Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Author Heather Mackey Speaks at the Cal Writers Mt Diablo Branch

Saturday, April 16th, 2016


Congratulations to the winners of the CWC Young Writers Contest in Contra Costa County!

The Young Writers Contest Award Winners will be honored at the next meeting of the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club (CWC) on Saturday, May 14, 2016 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.

Special Guest speaker, Heather Mackey, will discuss “Turning Ideas into Stories.” She will cover story hunting, ideas, building a story, and why storytelling matters.

Heather Mackey is a kid’s lit author of fantasy adventure novels. Her books include Dreamwood, and the forthcoming The Shadow Clock. She is a member of the National Writing Project’s Writers Council, and consults with the online student writing community, Write the World.

Sign-in is 11:00 am.. Awards 11:30. Luncheon 12:15 pm. Speaker 1-2 pm. Registration is $25 for CWC members, $30 for guests.
Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, May11th. Contact Robin Gigoux at [email protected] or by phone at (925) 933-9670. Expect confirmation only if you e-mail your reservation. For PayPal, click “Buy Now’ on the Mt. Diablo website: http://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.comnext-program/. Add a $2.00 transaction fee.
The California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch web address is:


Middle Grade Students – Win $$ for your Writing AND Poetry Tips & Techniques

Monday, February 8th, 2016

YWC Flyer V1


Poetry Tips by Poets David Alpaugh and Aline Soules

Getting Started

Start by brainstorming—just as you would for any other project.  What’s on your mind?  What’s in your heart?  What moves you?  What do you care about?  Do your best to come up with your own idea.  This isn’t supposed to be a class assignment, but a chance to share a piece of yourself and practice your love of writing.

Start writing, even if you haven’t come up with your final idea yet.  This is called “free writing.”  It’s been said that if you write for seven to ten minutes, your brain will come up with an idea.

Once you’ve created your “raw material,” it’s time to begin writing your poem.  Now, we’ve moved from inspiration to perspiration, from free writing to craft.

Crafting Your Poem

 Poems are crafted—every word is chosen and placed in its position in the poem for a purpose.  You should never submit a rough or first draft because judges look for your ability to craft your poem and that can take many drafts.

 General craft ideas

  • Show, don’t tell
  • Be concrete and specific
  • Create original images—no clichés
  • Choose the right title (which may come any time in your process)

 Grammar, Usage, Word Play

  • Choose active verbs, e.g., “sit”, not “is seated” or “is sitting”; see if you can think up “punchier” verbs that make your point stronger.
  • Verbs and nouns are strong, while adjectives and adverbs are weak. Concentrate on verbs and nouns and use adjectives and adverbs sparingly.
  • Play around with your poem to make sure every word and its place in the poem are exactly right.  You can play “switcheroo”—move around words, phrases, clauses, whole stanzas to see what works best.

•    Must poems rhyme? No. Many of today’s best poets don’t use rhyme. If you want to write in rhyme, remember that it’s difficult to write well in rhyme. Make sure that your rhyming words make sense and move the poem forward. Rhyme for its own sake doesn’t work. (In most cases, rhyme is more effective for humorous rather than serious subjects.).

  • Highlight the best phrase or couple of phrases in your poem and see if you can bring the rest of your poem up to the same level.
  • Use repetition with care.  Make sure there’s a reason for using repetition.
  • When you think you’re done, see if you can cut out some words from your poem.  It’s easy to let too many “little” words slip in, like “the” and “a” and prepositions and conjunctions, when you don’t need them.  Poems should be “dense,” saying much in as few words as possible.
  • The best way to learn to write poetry well is to read poems by successful poets and pay attention to the way they use language. Poetry employs the same words as prose but is usually richer in imagery and figures of speech, particularly metaphor and simile.
  • After you’ve read a poem you love go back and re-read the first and last lines and ask yourself how the poet gets in and out of the poem? It’s usually most effective to rocket your reader into the heart of the poem instantly, without any introduction or wind-up. Last lines are most effective when they leave readers with something dramatic or memorable to think about.


