Tuesday, January 3, 2023



By Bonnie Stanard


While scanning our blogs from 10-plus years ago, I’ve found excerpts that might inspire us to either revive old manuscripts or start new ones in 2023. Many of these writers have come and gone from the workshop. Ilmars Birznieks and Alex Raley have passed away; Mayowa Atte, Chris Mathews, and Shaun McCoy moved away.


Updates on some of our active members quoted below: Ginny Padgett (former moderator) is recovering from hospitalization. Mike Long is on hiatus from writing. Len Lawson is assistant prof at Newberry College, currently writing and publishing poetry. Monet Jones has moved to another workshop. If there are updates regarding other former members, please leave a note.


Fare thee well, Johnny



It is with sadness that we say goodbye to Cola II member Johnny Bloodworth, who passed away in December. He brought the latest chapter of his novel to the December 5 Skype meeting.


The Columbia II workshop, which went virtual in response to Covid, will return to in-person meetings beginning 5:30 PM, Monday, January 16 at offices of Turning Pages located at First Christian Church (2062 N. Beltline Blvd. in Columbia, SC, across from Barnes and Noble). Beginning and experienced writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry are welcome to visit our workshop. Our thanks to Kasie Whitener, who has kept us going through challenging times and was elected 2023 leader by default.


It is with affection that we think of the following writers and with admiration that we read again their ideas about writing, taken from our blog archive.


— In October, I went to my first writing conference and I learned the same lesson I learn every time I dive into a new environment: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Meredith Kaiser


— Writer’s block is the result of exposure to literary kryptonite. Apparently the walls of my den are lined with it! I guess I’ll pull up my big-girl panties…and keep trying. Ginny Padgett


— I know that I need to learn more about writing. I know that I will never learn all there is to know about writing. I know that my work will never be perfect. Vikki Perry


— I ask myself, "Why write?"… what will become of all those printed words anyway? Shouldn't trees be saved and this nonsense of words on paper be stopped? The simple answer is that I write to assure myself that I am here, that something in my life has meaning, if only for me. Alex Raley


— Two dragons guard the road to writing productivity; the first is a lack of time to write… The other is the writer’s mental attitude; there is enough time to write but you don’t feel like writing. Mayowa Atte


— The important thing to know is that practice makes us better, and, as long as we keep grabbing those opportunities to practice, no matter how brief, we will get better. Janie Kronk


— When I began writing fiction, I tried to include every thought, detail, and event that could possibly be related to the story… Obviously, repetition crept in on kitten’s feet with tiger paws. Alex Raley


— We independent writers are sometimes treated to a different standard than the indie booksellers wish for themselves. Mike Long


— We cultivate the writer’s instinct by building up individual ingredients. By living full and vital lives that enrich our experience. By picking the right stories to tell. By reading and writing ceaselessly. Mayowa Atte


— Spoken words can insult; written words can destroy. Monet Jones


— Fiction is about life and life is not concrete/sequential. Alex Raley


— Confidence, it is a writer’s secret weapon. Mayowa Atte


— The biggest lie about publishing you'll read on the internet is that it isn't an odds game. Shaun McCoy


— People who write memoir …seek meaning in the timeliness or the universality of their experiences. Laura Valtorta


— I heard a reading by the well-known poet Galway Kinnell. He said that he is often asked to reveal the meaning of a poem. His stock reply is, “. . .shall I read it again?” Alex Raley


— Conflict is the ticking time bomb in riveting writing. Chris Mathews


— Our best writing seems only to titillate the senses. The business of writing has become more commercial than controversial. LenLawson


Sunday, December 4, 2022



By Bonnie Stanard


I don’t give as many books as gifts as I should. After all, it reminds my friends and family that in this age of instant entertainment, there’s still a place for books, or in other words, solitary introspection. Given the impact of Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok, etc., today’s youngsters may grow to fear being alone.


