Writer's Coffee House

Writer's Coffee House

Writer's Coffee House

Writer's Coffee House

Writer's Coffee House

Writer's Coffee House

Excerpts from
Writer's Coffee House

For Nervous Rookies

"Writing creatively reminds me of running a race," I said to wife Fran.

"Everything reminds you of running," she said.

She's right, but careful writing does run parallel to a vigorous 5k. Both efforts bring challenges. But perseverance brings reward.

As a master runner (meaning old) I often tell neophytes, "You're looking good. Have you ever considered entering a local road race?"

The usual answer: "Are you kidding? What if I finished last? I'd die."

As a longtime writing coach, I tell fledglings, "Time to try out your wings. Submit your best for publication or enter a writing contest."

The standard reply: "Are you kidding? What if I get rejected or end up looking silly? I'd die."

Whether from aspiring runners, writers, lay speakers, or figure skaters, such misgivings are echoes from school days—specifically high school, where shy kids cringe at the prospect of exposing their inexperience to a demanding, judgmental universe. "Debate team? I'd die." "Cheerleading? I'd die." "Dramatics? I'd die."

Stage fright, or fear of stage fright ("I'd die"), can torment adults well into middle age. For timid speakers, versatile entertainer Steve Allen had the best advice. In How To Make a Speech (McGraw-Hill 1986), he said that in a jittery presentation, "you would have to turn pale, pass out and fall into the orchestra pit before anyone would remember the incident a week later."

Same goes for trepidatious writers. My guarantee: Unless you take a literary pratfall—splicing sentences, spraying adjectives and dangling your participles—no one will care about your few flaws.

Instead, your peers and instructors will clap you on the back for overcoming anxiety and hanging in. They will celebrate creativity much the way runners revel in physical fitness.

But unlike weekend athletes, your writing community doesn't wear down so fast. Everyone keeps growing in the craft and no one approaches a daunting challenge with "I'd die."


I'm going to write a book someday.

I've been saying that for at least ten years now, and each time I say it, I really mean it. Really.

The only problem? Some day never seems to come. I'll get started after I clean my office, I think, or when my kids are in school all day. When I can afford to buy a cabin in the woods, I'll have a special place to write and the book will just flow out of me. When my kids grow up and leave home, surely I'll have more time than I do now. I'll write my book then.


A friend recently challenged me to join her in doing NaNoWriMo, where participants write an entire 50,000-word novel in one month. That's right, just one month.

And I said yes.

Even though I have three young children, a messy office, had out of town company coming for Thanksgiving—which I was hosting and cooking—oh, and did I mention I had never actually written fiction before?


For thirty days, I set my alarm an hour-and-a-half earlier, and sat down in front of my computer to write. When I started on this project, I worried that my family might starve and my children would have no clean clothes to wear to school, but amazingly, I found the opposite was true. I got more done in the month of November than I did in October. The pressure of knowing I had to make every minute count forced me to be more productive, not less.

And that inspirational magic that I was sure descended on other writers and motivated them to keep slogging forward? It never came. But I kept getting up and putting myself in front of the computer to work, whether I felt like it or not.

At the end of the month, I was amazed to have a rough, but complete, young adult manuscript finished.

Some day has finally arrived.

So what are you waiting for? Have you been waiting for some day to come?

Maybe it's already here.

Quoth the Raven. . .

Edgar Allen Poe's raven isn't the only one that can quoth...um, quote...on the subject of writing. Which of these classic quotes speak most deeply to you? With which do you disagree?

"Writing is a craft that requires both talent and acquired skills. You learn by doing, by making mistakes and then seeing where you went wrong."

--Jeffrey A. Carver

"I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I'm afraid of. "

--Joss Wheden

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortu- nately, no one knows what they are."

--W. Somerset Maugham

"I hate writing, I love having written."

--Dorothy Parker

"Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."

--Barbara Kingsolver

"I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering."

--Robert Frost

"I'm only really alive when I'm writing."

--Tennessee Williams

"You can fix anything but a blank page."

--Nora Roberts

"I am a storyteller. If I wanted to send a message I would have written a sermon."

--Philip Pullman

"You fail only if you stop writing."

--Ray Bradbury