  • Experiment with line breaks.  Do you want short lines or long lines?  Choose the end of your lines with purpose every time.
  • Experiment with your stanzas, too.  Long, short?  What’s best to convey the meaning and feeling of your poem?
  • Another thing to avoid is centering your poem.  If there’s no reason inside the content of the poem to center it, don’t.  It may look “pretty” to you, but if it’s not appropriate to the poem, it shouldn’t be centered, but lined up along the left-hand side of the page.


  • Listen to the sounds in your poem.  Are they hard? soft? What do you need in your poem?  Change words or move them around to get the sounds you want.
  • Listen to the rhythm of your poem.  Is it too sing-songy?  If so, make more changes.
  • Read your poem out loud or ask a friend to read it to you.  Does it sound the way it should?
  • Read your poem with a pause at the end of every line.  That will help you to see if your line breaks are in the right place.


You can’t write a poem in a hurry.  Don’t try to write a new poem when the deadline’s due.  Give yourself a few weeks.  After you’ve written several drafts, set your poem aside and come back to it again in a couple of weeks.  Read it aloud and try some of the tips again.  You’ll be surprised at how much you can improve.


Only submit a poem when you’re confident it’s the best you can do and it’s ready to go.  Judges can tell when a poem’s not ready, but they love to read the poems that are your very best effort.

For more information visit


The Final Frontier

Thursday, August 27th, 2015


For someone whose idea of a vacation is the clean, crisp scent of pine trees, squirrels scampering, deer delicately nibbling leaves, and gentle ocean breezes, Las Vegas wasn’t on my 1000 Places to Vacation list.

But when I discovered my East Coast son was attending a conference there and our friends Denise and Mike Okuda would be speaking at a Star Trek Convention at the same time, a trip to Las Vegas was in the cards.

(Did you know the pun is the lowest form of humor?)

I’d never watched Star Trek other than to read a book in the same room with Star Trek: Voyager on for my son, so to say I was a fish-out-of-water at this convention is an understatement.

(*clichés are predictable and unimaginative.  Avoid them like the plague.)

Although I thought I had nothing in common with Star Trek fans, I discovered their friendliness, passion, and joy contagious!!  Fans of all ages dressed in creative costumes and willingly posed for pictures.  Their energy turned the event into one big party! !!

(*Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!!)

Getting into the spirit of things, and trying to belong, I saw a tall man in costume which looked vaguely familiar.  “Chewbacca?” I asked my son.


“Mom, that’s Star WARS,” he said.

It’s good to ask questions, I reminded myself.

The Star Trek culture has been so beloved and ingrained within our culture the Smithsonian is opening an exhibit on Star Trek in July 2016, the show’s 50th anniversary.  Mike and Denise Okuda’s new book, encyclo_book

will be released at the same time.  Mike Okuda, Scenic Arts Supervisor, was nominated for Emmy Awards in Outstanding Special Visual Effects.  His wife, Denise, a scenic artist and computer/ video supervisor, is the co-author of this two-volume edition.

“We were bombarded with questions from NASA,” said Mike at the convention.  “We tried to be so far ahead of current technology –at least visually.”

In a turn of events as strange as green aliens on earth, Star Trek not only became an icon for fans, but for NASA scientists who contacted them for ideas.

You don’t have to attend a Star trek Convention to boldly go where no man has gone before to create your own science fiction or fantasy world.

Writing Prompts:

  1. Create your own world.  How far can your imagination go?  Describe the inhabitants, government, environment, character goals.   Let these ideas simmer for a while, building upon them as you take walks, daydream, and sleep.
  2. Begin crafting your own story, using your new world’s parameters.
  3. Experiment with different genres.   Poetry, graphics, music, short story.
  4. Writing rules.  Know them before you break them.

(*A nod to William Safire’s list of writing rules from the New York Times.)





Everyone Needs a Treehouse

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015


 As a child, my favorite place was the cluster of trees which grew behind my childhood home. As a neighborhood hangout, several of the nearby children and I spent hours play-making here.  The trees provided a leafy canopy roof to the playhouse. I’d sweep the mud floor with a large branch, a nod to housekeeping.

