Writing when it’s hectic



I mentioned in my response to the Friday question that writing has helped me to keep my balance in 2016. It has helped me to handle the rocky ride that this year has been.

And of course, now we are entering the holiday season. It’s the time of year when kids come home from college, party invitations arrive, and there’s always shopping or baking to get done.

But if you are a writer who gets her stress out by writing then it’s imperative that you continue writing during this hectic season.

Ways that I make myself write:

  • I create a to-do list every morning. Along with holiday tasks I have writing tasks. I recently sent out a pitch to a magazine that was accepted and now I’m working on the article. If “send a pitch” hadn’t been on my to-do list, I would have waited until after the commotion was over in January and who knows where the idea may have flown off to?
  • Brute force. When I can, I take myself to the library the next town over and set up shop in the quiet room. I try to stay for until I’m finished with a piece or until 3 hours is up, depends on which comes first.
  • Sometimes I set mini-goals. Maybe I can’t write a full article today, but I can certainly write a blog post, or add to an outline, or take notes for a book review.
  • When I’m stressed or insanely busy, I’ll pull out a fun project -that great idea for a story that I long ago shelved.
  • I ask my family to respect my writing. Mom’s busy right now, go ask Dad.
  • I don’t see my writing as something selfish (and therefore last on the list) I see it as an important way to contribute.
  • I keep a notebook with me at all times. Sometime when I read a book, see a movie, or even when I’m driving, an idea gets triggered. If I don’t write it down as soon as I can it gets lost.
  • I realize that sometimes the desire not to write is the desire not to write.

And in the end, if I can’t get any writing in today, I tell myself it’s okay, there’s always tomorrow.



Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Introduction to Style Guides

Style GuideAs a professional writer, style guides are part of the job.

Clients may have their own guides, or at least their own ideas for guides. Clients may be willing to defer to you and whatever your style is. Whichever scenario, it’s good to know what a style guide is and to have one for your own business.

The focus of a style guide is to provide guidance on usage when more than one possibility exists; it isn’t so much for distinguishing between correct and incorrect grammar.

Business can choose style guides and dictionaries to follow for most word inquiries, but there are always words or phrases – do I capitalize this or not? Does this need to be hyphenated? – that come up over and over. Individual style guides track these types of things.

I generally follow Chicago Manual of Style and use Merriam Webster Dictionary. A majority of my clients go with what I recommend, but I do have a few that use the AP Style Guide and prefer the Cambridge Dictionary.

With your own style guide, you present yourself (your brand) in a consistent way. And when you have staff, or other writers helping you with content, the style guide helps ensure that everyone uses the same tone and remain consistent with your writing. A style guide saves time and resources by giving answers to questions that come up about preferred style.

Even though clients may go with your preference, every company is different – their branding, their voice, their tone – everything is unique to each business.

Style guides are for the ‘exceptions’ – those things that fall outside the chosen manual of style and dictionary (or to clarify which reference to use).

Examples of items in my style guide — regardless of what CMS or Merriam say, I go with “Internet” vs “internet” and “Web site” vs “website”. Some clients prefer the lowercased options. I’m also in favor of the Oxford (serial) comma – meaning a comma after every item in a list.

Other things to include in a style guide are specifics about:

  • Headings in general — how they are capitalized
  • Lists — whether they are capitalized at the start and if/how/when they are punctuated
  • Numbers — when they should be spelled in full, in particular
  • Rules for headings of chapters, figures, and tables — as well as how to number them

Style guides are not long documents — as most rules and examples are found in the dictionary and manual of style chosen. A good rule is 4-5 pages, max – Arial, 12pt font, double space between items. Keep it clean, simple, streamlined. As you add to it, you may reorganize it — if you have other people use it, you’ll find more items to add quickly.

My style guide a simple Word do and is only a couple of pages long, as are the ones created for clients. I bold terms I want to leap off the page, but otherwise it’s simple text on a white page. (Nothing says it has to be typed, either.)

