Monday, December 12, 2011

Take It Off, But Don't Take It All Off


You have been working on your story or book for weeks, months, or years now. The question arises: How do I know when I am finished?

Here is a checklist against which to test the piece of writing:
1. Does the story/action happen on the page? Do your characters do something or just sit and think?
2. Check for abstract words such as wonderful, incredible, unbelieveable, beautiful, or fantastic. Re-write and give the reader something to actually see. A black funnel cloud ripping up trees, thirty-foot high waves, curves that would make Marilyn Monroe look like a fourth-grade Girl Scout.
3. What senses are involved? Smell is a superhighway to the emotions -- use it. Burnt toast? Pumpkin pie? What about the sense of touch? Rough as a cat's tongue? Soft as grandma's shoulder?
4. Forget what you know. Is the story on the page or just in your mind or memory? Have you included setting, scene, characters, and dialogue?
4. What's the point? As a test, state what the story is about in one sentence. If you can't do it, the piece might need focus.
5. Give it the line test. Read every sentence to see if it adds something meaningful to the piece. If it doesn't, get rid of it.
6. Read it aloud to yourself or ask someone else to read it aloud to you. Or, you could record your story and play it back. If you feel yourself bored or confused, you know where the piece needs work.

Now let's play Pretend. Pretend my story is an outfit.

I could tell you about an outfit I put together: It was all black. I know what the outfit is like; I can see it in my mind, but that doesn't help you. You may be envisioning a lace Victorian dress or maybe it a witch's dress or maybe a funeral suit. Or I could actually show you the outfit.

Now you know -- long sleeve tee shirt, black slacks.

It begins quite plain, no embellishment. Then, to my outfit/story, I add all the stuff mentioned in the first three questions above. Here's how my outfit looks now.

Now I apply the last two questions: What's the point and does every detail add something  meaningful?

Is this a summer or winter outfit? I have a straw hat and snow boots. Which do I want it to be? Do I need two details around my waist? Which do I want? Tailored belt or lacy scarf? What about that big handbag? It is cotton with sequins. Does that work with the snow boots? Does the outfit need that necklace? My outfit will also include Chanel cologne, Oil of Olay face cream, and Avon hand cream. Does all that make your nose twitch?

Just as putting together an outfit is a judgment call, so is writing. We want to leave room for personal style, but we want to avoid the bizarre and confusing.  Put on details. Take them off. When you have achieved the perfect balance, step out and see what the world says.


Too much. I once showed up at a college dance wearing a bright royal blue wool dress with wide blue satin belt and dyed-to-match blue satin heels. All the sorority girls were there in their matching blazers, straight skirts, and penny loafers. No, my date never asked me out again. That little story has a lot of "too much" in it, doesn't it? Too much outfit. Too much embarrassment. What is your story of too much? I once ate too much cheesecake, but if I told you about it, you would say, uh, too much information. Have you ever told too much, spent too much, loved too much, or suffered too much injustice? Write about it. Then re-write it -- until it is ready for going out in public.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL - Today's recipe is from  Enjoy!

German Chocolate Pie

1 c. sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp. cocoa

Mix well.

2 slightly beaten eggs
3 tbsp. melted butter
2/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. coconut
1/3 c. pecans

Pour into a 9 inch crust and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

The instructions aren't very specific, but I'm guessing you mix the wet ingredients and add them to the combined dry ingredients and then add the coconut and pecans. Or would you add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients? There's some rule of thumb about that, but I also do not remember that. However, I do remember that this recipe is chocolate and easy.

You still have time to order the Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook, Second Edition. It's a great Christmas gift or project for the new year. Find it at

A fashion photographer, I am not; but I took the photos.

All rights reserved 2011 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stir It Up Today


A couple of hours after last week's post (the one with the recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies), I got a phone call from my friend, Justine. "Come on by. I have pumpkin chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven."

"Today's recipe cookies? How did you do that so fast?"

She said she had all the ingredients on hand so she made them. A double batch, in fact. Thank goodness she lives nearby. I was there in a flash.

I was so impressed with Justine's ability to stir up a batch of cookies without all the "someday-ing" I indulge in, I thought it would be a great blog post. I would take a picture of a plate of the cookies she sent home with me and write about how important it is to avoid procrastination I would say, When you have a good idea, write it down. When you see a good market for your writing, send your writing out. When you remember something from your life, write about it immediately.

That was what I was going to do -- someday -- when I got around to another blog post.

And then one day, I entered the kitchen and there was Gentleman Friend with the last portion of the last cookie raised to his mouth.

"Waaaiiiit!" I wailed. "I wanted to take a picture of the cookies."

The poor guy looked downright guilty as he gently laid the cookie remains back on the plate. I snapped one quick picture and returned the morsel to him. I might mention he was not so guilt-ridden he was unable to gobble down the last bit.

