoff, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; and I have to admit that I also enjoyed Suicide Squad.

I still have SO many 2016 book and movie releases to catch up on, though … LOTS to read and watch! (I can’t wait!)

Deborah headshot

Deborah Lee Luskin: I hardly ever watch TV or go to the movies, but this has been a banner month for both: I watched The Crown (Netflix), which made me feel sorry for the royals – not something I ever thought would happen. The series makes it quite clear that the monarch has little power, even over her personal life, which is filled with private heartache that no number of fabulous dresses can compensate for.

At the movies, I just saw Arrival, which I thought was stunning – and I thought I was allergic to sci-fi! But the lead is Louise Banks, an academic linguist who can function outside the Ivory Tower, under pressure, in ordinary clothes, and is female! SPOILER ALERT! And there’s a great twist to the usual invasion of the aliens: they come to help humanity, not destroy it. Most intriguing of all, however, is that this narrative is told without any connection to chronology. Are there flashbacks or flash forwards? I’m still not sure, but I’m surely intrigued.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: My favorite book of the year (so far!) is Love Warrior: A Memoir, by Glennon Doyle Melton. I admire her honesty and her humor. As far as movies, I’ve only seen a few, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching Bad Moms on my computer in a hotel room one night when I was at a review course. It was a great laugh break!

LL HeadshotLee Laughlin: There is no way I could pick a favorite book, I can however pick the book that has the most impact on my well being, Dan Harris’s 10% Happier. It’s about his efforts to begin a meditation practice. It’s at turns honest, poignant and funny.  It has also been instrumental in my beginning a meditation practice. I’m up to 10 minutes!

Movies. Hmmmm, I think I saw a few in 2016. The only one that comes to mind that was actually released in 2016 was Finding Dory, loved it. I also saw The Big Short and Walk in the Woods with my mother-in-law while she was recovering from a broken hip. They were both great movies.

Friday Fun – Gifts for Writers

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.


With the holidays coming up, you know that people are out there buying presents. There’s nothing wrong with presents, in fact I love getting them, but I’m at the point in my life where I don’t really need anything. I’d rather get something that’s thoughtful and that I can use as opposed to something that just sits and looks at me. (I’m talking about you large clay chicken.)

I recently participated in the reddit Secret Santa event and after a few messages back and forth, my Secret Santa, knowing that I was a writer sent me the following items:

  • A Moleskin notebook – because I told him I carry a notebook everywhere
  • An incredible Gel pen – because ball point pens create too  much drag for my hand
  • Pen/pencil grips – for the days my hands ache
  • A chicken USB drive – because I use my laptop to compose and my desk computer to edit.
  • Walking by Thoreau – because he knew I was writing about my walking trip and that I plan more.

How perfect was all that?

It got me thinking.

As writers, what would *you* like to get as gifts?  Let’s all create a list that we can share with others.


Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I really like Wendy’s list, especially the Moleskine notebook! As a writer, you can never have too many notebooks/journals/yellow pads/post-it notes! I also think a 5-year journal is a great gift for any writer. I’m almost done with my first one and I love looking back over the past 5 years. Each entry is only a paragraph, so it’s not too overwhelming to thumb through–unlike my Morning Pages journal, which is definitely a task for a long winter’s night curled up by the fire.

LL Headshot

 Lee Laughlin: Whooo boy. My greatest challenge is time. I am a writer who works better without the interruptions of day-to-day life to distract me. The perfect gift for me would be a weekend (or even a day) at a space with a desk, and a nice view. Other suggestions:

  • Pens, I like FriXion & Ink Joys
  • Notebooks – This is Midori Notebook is my current favorite
  • Literature and Latte’s Scrivener App is amazing, but it does need a good user manual so I recommend Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez.
  • A Kindle – I know some like paperbooks, but my Kindle is one of my prized possessions.
  • A membership to their genre’s professional organization (i.e. Romance Writer’s of America or Sisters in Crime).

dsc_3083Julie Hennrikus: Time would be a great gift for a writer. Time where she is forced to write. Aside from that, wonderful writing books (like Bird by Bird, or On Writing, or Plot Perfect). A notebook. Scrivener.

Back to the time thing. The need for writing time is real, so if you can offer help with childcare, or offer a place for a retreat, or give her a gift card for a local coffeeshop where she can write for hours. Those are great gifts. Really great.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson:  Journals, books, pens, notecards, coffee, post-it pads of various colors, plaque with inspirational saying on it, word magnets for fridge, waterproof writing board and pen for shower, gift cards where any of the above can be purchased.

Or, this can about cover it:


Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin: Lee & Julie’s ideas for how to give the writer in your life time are tops. Also, encouragement, especially if there’s a writer in your life who is not yet published and/or scared to make the commitment to the page. If you have a friend/loved one who says s/he wants to write, believing in them is the best thing you can do. Faith, Encouragement and Support.