From Writer to Writer: Donna Baier-Stein

Meet Donna Baier-Stein

I write stories, poems, a novel, and direct marketing copywriting. I have taught writing at NYU, Johns Hopkins, Gotham Writers Workshop and elsewhere. I am interested in editing and helping authors revise their work.

My poetry and prose have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Kansas Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Washingtonian, and many other journals and anthologies. My story collection Great Drawing Board of the Sky was a Finalist in the Iowa Fiction Awards; and my novel FORTUNE received the PEN/New England Discovery Award and is now represented by William Morris Endeavor.

I’m also the founding editor of Bellevue Literary Review have been a freelance direct marketing copywriter since 1980. I have two nonfiction books on copywriting published by McGraw Hill and Thomson Shore.

Donna’s Advice for Writers

  • If possible, get comments from rejecting editors which you can incorporate into a rewrite. It is also very helpful to share your work with others.
  • Be diligent about doing revisions as soon as a piece of writing is returned to you.
  • Read your work out loud and listen for places you can cut over-long sentences or “dead” sections that aren’t properly dramatized.
  • Work with a professional editorial consultant to learn how to shape your work into a well-crafted story, poem, or novel.
  • Take courses in writing.
  • Read books about writing.
  • Practice your craft every day, even for one hour.
  • Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. (Very few authors write first drafts, final copy.)
  • Understand that writing is a process.
  • Learn to write early drafts without your editorial critic stopping the artistic flow. Then go back and edit ruthlessly.
  • Be patient and be persistent.

Connect With Donna

Website | Twitter | Facebook

From Writer to Writer: Wade Finnegan

Meet Wade Finnegan

I embrace all types of writing because I enjoy the challenge. I consider myself a storyteller, but not in fiction. I like to tell the stories of others. I really enjoy the niche of outdoor writing and sports. (I took a hiatus to play professional golf.) I’m a people person.

Even though I’ve been writing for years, I still feel like a beginner.

Wade’s Advice to Writers is Simple

Keep going. Those who continue to push will be successful in the long run. There is room for all of us as writers, we just have to keep at it long enough to find our place.

Connect With Wade

Quality Writing | Twitter | Facebook

From Writer to Writer: Lindsey Roth Culli

Meet Lindsey Roth Culli

Hello! I’m Lindsey and I write books for teens and people who used to be teens.

I earned my MFA in Creative Writing in 2010. Since then, I’ve been writing novels and teaching college students how to write… papers.

I’m represented by Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency.

Lindsey’s Take on Handling Rejection

If you’ve just been rejected by an agent, an editor or a lit magazine, then CONGRATULATIONS! That’s great news! Wait. What? Why?

I know it sounds weird but I think it’s great news because it means you are officially in the game.

If you’re getting rejections that means you’re actually submitting your work and that, friend, is half the battle.

Making your writing a priority so that you actually have something to submit and have rejected is further than many, many, many would-be novelists ever get.

Plus, rejection at every stage is just practice for the rejection yet to come. First, maybe you get rejected from lit magazines, then maybe agents. Even after all your toil and trouble finding your perfect agent match, you’re still going to get rejections from publishers.

But here’s the great thing: You’re in good company. You’d be hard pressed to find any writer who has not been on the receiving end of rejection. Stephen King, JK Rowling (need I remind you that the film adaptation of Deathly Hallows part 2 just made $1B at the box office?), Anne Frank (seriously), William Faulkner, George Orwell…. the list goes on. Point is, rejection happens to, quite literally, the best of us.

Sometimes rejection is totally subjective but sometimes, rejection may be warranted. Sometimes your manuscript is just not quite there yet—good but not great, likable but not loveable. And that’s okay! Hopefully, you’ll be able to read between the lines of the feedback you’re getting from your rejections to see what needs to be fixed/tweaked/redone.

The best way I know to move forward is to keep writing. Keep revising. If your current manuscript is getting you nothing but “no,” start a new one! Frankly, if you plan to be a career author, it’s good practice. The bonus is that some time and distance between you and your other manuscript will give you fresh perspective and some objectivity to help when you return.

