By Natalie Bright


Put a comma:

Before—and, but, or, for, nor, yet, still, when joining independent clauses.

He arrived in town last August, and everyone was happy to see him again.

Between—all terms in a series, including the last two.

She brought candy, cookies, and punch to the meeting.

To set off—parenthetical openers and afterthoughts.

Running to meet him, the children helped him carry the books into the house.

Before and after—parenthetical insertions (use a pair of commas).

He, overjoyed at their greetings, hurried toward the villagers.

Words From A Master


Words From A Master

By Nandy Ekle


“As a writer, one of the things that I’ve always been interested in doing is actually invading your comfort space. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Get under your skin, and make you react.”  –Stephen King

I’m making a confession here. I’ve bee a huge fan of Stephen King nearly all my life. I consider several of his books to be outright masterpieces.

I like this quote of his because it puts images in my head. Let me show you.

I’m sitting in a chair in front of my fireplace, a blanket wrapped around my legs and a book in my hand. The words march across the pages and occasionally I gasp with emotion.

I become aware of a voice in the room, actually right in front of me. When I look up I see the author squatting before me whispering. Keeping my finger between the pages, I close the book and listen to the words coming from his mouth. The story becomes alive in my head and I feel a connection with the author.

This is what makes a great book.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.



Tag words:

Word Play

Outtakes 170


Word Play

By Cait Collins


Halloween is a big deal at our office. Every year there’s a costume contest and a food contest. Work teams spend time planning great costumes. One year the Harry Potter gang lost to a school of fish “swimming” in an aquarium. And if you think the costumes are wild, you should see the food entries. The entries must be edible, but a vomiting pumpkin?

But let’s get back to the costumes. My team is a correspondence team, so we are working on costumes based on plays on words. There are some clever ideas floating around: First Class Mail, Bag Lady, Pig in a Blanket, Identity Thief; Serial Killer; Fruit Loop, Book Fairy, and Formal Apology.

So here’s the challenge. Think of a play on words or a pun and write a description of the costume. This is my entry. She is beautiful. Her hair is professionally dyed and styled in an up-swept do. Wisps of blonde hair caress her face. Make-up is skillfully applied so that her complexion is flawless. A soft blush tints her cheeks. She struts down the aisle in a form-fitting evening gown of deepest black decorated with varying sizes and shapes of silver nines. She is Dressed to the Nines.



by Rory C. Keel 

It’s amazing that so many people have a fear of flying. Several years ago, while on a plane from Saint Louis Missouri to Portland Oregon, I remember boarding and seeing a man who looked as pale as death. He took his seat across the aisle and immediately buckled the seat belt, grabbed the armrests and shook so violently I wondered if it was the engines or him shaking the plane. After sedating himself with a couple of adult beverages, he slept soundly to our destination.

While I have never been afraid to travel in an airplane, I have experienced a fear of flying. Realizing I would never pilot an F-16 fighter jet, I turned to the hobby of remote control airplanes.

After what my wife called “investing heavily” in a kit, I began to build my first R/C airplane. For days I trimmed every piece of wood with the skill of a surgeon to the exact specs. For weeks, I placed every drop of glue precisely in the correct spot, as to not change the balance of the plane. And after months of careful tune-ups on the engine and electronics, along with a few instructions from others to assure that my plane would soar with the eagles, fear took over.

What if it crashes? All that hard work and time will have been in vain.

On my first solo flight, I rolled the plane down the tarmac and lifted off. A feeling of accomplishment flooded over me as I made one pass, then another over the stands. Not wanting to run out of fuel and lose the plane, I made the approach to land. That day I witnessed the most horrific sight—in front of me laid splinters of wood, pieces of plastic and shards of metal. I crash-landed my plane.

In writing, there are moments when we are afraid to submit a piece of work, fearful of rejection. We work on a piece until it is perfect then, “WHAT IF” takes over. What if it’s rejected? What if it was a waste of time because no one likes it?

The good news is that my first plane did finally soar. I learned that my time wasn’t wasted at all. In all the hours of building I had learned how to repair the broken plane, and after adjusting the mistakes I made in the landing approach, confidence took control.

Yes, I have letters of rejection for my writing, however with repairs and a few adjustments, those same pieces have been published.