Do you have a style guide for your writing? Have you created one for a client before? Do you think a style guide is a useful document for your business?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Take what you need – the power of words

Yesterday my husband and I spent the afternoon walking around Portsmouth NH. It’s a fantastic, artsy, hippie, freethinking kind of town that is always filled with surprises (and great craft beers.) The sun was shining, there was a gentle ocean breeze, it was a perfect afternoon.

On a pole, we found this flyer:


From it I took this:


Which will be accompanying me when my son and I go on a 200 mile Border-to-Border New Hampshire walk in a few weeks. Strength. I don’t know if I’ll need it, but it will be nice to know that it’s there if I do. Just having strength in my pocket makes me feel stronger. It’s like my secret power.

As writers, we must never, never, never, doubt the impact that a few carefully chosen words can make on others. Words can destroy, but they can also bring hope and comfort.

It is your job when you write to use your words responsibly.  Always remember that.


Here is a picture of a full flyer. May I suggest that you share a few where you live? And then you too, will be able to see the incredible power of words.

take what you need


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

“Fucking” is a Poor Intensifier

“Fucking” is a poor an intensifier in written non-fiction.

My objection is not one of prudishness but one of good usage. I don’t approve of using “very” as an intensifier, either (or really, or so). Saying something is “fucking unbelievable” is no better than “very unbelievable”; both lack imagination and weaken one’s prose. In the crowded blogosphere, prose with muscle is more likely to attract readers than flabby and/or overused intensifiers.

Readers depend on writers to rant with vivid language.

I think “fucking” has lost its vividness due to overuse. It’s lost its meaning and punch. Like love handles on hips, it’s flabby padding rather than taut flesh.

Lest I be written off as a member of the grammar police, I’m not. Language lives and changes with its users. Neologisms arrive (sexting, localvore) and antiquated words fade (mooncalf, quidnunc). Usage changes, too, as exemplified by the gender-neutral singular they.

Just as there’s a time and place for sex, there’s a time and a place for “fucking” in the text.

Certainly, it belongs when quoted as in, Luskin objects “to the current trend of using ‘fucking’ as an intensifier in written non-fiction.” You must use the word if you’re quoting someone else, and unlike on broadcast media, the word doesn’t have to be “bleeped” in print.

Another justified usage occurs when you’re writing fiction and it’s the language of your narrator or characters, in which case, let it rip! Some people say fucking as often as others say like, almost as a nervous tic.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of audience.

I’m sure that some of the writers who overuse “fucking” as their intensifier of choice have readers who don’t give it a second thought. But writers who want to reach an audience that includes people they don’t know, as well as people who might not agree with them, it’s better to state your ideas with clarity and precision. Personally, I want people to read what I write and object to what I say rather than to the language I’ve used.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. Her work can be found on Vermont Public Radio and on her website, where she blogs about her rural life in Living in Place and about middle age in The Middle Ages. Her award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness, is a love story about two sixty-somethings, set in Vermont in 1964.

Sourcing Free Images 2.0

paulus self portrait

Paulus Moreelse self-portrait from the Rijksmuseum

I needed an image of a Renaissance self portrait for a recent post on my blog,  but having made an expensive mistake once, I’ve become hyper vigilant about sourcing free images.

In my search for digital images I could use free and clear, I made two discoveries worth sharing. First, I stumbled across Open Culture, which proclaims to be “the best free cultural and educational media on the web.” There, I found links to over twenty world-famous museums that make images of their collections available on-line.

Museum in Valencia, Spain. Photo by Margit Wallnery via pixabay.

Museum in Valencia, Spain. Photo by Margit Wallnery via pixabay.

Essentially, it’s possible to see a significant portion of the world’s great art with the ease of a few keystrokes. While this isn’t the same as visiting the Museum of New Zealand in person, for those of us in North America, it’s a lot cheaper. And while I’d love to spend a week at the British Library, or visit the Getty in Los Angeles, or even stroll through the National Gallery in Washington, DC, traveling requires the dual resources of time and money, which are not always available separately, let alone at the same time.