That's what happens. Fail to write down an idea, a story, send a submission, and it disappears before you know it. I'm going to try to follow Justine's good example and stir up my ideas today and not dream about doing it "someday."

PS - I heard from Ronnie that she, too, made the cookies that day.


Red-handed. Have you ever been like Gentleman Friend? Caught red-handed? Actually, he was doing nothing wrong, but sometimes we all do. Maybe you were red-faced instead of red-handed. Maybe you saw a cardinal one day -- they're red. Maybe you were sunburned. It's okay to go far afield with the Launching Pad. Write whatever comes to mind. Later, shape and polish it into a story or essay.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL The inspiration for today's recipe came from; however, I didn't follow the recipe exactly. If you look on, the original recipe is called Israeli Stuffed Dates. It calls for Medjool dates, bittersweet chocolate, pecans, and sweetened, shredded coconut. My version is below.

Chocolate-Dipped Dates Stuffed with Nuts

Dark chocolate chips - because I like dark chocolate. You could use milk chocolate or whatever.
A package of whatever kind of dates the grocery store has
Walnuts - because that's what I had on hand
Sweetened, shredded coconut. Optional

Melt small batches of the chocolate chips. While it melts, keep one eye on it and one eye on the dates as you stuff them with nuts. You can sort of shape and form the dates around the nuts. Dip one end of the stuffed date in the melted chocolate. Place on wax paper. Sprinkle with coconut. I served these in little candy cups to help them stay upright. Dates and dark chocolate are a good source of all sorts of healthful stuff. 

Writing your life story is good for your health, too. Get started with Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook, Second Edition, available at

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Get Close


 At a recent meeting of the life story writing group, Sue read something she had written about her father's duty in the Civil Air Patrol just before and during World War II. She had her father's pilot log book and she had researched the history of and requirements for membership. Lots of good material.

However, Sue felt that the story read like an encyclopedia entry. She asked the group for opinions and suggestions.
We all agreed that the story was fine as it was, but the only problem with the story is the same problem with the photo above. We don't know where to give our attention. There are too many pumpkins, too many shelves, one sign that has absolutely nothing to do with pumpkins, and other signs that, while they give information, aren't especially interesting.

Both the story and the photo can be improved very simply. Get closer. Focus on one pumpkin. Or, in the case of Sue's story, focus on her father in particular instead of all the men of the Civil Air Patrol in general.

For example, instead of writing, "They had to provide their own planes," she could write, "Daddy had to provide his own plane." Instead of writing, "They received a small daily allowance," she could write, "Dad's allowance barely covered daily meals." (Sue had specific details such as the amount of the allowance. I just don't remember them right now, but you get the idea.)

Get close so we really get to know the person. And then we care. And then we want to read more.

Out of my gourd. Remember that old saying? I've always liked it. Maybe gourd is just a funny word. And gourds are just kind of funny themselves. Lumpy and bumpy and twisted. Colorful. Useful. So what does it mean to be out of my gourd? You don't need to use that actual phrase. Just think of a time you felt crazed or wacky or lumpy and bumpy.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL Today's recipe is from Tamara Hall's contribution at It's an interesting combination of pumpkin and chocolate chip -- perfect for this time of year -- Halloween or Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. pumpkin
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil
1 egg
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. milk
1 c. chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
Nuts (optional)

Directions: Dissolve baking soda in milk; set aside. In large bowl add
pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg; stir. Add flour, baking powder,
cinnamon, salt and baking soda mixture. Mix well. Stir in
chocolate chips and vanilla. Spoon onto cookie sheet. Bake at
375 degrees 10 to 12 minutes or until done.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Piece of Cake

Photo by Carol Newman

Yes, we eat chocolate at the life story writing group meetings. You can too. Jane is starting a group in Montanna, and Margaret has found a group in North Carolina. Is there a life story writing group in your area? Ask at your library. Read the book section of your local newspaper. If you find a group, join it. If not, start your own. Create a flyer and post it at the library or at your church  or community center. Soon you will have fun, friends, and find your life newly affirmed.

Jerry found affirmation by writing about two Berlin trips and having his story published in his local newspaper. Last week we talked about Jerry taking the initiative to go in person to visit the newspaper editor. This worked for Jerry, but, of course, we don't want flash mobs in editors' offices so use some common sense and courtesy.

What else did Jerry do to get his story published? Let's look again at what he said: (Jerry's comments are in blue.)

I wrote the article to have something for our writing group meeting.

Aha! There's one important reason to join a group. It keeps you motivated and writing.

It wasn't until I got started that I realized that this was a milestone anniversary of the event.

If he had not started writing, he wouldn't have had the insight. Writing is a process. Revelations come through the writing. 

Over the weekend I did some editing and touching up to round it up and to make a point.

Jerry didn't settle for that preliminary draft he brought to the group. He continued to polish and he made sure there was a point to the article. We don't want the reader to come to the end and say, "So?"

