Category Archives: Articles

20 Tools Every Writer Needs


Is 2018 the year you finally get serious about writing? Set yourself up for success by stocking up on the things you’ll need:frazzled worker

  1. A quiet area you can set up as your writing space. For most people, a writer’s study is a luxury. Four of my five children had to grow up and move out before I had a room of my own. But if you don’t have a whole room to yourself, claim a corner somewhere.
  2. A desk and chair, preferably a comfortable one. Desks are expensive, but you may be able to find a reasonably priced one at a garage sale or thrift store. Or maybe you can repurpose a discarded table. If you don’t even have a corner to call your own, the table in the kitchen or dining room may have to do.
  3. A lamp or good overhead lighting.
  4. A bookshelf.Typing on laptop DeathtoStock
  5. A computer equipped with Microsoft Word, and a printer.
  6. Lots of printer paper and printer cartridges.
  7. Optional: writing software. I’m learning how to use Scrivener for my novels. If you’re writing plays or scripts, it is good to have software that will automatically format for you.
  8. Notebook(s). Jot down all your brilliant ideas.
  9. Pens and pencils. I prefer pens that flow really well (like uni-balls, rather than the economical stick pens), and mechanical pencils (so you don’t have to sharpen them). I like lots of different color inks (Ink Joys!), so I can color-code, or at least use a color that suits me at the moment.
  10. Dictionary and thesaurus. (Yeah, you can find these online, but sometimes it’s good to have the paper kind.)Books 3
  11. A good book on writing. Here are some of my favorites and one more.
  12. Sticky notes and notepads or scrap paper.
  13. Paper clips. Scissors and tape (sometimes I physically like to cut and paste my manuscripts).
  14. Envelopes (all sizes) and stamps. There are still a few publications that don’t accept electronic submissions.
  15. Telephone (cell or landline). Not that you want the distraction, but so you don’t have to get up to answer it.
  16. A coffee mug for your favorite beverage, whatever that might be.
  17. A stash of cough drops, so you don’t have to get up to get one.
  18. A subscription to Writer’s Digest or Poets and Writers (or bookmark their websites).
  19. An inspirational poster or embroidery. Here’s one you can print out.
  20. A CD player so you can play your favorite background music. (Or you can play music from your iTunes library or your streaming service, but I prefer to rotate through about 15 of my favorite CDs.)

Once you’ve assembled all these tools, you’re ready to begin. Sit down, think “What if…?”, and begin.Pen and pencil bokeh

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How to Get a Literary Agent

How to Get a Literary Agent

Disclaimer: I do not have an agent, but I am looking for one, and I have accumulated a lot of information in the process which I am willing to share so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel from scratch.

Do you even need an agent?

If you have written a book which you want traditionally published, your chances of achieving your goal go up with submitting through an agent. The reason why is so many people write and so many books are bad. Publishers need an avenue of filtering out the worthless stuff so that they don’t waste their time looking at it.

stacks-of-books bing public domain

They depend on gatekeepers. Here are the most common kinds:

  1. Readers. Many publishers have readers who look through the “slush pile,” the ever-growing stack of manuscripts submitted “over the transom,” or without invitation. The readers are often unpaid English majors. I met one who told me she did it because she wanted to see for herself what the criteria were that qualified submissions to land on an editor’s desk. Editors want to see well-written, captivating fiction with action that starts on the first page and doesn’t let up till the end, and which takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster. They want nonfiction written by celebrities or by experts with experience and credentials who can articulate their points in a compelling fashion. Readers are tasked with looking at the first few of pages of a manuscript and deciding in a couple of minutes whether it merits a closer look. 95% of the manuscripts in the slush pile never get seen by an editor. Their authors may or may not ever get any response at all, not even a rejection slip.
  2. Editors at conferences. Many publishing houses regularly send editors to writers’ conferences to meet with serious new talent and see what authors are working on. Conferences are an excellent place to network, and especially to learn what publishers are looking for—and which ones might be open to your project. If you connect with an interested editor—one who invites you to submit your manuscript—be sure to follow up promptly. Mark your mailing envelope “requested at the XYZ conference” to remind the editor he/she was interested, and in your cover letter, include a detail that will spark the editor’s recollection (ie., “At the conference, you mentioned my story reminded you of your grandmother’s immigration experience”).
  3. Agents. Agents are on the lookout for manuscripts that they not only like, but that they can sell. They collect 15% of what you earn, but 15% of zero is zero. If your project has good potential for success, an agent will be your greatest advocate. But if none of their contacts at the publishing companies are looking for another book like yours, they will pass.

