Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Here is an interesting article I found on NPR today. Many of you are asking about self-publishing.
Self-Publishing: No Longer Just A Vanity Project

See you tonight at the Safety Harbor Public Library Story Circle - 6 pm - 7:45, join us to write, to read and to share our love of writing.  Members of our group are bringing a holiday story to share.

We have a second group at the Largo Library the first Wednesday of each month (same time) - come to one or both. And please leave comments on the blog - let it become a place to share. Jan

Saturday, December 1, 2012

December Safety Harbor Story Circle Assignment

Since it is December we thought a good assignment would be to write about a holiday experience. Your choice: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Year.

A story from your far reaching past or a more recent event. Normally we  limit you to 600 words but since it is the holiday season we are going to  allow you to use 800 word or less. Be sure to add some description of the  setting and of course, some dialog. 

Jan has started a second Story Circle meeting at the Largo Library the first  Wednesday of each month. 6-7:45 pm. Everyone is welcome.
 The Christmas Letter

 I recommend these two websites:

New post on Telling Her Stories: The Broad View
Writing a Better Holiday Letter by Sheila Bender

The holidays are a time of turning to traditions that symbolize our love and connection to our families, friends, communities, earth, and the divine.  With the pragmatism characteristic of Americans, many of us have made holiday card sending into a vehicle for mailing yearly catch-up letters.  These letters allow us to perform the task of keeping in touch efficiently.  Though full of news about family member’s achievements, honors, and chosen hobbies, the letters don’t usually reach their audiences on the deeper emotional and spiritual levels we want during the holidays.  Giving from the heart requires more than a good news report.

I believe that writing a letter that uses the how-to form of personal essay writing will help in the creation of meaningful holiday letters.

In the how-to form, an author thinks of something she knows how to do that others she cares about might like to read about or learn how to do.

The opening paragraphs of the letter will describe what this process is and why it is important to the author.  Years ago now, Virginia Harding, an attendee in one of my workshops, wrote such a letter in which she described a ritual her family with six children performed each winter harvesting persimmon fruit and making pudding.  The fruit itself seemed to be about the transformation and glory of the season, she wrote, because it changed the yard into a “gallery of color” in winter.  It was a visual gift and also a nourishing gift, inviting animal and human activity as squirrels, robins, bluejays, mockingbirds, opossums, and people pecked at, ate and collected the ripe fruit.

Virginia wrote that she hadn’t harvested persimmon and made pudding for 10 years and no longer lived in Palo Alto, CA where the trees had grown in her backyard.  But writing about the ritual and the fruit, she noticed an ad in her local Northwest paper about a market offering persimmons.  She hurried in each day for three days only to find the fruit hadn’t arrived and the manager had no idea why.  She decided to substitute pear pulp with lemon saying in her letter, “But so what?  Christmas without the family persimmon harvesting isn’t the same either," she mused.  "The important thing is that the spirit around here is as strong as ever.”

Writing about the process led Virginia to that epiphany concerning her ritual and its finished product, one she may not have articulated if she wasn’t writing about the process of gathering persimmons for the ritual of making persimmon Christmas pudding.

Of course, Virginia included her recipe for persimmon pudding in her letter. Shse sent the letter to her friends and family, and also to the editor of Messages From the Heart, a literary journal from Tucson, Arizona (no longer in print).  In the publication, the editor added a note below Virginia's piece, which read, “Believing that a letter is a gift from the heart, Virginia Harding wrote ‘A Holiday Gift’ about a special tradition and sent it with the recipe above as her holiday message of love and good wishes for friends and family.”

Whether you know how penguins raise their young or how to make your great-grandmother’s potpourri, when you write it down in the form of a letter for others, you will see that an epiphany arrives -- one that will delight you and your letter's readers.

In addition to the how-to form of the personal essay, there is another form that is useful in writing holiday letters that offer discovery for the writer and reader alike.  In the cause and effect form, the writer thinks about events and decisions that have had the most impact during the preceding year—examples might be the birth of a child, the death of a pet or loved one, a move to a new city, beginning a meditation practice, acceptance into a program, taking on a leadership role, stopping each day at a local grocer’s, or deciding to tutor an adult in literacy.  The letter writer will first describe the event or decision with words that appeal to the senses.  When readers see, hear, taste, touch, and smell written experience, they live it themselves.  All of us are connect most deeply when we share actual experience.  In contrast, summaries of experience that use words like “wonderful,” “heart breaking,” or “adventurous,” for example, indicate how the author wants us to feel and think but don’t allow us to achieve these feelings ourselves from the sensory information in the experience.  Better to say, “The waves came over the boat washing everything we hadn’t tied down away,” than “Our time on the boat was harrowing and frightened us enormously.”