All of which makes gifting books a good idea. A person, especially a child, can tolerate and even enjoy being alone when they’re with a book they enjoy.


Our inclination is to make presents of books we like, but that’s not always a good idea, especially if you’re unsure of the giftee’s taste. My husband likes mysteries, which I don’t read. Unless I go for nonfiction, my book selection for him is like a shot in the dark. So how do you make a choice?


One way is to think of movies they like. Often the book is better than the movie. Script writers who hew a novel’s text down to fit a 90 or 120 minute-movie leave out concepts, feelings, and those abstract things that make us human.


If your giftee liked the movie “The Life of Pi,” give them the book. Author Yann Martel offers more to think about than the movie. Here is a sampling of other titles that were popular movies and are well worth revisiting as books.


The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (Series)

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Roots by Alex Haley (Series)

Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

(BTW the Swedish movie with Noomi Rapace is better than Hollywood’s rip-off)


Here are examples of mundane movies which were made from good books, so if a person liked these movies, they may LOVE the book.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (Series)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Series)


My family often asks me for gift suggestions, and though I like to get books, I’m reluctant to name titles. I enjoy knowing their choice of a book. Invariably it tells me something about them.


As we indulge in this season’s craze of sparkle and shine, let’s not forget the quiet value of books.



Wednesday, April 20, 2022

World Building using PESTEL

By Kasie Whitener

Writing a fantasy novel requires world building, a topic I’ve written on and delivered radio shows on in the past. I always advised authors to write a world “bible” – a document that explains the magic of the world, the rules under which the world will operate. Then, like the basic hypocrite so many of us teachers can be, I didn’t bother to do one for my vampire world. 

Until now! I used a tool from my strategic management class to define how the world operates. It’s called a PESTEL analysis and it works to explain the factors affecting a specific market. But it works in fantasy worldbuilding, too. Check it out:

P = Political

What are the political factors that affect the world? In Harry Potter this includes the Ministry of Magic and the usurper He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named who attempted to seize power in the wizarding world J.K. Rowling created. For my vampire novel, the politics are murky in the first book but consist of the Brevet who are sacred priests of the Salvia faith. They maintain the Breviary or the sacred text and enforce the rules of the faith. The three vampire lineages are meant to live in harmony with one another.

E = Economic

What are the economic factors that affect the world? This is how people earn a living, pay for goods and services, and maintain households and status. In Star Wars we know there’s a good deal of smuggling and Luke’s uncle was a moisture farmer. In my vampire world, Blue works on a ranch for cash but in Las Vegas he’d been a barback in a strip club; many vampires flock to such professions for their proximity to prey.

S = Sociocultural

What social and cultural rules dominate the world? In Kushiel’s Dart, the society is divided into a caste system with each house having its origins in one of the disciples of their faith’s scion. The system defines how people speak to one another, how they’re educated, and what they expect from life. It was this faith system that inspired me to create my own faith for my vampires.

T = Technology

What technology is available to the world? I set the vampires in the late 90s on purpose. I didn’t want mass use of the internet, social media, or other modern technology to threaten the subversion of imposters or make literary research too available.

E = Ecological

What natural world elements exist in the world? What is the climate like? What weather do the characters suffer? What is the condition of the planet? 

L = Legal

What laws are the characters bound by?

This framework can help you fully envision the fantasy world you’re building and create a rulebook that you can reference while building your stories. Whether it’s the elaborate worldbuilding of Tolkien or Rowling, or simply infusion of magic and dragons into the middle ages, fantasy books have governance, social customs, and technology. Figuring out how yours work is a rewarding and challenging undertaking.

Sunday, March 20, 2022


By Bonnie Stanard

There's a quotation for almost any subject. Some of my favorites are from Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill. If I'm in a bad mood, I open my folder of quotations and get a laugh while sorting out issues such as Why am I in a bad mood?