Many people repeat that old adage that writing is a solitary art. To that I say poppy-cock! You need people on your team. Friends who’ll cheer you on when you need cheering, beta readers who’ll give you honest first impressions, crit partners who will tear your manuscript apart so you can rebuild it to be stronger or who can help you brainstorm and work through plot holes. You’ve simply got to find some people to be your teammates and once you’ve got them, don’t let them go! (And if you need advice on where to look—I can help there, too.)

So my final snippet of advice is simple—rub some dirt on it and get back in the game, because you most definitely are in the game.

Connect With Lindsey

Website | Twitter

From Writer to Writer: Ken Armstrong of Writing Stuff

Meet Ken Armstrong

I write plays mostly. Theatre plays, radio plays and some film stuff too. Also stories. And there’s this one novel that…oh, never mind.

Ken’s Advice for Handling Rejection

Firstly – hurt. You’re allowed to hurt so don’t fight it, it’s only natural. It’s a rejection, it’s not supposed to make you waltz around the kitchen.

Now, collect yourself. You haven’t read the thing in a while because it’s been out getting rejected. Read it now, cold. Is it as good as you thought it was when you sent it out? No, of course it isn’t. Fix that.

Did you get some reasons for the rejection? 90% of the reasons will be pure bullshit, obviously, but find the 10% of truth and work on that too.

Shine the thing up and, if you still think it’s any good, send it out again to some other poor sod.

Then, most importantly, while it’s out getting rejected again, write the next big thing so you’re not preternaturally focused on this one thing that keeps getting rejected.

The next thing you write will be much better than the ‘reject’. You have my word on that.

Connect With Ken

Writing Stuff | Twitter//

From Writer to Writer: Susan Ross on Self-Publishing

Meet Susan Ross

I am a self-published children’s author with 4 books: The Great Bellybutton Cover-up, Say Please to the Honeybees, The Kit Kat Caper, and The Rose & the Lily. I published my first book in 2008. Three of my books were created while I was a storyteller.

Fifteen years or so ago, I started writing my stories down after a woman said I should write them for my (as yet non-existent) grandchildren. I sent one book out to traditional publishers. After a few rejections—in defense of the editors I did change the book considerably before publishing it—and frustrations with the typewriter, I ended up shoving my manuscripts in the closet.

Years later I saw The Bucket List. That movie, combined with the new technology of computers, prompted me to start writing again, and now the rest is history. What I like about self-publishing is that it’s the fastest route to publication, and it lets me have total control.

All books combined, I’ve sold around 5,000 copies, mostly of The Great Bellybutton Cover-up.

Susan’s Self-Publishing Tips

  • I read my manuscripts to hundreds of children and make tons of revisions before publishing. I also hire an art student to do  illustrations and hire a professional for feedback on the manuscript.
  • If you have the means and the time to promote your book, self-publish. One of the best means of self-promotion is through the use of promotional products. Companies like Quality Logo Products, Inc. offer a wide variety of different promotional items to help you promote your brand. Another option is to get a print-on-demand (POD) company so you don’t have to lay out a ton of money (like I did). For a small investment ($300 not including art, layout, professional editing) you can get your books on and buy some to sell on your own. You won’t make as much money, but you won’t have as many headaches either.
  • Before you go this route, however, you need input from your target audience. This does NOT include family and friends. Make sure your book is as good as you think it is before you invest your time and money. (I had to scrap one book because what I thought was funny kids thought was mean. Live and learn!)
  • If you have not written multiple drafts/revisions, odds are your work is not ready for the public.

 Connect With Susan

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

From Writer to Writer: Natalia Sylvester

Meet Natalia Sylvester

I’m a fiction writer represented by Foundry Literary + Media. My articles have appeared in publications such as Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Latina magazine. A proud English major, I studied creative writing at University of Miami. After graduating in 2006, I worked briefly as the managing editor of a start-up magazine before deciding to freelance full-time. I have since worked with several editing clients on their novels, non-fiction book proposals, short stories and feature articles to help them improve their craft and move closer to publication.

Natalia’s Advice on Being a Newbie

Every story will feel like a first story, because even though you may have written several before, and you have proof— in black and white, in pixels and prose—that you’ve done this before, one finished story does not guarantee the completion of a next.

Because we don’t know where our ideas or inspiration come from, we don’t know if they’ll ever grace us again with their presence. Sometimes it’ll feel like all you really have to go off of is this stubborn, crazy idea that you want to be a writer.

