Monthly Archives: August 2009

Open Your Notebook Newsletter – Volume 1, Issue 5

In The Pocket Muse Endless Inspiration: New Ideas for Writing (Writers Digest Books, 2006), author Monica Wood cautions writers in the folly of re-visiting earlier works.

“Reviewing an old subject, one
that still haunts you, will work only if you begin afresh without
looking back. Otherwise you will waste your energy troubleshooting some
other writer’s work – because you are no longer that writer
Wish your earlier work well. Do
not scorn it. Be generous to the younger you who wrote it. This was the
best you could do; be glad that you can now do better. Then say goodbye
to that work, and begin something that the younger you would not have

Think back – what subject was outside your reach a few decades, years, or weeks ago. Open Your Notebook and commit to ten minutes of writing what you are now experienced enough to write about.

Thank You for the Words

I am exquisitely fortunate to be a part of a bi-weekly book club. We're a small group (currently only five members), we read eclectic selections (Wally Lamb, Madeline Albright, Lorna Landvik are three recent authors), and our conversations often veer well off the path of the books we are reading. But books brought us together and they keep us coming back for more.

Our latest is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I was only supposed to read through Chapter 25 for our meeting in two weeks, but I couldn't stop. And now that I've finished the book, I can't stop feeling. I feel sad. I feel triumphant. I feel exhausted. I feel hope. I feel like I could burst for wanting to talk about this important book.

Truth is, I read a lot. I have the ability to read quickly and I take advantage of that. I read books like other people read newspapers – a fresh one nearly every day. But then I read a book that makes me wish time would stop. Words so beautifully strung together that I want to experience them again and again. The Help is like that – I want to live in this world a little bit longer.

Anyone who wants to say, "I am a writer" must read this book. It's as simple as that. Observe how first-time author Stockett shows but doesn't tell. Experience how she crafts her characters and gives them not just voice, but vivid life. Be inspired by the risks she takes over and over again.

I'm tempted to pick up the other book I started this week, but I can't get the women of The Help out of my head. Like an earworm, a tune playing over and over in my mind, their lives wash over me. No, I'm not ready yet to move on…

Open Your Notebook Newsletter – Volume 1, Issue 4

 What I fear in writing is the safe direction.”

-Anne Rice
Sooner or later all writers have
to deal with emotion. The more skilled you become translating feelings
into words on a page, the more effective you will be in communicating
emotionally charged issues to the reader.

Honesty counts.
Open Your Notebook and
for 10 minutes write a note to a person you are in conflict with,
expressing your point of view. For this exercise don’t focus on if you
will or will not ever share your writing, the point is to write the
emotion. Does it start raw and uncontrolled for you? Or do you start
stilted and awkward? When you look back on what you’ve written pay
attention to how your control of the written emotion changes the longer
you are into the exercise.

Vocabulary lists are bad?

It has recently come to my attention that not all readers like it when a book challenges them to learn new words.

As a dedicated lover of words and one who finds it amusing to use confoundedly obscure words whenever possible, I found this shocking, disconcerting, and disheartening. But it also made me think about why writers write – and I decided on two main reasons.

  1. Writers write to get out what is inside of themselves. They have a need to share, to expound, to express.
  2. Writers write because readers have a need to hear a message, a story, hard data.

So you must ask yourself, whose need am I satisfying?

If your goal is to satisfy your craving for word creation, then let us celebrate with the use of multisyllabic words and arcane references! Challenge your readers to dig out their dictionaries or dust off their encyclopedias. But if you are trying to reach the widest audience possible, then I suppose we have an obligation to write in a way that encourages our readers to engage in what we're saying. If we spend to much time amused with ourselves, then we are not serving their needs.

Now, I'm not advocating dumbing down what you have to say – NO NO NO! But I am reminding you (and me) that not everyone wants to read with pen and dictionary in hand every time they look at words. Sad as that may be to me.

Open Your Notebook Newsletter – Volume 1, Issue 3

I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.”