I've taken the first half of a W. Somerset Maugham quotation as the title for a presentation I've been working on for the Shepherd's Center in Lexington—"Three Rules of Writing." The audience won't know it, but I'd never attend a presentation with that title (unless I'm giving it...) What's wrong? you may ask. Maybe I'm getting cynical, but writing rules are for seventh graders. A person needs guidance learning the basics, but guidance is not the same as rules. If you don't know what point-of-view (POV) means, you need to read advice. But don't listen to rules. Rules are made by "experts" expecting to aggrandize their reputation.

What writer would say there are exactly three rules? Why not 10? If you browse the internet, you can find a hundred. I'm tempted to ask the audience what they think the three rules are, but they aren't writers. If a writer should show up, I can only hope they will stay long enough to get the second half of Maugham's quotation, which will restore my credibility, as it does for Maugham.

Whether or not they are amusing, quotations provoke us to think. They put glitter on language and show it in its best dress. Here are versions of quotations that I've taken from my folder. Some have been altered to make them applicable to either writing or life or the writing life.


  • Over prepare, then go with the flow.

  • No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.

  • If a relationship has to be a secret, you should be in it.

  • Be eccentric now. Don't wait to wear purple.

  • However good or bad a situation is, make it better or worse.

  • The most important sex organ is the brain.

  • When in doubt, just take the next small step.

  • Cry with one or your characters. It's more healing than crying alone.

  • Everything can change in the blink of an eye. Try to see it does.

  • It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

  • All that matters in the end is that you love your story.


The Shepherd's Center is an organization run by volunteers that provides mental and physical activities for the 55-and-older residents of the Lexington area.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

What Longevity Actually Looks Like

By Kasie Whitener

I’ve been reading the same weekly email newsletter from Canadian writer and coach Daphne Gray-Grant forever. I may be one of her longest subscribers. She’s the Publication Coach and you can find issue #847 here

Yes, #847 which, divided by 52 weeks a year, is 16 years she’s been delivering weekly advice to writers like me.

That’s roundabout 2006, which is when I remember finding her. I was working for SYNNEX Corporation as a copywriter, my master’s degree making me eligible to use 25-cent words when 5-cent words would suffice. But Daphne has always encouraged me to be concise and precise in my word selection and sentence structure.

This week she encouraged me to recognize where my writing imposter syndrome comes from: a non-existent continuum of writing. 

“...there’s a widely held misunderstanding that writing falls on a commonly accepted continuum of bad to good. And we all worry about doing something that’s baaaaaad,” she writes, “But, in fact, writing doesn’t operate on such a continuum. Instead, it’s a matter of taste. What I see as ‘good’ writing might not please you and visa versa.”

Ever have one of those, “Duh!” moments? Of course I know the writing I like isn’t necessarily what others like and just because others don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Earlier in the day, I’d read a writer’s tweet asking for everyone’s favorite short stories. Lots of great titles including A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Peach Cobbler by Deesha Philyaw. I scrolled through the thread looking for Hemingway and couldn’t find him. Seriously? No one said Hills Like White Elephants?

Just to prove that writing is personal and reading is subjective, my short story The Shower that won the 2022 Broad River Prize for Prose was also the submission that got me rejected from two different conferences. Also, it didn’t make the list from the favorite short stories tweeter. That doesn’t make me Hemingway.

Daphne’s point that we we think of writing on a continuum of bad to good is frustratingly true. I see my own work as inching from the left (bad) as it’s polished, workshopped, submitted, rejected, rehabilitated, resubmitted, and accepted. Accepted is good, right? Except then people read it and don’t connect with it (bad reviews) or start it but don’t finish it (abandoned) or say they’ve been meaning to read it but haven’t yet (can’t even motivate themselves to start the doggone thing!).

Just when I think I’ve written something “good” it seems increasingly likely I’ll never write anything good ever again.