I don’t say this to scare you off—on the contrary, I say it because writing often feels so solitary. You’ll read the blog posts and Twitter feeds of all those who’ve done this before you and it’ll feel like they’re up on this pedestal that you’re dying to climb onto…except no one is showing you the way.

You start to feel left behind, and somehow it feels like the only way to catch up is to research—read the thousands of writing blogs and agent Twitter feeds and how-to-write-a-query resources like it’s your job.

But it’s not. If you want to want to be a writer, write.

It seems simple and obvious, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so easy to get caught up on the wrong side of the process: there’s writing, and then there’s publishing. Publishing is a business, writing is an art.

When you’re an aspiring author and you dream about getting an agent and eventually a book deal, it’s very possible you’ll become obsessed with both sides of this process. I definitely did, and I can tell you that only one of these obsessions is the healthy kind.

Drown yourself in writing if you have to. Write even when you fear it, even when it’s crap, because if you can find your way back to the surface from those depths you’ll emerge a stronger writer.

Educate yourself on the publishing industry but realize it’s not your job to swim in it. For every story that brings you hope (the “overnight” successes, the six-figure book deals for debut novels, the writer who had 15 agents wanting to represent her) you’ll find several that show a somber reality. You’ll read about bookstores closing and authors whose first, second, or even third books didn’t sell, and those who (even when they did sell) struggled to market themselves and get those sales numbers up.

You’ll feel empowered by your knowledge of the industry on one day and be completely overwhelmed the next. On those days, what else can you really do but keep writing?

Think of the craft as your life preserver, the thing that keeps you afloat when you’re not sure you can keep going. Publishing is the shore—it could be miles away, or it could be just over the horizon. The only way to find out is to keep swimming.

Connect With Natalia

Finding Truth Through Fiction| Twitter//

From Writer to Writer

A Brief Word About Today’s Schedule

First, a word of warning: You’re going to see a lot of posts going up on the blog today. Eleven different writers are generously offering their tips, advice, and encouragement on Suess’s Pieces. So, every hour from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern a new post will go live.

Writing is Hard

Struggling to get started? Wallowing after a few rounds in the ring with rejection? Lacking inspiration?

It’s time for a little encouragement, or maybe just a good swift kick in the pants—from writer to writer. Every hour, on the hour, all workday long.

(Please note the following links won’t be live until their specified times. All times are Eastern.)

8:00 a.m. Natalia Sylvester

9:00 a.m.  Susan Ross

10:00 a.m. Ken Armstrong

11:00 a.m. Lindsey Roth Culli

12:00 p.m. Wade Finnegan

1:00 p.m. Donna Baier-Stein

2:00 p.m. Meryl Evans

3:00 p.m. Heather Schweich

4:00 p.m. Jeena Cho

5:00 p.m. Melissa Breau

6:00 p.m. Mahesh Raj Mohan


5 Ways Reading Bad Books Can Improve Your Writing

When I was a pre-teen, I read Jane Eyre. At the time, I was visiting family in Freeport, Illinois for the holidays. On this particular trip, I had been assigned to sleep in the attic bedroom at grandma’s—absolutely the best place in the whole world to stay up late and read. Sometimes I would read until I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, waking up to find I had been drooling on page 118 for several hours.

What? Go ahead, pretend like that stuff doesn’t happen to you.

Anyway, I’m going somewhere with this. Oh yes! I loved Jane Eyre, as I loved all books back then. It wasn’t until I was 31 (that’s how old I am now, in case you were wondering) that I had my first experience with a bad book.

Let me explain to you what I mean by “bad book” though. You see, even as a child I read books I didn’t like and books I didn’t agree with and books I considered boring. However, I couldn’t really blame the book. It was just the old “it’s not you, it’s me” deal. Despite how I behave on this blog, I am reasonable enough to concede that a book doesn’t have to make my list of favorites to have merit.

That said, in the last few months I’ve had the misfortune of reading some truly bad books. Not just sort of bad, but miserably bad books.

Read through the handful of reviews I’ve posted here on Suess’s Pieces, and you’ll get some idea of what I mean. A couple of those books were good, a couple were fair, and a couple were so bad I felt like the author had personally insulted my intelligence. As I read them, bewildered, I would think to myself, So that’s why he had to pay someone to print this.

