When I logged in this morning, the home page wouldn't take my login information, showing me as not logged in. However, when I switch to any of the other pages, all seems well. I need to go to work today, so I won't be able to work on this issue until later.

I think I've fixed it - it was a cache problem, however, if you have problems:

log in as usual, and then just switch over to a different page, such as the forum.

Sorry for the inconvenience.


by Sandra Miller

(reprinted with permission)

Writers are notorious for their love of words. Because of that, we often have a hard time learning to consider certain words as enemies. Here are some words that can suck the impact out of your writing.

Watch out for empty words in your writing. All forms of "to be" are really empty words--my personal nemesis is the word "was". The word "was" is a sign of the dreaded passive voice. It introduces a distance between you and your reader, bumping them out of the story and back into the chair. Sometimes "was" is unavoidable, but use it often and it becomes boring. Look for stronger verbs that impart some real meaning. Instead of telling us "Shirley was bored," show us Shirley yawning, checking her watch, even tapping a foot. Many times when editors tell you to "show, don't tell," you can make a very good start by rewording all of your "was" sentences.

This is especially true in descriptive passages. When we write about physical characteristics of people or places, the "to be" verbs start cropping up. Is it a coincidence that place descriptions are the passages we are most likely to skim when we read? Yet without a good solid setting, your work will suffer. How can you resolve this problem?

Key lesson: Be sure your work has context. Metaphor and symbolism might give the literary depth necessary to answer the vital question “So what?”

As poets and writers, we should always put ourselves in the shoes of the readers and ask the question, “So what?” or “Why should I care?” about this work. Sometimes we authors fall in love with our writing and miss the reason for it or it might be so personal and exclusive that the reader might not be able to connect to it. If there is context, then there might be sufficient literary depth to have meaning for and connection with the reader.

Metaphorical language (metaphor, simile, analogy, comparison) and symbolism will often facilitate this. Because of the recent topic, “Jumpstart Your Writing by being a Naturalist,” consider nature as an example.

In creative nonfiction, where writers can be poetic and journalistic simultaneously, captivating factual description of nature requires no additional context. The goal is to present information in a creative literary way: poetic language, innovative form, etc.).

In fiction, description of a nature scene might help establish place, create mood, or perhaps foreshadow. If there is context here, nature will provide a metaphor for what might be going on internally in the main character (viz. natural storms vs. storms of life).

But in poetry, all of what has been aforementioned in fiction applies, but more might be needed. In a future writing tip, “Lifting Poetry out of Prose,” we will see that poetic description alone is not enough to make it poetry. But even with well constructed lines, great imagery and rhythm, literary depth has to be implanted.

Let’s examine the evolution of a poem in the summer of 2011. In response to a prompt to incorporate three words in any form (rain, desert, monster) in a story or poem among other speculative fiction writers, I wrote “The Lizard Wind.” But it failed to get published last fall. The editor was kind enough to tell me that there was no context. Though I disagreed at first, I came to realize that more context was needed. Even though the early draft used striking language and did have something to say about not lurking in the dark because it is an unwise thing to do, it didn’t answer the “So what?” question. In a way, I rendered a cliché and offered nothing new. When I asked myself how could this failed poem acquire meaningful context, I made myself the victim of “monsters” and searched for legends involving lizards that might support my poem. I found one among the Blackfeet,

    Sometimes a man who was lazy, and had planted no tobacco, would go secretly to the patch, and pull a number of plants belonging to some one else, and hide them for his own use. Now, in these prayers that they offer, they do not ask for mercy for thieves. A man who had thus taken what did not belong to him would have a lizard appear to him in a dream, and then he would fall sick and die. The medicine men would know of all this, but they would not do anything. They would just let him die.

    This tobacco was given us by the one who made us.

I adapted and it into the poem with an epigraph to orient the reader. The poem was quickly accepted for publication shortly after submission to another literary magazine (Curio Poetry, February 2012):


Early Draft

The Lizard Wind


There is a smell
of rain in the air:
leathery & moist.
The desert slithers
under torn clouds,
the prickly cactus
full of blood red
juice. It’s not safe
to lurk in the dark,
though the monsters
are full of sand,
their windy shadows
are full of teeth.

Published version

The Lizard Wind


After a Blackfoot legend:
Tobacco was given to us
by the one who made us.

The lazy man planted
no tobacco. In secret,
he took the medicine
man’s. Others prayed
no mercy for the thief
— only for the lizard
to appear quickly to him
in dreams.


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