In the cause and effect form, the letter writer next describes the changes in her life and in her perceptions caused by the event or decision.  There is bound to be discovery for the letter writer as she recounts the event or decision she chose to write about and details the impact of it on her life. One of my students, Tri Nguyen, the son of refugees from Vietnam, wrote about the effects on him of getting up early to watch the sun rise on a day he was visiting on a farm.  He describes scooping up grain with one hand and picking up a small chick with the other, then sitting cross-legged on the grass.  He writes, “As I bring the hand with the grain to the one with the chick, I think of the simplicity of the world and how the sun just now has risen over the mountain peak to warm the earth and my face.  This is a new day.”  I never read these words without seeing in the action of his hand bringing the grain to the chick’s mouth, the sun rising over all of us and nourishing us. This kind of contemplation offers information from the inside of one person and speaks to the insides of others. Tri is renewed and reading him, I, too, travel back to a nourishing simplicity and feel the ways I belong to the earth.

This holiday season, remember how important your particular experience is and how in writing it down for others, you will find discovery for yourself.  Sharing the discovery is the gift inside your letter, whether it comes from writing about how a particular thing you care about is done or from writing about a particular impactful event.  You may feel strange centering your holiday letter on one thing, especially a little thing, and not writing everyone’s news, but give this idea a try.  Using writing to share epiphanies from personal experience connects you deeply to yourself and then to those you care about.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dear Writers,

What a group we had last week at the "Telling The Stories That Changes Us" Workshop at the Dunedin Public Library. Twenty-one participated and you wrote and shared some fascinating stories.

Thank you for your excellent and specific feedback on the three-hour session.

I just finished reading "Lit" by Mary Karr a well known memoirist. A good read! When I researched her on google I found this.I linked you to the entire page of Slate  because it was Memoir Week and connects you to other interesting articles on the topic. I also found some interesting video interviews of Mary on You Tube. 

Now I am going to check out Liars Club by Mary Karr. Can't wait to read it. Write On! Jan

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Courage to Write Your Story

“Lots of people think things - but they don’t say them. They know that saying them out loud would change their lives.They know that claiming their own truth is the first step off the edge of a mountain alone.”

I am reminded when I read this quote, from one of the most inspirational woman I follow, Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., a Benedictine nun, author and speaker and a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, of just how tough it can be to tell your story.

Joan knows what it is to step off that mountain alone. Her analyses and critiques of political systems and the church that she loves have been met at times with fear and harsh criticism. 

“I would rather be criticized for what I say then for what I have failed to say.”

Talents that lie dormant in our souls destroy us from the inside out. Creation goes on creating through us. We are the only hands God has. Find the thing that stirs your heart and make room for it. Life is about the development of self to the point of unbridled joy. For me it is writing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Silence Your Inner Critic

I don’t know about you but worrying about what the other people in my memoir might think or how they may react to reading my story sometimes stops me cold when I begin to write. Here are some words from Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett (Story Circle Network) and writer’s of the blog Women’s Memoirs

“Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your inner voice,” Kendra says.” I hear this often from our students:

“My sister doesn’t think I should write a memoir.”
“My parents don’t want this family story told.”
“I’m worried I’ll offend someone.”
“I think I should get permission from other family members before I write.”

Using any of the above as your inspiration, write about how you hope to or are already following that advice. Is there a specific thing you can do to change or silence the voice?  For next month write a 600 or less word piece about what you might, or already do, to silence the inner critic.

Remember, your words matter.  

To connect to The Women's Memoir blog: Women's Memoir Link

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hi Writers,

A long delay in posts - my bad. I've been lost between the two formats while trying to transfer the blog to WordPress.

We heard some entertaining  and touching stories about aprons at the Circle last month. You said it seemed like a lousy topic - until you started writing. Then some pretty interesting stuff came up. I asked some of you to post your stories here on the blog but so far no one has done so.

To take us a step further in our writing practice our home work assignment was to re-write using dialogue. We discussed how dialogue is used advance the story and to pull the reader in. Bring your edited story to read.

Most of us have held a job of some kind from babysitting, cashier, manager,
salesperson, teacher, etc.  The jobs we have held may or may not have been
the one we dreamed of when we were asked "What do you want to be when you
grow up?"