But I’m not here to rehash that whole vanity press thing. I said my piece. I am here to tell you that—surprise!—hastily written, poorly edited self-published works do have value for writers. I’ve learned so much, in fact, from my experiences with bad books that I’m ready to write my high school English teacher and beg her to make bad books part of next year’s curriculum.

5 Reasons You Should Read a Bad Book

Bad books teach humility. Publishing a book is exciting, and in your haste to see your work in print, you, too, might somehow convince yourself that all those traditional publishers have been rejecting your work simply because they don’t like your socks or your middle name. (By the way? If you believe that, there is a good chance you’re delusional.) Think “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Bad books are like miniature, one-way workshops. Read the whole book cover to cover and take notes. Every time you say to yourself, “Wha-what?” or “Who is this character again?” think about how one might go about fixing that problem through revision. Learning through critique is its own reward, but the bonus here is that you can be absolutely brutal with the notes you make in the margins–the author will never know. So, no tears. Yay!

Bad books are good for the writer’s ego. No, not the author’s ego–yours. How many times have you read your favorite book and then trashed all or most of your WIP before you ever got to that whole revision part? I’m pretty sure you won’t go to hell for finding some small speck of confidence in someone else’s failure. You probably shouldn’t mention how the author helped you in your acknowledgments though. Just sayin’.

Bad books make great coasters. Also, my dog Taubensee likes to chew on my books occasionally when the separation anxiety kicks in. Now, instead of him eating my autographed treasures, I can just leave a few bad books out for him. Yeah, I know that sounds mean. Someone out there is going to say, “But, Emily, those authors poured their whole hearts into those books, laboring for eons to get it just right.” Um, yeah. Seriously doubt it. And if it is true, someone’s got to tell these people they need to try the tuba or something.

Bad books jolt you back into reader mode. Finally, reading a bad book reminds you what it’s like to be a reader again. It’s like someone grabbing your shoulders and shaking you while shouting, “See how annoying all those mistakes are? And you were going to self-publish without editing. You asshole!” Now tell me. Who doesn’t benefit from a little perspective?

Interesting side note: I remember hearing Bobby Knight give a speech some time ago. (Or maybe I dreamed it, I can’t seem to find any reference to it now.) He said that his grandmother once told him, “Bobby, everyone has a purpose in life. Yours is to teach others how not to be.” I’ve always loved that little quip, but it doesn’t only apply to a chair-throwing Bobby Knight. It also applies to any author who has the passion to write but lacks the patience to ensure she does it well.

Anyway, that’s all.  If you’d like me to recommend some horrible books, get in touch.

Writers' Week Open Thread

One of my goals with Writers’ Week is to build a greater sense of community among writers and aspiring writers. That’s what today’s Open Thread is all about. In the comment section on this page, I encourage you to ask and answer questions related to writing.

Comments are threaded, so jump in wherever you like and feel free to start a new question or topic if the spirit moves you. I’ll be around to throw in my two cents as well as moderate spam.

Step up to the microphone! Start by introducing yourself, and feel free to leave a link to your blog’s about page if you have one.

Writers' Week Writing Contest Rules

To kick off Writers’ Week 2011 here on Suess’s Pieces, we’re starting with a few weird writing prompts. Well, 50 to be exact. But be forewarned: these are not your typical, lame writing prompts. None of that “write about something that inspires you” junk here.

I mean, what’s with writing prompts that don’t actually give you a place to start anyway?

The goal here is for you to finish what I’ve started. At the same time, you’ll meet other writers and hopefully find some inspiration for future projects. The contest is open internationally to writers at any level. (Please note: if you live outside the US or Canada I reserve the right to substitute T-shirt prizes, due to shipping costs.)

Whether you’re a business writer, a blogger, a high school journalist, a poet or an aspiring novelist, you can and should participate in this writers’ community event.