Stones and the natural slope of the earth provided three clear rooms.  The living room’s entryway was marked by a worn path to low, overhanging branches, concealing our treasured hideaway and creating a cozy canopied roof.  A natural rise in dirt served as a couch while a rock became a chair.

Stepping above the couch was the bedroom, a small platform where an old doll slept.  She was someone else’s cast-off, my discovered treasure from an earlier exploring expedition deeper in the forest.

The kitchen, off to the left of the living room, consisted of piles of sticks and rocks serving as the stove and counter.  A path from the kitchen led to the backyard, which led to another grove of trees.  Here someone had built an actual wooden house in a tree.  A tree house, a house surrounded by trees, and yet a third structure:  tall, dried reeds, tilted together as a tee-pee.   Mother Nature provided Disneyland-like adventures for any child with an imagination.


Ever since my youth I have sought out trees.  When my husband and I searched for a house and we discovered one amidst large, tall oak trees, we knew we were home.   The deck places me inside the branches.  This is where I relax, write, and meditate.

Writing Prompts:

  1. Even if you only have a small corner, you can create your own space.  Where is your place of comfort, imagination, and peace?
  2. Use your comfort place as an inspiration for a poem, story, or art work.
  3. Write about a time where you sought a setting to feed your creative spirit.
  4. What’s your favorite trip or adventure where you discovered a new setting which you loved?  Write about this place and your experience.


Alert! Idea Attack!

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Ideas surround us.  We live them in the small moments of our days


and in our life-changing experiences.


How do we choose which one?

  1.  Live your life keeping your “idea feeler” alert on.  What sensory details strike you?  Characters abound.   Notice their quirks!  Anticipate the “what ifs” and “how comes” everywhere.
  2. What sticks with you at the end of the day?  First thing in the morning?  Keep an idea journal in your phone or in a notebook. Record your dreams to discover what your deeper creative consciousness.
  3. Brainstorm your memories and passions.  Don’t censor!  All ideas can be writing and art inspirations.
  4. After you feel you’ve collected many, put them away.
  5. Walk away from your list. Ruminate.  Which ideas stay with you?  Begin to percolate?

Playing with your idea with words and images will release serendipity!  One thread leads to another.  Above all, have fun with the process!

Why Celebrity Books Are Actually Important & Why YOU Should Write a Memoir

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015



Candace Bergen.  Mariel Hemingway.  Jon Cryer.  And now Barbra Streisand has a new publishing deal for her life story.  So many celebrities have penned their autobiographies and memoirs it’s amazing when someone famous DOESN’T write one.  Many mid-list “real” writers grumble about million dollar advances and attention on big names who probably haven’t written their books. Of course at the end of the day, editors will highlight celebrity books because they sell well.


Well, writers, I beg you to think of this situation in a new way.  Famous people’s books earn the most money for the publishers, financing them to purchase books from the rest of us.



So what’s the difference between an autobiography and a memoir?  In an autobiography, the writer shares her entire life story.  A memoir focuses on one specific event or theme in the author’s life.  Memoirs can be written by ordinary people, who have a message they’ve gained from their experience.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Even if you don’t intend to write an autobiography or a memoir, you may discover much about your life, how to capture the deeper truths, and find themes and metaphors in your writing.  In addition, either or both of these books may be treasured to your family for historical, cultural, and personal reasons.  The people closest to you may say, “I never knew this happened to you!”  Sharing specific emotional anecdotes can help others realize they aren’t alone.

So write your autobiography.  Begin with incidents that stand out in your mind.  What was your earliest memory? Why do you think it is engraved in your mind?  Write the stories that require you to dig into your feelings.  Write the stories that made you laugh.

2.  Inspire your memories by looking at old photos.  Write about each one.  Answer journalistic type questions of where you were, why you were there, what you were doing who was with you . . . The simple idea of examining the other people in the photo should bring back images and ideas about them.  By using a photo as a jumping off point, you might discover lots of material to mine.  Those new essays can inspire even more memories.

3.  Play music from the time period of your youth.  Read books that occur during the time.  How did current events affect you?  Movies, music, and foods?  Immerse yourself in your childhood culture.


Six Essential New Year Resolutions for Writers

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015


How to be the Most Productive and Inspired!