I expressed some disbelief that the paper would overlook such a major historical event,

When Jerry talked to the editor, or when you have a telephone conversation or mail conversation with an editor, be prepared to "sell" the story. Why is it important? Why would the publication's readers be interested?

and asked if it could be printed as a feature on Saturday.

Jerry suggested when and where the story would fit into the newspaper. This shows the editor you are familiar with the publication and that you have saved the editor some work by thinking about placement. A basic rule of selling: ask for the order.

Good work, Jerry. Thanks for the reminders for all of us. And for those of you without a life story writing group, keep joining us here, find a group, or start a group. It's a piece of cake. (Sorry, couldn't resist trying to tie this all together with chocolate.)

To see all of Jerry's comments and a link to his article, see the Sept. 12, 2011 post.


Why fight it? Let's just go with it as the Launching Pad? Piece of cake.  What has been easy for you? What did you think was going to be easy, but was not? What is the most delicious piece of cake you have ever had? The worst? One time I was a bar-b-que sauce judge at the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo. Sounds easy and fun, right? I love bar-b-que sauce so much I could drink it. But not this day! What were the contestants thinking? Was it some sort of "punked" routine? One sauce was truly gag-worthy.  What's your piece of cake story?

CHOCOLATE INKWELL - Have you seen the new Food Channel show, "The Pioneer Woman" on Saturday mornings? I love it. It's unlike any other show on right now. On a recent show, her young teen daughter made a sheet cake in the background while The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, made the main meal. This cake is sometimes called Texas Sheet Cake. Whatever it is called, it is easy to make and super-yummy to eat. And, it contains the magic ingredients -- Eagle Brand Condensed Milk and chocolate. This recipe is from

Chocolate Sheet Cake
Photo courtesy of

Chocolate Sheet Cake

Crisco® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray
1 1/4 cups butter, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, divided

1 cup water
2 cups Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts


HEAT oven to 350°F. Coat 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan with no-stick cooking spray.

MELT 1 cup butter in small saucepan. Stir in 1/4 cup cocoa and water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in large mixing bowl. Add cocoa mixture, beating well. Stir in 1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk, eggs and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.
BAKE 15 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.
MELT remaining butter in small saucepan. Add remaining cocoa and sweetened condensed milk. Stir in powdered sugar and nuts. Spread on warm cake.

For a mocha chocolate sheet cake: ADD 1 tablespoon instant coffee with cocoa to cake and 1 tablespoon instant coffee with cocoa to frosting.

Discover the fun of life story writing at
All rights reserved 2011 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jump the Fence

Berlin Wall 1975 Checkpoint Charlie
photo courtesy of Jerry Pratt


A few days after the August meeting of our life story writing group, Jerry, who lives in Independence, Missouri, called with news.  His story about the anniversary of the Berlin Wall going up had been published. His experience reminded me of an anecdote told by the instructor of a feature story writing class. 

 It seems an editor sent a reporter to get an interview with a jockey after a race. When the editor asked why the reporter had returned without the interview, the reporter said he couldn't reach the jockey because there was a fence in the way. To which the editor demanded, "Why didn't you jump the fence?"

Jerry definitely jumped the fence to get his story published. I asked Jerry to tell us how he did it.

I wrote the article to have something for our writing group meeting. It wasn't until I got started that I realized that this was a milestone anniversary of the event.  I thought about getting it into the paper, but by Thursday it was too late for The Examiner on Saturday.

Over the weekend I did some editing and touching up to round it up and to make a point. I took it to The Examiner on Wednesday morning. Just before the noon deadline, I spoke with an editor. I prefer meeting face-to-face, and I didn't trust using e-mail where it might sit in a pile of a lot of other stuff, until someone might "get 'round tuit", or get deleted. I expressed some disbelief that the paper would overlook such a major historical event, and asked if it could be printed as a feature on Saturday. It wasn't an editorial or letter-to-the-editor, or something to be reduced to a few paragraphs.

The first thing Saturday morning I ran out to pick up the paper. I didn't find anything in the front section. There was a voice-mail message waiting for me, when we got home Saturday night. Some gentleman raved in appreciation concerning the article. He cut the article and was saving it. Yahoo!

After digging the papert out of the trash, I found the article. I was amazed at its size, about three columns! They made a four-column headline and retitled it  Disbelief on the Anniversary of the Berlin Wall Going Up,

Other than a very few internal edits, it printed as written. Thank you, Examiner!

Jerry, who is a couple of years older than I am, likes to tell people I was his high school English teacher. And he is right. I taught high school English at Jerry's high school, East High, in Des Moines, Iowa. We just weren't there at the same time. By the time I was there, Jerry was in the Air Force, stationed in Minot, North Dakota. Still, I am as happy for Jerry as if he were my high school student. 

Of course, you don't want to go knocking on an editor's door every time you write something, but on certain special occasions, it pays off. Next week we'll talk about some more things Jerry did right.