Writing Contest Prizes

1st Place Prizes

Total Value: $380

  • Winning entry will be published on
  • Gift Card ($100 value)
  • Literary critique of your work by Natalia Sylvester of Inky Clean. Includes critique of query letter + first 30 pages of a book-length manuscript. This service is more of an evaluation than an edit. It’s an honest, critical analysis of the writing you’ve done and what can still be done to improve it. It includes: a read-through of your work, with comments and suggestions for changes along the margins of the page; a letter that takes a “bigger picture” approach to giving feedback on your characters, plot structure, voice, pacing, and all the other elements of storytelling; and a 30-minute phone call to further discuss your manuscript and the feedback provided. Learn more about Natalia’s editing services here. The winning writer must submit their manuscript for evaluation within 90 days of being notified that they won. ($225 value)
  • Launching a Successful Freelance Web Writing Career, e-book by Jennifer Mattern of All Freelance Writing ($37 value)
  • T-shirt from Small Business Bonfire ($18 value)

2nd Place Prizes

Total Value: $278

  • Gift Card ($50 value)
  • Professional business card design by KeriLynn Engel of Dreaming Iris Design. Standard US size (2 in x 3.5 in/51 mm x 89 mm). Includes initial design concept and two rounds of revisions. Completed design delivered as a hi-res, ready-to-print image file, along with backup Photoshop files for editing if desired. Does not include printing. ($200 value)
  • 30 Day Marketing Boot Camp for Freelance Writers, e-book by Jennifer Mattern of All Freelance Writing ($10 value)
  • T-shirt from Small Business Bonfire ($18 value)

3rd Place Prizes

Total Value: $68

  • Gift Card ($25 value)
  • One month membership at The Writers Den ($25 value)
  • T-shirt from Small Business Bonfire ($18 value)

How to Enter

  • Pick one of the 50 writing prompts below. Start your entry with the words in the prompt, and then just keep going. There is no word minimum or maximum. Works can be fiction or non-fiction, haikus, essays, technical manuals—whatever!
  • Publish your response to the prompt on your blog or website. (Must be your original work.)
  • Include the “official entry” button somewhere in your post by copying and pasting the code below. (Entries without the button do not qualify for prizes. To participate in the link-up without entering the actual contest, omit this step.)
  • Link your post using the form below. One official entry per person. (If you don’t link up your entry, the judges will have no way of knowing you’re participating.)
  • Deadline for entries is Friday, September 16, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern.
  • The top 10 submissions will be selected by the Writers’ Week Judges and announced on September 26, 2011.
  • Online voting for the ten finalists will open on October 3 and end on October 7.
  • (Please note these dates have been updated, as we received more entries than expected!)

  • The top 3 writers at the end of voting will win 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes respectively.

writers' week

50 Weird Writing Prompts

  1.  I never did care much for…
  2. This is not a memoir, it’s a…
  3. You’d be much more attractive if you…
  4. When I was 13, I thought…
  5. Hot dogs are proof that…
  6. The difference between…
  7. It wouldn’t budge, so I…
  8. Poetry is for…
  9. I swear, if that…
  10. Another day, another…
  11. You’re a big, fat…
  12. You can learn a lot from a…
  13. I once shot a…
  14. Art taught me…
  15. If only I could find my…
  16. I’m not too* cool to admit that I…
  17. Hi, my name is ____, and I live in a…
  18. I’ll be honest…
  19. At 3:00 a.m. I turn into a…
  20. Life was easier when…
  21. College was supposed to…
  22. I once ate a…
  23. Tequila might be…
  24. In two weeks I have to…
  25. My unicorn…
  26. On Towel Day last year…
  27. I finally wrote my way out of a paper bag, but…
  28. Kevin Bacon once said…
  29. Elevators…
  30. If marijuana were legal…
  31. By now, the people of L.A. are…
  32. I can’t stop…
  33. Macaroni and cheese doesn’t…
  34. I used to believe that…
  35. I refuse to spend all of my time…
  36. There’s only one cure for…
  37. Now that I’m remarried…
  38. In high school I got detention for…
  39. For $10, I would…
  40. The first time I wore makeup…
  41. It hurts when I…
  42. I tried flushing…
  43. Addictions are like…
  44. Families that play Scrabble…
  45. The train doesn’t always…
  46. I just bought a new…
  47. Have you ever…
  48. Oh. My. God. I wasn’t going to say anything, but…
  49. I’m filing this one under…
  50. Please don’t make me…


Photo credit: christgr
* updated 9/13/2011 @ 10:44 to be grammatically correct

Pin It on Pinterest