But I’m still writing. And maybe, just maybe, the more I write the better I’ll get. Maybe the next piece will connect with someone. Will resonate. Will push them, like Daphne’s been pushing me, to keep at this thing. For 847 weeks or more.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A Writer’s Education

By Sharon Ewing

While I’ve sometimes been uncertain about the path of my career, I would have said it wasn’t the case of an identity crisis.  Yet this past year I’ve been so immersed in researching and writing about my ancestry that it appears I may be mistaken about that.  My oldest sister, the family historian, did an admirable job researching our family in the days when internet access was rare.  After she passed away, the task became mine.  This happens when siblings flatter you with platitudes about your skills in research, writing, etc.  So, I set out to fatten the existing files and hopefully discover hidden treasures in my lineage.

I’d always intended to write a novel about my childhood in the 50’s.  But as I researched my Irish ancestry, my great-great grandmother’s life intrigued me, and she became the main character in my story.  Funny thing about this process is that I knew few specific facts about her. And since everyone who once knew her was dead, I resorted to fiction in order to flesh her out.  As the story progress, I’m sure the character I created didn’t remotely resemble my great-great grandmother, but by that time I was so invested in the story, it no longer mattered.

In the process, I’ve have researched more about Irish history than I ever imaged possible.  I’ve dug through facts on websites, in non-fiction books, internet archives and drew names from ancestry websites.  I have garnered a new respect for historical authors who produce engaging stories after endless research, so much so, that I forget I’m reading fiction.  Edward Rutherford’s book The Rebels of Ireland, is a proven gem in this field. 

I’ve always loved history.  I remember walking home from school carrying a very cumbersome world cultures textbook, in the era before backpacks.  It was the first day of school that year.  My older sister remarked about the cruelty of my teacher giving homework on the first day.  I told her that I didn’t have homework.  I just wanted to bring the book home so that I could look through it.  When I told her about how I loved the smell of new books, she looked at me like I had morphed into an alien from another planet.

In historical fiction, I can combine my two loves.  I just need to be extra careful not to make the mistake of inserting my fictitious characters into my ancestry chart.  I almost did that once.  However, another bonus of this writing is the intense respect I’ve acquired for my forebearers who lived in challenging times past.  Knowing more of their history demonstrates how we all struggle with the set of circumstances we’ve been given and how much these outside factors influence the path each of us will take.

When I know their history, my characters are free to come to me instead of trying to force them on the paper.  With the setting in place, like actors on stage, their story unfolds. Yes, writer’s block still besets me, but I’ve become more patient.  Eventually, they speak and I write.  Their story becomes a part of mine.  Lesson learned.




Sunday, February 27, 2022


By El Ochiis

I didn’t grow up with a television, a fact that my High School English teacher stated made me a more creative writer.  She said I had only my imagination – funny, this was the excuse my mother used to justify the reason we were the only people without a square gadget with images flickering through windows of homes along our street in some non-descript small town.

She would often tell the me the story about a man - Tesla - who dreamed of creating a source of inexhaustible, clean energy that was free for everyone. He, like mom, strongly opposed centralized coal-fired power stations that spewed carbon dioxide into the air that humans breathed. Just how mom was going to harness that lightning bolt to convert it to a form that would power her electric stove which she used to bake bread with flour milled using an ancient, home grain milling machine was never fully explained by the dear woman.


Mom’s greatest eco belief was that indoor plumbing was killing the fish because of the sewage being drained into rivers and streams.  When you are a kid, idealistic, off-the-grid, hippie-like parents like my mom were just an embarrassment, and, you as the offspring of such parentage was a recipe for getting chased home by the kids whose parents religiously worshipped showers, sinks, toilet bowls, and, multiple televisions.


One night, after my crazy mother had demanded that we save the planet by turning off the electric lights and reading a good book, by candlelight. I picked a book, from one of our five shelves, a novel by Harry Max Harrison, born Henry Maxwell Dempsey, entitled: “Make Room, Make Room “– I guess the pen name had a certain writer’s ring to it over his given one. 