Disbelief.  A recent night Young Advisor and I watched Project Runway TV. One of our favorite contestants created a garment so weird it left us in open-mouthed disbelief. East coast residents watched torrents of water rush through their cities. News reports told of huge waste in the war in Afghanistan.

A favorite phrase of a friend's toddler is, "I can't beyeeve."  What has caused you to stop in disbelief?

Photo courtesy of

CHOCOLATE INKWELL - Can't finish this blog post. Have to rush away to make today's recipe. It sounds so good. Okay. I'll share. Here's the recipe. It is from my new favorite website: I love Eagle Brand Condensed Milk. It makes me feel so good, I'm pretty sure it's a health food.

Chocolate Coconut Balls

Yield: 4 dozen balls

1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 (14 oz.) package flaked coconut
1 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 cup (6 oz.) mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 cups (18 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons Crisco® All-Vegetable Shortening

STIR together sweetened condensed milk, coconut, pecans, bread crumbs and mini chocolate chips; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

SHAPE mixture with lightly greased hands into 1-inch balls. (Mixture will be moist.) Place on wax paper. Cover with additional wax paper; let stand 8 hours.

MELT chocolate chips and shortening in large saucepan. Spoon chocolate mixture evenly over coconut balls covering top and sides completely and allowing excess to drip. Place on wax paper; chill until firm.

Want to write about your life? Get started with Write Your Life Story Workbook in Eight Weeks, Second Edition. Available at

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Monday, August 22, 2011

A Sure Way to Get Started

I was only on page five of the Introduction to The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life , a recent book written by Marion Roach Smith, when I felt my eyes widen and my mouth drop open. Roach writes: "This [memoir writing] is serious work. And it cannot be reduced to generic writing exercises and prefabricated prompts. . . . I suspect that those manners of nonsense have instead stolen what little time you had for writing." There's more to her rant, but you get the idea.  

Despite my dismay at the introduction, I read on and found much to agree with in the book. However, I could not stop thinking about writing prompts, (Launching Pads as we call them here) and Launching Pads made me think about  Betty S. I think Betty, who has been in our life story writing group the longest of anyone, loves Launching Pads and has great success with writing from them and getting the writing published. So I asked Betty to tell us about her process. Here's what she wrote: 

"The launching pad for next time is bicycle,” our writer’s group leader instructed. I had no idea how to write anything that had to do with a bicycle. I never had a bicycle, not even as a youngster. But, my brother had a black and orange bicycle. I also had a subject to write about.

I saw my brother’s bicycle in my mind’s eye and soon I was tossing words around in my head, then eventually I had a poem written, titled, “The Bicycle.” Much to my delight a favorite national magazine published it.

Another time the prompt or launching pad, which our writer’s group relates to,
was “A Strand of Beads.” I gathered thoughts in my head. The antique necklace I couldn’t live without from the Antique Mall would be something to write about. Or, the necklace a high school friend bought at a garage sale which she later gave to me. But, I felt a closer bond to my mother’s necklace she wore on her wedding day. When I had sufficient material stored in my brain, I typed the words on my computer. The poem “A Strand of Beads” was born.
Capper’s magazine asked readers when they think about a special Christmas, what do they remember most about the day? Again, the brain process worked for me. I had the initial writing subject. I remembered many special Christmas days, and then chose one to write about. I wrote a memoir about a Christmas in Albuqurque when my husband was stationed at Sandia Base. The editors posted the story on their web site.

Sure, I can write without a launching pad, but when I need motivation, inspiration, or just simply something to write about, it’s the prompt that gives me a head start.

What’s next month’s launching pad? Oh, yes, write about an item that belongs or belonged to a loved one.

I use a white oval bowl that was part of my mother’s everyday dishes. I see steaming, hot, mashed potatoes fluffed and piled high in the bowl. The plates sit on a faded oilcloth that covers the small, drop-leaf, wooden table.

Ah, the story begins………Potatoes again tonight? It was depression years……..

I'm not sure how many stories, poems, and essays Betty has had published that began with writing prompts, but the number is considerable.

Whether you are writing for publication, posterity, or personal growth, don't overlook the humble writing prompt. It might be the pad to launch you into satisfying and successful writing. Thanks, Betty, for the "how-to."


Humble. Remember last time the post here was about making your story connect with the reader by using a concrete object or a specific event. What can you write about the concept of "humble" (humility) without ever using the actual word? Do you know a humble person? Have you ever had to learn the painful lesson of humility?


Look at this from  Only two ingredients. Cake mix and a surprise. This I gotta try.

Yum Yum Brownie Muffins

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes

One 18.25-oz. box devil's food cake mix
One 15-oz. can pure pumpkin (Libby's is the best!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour cake mix into a large bowl and whisk to remove any lumps. Add pumpkin and stir until completely smooth and uniform.

