Win, Win, Win

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

‘Tis the season of giving, but everyone knows it’s hard to make it through December without buying a little something for yourself. Here’s your chance to give and do something for yourself at the same time. It’s a win for Toasted Cheese, a win for our authors, and a win for you.

  1. Buy one of the books in “The Toasted Cheese Wish Book” via a TC link.
  2. Read the book!
  3. Write a review of the book and send it to reviews[at] Yes, do it. Make it your New Year’s Resolution!
  4. Your name in lights, er, pixels.
  5. Repeat steps 1–4 as many times as you like.

Start a Commonplace Book

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

If you’re like most writers these days, you spend most of your writing time at a keyboard and rarely pick up a pen or pencil except, perhaps, to jot yourself a note. It’s just so much easier and faster to type and copy/paste than to handwrite and transcribe. But what if you’re missing out on creative leaps you might have taken if you picked up a pen every now and then?

Your mission this month is to start an old-school commonplace book, even if—especially if—you’re resistant to the idea. “But I prefer to blog,” you say. No worries. There’s no law saying you can’t have two commonplaces. Use your blog for quotes and ideas you want to share with others and your old-fashioned book for things you want to keep to yourself for now. Come on, there’s something a little exciting about having a Secret Book, right?

Your commonplace book will likely be with you for years, so think about choosing a sturdier book than you might normally choose for a regular journal or writer’s notebook. A commonplace book is the perfect opportunity to indulge your desire for that leather-bound journal you’ve long admired but never been able to justify spending that much money on. (With the gift-giving season upon us, maybe it’s time to update your wishlist.)

Once you’ve selected your commonplace book, make sure you have a pen or pencil you like writing with. A writing instrument doesn’t need to be expensive; it does need to write easily (I like these). Avoid scratchy ballpoints that are just going to irritate you even if they do happen to be free and in arm’s reach.

Now. Do something to make your commonplace book yours: write your name inside the cover, maybe add the date or place. Finally, find a quotation you love and write it in your book. Congratulations, you’ve started commonplacing!

Haunted Ideas for Halloween

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Write a story based on the urban legend of “Bloody Mary”—teens summoning magical visions using a mirror and the repetition of the phrase “Bloody Mary.” What happens next? Something expected or something unusual?
  2. Write about a building originally designed to be a skyscraper but built on its side so it’s long with straight, parallel corridors meant to be elevator shafts. What is it used for? What mysterious forces might be upset by this change?
  3. Use a past “Dead of Winter” theme to inspire a horror story. These include: The Longest Night Of The Year; Death and Winter; The Ghost & The Darkness; The House At The End of the Road; The Souvenirs or Trophies of a Returned Soldier; The Haunted Lighthouse; Urban Legend; Alaska; Alternative Santa; Blood River Bridge; Ventriloquist; The Hidden Grave; and Skull and Bones.
  4. Enter the 2012 “Dead of Winter” contest using the theme “Heart and Soul”
  5. Research phobias, find one that you don’t find all that frightening, and create a character with that phobia.

Writing for Young Readers

A Pen In Each Hand

By Billiard

Write a story suited for young readers. If you draw, try some illustrations too. If picture books aren’t your style, try something for a middle-grade or YA audience.

Haven’t got a great idea for a book for young readers? That’s okay—start with some brainstorming. Jot down some ideas for things you think might be interesting. If you have (or know any) kids, talk to them about what they like. Or maybe think about things that interested you when you were young. Make a list, then do some freewriting to get the creative juices flowing!

One Scary Thing

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

What are you afraid of? What’s holding you back? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do one scary thing. Just one. It doesn’t need to be a big thing. In fact, it’s better if it isn’t because one of the ways we self-sabotage is by biting off more than we can chew. Take a small bite:

Write about that topic you’ve been avoiding. Enter a contest. Start a blog. Ask a favorite writer a question on Twitter. Tell your family they need to respect your writing time. Find another place to submit that story that’s been rejected nine times (but you secretly still think is good). Sign up for a class. Invest in that writing software you’ve been thinking about getting “one day.”