So the short answer is unless you have the time, money, and temperament to travel around the country to conferences where you can sit down one on one with editors and pitch your book, then, yes, you need an agent. Or maybe you should self-publish.


Where can you find a good agent? 

There are lots of ways to find agents. Here are some of the resources I’ve discovered:

  1. QueryTracker. QueryTracker features search engines for literary agents and publishers. You can choose specific criteria, such as genre, country, and gender to filter down to the most appropriate agents for your project and preferences. The database contains links to each agency’s website, where you can peruse each agent’s specialties and credentials and procedures for querying. You then decide which agents you want to query, and eliminate the others from your list. As you submit, you enter the date and query method and then update when you receive a response. Then, when coming back to your list, you can see at a glance where your query is still under consideration. The bad news: most agents apologize that they are unable to respond to all queries, and after a certain amount of time with no response (typically 12 weeks), you may assume they are not interested. You can start using QueryTracker for free. I soon signed up for the premium membership, which enables you to track queries for multiple projects.
  2. Writers Digest. Subscribe to the magazine, or visit the website. Writer’s Digest often offers articles on new (hungry) agents, and also agents searching for particular genres. Use the search engine on the website and enter “agents seeking.”
  3. Guide to Literary Agents. This annual guide is the quintessential resource, with articles and indexes and listings of agents and conferences.
  4. Pitch Wars. Pitch Wars is a contest for completed manuscripts. The prize is a mentor, who is either a published author, an editor, or an agent, who will work with you to make your manuscript into something an agent will want to snap up. The contest is limited to middle grades, young adult, new adult, or adult fiction. If you’re working on a project right now, get it finished! The submission window is in July, the selection of the accepted mentees is announced in August, and the submissions are open to agent scrutiny in November. Follow the Pitch Wars blog for more information.
  5. Writers and Illustrators. If you write or illustrate for children, Kathy Temean’s blog features frequent interviews with agents (as well as writers and illustrators).

Some other articles to help you in your agent quest:

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Creative Juice #76

Creative Juice #76

Articles to inspire you.

  1. My husband doesn’t have the board game gene. I have no one to play with. Sigh.
  2. Why we will miss Sue Grafton—what she did to the mystery genre.
  3. Mount Fugi seen from the air with clouds streaming by.
  4. Quilt guild show and tell.
  5. Do you want to keep your resolutions this year?
  6. 16 thoughts for creatives.
  7. 50 interesting books.
  8. It’s not too late to join this daily art challenge for 2018.
  9. Are you still making the same old fried eggs for breakfast?
  10. Beautiful photographs of animals, people, and exotic locations.
  11. I am so jealous of this artist’s journal. She’s so talented.
  12. I dislike big box churches. Why aren’t there more churches like this one in the United States? A church should be beautiful. Give me arches any day.

30 Ideas for Your Next Blog Post

30 Ideas for Your Next Blog Post

Did you make a resolution to blog more frequently in 2018? Good for you! But if you are like me, sometimes you have no idea what to write about.

I get some of my best ideas when I’m away from my desk. If I don’t write them down, they fly away. I carry a little assignment pad in my purse so I can capture ideas on the go, and occasionally I’ll take a walk with my notebook and pen, because physically moving frees up my imagination.



In the meantime, it’s always good to have a few ideas in the bank. So here are 30 ideas, results of a recent brainstorming session. If you like these, feel free to use them. You may want to bookmark this page for future reference.

  1. My earliest childhood memory.
  2. My first best friend.
  3. My favorite teacher in elementary school, high school, college.
  4. What I thought I’d grow up to be when I was a freshman in high school.
  5. What I did on September 11, 2001.
  6. What I believe about God.
  7. How I miss the mall (or the video store, or phone booths, or other cultural phenomena that were rendered obsolete by technology).
  8. My favorite recording artist when I was in high school.
  9. My favorite subjects in school.
  10. If I became president, the first thing I’d change.
  11. A photo essay of things that are my favorite color (examples: a blue car, a blue dress, a blue flower, etc.).
  12. A historical site near my home.
  13. My dream vacation.
  14. My bucket list.
  15. If I could have dinner with any famous person, living or dead, whom I would choose, and why.
  16. One thing I wish I could do over, and what I would do differently this time.
  17. The most meaningful gift I ever received.
  18. My ten most favorite books, songs, or movies.
  19. My greatest achievement.
  20. A promise someone made that I never expected him to keep—but he did.
  21. A promise I made that I didn’t keep—and why.
  22. My favorite museum.
  23. The most beautiful town/city I ever visited.
  24. The musical instrument I most wish I had learned to play.
  25. The physical attribute I wish I had (blue eyes, blond hair, a mustache, an extra pair of hands, etc.).
  26. The sport I most wish I had learned to play.
  27. Something I’m waiting until I’m older to do.
  28. Something I’m glad I never did.
  29. My biggest regret.
  30. My pet peeve.