Don't add any other ingredients that may be mentioned on the cake mix box, like eggs, oil, or water. The mixture will be very thick, so you might be tempted to add in other things to make the batter thinner. Do not do this!
Evenly distribute batter into a 12-cup muffin pan lined with foil baking cups and/or sprayed with nonstick spray. Place pan in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and then serve!


Recipe photo courtesy of All other photos by Carol Newman.

Writing your life story is a piece of cake with Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook. Order at

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Monday, August 15, 2011

How Do You Say Love?

A Blue Pitcher (but not Margaret's)


Last week at the meeting of the life story writing group, we heard a story Margaret had written about her mother as a child. Margaret engaged all our senses in her story about a country breakfast that included milk her mother, Ann, collected straight from a cow and into her little blue pitcher. In the story, Margaret wrote that her mother is no longer with her, but her mother's little blue pitcher is.

After hearing the story read, there was much for us to admire about it; but then Sue said something that really got to the point of the story and to the point of what the rest of us writers can learn from it.

Sue said, "This story isn't about the little blue pitcher; it's about love -- Margaret's love for her mother."

The pitcher story showed us the love without Margaret ever having to write the word "love." We experienced the love in the story in a way that would not have been possible if Margaret had simply written, "I loved my mother. She was loving and kind and would do anything for me."

My mother-in-law, Phoebe, also had a pitcher that had belonged to her mother. She had told me how sad she was when her mother died when Phoebe was only fourteen. I was sympathetic for her, but it was not until the day she handed me the pitcher, which I had seen on a kitchen shelf for years, and asked if I would keep it for my daughter, her granddaughter. When she told me about her mother using the pitcher and it being the only thing she had of her mother's, then I was able to see Phoebe as a young motherless girl and truly feel her sadness. Phoebe's story was about grief.

If you want to write about an abstract subject such as love, patriotism, faithfulness, or grief, find a concrete hook to hang it on. On the other hand, if you have some small event or artifact you want to write about, find the universal theme. Ask yourself, What is the story really about?


Write about an item that belongs or belonged to a loved one. What greater theme can that story illustrate? For example, I wrote a story about a shirt my daughter wore in middle school. After she no longer wore it, I began wearing it and wore it until it fell into shreds last year. The story is about how a mother-daughter relationship develops over the years. It is not a unique theme, but the story of the shirt carries and illustrates the theme. When I sat down to write, I did not have that all figured out. I just let my thoughts wander and wrote about the shirt for ten minutes. Later I re-wrote (and re-wrote and re-wrote) the story until it worked. Just as you can do with the story of the item you choose to write about. 

NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Pie from
NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip PieAccording to recipe notes, the sweet, creamy richness of a brown sugar base makes this chocolate chip pie a perfect foil for chopped nuts and whipped or ice cream. Serve with strong coffee or tea. Sounds yummy-ly delicious, doesn't it? But -- just wait til you read how easy it is to make! Equal parts sugar, chocolate chips, and nuts. And a heap o' buttah and eggs. Oh my!

1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell *
2 large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup (6 oz.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts
Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream (optional)

PREHEAT oven to 325° F.
BEAT eggs in large mixer bowl on high speed until foamy. Beat in flour, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Beat in butter. Stir in morsels and nuts. Spoon into pie shell.
BAKE for 55 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between edge and center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.

Pitcher photos by Carol Newman. Recipe photo from

For more writing tips, writing prompts, and resources, go to

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Let Your Bookcase Be the Boss

A "Sign" from the Bookshelf - photo by Carol Newman

I can't imagine how it happened, but I was just sitting here at the computer and a book fell out of my bookcase. Well, maybe I was talking on the phone and browsing through the books and a book jumped into my hand. Yeah, that's what happened.

When the book, a favorite of mine, Kitchen Table Wisdom 10th Anniversary by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. a counselor for those with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses, fell open to the Introduction, here is what I read: All stories are full of bias and uniqueness; they mix fact with meaning. This is the root of their power. Stories allow us to see something familiar through new eyes. We become in that moment a guest to someone else's life, and together with them sit at the feet of their teacher. The meaning we may draw from someone's story may be different from the meaning they themselves have drawn. No matter. Facts bring us to knowledge, but stories lead us to wisdom. (my emphasis)

Gentleman Friend has recently taken up a genealogical search for his mother's mother's Native American side of the family. Many of the facts have been surprisingly easy to find; however, those facts are not enough. It is the stories he wants, he says. The stories that are, most likely, gone.


Full of bias - Know someone who is full of bias? Has that someone ever been you? Is it good to be biased? What the heck is bias anyway? Do you sew? What is that kind of bias? Can you find any wisdom in it?

CHOCOLATE INKWELL - This is another from Family Cookbook Friend. When the email with the recipe arrived, all the subject line showed was "Chocolate Mayonnaise." Now, you know how much I love chocolate, but chocolate mayonnaise was not sounding good. So glad I opened the email and saw the word "cake." I, too,  remember this recipe from back in the day.