Should time and money allow, however, these websites could

The Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre, in Paris. photo from pixabay

The Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre, in Paris. photo from pixabay

serve as a wonderful primer in advance of a trip. And for the blogger in need of images with which to illustrate a post, these sites offer a wealth of images.

Not every museum gives carte blanche, however, so blogger beware, and follow the rules. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for instance, has made 400,000 high-resolution images available on-line, but has restricted downloading them to non-commercial use. Looking closer, The Met’s free-use policy is even more restrictive: the images are available for “Open Access for Scholarly Content.” As I understand it, this excludes using an image from their collection on a personal blog.

The image from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that I used in my recent post at www.deborahleeluskin.com

The image from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that I used in my recent post

The Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam, on the other hand, not only makes most of the collection available on-line, it also allows ordinary users to download and manipulate their images, whole or in part through their Rijks Studio – a program that allows a viewer to save, edit and change images. I was glad to make this discovery and found an image that served my purpose well. And I’m determined to return to the site and figure out how to use the tools fully.

I’m also intrigued by Open Culture which offers a great deal of free material, including on-line courses, free audio books, e-books, movies, free music and more.

Where do you find open source images for your posts?

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-wining novel Into the Wilderness, a love story between people in their mid-sixties, set in Vermont in 1964. She blogs at www.deborahleeluskin.com

If Wishes Were Books…

Today’s guest post comes from Yvette Couser – a writer, a childrens’ librarian, and an all-together good egg.


A few weeks ago, I came across a wonderful charity opportunity wrapped up in a writing contest. Sponsored by the Book Wish Foundation, the contest called for a 500 word essay written in response to a story in an anthology. The prize was a critique of the first 50 pages of the winner’s YA or children’s novel. 

The anthology, What You Wish For, contains work from some of the most successful and beloved authors of our time. Each author has donated their work, with proceeds going toward building libraries in refugee camps in Eastern Chad. The essays should describe how the wishes in one of six designated stories explained the wishes of the Darfuri refugees in Eastern Chad.

I knew nothing of Darfur, or Chad. But the chance to have a shot at a critique of my NaNoWriMo novel was too irresistible.  I had four days to complete my mission, but three of those days were already filled with work and church and laundry and of course driving all the way to the next town to get the book.

Look – let me be honest.

When I started this project that Friday, it was all about me and getting a shot at a critique. As I read the collection, part of my brain was already fantasizing about my book deal. But by Tuesday night’s deadline, my thinking had expanded. Yes, I had accomplished what I wanted – my essays were written, polished and submitted. But you can’t cram four days’ worth of research into your brain and not have it ooze out a bit and touch your heart.

I’m fortunate that my life allows me to choose to clean or write or whatever with my free time. So this post can’t just be about me and my struggle to enter a contest during the last eligible weekend. There will be other contests and besides, I can submit a manuscript on my own steam.

Let me tell you about wishes.

The folks behind the Book Wish Foundation are raising money to build libraries because it’s what the refugees wished for. Once their basic needs of shelter, food, water, and firewood are met, they voiced a desire for books and education; fundraisers called these “soft needs.” Supporters believe that if libraries exist for a generation of refugee children where they can learn about corruption and goodness and things that are both ugly and beautiful, that these children will be less likely to be recruited as child soldiers. They can be educated about their country. They can join the “good guys” and help bring their region out of dark times and return to normalcy.

This blew my mind; I’m a librarian in a time in the US when libraries are under fire. We hold conferences to teach each other new lingo to stay relevant. We argue amongst ourselves whether our services are “essential” or “enriching” and we argue about mission statements and we argue with the town government that holds our budget. All while we try to do our jobs, getting our patrons what they wish for.

I loved that these experienced fundraisers admitted that libraries are “soft needs” – crucial and vital, but soft. And honestly, I’m still chewing on that bold statement.

Anyway.  I’m feeding my book wish til March 1, when winners will be announced. I’m also feeding my wish for a time when we all stop squabbling about the relevance of libraries in the electronic age. We just don’t see how much of a need the “soft need” is until we see people who have to live without it.