Harrison was a citizen of both the UK and Ireland who distrusted generals, prime ministers and tax official with sardonic and cruel wit – he made plain his acute intelligence and astonishing range of moral, ethical and literary sensibilities - ah, the kind of writer whose prose would mirror my mom’s eccentric, erudite lunacy, I thought. 


I propped up on two pillows and lost myself in a story that explored the consequences of both unchecked population growth on society and the hoarding of resources by a wealthy minority - set in 1999 – thirty-three years after the time of writing - where the trends in the proportion of world resources used by the United States and other countries compared to population growth, depicting a world in which the global population was seven billion people, plagued with overcrowding, resource shortages and a crumbling infrastructure.  Max’s plot jumped from character to character, recounting the lives of people in various walks of life in New York City whose population had reached 35 million.


Then, in 1973, a movie, called “Soylent Green”, was made, based on Harrison’s novel. Perhaps influenced by the 1972 heat wave in the Northeast and the oil crisis of the early 1970’s, Soylent Green imagines a sweltering future where the temperature never dips below 90, Margarine spoils in the fridge and sickly fog, similar to London’s historical “pea-soupers,” hangs in the air, forcing the city’s last remaining trees to be shielded under a tent. The film changed much of the plot and theme and introduced cannibalism as a solution to feeding people.


Were these calamities the fault of humankind or a natural disaster?  The film isn’t clear, but, in the source novel, it’s implied to be the former.  After sitting through the movie in college; I rang mom to tell her about it, for which she chimed “Some of those writers are prophesiers.”  She sent me a window solarium so I could grow my own food.


I was petrified after reading Max Harrison’s novel, that is, until I picked up Mick Jackson’s “Threads”, written in 1984 – an unflinching account of nuclear holocaust – one that guessed how ugly we might become if we continue to allow ourselves to be run by greed. 


The elite of “Soylent Green” had a novel way to unwind:  video games – in luxury apartment of a Soylent board member, a sleek cabinet contains Computer Space, which, in real-life 1971 had become the very first coin-operated arcade game.  Ah, but we've avoided pushing the big red launch button; We're too happy to keep pushing the buttons on our digital devices instead.


Mom’s not here to witness the iPhone or the laptop, but she left me a legacy of books by writers who had predicted the future of most of it – and, quite frankly, I am too afraid to stop reading them – though, somewhat relieved mom didn’t take to that 1936 Underwood Model 6 Typewriter she inherited from her grandmother and banged out her own stories – she wasn’t going to call them sci-fi either…

Sunday, February 20, 2022


 by Lis Anna-Langston 

When I lived in Wisconsin, I used a Marilyn Manson CD as an ice scraper. My friends acted like it was a commentary on the music. I liked the CD a lot, had listened to it a lot, and then one day, stuck between ice and a hard place, I repurposed that MTV-award-winning beauty into a practical tool.

It’s what writers do.

Mechanical Animals turned out to be an excellent ice scraper. Durable. Easy to maneuver. Perfect at removing ice without scratching the windshield and came with a handy case sporting great artwork. It appealed to all my writerly senses. Mechanical Animals is an album full of excess. So is the process of writing.

Repurpose. Recycle. Reuse. These are terms we hear daily. In art and writing, they very much apply.

We’re always going to have excess. That section you cut from a short story, or chapter you really loved. Can it be expanded into a piece of flash? A series of vignettes you can create under a certain theme? That chapter you love in your current work in progress. Can you polish it and submit it as its own stand-alone piece? Fragments of writing exercises? What images, symbols, visuals do these conjure? Can they be memes? Key marketing materials? A new story built from another?

Later, after I moved to North Carolina, I had a roommate/close friend from Cuba. He repurposed EVERYTHING. I’d be standing in the front yard holding a cup of coffee with my nose scrunched, asking, “Why don’t you just buy a new one?”