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake


2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. cocoa
2 t. soda
1 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 c. boiling water
1 t. vanilla

Directions: Mix salad dressing, boiling water, & vanilla. Beat 2 min. Then add dry ingredients. Mix well. Pour into 2 greased 8" layer pans. Bake at 325º -350º for 45 min. Frost as desired. Note from Family Cookbook Friend: An old, old recipe that is extremely moist. Let people guess the secret ingredient.

Don't let your stories be lost to future generations. Use  Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook - Second Edition to write your stories. Make'm as biased as you want. You will find the workbook at:

All rights reserved 2011 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

Monday, August 1, 2011

Instant Inspiration

Photo Illustration by Carol Newman

Last week you read Donna Holman's fun story, written in response to the writing prompt "a step." This week Donna tells us how she used the prompt to consciously recall an event she hadn't thought of in years. Here is what Donna wrote about the process:

It’s difficult to describe a mental process. It took me half an hour to write the paragraphs explaining how I got from “a step” to a story about a ski lift; but the process actually happened in seconds. And…everyone’s process is different.

When I saw the prompt “a step,” nothing came immediately to mind. Then I considered the suggestions Carol provided along with the prompt: Write about a step you took or didn't take. Or write about the front porch steps at your house. Or how about a dance step you learned? What other steps can you think of? Step-ladder. Step-mother [etc.]

So I started doing some word association of my own around the concept. First, on a literal level, as a noun: first steps, back steps, baby steps, broken steps, steep steps, stair steps, step one, step two, step three.

Then I thought about it as a concept: stepping up, stepping out, two stepping, stepping in it, stepping into harm’s way, a step in the right direction, a step in the wrong direction.

And I thought about how we step: we do it barefoot, or in shoes, in flip flops, or in boots…

Ah ha! Somehow, in that mysterious way the mind works, the combination of the words “step” and “boots” brought to mind skis and how awkward it is to step around in them. And that triggered the memory of when I put on a pair of skis and stepped onto a ski lift for the first time. Once I made that connection, the story was there.

Whether a person is an experienced life story writer or a novice, each individual has to experiment until they find what works for them. Something will – journals, daydreams, classes, conversations, quiet contemplation. The thing about writing prompts is they can lead you to unexpected places….like the top of a mountain. The material is there…waiting for you. As Flannery O’Connor said, "… anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days."

Prompts can help take you to your stories. Even if you have to hop on a ski lift to get there.

FOOTNOTE: Several years later, I returned to the ski slopes. Older and wiser, I resolved to give the ski lift another try. In a perfect world, I would have dismounted the lift and glided away for a lovely sashay down the mountain. But, in fact, my second experience was nearly identical to my first: me on the ground with a cracked noggin. Lesson learned.

The photo illustration is a rough (very rough - and not entirely accurate) approximation of how Donna arrived at her topic. This method has various names, including Mind Mapping, and you can look at the illustration and see how it works. Often, however, this entire process will happen in your brain in seconds. If it doesn't, you can rely on the pen and paper method.

Thanks, Donna for a wonderful story and wonderful explanation.


In seconds - The mental process described above can happen in seconds. What else can happen or has happened to you in seconds: fall in love, win the lottery, get a life-changing phone call, understand an equation, get an idea? This is the "stuff" of story. Something changes.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL This recipe is from a friend who is preparing a family cookbook. An ice cream dessert sounds just right for this hot, hot, hot weather. No cooking, baking, or heating required.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Dessert

1 pkg. Oreo cookies (crumbled - reserve some for topping)
1 gallon mint chip ice cream
fresh strawberries (optional)

Crumble Oreo cookies and spread in 13"x 9" pan about 1/2" thick. Spread ice cream over crumbs. Freeze. Thaw slightly to cut. Serve with a few Oreo crumbs sprinkled on top & a strawberry for garnish.

Write your life story or memoir with help from Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook - Second Edition.

All rights reserved 2011 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Step Out With Your Writing

Rocky Mountain National Park - Photo by Carol Newman

In the July 11, 2011 post, Write Toward the Lake, you were invited to use the word "step" as a Writing Prompt. Do you ever wonder what the heck you're supposed to do with a "Writing Prompt?" Actually, I'm not too crazy about the term myself, but here's how it works. Without thinking too much about it, you let the prompt trigger a memory or connection or reference and then you writer about it. Here's what Donna Holman wrote: (Next week she'll tell us about her thought/writing/editing process for this piece.)

The Lift Stops Here

I watched the seven-year-old boy just ahead of me in line effortlessly jump onto the ski lift.

“Well, if he can do it, I can do it,” I thought.

It was my premier visit to the Rocky Mountains. Though having lived the life of a flat-lander on the plains of Kansas, I was a recent transplant to Colorado. And here I was, trying out the state’s favorite sport for the first time.