Think back to a job you enjoyed.  One you liked going to, one where you
learned a lot about a particular business, people or yourself.  How did you
get it?  Did you apply from a sign in a window or an ad in the paper?  Did
you have an inside track to the position?  Did the job find you?

Your assignment, in 600 words or less, is to write about getting the job you
enjoyed.  In addition to writing about the experience use dialog in your
story.  Dialog can help define the characters and the setting as well as
move the story along.

Friday, August 31, 2012

People Watching

What an opportunity a vacation is for developing characters, creating scenes and discovering new plots.

If you are fortunate enough to have a vacation coming up use it to stock your writing treasure chest. Watch the way people walk, talk and what they tote. Wonder where they are going and where they just came from.

One sad thing - not many are smiling, looking up, or walking tall, most are a bit hunched over, backs rounded, right shoulder up, left shoulder bent to listen to their iphone cradled there. They seem to be leaning left as they walk.

Others are chatting away to themselves or the air - or are they talking to me? No, they’re wearing a blue tooth devise, involved in some other time and place.

I'm visiting old friends. We reminisce. They take me to the homes of their children and I get to meet the grandkids, too. I notice how they gather to eat, at the table or around the TV? What they eat - from vegan to meat and potatoes families. Are they night owls or morning people?

We tour their favorite places, two Elks Clubs, a small hole in the wall place in Beverly and the big, bright and airy Elks surrounded by windows overlooking the rocky coast in  Rockport, MA. I'm with my friend Mary Jane. We exercise at the YMCA for water aerobics, and have brunch at the Wenham Tea House. I've been driven up and down my favorite coast north of Boston - to airports, subway stations, and museums.

One of the most interesting places was Charles Street in Boston where I sat at an outdoor cafe. It was around 6:30pm, horns tooting, runners getting their bodies moving after a day at the desk, or in a meeting, some with pizza boxes others with carryout dinners or bouquets of fresh flowers. Each living a life of many stories. Imagine!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Story Circle is expanding!

I am still at work putting the new blog together. Meanwhile, I have great news - the Story Circle is expanding! My original vision to develop story circles at 3 libraries is coming to fruition. The first Wednesday of the month will be at the Largo Library, third Wednesday still at safety Harbor, and the fourth Wednesday will be at the Dunedin Library. The big plan is to then gather the 3 circles together quarterly. What fun and inspiration! I'm thinking of a Saturday afternoon for the quarterly. Please pass the word and let me know what you think! Write on! Jan

Monday, August 6, 2012

Changes are coming

Hello Writers,

This month we are writing a 600 word piece about an animal, any animal, real or imagined that has impacted your life in some special way. Is it a family pet, a power animal, a totem? As always we'll be anxious to hear you read your story at our next Story Circle - August 15, 6-7:45 pm at the Safety Harbor Library.

What changes are coming? I'm changing my blog to Word Press.'m hoping for a smooth transition. The new blog will show all comments and give us a greater opportunity for dialogue. I want to hear your thoughts and comments, too. The new blog will be up in a few days.

A reminder that my next Dream Workshop is this week at the St Pete Beach Library. Wednesday August 8, from 6-8:00 pm 365 73rd Ave, St Pete Beach. Come and bring a friend who may agree to be your Dream Buddy. We had 25 people at the last one at the Dunedin Library - what a fun time!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey You

Writing Assignment for July 18, 2012 Story Circle  Safety Harbor Library
By Sheila McNaughton - Guest Blogger

Everyone has a name.  Some of us are called by the name we were giving at birth, or our middle name or a combination or abbreviation of it.  Others by a nickname someone along the line created. 

We decide on the names of our children:

A name from the family:  my father was Denver Homer.  He made us all promise never to name any of our children after him.

A dear friend, someone you knew and loved

In honor of someone who has died:  After a friend lost his son to cancer other friends  found out they were pregnant.  They asked if they could name their child Jordan.

A celebrity:  a friend named her son Keanu after Keanu Reeves. He goes by KC

The city or place where they were conceived.

An object:  Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter is Apple

So many names and so many reasons why that name was picked by you or for you or someone you know.  Your assignment in 600 words or less is to tell the story about how someone got their name;  your own, your child, a friend, a family member.

Any questions contact Sheila at or Jan at

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Hero's Journey

It has been my favorite kind of day. I'm at home, reading, listening, watching and learning more about the craft of writing. It started at my bookshelf when I spotted a book loaned to me by a writer friend, Warren. The Writer's Journey, Mythic Structure For Storytellers & Screenwriters by Christopher Vogler.