In the late winter light, he’d turn to make eye contact with me like I’d just sprouted six wings and four heads. I came to learn that, because of the embargos, Cubans definitely didn’t live in a shopping mall culture. If something broke, you fixed it. If you were tired of something, you transformed it into a new item. I knew something about this, growing up in one of the poorest places in Mississippi. Poor wasn’t a term we used. That was for outsiders. For insiders, we knew how to do a lot with a little.

So, what about that line you absolutely loved that had to be cut? Can you start a new writing exercise with the line? Create a catchy piece of digital art? Take all the edits you loved and group them together to create a new project?

Part of repurposing is discernment. The ability to recognize that something isn’t a piece of the story puzzle you’re working on and quietly put it away or transform it into a new piece entirely. I once took the cuts from a novel and created a new novel. It went on to win ten book awards. All because I saw the process of elimination as an opportunity.

Writing is a process of discovery. At least, it is for me. Keeping notebooks and showing up to the page every day means you’ll likely end up with more material than you need for one project. So, every now and then, when you’re not feeling the fit of the raw drift, polished draft, fully realized draft, take up the challenge and shift into seeing those old pieces with fresh perspective. There is opportunity in excess.

Sunday, February 13, 2022


by Sharon May


Here I am drafting a blog on procrastination the Sunday morning of submission day. What are the odds? I committed to writing this a month ago but didn’t start a draft in all that time. Instead, I mulled the topic, considering what to say and how to start. A few days ago, I jotted down ideas I wanted to include, though today I declared them useless.


I am a procrastinator of the finest ilk. It is my roadblock to productivity, and I am far from being in recovery. My writing routine is so ingrained that I’m almost convinced it’s my “style.” I mean, it has served me fairly well since high school, having won awards for my work. Notice: I’m just rationalizing.


We all have our own methods of avoidance. No fretting on my part, and I may not appear to be procrastinating because I immediately ponder, read, and research the topic as necessary. It’s almost obsessive thinking, as I talk over my ideas over with family and friends, whomever I can corral, and I listen to their thoughts on the subject as well, bouncing them all around in my head until it’s time to sit down at the laptop. No matter the project – long or short, major or minor – I wait until the last minute to write, and even determine how last minute the writing will be by setting a deadline for drafting. Telling me to start early is not really useful as I’m stuck in the beginning.


I’ve been writing other works, but not so much that it prevented me from completing this task. So, I’ve taken approximately 28 days to write 500 words. I could have knocked it out on any one of those days. Instead, I surfed the Internet for articles on writers’ procrastinating, watched several men’s and women’s basketball games, and who knows what else I’ve done in that time period beyond the typical activities of living. Then I took a five-day vacation out of town, during which I did no writing.


When my deadline arrived, I started my usual avoidance routine -- slept late rather than obey the alarm I had set, had a leisurely breakfast, took care of the cats, and chatted with a couple of friends who are also early risers. At the computer, I fought the urge to clean my workspace, though I couldn’t resist checking my email. Finally, I opened a blank document and begged the muses for words. Fortunately, the muse does finally come and words appear on the page.


Procrastination can be a matter of priorities. It’s how we choose to live in the moment, and procrastinators live without considering the consequences. My choices make me less productive than I could be, though I can convince myself that I’m always working. I keep trying to set goals and deadlines to move me to more seat time, but habits are stubborn.


How do you measure procrastination?

Sunday, February 6, 2022

On the Bedside Table

By Bonnie Stanard


I've been asked where I get my inspiration to write. It has taken a while, but I've figured out a response, which comes as close to an answer as I can get. More times than not, my ideas come from books. There's always a book on my bedside table (currently The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson).


Several years ago I read Rest in Pieces by Bess Lovejoy and didn't realize at the time that a chapter about Moliere would eventually inspire a novel.