I watched the people ahead of me in the tow line slide into the lift’s path just a moment before a seat came and whisked them away, into the heavens it seemed, their skis dangling like tiny twigs lashed to their feet, colorful parkas polka-dotting the blue sky above, all like tiny exclamation points punctuating the ski lift’s route up the snow-draped mountain.

“I can do this,” I told myself again.

Soon I’d advanced to the head of the line. I held my breath and took a step. I felt the hard edge of the lift seat hit the back of my thigh and sweep me away.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I turned to the person seated next to me, a boy, maybe eleven or twelve.

“Where does the lift stop to let us off?” I asked, making polite conversation.

He looked at me blankly. “The lift doesn’t stop,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked, feeling a tiny pinprick of panic.

“You just jump off when you get to the top,” he said.

“What!” I exclaimed. “Jump off? On the top of a mountain!”

He must have seen the fear in my face because then he tried to calm me. “Just watch me,” he said. “Do what I do.”

“How can this be?” I thought, incredulous.

The mountain’s peak drew nearer. My stomach flip-flopped. Soon I saw people in the seats ahead stand up, glide away from the lift, and turn smoothly down the snow-packed mountain paths.

“Get ready,” coaxed my young companion. “Slide to the edge of your seat.”

I scooted forward as close as I dared, to the edge of the seat, my heart pounding. The lift that had seemed to be moving so languidly up the mountain now seemed to be racing. The mountain top loomed.

“Now stand up!” urged my coach as the ground came galloping towards us.

I stood up. The surface beneath my feet was ice, pure ice. Thick and gray and merciless. I felt my body listing backwards. Felt my skis slip out from under me. Felt my head crack against the hard, unforgiving ice. A fountain of fireworks exploded behind my eyeballs. As I sprawled on the ground, one ski slipped from my bindings. My goggles twisted to the back of my head.

My lift companion, who had smoothly dismounted his seat, watched in horror. As he reached out to help me, he lost his footing and fell beside me. Then, I felt the sharp prod of a ski tip against my side and the thud of another body falling on top of me. It was the person who’d been in the seat behind us on the lift. Then his lift companion tripped over the boy lying beside me. A ski lift operator rushed from the control booth to drag us out of the way. He grabbed the sleeve of a parka and pulled.

The rest of us – a spectacle of intertwined arms and legs, big boots and errant skis – thrashed and squirmed, attempting to claw our way out of the lift’s icy path. But not quickly enough. Within seconds, the lift’s relentless advancement dumped yet another person onto our human pile of brightly-colored misfortune.

That’s when I heard it…the sound of gears groaning to a halt. Then utter silence. And in that moment, I knew my companion on the way up the mountain had been wrong. The lift does stop.

©Donna Holman 2011

Thank you, Donna. We look forward to reading about how this piece came about from the writing prompt. 


In the opening paragraph, I wrote that I'm not crazy about the term "Writing Prompt." In my writing classes and groups, I don't even use the term. Instead, we have a "Launching Pad." It's a jumping-off place for your writing. You don't have to stick to the prompt, you just jump out there and write about whatever comes to mind. In Donna's story above, you can read an example of how this works. Next week she will give us specifics about how this can work. Meanwhile, this space is officially renamed "Launching Pad." Since this blog is "Angel In Your Inkwell," imagine yourself on a cloud (Is this getting too cute?) and just jump out there with your writing. Don't hold back. In fact, let's use that as this week's Launching Pad: Don't hold back.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL  This week's recipe is courtesy of an old magazine in Diagnostic Imaging's waiting room.  During a fun-filled routine visit, (all okay for another year) I saw this treat described in either Martha Stewart Living or Real Simple -- can't remember which. Since it was a February issue, the theme was chocolate. 

Frozen Hot Chocolate 

There was no recipe. The article showed a cup of steaming hot chocolate and a frozen treat on a stick.
Make hot chocolate. Freeze it in individual molds with a stick inserted. I'm guessing you would cool the hot chocolate before freezing it. Unsure. It was a triple-digit day when I saw the photo of these frozen chocolate treats, and the whole hot-to-cold idea made it especially appealing. 

Updated and expanded Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook will help you with the fun and life-affirming experience of writing about your life. Order here:

Find more writing resources at

All rights reserved 2011 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

Monday, July 18, 2011

What Great-Grandfather Can Teach Us About Writing

Great-Grandfather's Journal  Photo by Sally Jadlow

You may remember a few weeks ago a writer inquired about how to copy her grandmother's diary safely. We came up with some possible ideas, but I also asked if you would like to read a journal of even everyday events.

One writer I heard back from was Sally Jadlow who had the following to say:

Carol, I based my book, The Late Sooner, on my great-grandfather's diary. He wrote one line a day. He participated in the 1889 Land Run into Oklahoma. Attached are pictures of his "diary:" an old ledger book. The picture I sent was a photo I shot at home.

Before I started the book, I went through and typed each line in the journal into my computer. Great-grandfather wrote one line a day in his ledger book. Then I went through and bolded those things that strung the story together. That became my outline for the book. I made scenes with dialogue of the most important points in the outline. What he left out, I fictionalized.