Do you have some ideas to share? List them in a comment below.

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Let’s Help Each Other Build Writer or Artist Platforms

Let’s Help Each Other Build Writer or Artist Platforms

On Thursday, I posted a guest article by literary agent Bob Hostetler. The first half of the article was about a 600-lb. woman whose doctor insisted she lose 30 pounds in a month before he would do weight-reduction surgery for her. The woman was frustrated by being forced to change her eating habits in advance; she thought she could begin her new regime after the surgery.


Hostetler compared that woman’s mindset with those of the budding authors he meets at writer’s conferences, who:

vowed that, post-contract, they would market themselves and their books via social media, blogs, website, speaking engagements, podcasts, interviews, and more. But when a panel of agents and editors suggested that a healthy platform comprised of such things can—and, almost always, must—come pre-contract, they expressed chagrin.

That got me to thinking—we can help each other with platform building. All writers and artists should have a website or at least a blog, along with social media (in addition to your social media that you use for friends and family). Have you set yours up yet? That should be one of your top priorities for 2018.

I’m often offered free copies of books in exchange for a review, but I am reluctant to take those offers. I already have a couple hundred books at home that I’m dying to read, and I usually write a short (or long) review of everything I read, which I post on ARHtistic License, Amazon, and Goodreads. If you want to send me a book, that’s fine, but it may take years before I get around to reading it. (However, review requests from paying publications are most welcome and will be accommodated in a timely fashion. Money talks.)

But I do like to publish a guest article every Thursday. I usually contact the authors of articles I find on the web and ask if I may repost them. I would love to post your article on ARHtistic License, preferably something you’ve already written that you would like to get more exposure. It would be helpful to me if it were related to your art or your creative process.

Or, I could interview you.

Or, I could include your comments in a panel article about a topic in which you have some expertise.

Also, I regularly submit guest posts to A Writer’s Path, and I wouldn’t mind submitting to your website, if you think my focus on the arts and the creative process are compatible with the theme of your website.

What do you think? Do any of these ideas appeal to you? You can comment below, and/or contact me through the “Contact ARHtistic License” form (click the link at the top of the page).


Guest Post: My 600-lb Book Life by Bob Hostetler

Guest Post: My 600-lb Book Life by Bob Hostetler

Recently I spent a few hours visiting a relative in rehab, and the television was tuned to an episode of the television series, My 600-lb Life. This is why I like to control the TV remote at all times.The episode focused on a fairly young mother of two children who weighed nearly six hundred pounds and was hoping to engage a surgeon for weight-reduction surgery. Her first several consultations with the doctor didn’t go well, in her view, because he prescribed a low-calorie diet and insisted that she change her eating habits and lose thirty pounds in a month before he would approve her for surgery; otherwise, he explained, she would almost certainly continue to gain weight even after the surgery. This seemed unreasonable to her, but she managed to lose eleven pounds in the first month. When the doctor sent her home with the same instructions—lose thirty pounds in a month—she became discouraged and went off the program. The episode continued, however, and nearly two years after her initial consultation, she managed to more carefully follow the doctor’s orders, and he agreed to perform the surgery.

I’ve had my own struggles with weight and diet and donuts, so I can sympathize a little with that woman. However, it was still amazing to me that she couldn’t understand that surgery wasn’t “the be-all and the end-all” (to quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth), but that new eating habits were also part of the picture. She couldn’t quite reconcile herself to the fact that she would not be able to return, post-surgery, to a diet of fast food, ice cream, and pizza. If she had grasped that reality, she might have been able to reason, “Since my eating has to change post-surgery, why is it unfair to be asked to change pre-surgery?”

Her struggle seems to me to be somewhat analogous to those of us who write for publication—especially when we seek to be represented by an agent. Bear with me.

Just a couple days before that episode of My 600-lb Life, I spoke to and met with writers at a writers’ conference. The subject of “platform” came up, of course, as it always does. And it elicited groans and gripes, as it always does, among the many people there who had a book idea to pitch and the hope that an agent or editor would see its promise and sign them to a contract. But a book contract or agency agreement isn’t “the be-all and the end-all” of the publishing process.