Rest in Pieces recounts the adventures of Moliere's corpse. The famous French actor was stricken on stage, was removed to a house across the street, and died shortly thereafter. At the time, the Catholic Church condemned actors. Most of them renounced their profession to a priest just before dying to get a Christian burial. However, Moliere died without a priest. No Christian burial for him. Louis XIV intervened and the Church relented and allowed a burial at night somewhere in St. Joseph's cemetery, but nobody marked the site. Even his wife, upon returning to the cemetery, couldn't find his grave. His body was lost. But an idea grew and my novel found his grave and a character stole his skull. I have Lovejoy's book to thank for sending my imagination off to France in 1672.


Here's a thought I'm having now. At present I'm working on another historical fiction about a person being held in a prison-like chamber of a chateau. It's become a challenge to develop this story, given a situation in which nothing happens. When I mentioned this to a friend, he enthusiastically recommended a book with just such a plot—"A Gentleman in Moscow," which he said was a story about a man held prisoner in a hotel. I've ordered a copy but do I dare read it now? Will it unduly influence what I hope will be my story? Might I subconsciously copy from that story?


We subconsciously and unconsciously and deliberately take information from books, which is one reason why we should read authors whose work we admire. We might find in another book a person, place, or plot that motivates us to develop a story.


If that happens, it won't be the first time. Take a look at writers who based their work on previously published book.


The Hours by Michael Cunningham on Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolfe.

Ulysses by James Joyce on The Odyssey by Homer

March by Geraldine Brooks takes a character from Little Women

Robinson Caruso re-written by J.M. Coetzee (Foe) and Michel Tournier (Friday)


From Steven King comes advice that doesn't grow old: "Read, read, read. You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write."

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Method Writing

By Lis Anna-Langston

I studied Dramatic Arts at a Creative and Performing Arts School from age eleven until graduation. There wasn’t a creative writing program, but I was able to write my own material. 

Acting has never been my favorite. There isn’t much I like about it. But being in the program day in and day out created a complicated relationship. People like Stella Adler became my heroes. 

It’s impossible to study acting and not love Stanislavski. Brando said, “If you want something from an audience, you give blood to their fantasies. It’s the ultimate hustle.” Oh, Brando. Sigh. There is so much to love about Method Acting that even typing this thrills me to the core. And yet, I’d do anything to avoid acting.

In North Carolina I continued to study Method Acting. It actually led me to the staggering 9 ½ year mark of study. Wondering why on earth I’d ever spent that much time studying something I’d never use, a fellow writer commented that I’d sorta carved out a new niche: Method Writing. I’d never seen it from that angle, but it was true. An intense inhabiting of my characters, like a skin suit, and wearing it to see what it felt like until it felt real. Motivation, magic, subtext, observation, and the body as an instrument are just some of the tools in acting. 

Another common tool is to tap into “emotional memory”. A quick summary of EM: you bring your own memories, and the feelings associated with your memories, and use them during a performance.


Feel is at the heart of Method Acting. Feel is at the heart of my Method Writing.

How does the world feel? From climate to culture, what is the feeling? Method Writing feels so real to me because I start by going in search of a single truth and building up.

I had a woman follow me into the breakroom during a workshop and blurt out, “I am so sorry about your childhood.”

I hadn’t been writing about my childhood, so I was curious what she was referring to.

“The stories you just read aloud. They’re about you, right?”

“No,” I said, “I did not grow up in a trailer in South Carolina with a mother who is an exotic dancer.”

“Oh,” she said, cheeks flushed. “Your stories feel so real.

“They’re supposed to. That’s the job,” I said, pouring a cup of coffee.

“But how did you do that?”

Method Writing. That’s how.

To the best of our ability, our job as creators is to walk the paths of our characters. Stand in the dark city. Put on the corset. Move surreptitiously through a crowd. Send the secret message. Then, link this to how a character feels and what it means to them.

Method Writing is a lifelong pursuit. At its core, it is the simple act of choosing something real from my life, environment, experience, dreams that drives a real feeling. Find something great and build up, creating a multi-dimensional character, flawed and vibrant, with a feeling that anchors to a moment in your life. The choices are endless.