I made two trips to Oklahoma to do research in the Guthrie Historical Society archives, the land office archives, and to walk the actual land. Some of my great-grandfather's terms in his diary were unfamiliar to me. At one point in the diary, he wrote, "Went to the schoolhouse to speak to the government agents about the sufferers." Since they weren't a state and didn't vote, this phrase threw me until I visited the historical society.

I learned that in 1890, the locals called that year, "The Year of the Turnip." The residents suffered extreme drought and prairie fires that year and had nothing to eat but turnips. The population and livestock were on the verge of starvation. The citizens met with the government agents to present their plight.

As a result, the government sent trainloads of wheat for seed and for food to the people and animals. Otherwise everyone would have gone back to where they came from. Up to this point in my research, I had never read anything about this terrible famine that almost derailed the settlement of Oklahoma.

That famine played heavily into the plot of the story.

Did you notice that Sally's great-grandfather wrote only one line per day? One line! I can do it. You can do it. In a few minutes, you will be finished reading this. Then it will be your turn -- write.

(Thanks, Sally.)


Write about famine. Most of us haven't experienced real famine, although I know from my life story classes that some of you have experienced real famine -- in wartime Russia for instance. However, you may choose to write about a spiritual famine, an emotional famine, or a chocolate famine -- "The Day My Candy Dish Went Empty." Maybe your socks get lost in the laundry and you have a famine of left socks. I don't intend to make light of real suffering, but in your writing, you can choose which way to go -- literal, figurative, or anywhere along the spectrum.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL  This no-bake recipe from is perfect for this blistering weather. No matter how hot it gets, we still need chocolate.

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

3 cups quick cooking oats
2 cups sugar
1/4 pound butter
1/2 cup milk
3 tbs cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Put the sugar, butter, milk and cocoa in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and continue to boil for about one minute.
2. Remove from the heat and mix in the vanilla extract and peanut butter. When these are well combined, add the oatmeal and mix together thoroughly.
3. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on to waxed kitchen paper. Put them in the refrigerator for about and hour until firm.
You can begin writing your life story right now with my expanded and updated Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook, available at

 All rights reserved 2011 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

Monday, July 11, 2011

Write Toward the Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park - Photo by Carol Newman


Gentleman Friend and I just returned from a trip north of Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park. More snow than usual this time of year topped the mountains, and with the clouds moving in behind them, when I looked up, the mountains looked almost ominous. I wanted to do some hiking, but the mountains and the weather seemed too rugged.  

Our map showed a little valley with a small lake, Lake Sprague. There we found a flat trail, warm sunshine and a cool breeze. We circled the lake once and could have done it again, but we sat to bask in the feat, though minor, that we had accomplished and to look up into the mountains at what we had not attempted. 

You know, I think small accomplishments are just fine. Writing life story is like that. Often people see the mountain that they think they have to climb to write about their life and they feel too overwhelmed to look up and start the climb.

That's when I say, look down. Take a little step. Write a couple of sentences. Do it again. And pretty soon you have gathered an entire lake of things from your life. Some places will feel sunny, some will be shady and refreshing, some will be ominous. Look toward the sunny and refreshing. If you feel like someday tackling the ominous, fine. If not, you still will have produced something worthwhile.


A step . . . Write about a step you took or didn't take. Or write about the front porch steps at your house. Or how about a dance step you learned? What other steps can you think of? Step-ladder. Step-mother - having a step-mother, being a step-mother, being sure your birth mother was really a step-mother because she was so mean and wouldn't let you go on a unchaperoned overnight trip with everyone else when you were in high school. Write about many steps, or one step, or make up something else, like barrel racing.


This recipe is from Diabetic Everyday Cooking magazine. The carb exchange is 1.5 carbs and the carb choices 1.5.

Black Forest Trifle

1 8-ounce package no-sugar-added low fat chocolate cake mix
1 4-serving-size package sugar-free instant chocolate pudding mix
2 cups fat-free milk
1 pound fresh, dark sweet cherries, pitted -- or one 16-ounce package frozen unsweetened pitted dark sweet cherries, thawed and well drained
2 cups frozen, fat-free whipped dessert topping, thawed
Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

1. Prepare cake mix according to package directions in a 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, remove from pan. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

2. Meanwhile, prepare pudding mix according to package directions using the 2 cups fat-free milk. Cover; chill about 30 minutes or until set.

3. In a 3-quart trifle bowl or glass bowl, layer half of the cake cubes, half of the cherries, half of the chocolate pudding and half of the whipped topping. Repeat the layers. If desired, sprinkle with cocoa powder. Makes 16 (2/3 cup) servings.

Want to write your life story? It's easy with Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook. Now updated and expanded. More tips, more how-to, more before-and-after writing samples, more resoures.
All rights reserved 2011 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®