-Anne Tyler

– good writing, that is – allows the writer to reinvent themselves or
the situation. Not only is anything possible, anything can be probable.


Find a newspaper and locate the
horoscopes in the newspaper, and read them all. Pick the one you hope
applies to you today. Then, Open Your Notebook and copy it in. Now spend 10 minutes writing about the reason for your choice.

To subscribe to the
bi-weekly Open Your Notebook Newsletter, send an email to with your name in the body of the message
and “Subscribe to Open Your Notebook” in the subject line.

Open Your Notebook Newsletter – Volume 1, Issue 2

I can tell, when (students) bring their final manuscripts (typed up) to
workshop who is writing by hand and who isn’t. It’s like looking at
scarves made by machine, and scarves knit by hand by a dear dear
friend. Two different beasts
.”  – Heather Sellers, author of Page After Page

There was a time when penmanship
was a subject in school. Then, typing became a class and penmanship was
reduced to a comment on report cards. Finally, the curriculum shifted
again and typing transitioned into keyboarding. But the experience of
creation is different when you handwrite than it is when you type on a
typewriter or keyboard at your computer. Writing is as much a physical
act as it is a mental one.
Every issue we implore you to
“open your notebook” and we mean just that. Hold paper in your hand –
touch a pen or pencil to paper – and write these exercises like that.
Write your professional papers, articles, letters, etc. on a computer
if you must, but when working on your writing skills, trust us when we
say that you tap something different in your brain holding a pen than
you do with fingers resting lightly on a keyboard.
It’s the difference between
using a knife, fork, and spoon at the table and using your fingers to
eat a meal. No matter how gorgeous your silver pattern – or how
eco-friendly your plastic utensils – touching the food changes the
eating experience.
Open Your Notebook and
spend 10 minutes focusing on the feel of your pen or pencil on the
paper. Start by writing, “My (pen/pencil) is (color) and glides across
the paper like…” From there, it’s up to you. Do you continue to
describe the sensory experience, the difference in your thought
patterns, the application of a tactile experience in the work you do?
Or, do you let a stream of conscious writing emerge? It doesn’t really
matter, so long as you write it!


To subscribe to the
bi-weekly Open Your Notebook Newsletter, send an email to with your name in the body of the message
and “Subscribe to Open Your Notebook” in the subject line.

Open Your Notebook Newsletter – Volume 1, Issue 1

“What I write when I force myself is generally just as good as what I write when I’m feeling inspired.”  -Tom Wolfe
It might seem counterintuitive for a writing newsletter to say – but say it we will (and often). Reading about writing isn’t writing. Writing is writing.
That’s why Open Your Notebook,
the bi-weekly e-newsletter about writing from authors Chris
Clarke-Epstein and Miriam Phillips, will be short on keeping you
reading and long on provoking ideas for writing. Every other week you
can expect something to think about and a writing exercise. So, buy a
notebook, sharpen your pencil, and prepare to write. Remembering, of
course, that intending to write isn’t writing, writing is writing!

Most writing exercises are geared
towards creative writers, writers of fiction vs. non-fiction. But no
matter your medium, you must learn and practice your craft. Non-fiction
is no exception.
The first thing to do is to identify
your voice; that is, the style, manner, and written sound you want to
convey. Try this exercise from Fred White’s The Daily Writer: 366 Meditations to Cultivate a Productive and Meaningful Writing Life (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008).
How can you help yourself uncover your
natural voice? Write a page in which you describe, in a relaxed,
informal manner, without groping for impressive words, how you feel
about one of the front page stories appearing in this morning’s
newspaper. After you finish the page, read it aloud. If it doesn’t
sound like you, circle the phrases or sentences that seem artificial or
forced. Then keep revising the paragraph until it seems to capture your
natural voice.

Now apply the voice test to your
current work in progress. Turn to any page, read it aloud, and if it
sounds artificial, get busy revising it.

To subscribe to the bi-weekly Open Your Notebook Newsletter, send an email to with your name in the body of the message and “Subscribe to Open Your Notebook” in the subject line.