Reward yourself for accomplishing your goal—and then pick a new scary thing to do. Keep moving toward your writing goals, one scary thing at a time.

A Writer’s Garden of Exercises

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. If you haven’t already, join Pinterest. Make any board(s) you like and use them for inspiration. Write about what others are pinning but write especially about those things you feel compelled to repin. Note any patterns in your pins or “likes.” Write about them.
  2. If you haven’t already, join Tumblr (or make a new Tumblr just for writing inspiration). Follow the same instructions as for #1, noting what you “like” or reblog. Check your archive page for visual patterns as well as contextual patterns. Write about something from your Tumblr posts.
  3. Write about a true secret. Fictionalize it if you like. Change or add details.
    1. Use Post Secret as inspiration
    2. Send your secret to Post Secret
  4. Write about something you find fascinating that might make someone else uncomfortable.
  5. Use a phobia as inspiration.
  6. Write fan fiction using a book, TV show, character, celebrity, film, comic, etc. as inspiration.
  7. Write about something you find pleasurable, erotic, or desirable, no matter how unusual you think it is.
  8. Set your story in a new-to-you location, no matter how unfamiliar it may be. This is also good if you’re stuck. Change your setting and rewrite, allowing the setting to change your story and characters.
  9. Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind to entertain herself while convalescing. Spend some time in bed writing on a laptop, netbook, or notebook.
  10. Set up a fictional blog, using your blogger as your first person main character. Start with your character’s “about me” or with an entry about what happened to your character today. Your blog settings could be public (searchable), semi-public (able to be viewed but not accessible by search engines), or private. You can protect your private blog with a password that you give to an Ideal Reader.

What Scares You Most

A Pen In Each Hand

By Broker

As an exercise, let me suggest thinking for a few moments (but not too long; this is therapy, after all) about the things that bother you most, that scare you most, about life, the situation you’re in, the way the system works. Write out a list with a few items on it. Now wash your mind out, sit down with a blank page (or word processor window), and write about those things, either one at a time, or several together. Play with different outcomes. Find one that’s good and not wildly improbable.

Free Verse Line Breaks

A Pen In Each Hand

By Sandy Longhorn

Formal poets make decisions on line breaks based on their choice of form, including rhyme and meter. How then, can free verse poets make the most of their line breaks to emphasize sound, rhythm, and meaning? One of the best exercises in line breaks is to study, in an active way, those who have gone before.

  • Below is the text of Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Thanks” written in paragraph form.
  • Rewrite the poem and put in the line breaks where you think they fit best for sound, rhythm, and meaning.
  • Repeat with a different variation on the line breaks.
  • Check out Komunyakaa’s poem on the Internet Poetry Archive and listen to his reading of it. (No cheating and looking early.)
  • Compare your two versions to Komunyakaa’s and try to determine why he breaks his lines where he does and what impact that has on the reader.
  • Apply to your own work.


Thanks for the tree between me & a sniper’s bullet. I don’t know what made the grass sway seconds before the Viet Cong raised his soundless rifle. Some voice always followed, telling me which foot to put down first. Thanks for deflecting the ricochet against that anarchy of dusk. I was back in San Francisco wrapped up in a woman’s wild colors, causing some dark bird’s love call to be shattered by daylight when my hands reached up & pulled a branch away from my face. Thanks for the vague white flower that pointed to the gleaming metal reflecting how it is to be broken like mist over the grass, as we played some deadly game for blind gods. What made me spot the monarch writhing on a single thread tied to a farmer’s gate, holding the day together like an unfingered guitar string, is beyond me. Maybe the hills grew weary & leaned a little in the heat. Again, thanks for the dud hand grenade tossed at my feet outside Chu Lai. I’m still falling through its silence. I don’t know why the intrepid sun touched the bayonet, but I know that something stood among those lost trees & moved only when I moved.

*Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Thanks” with line breaks removed.