All of those writers vowed that, post-contract, they would market themselves and their books via social media, blogs, website, speaking engagements, podcasts, interviews, and more. But when a panel of agents and editors suggested that a healthy platform comprised of such things can—and, almost always, must—come pre-contract, they expressed chagrin. Chagrin, I tell you!

But why? Either way, you’re going to do those things, right? Whether you sign a contract today or two years from now, you’re going to be developing a following, right? I know you can’t schedule book signings until you have a book, but nearly everything else you plan to do after your book is released, you can do before your book is released—right? So why wait? Get started—now—engaging with people about your message and passion and genre, and you (and your agent and publisher) will be so glad you did when your book is finally released to universal acclaim.

Review of Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor

Review of Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor

I do not intend to defend or address Keillor’s alleged inappropriate behavior that recently cost him his jobs at Minnesota Public Radio and the Washington Post.

That said, one of my favorite poetry collections is Good Poems for Hard Times, which Keillor assembled, and which led me to acquire his earlier anthology, simply titled Good Poems. And good they are.

Sometimes you need to read a poem multiple times before you can appreciate it, and many of these good poems fall into that category. But others ring from the first read through, delighting me with their cadence, rhyme or humor.

Good Poems

One poem haunted and devastated me: John Updike’s “Dog’s Death,” and I didn’t know why it hit me so hard. We have a little old deaf and blind dachshund, but nothing in her life paralleled the words. That poem disturbed my mind for days almost like an earworm, until I finally unburied an old memory from thirty-five years ago.

When we bought our first house, we bought a beagle puppy from a pet store. He was the cutest little thing, but one day soon after when we took him on a walk, he sat down and walked no further. I thought he was being stubborn, but my husband suspected something was wrong and eventually took the pup to a vet. She diagnosed parvo virus, and tried to treat him, but he didn’t respond, and we had him euthanized. We had been paper training him, and he once dragged himself to the paper to have diarrhea.

In Updike’s poem, the dog sustained an unnoticed injury that ruptured her spleen, and died on the way to the vet. The last stanza is what twisted my heart:

Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhoea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.

Keillor expertly arranges the poems in this book. For example, these two poems, sharing the same name and obviously related, were printed on opposite sides of the same page:

This Is Just to Say
William Carlos Williams

I have eatenjoanna-kosinska-199279
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

This Is Just to Say
Erica-Lynn Gambino
(for William Carlos Williams)

I have just
asked you to
get out of my

even though
you never
I would

Forgive me
you were
me insane

Which led me to wonder—did the poets know each other?

One nice feature which Good Poems shares with Good Poems for Hard Times is a section at the back of the book containing short biographies of each of the included poets. I immediately found the one for William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963, but I couldn’t find the one for Erica-Lynn Gambino. I was heartbroken. Should I write to Penguin Books and tell them there’s an omission? I tried closing the book and opening it again, but still no biography appeared for Gambino. It bothered me.



Photo by Prairie Home Productions

Until I finished the entire book and read through all the biographies (I’m a little obsessive-compulsive that way) and found Erica-Lynn Gambino Huberty, b. 1969. So no, the poets did not know each other personally. Mystery solved.


The poems are interestingly organized into nineteen categories: O Lord, A Day, Music, Scenes, Lovers, Day’s Work, Sons and Daughters, A Good Life, Beasts, Failure, Complaint, Trips, Snow, Yellow, Lives, Elders, The End, and The Resurrection. Some poems would have been appropriate to more than one category, and I found it amusing that they ended up where they did.

Yes, this is definitely a good bunch of poems, but be patient with them. Some I didn’t care for on first reading, but they became more meaningful after repeated visits. And probably some won’t be your cup of tea no matter what. But it’s still worth mining for the gems that resonate.

#ALCGC2017 Final Check-In

#ALCGC2017 Final Check-In

Happy New Year! Time to track our progress in the year past, and set our goals for the year to come.