Don’t be afraid to fly!



By Natalie Bright

for writers can come through a variety of venues, and I’ve learned to take what I can get. Don’t question. Write it down.

Inspiration can also come from hanging out with other writers; one of my favorite ways to ignite the muse. When you’re passionate about something, who doesn’t love to “talk shop”? The creative energy in a room full of writers is difficult to ignore. If you take the time to lunch, meet for coffee, attend a conference, you’ll be re-energized.

Alone Times

Of course, at some point we have to get back to work, and that means time alone. Lots of time alone. How do you get back into the writing groove?

It’s the most difficult part about writing, I think. To leave the hustle and bustle of the present day and disappear into the fictional world of your sub-conscious.


  1. You do have a journal for your current work in progress don’t you? Fill the pages with research notes about locations, building details, town layouts, room floor plans, vegetation, yard descriptions. You may not used all of that information in your book, but it will make the setting even more alive in your mind.
  2. First person accounts in the point of view of your characters. Even minor characters can give you insight into your main characters. Free write the same scene from each character’s perspective.
  3. Character descriptions and character profiles. Describe your characters to the tiniest detail.

Having a hard time getting back into your story? Read through your WIP journal and before long your fingers will be flying over the keyboard. I’ve extended my WIP journals into Pinterest boards for visual inspiration.

What other kinds of information do you put in your WIP journals?


The Submit Button


The Submit Button

By Nandy Ekle

I have one huge phobia, and that’s spiders. Yeah, that’s right. I openly admit this phobia. I always say that I am not ashamed and am actually very comfortable with my pet phobia.

There is one other thing that frightens me a little, and that is the submit button. This one little thing can paralyze me as completely as a single spider can. I can not count the times my hand has hovered over the button while my brain tries to talk me out of pushing it. “Don’t do it,” it says. “They’ll laugh.” It continues. Then the organ inside my head turns ugly. “You know the story still isn’t right. There’s gaping plot holes and unbelievable dialogue. And your grammar and punctuation are no better than a third grader.”

If my finger still aims at that little button, my gray matter turns mean and hateful. “Who are you kidding? You can’t write a story. Just listen to your so-called style. This is just a silly waste of time and paper. Are you sure you want to bear your soul to strangers so they can laugh at you and point at you? You’re nothing but a useless blob behind a computer keyboard with delusions of grandeur.”

Sometimes I believe the whole spiel. I let all that bullying talk freeze my hand and stop my breathing. Just like seeing a giant spider, my fingers curl back into my hand and I close the computer lid and do something else.

But sometimes I turn on some music and remember the promise I made to my characters to find them a home. Then I close my eyes and . . . push submit. Air rushes into my lungs and my arms feel as though they could lift a house. That’s when I know my success is not whether or not my work is accepted. My success is in squashing the monster.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

My Sister’s Critique

Outtakes 169

My Sister’s Critique

By Cait Collins


I received a package from my older sister today. She returned the manuscript I asked her to read. I realize a family member is not always objective when reading our work, but my sisters have no problems telling me a piece is not up to standard. In fact I can count on them to put me in my place. My older sister has reviewed other manuscripts and has always provided valuable critiques.

Sis did not want to mark up the manuscript, so she sent eight hand-written pages of errors she’d found. Her notes cited page number, paragraph, and the sentence. The corrections ranged from misspellings, to missed punctuation, to tense issues. I proof read the manuscript three times before sending it and would have sworn I’d caught everything. It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can see. Her changes are easy to make and will help polish the work.

Since she is reading the book cover-to-cover instead of one chapter at a time, she is in a better position to see inconsistencies in tense, setting, and descriptions. My sister helps prevent a character having blue eyes in chapter one and brown eyes in chapter six.

As much as I appreciate her catching the grammar and punctuation problems, I value her take on the memoir. When she told me she could see our dad holding my hand and walking the ship’s deck, I wanted to cry. She was with me in the last chapter when I again, in dreams, return to Maine. But when she told me the memoir made her think, I realized my recollections were more than revisiting the past. Maybe my story could help someone else struggling to journey from heartache to contentment. Her encouragement will compel me continue to submit First Love; Forever Love to agents and editors. Thanks, Sis. You helped me more than you know.