About the author:

Yvette Burnham Couser, Head of Children’s Services at the Merrimack Public Library (NH), holds an MLS from Indiana University and a BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. In her life before she was a wife and mother of four, she lived in NYC, writing, buying expensive shoes, and working for a literary agent. Her one-act play, Everywoman: A Modern Morality Play, was published by Baker’s Plays, Boston in 1994.

Yvette blogs about reading and writing YA fiction at Book Covers http://mybookcovers.wordpress.com/

Speaking up when too much is too much

We’ve been writing lately about the perils in documenting personal information, you know the stuff that might sound funny to family and friends but to strangers – well we just might think you’ve gone a bit too far. 

But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot?

Take for example a “funny” story I read about a woman having diarrhea while site-seeing on vacation. She thought it was funny to tell how she had to leave her soiled panties in the trash and went the rest of the day without underwear. This is clearly a case of Too Much Information. Will she regret posting this in the future? Who knows, but I’m not sure I need to ever read more about that particular experience.

This wasn’t the first time I had felt the stories crossed a line but what could I do? It was her blog – she has a right to post what she wants, so I stopped reading it.

But what do you do when someone posts something that should not be tolerated? I was once at a blog where many of the commenters were ganging up on a woman who had voiced a different opinion. The responses were brutal, angry, and aggressive. Some of the most horrible names I have heard women call each other were used.

I entered a comment saying that although I understood the anger I wondered if the language was doing anyone any benefit. It was degrading and turned the argument away from its purpose. The next day I found that my blog was “hit” during the night by some of those commenters who left “anonymous” messages calling me that name. Over and over.

Terrific. Learned to keep my mouth shut on the blogs that had a gang mentality.

But what if you can’t in all good consciousness keep quiet?

Recently I watched in horror as a “friend” on Facebook was volunteering in a classroom of kindergarteners. This guy was not a teacher. All morning he kept making real time updates to his Facebook account from within the classroom. We knew when the kids were reading, watching a movie, even saying the pledge.

He posted about how the kids snacks were all crackers and only two of the students had brought in fresh fruit. He commented on how he was teaching the kids that hot-dogs and pizza were not the only options for dinner. He entered an update on how he was in charge of the lunch duty and it was his job to figure out which kids were the “time out kids” and which ones deserved the “hickory twig”.

I had been seeing these updates all morning and finally I couldn’t take it anymore. As a child advocate and as a concerned parent, I wrote to him saying that there wasn’t a teacher in the land who would be allowed to update to the world on the children’s activities in school in real time. Where was the teacher? Where was the principal? Why was he being allowed to comment on what the kids brought in for snack (maybe the parents couldn’t afford fresh fruit), why was he implying that the parents were not feeding the kids healthy dinners? And why oh why, was he insinuating that some of the students needed to be whipped? Children are little but they still have the right to privacy and protection while at school.

I told him that what he was doing was wrong and he had to stop.

He unfriended me.

I think that there is going to continue to be a real struggle with what is appropriate and what is not when it comes to personal posting. People seem to forget that when you post to the web, everyone and I mean everyone (including in this case pedophiles who just may have been waiting for his post on when the little 5 year-olds would be going out to recess) can read what you are putting up.

As responsible members of society we are, to some extent, going to have to police ourselves when it comes to responsible web content. We are going to have to look out for each other, especially for the younger kids who are maturing into a world where blogging and texting is as common as breathing. To them sometimes it seems like too much is not enough.

But when people don’t care what they say regardless of the consequences, when they use the First Amendment as their argument to spew filth, when they justify what they are doing as “it’s my opinion, if you don’t like it then don’t read it”and when they don’t write or communicate with the utmost responsibility then we are going to continue to have problems.

And just like it is when we see something completely unacceptable in public, it’s going to be up to us to say something about it.

Or as a web society live with the consequences.


About the Author:

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons. Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).

Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography