Choose one to revise. Each paragraph begins with an inspirational quote from a writer who knows his or her stuff! Revise the paragraph to make it better, based on the quote and the instruction above. Be creative — play — do your thang!

MAKE IT SCARY: “Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do― to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

She looked out the window again. There was her neighbor, being weird again. He left a trail of thick liquid as he dragged the garbage bag out to the bin by the road. He looked around before he made a phone call from his cell, and went back into the house.

 MAKE IT FEEL REAL: “True mysticism should not be confused with incompetence in writing which seeks to mystify where there is no mystery but is really only the necessity to fake to cover lack of knowledge or the inability to state clearly. Mysticism implies a mystery and there are many mysteries; but incompetence is not one of them; nor is overwritten journalism made literature by the injection of a false epic quality. Remember this too: all bad writers are in love with the epic.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

The afternoon expanded like a drumbeat with fever heat and the rising, rippling waves of mirage-quality distortion that filled the air a few feet above the simmering tarmac. The birds refused to sing; the dogs lay as if dead on porches that offered no shelter from summer. Neighbors peered from frosted windows into the knife-sharp brightness, their air conditioners shrieking with overwork. Indeed, global warming felt as close as an unwelcome lover today.

FIX THE STORY “If a story is no good, being based on Hamlet won’t save it.”
Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

He looked at Dessie and sighed. She was crying and pleading for his love. He hoped she wouldn’t really go drown herself, but what could he do? Life was hard for him, too! He had other things he had to take care of. He had to save the company from his wicked uncle! Really, he was doing it to protect her, anyway! His uncle was so mean! He had to avenge his father’s death before he could get married! There was just too much pressure! She would have to understand!

©2017 Burbank Writing Coaching

Want to find out how writing mentoring works to help your writing shine and get you past writer’s block! Email me to arrange your free 30-minute breakthrough session…


How do you establish a productive writing routine? Ronald Kellogg’s advice…

Wendy MacNaughton for Brain Pickings
Wendy MacNaughton from Brain Pickings

Here we are again, the symbolic (or real) beginning of the school year, and the revv up for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month).

Do you know what your writing schedule will be?

Check out this great blog from Brain Pickings!

The summary of Kellogg’s findings about the psychology of effective writing habits might inspire you!

Here’s a taste:

“Location and physical environment also play a role in maintaining a sustained and productive workflow. Bob Dylan, for instance, extolled the virtues of being able to “put yourself in an environment where you can completely accept all the unconscious stuff that comes to you from your inner workings of your mind.” Reviewing the research, Kellogg echoes Faulkner’s memorable assertion that “the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost” and notes that writers’ dedicated workspaces tend to involve solitude and quiet, although “during the apprenticeship phase of a writer’s career, almost any environment is workable” — most likely a hybrid function of youth’s high tolerance for distraction and the necessity of sharing space earlier in life when the luxury of privacy is unaffordable.

But the key psychological function of such dedicated environments isn’t so much superstitious ritualization — an effort to summon the muse through the elaborate juju of putting everything in its right place — as cognitive cueing. Kellogg considers the usefulness of a special space used solely for writing, which cultivates an “environment that cues the desired behavior.”

Read more…

We are either beginning or dead: Wendell Berry on the source of writing

Are you feeling blue because you haven’t “done-it-right enough,” “been published enough,” “written enough?” Next time you sit down to write, read this poem, and begin again!

To Hayden Carruth
by Wendell Berry 

Dear Hayden, when I read your book I was aching
in head, back, heart, and mind, and aching
with your aches added to my own, and yet for joy
I read on without stopping, made eager
by your true mastery, wit, sorrow, and joy,
each made true by the others. My reading done,
I swear I am feeling better. Here in Port Royal
I take off my hat to you up there in Munnsville
in vour great dignity of being necessary. I swear
it appears to me you’re one of the rare fellows
who may finally amount to something. What shall
I say? I greet you at the beginning of a great career?
No. I greet you at the beginning, for we are
either beginning or we are dead. And let us have
no careers, lest one day we be found dead in them.
I greet you at the beginning that you have made
authentically in your art, again and again.
“To Hayden Carruth” by Wendell Berry from New Collected Poems. © Counterpoint Press, 2012.


“I greet you at the beginning, for we are
either beginning or we are dead. And let us have
no careers, lest one day we be found dead in them.
I greet you at the beginning that you have made
authentically in your art, again and again.”

Today, commit to making that authentic beginning, somehow, in your writing. Put down that sack of baggage and regrets and disappointments and fears — if only for 1 hour — that makes you wonder if you even are a writer. (Stop it! YOU ARE A WRITER!) And then write. Let this Monday be a good day!

That process is the authenticity we crave as writers. That is where we live most.

Carol Burbank is a writing and life coach, an editor, and a published writer. You can find out more at www.carolburbank.com, or email her.


When writers “hear what’s going on/not in my own head?” Inspiration and prompt from Louise Erdrich…

I’m proposing this poem, posted today by the Writer’s Almanac as both inspiration and as a prompt. First, it’s an amazing poem — simple, layered, evocative. But it also proposes something radical, even paradoxical. What if we listened to the world instead of our own brainheart ramblings? Could we write about what is not in our heads?

Well, see what you think…

two-horses-3Spring Evening on Blind Mountain
by Louise Erdrich  

I won’t drink wine tonight
I want to hear what is going on
not in my own head
but all around me.
I sit for hours
outside our house on Blind Mountain.
Below this scrap of yard
across the ragged old pasture,
two horses move
pulling grass into their mouths, tearing up
wildflowers by the roots.
They graze shoulder to shoulder.
Every night they lean together in sleep.
Up here, there is no one
for me to fail.
You are gone.
Our children are sleeping.
I don’t even have to write this down.
“Spring Evening on Blind Mountain” by Louise Erdrich from Original Fire. © Harper Collins, 2003.

Clearly, words written down map the world and the world inside. Today, try the exercise she models. Sit and observe, and write the world down on your page. If you want to share your experiment, post it in the comments section so we can all see what you’ve seen!

Write on!


If you want more inspiration and support, contact me at www.carolburbank.com to find out about how writing coaching, editing and manuscript evaluation services can jumpstart your creativity and get that project into the world!

Poetry Challenge: Write your personal statement in a short poem!

Here’s a wonderful poem by Rachel Zucker, witty and brave and smart and short — describing a moment in her life, a “personal statement.” What if you played with this idea, wrote a poem about your personal statement, here and now? (Add it as a comment — let’s explore together!)

real poem
(personal statement)

Rachel Zucker

I skim sadness like fat off the surface
of cooling soup. Don’t care about
metaphor but wish it would arrive
me.  There’s a cool current of air
this hot day I want to ride.
I have no lover, not even my love.
I have no other, not even I.

Copyright @ 2014 by Rachel Zucker.

Good Advice for Artists from Norita Dittberner-Jax: JUST DO IT!

Yes, we all know, writing is hard, art is hard, there are so many distractions, disappointments and failures that we stop and go, go for awhile and stop. This meditation on Monet and Van Gogh, two very different artists, is a lesson in the “Just Do It” world where we get to live our complicated lives and be creatives too. Enjoy….

Monet, Van Gogh, at Home
by Norita Dittberner-Jax

The wonder that Monet
had time to paint, the vast
size of the garden and across
the road, the Japanese pond,
a man enchanted with nature—
flowers, water, haystacks, and
light! A blind man’s obsession
with light, every slant of the sundial
documented, time filtering

What a life! Two wives
the second with six children!
No wonder the huge table
in the dining room, fourteen chairs,
all canary yellow; the blue-
and white-tiled kitchen, large
and commodious, festooned
with copper pots;
the large bedroom overlooking
the garden: to throw open
these shutters in the morning!
So much life!

Modest, difficult, van Gogh
thought himself one link in the chain
and took the yellow house at Arles,
on Place Lamartine, hoping
others would come. A table
and two chairs and just enough
left for broth and coffee.

Gauguin fled after two months
when Vincent chased him
with a razor. He painted
“Gauguin’s Chair” empty except
for a lit candle, in memory
of the failure.

Toward the end, he painted
the vestibule near his room,
the yard where he was confined,
night sky from his window.

“Monet, Van Gogh, at Home” by Norita Dittberner-Jax from The Watch. © Whistling Shade Press, 2008.

The Genesis of a Novel: Jhuma Lahiri on the 16 Year Process for The Lowland

We all struggle with vision, revision and then reframing vision in re-re vision! Here is an inspiring story of Jhuma Lahiri’s long journey to create and publish her bestselling novel, The Lowland. cover

In this interview for Boston University’s alumni magazine, Lahiri says, “It took me 16 years in total. I started with a brief scene that I drafted and then put aside for 10 years. I felt wholly unprepared, at the time, to move forward and to write the book. When I returned to the scene 10 years later I was still pretty lost, but I felt slightly less intimidated and overwhelmed. The process was one of discovery, like opening a box sealed with an enormous amount of tape, bound tightly with twine. Slowly you undo the knots and peel back the tape and see what’s inside.”

pullquoteAs for advice to writers, Lahiri’s is classic — and added to her message of perseverence and curiosity, inspiring!

May we all persist, explore, discover, and open that complicated box of our the writing project that obsesses us!