I mentioned in my recent article about goal-setting that the smartest thing I did in 2017 was schedule all the tasks I wanted to do. Here is how it worked (changed slightly from what I thought on January 1 last year):


  • Every morning at breakfast: read a chapter of the Bible and reflect on it in my Bible journal.
  • Sunday—rewrite and submit old pieces in my file cabinet.
  • Monday through Thursday—work on blog posts.
  • Friday and Saturday—work on The Unicornologist and The God of Paradox.
  • Odd numbered days—write a poem.
  • Even numbered days—make a small piece of art or work on a larger one.
  • Every evening that I’m home—practice piano for an hour and either recorder or guitar for an hour.
  • Tuesday nights and Wednesday mornings: folk dancing.
  • Once a week: go on an “artist date” to fill up on beauty and inspiration.typewriter

Here’s what worked and what didn’t:

  • I’m happy that reading a chapter of scripture has become an almost daily habit, one I want to continue the rest of my life.
  • I rewrote several old pieces from 20 years ago. I actually sold one. I sent a few picture book manuscripts out to agents; no nibbles, so I’m working on rewriting them again as flash fiction. I entered a couple of contests; no wins, but I did get one encouraging consideration for publication that ultimately didn’t happen.
  • Last Saturday I posted my year-end review for ARHtistic License. I would love to cut back working on the blog to only three days a week, but I can’t seem to manage it. I used to work on the blog for as many days as it took me to be scheduled four weeks out, but often that was five or six days a week, leaving very little time for other writing projects. Working four days a week, I’m only about two weeks ahead, which I’m just not okay with. I may need to cut back my daily expectations for my blog, but I don’t know how. (Suggestions welcome.) I also submitted some guest posts to A Writer’s Path to help new readers discover ARHtistic License.frustrated-writer-2
  • I’ve made progress on The Unicornologist, and even thought it was finished at one point, but my beta readers convinced me it’s not. I started entering it into Scrivener, and I used a template that K.M. Weiland devised, which is showing me where the manuscript has structural problems. I think I need to go on a writer’s retreat just so I can concentrate on that manuscript for a few days without interruptions.
  • I also thought I was pretty much finished with my Bible study guide, The God of Paradox. Just for fun, I asked my Bible study group if they’d like to give it a dry run, and they agreed. Boy, am I glad. Seeing my guide from the vantage point of a group leader is an education in itself. Writing Bible lessons and actually leading them are two totally experiences, and the flaws in my manuscript are revealing themselves. I’m making changes as we go along, but when we’re finished with the run-through, I think the study guide will need a pretty serious rewrite.
  • I wrote a lot of poems this year, though not one every other day as planned. However, I’ve written enough poems in the last two years to choose the 33 best ones and enter them in a chapbook contest.
  • I made a lot of little artworks this year, many of them Zentangles (though, again, not one every other day). The December ones were mostly Christmas themed. If you missed them, you can see them here.Mom's piano
  • During December I practiced lots of Christmas carols on piano—one of my favorite holiday traditions.
  • The fingertips on my left hand are now calloused from regular guitar practice, but they are still sore by the end of an hour. I am slowly improving.
  • While practicing the ensembles in the back of my recorder book, I became disheartened, because I had no one to play with. I can’t be the only person who longs to play with others but doesn’t have an outlet. I looked on YouTube to see if anyone had posted recordings of the duets so I could play along. I found one video where one person played one part one time through. It was something, but didn’t go far enough for my needs. So the idea of a special project was born: recording videos of me playing each part of the duets two times through, to give recorder students (and me) an opportunity to practice duets with a virtual partner. Someday I’ll describe my incredibly long learning process for making videos, but for now, I (somewhat sheepishly) present Episode 1 of Playing Recorder Duets with Mrs. Huelsenbeck:
  • I danced almost every Tuesday night and most Wednesday mornings through October, when I landed on my foot off-balance and injured it. A few weeks later I tried dancing again, and paid for it with a week of pain. A few weeks after that my foot felt better, so I danced again, but this time I aggravated a hip problem, and suffered for another two weeks. It’s clear I need to see an orthopedist, and I have an appointment for the end of February <sigh>.
  • I planned to go on an “artist date” every week, but I didn’t. It was more like once every three months. FAIL. For 2018, I’m going to pencil a specific location into my calendar every month, as close as possible to the first day of the month.Oil_painting_palette wikipedia

I’m pleased that I made progress on most of my goals, even if I didn’t finish one of my big projects or secure an agent. For 2018 I’m planning on continuing as I had been, with the tweaks I’ve mentioned.

For the last two years, I’ve offered a challenge for readers to post their creative goals, record their progress, and share in the comments. The response has been mostly silence. So, this year, although I personally will take the time to reflect on my goals and progress at regular intervals, I won’t burden you by posting monthly updates.

I wish you the best possible 2018, full of inspiration and completed creative endeavors. Happy New Year!

Creative Juice #74

Creative Juice #74

Closing out the year with a dozen creative articles.

Guest Post: To Grandmother’s House I Go

Guest Post: To Grandmother’s House I Go

Thanks to Donna for this wonderful profile of artistic painter Nick Patten.


Nick Patten 1 Nick Patten

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