In his book Vogler guides us by a simple idea: All stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales. dream, and movies. They are known collectively as The Hero's Journey.

It was 1988 when I awestruck by mythologist Joseph Campbell thanks to Bill Moyers who did a six part interview with Campbell which later became a book. I began to understand my current life adventure in a new way.

My agonizing  decision to quit my job in 1986, sell my home and move to an island began to make sense in a new way. It would be a long time before I realized fully that I was on a Hero's (Heroine's) Journey. But that's another story. Today, I recalled that I had packed away, somewhere,  the Moyers/Campbell interviews on video. I dug them out to watch.

Later at my computer I ran across a lecture given by Ray Bradbury

If you are a writer or a wanna be, take time to listen. I liked his insistence that to become good at your craft - each night for 1,000 nights - read one short story, one poem and one essay. I'm going to do it! 

Thanks Warren for the loan of the book. It was just the ticket for today. Jan

Please leave comments. I appreciate your views and your feedback. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dear Photograph

Assignment for Story Circle Writers Group, Safety Harbor Library, June 20, 6-7:45 pm.

Find a photo of yourself at an active age/time from age 6 to 18. Write 600 words or less as a "Dear Photograph" piece. Here is a start off example - Dear Jan, I notice in this photograph of you at about 6 years old that you are standing erect, arms straight down, and you seem ready to burst with exuberance. I never noticed until many years later that your fists are clenched. I've seen this in several photos of you at that age. Looking back over many years I see a little girl being a little held down, held back, hostage to the times when little girls had to be seen and not heard, always wear a dress and "act like a lady." Sit straight in your chair, keep your knees together, and above all never climb a tree. 

This is the start to my piece, which I'll bring to read on June 20th.

Thanks for coming back to the blog. Please sign in as a follower and you will automatically receive each update. Let me know if you have a problem getting it.

I have been on a sabbatical since my last post in January, since then I've moved twice and didn't always have access to the Internet from home. Now you will see me post on a more regular basis. Thanks for your continued interest. 

I'd like to post a couple of your Dear Photograph Stories on the blog. Interested? Please say so in the comments section.

Sign up now to attend a free Dream Workshop, sponsored by Friends of the Library, you will learn to recall, record and work with your dreams. The workshops are part of the Pinellas County Libraries "Under The Covers" programs this summer. Call for reservations: July 17th 6:30-8:30PM Dunedin Library 727 298-3080 or August 8th, 6-8PM at the St Pete Beach Library 727 363-9238.  Jan

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Waiting & Creating

Waiting at the Largo library

I think of things to write -– they pass through my mind like a summer breeze—unexpected, refreshing, and gone. Now, I write and wonder in which direction they have floated—molecules of creativity. I wish I had a little vacuum to draw them back to re-form into sentence gems or story.

I try not to lust for:
Mountains and their majesty – but I do
For bare skin touching mine – but I do
For a paycheck for time spent writing – but I do
For my doorbell to ring, hands to reach out, these flowers are for you
Because your soul is beautiful
For a firm hand on my back guiding me in a Rumba
For a waterfall under which I’d stand
Laughing and singing – but I do
For money in my pocket for a ticket to hear a symphony
But I do

Now the parking lot fills, a line forms at the library door . . . it lifts my heart to see so many waiting for the doors of learning to swing wide open—to read the words of writers—early on a Monday morning in January.

Friday, January 6, 2012

 "There's no time to waste. You need to be merciless with your energy and time and work. After all, there are books to write. And trips to take and people to love."

Quoted from Lorrie at Poynter Institute. chat with Roy on January 5th

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January 18th Story Circle Assignment

Where do you want to go with your writing in 2012?

It all begins with Purpose. Why are you writing? For healing, for transformation, or for fun? Because you like to write? Because you want to record to remember? For who? Yourself?  Your family? The public? Begin by writing a Purpose Statement.

How much time are you willing to commit to your writing? Once you know the answer it's time to Set Your Goals.  Will you write every day, 3 days a week, or just for class assignments? Use your purpose statement as a foundation for setting Smart goals.

Sincere - Is it consistent with my purpose?
Measurable - How will I know when it's complete?
Accessible - Will I review it regularly & make daily choices to support it?
Realistic - Am I willing to commit the resources? (time, energy, money)
Timely - Is this the right tie to have it as a goal?

Goals are tangible, measurable. Write them and bring them on January 18th.

If you don't know where you are going how are we going to help you get there?