  1. Create a haven for which to write.  It might be in the middle of a busy coffee shop.  It could be in a library or on the subway.  Where do you write best?  Try out various settings.  I know one author who wrote in a closet for fifteen minutes before work.  She wrote several books this way!
  2. Set aside fifteen minutes a day to calm your mind and write.  Tune out list-making procedures and tune in to your intuition.  The best moments to get creative are when you daydream, awake from sleep, or are so relaxed you reach your most inspired moments. Wonder about a character, story, or idea.  Play what if . . .
  3. Notice one new sensory detail each day.  You can be at your desk, in a classroom, on a bus, or lounging in your favorite chair.
  4. Play a simile/metaphor game often. What do you see which reminds you of something else?  Find similarities between two random things.
  5. Read good writing.  Read more than you ever have before.  Keep a reading journal.  Jot down a wonderful word, image, phrase, or character you love from what you’ve read.
  6. Finally, don’t forget to PLAY!  Play in the snow, the sand, and the leaves.  Build with blocks.  Create a puzzle.  Act out charades.  Let go and have fun!

Best of California Travel Photo Contest

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

California Mendocino Photo

Taking pictures is a true art. Photos solidify memories and show specific details, which helps your writing become more specific.

If you live in California, are 18 or older, and not employed as full-time professional photographers, enter this contest! Photos are due by 5 p.m., May 3.   You can submit as many as you like, but if you enter more than one of the same shot, judges will select their favorite.  They will choose and publish only one photo per reader.  Judges won’t consider photos with time stamps, water marks, obtrusive copyrights and alterations (beyond minimal photo editing).

Winners:  Seven winners will have their pictures featured in the May 31 Eat Drink Play section and online at  Grand prize winner receives a three-night stay for two at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara.  Six other winners will receive $100 gift certificates from Mike’s Camera.  In addition to the seven winners, there will be Best of the Rest honorable mention photos to be featured in an online slide show.  Entries, as they come in, will be displayed at

For more information, visit the above site.  Good luck!

Writing Prompts:

  1. Choose a photo you have taken as a prompt for a short story, poem, or other art work.
  2. Take your camera everywhere.  Practice taking shots.  Discover what makes the best ones. Write about your experiences.
  3. Take a photo class and read about photo techniques.  Become aware of the details that count.  How can this help your writing and other art?

Advice from the Pros: Be a More Productive Writer NOW!

Thursday, December 11th, 2014


  1. What is your number one career “bliss-maker?” How can you spend more time inside your moments of bliss?

Your goal is to focus on that bliss.


  1. While attending a writer’s retreat, a fellow writer advised, “Honor thy workplace.”    The theory is if you clean your papers and stuff away, you’re allowing space for creativity.  Yes, it sounds woo-woo, but stick with me.  Another author suggested, “Un-clutter your office as though you were doing it for someone else. “


I’m here to report this works!  However, un-cluttering is a gradual procedure.  Once you begin, you realize you need less in your life than you thought.


Writing Prompts:

  1.  List your activities and jobs throughout the week.
  2. Prioritize.  What can you “let go” of  allowing more time, space, and energy with your creative process/ bliss?
  3. Choose one activity you can delegate or remove from your schedule.
  4. How can you “do” your bliss first in your day?  A number of people I know have had full lives teaching, plumbing, cleaning houses, etc. while writing or creating their art at 4 a.m.
  5. If 4 a.m. won’t allow you your full creativity, choose a time when you CAN make it your priority.



What WERE They Thinking?

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Toilet Paper bathroom real estate photoHairdresser Real Estate PhotoGranny Dummy Real Estate Photo


The photos above are from actual real estate agents attempting to sell their properties.

But wait!  What’s the story BEHIND the story?

Writing Prompts:

1. Using humor, choose one of the photos above to show the story behind the story.

2.  Create a poem or story utilizing an unusual point of view.   Who is the narrator?

3.  Read Terrible Estate Agent Photos by Andy Donaldson.  Allow yourself to draw on these to create stories in various genres:  mystery, science fiction, romance, nonfiction, etc.  Play with styles!

Visit for more ideas.